Kana and I went to several more arcades after leaving the SEGA center, but each of them filled to capacity one after another. Before we realized it, the sun had already gone down and we hadn’t even had dinner yet.
“When we left the house, I didn’t expect to spend almost a month’s worth of allowance on arcade games.” I say, counting only three 1000 yen bills left in my wallet.
“Seriously. I blew so much new year’s money on the alien invader booth.”
“You sucked at that. I had to bail you out so many times!”
Kana throws his hands up in defeat. “They must’ve updated the game. I don’t remember it being that hard.”
“Or, you’re losing your touch spending so much time at cram school.”
What I said in jest doesn’t seem to come off the same way for Kana. His childish grin disappears, replaced with a weak and somber smile. He points to a ramen stand and asks, “Want to get some ramen before we head home?”
“You still have money for that?”
“Better bet I do. It’ll be my treat.”
“You don’t have to—”
“You’re treating next time.” Without even giving me a chance to respond, he takes a seat and orders for the both of us. “Master, two tonkatsu ramen, please!”
“Coming right up.”
I take the seat next to Kana. We’re the only ones in the five-seater stall.
“We’re already third-years. Have you given any thought to what you’re doing after high school?” Kana asks, breaking the silence first.
“I’ve given it some thought, maybe not as much as I should. I know my parents want me to go to Tsukiji University. That’s probably what I’m going to end up doing, following Hatsumi’s path.” I answer as truthfully as I can.
He exhales deeply, and without looking me in the eye he says, “My parents are pushing me to Todai to pursue mechanical engineering.”
“University of Tokyo, huh.”
To be honest, this isn’t a surprise. Kana’s parents are both Todai alumnus. The many times I’d been over to his house, all his parents can talk about is how smart he is. How much potential Kana has to do good in the world. It shows in his work ethic.
If anyone in our class could get into University of Tokyo, it’s definitely Kana. Perfect grades, top of the class in exam scores, and the drive to get further in life. If it wasn’t for his stunt to be in the same year level as me, his track record would have been perfect.
I often wonder if my very existence has been holding him back. That he’s so desperately in love with me leaves no doubt in my mind that I’ll end up a crutch on his future.
“Knowing you, you’d get accepted in a heartbeat.”
The stall owner slams down two large bowls of tonkatsu ramen. Kana stares at it for a while, stirring the pork belly around the broth. “I’m actually thinking about staying here to go to Tsukiji Uni.”
“W-what?!” I nearly choke on the ramen. “It’s not… because of me, is it?”
Kana scoffs, “I mean, yeah. You’re part of it, but this is also my future. Four to six years of undergrad, another god knows how long in a graduate program. I wouldn’t know anyone, and I’d spend my college career alone.”
I recognize this apprehension. Kana is a lot like where Hatsumi was in her third year of high school. But that decision was ripped from her by our parents. No matter what she tells me, I know she would have much preferred to be anywhere other than Tsukiji.
Now, another person I care about is making a decision based on me. I don’t like that. I hate that I’m always the one holding people back. I wanted to be stronger for my own sake, so how did I find myself making those around me weak?
We finish our ramen in silence. It’s one of the best pork bellies I’ve ever had and the broth is especially full of flavor, but I couldn’t savor it. When we hand our bowls back, Kana flashes an impish smile.
He leans in to me, lowering his voice. “Hey, I wanna see your charm in action. I know I said I’d treat us, but can you make the shop owner forget about the money?”
“You want to shortchange him on 600 yen ramen?? I can just pay—”
“What’s the big deal? Just two bowls of ramen isn’t going to screw the guy.”
The owner slides the receipt in front of us. “1250 yen total. Hope you kids enjoyed the meal!”
I chew on my lower lip staring at the receipt. “Excuse me?”
The shop owner turns to me, the decades of hard work showing on his face racks at my guilt. Despite that, I compel him anyway. “Thanks for the free ramen, master.”
“Oh… of course. Anytime!”
By the time I return home, I still feel just as terrible. How could I have done that to a modest ramen shop owner? Moreover, why did Kana ask me to do something like that?
The final number of the tally counter reads: 154.
I’m not sure if he’s just naturally horny, or if it really is my doing. Fortunately, other than in the morning, he didn’t really act on any of his sexual impulse. I wonder if my aura had any effect to make him act like he did earlier?
Is it my fault?
I whip around but see no one behind me. “M-Mio…? Hatsumi?”
“You could be more. Stronger.” A voice I don’t recognize is both out of ear shot yet not. I glance down both ends of the street, but not a single soul is out this late.
“Greatness awaits, yet you shackle yourself to petty human virtues.“
I don’t sense any succubus nearby. Nothing but the cold sweat creeping down my back. I’m only a few steps away from my house, but my hands and legs refuse to obey.
“The one that has stolen me continues to prove herself unworthy. Retrieve me, slay her, and become my queen.“
“I don’t want to kill anyone, and I don’t want to be a queen.” I cover my ears, but I can still hear it echoing in my head.
“You will. Even the girl knows— violence is inevitable.“
“I’m going to resolve this peacefully, I’m going to turn back to a boy, and… I want Mio to…”
“No going back… this is what you are…“
“Stronger and stronger you become…”
“The louder I get…”
Get out of my head… Get out— of you… I’m— out of my head… I’m a part— out of my— you, Saeko…
“Saeko!” I’m suddenly enveloped in my sister’s arms, a look of worry fills her eyes. “Why are you just sitting out here? Are you okay?”
“Is… Mio home?” I ask, clutching onto Hatsumi’s sleeve.
“I think she’s still out with her friends.”
Of all the times…
“Sis, I’m kinda spooked right now. Can we sleep together again?”
Hatsumi gasps, surprised at my sudden request. “Of course, my dear little sister. Anything for you.”