Chapter 4 – Secret

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Everyone has their secrets.

But even though nobody wants theirs to be exposed, human nature has it that one is curious about other people’s secrets—even more so if it’s a secret of someone important to oneself.

However, the more important the person is, the less you should ignore their will and expose their secrets.

These are two contradicting urges that every person has to live with.

But if it were possible to learn those secrets without anybody to notice…

Who could resist the temptation to do so?

More importantly, could I resist the temptation to do so?

That morning I found an envelope in the mailbox of the Tsukumodo Antique Shop. The sender was unknown, and the addressee was Saki Maino—me.

Since the postmark was missing, I assumed that the sender had put it into our mailbox himself, but I had no idea who else other than Tokiya and Towako-san would write a letter to me.

However, in their cases they would have just talked to me in person instead of going out of their ways to write a letter.

Therefore, I had not the slightest idea who the envelope was from.

I opened it and found a letter and a ring inside. After I had read the letter, I knew the identities of the sender and the ring.

The ring was a Relic; in the letter, the sender wrote about its powers and his wish for me to have it.

We had met each other just the other day. I remembered him as a kind person who loved his childhood friend so dearly that he rather wished for her happiness than his love to be requited.

I didn’t know what happened to the two of them.

I only knew that nothing happened between Tokiya and the friend of this letter’s issuer.

Still, I wanted to believe that he parted with Redtwine because he became so happy that he did no longer need it.

And if that wasn’t the case … I wanted to pray for him to become happy. I wanted him to not only fulfill her wishes, but also his own.

However, I didn’t wish so because I was a good person, but because I saw myself in them.

I was well aware that one’s happiness is another’s sadness—only too well.

And yet, I couldn’t help wishing for everyone to be happy. So that one day, I would be able to believe that my decision had not been wrong … that my decision had contributed to a happy outcome.

Redtwine had the power to visualize the red strings of fate that connected people that were meant for each other. Apparently, that was all it could do.

He was not the kind that would tell lies, so I was certain that the ring was a genuine Relic. And judging by the fact that Tokiya and his friend didn’t get together, there was no red string between the two.

I gathered that after finding that out, he decided to support his childhood friend in another way. While I didn’t know what sort of decision he had made, I was glad that he didn’t rely on a Relic for whatever he was up to.

As Towako-san often said, Relics only bring about harm. His Relic maybe seemed harmless, but that was no guarantee that it couldn’t throw someone’s life into disarray.

Redtwine lived up to its name and was made of entwined red strings. Because of its peculiar structure, it was tensile to a certain degree and probably fit around my finger without a problem.

My eyes fell on my little finger.

Who is my red string of fate tied to?

As I pondered about this question, a certain person’s face crossed my mind.

I fiercely shook my head left and right, embarrassed by the fact that his face had come to mind as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

There was no guarantee that it was him.

Unlike me, he made many acquaintances and had a big social circle.

There was bound to be one girl or another in that circle who had a crush on him. Likewise, it was easily possible that he also had a crush on someone.

Working at the same place was nothing special; he spent a lot more time with his friends at school and also had more freedoms there.

I had been confronted with that truth just the other day.

He must be linked to another girl, I thought, and yet I found myself having faint hopes nonetheless.

I imagined how a string of fate went from my finger to his—and before I knew it, I had slipped Redtwine on my little finger.

W-What am I doing? Stupid! I exclaimed in thought and wanted to take the ring off, when suddenly—

“Hey, what’s up? It’s time to work.”

The door to my room opened and Tokiya appeared from behind it.

Tokiya looked at me.

I looked at Tokiya.

We both averted our eyes—and his gaze fell on my left little finger, on Redtwine.

Tsukumodo_V4_269

I quickly slid my left hand behind my back, but it was too late: Tokiya had seen the ring.

“Hey…”

“Don’t mind it. It’s just a ring,” I explained half in a panic while pretending to be calm. Being expressionless was pretty handy in this case.

“What’s the deal with that ring?”

Tokiya didn’t let it pass.

He had probably seen right through the ring’s nature because of his rich experience with Relics. Still, he didn’t know whether or not Redtwine was one, so I could still talk my way out.

It was then that I noticed that I had left the letter and the envelope on the floor, and the letter contained a detailed description about Redtwine and its powers.

I leaped at them, picked them up and hid them in my arms.

“That letter…” he muttered.

“You’re not allowed to read it.”

“Ah, no… sorry, but… eh? That ring…?”

“It’s just a present. Now get out.”

I chased him out of my room and closed the door. Only after doing so I realized that I had blundered and held my head.

I had clearly been acting suspiciously; my agitation had shown in my behavior, which was not nearly as calm as usually.

Perhaps, Tokiya wouldn’t have minded the letter so much if I hadn’t concealed it in a hurry. My panicking had unwittingly turned his attention to the letter.

It was perfectly possible that he had been able to read some parts of it. If he knew that the ring was a Relic, he would surely start to wonder about its power.

If he were to find out that one could observe the red string of fate with Redtwine…

If he were to find out why I had put on Redtwine…

…I would be embarrassed.

“I must keep it a secret from him.”

Tokiya may think that I’m an unfeeling and expressionless girl.

But I do have them too—those moments when I’m so embarrassed that I lose my composure.

For a while after I had been chased out of Saki’s room, I just stood there before her door, dumbfounded.

Originally, I only wanted to call her to work, because she was late for once. Well, she wasn’t exactly “late”, since the shop hadn’t opened yet, but usually she would show up downstairs at least ten minutes earlier and would make preparations that weren’t even needed.

Anyway, today she was a bit late, so I came to call her and wondered what stopped her.

That was all well and good.

That was all well and good, but… Saki had been trying on a ring in her room, beholding it closely as though it was really important to her.

Once I entered, she started up and hid it.

And if that wasn’t enough—a present, she said? Who from?

Does that mean that there’s someone who would make her a present of a ring?

It wasn’t Towako-san. I had caught a glimpse of the letter Saki received, but the handwriting was clearly that of a man. But does she really know a guy who would write her a letter and put a ring into the envelope?

I didn’t know anything about her circle of friends. More precisely, I used to think such a thing didn’t exist in the first place. I had been in the belief that her only friends were Towako-san and me.

However, I suddenly noticed something.

Not so long ago, Saki had become friends with a certain cat-loving child named Asami-chan behind my back. Looked at in that light, it was only natural for her to have her own social network, even though she didn’t go to school.

Come to think about it, didn’t I catch her once chatting with a hairdresser?

Maybe she’s frequenting that barber shop by now? Maybe she got the ring from that charismatic hairdresser even?

That’s not so far-fetched—after all, she also got a lipstick back then and was eager to use it the very same day.

I want to know.

Who gave her that ring…?

It was then that Saki finished preparing herself and opened the door.

“You were still here?”

“Y-Yeah. I thought I’d wait since you wouldn’t take too long.”

While saying so, I sneaked a peek at Saki’s left hand; there was no ring on her little finger anymore.

Does that mean that she doesn’t bother wearing the ring all day long?

No wait, it might be the other way round. Maybe she avoids wearing the ring so that it won’t get dirty or scratched…

“H-Hm? Did you take off your ring?” I tried sounding her out about it.

“Yes.”

“C-Cool. I mean, that ring didn’t really suit you anyway. With those strange string patterns.”

Saki glared at me, “Don’t talk about it anymore.”

Oh, is she angry? Did I offend her?

That ring must be quite important to her if she’s so offended at having it called ‘strange’.

—Don’t talk about it anymore.

I recalled Saki’s words.

Does that mean that I’m not allowed to criticize her ring?

Still flabbergasted, I watched her go to work from behind.

That was a close call.

I risked being found out by Towako-san if Tokiya touched on the strange composition of the ring on the corridor, because it was about the time she would normally stand up.

Having witnessed many times how people ruined their lives because of Relics, Towako-san hated it when they were in circulation.

I, too, had put myself in danger multiple times because I was handling a Relic without sufficient care.

Redtwine might be a comparatively harmless Relic, but she would definitely not be pleased if she knew that I had tried out its power.

Besides, it seemed like Tokiya had become suspicious as well.

I had not only made the careless mistake of roughening my voice, but also that of tensing my face. He was going to become even more suspicious if I didn’t remain calm in his eyes.

He did write that he wants me to have it, but I’ll still give it to Towako-san once she’s awake and Tokiya isn’t looking.

After all, Tokiya would know that I’ve used Redtwine if he found out the truth, and I don’t want to trouble Towako-san. Besides, it’s embarrassing.

Even though I didn’t expect him to sneak into my room, I decided to carry the ring around just in case.

I gently touched the ring inside my pocket and confirmed that I hadn’t dropped it.

Saki had subconsciously put her hand in her pocket.

Once, Saki had scolded me for putting my hands in my pockets during work.

Looks like the ring’s so dear to her that she can’t help but keep touching it. Seriously, who gave her that ring?

“What’s wrong, Tokiya? Your face is all screwed up,” Towako-san asked as she walked in, awake at last.

Her beautiful black hair, which reached down to her waist, was still a mess. If she paid some attention to her appearance, I was pretty sure that the guys would come in flocks and give her one or another expensive ring.

I sneaked a peek at her fingers, but sure enough, she didn’t wear a ring.

“Hm? Anything wrong with my fingers?” Towako-san asked with surprising accuracy upon tracing my gaze.

“On the contrary, I was just thinking that you don’t wear a ring or anything.”

“Hah?”

“Well, you see, I spotted Saki wearing one,” I explained.

“That one you gave her?”

“No, it’s not from me.”

“Oh right, you gave her a pendant not a ring.”

“Why do you know about that?!”

I had never told Towako-san about the pendant I’d given Saki. It was—how should I put this?—really just kind of a token of apology, or something.

Whoa, that doesn’t matter now!

“You’re doing it wrong, Tokiya; you gotta keep ’em going if you make her a present! By giving her a ring, for example.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right…”

I guess Saki would have been happier about a ring than a pendant… and asked someone else for one because she didn’t get one from me? It’s hard to imagine her coaxing someone to buy her a ring. No, it’s hard to imagine because I’ve never seen her do something like that to me, but maybe she acts differently to other guys?

“Hm? Did something happen?” she asked, slightly let down by my boring answer.

Usually, I would have probably replied to her remark with something along the lines of “Why should I give her a ring?”

“As I said, Saki was wearing a ring.”

“You sure she didn’t buy it herself?”

“I doubt it. The ring’s red.”

Saki had a strong preference for black. While a pitch-black ring might be out of the question, she would probably go for a silver one with a black gem. If it was one without a gem, she would at least pick one with some black in it.

However, the ring was red. Therefore, it was very unlikely that she had bought it herself. The one who gave her the ring was probably not familiar with her preferences yet.

But despite its unfavorable color, Saki’s eyes when she was looking at the ring had been filled with tenderness.

I gathered that its being a present was what delighted her.

“Heh, I wonder who gave it to her, then.”

“You don’t happen to have a hunch as to who it might be, Towako-san?”

“Oh? Are you curious?” Towako-san suddenly dropped her indifferent attitude and leaned forward with a naughty grin.

“I-I’m not curious! Just interested to know.”

“So you are curious, eh?”

“No, it’s just interest! Doesn’t it make you curious who made her a present, Towako-san?”

“Well, it does, but Saki-chan’s a teenager girl, too. It’s a perfectly normal thing at her age, isn’t it?”

“No, not at all. In her case,” I denied.

“I seem to remember that you’ve had some fun, too.”

“Ugh…”

For some reason, the incident that happened the other day had gotten through to Towako-san. Lately, she was busy teasing me for taking a day off just to go on a date, all on the false pretext of having school work to do.

“But you can’t deny that Saki doesn’t have the right connections for that, can you?”

“Maybe she hit it off with a customer?”

“A customer? When do we get any customers?”

“Are you picking a fight with me, eh?”

My tongue may have slipped, but I was serious. Saki could indeed be called the face of our shop, but since we didn’t have any regular customers, the possibility that Towako-san portrayed was unlikely.

“Believe it or not, but we do get customers in the afternoons on workdays! Well, not every day, and they hardly buy anything…”

“On workday afternoons…”

I had never been on shift at those times, nor had I ever thought about what she was doing during the week here.

“Well, that was only an example, but it’s true that there are some regular customers, even during the weekend and in the evenings. I don’t know about you, but Saki remembers every one of our customers.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Just the other day, she ran across one of them in town and greeted him. Well… she scared the shit out of him with her deadpan, though. Hahaha!”

I hadn’t paid attention to it so far, but it seemed like there were customers who looked her in that light.

I was taken aback; I hadn’t thought that anyone would dare come again after being attended to by Saki.

“See? You’re curious after all.”

“N-No, I’m not, really.”

“Look how he’s trying to hide it.”

“I’m not hiding anything! It don’t care who she gets rings and stuff from!”

“Then would please you stop wasting your working time on discussing it?” a cold voice suddenly said from behind and sent a cold shiver down my spine.

Saki glared at me—glared not stared—and returned to the counter, expressionless as ever.

“Ouch, that was some ridiculously poor timing. Why don’t you just admit that you’re curious and ask her directly?”

“But it’s really not like that.”

Yes, it is like that.

Damn… I just made it harder for me to ask.

Oh no, it has just become harder for me to speak to her about it.

I was too late. How careless of me not to notice that Towako-san has gotten up.

I was still safe because they didn’t know of the ring’s being a Relic, but if they did, they would at the same time also realize that I had actually put on Redtwine.

Therefore, I could not tell Towako-san about Redtwine anymore.

Tokiya pretended “not to care” about the ring, but it was obvious that he suspected it to be a Relic—and his hunch is right.

But that’s unfair of you, Tokiya! Consulting Towako-san about your suspicions is cheating!

Is he afraid that I might abuse the Relic, perhaps?

But if it had actually been dangerous, I would have given it to Towako-san right away. In fact, I had originally planned to do so.

I did understand why he would doubt me, though, since I had accidentally troubled him with strange Relics often enough.

What should I only do now?

I could not simply dispose of it, but I couldn’t keep it, either, because Towako-san might discover it by chance.

I know, I’ll just put it in an envelope addressed to Towako-san and place it into our mailbox.

No, that will not do. If Towako-san showed the ring to Tokiya, he would recognize it and could tell that the letter was from me. That also rules out the idea of leaving the ring somewhere and waiting for her to pick it up.

What should I do…?

…I know, I’ll just stow it away in the storage room.

In this house there was an underground storage room where we kept the real Relics. I could simply sneak into it and leave the ring there. I didn’t run the risk of being found out by Tokiya, either, because neither of us was allowed to enter the storage room.

The biggest problem was getting ahold of the key, but luckily I knew where it could be found.

Therefore, the only obstacle left was not getting caught by Towako-san.

“That aside…”

We had already had a whole 3 customers that day.

That was perfectly fine—a flourishing business was by no means a bad thing. Admittedly, none of them had bought anything, but having them come was a big step ahead.

However, I couldn’t help wondering why Tokiya had studied them closely instead of treating them indifferently like he would usually do. He was almost glaring at them.

Is he trying to mimic me, perhaps?

How rude! I don’t glare at my customers!

Whatever, I have some business to take care of right now. Let’s go to the storage room.

Whatever, let’s go to the storage room.

It was too late to ask Saki up front about the ring, so I had to feel her out in secret, and there was a certain Relic in the storage room that would help me with that.

Right, I was thinking of Mind’s Voice, the Relic that gave its user access to others’ inner voices.

If I can’t ask her directly, I have no other choice but to listen to her inner voice—that was the conclusion I had arrived at.

The problem was that we were forbidden access to the storage room. I was in for a good scolding if I got caught by Towako-san. Not only that: I’d also anger Saki if she found out that I’d used Mind’s Voice on her.

As soon as work was over, I went to the living room and left the cleaning up to Saki.

Towako-san was not there at the moment; I assumed she had returned to her room.

I knew the hiding place of the key: she kept it in the back of the topmost drawer on the left side of the dresser they had in the living room.

I scrutinized the drawer for the key, all the while focusing all my senses on my surroundings in order to detect Saki and Towako-san.

“Found it.”

After I had obtained the key, I instantly shut the drawer and headed toward the storage room, pretending it was the most natural thing to do.

Not too long ago we had dealt with a fake ghost in the basement, but I had nothing to fear today. Save for the risk of Saki or Towako-san turning up maybe.

There was no time to spare.

I speeded up and arrived at the door to the basement. Using the key I had found, I unlocked the door and slid into the storage room, and turned the lights on.

The room was cramped with all kinds of familiar and unfamiliar Relics alike. That mess supported my suspicion of Towako-san having no talent for keeping order.

Mind’s Voice was an earring shaped like a ripple. Since it was a very small Relic, it was most likely stored in the cupboard by the wall.

That being said, it was also possible for the cupboard to be a Relic of its own. I wasn’t quite sure if it was safe to touch it, but time was running out.

Shaking off my hesitation, I pulled open all drawers and searched them for Mind’s Voice.

I remembered its shape. Carefully but swiftly, I scrutinized one after another.

“Found it!”

After I had found Mind’s Voice, I slipped it into my pocket, hurried out of the storage room and locked the door.

“Whew,” I sighed as I brushed the dust off my clothes and confirmed the earring was still in my pocket.

Good, it’s there. So far so good.

Now I only need to get Mind’s Voice out of here without anyone noticing.

Now I only need to get Redtwine in there without anyone noticing.

After fetching the spare key out of the topmost drawer on the right side of the dresser we had in the living room, I headed down to the basement. Incidentally, the main key was hidden on the left side.

Not too long ago we had dealt with a fake ghost in the basement, but today I was fearless. If anything, I feared that Tokiya or Towako-san might walk in on me.

There was no time to spare.

If someone caught me, I could just say I were cleaning up since the room was a mess last we came here. That being said, I hoped not to run across anyone.

On my way down to the basement, however, I bumped into something.

I barely managed to suppress a scream of terror, but when looked ahead I had to scream for another reason.

“Tokiya?”

“Saki?”

Why is Tokiya here? This is bad… he is going to question me about why I have come here. I must evade that somehow.

“W-What are you doing down here, Tokiya?”

No, what am I doing! I exclaimed internally as I unwittingly touched on the matter myself. Calm down, girl. Keep a level head and don’t let on anything!

“O-Oh, um, I just thought I’d clean up the basement, you know?” he answered.

“The basement?”

“Ah, only the corridor of course! Not the room itself. Because it was quite messy the other day.”

“What a coincidence. I was thinking the same thing.”

“Oh, uh, really?”

“Naturally I had no plans of going inside, either, so I do not carry the key around with me. If you doubt me, go look into the dresser.”

Oh why only do I keep digging my own grave…? He is going to notice that the spare key is missing.

“The, uh, key? The key to the storage room, you mean? N-No, it’s okay! I totally believe you! N-No one would want to go inside that room, right?”

“You are right, there’s no need to look. No one would think about going inside there.”

“But we don’t want to give Towako-san the wrong idea, so shall we go back upstairs?”

“Yes, you are right. Let’s go back upstairs.”

How careless of me. I didn’t consider the possibility of Tokiya cleaning up.

But how should I have known?

Why couldn’t he choose another day to turn so strangely hardworking?

At any rate, because Tokiya had already cleaned up, I had no longer an excuse to go to the basement. While I could still come up with another one, going down there twice a day was very suspicious.

What to do now with Redtwine?

What to do now with Mind’s Voice?

Back home, I was seriously considering what to do about the Relic I had placed in front of me.

While I had indeed succeeded at taking it with me, I couldn’t quite bring myself to actually use it and peep into Saki’s heart without her permission.

Is it really okay to eavesdrop on her like that…? Shouldn’t I put it back into the storage room?

But that would mean a waste of effort.

Besides, this Relic isn’t dangerous and I’m not trying to “abuse” it.

I just want to know who gave Saki that ring, that’s all.

In fact, I could just as well ask her directly. I could, but I don’t want to because I said that I didn’t care in front of her.

Why not take the easier way if I’m going to learn the truth from her anyway?

But if Saki was really happy about that ring…

what would I do then?

Nothing special.

I would congratulate her. That’s all. I would tell her that the ring suits her. That’s all.

I don’t have the right to tell her to take it off.

No, it’s not like I wish for her to take that ring off to begin with.

That’s not why I am doing this.

But then why am I doing this?

What am I going to do after I found out the identity of the guy who sent her that ring?

I see… I must have subconsciously suspected that ring to be a Relic! It would be a catastrophe if it was a Relic and Saki didn’t know, after all!

If she’s gotten herself into trouble again, then I’m only helping her by looking closer into the matter.

Right. It’s all for her sake.

As I persuaded myself like that, I took Mind’s Voice and—stuck it into my ear.

“OUCH!” I yelled as an intense pain literally pierced through me.

Struggling against the pain, I writhed around in my apartment.

I, I didn’t know piercings hurt that much…

As someone who had zero knowledge of piercings, I had underestimated the pain it caused. Since it hardly hurt when I squeezed my earlobe, I had been in the belief that lobes weren’t sensitive to pain and a needle would thus no hurt so much.

But thinking again about it, it was obvious that piercing through an earlobe had to be painful. I was amazed that so many people all over the world were willing to suffer so much just to be fashionable.

After wiping the blood off my hands with some tissues, I fetched a band-aid and put it on the wound.

It was a perfect disguise for the piercing.

There was still a stinging pain in my ear, but I was sure it would subside before long. Besides, I was actually grateful if I considered it a punishment for peeping into Saki’s heart.

As I was pricked by my conscience, I kept telling myself:

I’m not doing this for my own sake!

I’m not doing this for my own sake.

I was absolutely not checking my red string of fate for my own sake.

No one would want to be linked to a girl like me through fate.

Just like the boy who’d entrusted me with Redtwine, I was going to put myself in the position of the other party and make sure he can be happy by telling him:

“No, you shouldn’t bother with me!”

That was the only reason why I wanted to find out where my red string led to!

—However, I still hesitated to put on Redtwine.

I couldn’t get the image out of my mind that a red string went from my little finger to Tokiya’s.

If that was really the case… would I be able to say the words to him?

“No, you shouldn’t bother with me!”

Would I be able to say that to him?

And the opposite image, too, wouldn’t go out of my head, making me imagine how a red string went from my little finger to that of a stranger.

What would I think if that was the case? Would I be able to accept that fate?

And there was one more thing that I couldn’t help imagining.

The image of a red string that went from Tokiya’s little finger to that of another girl.

Another girl—a girl other than me.

Tokiya and I weren’t in that kind of relationship. We didn’t wish to be, either, although neither of us had clearly said so.

What I could say, however, was that I hoped for us to stay as we were.

I hoped that we could still spend much time here at the Tsukumodo Antique Shop, just by the three of us—Towako-san, Tokiya, and me.

However, Redtwine was able to teach me what was going to “be”.

Perhaps, I could still change our fate.

But perhaps, I could not.

I couldn’t shake off the fear that I would destroy something important by looking at my, and Tokiya’s, red string.

On the other hand, there was also an urge to know.

What if my red string of fate was linked to Tokiya…?

What if my red string of fate was linked to someone else…?

What if Tokiya’s red string of fate was linked to someone else…?

How would I react?

Having worn Mind’s Voice all day, I had gotten the knack of it.

For example, I noticed that teachers tend to think about the solution when they pick someone in class. When I was told to answer a problem, I just had to trace the teacher’s thoughts through Mind’s Voice and I was okay.

For another example, one of my buddies asked me what we should grab for lunch, and said he didn’t care when I asked him what he felt like eating. But in truth, he wanted to grab a sandwich from the school’s snack bar because he was broke, so I proposed to go there and made him happy.

In other words, you could not limitlessly poke around in someone’s heart but only got to hear what the other party was thinking at the moment.

In fact, that was a weight off my shoulders.

I had no notion of revealing everything that was going on inside Saki’s head. All I wanted to know was who gave her that ring, and how she felt about receiving it.

That being said, I was impressed at how useful Mind’s Voice really was. I could see why someone wouldn’t want to let go of it.

At the same time, I also became aware of how venomous Relics were to the human heart; the longer you have a Relic, the harder it becomes to part with it.

Therefore I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible.

Besides, the dull pain in my ear was getting unbearable. The hole I had made into my earlobe was still aching.

I just wanted to take it off already.

After classes, I headed to the Tsukumodo Antique Shop.

The first thing I did upon entering the shop was checking Saki’s left hand.

She wasn’t wearing the ring today, either.

Is she carrying it around in her pocket, after all? Or has she taken it off before I arrived here?

Suddenly, I noticed that Saki was staring at me.

“W-What is it?”

“What happened to your ear?”

D-Did she see through me? I thought, slightly panicking, and unwittingly touched my ear. “Ouch!” I hissed as a pain ran through my ear.

“Are you hurt?”

“Y-Yeah, scratched it open a bit by accident.”

I had answered the same question at school; I pretended that it was a scratch. No one got suspicious thanks to the band-aid.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Your blood is soaking through the band-aid. Do you want to replace it with a new one?”

“No, I’m okay, really!”
Is it really safe to believe him? Tokiya always keeps silent when he’s suffering.
As Saki spoke, I could also hear her inner voice.

I wasn’t suffering, but because I realized that I was worrying her, my pangs of conscience just got stronger.

I should really hurry up and get it over with.

At this rate I’m going to pick up things I don’t need to hear.

After retracing the scenario I had come up with last night, I started talking in a casual manner.

“Not wearing that ring today?”

She obviously didn’t want to touch on the matter; she turned to me with a face even more lacking expression than usual.

“No, I’m not.”
So he is suspicious of the ring.
Again, I heard her inner voice.

“Ah, well, you know, remember how I told you that it didn’t suit you? I was just thinking that maybe you’ve taken the ring off because I said that.”

“That’s not it. I don’t wear the ring because there’s simply no reason to.”
Is he sounding me out on the ring?
“Do you wear it on only when you’re not at work?”

“No, I haven’t worn the ring after that. It only put it on by accident when you watched.”
Although that’s not true.
My surprise at what her inner voice said almost showed on my face.

Saki was lying after all. That implied that she was wearing the ring sometimes when I was not watching.

Maybe only puts it on when she meets up with the one who gave it to her?

Stop. I mustn’t waste time on irrelevant thoughts.

Okay, the real fight starts now.

With this conversation I steered her attention to her ring.

Now I only had to say the right words so that she would start thinking about the sender.

If she told me directly, I could listen to her real voice.

If she beat around the bush or lied, I could listen to her inner voice.

While hiding my intentions, I continued talking in a casual manner.

“Wasn’t that quite a special ring, though? Kind of gives away the personality of the buyer, no?”

“The personality of the buyer…?”
I don’t know his name, but he has a kind heart that allows him wishes for someone else’s happiness rather than his own.
If she doesn’t know his name, does that mean it’s really one of our customers?

That was not that important, though.

Judging by her thoughts, the guy was kind and cared about Saki above all. It was the sort of man who treated everyone equally—even Saki, who would usually scare off all our customers with her poker face.

That was probably what had drawn Saki to him.

But that was okay.

I only wanted to know.

I did not wish for more.

I did not feel like keep asking her about it.

If the guy who had given her the ring was like that, I had no objections. Although that did not in the least disperse the tingling sensation in my stomach…

“You seem to be very curious about my ring, Tokiya…”

“No, it’s okay. I only wanted to know what kind of person gave it to you, but if he’s kind, then that’s okay,” I squeezed out with a tongue that didn’t move as I wanted.
“…How do you know that he is a kind person?”
Crap! She only said that with her inner voice!

“Ah, no, I…”

Saki stared closely at me and suddenly walked straight up to me. While I stood still and could only watch, she stopped before me and tore off the band-aid on my ear.

“Ouch!”

Saki crumpled the band-aid in her fist and looked me straight in my eyes.

“That’s Mind’s Voice, isn’t it?”

“……”

“What’s the meaning of this?”

“……”

“—Were you spying on me with that thing?”

I couldn’t her Saki’s inner voice.

She must be speaking faster than she can think.

She must be so angry that she can’t keep a cool head.

“Jerk.”

Saki slapped my face.

I was shaken. So much that I got rough with Tokiya.

I knew he doubted me. He had suspected that I was hiding a Relic ever since he saw me with Redtwine.

And that was true; he had the right to confront me with that.

But the means he resorted to were downright heartless.

As a matter of fact, I had attempted to study our fates using Redtwine. The evening before I had even wavered to give it another try, but in the end I’d decided otherwise.

Certainly, I was too afraid; but more importantly, I thought it was wrong to spy on his fate like that.

And yet, Tokiya had done something similar and violated my privacy. I still couldn’t believe that he had spied on my heart using Mind’s Voice instead of asking me directly.

I admitted that I had dodged his questions. I admitted that I should have been more honest to him.

However.

Had Tokiya asked me about it because he was honestly worried about me, then I would have also given him a proper answer. I would have told him about the Relic and explained to him that I didn’t mean to abuse it.

Had Tokiya told me to part with it because he was honestly worried about me, then I would have also listened to him. I had no attachment to Redtwine. I could have given it to Towako-san anytime.

However, Tokiya did neither.

He chose to be unfair.

He peeped into my heart.

Had he seen it when he walked in on me?

Had he heard it when he walked in on me…?

—Why I wanted to use this Relic.

—And what I wanted to do with Redtwine.

If he had… if he knew the answers to these questions…

Then I didn’t even want to see his face anymore for a while.

Because… because I was so…
…embarrassed.

It had been quite a while since I’d last loathed myself so much.

After that incident, I ditched work and immediately left the shop, and wandered around aimlessly until I had cooled down a bit.

Man…

I felt like this was the first time in days that I had a cool head.

What was wrong with me?

Apparently, I had been a bit off my head ever since I’d seen her wearing that unfamiliar ring.

At last, I realized how much of a jerk I was; there was simply no justification for spying on someone’s heart.

Opinions differed on the question whether or not it was okay to take a look at someone else’s cell phone or their diary, but in this case there was no approving of it.

My cheek still hurt.

Despite that, the pain did not alleviate my pangs of remorse in the slightest.

Really, what was wrong with me?

Why have I lost my composure so much when it was just her getting a ring from some unknown guy?

In the past, I wouldn’t have reacted that way.

In the past, I would have asked her flat out.

In the past, I wouldn’t have been so stupid.

Just when did I become like this…?

Why have I become like this…?

But I can still ponder about the reason later.

For now, I need to apologize to Saki.

Waiting for the time when the shop closed, I returned to the Tsukumodo Antique Shop.

Saki’s expression didn’t change a bit when she saw me enter. Even worse, she averted her eyes and just continued tidying up.

It was evident that she was avoiding me.

This hurt, but it also made me realize just how much I had hurt her. I feared that she couldn’t stand me anymore.

But you reap what you sow. I was in no position to be hurt myself.

I took heart and spoke to Saki once more.

“I want to talk.”

Saki suspended her work but kept her face averted.

She seemed to be furious at me; even from here could I see that her face had turned red. Saki’s eternal poker face had!

“Saki…”

After taking a deep breath—a sigh most likely—she finally raised her head and responded to me.

“What?” she asked, looking me straight in my eyes, but then moving her gaze slightly to the side.

“Don’t worry, I took it off.”

After I had said so, I reached out for my earlobe to stress the fact that I had taken off Mind’s Voice—

At once, Saki’s face distorted.

“Silly! What’s up with that?!”

“Huh?”

“Come over here!” she commanded as she grabbed my arm, upon which she pulled me into the living room and had me sit down. She then went into the kitchen and searched for something.

“Excuse me, but could you explain—”

“Not now.”

“But I want to apo…”

Saki came back carrying a box and some ice, and stood in front of me, while I was still sitting properly as she had told me.

“Don’t move,” she said as she placed her hands on my cheeks to stop me from moving.

Itching to apologize to her, I tried to take her hands off, when suddenly my face contorted with a stinging pain. I noticed that I had unwittingly touched my ear and finally understood the situation I was in.

My ear was the reason for the dull pain that had been tormenting me. I had misinterpreted it as pangs of remorse accompanying the pain from her smacking me.

“It’s swollen badly. You didn’t disinfect the wound, did you?”

Apparently, the hole I had opened by putting on Mind’s Voice had festered. Afterward, she told me that there were special tools for opening piercing holes and that it was best to consult a professional.

I got just what I deserved.

“I can’t properly disinfect your wound like this. Lie down.”

Allowing no ifs and buts, Saki held my head and pushed me down.

My head landed on something soft.

I was terribly embarrassed when I noticed that my head was lying on her lap, but luckily I didn’t run the risk of being noticed because my face was looking away from her and my ear was already red for another reason.

After she had distributed disinfectant on the wound, she put gauze on my ear.

Tsukumodo_V4_307.jpg

It stung a lot, but since it was all my own fault, I clenched my teeth and endured the pain.

In the end, Saki softly placed some ice wrapped in a towel on my ear to cool it down.

“Stay put for a while.”

I had no other choice but to do as she said and stay like this.

The ticking of the clock was the only sound around us.

Slowly but surely, my ear grew numb and the pain subsided—and with it my agitation.

“I’m sorry, Saki,” I apologized with my back still turned to her.

She let out a small sigh and replied, “I haven’t forgiven you yet.”

“I don’t think that you’ve forgiven me already, either.”

Some more time cloaked in silence passed.

At last, after another sigh, Saki slowly began to talk.

“Your doubts were justified. The ring really is a Relic.”

“Huh?”

“Its name is Redtwine. You can observe the red strings of fate if you put it on your finger. Do you remember the girl that approached you the other day? The ring belonged to a close friend of hers. We hardly talked, but for some reason he decided to entrust me with it. Perhaps he noticed that we sell fake Relics here.”

What is she talking about? Is it just me or do I not know any of this?

“…Also, I didn’t mean to abuse it for my own sake.”

“……”

“…I just… put it on without thinking too much about it.”

“……”

“…Just so that you know. Because I don’t know what you heard through Mind’s Voice.”

“……”

“…So, it’s not like… it’s not like I was curious who’s meant to be together with me,” she muttered with a fading voice, all the while confusing me.

“Um, but wasn’t that ring a present?” I asked.

“A present? Well, I suppose you could call it a ‘present’ because I received it from someone… but don’t worry, I will give it to Towako-san afterward. I planned to so anyway.”

“…haha…hahahaha!”

I could no longer help but laugh. Unable to hold it back anymore and still resting my head on Saki’s lap, I held my sides and continued to laugh.

“Hey, stop that Tokiya. That tickles,” she complained, but that didn’t stop me from laughing on.

It had all been a misunderstanding on my part.

Saki hadn’t received a present; the ring only seemed so precious to her because she had been entrusted with it by someone.

While there were still a few points that I didn’t quite understand, I was content with just knowing that much. I didn’t really care about the rest.

“Are you happy now?” she asked.

“Huh?”

“That’s what you wanted to know so badly, isn’t it? After all, you used Mind’s Voice just to find out about Redtwine’s power and my plans with it. But you must believe me that I wasn’t interested in its capabilities! Honestly!”

“No, that’s not what I wanted to know.”

“Eh? What did you want to know, then?”

“In truth, I wanted to know who gave you that ring… no, only whether or not you were delighted by it.”

“Huh? Why would you want to ask such a thing?”

“Because of reasons.”

Saki fell silent, apparently not understanding what I am getting at.

“Listen, this is an ‘if,’ okay?” I started talking in a casual manner to fill the gap and forestall any questions, giving my best to appear calm.

If you want a ring, don’t go to someone else but come ask me for one, okay?”

Saki remained entirely reactionless for a while.

I just said something real embarrassing, didn’t I?

After a somewhat unsettling silence, she replied:

“How would you feel if I really wore a ring that I received from someone else as a present?”

“……”

I took advantage of the fact that Saki didn’t have Mind’s Voice and invoked my right to silence.

Tokiya may not have said anything in response, but I could hear what he answered in his heart. So clearly that for a moment I thought I was wearing Mind’s Voice on my ear.

But I didn’t need Mind’s Voice in order to know what Tokiya was thinking.

That’s why I—

“Saki, did you just…?”

“Hey now.”

Tokiya had turned his head to look up, so I grabbed it and turned it to the side again.

“Saki, did you just smile…?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“But…”

“I’m angry at you! Do you want to spy on me again?”

“Ah, no, I’m sorry,” he apologized and obediently let me turn his head to the side.

I wasn’t sure of it myself, but perhaps I had been smiling just now.

That was close.

If he had either seen my face or was still using Mind’s Voice, he would have certainly realized…

Originally, I didn’t plan to forgive him anytime soon.

But after learning that Tokiya was worried about me…

After learning that he was shaken by the thought that someone else made me a present…

After realizing that he had probably been jealous…

I had already forgiven him, and he would have almost realized that.

But I was not going to tell him.

I was not going to tell him that he was already forgiven.

I’m usually the one who is making a fool of herself. It feels good that he’s getting that role for a change.

It’s kind of fun to see Tokiya act like he did today, and somehow makes me happy.

Because such mischievous thoughts had been born inside me, I was not going to tell him the truth.

He has to show some more reflection on his behavior.

I don’t change my expression, so I’m sure he hasn’t noticed that I already forgave him—

But one thing I’m willing to say. I’ll respond to his little request.

“I suppose I’ll do as you say, Tokiya.”

I’m sure she hasn’t noticed why I was so shaken—

Because I didn’t know the reason myself.

I didn’t know why I had been so beside myself.

I didn’t know why I had been so shocked by her getting a present.

But to be honest, I didn’t care anymore.

Perhaps, I would find out if I kept pondering over it, but I gave up doing so.

Right now, all I wanted was to leave the thinking for a rainy day and wallow in these feelings of relief.

Right, I was relieved.

Not because I had learned that the ring was no present, and not because I had learned that she wasn’t particularly happy about the ring.

The single biggest reason for my relief was that Saki had forgiven me for acting so foolishly.

It required no words, no expression on her face—I could tell nonetheless.

Anyone else could certainly not tell, but I could, even without Mind’s Voice.

Right, I and only I could tell that she had in truth forgiven me.

Slowly but surely, I grew sleepier and sleepier, all the while feeling blissful relief in my heart, comforting warmth on my cheek, and Saki’s soft hand stroking my head.

Having slept no wink the night before due to anxieties, I stood no chance against the sleepiness that was sinking through me.

Before I knew it, I had fallen asleep.

Therefore, I didn’t hear Saki’s final words.

I had a feeling that she said something important, but I didn’t understand her.

—What was it that she said at the end?

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