Part 40: Brings Back Memories
BGM: At Amecha Girls' University High School
05/31 (THU), Morning
I go to bed each night confident that I will wake up the next day. It's the one constant in my life, even with the advent of Divine Selection. Well, on days where an election isn't being held, anyway. I drag myself from bed and get ready for school like always. My plans for the evening are already set, so I won't be opening the store today.
I've kept it closed so often lately that I'm starting to run out of excuses for my gran. Granted, she's never too persistent about me opening it up because we either make hardly anything out of it, or we actually lose money. That, plus... she seems to realize that I'm all caught up in something else at the moment. Not to imply that she knows about Divine Selection, of course. She most likely thinks I'm busy with exams or personal issues. My grades are hardly stellar, so it's not surprising that she's concerned.
I notice Naomi as I walk through the gate. She's with a friend, too...
Well, obviously we should at least say hello, Mao outright said we shouldn't neglect our friendship with Naomi.
-Talk to her.
-Leave her be.
I feel bad stepping in when she's with a friend, but I might as well say hello.
Oh, good morning!
She turns and greets me with a smile. Right after, she introduces me to her friend, informing her that I'm the one who helped with the coffee stuff for the culture festival. Seems like she knows the rumors about me, but hasn't actually realized I am the subject of said rumors until now. She isn't intimidated, though. In fact, she thanks me for my help. Looks like things are going smoothly on that front.
The three of us make our way into the building together and then split up to make our way to class.
BGM: Lion House Cafe
05/31 (THU), Evening
Once I get back home, I have a look at what seasonings I should take with me when I go to cook dinner. I doubt I'll be able to get everything I need with the money Shigetsugu's given me, and buying new stuff would be a waste because I'm only going there once.
I guess curry works. Pretty sure I've got gran's recipe lying around somewhere, too...
Curry used to be a Lion House staple before I took over. I've helped to make it a number of times, but I've never made it from scratch. It should be fine so long as I follow the recipe, though. Curry is pretty timeless, too, so let's go with that. I pack some seasonings, spices, a pot, and a spare container before making my way to Shigetsugu's house.
BGM: Regular Ordinary Girlish Chat
Beef, potatoes, onions, carrots, apples, and yogurt are the main ingredients I need. I head to his house after getting them. While I am on my way, I make sure to keep an eye out for Federico and Numeral XI. I don't notice anyone suspicious. But I think that's due to it being so busy at this time of night. I'm somewhat worried about more odd rumors spreading, considering the neighbors' attitude toward this place, but... I should be fine if it's just this once.
O-ho! I'm pleased to see you actually turned up.
Hey, it's the nice lady! I heard you're gonna make us dinner? Lemme help! I wanna try cooking, too!
The nice lady, huh...
That's one way to shatter the illusion of me being his mother. I carry the bags into the kitchen and then hand Shigetsugu the receipt and his change.
Hmm... Let's leave peeling the potatoes and carrots to you, then.
Make sure to wash your hands first.
I put my apron on before washing my own hands. He follows suit, so I hand the potatoes and carrots over to him. Meanwhile, Shigetsugu watches TV in the living room. First up is beef preparation. I dice the meat into cubes and then sprinkle those with salt and pepper. Beef can be a bit chewy, so I cut some extra slits in them to help with that. After that, I grate an apple into a bag alongside yogurt, honey, and the spice mixture from my gran's recipe before combining everything.
He looks up at me with a puzzled expression, potato in hand.
What do I do with this?
Oh, right... I guess I need to teach you from scratch. I don't see any peelers, so...
I take the potato and show him how to peel it using a knife.
It's nothing impressive. Here, give it a shot. Just be careful, I don't need you cutting yourself.
The knife was surprisingly sharp... Not sure if that goes to show how little I cook or not.
It's hard to believe I'm cooking with the knife that I sharpened, myself...
I don't have it in me to ask why he'd need to sharpen a knife like that for anything other than cooking. Either way, he's able to peel the potato far better than me. Same with the carrots. I decide to leave all the vegetables to him.
M-My eyes sting...
Hahaha. Yeah, that'll happen when you cut onions. Just don't rub your eyes, that'll make it worse!
Hey, you finally smiled!
You were making a scary face before, but right now, you look like you're having fun. I'm glad you're not our enemy!
I suppose I did loosen up the moment I started cooking. I mean, I've been checking every now and then to make sure Shigetsugu isn't rummaging through my stuff, but it's true that I haven't been on edge as I should be.
I've always wanted to know how curry's made, so I've been looking forward to this. All I did was peel and cut vegetables, so now I'm even more curious about the rest!
Guess we'll have to make it extra good, then.
I let another smile slip. I can't help it, though. Seeing his eyes sparkle with curiosity is too precious. Another part of me wishes that we'd met under different circumstances.
Yay! It's done!
Two hours later, it is finally ready. The smell wafting out from the pot reminds me exactly of the curry my gran would cook. I tasted it to make sure it turned out fine, but I'm still nervous because other people are going to eat it, too.
My, my. This looks fantastic!
Sorry for the wait. I take it this will do?
He's over the moon, so it's more than enough. Will you be staying to eat with us?
Obviously. I wouldn't come all this way to cook and then leave.
Come on, come on!
Oops, sorry about that.
Let's see how it tastes!
I get started on mine after they dig in. It's not quite on my gran's level, but this is still plenty delicious. It hasn't been too long since the last time I had an experience like this. Miharu, Sonya, and I ate together often before Sonya was eliminated. Funny how Divine Selection, of all things, is what's blessed me with these experiences. Blessed, huh...? I guess I need to accept that I have been enjoying myself.
This sauce is rather strong, wouldn't you say?
...I refuse to field any complaints.
This is so good! Your cooking's great!
Aw, geez. What a good kid.
Hey, didja know? I cut these by myself!
The carrots and potatoes? Well, you did a fantastic job with them.
Are you more of a doting father, or a doting grandfather?
Whatever. I'm glad he likes it, at least. I try not to insert myself into the conversation too much, opting to eat in silence instead.
This certainly brings back memories... Curry was the first meal my son ever helped cook, if I recall... He was so happy as he peeled and cut the vegetables... Why is this coming back to me now, of all times...?
His eyes fixate on the curry as he recalls days long past. Small droplets of water catch on his eyelashes as they form. I'm not sure how or when it happened, but curry's become the go-to household meal in Japan. Just making it tonight brought back memories of time I spent with my gran. So it makes sense for him to be reminded of similar time he's spent with his own family.
A clang resounds throughout the room while I'm caught up in those thoughts. I turn my attention to where it's come from. It's the boy, who has just slapped his spoon down onto his plate.
Is the past really that important?
Neither of us answer his question. His gaze is focused on Shigetsugu. While Shigetsugu was recalling his past, the boy must have understood that he had no place in those memories, despite his fondness for him. Even worse, he has no memories of his own to recall in the first place.
I've forgotten lots of things from my past, but there's one thing I can say for sure. I've probably never had a single nice and happy experience like this before.
All of a sudden, he clutches his head and groans in pain.
A-Are you all right?!
It's just like the first time we came face to face outside the dream world. I was struck with a headache as well that time, but now... it's just him. Shigetsugu gets him to lay down, an expression of fear on his face.
Are you ok ay?
I'm not sure if he heard Shigetsugu or not, but he does eventually close his eyes and pass out. I help take him back up to his room.
BGM: Intel Investigation Underway
Once that's done, I finish my curry and wash the dishes. There is plenty left to spare, so I pack it into the spare container I brought and put it in the fridge. All they need to do is heat it up in a pot.
This isn't the first time that's happened.
You mean the sudden headache?
He nods silently before continuing.
He suffers from headaches whenever something triggers his memories. I'm not quite sure if it's a conscious or subconscious thing, though. It's nothing to worry about. He sleeps for a few hours afterwards and is perfectly fine once he wakes up.
It's somewhat odd to be told not to worry about someone who's supposed to be your enemy. But even more odd is the fact that I really am worried.
I should've anticipated this, but seeing him so happy made me forget all about it. Please accept my apologies.
He really did seem to enjoy the experience, though.
I'm aware. I can tell he cares a lot about you, too. I might've seen him more as a little brother if it weren't for Divine Selection.
So you say, but if it weren't for that, we never would have met in the first place. Ho ho. Regardless, allow me to thank you once again. Just seeing him beside himself like that made me happy, as well.
I can feel my eyes strain throughout this exchange. I really shouldn't be thanked by my supposed enemy. The reality of what's going on here is all too clear, though. Yet again, I'm struggling to come to terms with what I need to do in the face of this small happiness felt while spending time with them.
This seems an ideal time to make good on our promise from yesterday.
Yeah, it'd be for the best.
I won't be involved with them anymore. That's the ideal outcome.
Keep the container with the leftovers. I actually enjoyed this a bit more than expected, so don't feel bad about dragging me into it.
Ho ho. Worry not. I never felt bad in the first place. Before you go, allow me to tell you my cause of death.
He switches to a far more grim topic before he even bothers to sit down. I honestly wouldn't have cared if he'd forgotten about this part of the promise. I still don't know if I have it in me to elect him even after learning it. Chances are high that I won't be able to, since I've gotten this attached to them both. So I'd much rather not know at all than face the regret and self-loathing over knowing, yet being unable to elect them. But at the same time, I can't refuse to listen now that he's brought it up.
You're aware of the cases where people are discovered dead in their homes, I presume?
I've seen reports of it on the news every now and again.
I am one such case.
Elderly people living on their own is already a problem in its own right. The risk of them passing away without anyone noticing gets higher if they have no relatives or friends in their neighborhood to check up on them. I expected this to be the case for him after hearing how rumors had spread about him having starved to death and whatnot.
My lower back isn't in peak condition, you see. I'm prone to the sudden onset of pain, sometimes to the point where I'm unable to move at all. That's why I made it a point to buy as much canned food and ready-made meals as possible. The last thing I wanted was one of those episodes to happen while cooking, leading to a fire.
That may have just been an excuse for me to be lazy, but let's set that aside for now. The worst episode ever struck me during a rainy day. It was so bad that I couldn't even crawl. The rest goes without saying. No one can survive without proper sustenance, so it was a matter of days before I starved to death.
My memory is rather fuzzy after the first day, so I can't give you an accurate date as to when I died. Passing away all alone in your home is quite the pathetic way to go, isn't it? It may be fitting for me, though, after I caused my own family to abandon me.
That's not true...
No need for sympathy. I'm sure you've realized how cynical I am by now. I do feel like I've changed somewhat ever since meeting him. Perhaps it's more accurate to say I was able to go back to how I was during the days when I still got along with my family. It's somewhat hard to believe that there was a time we all got along like that... I wish I could have seen them at least once before I died.
Ho, ho. My apologies. Looks like I've become the stereotypical talkative old man. Trust me when I say that this all hasn't been an attempt to make it harder for you to eliminate me.
He's spoken his regret loud and clear. A regret so simple that anyone could understand it. If there's one thing I know for sure at this point, it's that I won't be able to elect him without hesitation.
I'll be taking my leave now.
It has gotten rather late. Do take care.
I don't have much to say regarding his cause of death. There's no doubt my facial expression as he told me was enough to get across how I felt, though. As I approach the entrance, a knock echoes down the hall. Someone's at the door.
Wait... People wouldn't normally come by at this hour. Hope it isn't a debt collector.
He stumbles back and falls flat on his rear right after looking through the peephole. I'm not sure what he's seen, but the knocking grows even more fierce.
He hurries back to his feet and reaches for the door once he recalls he has not locked it. I'm shocked his back hasn't given out, but it seems he's faring much better in that regard due to Divine Selection. Much like how Sonya's illness had subsided. Now it's obvious what's going on. It has to be those two. I try to get to the door, but Shigetsugu stops me. Not like it would've mattered either way, since the door has already been opened. They probably noticed it was unlocked before Shigetsugu.
How dare you barge in like this!
It turns out to be none other than Numeral XII Alan Scorpion.