Living with a Beautiful High School Student: A chance encounter after seven years [Chapter 4] [Volume 1]

Feelings on the surface

 It was already October.

As I typed away at my desk, my mind wandered to things that weren’t work-related. My most persistent thoughts were ideas for my date with Aoi. 

But nothing seemed good or exciting enough. Even the most basic options, like going out for dinner, were proving to be difficult. 

At first, I thought of going to an elegant French restaurant with a beautiful night view. But, for someone still in high school, maybe it would be more fun to go to a more casual and popular place instead. I was feeling very indecisive.

Furthermore, my problem wasn’t limited to just dinner. I also thought about where we should spend the day. From a student’s perspective, going to karaoke or something similar might be a great idea.

However, it’s a bit weird for an adult to take you to a karaoke, right? Aoi is not the type of girl who would feel comfortable in noisy and crowded places like that.

Therefore, the most sensible thing would be to find out what she likes the most. But I doubt she would be honest with me. 

…I’m pathetic, I can’t even come up with a romantic date for the girl I’m in love with. Dating a woman is harder than I thought.

I sighed and looked at the clock hanging on the office wall. It was already noon. 

—…Maybe I’ll come up with something during lunch.

After finishing a part of my work, I got up from my seat. Today, I wanted to have lunch at a different place. I wanted to eat miso ramen at the office cafeteria. It’s funny how sometimes I have irresistible cravings for miso ramen.

I entered the cafeteria and saw that there were few people and many empty tables. It shouldn’t take long for this place to gradually fill up with people.

I bought my ticket and ordered the miso ramen. After receiving my ramen on a tray, I sat at one of the empty tables.

—Oh, what a coincidence to see you here, Yuya-kun. Do you mind if I sit next to you?

The person who spoke to me was Chizuru-san, and on her tray was the famous Katsudon bowl.

—It’s fine. And why did you come to lunch alone?

—Eh? Eat alone? I didn’t say that!

— No, I’m asking you!

—Oh, sorry. I misheard. — She said as she sat next to me.

Chizuru-san acted as if nothing happened. It seemed like she had finally begun to trip over her words by herself… How should I handle this situation?

—W—Well, Yuya-kun. Let’s eat before it gets cold.

—Yes… Enjoy the meal.

Trying to regain my composure, I took a bite of the steaming miso ramen. The taste of miso spread throughout my mouth. The soup was really delicious. The curly noodles were also delicious, mixing well with the soup and having a chewy texture.

While enjoying the food, I noticed that Chizuru-san was still using her work phone next to me.

—Are you working even during your lunch break? Thank you for working so hard.

—No, I’m just checking old internal emails. I like to take advantage of the lunch hour for that.

—But it’s still work…

—They’re just informational emails. Look at this. — Chizuru replied as she showed me her phone.

On the screen was an email. The title read: “Notification of company trip for family members.”

I remember seeing that email some time ago. It seems that this year will be a hot spring trip.

At this time of year, our company organizes a business trip in which the Administration Department is primarily responsible. Perhaps they do this to show appreciation to employees and thank them in some way for all the work they have done.

This trip is for one night and two days and usually happens during the weekend.

—I don’t remember a single time when you have been involved in this type of trip. Do you plan on going this year?

—Honestly, I have no intention of going.

—Are you sure? The deadline to register is this weekend. — Chizuru replied as she looked at her phone.

—The trip is focused on spending time with your family. I don’t have a partner or children… Besides, it would be embarrassing to go on this type of work trip with your mother. So, I don’t myself going.

But after saying that, for some reason, Aoi’s face appeared in my mind out of nowhere… Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to go on the trip with Aoi, right? I want to believe that she would love the idea.

Since it’s a trip organized by the company, I don’t have to worry too much about finding a place that Aoi might like. That responsibility would be taken out of my hands, and in exchange, my only responsibility would be to find a good restaurant and suitable places for a date.

My only risk is that my coworkers will find out that Aoi lives with me. I don’t see how my coworkers will understand that I live with a high school student.

In addition, there is a possibility that Aoi will feel uncomfortable… Damn, I knew it wouldn’t be that simple.

—Don’t try to make excuses, Yuya-kun, that just makes it worse. The company covers all the expenses of the trip, you’ll see that it’s something that will be very fun and rewarding. Plus, dinner will be in a banquet hall where you can drink for free. Doesn’t that sound great?

—Haha, well, if you put it that way, it does sound tempting… Oh, by the way, are there many employees who usually bring their family?

—There are a considerable number who do. But I think there are more singles like me. That’s why you won’t have to worry too much… Huh? Did I just say that I’m single?

—Eh, no, I don’t think so… Well, I guess I’ll think about it a bit.

—Thinking about it, huh? Don’t take too long. Or is there something that worries you?

—W—What do you mean?

—Oh come on, you’re surely thinking about whether it’s a good idea to bring Aoi-chan on the company trip, right? It’s more than obvious that you like her. 

How did she know what I was thinking? She even noticed my feelings… Is it that easy to see on my face?

—Hey, do you think that would be problematic?

—Well, even if they’re not family, I think we can work something out. Our company is quite flexible after all.

—Well, that’s true, but…

—Hmm, it seems like you’re still worried. If you want, we can discuss it?

—Well… If Aoi and I join the trip, we would definitely attract attention, right? It would be surprising for everyone in the company to see a single person like me bringing a high school girl… I’m worried that our relationship will be exposed.

—That shouldn’t be a big problem. She’ll just be exposed to trivial things, like curious looks.

—But I don’t want rumors to spread in the workplace. I’m worried that Aoi will also feel uncomfortable and hold back.

—You… Yuya-kun, stop making excuses and be more honest. Don’t worry about trivial things like that.

—Trivial things…

—I understand your feelings of unease. However, don’t let that be a limiting factor for you to do things that can make you happy. Worrying about the opinions of others is like putting chains on your soul.

—Things that make me happy…

—Exactly. Don’t you think Aoi-chan’s feelings are worth it? More importantly, don’t you think you also deserve to do things that make you happy?

—Well…

—Don’t worry about the rest. You should prioritize your happiness, and I’m willing to support you in this. Plus, we can introduce Aoi-chan to everyone as your relative. I’ll talk to my acquaintances in the General Affairs Department and arrange for her to participate in the trip.

—Chizuru-san… Thank you so much.

—It’s okay, don’t worry about it. Oh, and you don’t need to thank me. Just accompany me for a couple of drinks and that will be enough for me. — Chizuru replied, taking a bite of her tonkatsu.

Although she jokes a lot, when it comes to the concerns of her subordinates she always faces them head-on. It’s things like that that make me respect her so much.

—Chizuru-san, I’ll talk to Aoi today. If she says she wants to go… No, I’m sure she’ll want to go, so rest assured that we’ll both participate.

—Yes, do that. I’m excited to hear the good news… By the way, Yuya-kun, your noodles are growing.

—My noodles…?

I hastily looked at my bowl and noticed that my noodles had absorbed a lot of broth and had become quite thick.

As I looked at them in that state, I was thoughtful for a moment and then gave them a taste… Damn, this is ruined already.

—The miso ramen doesn’t taste the same anymore…

—Don’t be discouraged. Here, have some of my tonkatsu. It will make it much more delicious.

—No, it won’t work like that.

Smiling bitterly, I finished the remaining noodles.

At least I’m glad to know that there won’t be any problems in bringing Aoi on the company trip. The only thing left is to ask her.

When I get home, I’ll talk to her right away.

 

***

 

—I’m home.

—Welcome back, Yuya-kun.

When I entered the apartment, Aoi ran towards me in a hurry.

—Wow, did you miss me that much?

—W—Well… It’s not that. Idiot. Let me take your suitcase. — She said as she snatched it from my hands.

It’s obvious that she’s embarrassed.

—Yuya-kun, do you want to eat or take a bath first?

—I’m hungry. Can we eat first?

—Of course. I’ll prepare the food right away.

—Hey, Aoi. There’s something I want to talk to you about.

—What is it?

Aoi replied as she searched for ingredients in the refrigerator.

—How about we go out together somewhere?

—Go out together? Like a walk? Sounds good. Where would you like to go?

—I don’t know… How about we go on a trip to a hot spring resort?

—A trip to a hot spring resort?

Bam!

The refrigerator door slammed shut.

Aoi quickly turned around with her eyes shining, and then approached me at high speed until our faces were only a few centimeters apart.

—Are you sure?

—Y—Yes. However, keep in mind that it will be a company trip, so there will be other people…

—I don’t care if it’s a company trip! I would be happy to go on a trip with you, Yuya-kun, no matter who else is there! It’s a dream come true for me to be able to go on a trip with someone I like! I’m so excited… I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight. No, I definitely won’t be able to sleep tonight!

—O—Okay, calm down. Let’s try to calm down a bit, okay?

—I can’t calm down! I mean, I’m going on a trip with you, Yuya-kun… Ahh…

Suddenly, Aoi came to her senses and took a step back, keeping some distance.

—Well… No, I don’t think it’s a good idea, let’s leave it for another time.

Aoi laughed awkwardly and scratched her cheek with her finger.

Something’s not right with Aoi. A moment ago she was very excited, but now she’s become distant for no apparent reason.

—Why? Tell me what’s going on.

—Wouldn’t it be a problem for you if your coworkers find out about our relationship? If I go on a trip with you, it would attract a lot of attention and we could get into trouble. The worst thing would be if they found out that we live together…

So that’s what she’s worried about.

I thought Aoi had started to feel more comfortable with me lately, but apparently, it’s difficult for her to be more selfish.

After seeing how excited Aoi was a moment ago, I didn’t even consider the option of canceling the trip.

I don’t care what she thinks, we’ll definitely go together.

—You don’t have to worry, I’ll introduce you as my relative.

—However, there’s a risk of getting caught. I don’t want to cause you any trouble, Yuya-kun.

—…Hey, Aoi. Since we started living together, I’ve never felt like you were causing me any trouble. In fact, every day is fun and I don’t regret starting this adventure with you.

—Yuya-kun…

—So don’t hold back. You can do whatever you want and say whatever you want. Your happiness is my happiness. Okay?

—I never thought that my happiness could be yours. I’ve always been worried about being useful and things like that… But if we’re not happy together, none of this makes sense. I was foolish.

Saying that, Aoi smiled.

—Yuya-kun is a kind person, even if you have any complaints about our life together, you wouldn’t mention it. That’s why… I became a little insecure. I’m sorry.

—I don’t have any complaints. On the contrary, I want to keep living with you in the future.

—Keep living together in the future… Don’t suddenly say embarrassing things. Idiot.

Aoi lightly smacked my arm with a flushed face, hiding her embarrassment.

I admit, I got carried away by my feelings of love for her and said something strange… No, wait. Depending on how she interpreted my words, this may have sounded like a proposal!

—I’m sorry if I said something weird. Anyway, I wanted to formally invite you… Aoi, I want you to come with me on the company trip.

—Can I really go?

—Yes. I want to go with you, Aoi.

—Then, if you agree… Yes, I want to go on a trip with you, Yuya-kun!

—Perfect. If you have any other requests, you can say them now.

Although I made such a proposal, I shouldn’t be surprised at all if I suddenly received a rejection from her.

However, Aoi seemed to want to say something and stammered.

—Um… During the trip, could we also have some alone time…?

Aoi made a pleading look with narrowed eyes. There it is, that unconscious ability to become a very sweet girl. It makes me feel a little dizzy to witness so much cuteness.

I can’t reject such a sweet request.

—Understood. It will be my pleasure to spend some alone time with you, Aoi.

—R—Really? Is it okay?

—Of course.

—Um… Can I make another request?

—Well, I see you’re gaining a lot of confidence. Okay, what do you have in mind?

—I want to go on a date. A romantic and mature date… That would make me very happy.

That was a pretty specific and peculiar request. Well, it’s understandable. So far, I only mentioned the hot spring trip without going into details.

Still, I responded with determination.

—A romantic and mature date, huh… Of course, count on it.

—Thank you… Hehe, I’m excited.

Aoi regained her smile and hummed as she opened the fridge.

Alright. I have a lot of work to do from now on. I’ll make an effort to prepare something very special and romantic that she can enjoy. My date with Aoi will be a success.

And also… I want to eliminate the insecurities that are still in Aoi’s heart during this trip. There have been significant improvements, but I still feel like Aoi holds back a bit with me.

I want Aoi to understand that this apartment is also her home. I want her to feel safe to express her selfish desires.

And I already know how to alleviate all her worries. The answer is already in my mind, and that is our date during the trip. There, I plan to express everything I feel for her.

—…I hope that makes her very happy.

I murmured quietly so that Aoi couldn’t hear me.

 

***

The weekend passed without any problems, and I have also completed the request for the company trip.

It’s 1:00 pm, and I’m standing in front of the apartment door saying goodbye to Aoi, who is going shopping today with Rumi-chan.

—Well, I’m leaving.

—Yes. Take care… By the way, that outfit looks really good on you.

Aoi was wearing a fluffy white sweater and a light pink long skirt. It was a simple outfit, but it looked really nice on her.

—R—Really? Thank you.

Aoi held onto her skirt tightly and thanked me shyly. Those shy gestures are so cute. After that, I closed the entrance door, returned to my room, and took my phone.

—Whew… I’m nervous.

I opened my phone’s contact list and searched for Ryoko-san’s number.

The time difference between Australia and Japan is approximately one hour. It’s still daytime there, so it probably won’t be a bother if I call her now.

I can’t allow Aoi to hear this call. That’s why I thought of calling at this time while Aoi is out of the house.

—Okay… Here I go.

I took a deep breath once and pressed the call button.

After several rings, Ryoko-san answers the phone.

—[Hello, Yuya-kun! How are you?]

I heard her cheerful voice through the phone. Although we have already talked a few times to inform her about the situation, I’m glad she’s doing well today too.

—[Everything’s fine, both Aoi and I haven’t had any problems.]

—[That’s good. Is Aoi getting along well with her school friends? I understand she has a best friend named Rumi-chan, right?]

—[Yes, in fact, she just went out shopping with her.]

—[Oh, I see. So Yuya-kun is alone at home. What a shame.]

—[Haha, it’s not that bad… Oh, by the way, the other day I went to observe Aoi’s class…]

—[Class observation?!]

—[Uh, yes, is there something wrong with that?]

—[No, I’m sorry. It’s just that I was so surprised that you decided to go to that kind of event.]

—[I wanted to know what Aoi was like in school. I can’t see her interactions with her classmates at home.]

—[Yuya-kun… Thank you so much for that. So, how was Aoi in school?]

—[I think she has adapted well in school, as far as I could see, she can have cheerful conversations with her friends.]

—[Really?]

—[Yes, she even managed to translate a text from classical Japanese to modern Japanese without any problems… It seems like she puts a lot of effort into her studies.]

—[I see… That’s a relief.]

—[Ryoko-san?]

—[You see, she always cares about others and is not very good at expressing herself. If she hadn’t integrated into her class, I wouldn’t have known what to do. Besides… I’ve always been busy with work and I’ve never been able to attend class observations, so I’ve never seen what Aoi is like in her school… But it reassures me to hear your words, Yuya-kun.]

Ryoko-san repeated several times: “I’m so happy.” Her voice was soft but conveyed her concern for Aoi.

I see… Aoi mentioned before that Ryoko-san is always busy and doesn’t participate much in school events like class observations.

I’m sure she would have wanted to spend more time with her daughter. Since I, who only lived with her as her tutor, felt a lot of interest in Aoi’s behavior in class, Ryoko-san’s desires must have been much stronger.

I must continue to call her more frequently and report on how Aoi is doing so that she feels more secure. It’s my responsibility as the person in charge of her.

…Well, for now, I should moderate the reports a bit. But it’s time to get to the main point. Today, there’s something more important that I need to talk to her about.

—[Um, Ryoko-san. I called today because I have an important matter to discuss.]

—[Oh, really? What is it? If it’s something I can help with, that would be great.]

It’s not just about something related to help, this is something that only Ryoko-san can assist with.

As my nerves overwhelmed me, I began to speak slowly.

—[Ryoko-san, actually, I invited Aoi to the company trip, and there…]

I expressed my intentions firmly.

 

***

On Monday, I was back at work.

As I held my work bag, I prepared to leave the office.

—Thank you very much for your hard work, guys. Take care.

I said goodbye to my colleagues who were still working, and stood up from my seat. After a moment, I noticed that Chizuru-san was watching me with a mischievous smile.

—Yuya-kun, you’re leaving especially early today. Is it your beloved girlfriend’s birthday?

—She’s not my girlfriend… And no, I’m just planning to go shopping alone for a while.

—What did you just say? — Chizuru asked, frowning — It’s not fair that you have time to go shopping but not to go out drinking with me. I’ve been holding back a lot, this is unfair.

—You don’t have to say it like a spoiled child… I’m sorry. I want to buy a gift for Aoi. If you want, we can do it later.

—I don’t mind. Today is perfect, I’ll go with you. That way we can go for a drink afterwards.

—That’s not a valid answer. Are you trying to act cute as a woman in her thirties?

—Hey, Yuya-kun, don’t you value your life?

Chizuru-san’s gaze lost its shine and became dark. Damn it! I stepped on another mine.

—Um, seriously, please understand. It would be embarrassing to buy a gift with Chizuru-san by my side, don’t you think?

—Grrr… Then, we’ll meet up after you’re done with your shopping! That would be okay, right?! I beg you! I feel sad being alone! I want to drink with someone!

—Hey, keep your composure, and don’t talk about going out drinking in the middle of the office!

—Excuse me, Chizuru-san. Can I interrupt?

Right as I made that comment, another colleague, Ito-kun, approached Chizuru-san.

—Hmm? What’s up?

—I have some doubts about the work you assigned me yesterday. Could you explain it to me?

—Well, Chizuru-san, I see you’re busy, so I’ll leave first, if you don’t mind…

—Ah, Yuya-kun! Don’t run away, that’s not fair!

Ignoring Chizuru-san’s resentful voice, I turned my back on the two of them.

—Damn it, Yuya-kun… Ah, I know. Ito-kun, do you have plans after work?

—Huh? No, I don’t have any particular plans…

—Great! Then let’s go for a drink together! I’ll treat you.

—Really? Hahaha, thank you!

Ito-kun thanked her with a smile. I understand how he feels getting excited about the invitation from a beautiful boss, but he’s still an innocent guy, he doesn’t know the danger he just got involved in. Chizuru-san is an explosive woman who loves alcohol.

—Those who drink with Chizuru-san for the first time end up wishing they never did it again… Good luck, Ito-kun… — I whispered to myself.

After leaving the building, I walked through the streets that were still a little illuminated. I felt nervous about what would happen next.

Choosing a gift for Aoi is completely new to me. I don’t know how she will take it, maybe she will like it or maybe she will hate it. But I want to believe that I will make her very happy. I wish I could give it to her as soon as possible.

As I thought about that, I realized how excited I was. It’s the first time experiencing a feeling of happiness like this.

…I’m glad I fell in love with Aoi.

As I imagined Aoi’s adorable face, I hurried to the station.

 

***

 

Time passed quickly and the day of the trip arrived.

Both Aoi and I were on the bullet train, heading towards the local station.

—Yuya-kun, we’re about to arrive. Get ready to get off. — said Aoi, who had been restless for a while.

She’s so adorable, just like a child excited to go on a field trip.

—Haha. It seems like you’re very excited.

—I—Is something wrong with that? It’s your fault I’m this excited, Yuya-kun. — Aoi protested while puffing up her cheeks.

She had a round face like a balloon, she was so cute.

The train gradually slowed down and soon the announcement for the stop was heard.

—We’ve arrived, Yuya-kun.

—Yes, let’s get off.

We got off the train with our belongings and went out through the access.

When we headed towards the station entrance, there were already some employees waiting. Among them, there was a woman carrying a small child. In addition to that, there were some people completely unknown to me, so I suppose there were several employees who came with their families.

—Aoi, I think you already understand, but…

—Don’t worry. I know I have to act as your niece.

—Yes… I’m sorry to make you go through that awkward situation. Actually, I’d prefer to introduce you as my partner…

—Don’t worry about it. I’m happy to be able to come on this trip with you. In fact, I’m surprised you made me pretend to be your niece.

—That’s thanks to Chizuru-san. It seems like she talked to some people in the administrative department so you could join. Isn’t it a flexible company, in the good sense?

—Yes, it is. It’s perfect for the messy Yuya-kun. — Aoi replied with a smile — Haha, it’s just a joke, don’t take it the wrong way. There’s nothing messy about you. Now you’re a very different Yuya-kun from when we started living together.

It was a casual conversation, but it made me feel happy and tingly inside my chest.

I see… Maybe I’ve grown enough for Aoi to consider me someone reliable too.

—Is something wrong, Yuya-kun? If you need to go to the bathroom, make sure to do it before getting on the bus.

—Don’t say things as if you were a field trip chaperone… — I replied with an ironic smile.

As we headed towards where everyone was, I took a deep breath and gathered the courage to face one of the tensest moments of my life.

—Good morning.

Everyone’s gaze immediately turned towards us. Of course, the center of attention wasn’t me, but Aoi.

—Oh, Yuya-kun. Who’s that girl? — Izuka asked.

—Aoi, would you like to say hello?

—Yes. Nice to meet you all. My name is Shiratori Aoi. I’m Yuya-kun’s niece. This time, I was a bit selfish and asked Yuya-kun to bring me on the trip. I hope to get along with all of you. Thank you in advance!

Aoi made the greeting as we agreed and bowed slightly.

Everyone returned calm smiles and responded “Nice to meet you.” Although we drew attention, at least we were received kindly.

On the other hand, Izuka-san nodded satisfied and applauded.

—Oh, wow, so it was thanks to Aoi-chan that Yuya-kun decided to participate this year? Since he joined the company, he had never shown any interest in attending.

—Yes, exactly. Aoi-chan insisted that she wanted to s—… Ouch!

Aoi, with an angry face, pinched my side.

This girl if we don’t follow the plan, they will start to suspect us.

—Wow, I didn’t expect Yuya-kun to have such a cute niece. — one of the female employees said, and some of the others also began to exclaim.

“She’s adorable!”, “She’s so young!”, “Her skin looks so soft!”. In the blink of an eye, they all surrounded Aoi.

—Aoi-chan, are you in high school?

—Y-Yes. I’m a second-year student.

—Second year?! You’re super young! This is a big surprise!

—Ah… really?

—Yes, being in high school is the best time of our lives… Do you already have someone you like?

—Eh?! W-Well, that’s…

—Oh, you already showed it with that reaction. Don’t worry, we’ll find out everything during the bus ride!

—Y—Yuya-kun…!

Aoi looked at me anxiously with a “Help me!” expression written on her face.

—We’re glad to be received so kindly, but please, have a little consideration. Aoi is usually very reserved and doesn’t feel comfortable when people are too enthusiastic.

—Ladies and gentlemen, please be careful not to make Aoi-chan feel uncomfortable. Although I know you have good intentions, it’s better not to pressure her too much. — Izuka said.

It was a complete relief to have Izuka-san’s support with my intervention in trying to save Aoi. It was a very kind gesture on her part to want to ease the situation.

—If you want, you can continue with your questions on the bus. Later, we can talk calmly, right, Aoi-chan?

—Yes, please, be kind.

Aoi felt more at ease with Izuka-san’s support after being suddenly bombarded with so many questions by a group of adults. It’s understandable that she got nervous.

—Come here, Aoi-chan. We’d like to introduce ourselves too. — Izuka-san said, making a gesture with her hand.

Well, I guess I have nothing to worry about if those two are together. I’ll just observe and analyze how Aoi is able to behave. I was worried that she would hate all of this and want to run away, but I think she has adapted well to the group.

After a while, the shuttle bus arrived. As we were told, this bus would take us to the ryokan where we would be staying.

The seats on the bus were already assigned in advance which meant that Aoi and I would be sitting together.

When we were sitting together in the back, Izuka-san approached us with an expression of amazement.

—What’s wrong, Izuka-san? Don’t tell me I took your seat by mistake.

—No, everything’s fine, it’s just that the girls sitting in front wanted to talk to Aoi-chan. If she agrees… would you like to change seats?

—So you want to swap Aoi and Chizuru-san’s seats… Is that what you’re saying?

—Yes, exactly. Of course, I’ll be by her side to make sure Aoi-chan doesn’t feel uncomfortable. What do you say, Aoi-chan?

Izuka-san apologized with a regretful expression. Probably, seeing Aoi’s previous reaction, she’s not very enthusiastic about this idea. And probably, Aoi doesn’t want to change seats either…

—That sounds good, I have no problem with it.

But despite my wrong thoughts, Aoi smiled and accepted enthusiastically.

—Huh? Are you sure about that, Aoi?

—Yes. It’s an excellent opportunity to hear about Yuya-kun’s work. I can’t let this opportunity pass.

For some reason, Aoi’s eyes shone with a lot of excitement.

I must assume that Aoi is interested in knowing how I am at work. Her feeling is the same as I felt when I visited her school… I have no reason to stop her if she feels so interested, and since she’ll be with Izuka-san, I can trust that everything will be fine.

—Izuka-san, I’m counting on you to take care of Aoi.

—Leave it to me, Yuya-kun… Really, thank you, Aoi-chan. In exchange for bothering you, I’ll tell you many embarrassing stories about Yuya-kun.

—Don’t you think that’s a strange exchange condition?

Why do I have to suffer? This isn’t fair.

But before I could protest, Izuka-san and Aoi went ahead. These older girls in the workplace seem to enjoy teasing me too much.

While I was busy being dissatisfied, Chizuru-san quickly approached my side.

—Hi, Yuya-kun. It seems like Aoi-chan has been accepted by everyone. Aren’t you happy?

—Yes… And thank you for the advice you gave me at that time. And also, thank the Administration Department for me.

—Don’t worry about that, everything’s fine as long as you go out for a drink with me next time.

Chizuru-san put on a serious expression when she said that. Ah, she still holds a grudge against me for rejecting her invitation to go out for a drink…

—Understood. Let’s go next week, okay?

—Really? Do you promise?

—I promise… By the way, how was your outing with Ito-kun?

—I had a great time. However, he seemed tired. Maybe I’ve been overworking him.

I’m sure that’s not the real reason. I think he was very surprised to see how Chizuru-san’s personality changes when she’s under the influence of alcohol.

I smiled faintly and took a quick glance at the front seat. Aoi was chatting lively with Izuka-san.

—Hehe. Are you worried about Aoi-chan?

—Yes. I’m worried she’ll get tired of talking to those women… But I think she’s having a good time after all.

—That’s right. She’s considerate, just like you, and she also has a humorous side calling me ‘older sister’. I think Aoi-chan can feel at ease with her… By the way, Yuya-kun, what do you plan to do during your free time with Aoi-chan?

After check-in, there’s free time before dinner at the inn.

Although, the prepared dinner can also be canceled if requested in advance. In other words, this trip gives you the freedom to do whatever you want.

—Obviously, I’ll spend as much time with her as possible.

—Oh, wow. You seem to be madly in love. And will dinner be at the inn?

—Yes. I guess it’ll be in a banquet hall, right? Besides apologizing for what happened before, I’d also like to be your company, Chizuru-san.

—Hehe, I’m looking forward to it… Oh, by the way. I have a little surprise for you and Aoi-chan.

—Eh…? A… surprise?

What should I do? I can’t help but feel nervous.

This is very unexpected. Well, surprises are unexpected in themselves, but it doesn’t make much sense to tell the person you’re planning to surprise about your intentions. This only creates worry, and I don’t think I’ll be able to relax throughout the whole trip.

—Exactly, look forward to what you’ll receive from me.

—To be honest, that sounds a little scary… What do you have planned?

—Don’t worry. I’m just preparing a surprise, and you’ll be the one to make it happen.

—That sounds even scarier!

What am I supposed to do? I’ll have to pay attention to Chizuru-san’s movements during the whole trip.

As I was feeling nervous, the bus began to move.

From the window, you could see the beach. And as summer had come to an end, very few people were there but you could see some people walking along the shore. Apparently, it’s a tourist spot and that always attracts attention.

The weather is perfectly clear. The autumn sun shines on the surface of the water. While I was entranced by this beautiful view, the bus slowly climbed up the hill, causing my emotions to rise as well.

After all, we’ve come on a trip. Of course I want to make sure Aoi has fun, but I also plan to enjoy it to the fullest.

—This weather is perfect, and ideal for traveling, right, Chizuru-san?

—Yes. And it’s also a perfect day for drinking.

—That only applies to you. You drink no matter the weather.

—Haha, there’s no doubt about that.

As we laughed, we enjoyed the scenery through the window.

 

***

 

After a while, we arrived at the hot springs resort. The location was situated atop a huge hill. The surroundings were surrounded by a lot of water, but a little further away, nature stretched out as far as I could see. It seems that tonight we will be able to enjoy a beautiful starry sky.

This place is known throughout the prefecture for its popularity. This is based on the size, quality of service, delicious food, and the benefits of the hot springs that receive high ratings from satisfied customers. After checking in, my free time with Aoi began.

After leaving the reception, I met up with Aoi.

—Hey, Yuya-kun! It’s been a long time.

—Hahaha, yeah, it’s been a long time. I hope they didn’t bombard you with too many questions during the whole trip. — Aoi said as they met outside the reception.

—No, they didn’t. Thanks to Izuka-san, they didn’t ask too many questions. Besides, it was fun to hear stories about you.

—What kind of stories did you hear?

—That’s a secret… Hahaha, sorry, I’m laughing at something I remembered.

I wondered what kind of conversation Izuka-san had with Aoi, but didn’t want to pry too much. “Well, at least it seems like you had fun… Are you tired from travelling? Do you want to rest somewhere?” I asked.

—No, thanks. I heard we have free time until dinner. It’s not time to rest yet. — Aoi replied, taking my arm — Let’s go out soon!

Although she said that, her intentions were more like, “If we rest, we’ll have less time alone! I don’t want that!” She’s so innocently adorable.

—By the way, where are we going now? Would you like to go to the station?

—No, we’ll walk about five minutes away.

—In that area, there are hot springs… right?

—No, it’s not time for that yet. My plan is a little different.

—Oh, I see. So, where are we going? 

—Hahaha, that will be a surprise when we get there. — I said, keeping the secret as we walked together towards their destination.

As we strolled down a slope we came across a place called “Ryoutei Tea House.” There was also a liquor store nearby. I imagined Chizuru-san’s happy face when she found this place, and couldn’t help but laugh.

After walking for a while, we arrived at a wide street. We turned right and stopped in front of the store they were looking for.

—This is… a car rental shop? — Aoi stopped and looked at the store with wide eyes.

On the yellow sign in front of the store, it read “Bakuhashou Rent-A-Car Johnny.” Inside, there were several cars perfectly aligned. They had different models, but I wanted to use a compact car to drive around the city.

—It’s amazing. Yuya-kun, I didn’t know you could drive. — Aoi said in awe.

—I got my license during college. But since I don’t have a car, I don’t usually get to use it. 

—So, today on our date… — Aoi trailed off, excited.

—Yes. We’re going for a drive. The coastal landscape around here are really beautiful. 

—A drive along the coast… That sounds really beautiful! — Aoi exclaimed, her eyes sparkling.

She had requested a more adult date, so I thought this kind of thing would be more charming and attractive to her. I was glad to see her enjoying it.

—Let’s go inside. I’ve already made a reservation in advance for the car.

—Yes, let’s go! It’s my first time entering a car rental shop.  

I led the excited Aoi inside the shop. I informed the employee about my reservation, and the employee took care of the paperwork and choosing the car. The car was blue, a little larger than necessary for two people.

After receiving a general explanation from the employee and completing the procedures, we checked the condition of the car together. Soon we were ready to go. But first, I had to make an effort to be a gentleman. So I went ahead of Aoi and opened the passenger door for her.

—After you, miss. — I said, gesturing.

—Haha, thank you.

Once Aoi was seated, I closed the door carefully and then got in the driver’s seat.

Did you fasten your seatbelt properly?

—Yes.

—Alright, let’s go! — I gently pressed the accelerator and the car started moving.

The car advanced along a rural road with a panoramic view, and in the distance stretched a sea of bright blue. Aoi stared at the beautiful sea from the open window.

—Yuya-kun, the sea is beautiful. — Aoi said, admiring the view.

—Hahaha. But it’s the same sea you saw from the bus on the way here.

—No. This view doesn’t compare when you’re in the passenger seat. It’s much more special.

—Special, huh? I guess so…

—Yes. I’m glad I was more selfish.

Seeing Aoi’s shy smile, my heart began to beat strongly.

—Aoi, you don’t have to worry so much about being selfish. It’s okay to gradually increase that desire. I would be very happy if someday your ‘whims‘ became something you ask for naturally. 

As I spoke, Aoi looked away shyly and looked ahead. The traffic light turned red, and I gently stopped the car.

—…Yuya-kun, you’re really a strange person. You look directly into my heart and make my wishes come true. — Aoi said, still looking ahead.

—Looking directly… Well, maybe I was a little insistent in inviting you to come here.

—…That’s what I like about you. — Aoi said, looking at me quickly with flushed cheeks. 

Until a moment ago, she was playful like a child, but now she seemed very mature.

I was dying to tell her how much I liked her. But it was still too early to confess my feelings. I planned to convey them properly at a more appropriate time.

As we nervously looked at each other, a horn sounded behind us. I quickly looked ahead and saw that the traffic light was green.

—S—Sorry! 

—Hahaha. You shouldn’t get distracted while driving, you know? — Aoi laughed while her shoulders shook gently with joy. 

Her cheeks were still a little red.

Somehow, I felt embarrassed, so I responded with a joke to hide my embarrassment.

—It’s not fair for you to say that, after all, you were staring at me.

—I—I wasn’t staring at you, idiot. — Aoi pouted, making her lips pointed. 

Whenever she pouts, she looks just like an angel.

—By the way, Yuya-kun, what is our destination on this drive?

—By the way, Yuya-kun, where are we going?

—Well, first we’re going to eat. I have a reservation at a restaurant.

—I see… Car rides are fun.

—This is just the beginning! The best is yet to come.

—Hahaha. Really? Then I’ll have high expectations.

—Of course!

A pleasant autumn breeze came in through the window. Aoi’s fine hair waved gently like threads of silk, and her innocent smile stood out in the sunlight.

 

***

 

The car date was going very well. Aoi was in the passenger seat, chatting animatedly about what happened on the bus.

—So, someone in the front seat asked me in a strange way, ‘So you like Yuya and you came on a trip together?’

—That must have been difficult to answer. What did you say?

—I said you were my adorable uncle.

—Oh, that was a very good answer.

—They also asked me, ‘How does Yuya treat his niece in everyday life?’… It was embarrassing, like I was bragging about you.

—But what did you exactly say?

—That’s a secret. — Aoi replied, blushing.

While listening to Aoi’s enthusiastic stories (although she herself was not aware of my enthusiasm), I drove for twenty minutes and arrived at the restaurant in question.

I parked the car in the parking lot and we entered. The interior of the restaurant was elegant, with a white decor. From the window, you could see the sky and the sea. At night, it would surely be a night view with twinkling stars.

But right now, it was daytime. And the interior illuminated by indirect lights had a different atmosphere than at night.

An employee saw us and approached with a smile.

—Welcome.

—Hello. I made a reservation under the name Amae. — I said to the employee.

—Are you Amae-san? We’ve been expecting you. Please take a seat at the table by the window.

When we sat in the seats they indicated, Aoi spoke to me excitedly.

—This place is very elegant.

—Yes, it’s good to eat at places like this once in a while, don’t you think?

—Yes. It makes me feel like an adult.

—Haha, if you get too excited, you won’t look like a proper adult, you know?

—Mhm, please don’t say cruel things… Ah… — Aoi’s voice suddenly became smaller — Yuya-kun, are you sure you can afford this? This place seems expensive… Maybe I’ve become too selfish. What should we do…? 

Aoi was nervous and pale, and without realizing it, I laughed. If I couldn’t pay for the lunch bill, we wouldn’t be able to have a date.

—Y—Yuya-kun, why are you laughing? What’s so funny?

—I’m sorry, it’s just that I found it funny to imagine you trying to escape after eating.

—Escaping after eating? A—Are you out of money…?

—Hahaha, it’s a joke. Don’t worry, I can pay for the lunch bill. What would you like to eat?

—R—Really…? Are you playing a joke on me? You’re so cruel. — Aoi pouted.

—I’m sorry. It’s just that your reaction was so cute. 

I apologized to a pouting Aoi, and the waiter brought us water, wet towels, and the menu.

—When you’ve decided what to order, please let me know. — the waiter said before leaving us.

As soon as I gave Aoi a glance, she seemed indecisive about what to order.

—Yuya-kun, what is this? 

Aoi pointed to the dish called “Pork ragù with rigatoni”, which is a type of pasta.

—Ragù means ‘cooked slowly,’ so it’s ‘slow-cooked pork.’ Rigatoni refers to a type of short pasta. It’s a bit different, but it looks like penne.

—Oh… I see that you’re well-informed. Do you come to these kinds of fancy restaurants often?

—No, I rarely come to places like this. Most of the time, I go out to dinner with my coworkers at an izakaya.

To be honest, I didn’t know until recently. This was information I acquired by researching the types of menus in these fancy restaurants. My bragging response was just  silly male stubbornness.

—In that case… I’ll choose the pork ragù with rigatoni.

—Gotcha… Waiter, please take our order. — I called the employee and placed our order.

By the way, I ordered risotto and steak. The risotto at this place uses Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and black truffle, and it’s a very popular dish. I thought of sharing the steak with Aoi.

While we waited, I had a pleasant conversation with her as the minutes passed, and finally, our dishes arrived.

—So this is the rigatoni… it looks delicious.

In addition to the rigatoni, there were large chunks of pork meat cut into pieces. At first glance, it looked like bolognese, with a thick and rich sauce that mixed with the meat and pasta. Everything looked very delicious.

On the other hand, my dish was the risotto, which had black truffle slices sprinkled on top. The steak was already cut and looked slightly pink in the center. It also looked very appetizing.

—Bon appétit. — I said.

Aoi picked up the rigatoni with her fork and brought it to her mouth.

—It’s delicious…!  

Aoi was impressed by the taste and took another bite.

—Mmm~ It melts in my mouth! Yuya-kun, would you like to try it? Here, I’ll give you some…

—Well, if you insist… Wow. This is incredibly delicious.

Although it was my first time trying it, the rigatoni was thick and had a chewy texture. The tomato sauce had an intense but balanced flavor, perfectly mixing with that texture. The taste of the tomato gently expanded in my mouth while enveloping my entire tongue.

The pork meat gently disintegrated after biting it once. It was extremely tender.

Was there really such a delicious pasta in this world? Although it sounds arrogant, I can congratulate myself for making the reservation.

—Yuya-kun… This is so delicious that I could eat it four times a day.

—Four times?! It’s not good for your body to eat so much in one meal… Hey, Aoi. Would you like to try this steak? It’s already cut into small pieces.

—Are you sure?

—Yes. I ordered it because I wanted to share it with you.

—Thank you. Then, I’ll try it.

Aoi and I delighted in the juicy bites of steak.

—…This is also incredibly delicious.

As soon as it entered my mouth, the aroma of the meat spread. The more I chewed, the more I could taste the meat. It was tender and had a juicy flavor.

—Aoi, what do you think of the taste?

—It’s amazing. The meat just melts in your mouth. — Aoi said with a happy smile on her face.

Expressing her satisfaction. It was so genuine that there was no doubt about it. At first, I had my doubts about bringing her here, but it turns out that I made the right choice. I feel very happy.

With the success of the first stage of our date, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. However, it wasn’t enough to make Aoi happy.

The main purpose of this trip is to express my feelings to her.

We finished our meal while exchanging comments about how delicious the food was. Without a doubt, I would love to visit this place again in the future with Aoi.

—Thank you for the meal. It was delicious, Yuya-kun.

—You’re welcome… Hey, Aoi, do you still have room for more? How about we order dessert?

—Dessert? I would like to try it! — Aoi said excitedly.

—Then let’s order one… Excuse me, waiter. — I nervously called the waiter.

As soon as he approached, I whispered something in his ear. After that, I watched as the waiter headed to the kitchen, and Aoi tilted her head in confusion.

—Yuya-kun, the waiter didn’t take our order and went somewhere.

—Yes, just wait a moment.

“A moment…?” Ignoring Aoi’s questioning expression, the waiter began to close the curtains next to the window, causing the soft ambient lighting to gently illuminate our table.

—Uh? W—What’s going on? 

Aoi was surprised by the sudden change in the restaurant’s atmosphere. Seeing her reaction, I made a mental fist pump.

The food was just a side-event. The main event is about to begin.

An employee approached us pushing a cart. And on that cart was a strawberry cake.

—Here you go. It’s the cake you reserved. Enjoy your moment together. 

the employee said, placing the cake on our table and leaving.

On the plate, there were letters written in chocolate.

“Oh…!” Aoi’s eyes widened as she read the letters. They were written in cursive and said, “I’m in love with you.” This was my way of saying it.

On top of the strawberry cake, there was a cookie with the phrase “I love you” written in a simple way. This was another message I had come up with.

—W—What is this…?

—It’s a surprise from me… Aoi. I want you to hear what I have to say. — I said, my heart beating heavily. 

My body was hot. I could clearly hear my own breathing inside my ears.

I gathered my courage and looked directly into Aoi’s eyes.

—Since I started living with you, I’ve been feeling more and more attracted to you. Your shy way of asking for help, your adorable smile, the time we spend together around the table… I love all of it… And before I knew it, I was completely in love with you. Today, I want to express those feelings in words. These words; I like you, Aoi. I want to be with you… Would you be my girlfriend with the promise of getting married in the future?

After confessing my feelings to her, Aoi’s surprised expression began to change. Her eyes moistened slightly and her cheeks turned red.

—R—Really? You’re not joking, right?

—I would never joke about something like this. I mean it. I really like you, Aoi… I can’t imagine living my life with anyone else.

—Yuya…

—What do you say? Would you do me this honor?

—Yes. — Aoi replied with a trembling and weak voice — I love you too, Yuya… I know I have some flaws as a woman, but please take good care of me.

As soon as Aoi said those words, the tension dissipated quickly.

I was nervous when I got permission from Ryoko-san over the phone, but expressing my feelings to Aoi was even more stressful.

…Hey, Aoi. I have flaws too, just like you. Until recently, I was a tired salaryman, a useless adult who couldn’t even take care of household chores.

But living with you changed me. I felt the determination to change for you. Let’s keep growing together from now on, this time as lovers.

—Thank you, Aoi… Huh? What’s wrong?

—Hic… Sniffle… 

Aoi’s words got stuck in her throat as she expressed her joy.

Indeed, at first, maybe I didn’t see her as a potential romantic partner. The age difference played a fundamental role, and my desire to protect Aoi was stronger.

But now it’s different. I want to protect her smile at all costs.

Warm feelings overflowed from the depths of my heart.

Aoi wiped her eyes with a handkerchief and then smiled.

—Hehe. From now on, we’re a couple, Yuya.

—Yes. You’re not obligated to do it if you don’t want to, but you can always rely on me more. I won’t leave you alone.

—Then… Can I ask you a favor? — Aoi asked.

—Of course. You can ask me anything.

—From now on, I want to do more things that are typical of a couple… Is that okay? 

She wanted to do more things that were typical of a couple. I had told her she could be more affectionate, but I never thought she would ask me for it so directly.

—Sure, I wouldn’t expect anything less.

—Thank you… Yay! I finally did it! — Aoi smiled and celebrated excitedly.

It was beautiful to see her so happy. She is usually reserved… It makes me want to make her even happier and spoil her in every way.

—Yuya, can I take a picture of the surprise cake? 

—Ah, of course. I also want to take one.

—Then, we should take the picture together. Yuya, come here! Quick, quick! — Aoi took my hand as if I were a child and led me to her seat.

After taking the photo, she sent it to my phone.

—The photo came out great. It will definitely become a commemorative photo. — Aoi said as she looked at the photo.

Following her example, I looked at the photo again on my phone.

Aoi’s innocent smile was the same as when we were children, the same dependent Aoi who always craved affection.

 

***

 

—Thank you. We hope to see you again soon.  

While being escorted by an employee, we left the restaurant and headed to the parking lot.

—Yuya, thank you for this wonderful moment.

—You’re welcome. How do you feel about it so far? Was our date mature enough?

—Yes. I am completely satisfied. I give you a perfect score. — Aoi replied with a smile.

Aoi had a very happy expression on her face. It was a bit different from her usual smile at home, it was more youthful and adorable.

—Haha, I’m glad, but are you already completely satisfied? The date has just begun!

—Oh really? Now I’m even more excited, Yuya. What’s our next destination?

Just as I was about to say it, Aoi stopped. Her gaze was directed towards a young couple who passed by us. Both were wearing red hoodies and jeans. It was what is known as “matching clothes”.

The couple passed by us, talking and having fun.

—Aoi, are you interested in matching clothes?

—Oh, no. Taking things to that extreme would be too embarrassing. But, they look so close and happy. I envy them a little. I have small desires to have something like that. — Aoi said, looking enviously at the couple’s backs.

I see… Although she denies it, she really wants to do it. I want to fulfill Aoi’s wishes as much as possible.

Is there any other way, besides matching clothes, to wear something that is “couple-like”?

As I thought about it, suddenly an idea came to me.

—Great! Let’s change our date plan. How about we go to the shopping district?

—To the shopping district? Oh, to buy souvenirs?

Certainly, there are many souvenir shops in the shopping district located near the station. We could surely find local souvenirs and it would also be perfect for shopping.

However, the goal was not just to buy souvenirs.

—If you feel embarrassed to stand out with matching clothes, how about we wear matching accessories? I think we could find something in souvenir shops. I think that would also connect with what you mentioned about doing ‘couple-like’ things at the restaurant… What do you think?

—Yuya… How did you figure out what I want? — Aoi whispered softly with a shy smile — Yes, I want to have something to match with you, Yuya.

—Well said. It’s great that you can say it without feeling embarrassed.

—Oh, please, don’t treat me like a child. 

Aoi joked, but the smile on her face was pure happiness… I love seeing that smile on her.

…If I say something like that, I’ll become too mushy. I better keep those sweet thoughts to myself.

—Okay, it’s decided. We’ll continue with the car ride.

—Yes!

I took Aoi’s hand and we headed towards the parking lot.

—Wow… This is impressive, Yuya-kun. There are so many shops lined up. — Aoi said with shining eyes.

The shopping district was full of many people. Surely there were locals, but there were many tourists like us.

—Aoi, have you decided what kind of object you want?

—Well… I prefer something that can be worn casually, so it doesn’t look too obvious that we’re a couple.

Wear it casually, huh? Somehow, I understood what Aoi was thinking.

—Got it. For now, let’s go into a store that catches our eye.

—Yes. Then, let’s take a look at that store over there.

We entered a nearby souvenir shop.

At the entrance of the store, local souvenirs were displayed. Cookies, manju, senbei, gaufrettes… They were all typical products that could be found anywhere.

—Oh, right. We should buy a souvenir for Rumi-san.

—In that case, how about a limited regional souvenir? There seems to be a good shop around here that sells puddings and profiteroles.

—Really? Rumi-san likes pudding, so maybe we should buy that…

—In that case, we’ll go later. That pudding is the type where you pour the caramel syrup yourself, and the syrup container is shaped like a pig. It’s cute, and it’s said to be delicious. I think Rumi-chan will love it.

—Wow… You know a lot. — Aoi blinked in surprise.

—Oh, uh… Well, I thought maybe Aoi would also buy souvenirs, so I did some research just in case.

When you walk around buying souvenirs, combined with the exhaustion of the trip, you end up feeling tired. In the worst case, you could hurt your feet. However, if you research beforehand the type of souvenirs sold in the place you are going, you can avoid unnecessary wandering.

I don’t want Aoi to feel exhausted. That’s why I did some research.

—…Wow, you’re really impressive, Yuya. You’re definitely very smart. — Aoi said as she petted my head.

Aoi gently stroked my head.

—Don’t bother me…

—I’m not bothering you. Sometimes, I want to pet your head. — she replied, smiling happily.

It makes me nervous when she suddenly becomes so affectionate, so I’d rather she didn’t do it.

—Yuya, let’s take a look at some other stores.

—Yes, you’re right. How about we go to the store across the street?

Although we visited some stores after that, we couldn’t find anything that made Aoi’s heart beat faster.

But in the fourth store, Aoi stopped at a particular section of souvenirs.

—Oh, this is cute.

Aoi picked up a small keychain in her hands.

The keychain was in the shape of a deformed black cat. At this size, it seemed like it could be placed anywhere.

—Oh, it has a nice design. Are you going to choose this?

—Yes, do you want to have one too, Yuya?

—Hmm… Maybe we should choose different colors.

There was a white version of the same design keychain. So I picked it up.

—Aoi, how about putting it on the house keys?

—On the house keys?

—Yes. You usually carry your keys with you, right? So… every time we see the keys, we can be reminded of each other and it will make me happy to feel that Aoi is close, even when we are apart.

I am aware that I am saying something quite embarrassing.

But from the moment we decided to buy matching accessories, I had already thought about it. I have to express my feelings properly.

In addition, I suppose Aoi must feel the same way. A while ago, she mentioned that she preferred something we could wear discreetly.

—To have Yuya close… This little cat really looks like you, Yuya.

—Does it look like me?

—Yes. Especially with that kind look of yours.

Aoi stroked the black cat keychain with a tender expression. For me, her soft profile looks kinder than the black cat.

—Okay, let’s both take them.

—Thank you.

—Haha, I don’t think buying a keychain deserves your gratitude.

—It’s not just about that. It’s a ‘thank you’ for suggesting to buy matching accessories. Once again, my wish has come true.

—I understand… In that case, I’m glad to know it.

During the trip, Aoi is showing more and more of her true personality. Her emotions are delicious, and her soft expressions are something she normally doesn’t show.

Each of those aspects is charming and adorable. I am falling more and more in love with Aoi.

 

***

 

After finishing our shopping, we made a stop at the famous pudding shop.

Aoi fell in love with a pig-shaped container for holding syrup and decided to buy it immediately. I suppose Rumi also likes cute things, so I think she will love it.

Even during our later car ride, Aoi was in a good mood all the time. She talked enthusiastically about our impressions of the food, the school, shared memories… Any topic that came up, she approached it with joy.

The sun began to set in the west, tinting the sky with red and golden hues, making the city completely dyed in crimson.

It was already time to return to the hot spring resort so as not to be late for dinner. I drove straight to the car rental shop without making any further stops.

—Fufu~ Fufu, fufu~  

Aoi hummed happily in the passenger seat.

Sitting in the passenger seat, Aoi hummed a song while looking out the window. From the melody, I could recognize that it was a popular song that had been playing a lot lately on television.

She was in such a good mood that she moved her feet up and down with enthusiasm. I had never seen Aoi so lively before.

From now on, I should take Aoi on dates more often.

—Aoi, we’re about to arrive.

—Eh? Is the ride already over? — Aoi frowned with a sad expression.

—Don’t make that face. We’ll find a time to meet up again during the night.

—Really? Are you sure?

—Yes, of course.

—Haha, then I’ll indulge a small whim for my partner.

—Aoi…

—Yes, what’s up?

—I really want to thank you for today. You surely didn’t expect me to confess my feelings to you today… Thank you for accepting them, you made me very happy.

—I’m happy too. I was also able to express my feelings properly and it was great to spend time together.

—…I feel like I was a bit selfish today. Did you feel pressured or something?

—Hey, don’t say that. I’m not bothered at all. The time I spend with you… Every day, it’s very fun.

The setting sun shines through the window. And Aoi’s cheeks are tinged with the color of the sunset.

—Well… Could you go out with me again next time? I want to try having a date holding hands this time…

Aoi pleads with me while touching her index fingers. If we weren’t driving, I would have hugged her for how cute she is.

—Sure, after all, it’s something that couples usually do, right?

—Yes, I’m excited.

Aoi’s shy gaze had an adorable tenderness that I wanted to protect.

 

***

 

As soon as we returned to the hotel, I headed to the banquet hall.

I checked my smartphone screen. It was 6:00 pm, dinner time, which was the main event.

In the banquet hall, all the participants were already gathered. The food and drinks had just been brought in. We were just waiting for the organizer of the trip to greet us.

In front of me is Chizuru-san, diagonally to my left is Izuka-san, and next to me is Aoi.

In front of Chizuru-san, there were four large beer bottles. It’s strange because on the other tables there are only two medium bottles… Oh, Chizuru-san. Don’t tell me you pulled some strings to get this.

On the other hand, in front of Aoi, who is underage, a bottle of orange juice has been prepared.

—Yuya-kun, can you drink alcohol? — Aoi asked with concern.

—Well, I can drink a little. Although not as much as Chizuru-san.

—Drinking too much is not good, you know? It’s not healthy for your body.

—Haha. Even during a banquet, you still scold me.

—That’s obvious. I’ll stay by your side to make sure you don’t overdo it, Yuya-kun.

That sounds like an excuse to want to be close to me… But if I say something like that, Aoi will turn red and get angry, so I better not.

First of all, there are other employees present now. Being lovey-dovey is not allowed. I’ll be careful not to say anything stupid while drunk.

While scolding myself internally, Izuka-san, who is sitting in front of Aoi, laughed.

—Hehe. Aoi-chan, it seems like you’re very worried about Yuya-kun. Somehow, you look like his girlfriend, it’s cute.

—Eh? N—No, it’s not like that. I’m just his niece.

—Hahaha! I understand, I understand. Why are you getting so angry?

—I’m not angry, I’m just his niece!

Aoi emphasized that fact over and over again. I think it would be better if she relaxed a bit, this could lead to misunderstandings.

I glanced at Chizuru-san, who was aware of our situation. She covered her mouth and trembled as if she was holding back laughter. It would be great if she not only enjoyed it but also helped me…

Before I could intervene, Izuka-san changed the subject.

—Oh, that’s right. Big sister, let me serve you… Huh? Why are you laughing?

—Kukuku… It’s because Aoi-chan is so cute, that’s all.

—That’s true, she is. — Izuka-san responded while nodding.

Then she started pouring beer for Chizuru-san. The golden liquid filled the glass as bubbles formed.

Seeing that, Aoi started feeling uncomfortable.

—Um, I also want to serve Yuya-kun beer…

—It’s not necessary for a high school student to do that. Just pass me the glass.

—Y—Yes…

Once I finished pouring orange juice into Aoi’s glass, Izuka-san called me with a beer bottle in her hand.

—Yuya-kun, as your senpai, let me serve you beer.

—Hahaha, this is an opportunity I can’t miss.

—Fufu, that’s right, we have to take advantage of it.

While we joked, Aoi said with a bewildered expression: “T–This is a strange mood…”. Maybe because she’s underage, she can’t understand the feelings of adults when they have fun with alcohol.

A strange melancholy floated around her, and Chizuru-san, seeing this, decided to help her a little.

—Aoi-chan, banquets are a place where adults can become naughty children again. That’s why it’s natural for us to get excited and have a different mood in these kinds of environments.

—Chizuru-san, please don’t teach Aoi strange things…

I understand what you’re trying to say, but I think it’s too early for a high school student to learn about these things.

—I see. So banquets have a great significance.

—You don’t need to understand it, Aoi. They don’t have any significance at all!

As we continued with a trivial conversation, the greetings from the organizer suddenly began.

—…And that’s all for tonight. Everyone, please raise your glasses.

With those words as a signal, everyone raised their glasses in unison.

—Cheers! Kanpai!

The sounds of glasses clinking could be heard everywhere.

I took one or two sips of beer. The bitterness and sensation in my throat were great. Beer after work is very delicious, but in an atmosphere like this, it doesn’t taste bad either.

—Haaah! Beer is the best! — exclaimed Chizuru as she placed her empty glass on the table.

Without a doubt, she knew how to down a drink in one go.

—One glass is not enough. I have to ask the staff if they have pitchers.

—Please, Chizuru-san, moderate yourself. Oh, by the way, next time let me serve you.

—Yuya-kun… Are you planning on serving me beer directly in front of Aoi? So you get excited when others are watching?

—Don’t say perverted things! I’m talking about serving beer in a glass!

My boss can’t moderate herself even when Aoi is present. I hope Izuka-san takes control of this and manages to rein in Chizuru-san.

—Let’s put Chizuru-san aside… The food also looks delicious, doesn’t it? Aoi, what do you think if we eat now?

—Yes, thank you.

We were able to enjoy the dinner with great joy. We had a selection of sashimi, beef sukiyaki, tempura, rice covered in salmon roe, steamed king crab cake… Everything was fresh and delicious.

While enjoying the food and having fun, Chizuru-san approached me with a smile and a bottle of beer.

—Oh, Yuya-kun, you’ve barely had anything to drink.

Oh no, here comes the alcohol-addicted boss… Although she already had several glasses, she seemed completely sober.

—I can’t afford to get drunk, Aoi is here.

—Hmm… That’s pathetic. Yuya-kun, you’re too pathetic.

—P—Pathetic?

—Are you trying to blame Aoi for your lack of interest in drinking? Do you think that’s how an adult would behave? I’m sure you’ve never blamed others at work for your responsibilities or mistakes, right?

—There’s no way alcohol and work are related.

—Besides, don’t you want Aoi-chan to see how you drink?

—See how I drink…?

Is that what high school students these days want? Do they long to become adults who can drink…?

…No, that doesn’t make sense. I have to stay calm. This is just a trap from Chizuru-san. I shouldn’t fall for a cheap provocation.

—I don’t mind, I’ll drink moderately.

—Are you sure? Aoi-chan might start hating Yuya-kun, you know?

—Eh? Hate…?”

With those shocking words, a current ran through my body.

From a high school student’s perspective, are adults who can’t drink considered pathetic?

…I don’t know. But Aoi had longed for adult dates. Maybe she also wanted me to drink alcohol like an adult.

—It’s… It’s okay. But just a little, okay?

—Hehehe. That’s what I like. — Chizuru said as she poured beer into my glass.

I took the glass firmly, and then drank it quickly.

Gahh!

I put the empty glass on the table and exhaled strongly.

Hmm… I thought it would be hard, but surprisingly it was easy to drink. My face is a little warm, but I think I can continue drinking a little more without any problems.

On the other hand, Chizuru-san was excitedly clapping and jumping for joy.

—Oh, that’s great, you drink really well, Yuya-kun, you’re really cool! You too, Aoi-chan~.

—Y—Yes… Hey, Yuya-kun, it would be better if you paced yourself a bit, don’t you think?

—I’m fine. I’m still conscious.

—Please stop before you’re not!

Aoi scolded me while puffing up her cheeks. Even when she’s angry, she’s so adorable… My girlfriend is amazing.

Maybe it was because I drank my beer in one go. But for some reason, I’m having a lot of fun.

—Chizuru-san, it’s not fair that only you have a big bottle. Who do you think you are? That’s cheating.

—Y—Yuya-kun, even in an atmosphere like this, I don’t think it’s appropriate to speak like that to your superior.

Izuka-san scolded me with an expression as if to say; “This guy could be problematic.”

—Haaah… Izuka-san, you really don’t understand anything, do you?

—I really don’t understand. And even if I try, I’m more concerned about the situation than Yuya-kun…

—Have you forgotten what my respected Chizuru-san said earlier?

—Something like… What did she say?

—Then I’ll tell you again. In events like this… We’re allowed to be those naughty children we once were. So today, everything is allowed. Hierarchy? Etiquette? Courtesy? All of that is dead here and now! Isn’t that right, Chizuru-san?

—Hahaha, exactly, Yuya-kun. Before us who drink, even the power of the state is powerless!

—There’s no way that’s true.

Ignoring Izuka-san’s intervention, Chizuru-san poured more into my glass.

—Yuya-kun, you’ve finally volunteered to be my drinking buddy. That makes me happy.

—Yes, I’m delighted to accompany you!

—Hehehe. As expected of a capable man in the workplace. Let’s toast to the best in Japan!”

—…Ugh, these two are already lost. — Izuka said as she covered Aoi’s eyes — Don’t watch this, Aoi-chan, those adults are not okay.

Oh come on, that’s not fair. Please let me see the adorable face of my beloved girlfriend.

—Come on, Yuya-kun! There’s still a lot of beer left.

—Cheers, Chizuru-san.

Chizuru continued to fill my glass over and over again every time it was empty. It was a cycle that seemed to have no end.

As the tension increased, the conversation topic focused more on Aoi.

—Listen, Chizuru-san. Aoi is really a cool girl. First of all, look. She’s cute. Don’t you think so?

—Hahahaha. Y—Yuya-kun, you’re too much! This is hilarious!

Chizuru-san burst into laughter right in front of me.

What? Did I say something strange? It should be obvious that Aoi is cute, just like the sky is blue.

Feeling confused, Aoi gently tapped my shoulder.

—Yuya-kun, you’re getting drunk, and your emotions are becoming more obvious. It’s embarrassing, so you better stop here.

—Don’t stop me, angel.

—Angel? Who’s an angel?

—It’s you.” I replied as I leaned towards her.

Our faces touched so much that our noses lightly touched.

—You’re too close… idiot.

Aoi blushed and looked down. She’s still as shy as ever.

But as Aoi mentioned, I’m aware that I’ve been feeling more excited since I drank in one go. I didn’t intend to worry her by drinking too much. So it’s best if I moderate my pace with alcohol.

Instead… I’ll keep bragging about Aoi!

—Chizuru-san, Aoi is also a great cook. Her hamburgers, in particular, are incredibly delicious. They’re so good that your cheeks will fall. There’s no doubt that she’ll be a wonderful wife in the future!

—Yes, I suppose… Hahaha!

—Recently, I attended a parent event at her school. It was amazing to see her receive so much praise from her teacher for translating a sentence from classical Japanese to modern Japanese.

—Yuya-kun! Please stop, it’s embarrassing!

Ignoring Aoi, who had turned very red, I continued to brag about her.

 

***

 

After my drunkenness wore off, I returned to my room after soaking in the hot springs.

For this trip, the company assigned one room for every two people, but in my case it’s different since I have a single room. As the number of male participants was odd, one person was left over. I didn’t mind sharing a room with someone, but it was lucky to be alone.

I stepped out onto the balcony to refresh my body. The wind blows near my ears with a soft sound. The October breeze makes my skin feel a little cold, but it’s just what I wanted.

As I gazed at the starry sky, I thought about what happened at the banquet hall.

—I did it.

If my memory serves me right, after Chizuru offered me a drink, I ended up drinking quite a bit. And in my state of slight drunkenness, I endlessly told embarrassing stories about Aoi.

Although I had told everyone that Aoi was my niece, the way I spoke and expressed myself about her was as if she was my lover… Now that I think about it, Chizuru laughed a lot at the way I bragged about her.

—Ah… This is so embarrassing…

Moreover, I put Aoi in a very uncomfortable position, she’s probably angry with me. I’ll have to apologize to her later.

I have a date with Aoi after this. Not only do I have to apologize, I also want to give her that special gift. I have to prepare and meet her as soon as possible.

When I returned to the room from the balcony, someone knocked on the door.

It’s very inconvenient to have a guest at this time of night. Who could it be?

Before I could say anything, the door opened slightly as the face of a woman peeked through the gap.

—Hey, Yuya-kun.

—Ch—Chizuru-san?

—How are you feeling? I hope you’re not dizzy anymore.

—Yes, I’m fine… Uh, I’m sorry for causing a scene during dinner. It was very inconvenient of me.

—No need to apologize. I admit it was very interesting, you definitely like Aoi-chan a lot.

My cheeks warmed up upon hearing that. I’m tired of drinking.

—By the way, do you mind if I bring a special guest to your room?

—Special guest? Well, I was thinking of going to see Aoi now…

—Oh, that’s convenient then. — Chizuru replied as she opened the door.

Behind her was Aoi, who was wearing a cute yukata.

—A–Aoi! Why are you here?

—Well… Chizuru-san thought it would be good for the two of us to have a date in your room.

—A—A date in the room?

At first, I thought Chizuru did it so I could resolve things with Aoi. But as soon as I saw the mischievous smile on her face, that sweet assumption disappeared from my mind.

That smile… she’s definitely plotting something suspicious again, isn’t she?

While I remained on guard, Chizuru-san slightly tilted her head.

—Yuya-kun, I’m sorry for getting you drunk during dinner.

—Eh? N-No, it was my decision to drink, it’s not your fault, Chizuru-san.

—Even if you say that, I can’t help but feel guilty. And that’s why I brought Aoi… It’s my way of apologizing and thanking you at the same time.

—Uh, I don’t understand what’s going on…

—There’s no ulterior motive. Tonight, I’ll leave you and Aoi-chan alone.

—A night alone…? Don’t tell me…

—Yes. You’ll spend the night together in the room. Cuddle and enjoy each other all night long.

—We won’t do that!

She’s gone too far this time.

I have no intention of doing that kind of thing with Aoi, and what if other employees find out? Everyone thinks she’s my niece. This is very inappropriate!

—You don’t have to worry so much, Yuya-kun. Didn’t I tell you on the bus? I hope you have an exciting experience. Not just once, but twice, three times, or as much as you want in bed.

—Stop with your obscene insinuations in front of a minor!

—Yuya-kun, what are you trying to say?

—Aoi, please be quiet for a moment. We’re in the middle of an adult conversation… Huh? Where did Chizuru-san go?

I feel a presence behind me and turn to look.

Chizuru-san had silently sneaked into the room and was picking up the room key.

—Wait, what are you going to do with the room key?

—I’ll come to pick up Aoi-chan in the morning. Until then, enjoy your time together.

—What?! Wait, Chizuru-san, it’s really inappropriate for us to sleep in the same room…

As soon as I said that, the door slammed shut. Chizuru left without even listening to my objections.

Silence filled the room. I looked at Aoi, and she was standing there with a shy smile.

—I’m sorry. I came without waiting for you to invite me…

—No, it’s okay. I should be the one apologizing to you for not coming to you sooner.

I’ll never get drunk again.

—Well… Since you’re here, come in.

—Yes. Excuse me.

I invited Aoi into the room and we both sat at the table by the window.

We looked up at the night sky that stretched outside the window. The stars shine and twinkle as if they were stardust falling into our hands. The stars are clearly visible compared to the city, thanks to the absence of light pollution.

While we silently gazed at the stars, Aoi was the first to break the silence.

—Yuya-kun. Thank you very much for bringing me on this trip.

—You’re welcome. I hope you’re enjoying it.

—Yes. Um… It made me very happy when you confessed your feelings to me. The car ride, the surprise cake, the matching keychains… They all became wonderful memories. I’m definitely glad I didn’t hold back about being selfish.

A smile escaped me upon hearing her declarations. However, her expression clouded.

—…But I still feel a little hesitant sometimes. After all, I was very selfish to suddenly enter your life and ask to live together. It’s unforgivable. I don’t think I can continue to be so demanding of you.

—Aoi, that’s not a bother at all…

—Yuya-kun. I think on special occasions like this, we can talk honestly with each other. So please, just listen to me for a bit.

Aoi’s tone becomes firmer. Feeling a different atmosphere than usual, I swallowed my words and just listened.

—…I understand. Please continue with what you were saying.

—Thank you. Uh, I also have other concerns.

—What kind of concerns?

—…I wonder if it’s okay for someone like me to be with you.

—What…? What do you mean?

—I think Yuya-kun would look better with an adult woman instead of a girl like me. You’re too kind, Yuya-kun, and sometimes I wonder if you’re with me out of obligation… Are you really happy, Yuya-kun? Sometimes, when I’m alone at home waiting for you to come back, I wonder.

Aoi continues to speak with a worried expression.

—’Aoi’s happiness is my happiness’… Do you remember telling me those words before?

—Ah, of course.

It was what I told Aoi when I proposed this trip. It was a response to her hesitation. I remember those words coming out of my mouth naturally, wanting Aoi to be a little selfish.

—Those words gave me a lot of peace. I felt that it wasn’t necessary to limit myself if my happiness would be experienced by you too… So, little by little, I started to be a little more selfish.

—So… That’s why you made so many requests during our date, right?

—Yes. Because I wanted to be happy with you… But still, I feel a certain insecurity. I wonder if adult men aren’t interested in high school girls. I’m worried that if I’m selfish, you’ll start treating me like a child. I have a lot of concerns on my mind… But today I had so much fun during our date that I completely forgot.

I understand… Aoi’s hesitation is related to the “age difference”. Even when she made many requests for our dates, she probably also wanted me to have an image of her as more of an adult woman.

Aoi, thank you for having the courage to express your true feelings.

Now it’s my turn to convey my feelings… As someone who’s in love with you.

—…When I started living with you, I thought of taking care of you as a protective figure.

I responded with a soft and reassuring voice, trying to dispel Aoi’s worries. It made Aoi’s shoulders tremble slightly.

—But now things have changed. — I said as I took Aoi’s hands.

Aoi looked up, but still seemed unsure.

—As the days went by, I sincerely started to wish to be united with you. I confessed my feelings to you because I like you as a woman.

My words flowed easily tonight, and a warm inner feeling overflowed uncontrollably.

—Age difference doesn’t matter. We don’t need to discuss who would be happier being with whom. I want to be with you, Aoi… That’s all that matters to me. And it would make me very happy if you had the same desires as me.

—I… I also want to believe that… — Aoi responded with an uncertain expression.

—I understand… If you still have doubts, I’ll use a spell to dispel those worries.

I remembered that distant day when I first met Aoi. Back then, I also used magic to protect her and make her feel safe.

I’m not the handsome young man I used to be. And I probably look like a tired office worker.

I’m also not able to remember the bright magical words I used to have. But if there’s something I can do, it’s to make her cloudy face light up with a smile.

—Aoi, there’s something I want you to accept. — I said as I took a small blue box out of my bag.

Aoi’s eyes widened and she gasped.

—Yuya-kun, is this…?

—Yes, I think it will look very good on you.

I slowly opened the box, and inside was a platinum ring. The small diamond shone elegantly under the starlight.

—With this ring, I want to make a vow. Aoi, I love you, and I don’t say it as a promise of the past… I want this time to be official, and as a symbol of our marriage. Would you accept this ring? And marry me?

—Yuya-kun… Thank you so much!

Aoi’s eyes filled with tears and they slid down her beautiful cheek.

Her face, illuminated by the moonlight coming in through the window, was as beautiful as a sky full of stars.

—Aoi, give me your hand.

—Yes!

Aoi wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her yukata and extended her left hand to me.

I gently placed the ring on her ring finger.

—How does it fit?

—It fits perfectly. How did you find out my ring size?

—Well… While you were sleeping, I…

—You saw me sleeping?

—Just for a moment. You looked adorable.

—You’re a fool… But I’ll forgive you this time.

Aoi chuckled softly, her sweet expression seeming much more mature than usual.

We held hands and gazed up at the starry sky together. Although we didn’t exchange words, there was a warm and satisfying feeling in the air.

After a while, Aoi spoke shyly.

—Um, Yuya-kun, I think it’s time to go to sleep…

—Yes, you’re right. You’ve had a tiring day with a lot of worries, it’s time to rest.

We retired to bed, our hearts full of love and the promise of a future together. As we drifted off to sleep, I knew that our journey as a couple had only just begun.

—Yes… You know, it’s been a long time since we slept together, what do you think if we start doing it today?

—What do you mean?

There’s no problem with a couple sleeping together and getting along in bed. However, she’s a high school student. Although we have a special relationship, it’s not right to take that hasty step.

—Aoi, no matter what, that request is a bit…

—I think if you sleep with me, I’ll feel more at ease… Is that a bad thing?

Aoi looked at me with pleading eyes. Her eyes were filled with tears.

This girl is still so dependent without realizing it… Or does she really not realize it? She’s really good at putting me in uncomfortable situations.

—…Okay. Let’s sleep together. But only tonight, okay?

—Yuya… Yes. Thank you.

In my mind, I repeat to myself: “We’re just going to sleep together, nothing will happen! Nothing will happen!” I’m just fulfilling my duty as her boyfriend, wanting to reassure the person I love.

Even when we got up from the table, Aoi didn’t let go of my hand. We turned off the light and got into the futon together.

—It’s cramped here.

—It’s because you’re too close to me.

—No, it’s not like that. It’s because Yuya is sticking to me.

—I’m sorry about that. Should we separate a little?

—If you want me to get angry, go ahead.

Although the room was barely dark, I could see how Aoi’s cheeks puffed up. I wanted to say out loud “Your reaction is cute”, but if I did, it would become too sweet of an atmosphere, so I held back.

—Haha, sorry… Hey, Aoi. From now on, don’t hold back. The whims of the person you love aren’t really whims.

—Um… I’ll do my best.

—Eh…

Even though I was very sincere with my feelings, it seems that she still had insecurities. Teenage girls are very complicated.

—Did I say something wrong?

—It’s not that. It’s just that… I’m afraid of being too demanding.

—Fear?

—I don’t want to be seen as a spoiled girl who only wants to take advantage of your love.

—Eh?

—I don’t want you to hate me. I want you to love me even when I’m an old lady… That’s why I can’t be a spoiled girl easily. — She whispered near my ear.

—When you’re an old lady? Does that mean you don’t want to be spoiled because you want me to be in love with you forever and ever? Is that what you mean?

Her incredibly adorable tenderness makes my heart beat. I don’t care if Aoi is spoiled, I love her too much.

I’m dying to tell her, but I can’t. If we keep creating a sweet atmosphere in bed, both Aoi and I could lose control.

What the hell is going on with this frustrating situation? It’s all Chizuru’s fault, damn it.

While I’m suffering from that, Aoi’s sweet voice makes my eardrum vibrate.

—Yuya… Can I ask for one last whim?

—Sure. What do you want?

Aoi’s face approached me at the same time as she closed her eyes.

—Yuya… I love you so much.

In the next instant, something soft presses against my cheek.

It was her lips. And that caused my cheeks to heat up instantly.

After that, Aoi quickly separates from me and says, “Goodnight!” sharply as she closes her eyes.

What the hell…? She kisses me shyly and then pretends to sleep…? I’m almost losing my mind over her incredible sweetness.

Besides, she told me she loved me… Although I love her too. Isn’t it unfair that she only says it and runs away? I can’t allow it. If I don’t convey these feelings to her, I won’t be able to sleep.

That’s why I gently stroked Aoi’s head.

—I love you too, Aoi. Goodnight.

Aoi kept her eyes closed and didn’t respond. I don’t think she fell asleep that fast. She was probably pretending to sleep. If I turned on the light, her face would surely be completely flushed.

After a while, I could hear her peaceful breathing as she slept. So I stealthily peeked to see her face.

—Hehe, her expression is incredibly sweet.

I wonder if she’s having nice dreams.

Gradually, I also fell asleep while thinking about it.

I felt a slight warmth on my eyelids and gradually regained consciousness.

I opened my eyes slightly, and the morning sunlight was coming in through the window, illuminating the entire room.

Damn it. Did I forget to close the curtains before sleeping?

—So, it’s already morning… huh?

I noticed that my arm felt strangely heavy and looked to my side. It was Aoi, who was sleeping with her head resting on my arm.

—…Her sleeping face is like that of an angel.

The face she makes when she sleeps is so sweet, but I couldn’t just stare at her forever. I had to quickly contact Chizuru.

However, even if I tried to move, I couldn’t because Aoi was using my arm as a pillow. Hmm, what should I do…?

Click.

The door to the room opened suddenly, and my heart skipped a beat.

This is bad. If someone sees us in this situation, it will be a social disaster…!

—Good morning, Yuya-kun. Did you have fun last night?

The person who entered the room was Chizuru.

Ah, right. Last night Chizuru left the room with the keys. Although she knew about our situation, she continued to be very problematic, as sleeping with a high school girl in the same bed is bad in every way.

—Ch—Chizuru-san. This is not what—…!

—Yuya-kun… Oh, wow, so you took it very seriously.

—It’s a misunderstanding! We didn’t do anything! And by the way, why are you surprised?! You’re the one who pushed us into this!

—I was just trying to tease Yuya-kun, who is so naive… I apologize, this is embarrassing.

—You don’t have to apologize with that distrustful expression. Nothing really happened between us!

—Can you stop shouting? You’ll wake up Aoi.

As soon as Chizuru mentioned it, I quickly covered my mouth.

I looked at Aoi, and she continued to sleep with a happy expression on her face and moving her lips slightly.

—Yuya-kun… If you keep being so rough, then I’m going to… Fu-myuu…

Oh no, she’s dreaming about me, this is bad.

—…I couldn’t protect you from this. I failed as your boss, I’m a disgrace. Let me make it up to you when we get out of this situation.

She’s treating me like a criminal again. She’s definitely a useless boss, as she doesn’t listen to her subordinates.

In this situation, it no longer makes sense to say anything. I give up and will ask Aoi to clarify the misunderstanding later.

—By the way, Chizuru-san. Did you come for something in particular?

—Oh, right. I came to get Aoi-chan… But it seems she’s still asleep.

—Should I wake her up?

—No, it’s fine. Breakfast is in an hour. You can take Aoi-chan to her room before that. That way, our alibi for last night’s incident will be complete.

—Then why are you treating me like a criminal?

—That doesn’t matter anymore, just make sure no one sees you two.

Saying that, Chizuru-san left the keys and prepared to leave the room.

—Um, Chizuru-san.

—What’s up?

—This will be a memorable business trip. I really appreciate everything you did.

When I said this, Chizuru-san showed a surprised expression, but quickly smiled broadly.

—Hahaha. I had a lot of fun last night too. Thanks for that wonderful time.

Saying that with joy, Chizuru-san closed the door.

—Well, we can’t stay here for long… Aoi, wake up. — I said as I gently shook her body.

Aoi suddenly opened her eyelids wide, at the same time as she lifted her body and became nervous.

—I–I’m sorry. I fell asleep. I’ll prepare breakfast right away, in the meantime, Yuya-kun, you can take care of…

—Haha. Are you sleepy? We don’t need to prepare breakfast. We’re on a trip, did you forget?

—Eh? Ah…!

Aoi’s face quickly turned red.

—Oh, right.

—Did you sleep well? It seems like you were dreaming something…

—Yes. It was a dream where I went for a drive with you, Yuya-kun.

—Oh, really? Did you have fun?

—Yes. For me, the time I spend with you makes me very happy.

—I see… Then, let’s go out on a date again. Let’s create many memories together.

—Yuya-kun… Hehe. I’m excited for that.

Aoi was excited, but suddenly seemed to realize something.

—…By the way, you said ‘it seems like you were dreaming’. Was I… talking in my sleep?

I suddenly remembered the words she had spoken while she was sleeping. It was clearly a dream where we were affectionate with each other… Yes. It’s better not to delve too deep into that.

—No, I just guessed since you had a beautiful expression of happiness, so I imagined that you were having a pleasant dream.

—Oh, I see… But, did you see my expression while I was sleeping?

Aoi looked at me, frowning. I felt an irresistible impulse to want to see that adorable expression a little more.

—Oh, yes. You were also snoring.

—Really?!

—Lie. You were making adorable noises while you slept.

—You’re so cruel, Yuya-kun! Idiot! — Aoi hit my shoulder.

I wish this warm and peaceful daily life would continue. But to achieve that, I have to work harder at my job and household chores.

—Well, I think it’s time to get ready. Aoi, you should go back to your room soon.

—Yes, I suppose… But, the conversation isn’t over yet. Besides, Yuya-kun, you’re always…

While Aoi scolded me, I prepared for the day. I wished that these kinds of conversations would be a part of our daily life.

 

***

 

—The day after returning from the trip…

I arrived home from the office and while preparing dinner in my room, I waited for Aoi to return.

Aoi had gone to Rumi’s house. She went to bring the pudding souvenirs she bought during the trip.

This morning, Aoi told me to wait for her so she could prepare dinner. However, I decided to secretly make dinner. It’s a surprise to thank her for everything she has done for me and also so she can rest.

The menu consists of grilled pork with ginger and shredded cabbage salad. There’s also miso soup to accompany it. Not bad for me, who is a beginner in the kitchen.

As I cooked the meat and the delicious aroma filled the air, the door to the apartment opened.

—I’m home, Yuya.

—Welcome back, Aoi.

These kinds of simple greetings made my cheeks relax without me realizing it. And inevitably, I began to remember the first day we started living together.

That day, Aoi entered the room saying, “Hello, sorry to bother you.” But now she greets me saying, “I’m home.”

It may be a small change, but for me, it’s something that makes me very happy.

—Yuya, Rumi-san also liked the piggy container… Eh? This aroma… could it be…?

Aoi ran to the kitchen without thinking twice.

—Yuya, are you cooking?

—Yes. Tonight we’ll have grilled pork chops.

—Um… Yuya-kun, why didn’t you wait for me?

—I wanted to please you.

—I see… I understand. That makes me happy. — Aoi said with a soft smile.

If it had been the old Aoi, she would have definitely said something like, “No, don’t worry about it. I spent all afternoon playing, so I can take care of cooking”. But now that’s a thing of the past, and we act more and more like a couple.

—Yuya, is something wrong?

—No, it’s just that my girlfriend is incredibly cute.

—No… That’s not fair! That’s a surprise attack! It’s so embarrassing! — Aoi responded with an even more flushed face.

She started lightly hitting my back, how cute.

—Hey, be careful! I’m cooking the meat!”

—It’s your fault, Yuya. Idiot.

Even if she says it’s my fault, Aoi is still cute, right?

…But if I keep saying things like that, we’ll create an even sweeter atmosphere, so I’ll stop.

—Wait a little longer, Aoi. It’s almost ready.

—Understood. In the meantime, I’ll be preparing the dishes.

Aoi ran around and started preparing the dishes after leaving her bag.

I turned off the heat and served the meat and cabbage. I put rice in the bowls and miso soup in the bowls. It’s all ready!

Seeing the food arranged on the table, Aoi smiled playfully.

—Everything looks very appetizing. I’m excited to try your grilled ginger, Yuya.

—…I’m a little nervous. I feel like an apprentice showing my culinary results to a master.

—I trust it will be delicious.

After saying that, Aoi reached out for the grilled ginger and slowly brought it to her mouth. She chewed slowly as if savoring it, and finally swallowed it.

—S—So, how is it? — I asked, nervous.

—It’s delicious. The seasoning isn’t too strong and it’s easy to eat. And the miso soup is also delicious.

—I’m glad to hear that… I was worried I didn’t cook it well enough.

—I think it’s perfect. Haha, can I count on you in the future?

—Yes. I’ll try to expand my repertoire of recipes.

—Hahaha, that would be great. Although I wouldn’t mind eating the same thing, it would be monotonous, don’t you think?

Aoi covered her mouth with her left hand as she laughed. On the ring finger of that hand, she wore the engagement ring. It seems she’s wearing it today because she can’t wear it at school.

I feel like Aoi smiles more often now. Slowly but surely, she has stopped holding back and has become much more affectionate.

Not just her, I also feel like I’ve changed quite a bit. Until recently, I was a pathetic salaryman, but now it’s different. Things are going well at my job and I have free time to help with household chores.

We both influence each other and are slowly growing. I want to continue building this beautiful relationship with her.

—And what did you do at Rumi-chan’s house today?

—Yes. First we ate the souvenir pudding, and then…

Aoi’s expression changed constantly as she excitedly talked about the day’s experiences. I wonder what changes I’ll see in her in the future, especially when she becomes more capricious.

As I thought about that, I listened attentively to Aoi’s story.

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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