Chapter 34:

What is love?

My childhood friend ran away from home and now I have to share a room with her?!

Love. It's an extremely abstract concept and yet surprisingly simple. Love is something reserved only for very special humans and absolutely mustn't be mixed up with the term 'liking' someone.

If someone were to ask me if I like Koyori, I'd be able to answer without wasting a single nanosecond. A friend is someone you like. It's really that simple. Koyori's my treasured childhood friend so I naturally like her. I'd even go as far as to claim I really like her. I even told her I do.

What about love though? It's a term so strong and eternal that I dare not say it out loud. Love is something that describes the old couple next to us. It's the type of 'I like you' that just never ends and never wavers no matter the circumstances. I've been feeling these new emotions only for a day or two. That's not even remotely long enough to determine their quality for certain.

Well, technically I wanted to marry her when I was seven but this is getting old by now…

I'm not even sure what my current feelings mean exactly, though I wouldn't be pondering this without having a decent hunch about them. There's a good chance that my sudden affection and attraction towards Koyori is a superior form of that overused 'liking' term but how strong is it exactly? How am I supposed to know when all love I've ever known is the 'never being home' love of my Dad as well as the 'always going on my nerves' love of my Mom? And let's not talk about the totally unrealistic depiction of love in the anime industry…

As far as I know, there are quite a few steps between liking a friend and loving your wife. My seven-year-old's declaration of love could barely qualify as a crush - that inexplicable feeling of being enamored with someone without being in a relationship. I have forgotten about it for a few years but I definitely recognize it from the brew of emotions Koyori's return evoked in me.

But a crush isn't a crush. Some are hitting harder than others and some are more serious than others. Right now, my crush is several magnitudes stronger than the silly puppy love that I experienced back then. Ultimately though, as long as it's an unrequited, one-sided feeling, it remains but a crush, a relationship that's not really worthy of the term. I can probably say with certainty that I, at least, like her on such a level, given that I've already felt that way as a little lad.

Unrequited love, hmm… It's everywhere in the Otaku world. Koyori's really smitten with me but still…

Knowing Koyori, I'm not sure if I can even judge her affection toward me correctly. While I'm mostly past my childishness, she's just barely started making the transition from child to teenager, evident in her silly and playful behavior and her lack of bashfulness as well as her delayed body response.

While I'm having little doubt about her being absolutely infatuated with me, I can't really tell yet if her clinginess is of romantic nature.

She's acting more like a lost ducky who loves the first person they see unconditionally. Yes, that's kinda how she's always been so I'm having my doubts. Then again, every now and then she seems to be quite aware of these things - like when we had our little roleplay…

I'm so invested in my thoughts that I barely realize it when our stop comes into sight. Only as the bus driver begins hitting the brakes sharply, do I fully return to reality.

"Sleeping princess, I'm afraid we'll have to continue traveling by foot," I coo into her ear. In combination with gentle poking, I manage to wake her up. Yori is still half asleep though when we step back into the late afternoon heat wafting through the endless rice fields, constantly rubbing her eyes or mumbling to herself as I gently tug her along.

Right, let's not read too much into Yori-chan's feelings, I wouldn't get a coherent answer if I asked her right now anyway.

A slight chuckle escapes my throat.

She's following me like a little duckling - well that's what you get for taking two naps within half an hour.

There's another type of relationship that technically isn't a relationship. Mom is kind enough to remind me when I enter the house so lost-in-thought that I completely forget to stop holding hands with Yori-chan.

"Back from your date already I see?"

A date?!

My eyes are wandering from the smug face of my mother to Yori's completely oblivious, slightly spaced-out expression before lingering on the knot our hands are still forming.

We've been on a date, huh? Are we dating then? Why didn't I think of this ugh?!

Feeling a sense of embarrassment creep up my spine, I hastily leave the room while Koyori opts to take a quick shower in a similar hurry.


“That’s right, I guess you could say we’re dating…” I mumble to myself as I climb the ladder to my room. “But that only works if Koyori likes me enough to go on dates with me, otherwise you couldn’t possibly consider us “dating”.

A slight sense of aggravation is forming a layer around the ball of happiness and excitement in my stomach. Something about the comment Mom made bugs me without really knowing why. Could it be because I failed to realize the subtext behind our excursion or because I’m still blissfully unaware of Koyori’s feelings? Or both?

Whatever the case, let’s assume Koyori agrees to a date. We’d be dating then. But dating doesn’t mean we’re a couple yet. For a couple to be a couple, we’d have to kiss first and tell each other how much we love each other, r-right?

Even though I’m alone right now, I still feel the telltale symptoms of embarrassment set my face and ears on fire. Honestly, this whole love thing is a lot more complicated than I thought.

And once we love each other for a long time, we first get engaged, and then, finally, we’d marry.

Looking back at my parents, though, I’m not so sure if marriage is actually an upgrade as I’ve never seen them engaged in any sort of romantic interaction. Either way, I now know that there’s a steep path waiting for me if I ever decide to seriously try to keep the promise from six years ago.

Do I love Koyori?

I don’t know.

But I want her to be here. My room feels empty without her. My life feels boring without her.

Is that what it means to love someone?

I don’t know.

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