“My room is NOT your home.”
After the matter with Takayuki was resolved, Aoi was left in a good mood, so she paid her bad friend, Yuzu, a visit.
“This might as well be my second home at this point.”
“Stop talking nonsense.”
“Fine, if you hate it so much, then I declare that this is my second room.”
“Stop invading my privacy.”
“By the way, that book you’re reading is originally mine, I gave it to your sister. Part of my life had already invaded your room, so I might as well go all out now. Bring any complaints you might have to your sister.”
Having to deal with the unusually energetic Aoi, Yuzu didn’t even bother to move her gaze away from her book. Though, it was clear that she was a little annoyed. She asked Aoi a question.
“So, what happened?”
“Right! Listen to me, Yuzu!”
After Yuzu gave her the greenlight, Aoi immediately started talking at a rapid pace.
She told her bad friend about Takayuki, her conversation with him and all the commotion that they caused.
Of course, she wasn’t senseless enough to tell Yuzu about his ability. She only told her about how the boy saved her back when she was a kid and how stupid he actually was now that he had grown up into a high schooler.
“Isn’t he an idiot? He actually went out of his way to chase me then when I asked him why, he told me, ‘just because.’ Seriously, what an idiot!”
“Hmm. So, were you disappointed?”
“Kinda, but you know, I can’t blame him. I was the one who pushed an image on how he should act to him even though we barely even know each other.”
“Huh? What’s that? Did you just laugh? Did you read a funny scene?”
Muttered Yuzu as she flipped through her book.
“It’s just, it’s rare to see you so excited while talking about a boy. You used to say that to get you interested in a boy, he has to be better looking than your first love or something.”
“Are you implying that I like him? Because I’m not… Rather, can you stop mentioning the stupid things that I said back in middle school? I only said it because the boys kept confessing to me and I was sick of dealing with them.”
“So you don’t like this Satou-kun then…”
“Well, it isn’t like I hate him. It’s just I don’t like him romantically, you know…”
“In any case, since you’re in a good mood now, why don’t you buy me some cakes? I’ll stop mentioning your dark past. Actually, it doesn’t have to be cakes, money will do.”
“And why should I do that?!”
“What a selfish girl.”
Being called ‘selfish’ was Aoi’s kryptonite. Whenever someone called her that, she’d fall into a brief period of depression and self-loathing.
“U-Uuuu… I-In any case, I’ll try to be more mindful of my conduct. I don’t want to be seen as a selfish girl ever again… I’ll try to help Satou-kun deal with the bad rumors surrounding him and help him whenever he needs my help… Of course, this doesn’t mean I like him! It’s the least thing I should do for him as a classmate!”
“Uh, do whatever you like.”
To Aoi, who was shouting her words with vigor, Yuzu lazily replied while lying down on the floor.
“But, don’t you think you forget something?”
“I said, don’t you think you forget something?”
Yuzu asked without taking her eyes off her book.
From Aoi’s experience, she seemed to be talking about something important.
“What is it that I forget?”
“C’mon~ You’re always like this!”
Thanks to her words, Aoi started to feel uneasy.
* * *
Seven years ago. The young Takayuki met a witch.
“Alright~ Let’s confirm the contents of the contract again, shall we? I’m not a devil, so I want the contents to be clear before we proceed~”
A wide-brimmed hat. Jet-black robe that seemed to have originated from the darkness itself covered her tall body. In one of her hands was a lantern, glowing in an orange hue. Her lips were twisted upwards, forming the shape of a crescent. Takayuki’s figure was reflected on her cat-like eyes.
The witch looked like she came out of a fairytale.
“Contract? Oh, so that’s what grandfather was talking about! He told me that I have to pay the price.”
“Ah~ What a good boy! You remembered what your grandfather told you?”
She proceeded to pat the boy’s head. But, due to how bad it felt like when she patted him, the young Takayuki pouted while staring at her with suspicion. It crossed his mind that enduring this treatment from her was probably the price that he had to pay.
The witch realized what he was thinking and for a moment, she looked sad.
“Ahem. But, young man, are you sure that you actually listened to your grandfather properly? The price you have to pay for isn’t fixed. The heavier your wish is, the more you have to pay.”
“I’m ready to pay for anything!”
“Hm, if you say so… Well, why don’t you tell me what your wish is first and foremost?”
Takayuki tried his best to explain the circumstances to her.
About the crying girl and his desire to save her.
“Do you like her?”
“No, I hate her.”
“I-I see. I commend you for trying to help the girl that you hate, but can you pay the price for it?”
“What is the price?”
“Hehehe… The price is–”
After hearing the answer from the witch, Takayuki couldn’t help but feel disappointed.
His childlike innocence and distorted way of thinking made him think that paying such a price wasn’t really a big deal. So, he nodded to the witch’s words.
“I can pay you just fine!”
“Are you sure? This is something quite important, you know? You might not understand it now, but you’ll come to regret it later when you finally understand it, you know? There’s no take back when that time arrives.”
“So you said, but you didn’t actually think it through properly… Well, I don’t blame you for that. Okay, to make it more fair, I’ll give you a little bonus. Later, if you want to take your wish back—”
Troubled by Takayuki’s response, the witch decided to give him a special treatment, which later would turn into something quite important for him. Though, he wouldn’t know about it until later.
“I don’t get it, but I’ll remember your words!”
“Okay, okay, as long as you keep my words in mind, everything should be alright. You seem to be really determined too… Okay, I’ll give you a special ability!”
Seeing his innocent face, the witch smiled at him. She brought her fingertip close to his forehead. Her index finger, clearly visible in the darkness, touched his forehead gently.
“The ability’s name is ‘Sugar Spice.’ With this power, you will be able to eat even the worst kind of love. The process will be as easy as taking candy from a baby.”
At that moment, Takayuki’s vision was filled with light. He could feel various tastes on his tongue. This was the moment when he gained his ability. And the moment where he had to pay the price for said ability.
* * *
“…Ugh… T-This is the taste of love? …Urp…”
Using his new ability, Takayuki managed to eat the love of the girl that he saved, Miyama Aoi. It was just, he had to bear with the terrible taste. It was bitter. So bitter that he felt nauseous. It was also sweet. So sweet that he got a heartburn, literally. Aoi’s first love tasted like a dark chocolate straight from hell. Aside from knowing how terrible love tasted like, Takayuki found out another thing about his ability. Its side effects. One of them caused the subject of his ability to faint. He made a mental note to make the subject sit down before using his ability again in the future.
Also, there was no sense of accomplishment when he saved the girl using his ability.
‘What should I tell grandfather the next time I see him?’ For a while, Takayuki’s mind was occupied by that thought.
“Takayuki… Calm down and listen carefully.”
One day after the summer vacation was over. His mother told him the news about his grandfather’s passing.
* * *
Morning started early for Miyama Aoi. She got out of bed at six, did some light exercise and took a shower afterwards. Normally by that time, her mom would be done making breakfast. She went to the kitchen.
Arriving at the kitchen, the first thing that she did was greeting her mom cheerfully. On weekdays like this, only Aoi and her mother would usually be eating their breakfasts together. Her father had to wake up earlier due to his work, managing a convenience store, so he would only be there on holidays. Meanwhile her sisters weren’t exactly morning people, so it was rare for them to be at the table this early in the morning.
“Oh my, did something good happen?”
“I wish your sisters could be as energetic as you this early in the morning… Speaking of them, your second sister said to come back home early today. She needs your help.”
“Renka-nee did? Hmm… Sure.”
After finishing her breakfast with her mom, she took a short break before going to school.
Usually she spent this time reading novels or manga about heroes or surfing through the internet to look for conversation topics.
However, she was particularly fidgety today.
In the end, she decided to leave home twenty minutes earlier than usual. Her steps were light and there was a bright smile on her face. She headed to school in high spirits.
* * *
“Do you want to have lunch with me, Satou-kun?”
Lunch break. With her lunch in hand, Aoi approached Takayuki and invited him for lunch. This was no way a romantic lunch with just the two of them, though. A group of girls stood behind Aoi. Clearly, what Aoi intended was to make him eat together with the girls.
“…Thanks for the sentiment, but no thanks.”
Since that was the case, naturally Takayuki refused her invitation. It was a completely normal response. Rather, it was Aoi who acted strangely, inviting someone who was isolated from the rest of the class to join a group of girls for lunch.
Aoi had a plan though.
“I’m being kind to you and inviting you for lunch, but you’re acting like this? As expected of the Loner Satou-kun.”
“What do you mean, ‘loner?’ I have friends! Just not from this class!”
“Really? Then, introduce them to me some time!”
“No! Think about your position, you’ll just make things awkward!”
“That was a joke. But my invitation isn’t a joke. I did it for your own good, you know?~”
Her words made Takayuki’s face turn sour.
“You just gotta bear the fact that everyone else is a girl, Satou-kun. If we can show everyone that we get along well, your reputation will get better eventually.”
Currently Takayuki’s reputation was at an all-time low because of what happened on the bridge. There were various rumors running around about the event and one of them was that he made Aoi cry in public. If they didn’t handle this rumor before it got too far, he would be finished socially.
Under such circumstances, Aoi’s invitation would certainly be a great opportunity for Takayuki to clear his name.
“…Got it. Thank you for your consideration.”
“Hehe, glad that you understand. Enjoy your harem for the rest of the lunch break~”
And so, Takayuki ended up having his lunch while being surrounded by girls.
As he had feared, the girls gave him strange gazes. There was curiosity in their eyes, but fear was mixed within their gazes. Having to endure those eyes made him feel uncomfortable, but he decided to just bear with it.
“A-Are you sure that this is okay, Aoi?”
“S-Satou won’t suddenly bite me, right?”
“He won’t push me down and call it ‘light skinship,’ right?”
“I’m not a wild dog! What the hell is wrong with you guys?”
The girl asked Aoi jokingly, but there was a hint of real concern in their voices. They wanted Aoi to assure them that Takayuki was really harmless.
“It’s fine, everyone. If we communicate properly with him, he’s not a scary creature at all. Satou-kun, hand~”
So, Aoi made a joke about the situation. It wasn’t like she wanted to treat him like a dog, but if she were to show everyone that he could go along with jokes like these, they’d let their guard down around him. She definitely didn’t do it because she was into that kind of play, definitely not.
“Satou-kun, what kind of relationship do you have with Aoi?”
“I heard you picked a fight with a bike gang back in middle school, was it true?!”
“There are rumors about you having multiple girlfriends. Their ages ranged from grade school to adult women, are those rumors true?”
After Aoi demonstrated that he was harmless, the girls let their curiosity speak for them. Aoi’s assurance made them believe that Takayuki wouldn’t suddenly lash out at them in front of Aoi’s eyes if they were to accidentally touch a sensitive topic.
Thanks to the girls’ momentum, Takayuki fluently explained his circumstances to them, addressing all the rumors and their questions one by one. He knew the significance of this conversation, that was why he decided to do his best here. However, perhaps because he wasn’t used to being in this kind of situation, he’d often glance at Aoi, trying to ask for her help. Every time that happened, Aoi would only reply to him with a smile, refusing to help him in any way.
This wasn’t her being mean. Aoi judged that helping him directly would only hinder his growth in the long run. Her goal was to keep inviting him to eat with the girls and make them befriend each other. She didn’t tell him her true goal, of course, instead she asked him to cooperate under the guise of erasing the bad rumors about him. Though, Aoi wasn’t that ruthless. She wasn’t expecting him to deal with the girls by himself during the first day. So, Aoi decided to give him a lifeline. This would make him be more grateful to her and remember this as a favor.
“C’mon, you three! If you keep asking him questions, he won’t be able to eat!”
But, before she could find the right moment, Tomoe interjected and ruined her plan to make him owe her another favor.
After receiving a warning from Tomoe, the girls promptly gave up and gave Takayuki some space.
“Phew, thank you, Ukai, you’re a lifesaver.”
“Don’t be! You and Aoi had done so much to me, this much is nothing! Also, those girls just want to befriend you, so don’t think badly of them, okay? Just play along with them for a while, you’ll get used to them soon!”
“…Well, I guess I’ll do my best.”
Takayuki nodded at Tomoe’s words. When he turned his gaze to the side, he saw Aoi pouting. It was clear that she was annoyed by something.
“Ah, she’s sulking because I stole the chance from her. She wanted to help you out too, you see~”
“Seriously? She’s sulking because of that?”
Seeing Takayuki’s questioning gaze, Aoi turned her head away from him. Her bulging cheeks were painted in the shade of red.
* * *
When Takayuki started his social media account, no one contacted him for a consultation at all.
It was as expected. He had no background nor qualifications. There was no way that someone would go out of their ways to contact a fresh account to solve their problems. Rather, it was doubtful that they knew the existence of his account in the first place.
That was why, he gave up having any kind of vain expectations in a week. He accepted things as it were and moved on with his life.
He didn’t delete the account though. Since he consumed a lot of anime and manga, he decided to use the account to share his opinion about them instead. Ironically, this was the thing that made his account well-known. Before he knew it, his follower numbers increased and he became more involved with other users.
[Baku-san! I want to consult you about my senpai! They’re already a college student, but I could still talk to them thanks to their little sister!]
It was recess, after the fifth period was over. Takayuki got a text from someone that he knew from his social media, Sunny.
[That’s great. Don’t let your guard down though, Sunny.]
[Of course! If I see anyone suspicious hanging around them, I’ll smash them with a volleyball!]
[If you see anyone suspicious, run away. Also, I told you everytime, stop giving out your personal information.]
For him, rather than a customer, Sunny was more like a friend and a benefactor.
They met through their random talk about a certain manga. After they had established trust to some extent, Sunny was the one who approached him first for a consultation. There wasn’t anything big about it, Sunny was just trying to try their luck, therefore, they just consulted about trivial things to him. But Takayuki handled them surprisingly well.
Since then, their interaction became known to Takayuki’s other followers. More people started asking him for a consultation. Though, not many of them actually expected anything from him.
After that, he started to treat Sunny differently from other people. They never met in person, but he treated Sunny as if they were best friends. At one point, they exchanged each other’s contact information and texted each other directly instead of using the social media.
[Eh, but I don’t mind it if it’s you, Baku-san! Rather, we should meet each other in real life already!]
[I don’t want to meet up with someone who doesn’t understand what being anonymous on the internet means. Also, aren’t you a girl? Don’t you think that meeting up with a boy like me is dangerous?]
Unlike with his other customers, he never met up with Sunny. He was afraid that if they were to meet up in real life, they would stop being friends.
Normally, he tended to treat every regular who came to him roughly. Unlike with Sunny, he didn’t mind if they were to come to hate him. In fact, some of his customers got into bad relationships because of him. However, even though their relationships became worse, the customers put more trust in him than before. One of them was a certain office lady. She would buy him dinner from time to time or force him to listen to her bragging about her little sister.
[Again with that excuse!]
Another reason why he didn’t want to meet her was because Sunny thought that he was lying to her about his gender. She seemed to be thinking that Takayuki was also a girl due to how he conducted himself on his social media.
[I know that you’re a pretty college student who’ll look great in glasses! You don’t need to lie to me, Baku-san!]
[You’re raising the bar way too high…]
[Hahaha. Anyway, I guess we really can’t meet up in real life, huh?]
Takayuki took his fingers off his screen.
They had been communicating for two years already. He knew that something happened to his friend across the screen. When she started acting like this, that meant she was trying to hide her anxiety. After a bit of thinking, he let out a sigh and started to type a reply.
[Fine, just this once. Arrange a time and place, I’ll meet up with you.]
Trying to overcome his fear, he offered to help his friend out.
[I love you, Baku-san! Marry me!]
He let out a wry smile after seeing this exchange. It felt like he was growing soft, thanks to the influence of a certain someone.