We arrived at the Tokyu Hands in the east doorway of Omiya Station. According to Mizusawa, this was apparently the best place to buy hair wax around Omiya. Actually, now that I thought about it, Mizusawa had already done this『get your suggestions accepted』thing twice. First with Beams and now with Tokyu Hands. Not to mention he had done it all too naturally. Is this is the ability of an active riajuu?
Using the elevator, the four of us headed straight to the area on the fourth floor that sold hair products for men. There were a variety of waxes stored inside fancily coloured boxes, all lined up neatly in a row.
｢I wonder which one would suit him?｣
Hinami said to Izumi.
｢I wonder. Hiro?｣
｢Hmm, I don't think he has any from the series around here.｣
Saying that, Mizusawa pointed at a series of waxes stored in tube-like containers.
｢What does this number mean? The firmness?｣
｢Right. Number 2 is soft, while number 10 is firm.｣
｢Which is better?｣
｢Rather than one being better than the other, it really depends on the person's hair type and the length of their hair. For example…｣
Saying this, Mizusawa picked up one of the『8』waxes that had the word “sample” written on it.
Mizusawa beckoned me over. I did as I was told and stood beside him.
｢Oooh! Takahiro's setting show!｣
Hinami urged him on while laughing. Eh? Setting show?
｢Well, this is an example, ‘kay? In Tomozaki's case, his hair is a lil' bit long but it's a soft type so I'll use number 8, the second most firm wax. Well, to be honest, it'd be great if we could try them all. You should ask the salon to try them out for you, you probably won't go wrong using the one they recommend. The hairdresser who cut Tomozaki's hair seems pretty good, after all.｣
｢Here, here, just listen. For this much hair, well, I suppose you'd use an amount about the size of the nail on your little finger. Put it on your hand and spread it evenly. Oh, by the way this is normally done with damp hair, drying it afterwards. You could even say that the majority of the final result depends on your drying method. So this is just something like an emergency measure.｣
Despite having probably been aware of that information already, Hinami feigned a voice filled with admiration.
｢Here's how you do it, 'kay? You apply this until you have an even layer over all of your hair, not including your bangs. This is a point that often gets misunderstood, see. There's people who think you're only supposed to only put it on the part of hair you want to set, such as the top or side, but that's wrong. Apply the wax so that it's spread all over. Just be careful to not get too much on your bangs though, since they'll look greasy that way.｣
Amazed, I earnestly listened to every detail of Mizusawa's explanation.
｢Considering the length of your hair, setting it on a perm-style would look cool, I guess? While applying the wax everywhere, we'll make a tuft by firmly scrunching it.｣
I could feel him firmly scrunching away at my hair at a fast pace.
Izumi raised her voice in delight. I wonder what's happening.
｢Uuuhm, what does my hair look like right now?｣
｢Just you wait. Okay, this is the second important point. It's something often forgotten when setting your own hair, or rather, it's something you don't realize. The truth is, an extremely important part in setting your hair is『the back』of it. You can't see it in the mirror, though.｣
｢Heeh! I see!｣ While saying so, Hinami was nodding very slightly. Which could also be seen as a signal that what he just said was correct.
｢The back of your head affects how you're seen from the side and from the back. It's said that the most important aspect of a man's face is the side profile, so it's crucial to set your hair in a way that looks good from the side. To be specific…｣
Mizusawa drew a semicircle in the air using his palm.
｢I'm gonna make the back of your hair stick out a little bit!｣
I'm gradually becoming drawn into Mizusawa's speech. As expected, he's skilled at talking.
｢Well, you'll understand if you look at the profiles of foreigners or manga characters. Your side profile looks good when the back of your hair sticks out. Try doing an image search for foreigners or characters. The thing is, though, a lot of Japanese people have naturally flat hair, so they have to get their hair to stick out by setting it.｣
｢For some reason, Hiro sounds like a guy in a TV shopping show.｣
Izumi interrupted playfully.
｢Shut up! Anyways, I'll just raise this part up… I'd have also liked to make it firm by spraying it, but well, I suppose it'll hold for some time so long as we're inside. Here, it's done.｣
｢Oooh~! Amazing! It looks unexpectedly good on you Tomozaki!｣
Izumi said, her eyes sparkling.
｢T-That 'unexpectedly' wasn't necessary!｣
As expected, if it's retorting when insulted, I can do it. Please ignore my loss for words there.
Hinami grinned as she looked at us.
｢Heeh! So even Takahiro has a speciality, huh?｣
｢Yeahh, Aoi sure is noisy…」
As expected, these two get along.
So in other words, I got my hair set by someone who wishes to be a hairdresser…
｢Uhhhh, so how does my head look now?｣
｢Why don't you go to a restroom later and take a look!｣
Mizusawa said while grinning.
｢But it looks really great, you know? I think you should try setting your own hair when going to school too!｣
Izumi said while staring at my hair, her tone relatively serious.
I ended up feeling embarrassed by her sudden praise. Anything that isn't an insult, I can't handle it.
｢U-uuhm… ah, the present…｣
Because I got embarrassed all of a sudden, I quickly changed topic. Right now we're doing Izumi's shopping!
｢Ah, right! Which one do you think would be the best for Shuuji?｣
｢Hmmm. Well, that guy has short hair, so I guess it has to be this one.｣
With this being said, he took the『10』wax and handed it to Izumi.
｢Then I'll go with this one! I'm going to buy this! Wait here!｣
Saying this, Izumi rushed over to the counter. I could kind of tell that she was trying to reduce the time we would spend waiting for her to a minimum. Someone like Konno Erika would have definitely taken her own sweet time walking to the counter.
｢Even so, your hair was very easy to set. It’s freshly cut, right?｣
｢Uuhm, around two weeks ago, I guess?｣
｢Heeh! Where did you get it cut?｣
｢If I remember correctly, the shop's name was──｣
At that exact moment, Hinami lightly tapped my shoes with hers. Even so, I continued saying the shop's name. Then, in an instant, I realized, ‘Huh? Was that a signal to not say it?’
｢Right, right! I told him about it~!｣
Hinami broke into the conversation naturally as soon as I mentioned the name, not giving Mizusawa a chance to react.
｢Ah, that makes sense. I was even thinking to myself, 'isn't the same place Aoi goes to?' just now, you know. So you introduced the place to him?｣
｢That’s right! He told me that he was looking for a good hair salon so I told him about it! Also, you earn points by introducing someone!｣
｢What a shrewd person!｣
Then, the two of them laughed. I also laughed, albeit a bit late.
Uhhhh. Yeah. I just screwed up, right?
Going to the same hair salon as Hinami is weird. It's also a bit unreasonable to insist that it's just a coincidence.
With that being the case, mentioning the name of the hair salon without also saying that Hinami introduced it to me would be unnatural.
Which is basically why the moment I told him the name of the shop, Hinami had mentioned it herself before he could suspect anything.
Saying it after Mizusawa reacted with「Eh? Isn't that the same place where Aoi cuts her hair?」would have been too late, as not mentioning it in the first place would be unnatural. Let's especially not forget that Mizusawa possesses a mysterious deduction skill.
While reflecting, I realized yet again how scary it was that Hinami came to that conclusion in an instant.
｢I've bought it!｣
Izumi returned with a pleased face.
｢Let's go, then!｣
Perhaps to prevent the issue from being pursued any further, Hinami quickly took the lead. Since there was an escalator nearby, we used that to head back.
And then, it was at that very moment.
Next to the escalator, there was was a mirror that ran alongside it, large enough for one to see their whole body.
Because I rode the escalator unaware of this fact, the mirror entered my vision without me being conscious about it. It was then that I caught sight of my reflection.
I think I'm quite strict with myself. That's the reason why I've become so good in AtaFami. In particular, when it comes to my appearance, I've been taking care to avoid getting the wrong idea and embarrassing myself, and have been strictly judging myself based on objective indicators. At least, I take pride in doing so.
That was why I considered it unlikely to be a misunderstanding.
This full-body reflection of myself in the mirror.
Of course, I wouldn't go so far as to say I looked like a riajuu. However, what I saw was the figure of a person walking alongside good-looking boys and girls, using the strength in his hips to straighten his back. With the corners of his mouth proudly turned up in a smile, wearing reasonably fashionable clothes bought with a mannequin for reference. His eyebrows orderly, and his head sporting a hairstyle his schoolmate pursuing hairdressing had set for him.
At the very least, to my eyes, that figure looked nothing like a gross otaku.
TL: ntsugu TLC: learning2tl ED: N/A
The four us used the escalator and went down all the way to the first floor. Hinami and the others were saying things such as 「Man~ I bought something nice~」, 「I wonder where we should go next?」, and 「Ah, Tomozaki, what are you going to buy?」. I ended up replying half-heartedly with, "Ah, hm." I wasn't paying attention.
The feeling of excitement from earlier was still lingering in my mind.
Perhaps having sensed something strange about the way I was acting, Hinami suggested,「I guess it's hard deciding. For now, how about we take a quick break at Starbucks or something? I'm tired!」in a playful tone of voice. To which Izumi replied with,「That sounds great! I feel like having a green tea frappuccino!」. The words didn't really enter my head.
I hadn't looked like a gross otaku.
I hadn't instantly recognized that figure as my own. Just as I was thinking 'well there's a student with their appearance all nice and tidy ── riajuu go explode!', I had come to the realization that it was actually me.
Even I was fully aware that it was ridiculous for me to feel this way, or rather, that it was nothing too impressive. After all, I had precisely followed what Hinami had taught me about the use of correct postures and expressions, so it wouldn't have ended badly. My eyebrows and hair had been handled by an expert in the field and an aspiring expert, so the results would obviously be good. As for the clothes, I had simply copied the outfit from a fashionable mannequin at a fashionable clothing outlet.
As a result, regardless of how bad the qualities of the target person might be, it would not have made sense for the result from the combination of those factors to be terrible.
However, I was happy.
I had changed enough for my sister to ask me if I had read an Escape Otaku-ism book. Mizusawa had told me that the way I spoke had become more cheerful. Those kinds of things had happened. And I had also felt delight each time, realizing that I had changed. Even so…
A clearly visible change. A sense of accomplishment.
Such a trivial feeling had made a deep impression on me, to a degree even I found unexpected.
｢What's wrong, Tomozaki-kun?｣
Walking over to my side, Hinami called out to me. There was no way I could tell her those feelings under our current circumstances anyway, so I merely shook my head and said,「It's nothing.」
Hinami didn't appear convinced, but she switched her expression right away…
｢We're leaving, you know?｣
Then called out to me with her usual fabricated voice.
I replied to Hinami in a voice as extroverted and cheerful as I could manage, then began to walk.
And then, once again, I lined up next to Hinami.
｢I'm going to do my best from now on, too.｣
Then whispered in a voice that only Hinami walking beside me could hear.
Hinami seemed to have trouble understanding the meaning of my words. 'But it's fine that way', I thought.
TL: learning2tl TLC: Kagefij ED: N/A
「Uhh, I'd like a Caramel Macchiato, the s-second size, uh, tall? Please.」
「A Tall Caramel Macchiato, is that correct?」
It's well known that the really terrifying part of Starbucks is 『How it's easy to make a mistake when ordering』, so I had been on guard with every intention to get it right. However, due to being asked for a split-second decision, after a slight mess-up on my part, they were about to find out『Ah, that guy's a beginner』.
Since I had said it in the tone of『I knew this already～』despite this being the first time I had ever uttered the word 『Tall』, in addition to that, not only was the fact that I was a beginner exposed, but I even ended up being exposed to the barista as『someone who made their order in a tone of I knew this already despite being a beginner』. In other words, just what am I saying? I'm probably being way too conscious.
It is however true that I feel so out of place here that I'm conscious of such things. Although the other customers aren't giving off anything like that highly conscious aura I was imagining, that's not where the problem lies. Looking at the『We are shining!』expression of these likely part-time employees, the mood here is already at a level of "brightness" I can think of as rejection of my gloomy existence. If I didn't have that feeling of accomplishment from earlier, I would probably have evaporated on the spot.
I collected my order from the counter ahead of the register, then made my way towards the seats Mizusawa had saved for us. As for Izumi and Hinami, they were behind me in the queue, the two of examining the menu super seriously. A normal action for Hinami, but hadn't Izumi already decided on that green tea whatchamacallit?
Mizusawa was already seated. It was a table for exactly four people, with ordinary chairs on one side facing a sofa on the other. Sitting in a chair, Mizusawa was sipping a light brown liquid topped with cream.
Here I was faced with a difficult problem.
Namely… where should I sit?
I couldn't afford to be too indecisive, either. If I continued to stand stock still here in indecision for too long, I would inevitably be called out to by Mizusawa asking me『Something up?』, and I'd definitely be scolded by Hinami afterwards.
Thus, I didn't stop walking. The time available for me to think was the few seconds between the table coming into view and me having to sit down. I had no other choice but to make a rough decision in a short about of time.
In order to distance myself from the aura of the riajuu in front of me, I chose a position on the sofa that was diagonally opposite Mizusawa. A diagonal, the longest possible distance.
「Phew, I'm exhausted.」
Although I'm not feeling particularly tired, let's have a go at saying this. After all, I imagine riajuus often say such things. I'll start with the looks.
「Hahaha. We haven't even walked that much yet, though.」
「O-Ohh, is that so?」
I was tsukkomi'd without a moment's hesitation. Is simply saying the words『I'm exhausted』really so high-difficulty for me? Even as I admired myself for this, I began to calmly think.
Doesn't this mean that? There's a possibility that Izumi will come sit next to me, isn't there?
It's true that we always sit in neighbouring seats at school, but there's a different implication when we're sitting on the same sofa. In terms of proximity it would also be considerably that, and today her clothes are rather, well, like that. In particular, her chest is very that, so it won't be good if that happens.
「Have you decided what you're getting? For your present.」
「Ahh, well……kind of.」
「Heeh, that so?」
In truth, I had already decided what to buy earlier. However, my mind was preoccupied by something more important, namely, which of the two would be arriving at our table first. I glanced in the direction of the register. On doing so, I saw someone walking our way. It was Hinami. This way! It's still a little too early for me to sit next to Izumi!
Just as I was about to answer, Hinami arrived at the table, and without a shred of hesitation, sat down in the chair next to Mizusawa. Well, I had the feeling that this would happen. She intends to test me, huh. Izumi sitting next to me is decided. I'm nervous.
「Ah! That looks delicious, Takahiro!」
Hinami said while looking at Mizusawa's drink.
「Hm? I'm not giving you any, okay.」
「I wasn't even asking!」
They're acting all close again. I think their shoulders were touching there. In a sense, it's kind of like she sat there because of how close she is with Mizusawa. Nah, surely not? Well, whatever it is, it's not like it matters to me.
「Actually, what's that you have there, Aoi? Looks super delicious.」
That was Mizusawa, apparently deeply interested. As for the drink Hinami placed on the table, it had biscuit-like things mixed into a white, gelato-ish liquid, and was topped by cream to which dark powder and a chocolate-like sauce had been added.
With a proud expression, Hinami held it up to her face.
「It's a Tiramisu Frappuccino!!」
「Tiramisu? Was there something like that on the menu?」
「Fu- fu- fu. Since June they've had the limited edition『Baked Cheese Cake Frappuccino』, right? Add to that a shot of espresso, order some chocolate sauce, sprinkle in some cocoa powder yourself for the finish, and it's ready to serve! Now that's a hidden menu!」
「What's with that? ……Sounds super tasty……」
「Don't you think so?」
「Still, think of the calories.」
「You lose if you worry about calories at Starbucks! ……L-Looks like I'm going to have to do some running again.」
「Hahaha! Well, it's admirable that you run.」
Really, who are you? With a sidelong glance at this level of character change from Hinami that would prompt such a question, I was on the verge of laughter. I mean, Hinami, a Baked Cheese Frappucino? This girl went for the cheese-related one again… If I grin here I might get another kick under the table, so I'm going to have have to endure it.
「But really, cheese again!?」
「Shut up Takahiro, it's none of your business!」
I inadvertently let my voice leak out.
「Hn? Tomozaki, something up?」
「Ah, no it's……nothing.」
Somewhat dodging Mizusawa's question, I focused on the sugary taste of the Caramel Macchiato and regained my sense of calm. Caramel Macchiato sure is good. The overdose of sweetness numbs the tongue, and it tastes just right when you drink it. Wait, no. Uhhh. Back to that thing just now.
I was a little surprised.
I had thought I was the only one aware of Hinami's excessive love for cheese, but I see now.
It wasn't even something she particularly needed to hide from other people, so assuming he's a person she's gone out with several times for a meal or the like, it's natural that Mizusawa would also know about Hinami's love for cheese.
Actually, it's even likely that she's gone out to eat with Mizusawa several times more than with me, and if that's the case, he should even know it better than I do. There kind of was that rumour about them going out, too. I've ended up making a strange misunderstanding.
Well whatever. I might have let my voice slip out, but that just means I was a little surprised. Yeah.
「I know, right! I was also wondering whether to get the Caramel Macchiato～!」
As she spoke, Izumi sat down to me without any hesitation whatsoever. Hey, don't riajuus care at all about where they sit? Or are they just that good at hiding it? Or else, is my presence just not recognized? Ah, that must be it!
「So you went with the green tea thing in the end?」
「I guess so!」
For some reason she smiled at me with a triumphant look. Why is this girl acting like she just got praised?
「Have you decided what to buy?」
After placing her drink on the table, Izumi asked me this question as she slurped away in a hunched position. She was hunched with a rather open neckline, so, naturally, that would happen. I had been trying not to think about it, but doesn't her current attire fit even more snugly than her school uniform, making her breasts stand out even more? Averting my eyes, I gave her my answer.
「I've……more or less decided.」
「Seriously!? Tell us, tell us!」
「Oh, yeah, what did you decide on?」
Though feeling dizzy from the force of being questioned by all three riajuus, I earnestly explained what I had thought about in advance so as to not be overwhelmed by pressure. If it's just saying something thought about beforehand, I can do it even in front of these riajuus! How about that?! Amazing, right?! Eh? It's not?
Then, I ended the explanation.
「Th-that's……」Mizusawa made a slightly troubled face.
「I'm not sure what to say……」Izumi averted her eyes.
「……Th-That's so like you, Tomozaki-kun!」Finally, Hinami wrapped up everyone's opinions with a smile. As always, so capable. Thank you very much, it ended without me getting hurt.
Still, this was pretty much the best idea for a present I could come up with, and Hinami hadn't given me any signal to say『That's seriously no good』, so I think going with this should be fine.
Well, you could say it's my fair play spirit at work here.
Then, finishing our break, we made our way to the electronics store, where I bought my present.
Upon leaving the store, with both Izumi and myself having bought our presents, the four of us had accomplished our purpose for this trip.
That reminds me, since my natural『Let's go to the electronics store』suggestion was accepted just now, I only need to do this one more time. There hadn't really been any resistance. Could this be unexpectedly simple? At this rate, might I be able to do it?
Right. If that's how things are, time for me to think about what to do next and suggest it to everyone.
But no matter how much I thought……nothing good came to mind.
S-So that's how it is. Earlier, I had been able to make a suggestion because the objective of buying a present had been there to begin with, but in a situation like this with no real objective, it's difficult figuring out something we'd want to do.
For example, I visit game centers and the like fairly often, but should I really be bringing the three of them to one? How about us getting something to eat? But for even that, we had just been to Starbucks, so it's likely that some of us aren't hungry, and in the first place it's probably not something for me to say. Those were the kinds of thoughts I had.
Far from getting my suggestion accepted, to think that making a suggestion in the first place would be this difficult…
「Let's see, what next. You guys hungry?」
That came from Mizusawa. I see. If I didn't know if they were hungry, I could have simply asked. It's way too obvious.
「Hmm, not really.」said Hinami.
「Well I'm fairly hungry!」came Izumi's response.
「My stomach's also pretty empty.」
「I see～」Mizusawa's gaze faltered just a little. Then.「There's a pizzeria with delicious cheese in the area, wanna go?」
An instant reply from Hinami, who had been the only one to say they weren't hungry just a while ago.
「Izumi and Tomozaki, how about you guys?」
「Pizza sounds great!」
「I'm fine with that too.」
「Pizza it is then!」
Looking at Mizusawa who had got his suggestions accepted one after the other before my very eyes, I wondered just what it was that differed between us.
TL: learning2tl TLC: Kagefij ED: N/A
With the pizza finished as well, we genuinely now had nothing left to do, and things seemed to be moving towards it being about time for us to break up. Incidentally, the expression of Hinami while eating the pizza hadn't been that astonishingly cute a smile, so it would seem it hadn't been that much to her liking. So it's not simply a case of anything going as long as it's cheese, huh? Well, it is true that the pizza had been pretty ordinary, though.
We returned to Omiya Station, and the four of us passed through the ticket barrier. Looks like Izumi will be the only one taking the Takasaki Line, while myself, Hinami and Mizusawa will be taking the Saikyou line.
「That was fun! Well, see you～!」
Izumi said her farewells to the three of us. The three of us replied in turn. Since it's Izumi, one could imagine the words "That was fun" were probably also aimed at me. You don't have to force yourself, you know. Or so I thought in a motherly way while holding back tears. Sniff.
The three of us then headed towards the Saikyou line, then talked amongst ourselves while waiting for the train to arrive.
I think the split of the conversation was approximately four parts Mizusawa, four parts Hinami, one part myself and one part the station announcements. Those numbers aren't half bad.
After we talked for a while, the train arrived.
The three of us boarded the train, and after a few minutes, it arrived at my nearest station, Kitayono.
「Uh, see you, I guess.」
「Byee then, Tomozaki-kun.」
As they said their goodbyes to me, I left the train. The doors closed.
I casually turned to look behind me. Through the window, I could see Hinami happily laughing as she talked with Mizusawa. As the speed of the train increased little by little, her smile faded away into the distance.
……No, like I was saying, so what?!
But, well, that's basically how the day's shopping trip ended.
Ultimately, I only managed to have the suggestion to visit the electronics store accepted, and was unable to complete the『Get your suggestion accepted at least two times』task.
While I did consider this something I really needed to reflect on, for me, there was something else I was just a teeny weeny bit curious about.
Though I was a little lost on what to do, eventually I reached the conclusion that it wouldn't hurt to simply ask. Also, it would be normal for me to do so anyway, right? And so, I decided to perform an action I would have never chosen before. I asked the question through LINE.
Tomozaki Fumiya：Who did you hear that rumour about Hinami and Mizusawa from?
Yuzu-san：Ah, curious, are you?? lol
After a bit of back and forth, I found out that it had been from one of the people in Konno Erika's group. Also, that it was unclear what the real situation was. Hmm. Well, whatever. Nakamura's birthday will be on the twenty seventh of July. It's too early to start getting nervous.