“What is that?” I stared at my apparent ‘costume’ for the school play, “I thought I already said that I’m not taking part in it.”
“Aw c’mon! It’s not that bad.” Maki, the class president, tried to convince me. Somehow it seemed like her fear towards me had decreased ever since I started tutoring Ayano. And since that day, I hadn’t heard anything from the Yakuza either. I wasn’t sure if they had given up on me or whether this was just the silence before the storm.
I looked at my costume again and grimaced.
“Woman, it’s basically an oversized brown curtain and a green afro-wig! You expect that to make me look like a tree?”
“It was Ayano’s suggestion.” Maki sighed, “I was desperate for ideas.”
I narrowed my eyes at Maki, wondering if she thought that mentioning Ayano’s name would convince me. The things she had been saying and suggesting recently caused me to suspect that she knew I had feelings for Ayano. Not so long ago that would’ve been good… but now it wasn’t.
I knew Ayano liked Akira and if she found out that I had feelings for her things could go wrong. I’ve been able to protect her because she trusted me enough to keep me close. I had intended to confess to her but those thoughts were already out of my mind as soon as I knew it could risk everything.
If she decided to stay away from me afterwards, she would be in danger.
“Oh… Ayano suggested it? Okay I’ll wear it then.” I said and observed a discreet smirk forming on her lips, “…Not.”
She dropped the smirk, “Eh? But I thought…”
I raised my eyebrows, waiting for her to continue her sentence. She stammered, unable to make up an excuse. I had to find a way to confirm my doubts.
“What are you two discussing so seriously?” Ayano walked through the classroom door, smiling curiously.
“Just about the school play,” Maki answered, laughing nervously.
“Oh.” She grabbed the green afro-wig from Maki and chuckled, “You come up with such hilarious ideas sometimes.”
I looked at Maki, who quickly turned away coughing. She wouldn’t stop coughing … and suddenly she was choking on nothing.
Turning red, she waved her hand in the air and ran out of the room.
Ayano blinked,” Is she okay?”
I shrugged. Just the guilt of a culprit, caught red handed.
“Kentaro, can I ask you something?” Ayano fiddled with her hands, looking nervous.
I waited for her to continue.
“Can we cancel the tuition today?”
I frowned. That was weird… she’d never cancel her tutoring sessions for anything.
“There is an introduction day in Taigou University today for high school students who intend to study there.” She continued, “I want to go.”
I sighed and looked out of the window, “You mean you want a chance to see him again…”
Ayano looked at me, confused, “You agreed to help me right?”
“I only agreed to help you pass the entrance exams for the University, not to play your cupid!” I snapped, losing my temper.
Ayano took a step back, taken aback. For the first time I saw a hint of fear in her eyes.
I cursed under my breath. “Forget it. You don’t have to work at the restaurant today then.” I said, getting up to leave.
“Kentaro wait!” She called out as I walked past her.
I stopped and turned my head back slightly.
“I won’t go! Please tutor me today too.”
I turned around, “What?”
“I know you’re getting angry because you’re worried I’ll get hurt…” She looked down at the floor, “So if you think I shouldn’t go… I won’t.”
I remained silent, repeating her words in my mind. Worrying…?
The reason I got angry… I wasn’t sure if it was just because I was worried about her safety. I realised that the truth was something I wasn’t willing to admit.
“What time is it?” I asked.
Ayano looked up at the clock in the classroom, “Hmm…almost the end of school!”
“No you idiot, what time does the introduction thing start?” I repeated.
“Oh that! In a few minutes actually,” Ayano blinked, “Why?”
“Go if you want to, I’m not against it.” I said, intending to keep an eye on her there without her knowledge. This time it had nothing to do with jealousy…she really could be in fatal danger walking into the same building where Akira could be lurking. I couldn’t let her go there alone.
“You’re sure?” She asked warily, grabbing her school blazer hurriedly.
I nodded and watched her bow at me gratefully before running out of the classroom.
Time to call Ryouta.
I took my phone out and searched for Ryouta’s number, but before I could press on it, the phone started to ring.
I accepted the call and brought the phone to my ear.
“Yo kid, remember me?” The familiar voice spoke. As I expected, it was Toro.
“I thought I was clear last time.” I lowered my voice.
“You sure were. That’s why we had to resort to this kid.” He answered, sounding amused.
I remained silent, waiting for him to explain what he meant.
“Guess where we’re standing right now!” Toro chuckled.
I frowned. We?
“You don’t like talking much, do you?” He sighed, “Okay I’ll give you a clue. It’s a public place, you can eat here… oh and there is a board outside that says ‘Happy Okonomiyaki’.” He described, sending an icy chill down my back.
That was mom’s restaurant. They were standing in front of mom’s restaurant.
“We’re thinking of going inside now kid, we’ve been waiting for a long time.” Toro stated, sounding as tired as he claimed to be.
“DON’T take a step inside.” I hissed, rushing out of the classroom. I picked up the pace as I headed towards the exit of the building. Soon, I was running.
The last thing I heard before he hung up was his throaty laughter.
As soon as I reached the door, I froze as realisation hit me.
In a while, Ayano was going to Taigou University…where Akira was.
Something at the back of my mind told me this had been planned… they had waited for this moment. I had to make a choice between going to mom or Ayano.
I cursed. I knew Ayano would’ve already boarded the bus outside the school by now and she still hadn’t given me her phone number either.
Their time of silence was over. Now it was time for the storm to break out.
“What?! You want me to go and play bodyguard for that wench?” Ryouta complained through the phone.
“Look, I have no choice but to depend on you. Just do it until I get there…” I persuaded, on the way to the restaurant. I was speeding down the roads with my bike… I couldn’t imagine what they intended to do with mom.
“Fine…” Ryouta sighed, “But I don’t know what that Akira dude looks like.”
“He’s tall, black hair… dressed like a gangster.”
“Almost all the guys are tall with black hair here.” Ryouta muttered to himself.
“I’ll kill you if anything goes wrong, I’m hanging up.” I warned without listening to him properly and put the phone away again. I knew I could depend on Ryouta, but I couldn’t rest assured that Ayano would definitely be fine. Akira wasn’t the ordinary thug in town.
As soon as I arrived at the restaurant, I got off the bike, sending it skidding across the concrete floor as I raced through the front door.
The restaurant was empty… no one was there.
“Mom!” I called out, searching for her everywhere. I opened the door to the staff room and couldn’t find anyone there either.
Then I heard a noise coming from upstairs. They were in the house.
I ran up the stairs and stumbled into the living room, finding mom sat on a chair, expressionless. She was almost pale in colour.
As soon as she caught sight of me too her eyes widened in horror, like it was wrong for my presence to be here at this time.
Oshiro and Toro were sitting on the sofa opposite to her. A questionable smile formed on Oshiro’s lips.
“Welcome home, son.” He said, breaking the silence.