Living with a Beautiful High School Student: A chance encounter after seven years [Chapter 3] [Volume 2]

First day of Christmas

—Thanks for the food.

After finishing my lunch at the company cafeteria, I returned the dishes to the counter and went back to the office.

I sat down at my desk and checked the calendar on my phone.

Christmas was less than two weeks away.

Aoi and I had already decided where to go that day. And of course I had prepared a surprise without Aoi’s knowledge. I’m sure she’ll like it.

Although… I didn’t expect Aoi to be so charming while we were discussing our Christmas date.

I close my eyes and try to remember the conversation at that moment…

—[Aoi, it’s Christmas. Do you have any wishes? Where would you like to go or what would you like to do?]

—[Well… How about the aquarium?]

—[Oh, great! Do you like the aquarium?]

—[Yeah, a little bit, but I also read in a magazine that said ‘Get closer to your boyfriend on a date at the aquarium! So I want to get closer to Yuya-kun.]

—[I see… Does that mean our relationship hasn’t progressed much, right?]

—[No, that’s not it! Our relationship has progressed… Don’t be mean to me.]

—[Haha, sorry for teasing you… Hey, are you blushing?]

—[What I wanted to say is that I want us to get even closer on our aquarium date.]

—[Huh?]

—[So… I want to be more affectionate with Yuya-kun! Please don’t make me say it. Dummy]

Just remembering that conversation was embarrassing.

I was about to lose my composure in the face of her adorable confession, but as a grown man, I simply responded with a smile and said: “I feel the same way as Aoi.”

…Wait a minute. Should I admit that I was pretty cheesy too? Now I feel embarrassed for suddenly realizing it…

While I was struggling with this embarrassment, Chizuru-san, who was sitting next to me, caught my attention.

—Yuya-kun, are you staring intently at your phone? Is something wrong?

—No, I was just checking my personal schedule.

—Personal schedule? Ah, a date, right?

—Why are you…? Oh, I guess it’s obvious at this time, huh?

—Hehe, I guess so. Will you be spending Christmas with Aoi-chan?

—Yes, since it’s my day off, I plan to spend it with her.

—Oh, I see. I hope you have a great day. I’m looking forward to Christmas too.

—Huh? Really?

The word itself puzzled me.

Christmas is a big event that excites couples. I hadn’t imagined that Chizuru-san, who didn’t have a partner, was looking forward to it as well.

Could it be… that she had found someone?

Ever since I joined the company, Chizuru-san had been looking for a boyfriend, and now, all of a sudden… I was happy for her, it was unexpectedly happy news.

—Do you have a date for Christmas, Chizuru-san?

—Yes. It will be with Izuka-kun.

—Oh, I see, so that’s it.

I understand. She meant a girls’ meeting with Izuka-san.

—That sounds fun. For a moment, I thought you had plans with someone you were interested in.

—That’s a tempting option too, but it’s more relaxed and comfortable to drink with other women. We can have conversations that we can’t have at work, and we can cheer each other on.

—Haha, I see, so it’s a way to blow off steam at the end of the year.

—Yes, going out drinking with Izuka-kun on Christmas has become a tradition for us every year.

—Drinking as much as those without partners… Huh?

—Are you saying that my ideal mate is beer?- Chizuru replied quickly.

—I didn’t say that, I assure you!

And suddenly, but expectedly, I was hit by Chizuru for having such negative thoughts for no reason. I couldn’t defend myself anymore.

—Well, it doesn’t matter. I have my own way of enjoying Christmas… Oh, Izuka-kun, can I talk to you for a moment?

Chizuru-san stopped Izuka-san as she passed us and gestured to her.

—Yeah, what’s up?

—Hmm, we were just talking about Christmas. Where would you like to drink this year? Let’s hear your wishes, Izuka-kun.

—Oh, the truth is… I’m sorry, boss!

Izuka-san apologized with clasped hands, seemingly embarrassed.

—I have an engagement on Christmas. I won’t be able to join you this year, boss.

As soon as she said that, her strange expression changed. Her expression relaxed slightly.

That smile was proof enough that she was looking forward to Christmas. In other words, Izuka-san had found a romantic partner.

Even I couldn’t miss it. Chizuru, who is very observant, should have noticed it as well.

—That dazzling smile filled with happiness… Don’t tell me, Izuka-kun…?

—Yes. I have a boyfriend! – Izuka-san smiled shyly, admitting her situation.

At that moment, the light disappeared from Chizuru’s eyes. Her usually clear gaze was now clouded with sadness.

—Betrayal! We spent our Christmas dates together every year, drowning in alcohol… I can’t believe it! All this time, it was just a game to you!

—Chizuru-san! You will create a misunderstanding among the other employees! – I said as I quickly intervened.

Seriously, when it comes to love and age, this is what happens.

—There is nothing you can do about it. Why don’t we celebrate the fact that Izuka-san has a boyfriend? — I gently suggested.

—Right. I apologize for my outburst and for losing my cool. — Chizuru replied with a smile — Congratulations, Izuka-kun. Enjoy your Christmas date.

—Boss… Thank you! Yuya-kun, thank you too. — Izuka-san replied gratefully.

With a happy expression on her face, Izuka-san said goodbye with an “Excuse me” and quickly left.

On the other hand, Chizuru-san had a lifeless look in her eyes. It seemed like a cold gust of wind was blowing from her.

—Chizuru-san, are you okay?

—It is nothing. I’ll spend Christmas at home with my guppies. — she replied in an indifferent tone as she fed the tropical fish.

I could only imagine Chizuru cursing Christmas Eve as she fed her fish… Don’t give up, Chizuru-san! There are different ways for everyone to spend Christmas! I like guppies too!

…No matter what I say, it’s going to be counterproductive because I’m going to have a date on Christmas. What can I say to comfort her?

—I hate Christmas. — Chizuru-san said.

—Cheer up… Ah, I have some Australian wine that Aoi’s mother sent. If you want, I can give you a bottle.

Chizuru-san looked at me with watery eyes.

—Yuya-kun… There are things in life that can’t be solved with a bottle of wine. — she said with a resigned look on her face.

Yeah, I guess those cool words are definitely not appropriate right now.

—Yes, you’re right… Life is like a boat trip.

For a long time I was her conversation partner until her mood improved.

On the way home, I mentally reviewed the plans for our date.

I had memorized the map of the aquarium. I had thought of places to eat. I didn’t want to make any mistakes in my role as a guide inside the facility.

And as for the surprise strategy, it simply boiled down to: “Where and what can I do to see Aoi’s smile?”

That’s the most important point.

At first, I thought about doing something inside the aquarium, but that would be too simple, so I decided to surprise her in a different place outside the aquarium.

—Ready… Everything is prepared.

Just thinking about our date plan makes me feel happy. I’m looking forward to Christmas.

Full of anticipation, I walked through the residential streets until I reached the apartment building.

And I open the door to apartment 202, my own home.

—I am home!

I called out, but there was no answer. Aoi usually greets me with great excitement… Could she be preparing dinner?

As I walked in, I saw Aoi sitting on a chair, absorbed in studying. I guess she didn’t hear me because she was wearing headphones.

—Aoi, I’m home. — I said, raising my voice a little.

Finally, Aoi noticed my presence. She took off her headphones and smiled at me.

—Welcome back, Yuya-kun! Sorry for not noticing.

—No worries. You were studying, right?

—Yes, I have finals coming up.

—I see. You work hard at your studies, Aoi.

—It’s n–not a big deal… It’s just that our Christmas date motivates me.

She said this with a shy smile.

For a moment, I thought, “There she goes with the cheesiness again…” But then I realized it was similar to how I stay motivated at work.

Oh no, was I being cheesy without even realizing it?

—Yuya-kun, is something wrong?

—No, nothing important. By the way, what are you studying?

—I’m reviewing what we learned in Modern Literature class.

—Oh, modern literature. That’s the subject I struggle with the most.

I don’t mind reading itself. I’ve always enjoyed reading.

But when it comes to Modern Literature, it’s a different problem. I remember in the multiple choice questions where I had to identify the meaning of underlined parts, I would narrow it down to two choices, but I would almost always choose the wrong one.

—Ah, really? Then try solving this Modern Literature question for practice.

Aoi smiled mischievously as she handed me the workbook.

Hmm, is she trying to make fun of me?

All right. I’ll solve it brilliantly and face it head on.

I picked up the workbook and quickly scanned the question.

Ah, this… It’s from a famous novel by Natsume Soseki.

The question says: ‘Read the underlined part and choose the option that best reflects the author’s feelings at that moment’…

It seems that I can narrow it to two choices. One of them is probably correct.

—Two… no, three!

—Wrong. The correct answer is four.

—Four?! This book is completely wrong…

—Hahaha, how unfortunate.

Aoi laughs happily. She’s innocent and cute, but I feel a little frustrated.

Actually, I was wrong from the moment I narrowed it down to two. Do I really have so little knowledge of modern literature?

—Yuya-kun, even though you’re good at understanding my feelings, it seems like you don’t understand the author’s feelings.

—Ugh… It doesn’t matter if I don’t understand the author’s feelings. As long as I understand Aoi’s feelings, that’s enough for me.

—Well, yeah… But don’t say strange things all of a sudden. Stupid. – Aoi blushed and looked away.

Strange things? Did I say something wrong?

—But that was surprising. I’m surprised that someone like Yuya-kun, who has an air of perfection, also has weaknesses.

—Well, of course I do. There are things I’m good at and things I’m not. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t help you with other things. It also means that you should choose carefully what you want to study in the future.

—Really?

—Yes. There’s still time. First, try to figure out what field you’re interested in. And if you’re worried, you can count on me, okay? I’ll be with you until you find what you really want to do.

—Yuya-kun… Haha. Thank you very much. You sounded like a teacher.

—Hahaha. I guess I did sound like a guidance counselor. But if you think about it, the current situation is pretty incredible. You’re free to follow your dreams.

—Dreams, huh? I hadn’t really thought about it… Not that I don’t have any, but I think I’m close to achieving them.

—Oh really? And what is that?

After my question, Aoi hesitated for a moment and shyly muttered a word.

—Your wife, Yuya-kun.

Huh? What? Wife…?

When I heard that, I was left speechless and a strange silence filled the room.

—Aoi’s face grew increasingly red. It seemed as if she wanted to say, “It’s okay to be your wife!”

Well, yes. I want Aoi to be my wife too. But wait… That’s not what I meant by “dreams”…

—Aoi… I meant career choice…

—I know! It’s just that you used the word “dreams” instead of “career”! It’s your fault, Yuya-kun!

She turned extremely red and started tapping me lightly on the shoulder.

—Stop playing with my mind! You’re such a fool!

Damn, seeing Aoi in this situation and making those gestures is quite beautiful and it hurts my heart… I don’t think I can stop.

—I’ll clean this up and prepare dinner.

Aoi said as she took her study materials back to her room.

—W–Why did she scold me…?

If I really said something like, “It’s my dream, too, to become Aoi’s husband,” Aoi would probably be even more confused…

I don’t understand. What did I do wrong? Is this what they call a ‘generation gap’? Or do I just not understand the feelings of a girl?

—Ugh… Having a younger fiancee is complicated.

 

****

 

A week later, Aoi successfully passed her final exams.

She scored an average of 90 points in all subjects. Even in Traditional Japanese, which had been her weakness, she scored 81 points. I really admire her study ethic and the results she achieved despite the difficulties.

When I told her mother about these results by phone, she was overjoyed. She said, “This is really admirable, Aoi-chan. Yuya-kun, as a reward for her hard work on the exams, why don’t you give her a bath?”

Of course, I firmly refused. Why does that woman always want us to take baths together…?

Besides, when I asked her about Aoi’s career choice, she mostly shared my opinion.

Next year, I will support Aoi’s higher education in consultation with her mother. I think it’s something only I can do, and it will lead to her happiness.

After that, several days passed, and finally Christmas Day arrived.

I finished getting ready and sat on the couch waiting for Aoi. She seemed to be having trouble deciding what to wear for our date because she didn’t come out of her room.

It’s already after 1 pm. When I think about our schedule for today, I think it’s time to go.

After a while, the door to Aoi’s room slowly opens.

—Yuya-kun, sorry to keep you waiting.

—Don’t worry about it. Have you decided what to wear?

—Yes. Well… What do you think? — Aoi asked, obviously worried about her outfit.

She wore a coat in soft tones and a sweater underneath, paired with a long skirt.

She usually dresses in mature clothes, but today she looks even more mature. She looks like a college student.

—This outfit looks elegant. It suits you very well. You look beautiful.

—Really? — Aoi replies, showing some dissatisfaction — So, do I look good?

—Huh?

—Since Yuya-kun is mature, I want to look a little more mature… I want to be a woman who is equal to Yuya-kun. — Aoi said shyly.

She played with her fingers around her waist. These gestures are too adorable.

Well, I shouldn’t say “adorable” too much. She might get angry and say, “You’re treating me like a child!”

—I’m sorry for confusing you. When I said “beautiful,” I didn’t mean that you looked childish.

—Really?

—Yes. It’s just that I’m falling in love with you even more.

—Huh?!

Aoi, who is susceptible to surprises, blushed and started to get nervous.

—Your outfit makes you look very mature. She made my heart skip a beat. — I added, trying to make her feel better.

—That’s too many compliments…

—No, it’s okay. I mean it.

—That’s enough! You cannot keep complimenting me! — Aoi responds playfully.

—Hahaha. Your face is all red.

—Silly.

To hide her blushing face, Aoi wrapped her arms around my body and gently hugged me. She pressed her face against my chest and let out a small sigh of satisfaction.

—Aoi?

—Please stop.

—Do you want me to stop complimenting you?

—Yes. If you keep doing that, my face will get so hot that it will explode.

According to this logic, I feel like her face has exploded many times in the past.

—You shouldn’t hug me like that, though. If we stay so close, your face will get even redder, don’t you think?

Even though we don’t have much time to stay like this. If we don’t leave soon, we’ll be late.

—Aoi, are we ready to go?

—I just… — Aoi answers.

—Huh? What do you mean?

I ask again and Aoi lifts her head.

I see a puzzled expression in her bright eyes.

—I would like to stay like this a little longer… Is that okay?

—Well, it’s not wrong, but…

—I feel calm when I’m close to you, Yuya-kun. — Aoi says with a sweet voice and rubs her face against my chest.

She looks like a puppy begging its owner.

This girl is so spoiled… Anyway, it seems like Aoi won’t stop asking for things today.

—Okay. Just a little longer then.

—Yes, it’s warm when I’m with you, Yuya-kun.

—Yes, it is… — I answered, not knowing how to react to Aoi’s sweetness.

This time I felt embarrassed to have her looking at me, and I looked away.

 

***

 

The aquarium we are going to is about six stops from the nearest station.

When we got on the train, there was an empty seat for one person. I made Aoi sit and stood in front of her.

This made Aoi look at me curiously.

—Is something wrong?

—No, it’s just refreshing to look at you from below.

—Really? With our height difference, aren’t you used to looking at me from below?

—Hmm. I’m not as small as you think. — Aoi replies, puffing her cheeks and showing her pride.

Seeing her chest move so gently, I instinctively looked away.

—Well, maybe you’re not small.

—Am I? I’m tall. – Aoi replies proudly. — I even grew a centimeter this year, she adds with satisfaction.

Normally, you would describe height in terms of tall or short. When someone says “tall,” it seems like they’re just talking about their chest.

While I was thinking trivial thoughts, I noticed that Aoi’s eyes were fixed on my stomach.

I wonder what she’s thinking when she looks at my stomach with such interest.

It can’t be… Does that mean I’ve put on weight?

It’s possible. Since I’ve been living with Aoi, I’ve definitely been eating more. Her food is just too delicious.

I don’t have the opportunity to weigh myself outside of health screenings. It’s possible that I’ve gained weight without realizing it.

What should I do? Will she scold me and say, “You are careless, you should pay more attention to your body”? Or maybe: “With this sort of mature appearance, Yuya-kun, you’re getting sloppy”? If she says that, I’m sure I’ll cry.

While I’m nervously thinking about it, Aoi shyly puts her hands in front of her.

—Aoi, what are you doing?

—Let me… — Aoi says as she pinches my stomach.

—Ouch!

She tickled me and I squirmed involuntarily.

—Hey, what are you doing?!

—Yuya-kun, I thought with the amount of food you eat, you might have gained weight.

—Oh, well. I’m glad I didn’t gain weight… Wait! Anyway, please stop pinching me.

—No, it’s my duty as a wife to take care of my husband’s health.

—What…?!

Did she just call me “husband”?

And she’s also calling herself a “wife”… Although marriage is still a long way off, it seems like we’re already talking like a newlywed couple.

This sudden display of affection makes my cheeks flush.

Couldn’t she avoid doing this in a public place? And is it really necessary to check whether I’m fat or not by touching my stomach? Can you determine that just like that?

Ignoring my confusion, Aoi touched my stomach again with her finger.

—Yuya-kun, you have firm abdominal muscles. Have you been working out in secret?

—I haven’t been working out. Also, stop touching me…

—But don’t you have firm abs? It seems like you’re secretly training your body for your future wife. I think it’s wonderful that you’re taking care of your health like a good husband.

Aoi seems to take my health seriously. She keeps touching my stomach with a serious expression.

The woman sitting next to us looked at us and giggled. Stop it, Aoi! This is too embarrassing, really!

But Aoi shows no signs of stopping. What is this, some kind of punishment game? I hope it’s not a prank planned by Chizuru.

Meanwhile, the train announced the next station.

—Aoi, you should get ready to get off soon.

—Oh, are we arriving already? The time passed quickly.

Aoi stopped touching me and looked out of the window. Finally it stopped… I’m tired of being poked in the stomach.

So I went to the door in front of Aoi.

The train gradually slowed down and the scenery began to pass by more smoothly.

Wait… Aoi still hasn’t come closer to get off.

I turned to look at her seat, but there was no sign of her.

—Wait, where did she go?

I turned around slowly in fear.

Aoi was standing in front of the opposite door, holding on to the handrail.

That door won’t open, she shouldn’t be over there.

…Before I have a chance to tell her, the train stopped. With a “pshh” sound, the door on my side opened.

—Huh? Ah…!

Finally, Aoi realized her mistake and came running to me. Her cheeks were slightly red.

She’s usually very responsible, but to mix up the right door… This contradiction is quite charming.

We step onto the platform and climb the stairs together. Aoi doesn’t say anything.

We pass through the turnstiles and leave the station.

Finally, Aoi softly murmurs a single word…

—Please keep it a secret from Rumi-san that I went to the wrong door.

—Understood. I’ll only tell your mother.

—Enough already! Don’t be mean to me!

Aoi taps me lightly on the shoulder.

—Yuya-kun still treats me like a child.

Wrong. It’s just that her reaction is so adorable that I can’t help but tease her.

—I’m sorry, Aoi. Oh, remember our promise to hold hands on the company trip?

Aoi’s cheeks blush even more.

—Of course I remember, but I won’t forgive you so easily.

—I am sorry. Then let’s not hold hands.

—Ugh! Why do you keep being mean to me?

This time she taps me lightly on the back. Her range of reactions is amazing. She seems to be a permanent factory of cuteness.

I gently grab Aoi’s hand and try to calm her down.

—I’m sorry, it was just a joke. Actually, I want to hold your hand too.

—Taking me by surprise is mean. Dummy.

—I didn’t do it to surprise you, I warned you.

—I didn’t give my consent. You won’t let go of my hand, will you?

—Yes, I won’t do anything stupid.

—Fine, I forgive you.

Saying that, Aoi squeezes my hand in response. Although her tone sounds a little annoyed, her relaxed expression shows that she’s not really angry.

—Yuya-kun, is it okay if we go to the aquarium first?

Five minutes away from the train station, there’s an aquarium called ‘Aquatic Gate’. It’s a huge complex that not only allows you to watch sea creatures, but also has cafes and attractions.

The plan to go to the aquarium was something we agreed upon together. Both Aoi and I were excited about it.

—But before we go to the aquarium, could we make a little detour?

—I don’t mind, but… where are we going?

—That will be a surprise when we get there. It’s very close, within walking distance.

Aoi nodded and we walked, chatting, though I didn’t tell her where we were going.

This area has many meeting places besides the aquarium. Due to the holiday season, there are many people around. In order not to lose sight of Aoi, we continue to hold hands as we walk along the sidewalk.

—Yuya-kun, can you tell me where we’re going? I’m curious.

—We’re almost there… Oh, it seems to be here.

We stop in front of a free-standing sign.

Aoi leans forward and reads the words on the sign out loud.

—Uh… ‘Bear’s World’?

This building is a rental venue where many individual exhibitions are held. “Bear’s World, as the sign says, is the name of the event that runs until tomorrow.

—I stumbled upon it while researching the shops in the area. It seems that they are having a special exhibition of teddy bears. Would you like to take a look?

Ever since she was a child, Aoi always felt lonely. I remember vividly how she used to play with teddy bears all by herself.

Even now, as an adult, her love for teddy bears hasn’t changed. When she felt lonely and I wasn’t around, I’m sure she would talk to Beatriz.

I remember that even during sleepovers, she would talk to the teddy bears while she slept.

When Aoi saw this, she excitedly exclaimed, “Teddy bears!” while jumping up and showing a big smile.

—I see… So it’s a surprise for me, right?

—Yes, it is. I’m glad to see you happy.

—Yuya-kun, you’re amazing. You understand me, you accept my whims, and you’re also good at making me happy like this… I really admire you.

—W–What’s with the sudden praise? You’re giving me too much credit. I just stumbled upon this exhibition by chance, you know?

—But I’m really happy… It’s so nice…

Aoi’s words were filled with genuine joy.

—I want to make you happy too, Yuya-kun. But how can I do that?

Aoi seemed to be thinking with a complicated expression and moaned.

I was fascinated by the way she cared for me. But it didn’t matter, because I’m happy when I’m by her side.

When we eat her home-cooked meals together and enjoy moments of togetherness, when we relax on the couch and talk, when we go on dates like this. Every day is a moment of happiness.

Perhaps the biggest surprise from Aoi was when she came to see me after seven years and proposed to live together with the goal of getting married.

From that moment on, my happiness as a worn-out employee began.

Without realizing it, I gently stroked Aoi’s head.

—Thanks for coming back.

—Huh? What are you talking about?

Aoi’s confused expression was funny, and without realizing it, I let out a laugh.

—Haha, it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.

—Hmph. You’re very strange, Yuya-kun… Oh, I’ve got it! I know what surprise I can prepare for you!

—Are you sure you want to say it out loud? Surprises are usually kept a secret.

—Ah… Well, that’s okay. It may not seem like it, but I have a reputation for surprises, you know?

She didn’t seem to have that reputation. She’s usually very responsible, but she also has this clumsy side like now. But I’m glad she wants to make me happy. It’s probably best not to joke about it anymore.

—Understood. I’m looking forward to Aoi’s surprise.

—Heh. If you’re too excited, the surprise might be revealed. Please forget about it.

—Haha. How can I forget? I don’t think I can.

Laughing together, we enter the building.

Near the entrance is a wooden table.

On it is a small diorama of a forest.

In the middle of the forest is a small teddy bear wearing a straw hat. It is standing on two legs, as if it were walking.

Around her are two smaller teddy bears. It’s like seeing a family of bears playing in nature.

Speaking of which, the website says that the theme is “Teddy Bears Living in the Wilderness”. It’s very detailed and seems to be a well-designed exhibit.

In one corner of the table there are price tags. Surprisingly, the prices are quite reasonable. Can you buy the art here? I didn’t know.

Aoi, who was standing next to me, approached the diorama.

—Oh, they’re so cute…!

She let out excitedly and then turned her head to me.

—Yuya-kun! Come here, they’re so cute!

—Yeah, let’s look at them together.

I stood next to Aoi and we looked at the stuffed animals. Each bear seemed to represent different genders and ages based on their size and clothing.

Aoi pointed to the bear with the straw hat.

—The bear family… Is that the father?

—I think so, most likely.

—Then the bear with the straw hat must be you, Yuya-kun.

—Huh? I don’t think I’m that chubby…

—It doesn’t matter. You have that dependability that makes you look like a real dad. Right, Dad?

The bear in the straw hat we were talking about seemed to be filled with pride.

…Aside from that, I didn’t expect her to suddenly start playing house like she was playing with dolls. I guess that shows how excited she is, doesn’t it?

Aoi looked at the diorama with sparkling eyes. She had an innocent expression as if she had returned to her childhood.

—Mommy is standing next to the bear with the straw hat. So that would be me. And the other would be our child.

I couldn’t help laughing.

Wait a minute… Are we playing house and imagining a future where Aoi and I are married and have a child?

It’s too embarrassing, even for me. I wish you would stop showing off in public.

…Without even having time to say anything in response, Aoi’s imagination speeds up even more.

—Surely it’s a scene where we are enjoying a family camping trip. Yuya-kun and I are walking with our son… Ah.

The moment she mentioned the word “son”, Aoi realized something and stopped talking. Her cheeks turned a deep red.

—That… What I just said was a mistake. Please forget it.

She said it softly, then looked down and became silent. She’s so embarrassed that she went into silent mode.

—Um… Oh! Look, Aoi. There are even bears on display over there. Let’s go see.

—Yes.

Aoi nods slightly at the offer. She grabbed the hem of my clothes and seemed embarrassed.

Oh, oh… it seems I have to support her a little more.

—Oh, look at that! There’s a swimming pool!

I say with enthusiasm, and Aoi quietly lifts her head.

—Wow…

Aoi quickly ran in front of me. I’m glad. She seems to be recovering a bit.

I approached her and stood beside her.

Inside the plastic children’s pool, there is a small, empty swimming pool. As always, there is a family of bears in the smaller pool.

Is this a family that has come to play by the river?

—It’s adorable, isn’t it, Yuya-kun?

—Yes. They have so many details.

—Yeah… Oh! There’s something else!

—Hey, calm down. Running is dangerous, you know?

—It doesn’t matter! Yuya-kun, hurry, hurry!

I happily accompanied Aoi as we walked through the various works inside. All of them are teddy bears, and Aoi admired them with delight.

After completing the full circle, we returned to the front entrance.

At this point, Aoi stopped.

At the point where her gaze is directed, there was a display with the straw hat bear we saw at the beginning.

—Do you like this diorama?

—Yes. I love it. Not only is it cute, but I can see a heartwarming story of a family.

—Hello.

Suddenly, someone spoke to us.

We both turned to look at the source of the voice.

There was a redheaded woman. She must be about my age. She is wearing a badge on her chest, so I assume she is someone related to this exhibition.

I said hello to the woman.

—Are you one of the staff here?

—You are partially correct. I am part of the staff, but I am also the author of the works you see here.

—Really?! You’re the author?

Aoi replied excitedly before I could.

—Yes, that’s right. Did you like my exhibition?

—Yes! It was so much fun. All the works were cute and had a nice atmosphere. I especially like the bear with the straw hat.

—Really? Thank you very much. That was one of my creations that I had a lot of confidence in.

—It is also a masterpiece for me. I like how I managed to convey the warmth of a human family while dealing with wild animals… And I’m also impressed with how I was able to express the roles through the size and clothing of the stuffed animals. It’s really adorable.

—Oh… Do you really like stuffed animals that much? — asked the woman.

—Yes. It’s been my passion since I was little.

—Haha, you’re really adorable.

The woman’s compliment made Aoi’s cheeks blush slightly.

—Adorable… Don’t say that, really… — Aoi stammered.

—Do you have a Christmas date today? Your friend is very handsome. You make a lovely couple. — the woman added.

—Aww…

Before I knew it, the roles were reversed. Aoi closed her eyes and hid behind my back.

—Excuse us. She’s a bit shy… — I replied.

—Ah, I see. Wow, she gets even cuter.

—Haha… By the way, are the works on display for sale? — I asked.

—Yes. During the exhibition, we can’t deliver them, but after the exhibition is over, we can send them to your address. – the woman replied.

—If you can deliver them to your home, that would be convenient. We’re still at the beginning of our date. It would be difficult to carry it around if it becomes luggage. Hey, Aoi. Do you think this diorama will fit in your room? -I asked.

—Yes, it could fit… Do you want to buy it? — Aoi asked in surprise.

—Sure. It will be my Christmas present to you. Will you accept it?

—Yuya-kun…

Aoi murmured softly with an adorable, affectionate expression, “How is it that you always find out what I really want?”

—Thank you, Yuya-kun,

—You’re welcome. Miss, we’ll take this.

—Thank you for your purchase! Now, if you could please fill out this shipping form, we can proceed with payment. — the woman said, leading us further into the store.

When I tried to follow her, Aoi grabbed my clothes.

Curious, I turned to look at her.

Aoi leaned over and whispered in my ear; “I love you.”

Those sweet words mixed with a sigh tickled my ear.

The sudden situation froze my thoughts.

Aoi separated from me. Although her clothes made her look like an adult, her shy smile reminded me of a high school student.

—I will take good care of this Christmas gift.

With that, Aoi walked toward the inside of the store where the woman was waiting.

Doing this unexpectedly is unfair. Those two words; ‘I love you’, have a remarkable effect. Please don’t say it again in public. I feel like it will give me a heart attack.

—Ugh. I feel like I’ve been taken by surprise.

Feeling the warmth in my cheeks, I followed Aoi’s small, warm body.

 

****

 

—Thank you very much!

We said goodbye to the woman as we left the solo exhibition venue.

As we walked back the same way, Aoi was in a good mood the whole time.

—La la la~ ♪ La la la~ ♪

Aoi continued to hum a song that I couldn’t quite understand. It seemed like she really enjoyed that diorama with the bears.

—Yuya-kun, it’s time to go to the aquarium.

—Yeah, that’s right. It looks like there are restaurants inside as well. What do you think? Should we go there first?

From what I saw online, the cafe seemed to have an elegant and stylish atmosphere. It was like being underwater in a mysterious place, and I thought it would be fun for people of all ages.

—It doesn’t matter. You can decide what you want us to do, Yuya-k—…

Suddenly, Aoi’s stomach made a loud noise. Her stomach growled.

I remembered a similar moment on the day I started living with Aoi.

I held back my laughter and continued the conversation as if nothing had happened.

—Let’s go to the cafe first. I want to eat first.

—Yes, sounds good. — Aoi replied.

Although she pretended not to notice, she discreetly rubbed her stomach. It was as if she was silently begging, “Don’t make any more noise! Yuya-kun will know I’m hungry!”

We walked for a while and arrived at the aquarium.

The exterior is white with the Aquatic Gate rainbow logo. It has a simple but elegant appearance.

The building has two floors and is quite spacious. The website mentions that they exhibit a wide variety of marine life, and it’s evident from its size.

—The cafe is right inside the building. Let’s have a look.

We paid the entrance fee at the counter and went inside.

From the entrance, you could already catch a glimpse of the underwater world. The dimly lit interior was filled with blue tones, giving you the feeling of being submerged in the sea.

—Yuya-kun, this is incredibly beautiful.

I looked to where Aoi was pointing.

There was a projection of a huge aquarium. A group of vibrant fish were swimming gracefully, creating an impressive scene full of visual impact.

In addition, colorful corals and floating jellyfish, among other diverse sea creatures, greeted us.

—It is amazing… It’s a unique view thanks to the map projection. — I commented.

—Yes, it’s fantastic and romantic.

While exchanging our impressions while watching the projection…

—Wow! It’s so beautiful! This place is incredible!

I heard an enthusiastic and familiar voice from next to us.

I turned my head and, yes, there was Rumi. Dressed in her usual girly fashion style.

Beside her was a boy of the same age.

The boy was a little taller than Rumi. He wore glasses and had a kind expression on his face. He seemed serious and sincere.

I remember Rumi mentioning that she had a date for Christmas. So this boy must be her boyfriend.

—Hello. — I greeted him and my eyes met Rumi’s.

She seemed surprised for a moment, but then smiled.

—Yuya-san and Aoi-chan! What a coincidence to run into each other in a dating place! Is it really just a coincidence? – Rumi exclaimed excitedly.

—Yeah, we thought the same thing, right? — Aoi replied.

Aoi and Rumi chatted excitedly, while the boy and I just smiled and watched them happily.

—Oh, right. Let me introduce you to Yuya-san. — Rumi said, looking at her friend for a moment — This is Miyamae Shingo-kun. My friend.

—Nice to meet you. It’s a pleasure to meet Rumi’s friends.

The boy who was introduced as Shingo replied, bowing his head politely.

He spoke in a serious and upright manner. In addition, he had a kind and calm demeanor… Somehow, he reminded me of Aoi.

—Nice to meet you. I’m Amae Yuya. I hope to get along well with you, Shingo-kun.

—The pleasure is mine. I am a good friend of Aoi-san.

—I see. Shingo-kun, are you in the same class as Aoi? — I asked curiously.

—No, we’re in different classes, but we became friends through Rumi. Yuya-san, you’re Aoi-san’s uncle, right? – Shingo asked.

—Yes, that’s right. Please continue to get along with Aoi.

—Of course.

As we exchanged friendly greetings, I felt very grateful for Rumi’s kindness. She had truly kept her promise to keep my relationship with Aoi a secret. Harmless to her beloved friend.

She’s a very valuable girl to have around.

—Rumi told me that Yuya-san is a wonderful man, mature and loving to his niece. Apparently, his niece is so cute that they would spend Christmas together. — Shingo commented.

—Huh?! – I exclaimed in surprise.

I was shocked by what I heard. Spending Christmas alone with one’s niece was not common.

Did he suspect something?

…It may have been a desperate plan, but there was no choice but to play along.

—I see, it turned out to be true that you are so in love with Aoi that you can’t be separated from her.

—Maybe I have become an uncle who loves his niece very much.

It may be frowned upon, but right now I don’t care about my reputation. It’s better for them to discover our relationship than to try to hide it.

I quickly looked at Aoi.

Her face turned red and she opened her mouth several times. It seemed like she was saying: “Yuya-kun, you shouldn’t say that! What did I do wrong?

On the other hand, Rumi held back her laughter. That reaction… Yes. Maybe I did something wrong.

Meanwhile, Shingo looked at me with admiration.

—Really? — Shingo asked — You really are a loving uncle to your niece. If I had a kind uncle like Yuya-san in my family, I would be very happy. Aoi-san, I feel jealous.

I was able to hide the truth with a lie, but somehow my reputation had improved. Even if it was in self-defense, I feel a little guilty…

—Hey, Shingo-kun. Take care of me too!

Rumi began to plead for affection in a sweet voice, clinging to his arm.

Then Shingo’s smiling expression changed. He had that bright and charming look of male protagonists in shojo manga.

—Well, well. You look like a little kitten in distress. Do you want me all to yourself? — Shingo said.

And he began to caress Rumi’s head.

Kitten? Have me all to yourself?

What happened to you, Shingo-kun? You shouldn’t have this kind of arrogant and dominating handsome guy persona.

—Rumi, do you enjoy hogging my attention so much?

Oh no, this is getting out of hand.

—Hey, Shingo-kun… Yuya-san and Aoi are watching us.

—What? Don’t look away. You should only look at me, okay? 

—Yes…!

Rumi and Shingo were immersed in their own world.

Aoi seemed calm, perhaps because she was used to this scene.

—Haha. It’s refreshing to see Rumi-san embarrassed — Aoi commented.

—Well… I feel like an idol just fell in love with me.

—Are you talking about Shingo-kun? Sometimes he acts like that. Yuya-kun, please don’t worry and just watch.

—I’m not worried! — I replied.

It’s obvious that they’re completely different people!

—But Yuya-kun, what you said earlier was unfair. You shouldn’t say things like: “I can’t be separated from Aoi” in front of our friends.

—Huh? Was it bad? I was trying to play the role of the uncle who can’t be separated from his niece… — I replied in surprise.

—It was really bad. Please, say these things only in front of me,- she protested with an angry expression.

—Only in front of you, huh? How many times do you want to melt my heart today?

—Yuya-kun, are you listening to me?

—I understand. Only in front of Aoi.

—Good, don’t let it happen again. — Aoi replied, satisfied.

I shifted my gaze to Rumi and Shingo. They were still lost in their own world.

—Hmph. What an amusing girl… Oh! — Shingo exclaimed when he met my eyes and moved away from Rumi in embarrassment — S–Sorry. When Rumi gets affectionate, something strange happens to me…

—Haha. It’s good that you two are so affectionate… Although I was a bit surprised.

—Probably because of my sister’s influence. I grew up reading shojo manga from a young age.

That’s very interesting.

I’m so fascinated by Shingo’s sudden change of attitude that it seems like something that would keep me up at night, but Rumi seems to accept it. If they are in love with each other, it’s not my place to interfere.

—Oh, I have an idea! — Rumi exclaimed, clapping her hands — Hey, Aoi-chan. Why don’t we go on a double date?

—A double date…? What does that mean?

—Don’t you know? It’s when two couples go out together. Doesn’t that sound fun?

—Oh, that… Sounds interesting.

Aoi frowned and fell silent, seemingly thinking about something complicated.

What was wrong with her? Was there something she didn’t understand about the explanation of a double date?

While thinking about it, Aoi started to whisper softly.

—This is my first Christmas with Yuya-kun. I want to create wonderful memories just the two of us, but I also want to fulfill Rumi-san’s wish… What should I do?

Aoi thought aloud while making a small, adorable sound with her mouth. It seems that her thoughts have come to light.

I see. Aoi struggled with conflicting feelings.

But feeling the overwhelming energy of Rumi and how excited she was about the idea, she finally gave in and nodded her head.

—This is fine, I have no problem with it.

This made Rumi jump for joy and hug her.

—Well, then it’s decided. Although the double date sounds nice, it’s Christmas, wouldn’t it be better to spend it with your partner? Right, Shingo-kun?

Uh-huh. Stay by my side. I want to make you happy and give you my love. — Shingo replied seriously.

—Shingo-kun, how romantic… — Rumi sighed.

Once again, they were lost in their own world. Hey, come back!

—Ah, Yuya-kun. — Aoi tapped me on the shoulder as she watched Rumi and Shingo.

—What is it?  

—Haha, you can’t pretend that you don’t know. I want to be with you, but I also don’t want to refuse Rumi-san’s proposal… You understood my feelings, right? — Aoi said with a smile.

Her observation was spot on.

It’s embarrassing when such things are revealed… I have to learn how to react more skillfully.

—It is not like that at all. You’re overestimating my abilities.

—No, you really do. You always understand my feelings.

Then she added a ‘but’ and leaned closer, her cheeks puffing out.

—You shouldn’t call yourself ‘Uncle’ because it makes you look like an old man.

—Huh?

—Yuya-kun, you’re not old at all. You’re a cool older brother. You’re my proud fiance, remember? You shouldn’t belittle yourself like that. — Aoi said as she walked away from me.

Her tone was a bit firm, but her expression was very tender.

My proud fiancé… I was happy to hear that, but I’d rather she said it privately when we were alone at home. Someone my age shouldn’t smile like that.

—Yuya-kun, why don’t you say something?

—It’s okay, I won’t do it again. Don’t worry.

—Hmm, you have that smile on your face. I don’t see any signs of remorse.

—That’s because it’s your fault.

—Huh? What do you mean? — Aoi asked, tilting her head.

It seems like she doesn’t realize she’s bragging. She tends to express her feelings directly and brag about it.

It’s exciting, but… I feel a little frustrated that I am constantly being taken by surprise.

I’ve made up my mind. I’ll return the favor later.

As I watched Aoi looking at me curiously, I thought about these childish things.

 

****

 

We arrived at the café inside the venue.

The interior of the cafe was dimly lit, with black lights accentuating the glow of the coral. There were several fish tanks creating a vibrant and magical atmosphere.

Apparently, this place becomes a bar at night, which explains the bottles lined up behind the counter. They were illuminated by a bluish-white light, creating a mature atmosphere.

—Wow! It’s super elegant! Isn’t it amazing, Aoi? — I exclaimed excitedly.

—Yes, it’s amazing. It’s really beautiful.

Both girls were visibly excited. It was worth bringing them here if it made them so happy.

—Hey, Aoi-chan, don’t you think the bottle looks cute? Although it’s a shame that we can’t drink from it — Rumi commented.

—Yes, it is. Let’s come back here when we’re grown up. — Aoi replied excitedly.

—We will definitely come back… By the way, Yuuya-san, do you usually drink alcohol?

—Don’t even think about it, Yuya-kun. — Aoi interrupted before I could answer.

She looked at me with a look that seemed to scold me. She’s probably acting like this because of what happened on the company trip.

—Don’t worry, I don’t plan to do that. Especially since it’s a special day for us, and besides, the bar opens at night, so there’s not much I can do.

—Then I’m relieved. Yuya-kun tends to get carried away and drink too much. It’s important to drink in moderation. — Aoi added with a slightly scolding tone.

—Yes, I know…

I was reprimanded at an unexpected moment. Although I can’t blame her, I acted like an idiot that night, so I can’t argue with her at all.

On the other hand, Rumi found Aoi’s words and actions amusing, as if they were those of a wife talking to her husband.

—Aoi-chan, let’s leave the declarations of love aside and order our drinks. — Rumi said.

—I-I am not making declarations of love! — Aoi exclaimed.

—Yes, yes, of course! I forgot, it’s wrong to flirt with your ‘uncle’.

—That’s enough, Rumi-san!

Aoi puffed up her cheeks like a pufferfish. Rumi and I stifled our laughter, while Shingo, who didn’t know understand, looked perplexed.

I tried to calm Aoi down and we went to the counter.

This cafe had a variety of colorful drinks. Blue Hawaii, grape juice, orange, melon soda. I paid for them all and gave each of them a drink.

I looked around and found an empty table by the wall. Aoi and I sat next to each other, while Rumi and Shingo sat across from us.

While we enjoyed our drinks, we talked excitedly about school.

—Hey, Aoi, the sports tournament was so much fun, wasn’t it?!

—Rumi, you did a great job. You scored a lot of points in basketball… Although you also gave some points to the other team…

—Hahaha, I like to move my body, you know?

—Yeah, I could tell.

—Hey, Shingo-kun, listen to this. Aoi put a lot of effort into basketball. She took five shots! Even though none of them made it into the basket. It was so cute to see her jump up and shoot, saying ‘Un-sho!

—Rumi-san! I said it was a secret!

—Hahaha, that sounds really cute. I’d like to see it on video.

—Ugh! Even Shingo-kun is mean to me!

Aoi protested with a flushed face.

Ah, come to think of it, I’ve never seen Aoi do any sports. I always thought she was more into indoor activities as a child, but maybe she has trouble with sports.

It’s refreshing to hear stories about Aoi at school. I can discover surprising aspects, and it’s fun just to listen.

As I listened to the high school students’ conversation with a smile on my face, I suddenly felt a glance from beside me.

I turned around and saw that Aoi had a remorseful expression on her face.

—Is something wrong?

—Yuya-kun, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.

Huh? What is she talking about?

Before I could ask, Aoi approached me. My heart skipped a beat at her sudden closeness.

—Would you be jealous if you saw me getting along with other guys? — Aoi whispered in my ear.

—Huh?

Does that mean she’s afraid I’ll get jealous if I see her chatting away with Shingo? I guess it’s normal for friends to talk to each other… But if the roles were reversed, Aoi would get jealous too, right?

The fact that she asked that question made her cute, and I was tempted to tease her a little. I hadn’t returned the excitement she had made me feel earlier, so this was the perfect opportunity.

I knew it would put me in an awkward position if Rumi and the others overheard our conversation. I secretly took out my cell phone and sent a message to Aoi.

—Don’t worry. I’m not jealous at all.

—But you stayed silent and didn’t join the conversation…

—I just wanted to hear the story of how hard you worked at basketball.

—Ugh! Even you, Yuya-kun!

Aoi looked at me angrily as she growled. By the way, I really wanted to see Aoi challenge herself and work hard at something that wasn’t easy for her.

—It’s also true that I couldn’t join the conversation.

—Why?

—I was busy admiring your profile.

—D–Don’t look at me so much! Idiot!

—I can’t help it.

—Yuya-kun!

Aoi’s worried face was so funny that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

Rumi misunderstood and thought we were laughing at the sports tournament story, so she asked me: “Isn’t that funny?”

—Yuya-san, there are other cute stories about Aoi. Would you like to hear them?

—Yes, I’d like to hear them.

I nodded as I watched Aoi’s profile. Occasionally she would look at me, but she would look away when our eyes met.

—Once, when Aoi started dribbling, she kicked the ball with all her strength using the tips of her toes. The ball flew straight and hit the back of the referee’s knee! Wasn’t that a killer dribble? It was really funny!

—Hahaha, that’s really funny.

Aoi, unable to bear my gaze, blushed like a tomato.

She finally covered her face with both hands.

—Don’t… Don’t look… Idiot… she said softly, her voice stuttering.

—Huh? What’s wrong, Aoi?

—N–Nothing… It’s nothing…

Aoi answered Rumi’s question and lowered her hands that covered her face. For some reason, she was staring at me intently.

She’s looking at me with such an intense look. Maybe I’ve teased her too much and upset her.

—I am sorry, Aoi. I won’t be cruel to you anymore, so can you cheer up? — I said.

—It’s revenge. — Aoi replied.

—Huh?”

—When you stare at me intensely, I feel embarrassed. So I want you to feel embarrassed when you stare at me, Yuya-kun, in the hell of embarrassment.

—In the hell of embarrassment?

I don’t really understand… Is she planning to take revenge somehow?

Aoi pursed her lips and grunted “muh”, giving me an intense look.

I get it… It’s definitely embarrassing.

Instinctively, I turned my face in the opposite direction of Aoi.

Then Aoi moved her chair closer and looked up at me. She also had an embarrassed expression on her face as she stared at me intently.

What kind of cute revenge is this…! The hell of embarrassment is truly intimidating.

—I give up. Please stop. — I said

Finally, I decided to surrender and raised the white flag. Aoi looked satisfied and proud as she said, “I won” and raised her chin.

That’s how I was defeated and excited again.

 

*****

 

As we left the cafe, Shingo politely said; “Thank you for the food, Yuya-san.”

I couldn’t help but smile ironically.

—You’re really polite… But I should thank you as well. Both Aoi and I had a good time. Thank you.

—No, it’s no big deal… Yuya-san, you really have an air of maturity about you.

—Hahaha. Well, I am an adult after all. — I replied.

—I don’t just mean your age… It’s hard to explain. You have a kindness that shows consideration and a kind of understanding. I can see why Aoi admires you. — Shingo said — Adulthood. Consideration. Kindness. That’s Yuya-san. — he continued.

When Rumi had that sleepover with Aoi, she had said something similar. But instead of saying ‘Aoi admires you’, she used the phrase ‘Aoi likes you’.

Wait a minute.

If Rumi has a similar impression… could it be that he realized my relationship with Aoi?

Just to be sure, I might want to investigate a little further.

—Um, Shingo-kun, why do you think that? — I asked.

—Today, Aoi-san seemed different in some way, I found her refreshing. — Shingo replied

—Different, you say…

—Yes. Aoi-san is serious about school. Even though she’s a little shy sometimes and has trouble speaking, everyone trusts her. — Shingo said with an ironic smile — So I was surprised to see her today, different than usual. Because when she’s with you, she shows a kind smile I’ve never seen before, she enjoys doing slightly childish things… I think she trusts you so much that she feels completely safe.

—I see…

I had noticed how Aoi behaved at school, but I never worried about the differences when she’s with me.

I didn’t know. The smile she usually shows me, is it just for me…?

No, no, no, what am I thinking? I’m too embarrassed.

—I would like to become an adult that people trust, like Yuya-san… By the way, Yuya-san, are your cheeks red? Are you okay? — Shingo asked.

—Don’t worry. It’s just that it’s really hot because of the heater…

—R—Really…? Ah, I’m sorry for rambling on for so long. Well, we should be heading home soon. — Shingo said, sounding a little nervous.

—Yeah, enjoy the rest of your date. Aoi and Rumi-chan… Huh? Where did they go? — I asked.

—They’re over there. — Shingo pointed.

The two of them were chatting amiably as they looked at the aquarium.

Before I could call out to them, Shingo beat me to it.

—Rumi! Come over here, we shouldn’t keep Yuya-san waiting.

—Yes! Let’s go, Aoi! — Rumi replied excitedly.

The two came running towards us.

—Well, this is where we part ways. I’m glad I got to talk to you a lot. Right, Aoi?

In response to my question, Aoi nodded with a smile.

—Yes. Rumi-san, Shingo-kun. See you in school next year.

—Yes! Have a happy new year! — Rumi and Shingo exclaimed.

—Goodbye, Aoi-chan. Yuya-san, thank you for today. — Rumi said.

—It was a pleasure, I hope to see you again soon.

We said our goodbyes and parted ways with Rumi and Shingo.

They both walked toward the escalator to go up to the next floor. We waved at them until we could no longer see them.

—It looks like Rumi-chan and Shingo-kun are enjoying their date at the aquarium as well.

—Yes, they were definitely more excited than usual.

After that, Aoi asked a question with obvious enthusiasm.

—Yuya-kun, where shall we go next?

It seemed like she hadn’t realized how excited she was, just like Rumi.

—On this floor, there’s a section for jellyfish. How about that?

—Jellyfish… Like Clémentine’s? That sounds great! Let’s go! — Aoi exclaimed excitedly.

—Got it. The place is… this way.

We went to the back of the floor and found the Jellyfish section.

It was a spacious area with several tanks on display. Red, pink, blue, yellow, purple. The tanks, lit in vibrant colors, were filled with floating and swimming jellyfish.

—It’s amazing… Yuya-kun, those jellyfish are adorable! — Aoi pointed out.

Aoi was pointing at a species of jellyfish called Aurelia. It gracefully moved its umbrella-like body, about thirty centimeters in diameter, as it swam. The center of its shield appeared pink from the light. They were truly beautiful.

—Ah. It’s comforting to see that.

—Hehehe. Yuya-kun, please don’t say things like you’re an old person. You are my ‘big brother’, remember?

—Hahaha, yes, that’s right.

—Oh, Yuya… Ah! That jellyfish over there is glowing too!

Aoi ran towards the rear tank, turning around on the way and waving her hand.

—Yuya, come here too! This jellyfish is cute too!

Seeing how excited Aoi was for her age, I somehow caught her joy as well. It was a good decision to come to the aquarium.

—Hey, be careful. It’s dangerous to run.

I warned her as I stood next to Aoi in front of the tank.

The jellyfish were swimming in this tank, illuminated with yellow light. They had longer tentacles than those in the previous tanks.

—Yuya, do you know the name of this species?

—The sea wasp… Although it’s beautiful, it also seems to have a very strong poison. They say it hurts when it stings you.

—Oh, do you know much about it? Have you done any research?

—No, there’s a description of the creatures over there.

—Oh, right. You’ve become quite knowledgeable, haven’t you? — Aoi teased while covering her mouth — “Cheating is not fair,” she added, moving to hide the description.

As she watched Aoi laugh softly, she tilted her head curiously.

—Is something wrong?

—No, I’m just happy that Aoi is enjoying this place. — I replied with a smile.

—That… It’s just that being with you makes me feel very happy. No matter where we are… N-Not that you should make me say such things, silly.

—Hahaha, that’s good to know.

—And you’re not enjoying it, Yuya? — Aoi asked worriedly.

Today is Christmas, a day to spend with someone special. Instead of that worried expression, a smile suited her better.

Suddenly, I relaxed my cheeks and gently stroked Aoi’s head.

—Of course I’m enjoying it. Can’t you see it on my face?

—Yes. I think I have the same expression as you. — Aoi said, narrowing her eyes as if tickled.

Maybe it was a good idea to limit our double date to a cafe. It would be too embarrassing if Rumi and the others saw us melting like this.

After admiring the jellyfish for a while, Aoi’s phone rang.

—It’s a message from Rumi-san… Hehehe, it’s a happy photo of the two of them. Yuya, you should see it too.

—Let me see…

I leaned over to the phone and saw a photo of Rumi and Shingo. They were holding hands and standing very close to each other.

Then the phone rang again.

Normally, I don’t look at other people’s messages, but since they appear below the photos, they naturally come into my line of sight.

—[Send me a photo of you and Yuya-san, too.]

That was the message on the messaging app.

—Yuya, they want a photo! Let’s take one! It will be a nice memory. — Aoi exclaimed excitedly.

She seemed to have a bright idea, full of enthusiasm. Aoi held my hand and her cell phone with the other.

I can’t help but think… Is she planning to send a cute photo of the two of us holding hands, just like Rumi and her boyfriend?

—Aoi, honestly, taking a picture in this situation…

—Please, smile. Okay, I’ll take it. — she said before I could stop her.

With no time to stop her, the shutter sound of Aoi’s phone clicked.

—Hey, Aoi… If it’s for a memory, that’s fine, but…

—Send in full… Huh? What’s wrong? — Aoi asked in surprise.

—…Are you sure about sending such an affectionate photo? Aren’t you embarrassed…? Since you said you wanted to limit such acts for when we’re alone…

Aoi was stunned for a few seconds.

After a moment of being frozen, she finally seemed to understand the meaning of my words and her face turned completely red.

—A-Ah! Why didn’t you speak up sooner?! — Aoi shouted as she frantically tapped her phone.

—Just to clarify, we’re holding hands so that Yuya doesn’t get lost! He always wanders off and it’s really a problem!” she wrote desperately in the message.

Am I the only one who thinks this excuse sounds forced?

Our eyes met. Aoi squeezed her eyes shut and hid behind my back. She rubbed her face against my back as if she was giving in.

—Ugh. It seems like I’m showing off, and it’s embarrassing…

—It seems like I’m… showing off… and that’s… embarrassing? — I repeated with a mocking smile.

—T–There’s nothing wrong with that! I too have moments when I get carried away! — Aoi said as she lightly slapped my back.

Despite what she said, those intentions of wanting to do couple-like things were leaking out more and more.

Once again, I thought it would be a good idea to give up the double date.

 

***

 

After that, we continued to enjoy our date at the aquarium.

In the Little Fish area on the second floor, tiny sea creatures were on display.

The head of a small eel peeked out of holes in the sand. When an orange clownfish with three white stripes swam by,  Aoi would get excited and say; “They’re so cute!” no matter which one she looked at.

Personally, I thought the underwater tunnel was the best part.

The tunnel had skylights that let sunlight in, making the underwater world feel even more real.

Inside the tunnel were ten species of rays. Their fins extended horizontally as they swam, creating a stunning sight.

Aoi exclaimed excitedly; “Oh! There are little faces on the undersides of their bodies!” as she looked at the undersides of the rays.

If you looked under the rays, you could see two eye-like holes. The holes below them seemed to be the mouth, according to the description. It’s strange that even though they look like eyes, they’re actually nasal openings. This makes you feel even more affectionate towards them.

After enjoying the aquarium, we left the place.

It was already night, and the sky was full of stars.

—Aoi, we had a lot of fun at the aquarium, didn’t we?

—Yes, there were so many adorable creatures. — Aoi replied enthusiastically.

—I’m glad you enjoyed it.

—It was twice as much fun because I was with you. — Aoi said as she looked up at the sky and mentioned it casually — The stars are beautiful tonight.

As usual, she seemed unaware that she was bragging.

—That’s one of the things I like about you, Aoi… — I murmured.

—Huh? Did you say something?

—No, it’s nothing.

—Mm. I don’t like you having secrets.

—I won’t tell you because I know it will embarrass you.

—That just makes me more curious… By the way, what are we going to do next?

We had decided to go to the aquarium together, but the rest of the plan was up to me.

Apparently, there was an illuminated street near the river not far from the station tonight. I planned to take us there.

—Well, speaking of that…

—…We’re not going home yet, are we? — Aoi said with a hopeful look.

Aoi grabbed my clothes as if to reassure me and looked at me with expectant eyes.

It seems like she’s about to say something like; “Today, I want to enjoy a special atmosphere a little longer… Is that okay?” If we go home now, this spoiled girl will definitely be in a bad mood. It was good that I prepared in advance.

—There’s a light show just a short walk from here. How about we go see it before we head back? — I suggested and Aoi smiled softly.

—As always, Yuya-kun sees everything. You’re amazing.

—Hahaha, I can’t see everything.

—No, you can… Because you know that I love to do everything with you. — Aoi replied in a warm tone.

I watched Aoi walking next to me. Her happily smiling profile was tinted with red.

—Well… Maybe you’re right.

—Ah, hurry up, Yuya-kun. Let’s go see the lights. — Aoi said hurriedly, as if she was embarrassed by what she had said earlier.

—But Aoi, it’s not this way. We have to turn left here.

Even though we were far from the station, the hustle and bustle didn’t stop.

Many people were passing through the area. This special night was far from over. I had a feeling that there were still fun moments waiting for Aoi and me… As I looked at the lively crowd, this intuition grew stronger.

After walking for a while, we came to a river illuminated with lights.

Cherry trees lined both sides of the river. Countless thin, bare branches reached up to the cold sky.

But tonight was Christmas. The trees were decorated with LED lights that glowed in shades of pink. The cherry blossom petals, which never fell, glowed and reflected softly on the surface of the river, gently waving.

We stopped at the side of the road and gazed at the out-of-season cherry blossoms.

—Yuya-kun, the lights are so beautiful.

—Yes, it’s the first time I’ve seen cherry blossoms in winter.

—When I see cherry blossoms, it reminds me of that moment.

—Cherry blossoms…

I don’t have to ask, I can feel it. It’s the story of the day Aoi and I broke up. I remember how the early spring cherry blossoms scattered in the wind like a farewell.

—Since the day we got engaged, I’ve dreamed of having romantic dates like this with you, Yuya-kun.

—Then tonight your dream has come true.

—Yes, thanks to Yuya-kun inviting me.

—No, this is all thanks to you, Aoi.

—Huh?”

—You’ve always had me in your thoughts, you’ve always stayed firm in pursuing your desires, and it’s thanks to that that we’re experiencing this moment together.

Aoi came to see me after seven years of separation. Thanks to her courageous act, we can be together like this.

—But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still thanks to you.

—You’re being stubborn again. Why do you think that?

—Because… for seven years I always had you in my mind. Even after I moved away, even after I became a high school student, despite all the encounters I had, I always thought of you. I was so obsessed with you.

Aoi smiled shyly and took my hand.

It’s comforting to hear those words, but it also makes me feel insecure.

How wonderful was I as an older brother in the past?

Even after I quit my tiring office job, I still feel like I’m far from being the same person I was back then… Seeing Aoi praising the past me, I can’t help but think that way.

Suddenly, I feel the strength in Aoi’s hand as she squeezes mine.

—Don’t worry… the Yuya now is even more beautiful than the Yuya seven years ago.

Aoi’s soft voice disappears into the air along with her white breath.

—More beautiful than the Yuya seven years ago… Those words echoed in my chest more than anything else.

—…So that’s what you think of me.

—Hehehe, are you calm now? — Aoi asked with a mischievous smile.

This way of expressing herself… Could she see through my insecurities?

—You caught me… you really understand how I feel.

—That’s because I’m just like you. — Aoi replied, resting her head on my shoulder. — I can understand everything about you, Yuya-kun. After all, I’m your fiancee.

It’s true… Just like her, I always want to see her smile. Because we love each other.

And once again, she made me realize something so obvious.

—Although in reality I only really understood it this time… And I want to make it clear that what I said before wasn’t just for show, it was sincere.

—If you said it just to console me, I swear I’ll cry.

—Heh, in that case, I’ll comfort you.

Once again she was teasing me. Today, I feel like I’ve lost to Aoi again.

—Aoi, thank you very much for today. I hope I can rely on you in the future.

—I hope the same.

We both looked at the illuminated cherry blossoms.

Those flowers that seemed to be saying goodbye at that moment now seemed to be blessing us.

—Yuya-kun…

—What is it?

—…Can I be a little more dependent?

—Of course.

—Then allow me to be rude. — she said as she clung to my arm.

Her breath created a white glow in the air. The winter night was cold and piercing. But being together gave us warmth.

—Yuya-kun. Can I stay like this a little longer?

I can’t deny being pampered like this. So I nodded silently and looked ahead.

—Yes. I want to enjoy this view even more.

As we looked at the cherry blossoms, we cuddled up to each other without leaving any space, with the intention of never parting again.

Living with a Beautiful High School Student: A chance encounter after seven years

Living with a Beautiful High School Student: A chance encounter after seven years

Kutabire Salarymen no Ore, 7nenburi ni Saikai shita Bishoujo JK to Dosei wo Hajimaru
Status: Ongoing Type: Author: Artist: Released: 2023 Native Language: くたびれサラリーマンな俺、7年ぶりに再会した美少女JKと同棲を始める
Amae Yuya, an office worker in his third year of employment, is completely exhausted by the daily grind. Then, for the first time in seven years, Yuya meets Aoi Shiratori, a girl eight years younger than him who used to live in his neighborhood. She had grown up to be a beautiful JK girl who was good at housework, and she said to him, “Yuya-kun, would you like to live with me under the premise of marriage?” Aoi desperately wants to live with Yuya, her first love. Yuya, who is puzzled, agrees to live with Aoi as a guardian for the time being, but Aoi’s aggressive approach makes him very nervous inside.

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