—And then Saturday arrived.
Leaving the running of Kura to Manager, Holmes and I headed towards the flower arrangement exhibition, which was being held in a hotel.
It was apparently being held in the event hall of Kyoto Hotel Okura, which was in the direction of the city hall.
In other words, it was at a walkable distance from Kura.
“Aoi-san, did you say anything to Kaori-san in school?”
Holmes-san asked during our walk to the hotel, and I replied, “Yes, I did.”
“The day after our meeting, she was waiting outside the school gates, and warned me not to tell anyone about it.”
“Well, if news of the Saiō representative receiving a threatening letter reaches the ears of a young girl, it would spread within a moment’s notice. She must have been awake at night worrying that you had already revealed the secret to someone else, don’t you think.”
“You’re probably right. But even if she worries about it, I haven’t talked to anyone about it, and I don’t plan to.” I smiled wryly, and in response Holmes-san’s eyes narrowed.
“Do you currently have any friends in school that you can trust?”
After being stabbed in the heart by the fact that the best friend I had trusted the most was going out with my boyfriend behind my back, I stopped being able to trust friends.
We would go to school, chat idly, eat together, wave goodbye to one another, then go home.
If that was all we did, I wouldn’t be troubled at all.
Since I didn’t divulge my sorrows and hardships to anyone, I currently didn’t have any friends for me to secretively whisper someone else’s secrets to.
“I really do think that Aoi and Katsumi make a good couple! I’ll watch over him to make sure he doesn’t cheat, so don’t worry and go to Kyoto!”
As the words of my former best friend Saen’s words echoed in my head, I felt another stab in my chest.
Saen… why? Why did you go out with Katsumi?
You should know how I would feel, right? Do you think I no longer matter since I’m nowhere near the two of you? Or did you always have feelings for Katsumi while pretending to cheer us on? Was it painful for you?
If that’s the case, were you happy that I left?
I found it hard to breathe.
—It was always like this.
My soliloquy would always go on and on without me finding any answers.
It was painful, unbearable, and I wanted to make their treachery clear no matter what.
“Aoi-san, the weather is great, don’t you think?”
Holmes-san remarked as he looked up at the sky, bringing me back down to earth and causing me to look up as well.
The cloudless, deep blue sky was sparkling with beauty.
“…You’re right, the weather is great.”
Come to think of it, the time spent in that loop of painful thoughts had decreased since I started working part-time at Kura. Even if I had these bitter feelings, Holmes-san’s simple words would pull me back to reality.
I looked at Holmes-san, and he returned a bright smile.
My cheeks heated up.
There were times when Holmes-san would be so sharp that it was frightening, but there were also times when he would save me like this.
At that time, I was a bad kid for trying to secretly sell off my family’s antiques, but I truly believe that it was the right thing for me to go to Kura, which let me get to know Holmes-san.
—Thus we walked into the event hall of Hotel Okura.
The first thing that I noticed was a sign with the words “Hanamura School Flower Exhibition”, placed at the entrance.
They had probably gotten a famous calligrapher to write it for them.
In the middle of the hall was a large flower arrangement to welcome guests, while the four walls were lined with student works.
“This is magnificent!”
Holmes-san joyfully exclaimed as he narrowed his eyes to get a better look at the large flower arrangement, which was larger than a hand.
Apparently, he also liked flowers.
“…This looks like it was done by the instructor.”
“Yes, and it expresses the brilliance of spring. It might be huge, but it is delicate and daring. I can tell that a lot of spirit has gone into preparing for this exhibition.”
Upon hearing his comments, I gazed at the flowers again.
I could only think, “Wow, it’s huge!” earlier, but now that he mentioned it, the flower arrangement was indeed really intricate for something so big. Its details had been taken care of thoroughly, just like the leaves on the blue-and-white jar.
I see, so the realm of flower arrangement is a deep one as well.
“As expected of the head of the school. The event looks to be a successful one.”
Most of the attendees were ladies in traditional Japanese garb, and many of them were old. However, I also spotted a few people here and there who looked to be students like myself, as well as pupils of the flower arrangement school, including Miyashita Saori-san.
“Umm, you’re pretending to be unrelated to her, right?”
“Yes. Shall we take a look around for now?”
I nodded energetically, then turned to look at the works on display on top of a pure white cross.
There were two works from each student.
After looking at all the works, I heard a voice.
“Oh, that’s the work of this year’s Saiō representative! Simply beautiful!”
The figures of Saori-san, who was bowing in gratitude, as well as a visitor appeared in front of my eyes.
Saori-san noticed us and stopped moving for a moment, but she caught herself and continued bowing elegantly to other people.
We also bowed and looked at Saori-san’s work.
One of them used a tall flower to express a grand scale of liveliness.
The other was small, but had a exquisite balance between the flowers and branches extending to the side.
They were works that were delicate and transient, yet made me feel that they were filled with inner strength.
But those two works were…
I unconsciously folded my arms.
“Those two works show quite different faces.”
Holmes-san muttered to himself, apparently having the same thoughts as me.
Hearing those words, Saori-san opened her mouth to say, “Ah, that’s…”
“Yep, those two works have a difference in their craftsmanship.”
Before she could complete her sentence, a strong voice reverberated from behind.
Shocked, I turned around to see a middle-aged woman in traditional Japanese clothes maintaining an elegant smile.
“This is Hanamura-sensei.”
Holmes-san bowed, while my eyes widened in surprise.
So this was the teacher for flower arrangement.
And Holmes-san actually knew this person?
“Well, well, if it isn’t Kiyotaka-kun from Seiji-san’s place. You’ve grown bigger since the last time I saw you.”
“Long time no see.”
“If I’m not mistaken, you’re studying at the prefectural university, right?”
“I’m now studying in Kyoto U, just as I’d hoped.”
“Oh, you entered by side-entry? That’s impressive.”
“It’s nothing. I’ve been told that it’s a crafty way of getting in.”
“Oh, don’t say that.”
Seeing the two of them laughing together, I felt somewhat overwhelmed.
It seemed that Holmes-san was also acquainted with the flower arrangement instructor through Owner.
As expected of Kyoto. The lateral connections between people are amazing.
“These are the works of the Saiō representative, right?”
Looking at the two works, Holmes-san changed the subject. The teacher nodded strongly.
“The big one was done in class, while the small one was completed at home. Miyashita-san was able to showcase her potential by doing the flower arrangement at home, and as a result, the small one turned out to be of better quality.”
Upon hearing the instructor’s words, I nodded.
Yes, out of those two works, the small one was much better.
Just like with the teacher’s arrangement, it conveyed a sense of tension from every minute detail.
She might have been disturbed by classmates she’d fallen out with in the classroom.
It must be impossible to be in the perfect frame of mind to arrange flowers delicately while being next to people who could have sent the threatening letters.
By being alone at home, she could produce something good.
There is no doubt that Saori-san felt that she was lying on a bed of thorns.
“Works done by young people are better since they’re more vivid. Are there other youths like the Saiō representative?”
Holmes-san nonchalantly asked, causing the teacher to chuckle.
“Young people, you say? As usual, you talk like an old person, Kiyotaka-kun.”
“You know how my grandfather is like, so I came to be like this.”
“I understand. Seiji-san’s so mischievous, after all. Yes, we have two other university students like Miyashita-san in the same class.”
The teacher walked off for a while before stopping before some works.
There were two female university students clad in kimonos, standing in front of the works.
“Oh my god, a handsome guy!” “Wow, he’s coming here!”
The two people who could have sent Saori-san the threatening letters chattered excitedly as Holmes-san approached.
“Kiyotaka-kun, this is Kawase Yoshiko-san from the Japanese cuisine restaurant on Ponto-chō, and this is Mikami Yuuko-san from the long-established inn in Gion.”
Yoshiko-san and Yuuko-san. They seemed to give off extremely normal vibes, and I couldn’t imagine that they were the type to send threatening letters.
They were really too normal, and if they weren’t wearing kimonos, I wouldn’t have thought them to be daughters of old, historical shops.
“The two of you, this is Kiyotaka-kun, the grandson of Yagashira Seiji-san, the famous appraiser. He’s a student of Kyoto University, and has been working at Kura, the antique shop at Teramachi Sanjou, for a while now.”
After the teacher introduced them to Holmes-san, they bowed and said, “Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.”
Holmes-san bowed in a refined manner, and the two girls blushed.
At that moment, the instructor noticed my presence for the first time.
“Kiyotaka-kun, is that person next to you your…?”
“No, she’s a high school student working at our store. She’s here today to learn.”
“Oh, is that so. You’re a cute high school girl, so get a good look around.”
I hurriedly lowered my head at the teacher, who was facing me with a kind smile.
“Y-Yes, thank you.”
“We’ll take a look at Yoshiko-san and Yuuko-san’s works, then.”
Holmes-san immediately turned to look at the works.
There were flowers and branches extending to the heavens. I wonder if I’m describing the works this way because I see antiques at Kura on a daily basis?
From the two girls’ works, I could feel a sense of vivaciousness overflowing with vigor. Is this what they call “youth power”? The works themselves might be clumsy, without delicacy, transience or sensitivity, but I was somehow fascinated by them.
“These arrangements really convey your bounding energy.”
Holmes-san produced a polished smile. As if being hit by a punch, the two of them blushed again.
“Exactly. They are works that can only be produced by the youth of today.”
The teacher giggled.
“Sensei, you must also be proud for having the Saiō representative chosen from your class.”
Hearing Holmes-san suddenly touch on the core issue, I froze in shock.
H-He’s asking about that already?
Peeking at the two girls’ faces, I noticed that they had disgruntled expressions.
At that moment, Holmes-san went “Ah”, and took out his smartphone.
“Sorry, my phone is ringing, so I’ll excuse myself. Aoi=san, please stay here.”
I could only dumbfoundedly watch as Holmes-san swiftly left the hall with his smartphone in hand.
Wait, what’s going on?
With Holmes-san gone, the teacher also left with a polite bow. As I lingered in the area wondering what to do, I received a message on my smartphone.
“Aoi-san, I think that you can draw information out of them as a fellow woman, so please ask Yoshiko-san and Yuuko-san all sorts of questions. It would be a great help it you could ask ‘Are you vexed that the Saiō representative was chosen from the same class?’”
That was Holmes-san’s mail.
He’d planned to use me from the beginning, hadn’t he?
But first, I can’t possibly ask about that!
I glared at the screen.
“Hey, high school girl-chan!”
Being suddenly called, I turned around in surprise and replied, “Y-Yes?”
“Are you actually going out with that hot guy?”
Even while smiling, Yoshiko-san had a serious look on her face as she asked the question, making me feel pressured.
“N-No, I’m just working part-time, really!”
After hearing my denial, the two of them looked at each other happily.
“That’s good to hear. I rarely meet such handsome men.”
“He’s a Kyoto University student, to boot!”
I was lost for words after witnessing them say such words so openly.
“Wait, no, she’ll hear us.”
“Yeah, she was totally staring at that handsome guy too.”
The two of them immediately lowered their voices.
“…By her, do you mean the Saiō representative?” I asked in a small voice.
“Yup, just look at her.”
I took a fleeting glance at Saori-san.
“She’s such a beauty, isn’t she? She was always popular with the men.”
“She always takes the good stuff. The last one was being the Saiō representative.”
I was again momentarily at a loss for words after these two women spilled their innermost thoughts to me, a total stranger.
“I-It must be vexing that the Saiō representative was chosen from the same class, right?”
I’d thought that something like this would be impossible to ask, but I unexpectedly managed to simply bring it up.
“It’s too late for that now.”
“Too late, you say?”
“Yes, we felt the feelings of frustration from a long time ago.”
“The boys all loved Saori. Even the ones that we liked all went for her.”
“We wanted to distance ourselves from her and get away from being her sidekicks, but then her mother forced herself into our homes and shouted at us.”
“That was so unreal. But thanks to that, we broke all relations with her. It’s good that we’re not longer her sidekicks.”
“Yup, I’m so done with being next to a beauty popular with guys.”
“On top of that, she’s now the Saiō representative. She’s even more like a flower on lofty heights.”
“Actually, isn’t choosing Saori totally unreasonable? Her family isn’t that prosperous, and yet she got selected to be the representative.”
“Exactly. We ain’t very well off either, so she was chosen just based on the name of that old draper shop.”
“That mother must be totally showing off right now.”
All I could do was watch on blankly as the two of them lay their thoughts bare, as if having forgotten about my existence.
Saori-san, Yoshiko-san and Yuuko-san were a group that got along well in high school.
However, Saori-san towered above the rest with her superior looks, and always hogged the spotlight.
When the guys they liked said that they preferred Saori-san, the pent-up jealousy in the two girls exploded, and excluded Saori-san from their circle.
After learning about them, Saori-san’s mother stormed into their houses in a fit of rage.
As a result, their friendships completely broke apart.
“By the way, what do you think of him?”
“Does he make you giddy because he’s so handsome?”
The two girls suddenly drew closer, interested in my response.
“Y-Yes, he is handsome…”
…And to be honest, I do feel lightheaded sometimes when looking at him.
“He’s, how should I put it… quite the oddball.”
I said with a straight face, but the two of them stiffened.
Did that really put them off that much? I wondered, when I heard a voice from behind.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Aoi-san.”
As luck would have it, that voice belonged to Holmes-san. My face turned pale.
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