“See ya, Touya-kun.”
Hinooka Homura waved her hand carrying her bag at the boy she encountered at the school entrance.
The long-awaited summer vacation began tomorrow.
The area around the school shoe racks was filled with noisy and buoyant students, and Homura was chipper herself as she swiftly slipped her indoor shoes into her purse.
“I’m heading home first. See you again in the second semester!”
As Homura spoke with a energetic tone, Touya gave her a withering stare.
But Homura chose to pretend not to see that.
“We’re going to go and discuss what we’re going to do over the break, so I’ll be quite busy!”
“I didn’t hear anything about that, though,” interjected Kujou Orie, Homura’s friend, from where she waited a step ahead at the door.
“Err, yeah, like I said, we’re going to discuss it on our way home.”
“What’s with that ‘hmph’?”
Not letting herself be discouraged by her friend’s weak reply, Homura shot a “See ya” at Touya and waved in an over-exaggerated fashion.
But his merciless words pulled Homura back before she could walk away.
“You haven’t forgotten about the plans for our summer club activities, right?”
“…Ah, wait, please stop, don’t make me remember it!”
“But even excluding that, don’t you have to take make-up lessons over the summer anyway?”
“I’m not listening, I’m not listening, I’m not listening! I’ll properly check the email on the club activities schedule later! So please don’t erase this feeling of absolute freedom as I delude myself into thinking I can do whatever I want starting tomorrow for just this moment! The reason we high school students diligently go to school every day is for the sake of this day, this moment, right? This single instant that signals the start of an endless summer vacation in our minds!”
Touya looked at her in disbelief.
Kujou listened to her expressionlessly.
The two of them exchanged brief glances, and then—
Homura was completely refuted from both the front and back.
“Studying is so that—we can have a future with freedom and many possibilities.”
“It’s because we want to know—the tips (wisdom) accumulated by people of the past.”
The two of them exchanged glances again over the discrepancy in their answers, while Homura plugged her ears with both hands.
“It’s too late now. It’s collapsed. My dreams of summer vacation have completely crashed and burned away.”
As Homura slumped forward, crestfallen, Touya picked up the purse at her feet and took out her indoor shoes without permission, directing a nod at Kujou.
“Sorry, Kujou. I’ll be borrowing this girl.”
Kujou nodded silently.
“An instant reply!? W-Wait, please say something to this kidnapper.”
Homura begged for help from Kujou, who made a slightly troubled expression…
“Goodbye, Hinooka-san. If you survive, let’s meet again in the second semester.”
…But remained completely unsympathetic.
“H-How cold of you. That isn’t just a joke in my case, you know~?”
Touya then left the school entrance and began walking quickly through the school hallways, all while carrying Homura’s bag under his arm as a hostage.
Homura followed after him, on the verge of tears.
“I’ll bear a grudge against you for the rest of my life, for having interrupted the date between me and Kujou-san!”
“Really, your whole life? Summer vacation is pretty long, so there’s no need to get all flustered over a little lost time.”
“It’s very hard to catch and keep hold of Kujou-san, you know…” Homura grumbled.
She halted in surprise when Touya unexpectedly turned to head in a different direction than usual.
“We’re not going to the club building? I thought for sure that Mori-chan had announced an emergency summons.”
“No…the truth is, it’d be awkward to go to the club building right now.”
“…Then are you taking me somewhere for personal reasons?”
“It has to do with the entire Exploration Club. You too, Hinooka.”
“In that case—”
“Well, I do apologize for having dragged you off without explaining anything. Please accompany me for a bit.”
“What’s this all about?”
“It’s about her—Inari-senpai.”
The place that Touya led Homura to turned out to be the student council room on the third floor of the school building.
“Pardon our sudden intrusion.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” said a female student, Kurama Kifune-san, with a shake of her head.
She was the only one inside the student council room when the two of them arrived.
“If I remember correctly…You’re in the same class as Touya-kun, right, Kurama-san?”
“Then Ame-chan is also in your class.”
“Ame-chan? Ah, Fujimori Ameno-san? Yeah. Thanks to her, I’ve had no shortage of stuff to post about on our blog.”
She pointed at the laptop she’d been in the middle of working on before they came in.
It was displaying the student council’s notification on the school’s website, and the entries were almost wholly about her personal, everyday experiences.
It seemed she and the rest of the council were quite busy, based on the piles of summer itineraries for every club on top of her wide desk.
Not minding that in the least, Homura switched to her chatty mode.
“Right? I’m so jealous.”
“I’d actually like to write about you too, though, Hinooka-san.”
“Me? I don’t mind if you do, you know?”
“No, you really should mind. Hey, Hinooka, can we save the chatting for later and move on to the main topic?”
“Yeah, yeah. That’s what I thought you’d say—so, you mentioned Inari-senpai?”
“The truth is, it seems she came to school today.”
Homura’s eyes widened at the unexpected news.
“The second year student Inari-san? She actually came?”
Kurama brought her chair closer with a meek expression.
She turned to give Touya a look that asked ‘Can I tell her?’, and Touya nodded.
Inari-senpai was a second year student and a member of the Exploration Club.
She should have been spending all her time in the club as a senpai to the first year members Homura and Touya. However, she’d been skipping school since the end of last year.
After an accident occurred during Exploration Club activities, she went to recuperate at home and had taken a long leave of absence from school. Homura and Touya didn’t know the details of the accident. All the people involved in it kept their lips sealed on the matter.
The president of the Exploration Club, Misasagi-senpai, had also been stranded in the accident. But ever since then, her friendship with her best friend Inari had been decisively broken. Their kind senpai, who usually taught and guided the two of them without reservation, became dejected whenever the subject of the accident came up.
In the end, the accident and the absence of Inari-senpai lay as a vague source of unease hidden beneath the usual bright mood of the Exploration Club.
“—Is Inari senpai still in the school building?” Homura asked.
“No, she’s already gone home,” Touya replied. “From what I heard, she’s going to resume school next semester, so she showed up to class to inform the teacher. So she was here for less than an hour.”
“I heard she was hospitalized for a while, but I don’t know how much she has recovered… And does your club president Misasagi know about this?”
Touya shook his head at Kurama’s question.
“I don’t know. And even if she doesn’t know about it, broaching the subject to her would be a bit…”
…difficult to do.
Homura finally understood why Touya had purposefully avoided the club building and borrowed the student council room. This was certainly a subject they couldn’t lightly speak of in front of the club president, whose relationship with Inari had been broken off.
However, Homura still wasn’t satisfied with this.
“What’s with that dejected face, Touya-kun?”
She gave him a slap to the back of the head.
“Oww. Don’t hit me.”
“Isn’t this a good thing? A student who has been absent for nearly a year has finally returned to school. President Misasagi will surely be happy too, won’t she?”
“That’s true, but…”
Worried about Touya’s half-hearted response, Homura turned to Kurama.
“Kurama-san, are you also worried about Inari-senpai? Even Exploration Club members like us haven’t directly met het yet.”
“Well, you know, just a bit…ah!?”
Just as Kurama was shrugging vaguely, she practically jumped out of her chair at the sight of the wicked grin peeking out through the slightly-opened door.
“President? Y-You were here!?”
“That’s Rokujizou Takara,” said Touya to fill in Homura.
“I already met her,” Homura replied smugly.
“Fufufu. It’s only natural Kurama would be worried. Right?”
Ignoring Kurama’s sullen glare, Student Council President Rokujizou entered the room as she closed the door behind her and looked at Touya insinuatingly.
“—So, who did you hear this from, young man?”
“Even I have acquaintances among my upperclassman. It’s not like there’s a gag order on this. In fact, I came here in order to hear about it in greater detail from you, president.”
“Is that so? Sorry about that.”
The student council president sat down in a chair while sheepishly scratching her head, but then she suddenly turned to look at Homura.
She held out a finger to the ribbon tying up the back of Homura’s hair and touched it to make it sway.
“You’re cute as always, Hinooka-san. You have a refreshing summer-like air about you today.”
The president folded her arms and nodded enthusiastically, and then leaned back sloppily against her chair and turned back to Kurama.
“In comparison…What’s with you, Kurama? Even though it’s summer, your hair is perfectly combed, you’re wearing a sweater, and you even have sleeves covering your arms. Are you an old grandma? Are you the student council’s fussy senior office lady?”
“It’s because a certain someone keeps lowering the temperature so much with the air conditioning that I have to take such defensive measures.”
“Considering how people are always coming in and out of the student council room all the time, this temperature is just right. You’re really boring, you know?”
Out of good manners, Kurama offered barley tea even to this excessively warm-blooded president.
“I spend most of my time sitting in this room—unlike you, always hopping around everywhere throughout the school.”
Seeing Touya visibly grow impatient while listening to this childish conversation, the president burst out laughing and gave a broad smile.
“Sorry about that. Back to the subject of Inari.”
“…Did you know she came here today, president?”
“I heard Inari had come to school from the teacher in charge of my class after the morning assembly. I didn’t get the chance to meet her myself. Apparently she came to school with her parents, greeted her classmates and class teacher, and then left immediately after.”
“Is it true that she’s returning to school starting next semester?” asked Touya for confirmation.
“That’s what I heard. If it’s true, it’s wonderful news.”
“…Has Misasagi-senpai heard about this yet?” Homura asked.
“I haven’t told Mayo about it.”
“Why? We should tell her.”
In the face of Homura’s tenaciousness, both Rokujizou and Touya made awkward faces.
“Hmph, I see now,” said Homura petulantly. “So your friendship with her is only worth that much? Then I’ll go tell her myself.”
“I won’t stop you, but Mayo has already gone home to take care of some family business.”
Homura was visibly disappointed.
In her mind, she could still see it—that goldfish and fox-cat stamp.
It was the personal mark of Misasagi-senpai and Inari-senpai placed on the wrappings of the club’s preserved food, which Misasagi-senpai had explained when they’d previously camped on Nutella.
Homura still hadn’t forgotten Misasagi-senpai’s happy expression as she’d talked about it.
Homura and Touya walked together on their way home from school.
The afternoon sunlight was scorching hot as it pierced their skin.
Desperately wishing for shade while swaying unsteadily on her feet, Homura mumbled with a sigh.
“I don’t think it’s right to force someone to go to school when they don’t want to, you know?”
Those blunt words made Touya slump his shoulders as he pushed his bicycle.
“Right?” pressed Homura.
“Don’t give me that. Aren’t you being a bit too unfeeling? You were saying the opposite before, weren’t you?”
“I don’t want to be called unfeeling by you of all people, Touya-kun.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Though he said that, Touya’s expression was bitter, perhaps because he too thought himself cowardly.
“There’s no need to concern yourself with the relationship between those two so much. You should let them deal with it themselves.”
“…Even though they’re our senpai in the Exploration Club?”
“Hmph, so what? …Well, saying that might be going too far, but I’ve just recently started doing club activities, so I don’t really feel that kind of solidarity.”
“Is that how it is?”
“Well, I do want to help the club president if she’s troubled… but Inari-san seems like the kind of troublesome person who does whatever she pleases, you know?”
Touya was taken aback at how Homura could say so much about a person she hadn’t even met.
“So in other words, Touya-kun, you want to do something about Inari-senpai because you want to help Misasagi-senpai, right?”
“Well, pretty much.”
Having expected some shocked and embarrassed reaction from him, Homura was surprised by this lackluster response and stared closely at this boy in love.
He continued to push his bicycle while staring straight ahead with no change.
“—But, you know, it’s not like our club does individual matches like in sports. Even someone like her is our comrade. We can’t just ignore and abandon her like this.”
Homura crossed her arms, obviously putting on another one of her embellished performances.
“Yeah… comrades are important. For all our sakes… or maybe for Japan’s future, no, for the fate of the world…”
Touya found it too troublesome to retort.
There were no club activities scheduled for the last day of the semester. However, Touya still felt some guilt at going straight home without stopping by the clubroom at all.
As he wondered if anyone was in the clubroom right now, Homura began to speak with a meek expression.
“Ah, there might be one bad thing about this.”
“If Inari-senpai returns to the club… We won’t be able to ride in Mori-chan’s car! We’ll be over-capacity!”
“…Ah, because we’ll end up having six members in total.”
“Are you an idiot? That’s what you’re worried about? …Then how about we put Ameno in the trunk when that happens?”
Eeeh. How terrible.
“That’s terrible. Ahahaha.”
Homura let out a carefree laugh.
Her expression was bright and lively, with not a hint of seriousness.
Touya both sighed and smiled resignedly at her ever carefree attitude, before changing the topic.
“Hinooka, are you free after this?”
“Eh?” Homura’s smile froze on her face. “…I’m having dinner at home with my family tonight.”
Homura became somewhat flustered. Her ponytail swished frantically.
“W-Well, tomorrow’s the first day of summer vacation, so my schedule is free, I guess? But I have to secure an appointment with Kujou-san as quick as possible, so—”
“Let’s go to Inari-senpai’s home tomorrow.”
Homura was completely taken aback.
“W-Why…!? Can’t you go by yourself!?”
“I already tried that. I told you before, remember? I was chased away at the front door. This time, I’m going to try getting through to her by showing her that our club has obtained an unreliable new member.”
“You’re going to use me as a pretext to get Inari-senpai to come back to the club? There’s no way that will work.”
“Well, even if that plan won’t work—”
Homura couldn’t help become indignant at how easily he admitted the low chances of success.
“I want to ask her directly what she intends to do now. Yeah, I’ve decided. I’ll go, even if it’s by myself. If you’re going to come, be in front of the station by 10 o’clock.”
“That early? But it’s the first day of summer vacation…”
“Come on, you get up early to go jogging anyway, right?”
Homura pouted as she tried to put up at least some resistance.
“…Then, after I wake up…”
“You’ll go back to sleep?”
Touya said that with a laugh, and Homura glared at him resentfully.
The next day.
As cicadas chirped cheerfully right from the start of the morning, Homura and Touya walked through a residential district.
“Today’s hot too.”
“Yeah,” replied Homura curtly. The summer-appropriate sleeved dress she wore was an unexpectedly refreshing look on her. She peeked at the basket Touya was carrying in his hands.
“What’s that? A fruit basket?”
“Ah, well, I brought a greeting gift just in case.”
“Wow, you really are conscientious, Touya-kun. You should call this kind of thing, umm, a “recovery celebration gift”. You intend to win her over with presents?”
“Something like that.”
Touya ascended the hill road with a slack expression.
Walking several steps ahead of him to move beneath the partial shade of the trees along the roadside, Homura swiveled her head to survey their surroundings. The residential district, usually quiet in the morning, was filled with the jovial voices of children enjoying their summer vacation.
“Hey, Hinooka—that’s one of our club’s camera, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it’s one of the spares. Can’t believe you noticed just by looking at it.”
Homura turned around and held out the heavy pouch she was carrying.
It contained a simple yet reliable analog camera.
Leaving the pouch’s shoulder-strap in place, Homura brought it closer so Touya could see the camera’s viewfinder that was poking out of the bag.
“I switched the camera case because the original’s appearance was too unrefined and stood out a lot, though. Mori-chan said to make sure I carry it on me at all times.”
“The pictures you took last time came out quite terribly.”
“Yeah. They were terrible all right.”
“So you’re aware of it. I guess you don’t read travel articles in journals and magazines just for show, huh?”
“I’m an amusement park cameraman, after all.”
“Like, ‘Through my pictures, you’ll feel like you’ve been brought to an amusement park attraction, whether on the battlefield or at a World Heritage Site!’…or something like that. Not being able to take exciting photos makes me feel apologetic towards the people who made this Nutella-use camera…”
“You don’t need to try and show off when you take pictures. It’s just for our club’s data and document materials, after all.”
“But I want to take pictures that I can look back on and smile at since I’m doing it anyway, you know?”
“No, like I said—”
After they scaled the hill and took a turn down a side road, they arrived at their destination.
It was a stylish-house that looked Victorian-style, the kind you’d easily find in an American harbor town. Since it was on top of the hill, the second floor window probably had quite a nice view.
As expected, there was a nameplate that read “Inari” on the front door.
Homura felt tense as she stood in front of the doorbell button on the entrance intercom, with a camera attached to it.
Touya and Homura exchanged looks, trying to get the other to push the button through eye contact. Homura swiftly stole the fruit basket, thereby occupying her own hands and forcing the difficult role onto Touya.
“Why do you look like you’re getting ready to dash off?”
“Are you a grade-schooler?”
Touya rang the doorbell.
When Homura peeked to the side of the front door, she caught sight of a large off-road bike.
[—Yes, who is it?]
A low male voice.
Touya quickly straightened his back as he answered back, despite the fact that there was no one actually in front of him.
“Sorry to intrude. I’m Touya, from Seiran High.”
[Ah, a classmate of Sunao?]
“No, that’s not—”
[Please wait a moment. I’ll go to the front door right away.]
The intercom speaker cut off. It appeared someone was coming out from inside the house.
Tense, Homura glanced at Touya.
“…Was that Inari-senpai’s father?”
“…Probably, I guess?”
“W-What do we do if he gets angry and shouts ‘How dare you harass my daughter!’ or something?”
“That’s…possible, if you consider what’s happened in the past. Hey, don’t run away!”
Touya grabbed Homura’s collar.
As they quarrelled like this before the front door, it suddenly opened and a somewhat slender man wearing glasses appeared.
“How nice, to be young and lively. Welcome, I’m the father of Inari Sunao.”
A tanned face and tanned arms. Unkempt, ruffled hair. A chin with conspicuous beard stubbles and band-aids on it.
He was a gentle-looking man, smiling brightly.
He wore a polo shirt with a tie around his neck, a summer vest that was roughly put on and a pair of jeans, all of it together giving off a summer feel with no indication of his occupation.
After Touya and Homura introduced themselves with their name and school year, Inari-senpai’s father expressed his appreciation as he peeked at the proffered fruit basket.
“Thank you. You even courteously brought us something like this.”
“It’s not much, though. Ehehe.”
“I’m the one who brought it, remember?”
“Since you went to the trouble of bringing this here, I should give you both something in return. Yeah, if I remember right, we still have that souvenir from Maldives1…”
“A souvenir from Maldives?”
Homura sharply responded to those words. But Touya stopped the man as he was about to head back inside.
“Ah, that isn’t necessary.”
“Hmm? Is that so?”
Homura turned to face Touya with a serious expression that plainly asked ‘Why?’, but Touya just gave her a light chop to the forehead.
“Don’t forget our original objective.”
—Right. Unfortunately, Inari-senpai wasn’t at home.
Regrettably, it appeared she wouldn’t be back any time soon either.
“Sunao is in the middle of a rehab session. She’s at a nearby gym right now. You know, a public gym.”
“Yes, I know of it,” said Touya with a nod.
“Rehab, huh… Is Inari-senpai’s physical condition still bad?” asked Homura.
“No, no, there’s no need to worry at all.”
Inari-senpai’s father waved his hands to reassure her. He was the kind of person who gestured a lot.
Seeing Homura sigh in relief, the man’s smile clouded over a bit, which startled Homura and Touya.
“…Well, perhaps ‘at all’ isn’t quite right. We did worry about her a lot. But I’m truly relieved now. You see, I’m not going to be in Japan when the next school semester starts, so I went with Sunao to give my greetings to the school yesterday. Of course, Sunao had already resolved herself to go back to school before this, though.”
Touya meekly cut into his explanation.
“Umm, we’re members of the Exploration Club.”
The man nodded.
The ever meticulous Touya showed his Seiran High student ID card and his Exploration Club ID card to him. Homura also hurried to do the same thing.
“It’s strange that a pair of Sunao’s club juniors would be so close to her that they would come visit her when she’s been absent from school for so long.”
“…I-I suppose so,” said Homura with a bitter smile.
Even after hearing the words ‘Exploration Club’, the man maintained his calm attitude.
“The truth is—”
Just when Touya tried to get to the main point of their visit, the man caught sight of Homura’s pouch and spoke up.
“Is that an analog camera? Wow, that’s a rare sight these days.”
Homura pulled in the shoulder strap to bring the pouch in front of her, and then took out the contents to show it to him.
It was a plain and ordinary black camera with no adornments.
“You could tell?”
“It’s heavy, right? People rarely walk around carrying that.”
“Hmm, I tried to make it not obvious, though.”
“Hahaha. Oh, can I?”
Homura held out the camera to him, and the man happily accepted it.
The way he studied and set up the piece of equipment while marveling over it really seemed natural and fitting.
“Despite how I look…actually, what do I look like?”
The man rubbed his chin and asked with a wry smile.
“You’re talking about your job?”
Homura and Touya exchanged looks. Finally, Touya spoke up with a troubled expression.
“…A cameraman? That’s the first thing that comes to mind.”
“Thank you. It makes me very happy to hear that. But the truth is a little different.”
“Ah, wait a minute—”
Homura placed a finger to her brow in thought.
“I feel like I remember seeing—no, hearing your voice before?”
“Were you a commentator on a satellite broadcast program at the end of last week? But the commentator on that program had very different hair…”
“Then a maybe he’s a performer? What was the program about?”
“Sorry, I forgot. My dad was the one who mainly watched it. I get the feeling…it was something about countermeasures against desertification in Europe?”
“That was a rebroadcasted program. It was edited and compiled last year, I think. This is my occupation.”
The man handed out a business card to the two of them.
The tile read ‘National Geographic, Japanese Division, Editor-in-Chief’.
Homura was speechless, while Touya widened his eyes and spoke excitedly.
“National Geographic!? I have a monthly subscription for this magazine!”
“Oh, I’m very glad to hear that. You’re a good guy, Touya-kun.”
“I see…! I’m sorry, I never paid attention to the listing of people related to editing.”
“It’s fine. It’s already more than enough that Exploration Club members like you read it.”
Having been left to the side by Touya’s excitement, Homura showed little interest as she asked the obvious question.
“What kind of magazine is National Geographic?”
“What kind—It features photos of pristine nature and wild animals, the latest reports by amazing explorers, and even discoveries in space—”
What? What’s so interesting about that? Are you a nature maniac?
…That was the kind of gouging look of disbelief that Homura gave him.
Touya, having his explanation completely disregarded, furrowed his brows.
“Anyways, it’s a must-read for any member of the Exploration Club, for sure!”
“Another one…? Just how many skills are necessary to be in the Exploration Club?”
The man laughed brightly at the two teenagers’ vastly different degrees of enthusiasm in their respective reactions.
“My, the new club members this year are quite interesting.”
“…Err, so then, you’re a reporter?”
“Yes, if you want to stretch the definition of my job. I originally did various jobs like being a cameraman and doing translation work, but I’m quite busy these days. I don’t get much chance to go on trips to take pictures now.”
“Haah. It sounds rough.”
Homura managed a forced smile, but it still didn’t quite click in her mind.
Why would he go out of his way to take pictures in dangerous places? Well, it wasn’t like she was one to talk, though. After taking back the camera and putting it in the pouch, Homura suddenly thought of something and spoke up.
“Umm~, do you think you could teach me any tricks for taking good photos…?”
“Why does this not surprise me? That’s really not the attitude to use when asking to be taught by a pro, Hinooka.”
“But I could really use the help.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. I get asked that a lot, actually.”
After soothing Touya, the man kindly agreed to teach her.
“Let’s see. Would you prefer to learn easy tricks or hard tricks?”
“I-In that case, the easy tricks would be better…”
—The three of them moved over to a wood deck bench.
After discussing camera techniques for a while, Touya’s curiosity was sated, so he once more brought up the original topic.
“I know we don’t have the right to ask this, but—”
“What do you think of Inari-senpai’s…Sunao-san’s activities in the Exploration Club?”
“So it’s about that, huh?”
His only daughter, Inari Sunao, had been stranded on Nutella and nearly lost her life.
But he still hadn’t said a single word of censure about the Exploration Club.
After contemplating it for a short while, he looked at Touya with a serious gaze and spoke.
“I trust Sunao…She’s already an adult who can decide things on her own.”
“…Hmm… And how do you really feel about her being in the Exploration Club?” asked Homura.
“I worry and worry so much my stomach aches! I’ve managed to stay calm in all kinds of hazardous places and situations, but I feel like there’s a hole in my stomach when I think of her going through danger on Nutella.”
Touya was at a loss for words.
Part of it was because he was honestly impressed by how Homura immediately saw through the man’s official stance, but what bewildered Touya even more was—But the feeling inside him still had yet to take clear form.
The man gave an affable smile and continued speaking.
“But that doesn’t mean that I feel relieved by having her secluded and sheltered at home all the time.”
Exposing his shameful true feelings with a sigh and bitter smile, the man ran a hand through his ruffled hair.
“My wife would definitely hit me if I said this in front of her—but to tell the truth, I’m envious of Sunao and all of you. So much so that I’d like to join the Exploration Club myself if there were a vacancy.”
These words were, in a sense, his true feelings as a person rather than a father or adult. Touya was greatly taken aback.
“Did… Sunao-san say that to you?”
“Conversations like that often come up when we talk, but half as a joke. Of course, I know that it’s impossible for someone my age with how the Transport Rings work. Even so, Sunao said she’d like to go to Nutella with me.”
The man nodded happily.
“…But after she started working in the Exploration Club for half a year, she told me that looking after me on Nutella would be a pain and not to come after all.”
He laughed wryly with a glum and troubled expression.
He was an eccentric and funny father. Homura wanted to talk with him some more, but when she saw Touya’s eye signal, she followed his lead and stood up from the bench to depart.
As they were leaving, Homura asked one more thing.
“Will Sunao-senpai… return to the Exploration Club?”
“You should ask that to Sunao herself. That’s why you came today, right?”
The man called after them as he saw them off.
“Ah, please do come again. And if possible, please tell me more about the Exploration Club. I’m not often in Japan, but I’ll make sure to fly back here when you come over.”
“Yes… Err, if it’s within the range of what I can talk about,” said Touya.
“No, no, what are you saying, Touya-kun? We’re bound by confidentiality, confidentiality!”
Homura leaned forward and cut in in front of Touya.
“If you ever have us over again, how about you do an exclusive news coverage with just me? The truth is, I have a piece of information that would definitely turn into a big scoop—”
“Hey, that isn’t something you can say even as a joke.”
Touya slapped the back of her head.
“Ahaha, sorry, sorry. We’ll definitely come again.”
“*Sigh*… Thank you for your time.”
While agitated by Homura’s loose lips, Touya still expressed his thanks and then began walking the path back home down the hill.
After reluctantly lingering at the front door, Homura hurried off to follow him.
A slight agitation lurked in Touya’s heart.
What was it that had disconcerted him?
A street with sunlight flickering through the trees above. While passively responding to Homura as she chatted as usual, Touya pondered over the emotion that had briefly passed through his mind.
It was probably—his childish jealousy towards Inari for having a father who was the exact opposite of his own strict father… or so Touya convinced himself.
Chapter 1 END
(1) Maldives: a South Asian island country and republic.