Chapter 2 — Coming of age, a ceremony needed for emancipation. Part 11
He resigned himself to his fate and crouched down after a while. Then, the two children climbed nervously onto his back.
“He’s so soft!” the girl said in admiration.
Shiro slowly stood back up, taking care not to shock them again, and started walking slowly.
Both of them exclaimed loudly, borderline cheering and screaming at the same time.
Keeping a steady pace, Shiro started walking faster.
Somehow it seemed that even he was starting to enjoy it.
I returned to the counter once again.
“…What is it?” I asked the bandana guy, who was grinning from ear to ear.
“No~thing really. I was just thinking that you also have a cute side after all.”
“Shut up.” I folded my arms and looked away.
His smile grew even bigger as he observed my reaction.
I took a cup and shoved it in his direction, requesting another serving. While I sipped at it, I waited for Shiro and the kids to finish playing.
I ended up drinking two more cups of black tea, after which I didn’t feel like drinking any more.
The two kids finally stepped down from Shiro’s back after a while, but even as their feet returned to the ground, their faces were still lit with excitement and satisfaction. The girl stood out the most, smiling so much that she looked almost like a completely different person from before.
She had sparked some sort of interest in Shiro’s mouth and was peeking into it intently, touching his fangs and his tongue. He seemed to be feeling very ticklish, but he endured the urge to close his jaws on her hand, the muscles on his face twitching.
“You two had fun?”
They both nodded vigorously.
For some reason, I myself found the way I was smiling weird.
“That reminds me, why were the two of you inside the forest?”
“We were exploring.”
“Now that’s a dangerous thing to do,” the bandana guy butted in. “There are some scary wolves living in this forest. If you are careless, they’ll eat you.”
“B-but…” The boy started stuttering, trying to say something back.
“It’s fine if you don’t want to tell us.”
When I said that, the kids looked at each other.
The girl nodded at the boy, who seemed to understand what she meant and nodded back.
“Big sis seems like a nice person so we’ll tell you. But promise that you won’t tell anyone.” He held his index finger to his lips as he spoke.
I squatted and leaned closer to him.
“You know, in her house,” —he pointed at the girl with his thumb— “Her parents keep yelling at each other all the time and it’s scary. To make it worse, they always keep hitting her. That’s why she always keeps running away to my house, but her parents come and take her back.”
I looked at the girl, trying not to seem suspicious. I couldn’t see any signs of injuries on the parts of her body left uncovered by her dress and jacket, and she also didn’t seem malnourished.
At least it wasn’t the worst case scenario yet.
“That’s why we are going to run away when we are bigger, and we’ll live together in the forest. No one will bother us that way.”
“I see…That sounds like a wonderful plan.”
“It’s not wonderful at all. It’d be so much better if we could live with everyone else without having to run away,” he said in an alarmed tone, but I shook my head.
“You might have a point there, but I still believe it’s a wonderful plan.”
I started ruffling his hair.
He looked somewhat bashful as I did that.
Then I looked at the girl and said:
“You’ve found yourself a wonderful prince.”
Her face turned beet red and she looked down in shame, murmuring, “His name is Kou-chan.”
“That’s a nice name. I’m called Saki, Tsukagi Saki.”
She smiled shyly.
“Let’s meet again sometime.”
“Yeah!” Yuuka nodded, and Kou did so as well.
They held hands, and just like when they came, they disappeared into the forest.
I waved at them, and Shiro saw them off silently.
“It is a detestable world we are in, huh.”
Likely having eavesdropped on the entire conversation, the bandana guy sighed loudly and put away the towel he had been using to dry a cup.
“This isn’t anything new, really.”
“That’s why I say it’s a detestable world. No one corrects their mistakes.”
“Now that is something more recent. The number of people who believe that they can still be saved even if they leave their mistakes uncorrected is surprisingly high. You can’t possibly look at this world and continue dreaming about a place where everything is built solely with good things.”
“Well, yeah…” He smiled wryly and lightly tapped his stand with his fingertips. “Hypothetically, if the world was built fairly and only with good intentions, how do you think that’d be?”
I didn’t even need to think in order to answer that.
“It would be a world devoid of life.”