LITTLE STARDUST HOUSE
STARDUST HOUSE - ESTATE GROUNDS
Saturday Morning, 6:30 a.m. (weekend after Final Exam week)
Ken-senpai and Gin-senpai lead our early morning jog right from the backyard patio area right towards the woods just a short distance away from the grassy area. Since the week before final exams, Dad had this idea on keeping his favorite top teen idols in completely shape and alertness right after the very intense workshop period they had two weeks before. He thought that eating right and having the proper exercise would help them become a lot more alert and prepared for more upcoming work in showbiz, as well as preparing mentally for the upcoming final exams. He learned about Ken-senpai's and Gin-senpai's daily habit of jogging around the track for one lap early morning when they used to be dorm students in school and he thought that their jogging mornings should also apply here at Stardust House and all of the tenants. Though he had the idols as priority for all of these preparations, he thought it was unfair that only the idols would suffer while Jun and I would get the morning breaks by sleeping over hours because of the upcoming summer vacation.
In the end, here we are. From the back patio, right past the brick and ceramic balustrade railing that border the backyard area from nature, and right to the first few meters inside the woods, Dad assigned Ken-senpai and Gin-senpai to lead the jogging. I personally don't like waking up very early in the morning just to exercise, but because of the fact that Ken-senpai and Gin-senpai elevated their status from tenant noobs to resident heads (actually, it's just Ken-senpai), plenty of changes occurred regarding our everyday habits in this house. Somehow though, even I noticed this myself, the tenants got a lot closer than they used to. Back then we used to be just random students trying to survive high school while trying to survive each other living under the same roof. Now we've become like family. Mirai even began the habit of calling Ken-senpai and Gin-senpai as Ken-niichan and Gin-niichan, even if Gin-senpai is actually two months younger than her. Despite of Mirai's cutesy acts towards her "big brothers," all of us 10th Graders still called them "senpai." After all, they are older and a lot more senior than the rest of us anyway, with Ken-senpai being the oldest among the 11th Graders and Gin-senpai being the youngest. Tai-nii is the second oldest and Mirai being third.
We ran right through the entrance of the woods. We were about a mile or so away from the balustrade borders. Ken-senpai and Gin-senpai were ahead, followed by Jun and me. Tai-nii, Kaito, Yuki, and Mirai were just a bit distance from behind us. The other three somehow disappeared, but their voices were loud enough for us to know that they're still hanging there. When we got deep enough in the woods, the two leaders immediately stopped jogging, which in turn, we also stopped jogging ourselves.
"Yo! Why'd we stop here? What gives?" We heard Shinoda called out. Right then, Ken-senpai hushed him, which in turn, got the rest of us keep silent as well.
Gin-senpai raised his right arm, probably to wipe his sweaty forehead with his wristband. Right then, I caught his usual wood bead bracelet slip out from his wrist. I gasped and pointed at it. He slowly gazed at his bead bracelet on the ground and reached for it. Once he picked up, he gazed at it and then swallowed nervously.
"Ken," Gin nervously chuckled. "Looks like it's expired."
Expired? I wondered. What on earth did he mean by "expired"? "What are you talking about, Gin-senpai? We just stopped right in the middle of the woods wondering if we got ourselves lost or something. What exactly 'expired'?"
Tai-nii walked forward and then faced both Ken-senpai and Gin-senpai. "When you said 'expired'… you mean… your wood bead bracelet?"
Gin turned to Tai-nii and simply nodded. "It slipped off of my wrist mysteriously. The string's broken too."
Right then, I felt something rather cold and a bit eerie. The sun was already out and it was already warm enough for all of us to sweat our asses off for the first five minutes of being under the sun. And all of a sudden, the chill just came on to us once we entered the forest. I know that tall pine trees, or rather trees in general, keep us cool from the extreme warmth but it can't just suddenly give us the chill that would pass on for early winter chill. Not in the summer and especially not here.
"Hold on," I heard Kaito speak up and also walked forward to the 11th Graders. "Is there something you haven't told us about yourself, Gin-senpai? We've already gotten used to seeing you wear that wooden bead bracelet since you guys moved in here. We thought it was just a cool accessory that we guys just like to wear. But somehow, the way you said that your bracelet 'expired' really peaked my curiosity."
"Well then," Ken immediately grinned right there. "This is a good spot to rest for a bit, have a sip of water, have a short talk. I see a bunch of loose trunks over there. We can sit over there."
We followed him just a few meters more, right until we reached old and dead trees grounded and stable enough to sit on to for rest. We got our wristbands to wipe our foreheads, face towels to wipe our faces, and of course, our ice-cold water bottles we placed in the refrigerator overnight. While we relaxed, Gin continued to stare at his broken bracelet and having this rather nervous look all at the same time.
"Senpai," I said, "come on now. I thought we pretty much know the basics about you during our icebreakers last week. Your bracelet's all nice and all but what's so important about it that made you say that it's 'expired'?"
Gin-senpai then leaned back against another trunk right behind him. "I guess I forgot to tell you more about my family background, ne?"
"Wow, more stories about Gin-senpai?" Jun chuckled happily. "Even if you told us about your family already you're still a mystery to most of us here."
"You think so?" Gin-senpai laughed softly. "Ehem… well… I have a major reason why I decided to become a dorm student while attending high school here at Momiji Academy. I'm a Hinasaki City native, like most of you guys, but then my parents' background is what made me decide to live independently on my own while attending high school. I've been living in those same dorms for over a year now. Obviously this would have been my second year until you guys happily invited me with open arms here at Stardust House, so thank you for that."
"Uh, yeah?" Shinoda then shrugged his arms. "So, what's up with your bracelet then?"
"Okay then, I'll get to the point!" Gin immediately shrieked out. He sipped more on his water and then cleared his throat. "You guys already know: My dad is a psychologist. My mom is a native studies college professor at Waseda University, but I haven't exactly told you exactly what they have in common."
"Okay then Gin-senpai, so what do they have in common?" I asked curiously.
"They're both from two family clans of generations of shinseki and miko who also happened to be omyouji. In short, I'm a descendant of two of the longest-surviving Shinto sects and schools throughout the history of Japan with a distinct, special trait that they use to further aid the people who are in need of real help. I have an older brother who's currently undergoing training with my grandfather on my father's side to become the next shinseki of our family shrine somewhere up north. My younger sister have been doing double-shifts as a middle school student and a miko all at the same time at my mother's family's shrine not too far from here in Hinasaki. The thing is, both families seem to share a curse or trait or something that passed on from generation to generation. It was because of this particular trait that kept them to continue working their miraculous ways to help people in these shrines. Sadly, I ended up inherited it and I'm not even in to all that Shinto stuff."
I found my eyes completely opened wide after hearing his short story. He lifted his broken bracelet and showed it all to us. "This bracelet was given to me by my grandfather on my dad's side when I was little. Actually, this is my fourth bracelet already because the past three already broke. Every time my bracelet breaks like this, I get a new one from my grandfather, all blessed with the waters of purity and all that other prayers and stuff. It's supposed to prevent this inherited trait from emerging."
Somehow, as Gin continued to talk about himself, I felt the chill getting a lot colder than it used to be. I even noticed Shunta and Himemiya already shivering as if they just wanted to run away right at this moment. Jun was already clinging on to Yuki, while Mirai was already clinging on to Tai-nii. I wanted to cling on to Kaito just so I didn't feel left out and then feel like I'm Kaito's one and only true love, but I felt a lot more curious than actually scared.
"What trait are we talking about here, GIn-senpai?" Kaito asked curiously. "Is it something… bad?"
"Well, I already told Ken and Taisuke about this way before back in class, but neither of them believed me, so it's all good. I rather not have them believe than them being scared of me."
"Well what is it? Is it something bad, like Kaito asked?" I rose my voice in anxiousness while Gin hushed me down.
"Okay, here it is. Can I ask you something though first, Kairi, Tai, Yukinojou?"
What on earth, I thought. What question could he possibly have for Tai-nii, Yuki, and me? Although one thing I did notice at this scenario was that Gin doesn't seem to be looking directly right at us. Instead, his eyes were directed somewhere else. It was still at our direction but not directly at Tai-nii and myself. He wasn't even looking at Yuki either, but that was because he was sitting right next to Gin along with Jun on his other side.
"Do you know anyone, possibly from your family, who go by the names of Kouta, Kyosuke, Kirie, and Kenjiro?"
"That's gotta be the most random question I've ever heard from you, Gin," Tai-nii chuckled as his reaction. "Most of the people in the Irie Family are dudes, so if all four of them are dudes, then no. I don't."
"Wait!" I gasped in shock once I asked Gin to repeat the names again. Kenjiro, yes, I know that name. Kouta, Kyosuke, and Kirie, absolutely no clue. "I don't know Kouta, Kyosuke, and Kirie, but Kenjiro… Kenjiro Irie…"
Tai-nii then nodded, now also realizing where I was going with this. "Kenjiro Irie is the name of our great-grandfather— Dad's grandfather. H-how'd you know about Kenjiro Irie, Gin? I don't think Kairi or myself ever told you about our family that much except for the obvious."
"Why on earth would you ask that question, Gin?" I picked up from where Tai-nii left off.
Slowly, Gin stood up from his seat, and then walked over our log, right between Tai-nii and me, and then headed to a particular pine tree. We followed him from behind. When we got to that tree, I spotted Gin's fingers tracing something on to the surface of the tree's trunk. I got closer to what he was tracing and almost leaped in shock. There were names carved on to the tree and still looked intact. The writing was in Kanji, with four names with "Irie" being carved in a huge size.
What scared me then was how Gin was able to find this on some random tree at a far distance. I didn't know what to say or how to answer. Even Tai-nii himself looked like a cat just got his tongue right there.
"H-how on earth were you able to read these other Kanji, Gin…?" Tai-nii gasped. I also wondered the same. I recognized Kenjiro, but the other three names were written rather strangely, or rather unfamiliar type of Kanji. This can only mean one thing.
"Judging with the Kanji being used for the names 'Kouta, Kyosuke, and Kirie,' obviously these people may have existed sometime in the late 1800s or early 1900s. Well, whichever time frame, it's for sure it's before the second world war," Gin answered. "The Japanese writing system including Kanji have changed significantly after the war, omitted and simplified so many of the characters that we use today in the modern writing system. That's why none of you guys can read these names. Not using these types of obsolete Kanji I mean."
"But seriously, Gin, you can't possibly just read those names off right off the bat!" Tai-nii continued to argue.
"I'm a poet and a literati, remember, Taisuke?" Gin snickered. "I already told you that my mother is a college professor of native studies. Everything and anything about Japan, from its anthropology, history, sociology, culture, everything, she studies and absorbs them within her. Her knowledge and expertise also got me in to literature in general, and if I wanted to write something that's very native Japanese, I seriously had to have some basic knowledge of the ancient language, which includes the writing system, in order for me to accomplish that." He then backed away from the tree. "Anyway, sorry about the sudden question. My trait is already kicking in now that this bracelet's broken."
"Gah!" From out of the blue, Himemiya shrieked as if he was about to break down in to insanity. "You still haven't explained to us what the hell's up with them wooden beads of yours, Senpai! Please don't keep us in suspense dammit!"
"I can see deceased people, okay?" Right after Gin-senpai said those words, everyone suddenly dropped silent. So, I concluded with all the clues that Gin-senpai gave us, he was basically saying this. This dude's got a sixth sense, the special ability to see spirits of the deceased, and it's a special trait that the Utsunomiya Family possessed, which helped them continue their services for the people through their family Shinto shrines. Unfortunately for this generation of Utsunomiyas, the trait just happened to pass on to the one who has no interest in becoming a Shinto priest whatsoever.
Now that came out, that made me wonder now. I wonder if Gin-senpai would be able to make contact with Mom's spirit? Or maybe he could possibly see him?
"This wood bracelet was supposed to keep my abilities to see spirits of the dead suppressed, okay? Because even if it's a gift and it's pretty much harmless, just seeing dead people freaks me out even if they're just wandering around minding their own business, you know?" Gin frowned and then dropped his head. "Once this bracelet's broken you can't fix it. I mean you can literally but its suppressing powers are forever disappeared. That's why I have to ask my grandfather to send me another one, but it'll take awhile to have another one made. They have to purify and bless it and all that other stuff, which could take awhile."
"So, somehow, that ability of yours helped you found that tree that had the names of these four people on that tree trunk?" Kaito asked curiously. Right then, he gave a soft snicker. "Dude, Senpai, this is incredible! It's unbelievable, but incredible at the same time!"
"Look, I am to be a professional writer, especially with poetry, guys. Hell I'm having an awesome time being songwriting partners with Ken here." Gin frowned, crossing his arms. "I don't want my entire family trying to force me to serve either one of the Shinto shrines and become some amateur omyouji just because of these abilities. I'm just not interested in using these abilities and be a medium to rip people off. I just think it'd be better if I actually make money by doing something creative that would make people happy, rather than scare people or make people cry by telling them that I can see the ghosts of their beloved ones. You know how scary and depressing that is?" He sighed once more. "That's why I left home and decided to live on campus when I started high school so I can learn how to live independently and you know, search for the right path to success in life."
"Whoa, that's just crazy," Ken-senpai said, scratching his head. "I thought you were joking when you told us about it but now, after the way you just ran towards that tree with those names carved on there, man…"
"You know what," I suddenly made a declaration. "I want to talk to Dad about this. I want to ask him questions about those names carved on that tree. I mean if Tai-nii, Yuki, and I are only familiar with Kenjiro Irie over there, then obviously we weren't told much about our family's history!"
Tai-nii also nodded, agreeing with me. "This is unbelievable. I mean I feel embarrassed, being an Irie who grew up in this house and living in the surrounded grounds, I don't know that much about my own home. The hell is that all about? I too want to ask Dad and even Grandpa and even Aunt Ibuki and… well, everybody!"
Just as we were about to continue on with our ramblings, Yuki suddenly cleared his throat, grabbing our attention towards him. I just realized then that he hasn't answered anything about the four names on the trunk of that tree all this time. It looks like he was about to say something about it right now.
"Um, Aniki… Kairi…" Yuki began in a soft murmur. "Those names… I know a little bit about them. I'm not just talking about Great-Grandpa Kenjiro Irie either."
"What?" I screamed in surprise. "Why didn't you say that before? Spill it!"
"Look, my old man sorta broke a promise from Grandpa and the rest of the family by telling me about them awhile ago. Those names— except Great-Grandpa Kenjiro's name of course— were even forbidden to be mentioned within the family, most especially within Stardust House grounds. I'm gonna be busted by my old man if I tell anybody else about it, especially you guys!"
"Well who are they, Yuki? Spill!" Tai-nii suddenly rose his voice in a huge demand. "How is it that you get to know about this but the rest of us don't? What's that all about? I can't believe Dad's hiding something about our family's past to us. That's messed up, man!"
"Well, I can tell you this as much. You know how it's common knowledge within the family that the one who gets to inherit Stardust House along with the land territory that goes with it is the oldest son of the current owner, right?" Tai-nii and I nodded to confirm.
"Okay, go on," I said to him.
"Well guess what. Our great-grandfather Kenjiro wasn't even the oldest son. He was the youngest son, and overall, the youngest child of that generation. Great-great-great grandfather Kaizen Irie had a lot of children but Great-great-grandfather Kozaburo Irie was the only one, the oldest among those kids even, who was able to have children. Those three names: Kouta, Kyosuke, and Kirie were Great-grandpa Kenjiro's older siblings. They're the first three children of Kozaburo Irie before he and his wife had their youngest and benefactor by default, Kenjiro. Kirie was the only female, and as Dad described her to me, she had such immense beauty so rare that she was treated by her parents as if she was some kind of a trophy that only those worthy may only be allowed to feast their eyes on other two brothers, Kouta and Kyosuke, were quite deadly attractive dudes also that plenty of women, especially from the elite class, have been drooling and swooning and have been begging their fathers to make omiais with our family for those two. I guess having such powerful, alluring beauty can be a curse, ne?"
Somehow, a nerve struck within me after hearing what Yuki just revealed. Since Kouta's name was mentioned I assumed that he was the oldest son of these four siblings. That meant that if Kouta was the one who inherited Stardust House then, that would mean that StarPros and even us wouldn't have existed. We would probably just some family on the side and not part of the dominating head family within the Irie Clan. I wonder what happened to those three older ones that somehow got Great-Grandpa Kenjiro's name as the sole heir to Stardust House?
"Look, that's all I'm gonna tell you guys. I can't say anymore," Yuki crossed his arms and sighed. "If Uncle Keita finds out that I know all about this, I'm history, you hear me? Why don't we just face Uncle Keita head on and I'll pretend that I don't know anything about this either, so that he can tell us his version of that piece of family history. Maybe I'll even learn which one of the two is making up stuff and which is the one telling the truth."
Right then, Gin, from out of the blue, was one of his antics again. He began whistling a slow but very sweet-sounding, melodic tune. We then fell quiet again, as Gin, still whistling, suddenly began walking deeper in to the forest. Since all of us were completely confused at this point we decided to follow him.
Moments later, as I continue to listen to the song Gin was whistling, I felt another chill crawling down my spine once more. Either the chill atmosphere was getting a lot colder and colder as we continued to walk through the forest or I was getting ill or something. The song was the one though that gave me such a bit of a scare. Why? Because I've heard of this song before. It was a song that I heard from Grandpa when I was very young. He always sang this song, or at least hummed the song, to Tai-nii and me whenever he would come and visit and then tuck us in to bed.
Quickly I ran to Tai-nii's side, with Tai-nii already holding Mirai's hand protectively to be sure that she was safe. In the meantime, Yuki and Jun, also holding hands, walked to my other side. Two Irie Boys standing on both my sides. I feel weird all of a sudden, but nevertheless, somehow, deep within, I feel that these two are feeling the same as I'm feeling right now.
"Hey, Tai-nii," I said to him. Somehow I was tempted to hook my arm around his open arm just like how his girlfriend had her arm hooked around his other arm at this point. "H-how come… Gin-senpai knows Grandpa's song…? He's like… whistling it… and… now going deeper in to the forest…"
"Did you teach him that song or something Aniki?" Yuki joined in the conversation, giving a suspicious look towards Tai-nii..
Quickly Tai-nii exclaimed right at us, looking rather panicked. "Of course I didn't! I'm closer to Ken than Gin and even I never thought Ken that song either!"
Right then, Kaito, Shunta, Shinoda, and Himemiya joined us from behind. Ken already went ahead to catch up to Gin so the whistling dude's got company. "You look rather shocked, you guys," Kaito said with a concerned look in his eyes. "Is there something wrong?"
"Daaaang!" I cried out loud. I always thought that being a Roman Catholic would protect me from all the evil spirits because I know God is watching me from above, and all the more so with Mom appearing in my dreams, trying to make conversations with me, but somehow at this point I felt that God's powers and Mom's powers were beginning to fade as we continued on moving forward deep through the woods. I couldn't help myself then but to shout out my fear building up in every heartbeat.
"Are you okay, Kairi?" Jun asked curiously, and of course, with a concerned tone.
"I'm having a very bad feeling about this!" I shouted out loud. I had to just so I didn't have to hear that eerie silence that was beginning to surround us. "And I mean a very bad feeling!"
"I'm here, Kairi." My heart leapt for joy once I heard that gentle, youthful, manly voice spoke behind me. I snapped my head to him and sighed in relief.
Kaito sneaked himself between me and Yuki so that he can occupy the spot where my left hand was already trembling in anxiety. "Just calm down, okay?" Immediately, he took me by the hand, hushing me in such a soft, gentle, and warm tone.
Oh Kaito, if only you knew what I'm thinking right now. You simply knew exactly when I'm getting myself in to trouble and you're always here to come to my rescue. And the touch of his hand completely warmed me all over and deep within. The mysterious chill of the forest's atmosphere dissolved quickly then.
"I wish Gin-senpai's grandpa would hurry up with that bracelet of his. I… I think what he said earlier about him being able to see dead people may be true!" I heard Himemiya make his comment from behind.
"Waaaah don't say stuff like that, Kotaro!" I heard Shunta cry in fear. "I know, I'm a man, I'm a true blue straight man, but I'm sensitive to stuff like that maaan!"
"Oi, will y'all just chill? Maybe Gin-senpai's trying to scare us, yo!" Shinoda made his statement, although I can tell by his trembling voice that he too was also getting the chills just like I am. "I mean come on, how on earth do we expect that there's actually ghosts lurking around…"
Right then, Shinoda found himself trailing off from his sentence right when Gin-senpai finally stopped. We dashed to where he and Ken-senpai were standing, only to stumble upon a very interesting— and mysteriously eerie— European-style brick and iron gateway. I realized how deep we were inside the forest and that Kaito already checked his watch that the time was already 7:05 a.m. We still had yet to change in to our school uniform to go to school later today to check on the final exam results, plus we also haven't had breakfast yet. Still, we all felt our bodies completely stunned and immobile right when we stumbled right on to this very old gateway. The iron gates were obviously too tall and too slippery, not to mention too sharp to climb over, plus the lock, even though it looked rusted, still remained on the gates. There was a continuous dirt road right past through these gates and now it got all of us curious as to where this was leading to.
At the right side of the gates, the almost rusted sign was revealed. Sure enough, the Kanji characters indicated on to the metal plate read "Irie" on them. This only meant one thing, of course. Despite the spooky, eerie atmosphere of the forest, we were still within Stardust House grounds. I walked forward to take a closer look at the lock, but right then, Gin stopped me by placing his arm right in front of me.
"Shh… close your eyes and listen… that goes to all of you…" I didn't know what on earth was going on with Gin at that point so I decided to follow along with him. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the sounds of nature I hear.
Just moments later, something foreign came to my ears. Well, I wouldn't say foreign, but I had to say that it was completely out of place with the rest of the nature sounds of the forests and the creatures who live here. This foreign sound became gradually louder, but still faint, up until I finally recognized what that foreign sound may be.
The foreign sound was none other than a girl singing Grandpa's song.
Wait. Grandpa's song?
Right then I snapped my eyes wide open and then showed my fearful expression on my face. I then turned to the others and also noticed the others also giving the same expression. I snapped my head back at Gin again.
"I heard it immediately, which was why I whistled that same tune so I can continue tracing that tune," Gin-senpai began explaining. "The voice led me right here… in this place… whatever this may be…"
"The gates are locked!" Tai-nii exclaimed. I can even hear his teeth gritting with anxiety at this point. "What on earth is going on here? Are we still on earth or what? We need to head back home and talk to Dad about this… this place!"
"We can't!" Gin-senpai immediately shrieked. "Taisuke, notice something about the lock? Take a closer look."
We followed his words and had a closer look at the lock. There were traces of paper with some smudges of some sort. There was even some writing somewhere at one of the stuck paper pieces. It was definitely old, but somewhat still readable. What ticked me off was that the writing used ancient no-longer-used Kanji in them.
"There was a string of ofuda strips being placed all around the gates," Gin-senpai said. "I scanned around the gates attached to this gateway and I saw some traces of paper around them. I was even able to read a few of them. It had the names of Shinto gods in there, for sure, which only proved that Gin-senpai was right about these pieces of stuck paper being ofuda. Since most of them are dissolved anyway, then what did this mean?
"These are ofuda used to ward off evil spirits. It looks like they also got expired too, but no one even bothered coming here to replace them," Gin-senpai continued. "But then, this is really strange though. What could be within these gates that needed protection from evil spirits? I may have to ask my folks about this…"
"Your folks?" I asked curiously.
"The ofuda that were placed here had my father's family's shrine name on it. Wow, talk about small world! Your family knows my family?" Gin-senpai almost found himself chuckling but refrained just so we didn't have to get more nervy than we are right now.
As a quick reaction, I reached for my cellphone and then took a photo of the gateway. Likewise, the others do the same as well. Right when I clicked the button, there was some kind of a flash that came out behind the gates. I looked up towards the gate itself and still didn't see anything out of the ordinary. I then continued to take the photos several times and still showed that strange flash.
"What the hell… what the heck is that white thing behind the gate? I don't see anything with my naked eyes. I think my cellphone's gone retarded," I complained. Apparently, the others also got the same result. A blotch of white light or a flash that just appeared right behind the iron bars of the gate.
Gin-senpai sighed and also decided to take a photo. "Alright, I'll take a photo from my phone then. Maybe it's the phones." He then took a snapshot of the front gate. Then, once he viewed it, he immediately dropped his phone to the ground. He quickly grabbed it and began to step back.
"Um… we better jog back home… as in… right now…"
"W-why?" I asked curiously. "Shouldn't we try opening the lock and go through the door—"
"Just start running, everyone! Like right now!"
Everything was going way too fast that I felt myself falling behind with the situation. Ken-senpai then grabbed Gin-senpai's phone to see what he just took. He also gasped in shock with what he saw.
"You heard Gin, guys, let's bail! Right now!"
With that, fear immediately took over the rest of us as we all began running back home screaming like a bunch of cry babies.
STARDUST HOUSE - DINING AREA
Saturday Morning, 7:25 a.m.
Ever since we got home, took quick showers, changed in to our school uniforms, and then began breakfast, none of us were able to speak a single word. Well, we actually did with the usual good mornings and stuff, but once we sat down on our seats to feast on chocolate porridge (Ken-senpai decided to make something quick so we ended up having chocolate-flavored porridge instead), none of us even dared say a single word about what we just saw earlier at the forest and what we saw on Gin-senpai's phone. We had to calm down and get our heads back to reality before we all die of an anxiety attack. I can see Tai-nii's fingers tapping on to the surface of his place mat while taking his bites of the porridge. I also noticed Yuki tapping a finger also, in addition to one of his legs shaking rapidly while he was feasting on his breakfast.
Me, on the other hand, my neck, or somewhere nearby, maybe my head even, I don't know, trembled like there was no tomorrow. I kept reminding myself and Mom kept reminding me as I grew up that there was absolutely no such thing as ghosts. With God's unconditional, undying love for us, we will always be protected from any harm. Maybe I should have carried my rosary with me, even though I only prayed the rosary once in my life, right when I was attending Sunday school. But anyway, what we saw on Gin-senpai's photo of the gate really shocked us.
If Gin-senpai has the ability to see dead people, how come now we got to see a real-life ghost right in his phone? Well, not real-life since it's already dead, but still. How on earth that we're able to see a ghost now? The ghost was that of a young girl, dressed in white. Of course she was dressed in white, I mean she's dead for one thing. White is not the color of purity or angelic here in general Japanese beliefs, mind you. White symbolizes death, as in oppose to black symbolizing death in Western culture. She wore a white kimono and the facial expression on her face, although very faint, looked like she was about to cry, or scared. Still, we were more scared at her sudden appearance on Gin-senpai's camera phone than she was seeing us stumbling upon the gates. But then again, why am I terrified at this point? I mean, these gates are still within Stardust House grounds and the name indicating those gates had our family name there.
At this point, it was time for me to break the silence and lay everything out to Dad. He didn't seem phased at the unusual silence being brought throughout the house since we returned from our morning jog. Time to make some noise.
"Dad," I called out, placing my spoon down on the side of my bowl.
Dad gazed up and turned his head towards me. "Yes, Kairi?"
"Dad. Quick question, quick answer."
"Alright then. What is your quick question?" He then took his mug of green tea and began to sip it.
I turned to Tai-nii and Yuki at first. Both of them gave me a nod. I turned back to Dad straight in the eye. "Kouta, Kyosuke, and Kirie Irie. Who are they?"
And with that alone, Dad accidentally spat a bit of his green tea from his mouth, obviously hitting a nerve somewhere inside of him. He grabbed his napkin quickly and wiped his mouth and the little mess he made. "Where on earth did you hear those names, Kairi?"
I knew it. Even Tai-nii and Yuki knew it. Dad knew something about those three Irie people we saw on that tree trunk. Tai-nii decided to take over from here and told him the entire story on how we found those names carved on a random tree trunk that Gin-senpai happened to find with just one quickly look, thanks to his unsealed super powers. Even Gin-senpai also showed Dad the photo that had that girl ghost standing behind the gates looking straight directly at us.
Dad sighed and dropped his head. "Let me give you a short running. Grandpa Kuze will be visiting us tomorrow. I'm not even allowed to tell any one of you about those three names. Grandpa Kuze, my father in other words, forbade me and the rest of the kids and even Grandpa Kenjiro, my grandfather, also forbade Grandpa Kuze from telling his kids in the first place. It wasn't until Grandpa Kenjiro died that my father decided to break the silence and tell us about them."
Yuki then opened up and confessed that he already knew who they were, thanks to his father, Kyokushin Karate sensei Kenzo Irie. He asked Dad for forgiveness, however he only confessed that he knew that those three were Great-Grandpa Kenjiro's older siblings and that the oldest, Kouta Irie, should have been the true beneficiary of Stardust House and the entire estate, but instead the entire Irie fortune, assets, and properties were inherited towards Great-Grandpa Kenjiro, the youngest of all four, instead.
"There was a major scandal, or rather a very heavy scar within the Irie Family that involved those three… so disturbing that the incident involving those three siblings can potentially damage the reputation and dignity of the entire family, even for many generations to come. I'll tell you what I know later when you kids get home from school. It's been over a century already, so I believe it's safe for me to tell you about it." He then turned to Gin, right after Gin-senpai explained himself and his relations to the Utsunomiya Shrine. "I already informed your grandfather about the expiration of the ofuda at those gates you guys stumbled, Gin-kun. That's why Grandpa Kuze will be visiting tomorrow. Your grandfather will be with him."
Gin-senpai nodded. "So, all this time, it's my family's shrine that's responsible for those ofuda protection on those gates, Kaichou? Man, what a small world this is! Ken and I move in here as new tenants and all this time even I have close connections to this family, well not this family, but a piece of the property within Stardust House grounds? That's crazy!"
"Whoa," Ken said, "Gin, maybe having your wooden bead bracelet broken must be destiny." Gin immediately dropped his head, sighing with worry.
"Look," Dad said, standing up from his seat. "You kids are running late for school. Since all of you are free the entire day after your half day in school, we have all day to talk about Grandpa Kenjiro's family. I will be working from home today so we've got all day to get to learn more about the house we're living in now and that other piece of property within the borders of this estate. Alright?"
We didn't have a choice after all. We can't skip today's mandatory school day on a Saturday. At least it's a half day. We're only attending school to see the results of the final exam and have a homeroom meeting with our homeroom classes regarding the Foundation Day Festival which was to occur Saturday next week.
We all cleaned up our mess, and with Sara-san already there to clean up the kitchen area and our dishes, we made our way out to school. Jun, Ken, Gin, and me get to ride the family limos with the Starduster Studs and Mirai this time, and will be using the same lame excuse of "We just happened to pass them by on foot so we just gave them a ride."
MOMIJI ACADEMY - 1st Floor Hallway
Saturday Morning, 7:35 a.m.
Mio Orihime, Chie Kondo, Tomi Sakuraba, and Kotono Ayase dashed right near the entrance where Jun and I just entered the building. All four of them had happy smiles on their faces as if they had just seen their favorite celebrity pass them by. I thought they had plans to go hang out later today or something like that, however they were required to stay at the dorms today and the rest of next week to clean up their things and move out of the dorms for the summer vacation. Apparently, they got excited and congratulated me regarding the final exam results.
"What? What's with all the giggles and shrieks and all that?" I asked curiously.
"Congratulations, Kairi!" Mio giggled happily, then giving me an embrace. "You're second place among the 10th Grade ranks! That second spot is all you!"
"Damn girl!" Kotono laughed. "I gotta say this— you go girl!"
My eyes widened in shock. "A-are you sure? You're not messing with me, are you?"
"Go take a look, Kairi, duh!" Chie giggled, nudging me on the side. Jun also gave me a hug from the side.
"You did it, Kairi! You remained in second place with no one else sharing that same spot with you!"
"We all expected that you'd remain at least the top five, Kairi, and we were right!" Tomi made her remark.
"So that means you and I rule 10th Grade then, ne Mio!" I snickered, nudging the short diminutive glasses girl on the side. "Damn, 10th Grade Momiji Academy girls rule baby!"
Mio instead gave me a soft chuckle. "Well, I don't know about ruling the entire 10th Grade, Kairi, but it's now fact that you are one of the rulers of this year's 10th Grade class academically, at least, starting this summer and this fall season."
"Oi, what's with that humble reaction, Mio," I wondered curiously. "Shouldn't you feel all that power and glory for being first?"
"Kairi," Mio then patted me on the shoulder. "Why don't we look at the results board, shall we?"
The girls escorted Jun and me to the final exam results board, where there are other students already lined up and crowding around looking for their names and their scores. Jun and I were able to sneak through and then found the list from the bottom twenty…
SPRING TRIMESTER FINAL EXAM RESULTS: First Year (10th Grade) Level
(Max Score: 1000)
#15 Kondo, Chie (1-A) 957
#16 Sakuraba, Tomi (1-A) 950
#17 Tenjou, Shunta (1-A) 946
#18 Shinoda, Takeru (1-A) 940
#19 Doumoto, Nobuyuki (1-A) 935
#20 Himemiya, Kotaro (1-A) 927
My eyes opened wide when I immediately saw Himemiya's name at the twentieth spot. I remembered the whole strange deal that Himemiya had with Mio three weeks ago regarding assistance in helping him to study for the final exams with a goal of making it at the Top 20 of the Top 50 for the end of the trimester's final exams. His political and prolific family background really pressured him in to keeping up with the prestige of being a part of that family that his parents threatened that they would send him to some all-boys international boarding school should he fail to make it to the Top 20, not to mention yanking him off from StarPros and end his teen idol career. As much as I think that Himemiya is much of an idiot as Shunta is, I somehow felt relieved that Himemiya wouldn't be going anywhere this summer after all.
"Ne, Himemiya-kun made it to the Top 20!" Jun chuckled and then nudged Mio. "He seriously owes you big time!"
"He hasn't introduced me to Ren Tsubasa yet," Mio snickered, crossing her arms. "Ah well, it was worth the sacrifice!"
I raised an eyebrow, having this suspicion that she may have lost her first spot because she devoted so much time in to tutoring Himemiya for the exams last week when he and the rest of the idols came back home from their intense workshop training. Though he also had some tutoring help from Kaito during their workshop period, they didn't have enough time to actually study for the other subjects as well. I wondered if that may be the reason why Mio seemed calm when I told her about girls ruling the entire 10th Grade.
"Okay then. Let's look at the rest of the list…"
SPRING TRIMESTER FINAL EXAM RESULTS: First Year (10th Grade) Level
(Max Score: 1000)
#3 Hara, Hidetoshi (1-A) 985
#4 Orihime, Mio (1-A) 984
#5 Matsuzaka, Dori (1-A) 982
#6 Irie, Yukinojou (1-A) 980
#7 Takakage, Jun (1-A) 978
#8 Doumoto, Hokuto (1-A) 976
#9 Moon, Kirby (1-A) 974
#10 Hasegawa, Toru (1-A) 973
#11 Ayase, Kotono (1-A) 970
#12 Kodaka, Arata (1-A) 968
#13 Bunchin, Momoko (1-B) 966
#14 Date, Karen (1-B) 964
All of the baseball boys in 1-A made it to the Top 20. Our 1-B friends and the girlfriends of our homeboys, Momo-chan and Karen, became the top two of their homeroom class to make it in the Top 20. Jun was still in seventh place just like at the last midterms. Yuki actually got himself placed in the Top 20, let alone the Top 50, which is what 1-A is required to get in to prevent ourselves from attending summer school this coming season.
I realized that there were some familiar names missing but at this point I couldn't determine which those names I haven't seen in the list yet. I'll look at the ones under Himemiya later and then look forward to the Top 2 of the entire 10th Grade results. Since the girls already told me that I'm a stand-alone second place, the new first placer of the end of the Spring Semester must be…
SPRING TRIMESTER FINAL EXAM RESULTS: First Year (10th Grade) Level
(Max Score: 1000)
#1 Ichinose, Kaito (1-A) 998
#2 Irie, Kairi (1-A) 992
What the…? At the sight of Kaito's name all the way at the top of the list, I felt a major typhoon about to head to the clouds of my brain. As much as I hate the sound of the crackling thunder, I can already feel my brain being electrocuted for such utter failure. Still, second place is a very good, comfortable spot to be an academic monarch of the entire 10th Grade, but goodness gracious— Kaito at the top spot? Something's wrong here…
"Oh wow!" Jun gasped and then nudged me on the side. "No wonder the fangirls outside the building were going all loud and crazy, calling out Kaito's name here and there. It's because StarPros' hottest teen idol has taken over 10th Grade! But I think it's destiny— you and Kaito are like the King and Queen of the entire 10th Grade class now!"
"Ha…?" Stunned. My feet are stunned. My legs are already numb. I think I couldn't move my entire body now because my body decided not to move anymore.
The eff, I thought. As much as I'm in love with Kaito, I didn't exactly have him in mind when it came to dominating the entire 10th Grade. Academically, that is. I hoped it would be one of my close gal pals, like Jun, heck, even Mio herself. But she sacrificed her study time to help out Himemiya to make it in the Top 20 and everything else. I worked my ass off so much through these exams, most especially in math, which I have to thank Ken and Gin for making studying math a whole lot easier for Jun and me. How on earth can Kaito have a near perfect score compared to his scores back in the midterms? First I need to find out what the hell is up with those three forgotten Iries from the forest, that whole freaky gate and all that, and now I need to uncover Kaito's secret in to almost passing this trimester's final exam.
That sighing alone already hit a nerve. I then slowly lifted my head to see Kaito already looking directly down at me. What can I say? He stood about 6'0" compared to my 5'2" and it looked like he probably just got another growth spurt and grew a few more inches taller. In this current position somehow I felt like I was already shrinking down to the ground.
"Wow. Impressive results. It must be destiny."
"Ichinose-kun, just because you pushed Mio down form first to fourth, that don't mean you gotta start gettin' all cocky now!" I quickly answered him.
"Oh I wasn't talking about you and me taking the top two of the Top 250, Kairi. I was talking about how all 32 of us in 1-A made it to the Top 50. Inou-kun got the lowest scores at rank number forty-five. We won't have to go to summer school this year!"
Top 250? Oh yeah that's right. I forgot about the other 200 or so students who are off-campus online distance learning students. I forgot that the school doesn't post the scores of off-campus students on the results board. There was no point anyway since they can't make it to campus just so they can look at their scores.
I dropped my head towards the floor, giving out a deeper lowly sigh. "Almost there… just… almost there… Eight more points… just eight more stinkin' points…"
"It's only the beginning, Kairi. You still got fall and winter to get to the top spot."
"How come you're still calm even after you finally got first place?" I asked him curiously. Okay, I admit now that I don't exactly know the type of person Kaito is as a student since this was the first time ever in my life that I've known him that we ended up in the same homeroom class.
"Because it's only the first final exam at high school level, Kairi. I think the best time to celebrate is when you reach Rank #1 prior to graduation from high school, right at the end of 12th Grade."
Right, I thought. He does have a point there. Can't argue with that.
"Ne, congrats, Ichinose-kun!" I heard Mio complimented him while I continued staring at the scoreboard.
Six points difference between Kaito and me? Come on, maybe I'm a bit cocky when it comes to academics, I mean I was Valedictorian at my old middle school back at Nijibei Village and all but come on. A teen idol who's got so much plenty on his shoulders actually becoming number one among the entire Momiji Academy 10th Grade class? Unbelievable.
"Kairi, Jun, everyone, let's head to class right now." I turned my head to see Dori, class rep Hara, and the rest of the baseball boys passing by. They were carrying their baseball duffel bags when they arrived, with some of the uniforms of the other dudes weren't well-fixed as it should be and others, like Hokuto Doumoto, still had their hair wet, possibly from taking a shower. Judging by their appearances now obviously they just finished their early morning baseball training and just got back from the locker rooms.
"You're still in fifth place, Dori," I said to him, recalling his previous ranking during the midterms the last time.
Dori shrugged his shoulders. Right then I realized that Dori lost weight. He didn't look as big and stout as he used to when we were kids and even before school started. High school baseball sure must have a lot of hard work and physical drills for him to lose so much weight like that. He looked more like a big dude who often went to gym than a big dude who often stuff himself with whatever delicious grub he would see twenty-four hours a day. Good for him though.
"Still in the Top 20, so I'm proud that I was able to maintain my top spot," Dori simply said. He then turned to Kaito and congratulated him then. He then turned to me with a grin. "I told you before, Kairi, Kaito here was our Valedictorian back in our middle school last year. I had high expectations that one of these days he'll take the top spot."
Kaito patted Dori on the shoulder, grinning. "Well, I guess I studied a lot harder this time because we were in that intense workshop training that we really had to use whatever time we had then to study big time. Of course, I didn't realize that I studied way too hard that I got myself the top spot. But I'm sure everyone else also studied hard too, so everyone should be proud that they survived. There's always fall and winter, remember."
"Heh, best part of all," Hara said with a smirk on his face, "All the 10th Grade baseball players— that would be us— made it up in the Top 50. That would mean that we'd still be able to remain on the team until the end of the year and have high chances that we would earn starting positions in our future games."
"Man," Toru "Crying Curveballs" Hasegawa said, "baseball is very active during the summer at all levels. It's the best time of the year for everyone to come out to play or watch as many baseball games as they can. As for us, even if it's summer break for almost everyone else, summer is the heavy season for baseball, especially high school baseball. We'd spend majority of our summer at baseball camp and continuing through baseball tournament games than spend majority of our summer slacking off or going out of town with family friends. Still, I look forward to what's in store for the Maple Leaves baseball team this summer."
"Good for you guys," I said. "For sure when you guys have home games, we're gonna watch for sure!"
"Right!" Hara exclaimed and then gazed at his watch. "Let's head to class now. Tachibana-sensei will be arriving soon."
Before we headed out, the two top 1-B girls (and our good friends, of course), Momo-chan and Karen Date, waved right at us once they reached the board. They congratulated Kaito and the rest of the 1-A for making it all to the Top 50.
"As expected, like Dori said," Momo-chan giggled, patting Kaito on the shoulder. "He knew you would make it all the way to the number one spot one of these days, so congrats!"
Kaito gave a humble grin. "Thanks, Momo-chan. You still remained in the Top 20, so even if you fell a few places down, you're still there."
"All of the smartest kids in 10th Grade are all in 1-A now, so it's expected that 1-A students will conquer the Top 10, at least. Keep it up, Ichinose-kun."
"Same to you, Momo-chan." He patted Dori on the shoulder. "You and Dori really are suited for each other. You guys know how to seriously take care of each other. Plus you're both in the baseball team, well with you as manager, of course. You've been taking care of our swingin' Maple Leaf boys very well."
"Thanks," Momo-chan grinned, then placing her arm around her boyfriend Dori's arm. "The real season starts next weekend against Soraten Academy, home game right here at our grounds. They're from Kanagawa somewhere, I don't know, but I've done some research and they're one of the top teams in their prefecture. This would be the first time in history that the Maple Leaves will be facing them, so it should be exciting."
Next week, huh? I haven't been to one of their games for quite awhile now. This should be fun to watch.
"We'll definitely gonna watch!" I cheered happily. "This is why we gotta raise as much money as we can for our swinging boys here. We can't let Soraten Academy or any one of those elite high schools know how much underfunded our baseball team is. Why is it that no one in this school takes our baseball boys seriously?"
Dori then hushed me with a grin. "Don't worry about that, we are gaining some real deal fans here. Of course, they're mostly from 1-C to 1-F, but that's cool. It's hard to gain fans from our own homeroom class because most of us are athletes of other sports teams too."
"I'm your fan!" I raised my hand, calling out my confidence.
Jun also raised her hand. "M-me too! Although I'm still kinda unfamiliar with most of the mechanics of baseball yet."
Right from out of the blue, Himemiya interrupted, leaning his arm right on to Kaito's shoulder. "You slugger boys and pitcher boys be lookin' really hot lately! I see that you've been working out a lot here!"
"It's high school baseball, Himemiya," Hara said, crossing his arms. "It's a lot more intense than middle school baseball. Lots of conditioning, strength building, endurance training, agility training, it ain't just about if you can hit the ball or catch the ball or throw pitches guaranteed to be missed by batters. Plus we do a lot of mental training too. If you can see from the final exam results, most of the guys who made it in the Top 50 are athletes— Top 20 are us baseball players!"
We simply exchanged hi-fives together. Right then, Himemiya stepped up and then stood right next to Mio. Looks like he was about to thank her for helping him get to the Top 20.
"Thanks for everything, Orihime," he said, flashing that happy grin of his. "I got #20 rank at the final exams! You saved my life!"
At the expense of Mio falling down to fourth place…. Sigh. I wonder how future Valedictorian Mio Orihime must be thinking right now?
"I'm glad I was able to… Himemiya-kun," Mio answered, also returning that smile. Hm, I thought she hated Himemiya's guts? Something must have happened right there.
"Man, if I got all epic fail at the final exams like the midterms last time, then today would've been my last day here and then I'd become miserable at some elite boys school and no girls surrounding me for the rest of my life… you know how horrible that would've been?" Jeez, I thought. And here I thought he was going to say something thoughtful and nice to her after all the hard work she's done for him— at the cost of her ranking. "And worst of all, my folks are gonna yank me out from StarPros and force myself to retire early from being an idol. I'll disappear from the eyes of today's youth forever!"
Okay Mio, here's your chance to school the dude and put him in his place!
But instead, she just shook her head. "I… also didn't want you to end up in some all-boys school, Himemiya-kun. It… School wouldn't be fun without you either."
Huh? What the hell did you eat this morning, Mio? What happened to that tough as nails Mio Orihime that I knew from before?
"Ah! Nah, I'm not that much the life of the party, heh heh…" He gently scratched his head while laughing nervously. "Say, Orihime. I was wondering… are you free tomorrow?"
Eh? What's this…?
"Hm? Actually I have to stay at the dorms to clean up. My parents are picking me up tomorrow and I'll be heading home."
Although the way she said that, it looks like she didn't seem so enthusiastic about it. Even Himemiya didn't look so happy either.
"Aw, so you won't be here for Foundation Day next week?"
Mio then chuckled and then patted him on the shoulder. "Himemiya-kun, silly! You haven't given me a chance to explain to you yet!"
"Oh? There's more?"
"I'm originally from Saitama, which is really far from here, but my parents found a new house here in Hinasaki City. They're both lawyers and they recently joined this very high-profile law firm in Tokyo and it's only about a twenty-minute train ride from Hinasaki City, which was why they had me enroll here so they can easily come and visit me whenever needed on the way home to Saitama. They used to take the long train and it always took them over an hour just to get to work, but now with the new house in Hinasaki City, I can live with them again."
"Whoa! That's awesome, Orihime! Congrats on the new house!"
"They started moving in two weeks ago. I wanted to help with the move but they wanted me to stay here and focus on the final exams. Even though I dropped to fourth place, it's not much of a big deal with my parents. They were the ones who told me all the time that regardless of how much I remain in first place, there's always going to be someone else who is better than I am. As of the final exams, that person better than me is none other than Ichinose-kun."
"Oh… your family's moving here? That means you're not gonna live in the dorms anymore." She nodded to confirm.
"Kotono-chan is my roomie and I love hanging out with her, sharing a bedroom with her. But now that I'm not going to stay in the dorms anymore when we come back in the fall, Kotono-chan would be alone and I feel really sad…"
Right then, Kotono joined them and patted Mio on the shoulder. "Girl, don't be sad about it. You know I'm a big girl now, heh. We're still gonna see each other anyway. It's been real awesome being your roomie, girl."
"But… I'm an only child and I got no one else to hang out with when I'm at home…" Mio frowned sadly. Kotono then gave her a hug.
"Don't make this hard on your parents. You know we got texting and chatting and the internet and the phone to communicate you know?"
We all gave our congratulations to Mio for the new house. Now we even get a chance to visit her at her new home during the summer too.
"Hee hee," Mio giggled, "I'm gonna be like Kairi and Jun then. I'll be riding my bike from home to school and back when we get back in the fall! There's like four of your bikers already. Hope you girls don't mind having a fifth biker with you!"
That's right, I thought. There's four of us now. Ken and Gin also ride their bikes along with Jun and me when we get to school, but lately we've been riding the family limo too because Dad and Taisuke didn't want us to ride the bike all the time or… whatever dumb reason they have. Oh well, as long as we get there and that I didn't have to walk back home.
"Always happy to have a fellow biker along!" I said, nudging little Mio on the side.
"I always knew I was going to lose my first ranking in th exams. I was also thinking about the move to the new house. I haven't even seen how our new house looks like but I heard it's really big and spacious. I don't know why they would need such a roomy house when there's only the three of us, you know?"
Himemiya then snapped his fingers. "Oi, Orihime, you said both of your parents are lawyers?"
"That's what I said. Why?"
"What firm are we talking about here?"
"I believe it's called Shibuya Towers International Law Offices. My parents' expertise are towards media and internet laws. My father said that they recently fired two of their media law-specialized lawyers for fraud. They liked their resumes so both of them were hired."
Right at that point, Himemiya suddenly twitched. "No way… are you serious?"
"My parents own that law firm…"
You know, as the saying goes, the world is small. With such a turnaround and such a coincidence such as this, the world had just gotten a whole lot smaller. Who would have thought… Mio and Himemiya? In the beginning, Mio was the authority and Himemiya was the troublemaker. But now…?
"That means… your parents are… my parents' bosses…" Mio muttered in surprise.
Himemiya then scratched his head, then shrugged. "Seems so."
Right then, the girl dropped her head, looking a whole lot more guilty than she used to be. "Oh my god… and I piled up all those demerits against you for public flirting… and all other petty crimes…"
He then scratched his head and tried to pat her on the shoulder. "No no no, don't be like that, Orihime, all of them were my fault anyway. Why are you all looking all guilty all of a sudden?"
"Please, Himemiya, don't tell your parents about me! They might fire my parents for doing such a petty thing!" Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, straight-faced Mio suddenly threw herself on to Himemiya in panic.
"Oi… oi… calm down, Orihime! Why the hell am I gonna tell my parents about you like that? They hate my guts anyway—"
Right, I heard Hara said. Time was running fast and the bell was about to ring. Let's head to the classroom right now.
SPRING TRIMESTER FINAL EXAM RESULTS: Second Year (11th Grade) Level
(Max Score: 1000)
#1 Amano, Ryohei (2-A) 1000
#2 Clark, Kenichi (2-A) 997
#3 Irie, Taisuke (2-A) 994
#4 Utsunomiya, Gin (2-A) 990
#5 Ko, Hyung Sung (2-A) 987
#6 Nomiya, Ki Hyeon (2-A) 985
#7 Fujii, Ema (2-A) 980
#8 Hanakouji, Mirai (2-A) 976
#9 Kaname, Kan (2-A) 970
#10 Fujisawa, Mayumi (2-A) 968
"Eh?" Gin frowned, crossing his arms after spotting his name and the names of his other friends at the 11th Grade final exam results board. He then scratched his head in curiosity while Ken, Taisuke, and Mirai peered right over Gin's shoulder to look at the board themselves.
"Well…" Ken blinked his eyes while gazing at the results. "This is… how should I put this…?"
"Nothing changed," Mirai sighed deeply, dropping her head. "The rankings of the Top 10 from the last midterm is exactly the same as today in the final exams…"
"Yeah," Taisuke sighed, patting his girlfriend on the shoulder. "The only difference this time is that Ryohei has the perfect score compared to his 497 in the midterms…"
"Well, just look at the bright side, guys. The Top 10 this time all belong to the same homeroom class, so we shouldn't be sad, ne?" Ken shrugged his shoulders. "And I already observed President Amano's study habits in the classroom since first day. I mean we do sit next to each other after all. It was expected for President Amano to be at the first ranking again."
"But President Amano was with us on our study group, right? I'm still wondering how he can still be at the top when we were all on the same page when we studied together," Gin frowned and sighed.
"Think about it though, Gin," Ken continued, patting his friend on the shoulder. "I already scanned through the rest of the board. All of 2-A made it in the Top 50. At least we won't have to go to summer school, ne?"
Just as they continued to gaze at the board, a familiar voice passed by and greeted. "Good morning, everyone!"
"President!" The four Stardust House teens snapped their heads to see their fellow classmate and current top ranker, the school's student body president Ryohei Amano greeted with a smile on his face.
"Congrats on making it to the Top 50! No summer school for us!" Ryohei cheered, applauding all at once. "It's almost time for the bell to ring so let's head to class now. We got the Foundation Day Festival to plan. Let's go!" He then waved and then made his way ahead towards Classroom 2-A.
Mirai shrugged her shoulders and turned to her boyfriend. "I guess Ryohei already knows he's first again in our entire 11th Grade class."
"He's the student body president, Mirai, of course he already knows," Taisuke sighed. He then took Mirai by the hand and were about to head to the classroom. He turned his head towards Ken and Gin. "You guys coming or what?"
"We're coming, Taisuke," Gin nodded. Ken followed him from behind as the four made their way to the classroom.
On the way, Ken felt his mobile phone vibrating in his pocket. He reached for it and read the incoming text message that just came.
FROM: Clark, Mallory
TO: Clark, Ken
SUBJECT: Final Exams
I saw Sora Kazamatsuri's name on the board and he stands at second ranking in our final exam results for the entire 10th Grade! Bro, seriously, you need to share me a secret to your studying methods. I'm still in third place, what on earth is that all about? And what makes matters worse? Vyn's got the #1 rank again, just like in our last midterms. I know I'm a whole lot smarter and a lot more mature than that ghetto dimwit but how on earth can he beat me in academics? Grr…
But here's the weird part though, Bro. I didn't see Ren Tsubasa's name in the final exam results— or maybe because I'm having bad eyesight as of late. But then, I saw Ren Tsubasa in the flesh looking at the results. The way he reacted to the results board as if he was there and he just gave a slight fist pump and he just walked off. I wanted to say hi to him, but he was bombarded with other girls and I was too shy to just go up to him, not even a hello. He just ignored them and walked off without a word.
But Sora's name is there. I seriously gotta text Sora about his results. Oh I just wish he'd show up in the flesh…
Ken sighed, locked his phone and placed it back in his pocket. Gin became curious at what just happened with his phone. "So Ken, what's up?"
"My sister texted me," Ken shrugged his shoulders. "She got third place in the standings."
"Hey that's awesome! Congrats to her!"
"Vyn got first place…"
Gin's eyes widened. "Wait… we're talking about that taller light-skinned dude brother of yours who don't speak proper English? Well he speaks English but I couldn't even understand a single word he was saying!"
"You'll get used to it, Gin, once the twins move in to Stardust House next week."
"So, was she able to see her beloved Kazamatsuri-kun?"
"She saw his name being second place. She said she didn't see Ren Tsubasa's name there, but Ren Tsubasa himself was there in the flesh. He reacted as if he was actually in the list and looked content with what he saw. I don't know, that's what the text said."
Gin gasped and snapped his fingers. "Maybe Ren Tsubasa goes by an alias or something! You know how some stars are—"
"Ren Tsubasa isn't his real name, guys." Right then, the starlet couple, Taisuke and Mirai, joined in their short conversation.
"See, I knew it, Ken!" Gin exclaimed happily. "That's gotta be the only explanation why Ren Tsubasa's name wouldn't be in the official school list, ne?"
"Maybe Mallory forgot about that part about showbiz monikers," Ken answered. "Do any of you two know his real name?"
Both Taisuke and Mirai shook their heads. "No, sorry, Ken," Mirai said, shrugging her shoulders.
"He may be a new contract artist for StarPros now but we still have yet to get to know him more," Taisuke said. "We will eventually, once he finally settles in to Stardust House. For sure."
"Right," Ken nodded. "For sure."
MOMIJI ACADEMY - Classroom 1-A
"Congratulations, 1-A! Give yourselves a pat on the shoulders for all your hard-earned work during the cram period for final exams. You all deserved it. You just saved yourselves— and me— from requiring to attend summer school. Let's give ourselves a hand, shall we?" Tachibana-sensei began her usual ecstatic voice as we applauded enthusiastically. Yes, I thought. No summer school dammit. Summer was meant to relax, have fun, and discover new things that you can show off to the rest of the class in the fall!
Still, I'm shocked at two things. Kaito's mysterious rise up the ranks was one thing. The other was that creepy girl ghost we saw at those creepy-looking gates we stumbled upon through Gin's cellphone camera. Most of all, the one that was currently running in my mind right now was the latter. Definitely the latter.
I have to admit that I was looking forward in to the upcoming Foundation Day Festival. By choice, our goal is to raise money for the Maple Leaves baseball team. So far at the beginning of this year became the school's most well-loved and respected athletics team in the history of Momiji Academy sports. Of course, I thought, I'd do anything to participate in the festival all for the love of baseball. Anything! Just anything for baseball and our boys and…
"… it's already been confirmed from yesterday's student council meeting that we, Homeroom 1-A, will be sponsoring a kissing booth to raise money for the baseball team."
Class rep Hara, you had just ruin my train of thought. I love baseball and I love you guys and I know I would do anything to raise money in the name of baseball. Anything, except kissing random people. Seriously, is that even legal in a high school setting?
Well, let me take that back. Maybe, even if it's just for the name and love baseball, that I would finally get my first kiss. That is, my first kiss with a certain handsome hot boy sitting right next to me; the top ranker of this spring's final exams; the top male teen idol of all of the StarPros young talent. The beautifully handsome, the incredibly well-built, the one with the sexy manly voice, the one with the sparkling indigo eyes and that charming smile. Kaito Ichinose, how can I…
"Here's how it's gonna work. Since most of the peeps in this class are guys, it's going to be the guys— volunteers, of course— who will be doing the kissing. The girls can do the attendance check, the booth maintenance, the money collecting and keeping the customers' line in order before they step in to the booth to receive their kiss. And since most of us guys are the 10th Grade's hottest, most popular guys who got showbiz and athletic stardom right on their belts, it's for sure we're going to generate a lot of money."
I sighed in relief knowing that we girls didn't have to get involved in the whole kissing bit. I can do the money collecting or keeping the customers' line in order or something. Any of them would be suitable for me.
Hm, I wonder if 1-A girls are allowed to pay and receive their kisses too? This was my chance to ask this question. After all, I just had to ask this question because aside from feeling grossed out from kissing random dudes, there is only one particular boy whom I would really share my gentle, fresh, and innocent lips to. That particular boy, after all, is already sitting at my left side, right next to the window.
Now that I thought of it, what would happen if I actually did get a chance to kiss him? Or the other way around? Oh whatever, just thinking about it somehow is already making me feel giddy inside. Maybe we would all be shy and then get all nervous and then he would make everything better and he makes the first move and… and… and…
Okay Kairi, calm down. Your imagination is running wild now. You're only kissing just because you love baseball. That would mean that he would only kiss you because he loves baseball. Oh damn, why did you have to be on the way, baseball? We're practically kissing for baseball! Sigh.
Just as I was about to raise my hand, Mio already beat me to it. "Class rep, I have a question."
"And your question is, Orihime?"
"Can we also participate? I mean, what I mean to say is… I think it's a bit… unfair… that all the other girls including non-Momiji Academy girls are able to pay to get their kisses from their favorite hot guy, but us 1-A girls we don't get a chance?"
Somehow, that question made the rest of the male horde of 1-A react like their testosterone was going overload. In particular, why Himemiya, of course!
"Why the question, Orihime? Hey if you think girls being the only customers at our kissing booth is unfair, does that mean you want to kiss other guys from other classes too?" Himemiya flashed a huge grin on his face.
"I didn't mean that, Himemiya, don't get so cocky!" Mio denied and snapped her head away from him.
"Psh, hahahahahaha!" Right then, Shinoda burst out in to laughter. "Like what kind of idiot would wanna kiss you 1-A girls? Most of the cute and hot girls are from other homeroom classes while all we have here are a bunch of leftovers—" I just had to, seriously. I just had to throw a piece of eraser right at his head. I just had to. I'm so sorry Tachibana-sensei. "Ow! The hell was that for, Kairi?"
"Dude, there may be other guys who'd want to kiss us too, you know! I mean seriously, just because we don't dig the whole cute girl-sexy girl bit that don't mean we got no appeal towards other dudes!" I protested immediately. "We're in a school classroom, Shinoda, not a modeling agency!"
Kotono also brought in her two cents. "This is why a lot of girls who have common sense fall for older, more mature guys because most teenage guys are a bunch of chauvinistic dweebs!" And with that, she made an "L" gesture with her fingers just like what you see in "Glee."
Once again, Tachibana-sensei stopped with all the unnecessary fights and forced the meeting to go back on subject once more. But before that, Jun raised her arm to get the teacher's attention. She merely asked permission if she can go to the restroom. Knowing how caring and loving Tachibana-sensei is to us girls, of course she would give her permission. Besides, it's not like we have class. This is a homeroom meeting regarding preparations for the festival next week.
"I just need to go to the bathroom really bad. I'll be back, Kairi," Jun whispered to me. I simply smiled and watched her exit the door.
Discussions regarding the tickets and how the money will be raised continued on, with a lot of the guys giving out ideas regarding the prices for those tickets. 500 yen for one white ticket that would only have one little one second or less kiss. 1000 yen for one yellow ticket for a kiss that would last for about thirty seconds. 2000 yen for one green ticket for a kiss that would last about a minute. 5000 yen for one red ticket for a kiss that would last about two to three minutes. You can purchase more than one ticket, however one ticket equals one person to kiss. If you have two tickets, you will be kissing two different people. In addition, each ticket has a number, in which the person who has the tickets will have to wait through a raffle to have that number called. In short, just because you buy one ticket, it doesn't guarantee you that you will be having your kiss. Your number has to be called through a raffle and whoever is the one who will be drawing the ticket from the raffle box will be the one that person will be kissing.
"Here's an example. Say Kairi here buys a bunch of red tickets…" I immediately heard my name coming from class rep Hara's mouth?
"The eff? Why are you using my name as an example, Hara?" I automatically gave out my complaint. "Why not just use 'Person A' or 'Person B'?"
"It's only an example, Kairi," Hara answered with a soft sigh. "Besides, it's easier for me to explain with actual names than with ust 'Person A' or 'Person B'."
"How come I have a bunch of red tickets instead of white tickets? I ain't that rich, you know?" I have a habit of making the smallest things a huge deals from out of the blue. I know it's wrong, but sometimes I just couldn't help it.
"Kairi, like I said, it's only an example," Hara sighed and lowered his head.
"Please continue on, class rep!" I heard Kaito call out. With that, I decided to keep silent.
I crossed my arms and frowned, while I let him continue on with his explanation. "At that time, it was Kaito's turn to give that special kiss to that special girl whom he will be picking at random at the raffle box…"
I don't know why but with his sudden mention of Kaito's name I found myself blushing all over my face. I quickly placed my hands on to my cheeks, leaning my elbows to the surface of the desk to make sure that no one else would notice.
"… He randomly ends up picking up a red ticket and then he calls out the number that's on that ticket. Right then, Kairi realizes that ticket Kaito was holding matches one of her red tickets in possession. And with that, Kairi becomes the lucky girl whom Kaito would be kissing— in a small room within the booth with a small window where not everyone would be able to see— for three minutes or so because the ticket's color is red…"
Quickly I raised my hand, feeling a whole lot more nervous thinking about this scenario. Sure it's an example, but what if it becomes real when the actual festival day comes? "Yes, Kairi?"
"How come there's a small window in that small room? It's kinda embarrassing to see two people kissing in front of the public, you know—"
"Someone is going to time and monitor you guys, of course. Each customer gets to have a special souvenir photo in exchange for their participation, and of course, the fact that you guys kissed in the name of baseball—"
"What? Picture! Are you frickin' kidding me?" I shrieked, completely stunned again. Luckily everyone else started making commotions— in a rather perverted way. It seemed at this point that majority of the boys looked very ecstatic with this kissing booth of ours.
The eff is all this? Why the hell did we end up hosting a kissing booth? I don't mind some weird cosplaying cafe but why a kissing booth? And this is actually allowed in such a prestigious elite school as Momiji Academy? Good lord! Am I still on earth?
"Whoa, sounds exciting!" And with that, my ears caught Kaito blurting out his words. In fact, I can even hear him chuckle a little bit. "I'm looking forward to this kissing raffle bit. Sounds fun!"
"You actually look forward to this?" I made my statement right at him. "Are you even ashamed? You, kissing random girls just because they pay to get kissed… don't you feel… I dunno, you know…"
"I don't know but I know…?" Kaito turned my head to me and snickered. "Kairi, I don't have a problem kissing random girls. I've kissed random girls on camera and anyway…"
"But those are professional actress girls and idol girls and whatchamacallits— we're dealing with real girls here, Kaito!"
"Well," he began to rub his chin lightly. "I have to admit I am getting a little bored practicing kiss scenes with the same girls all the time, so… why not test my kissing skills on the real girls then?"
"You're insane, Kaito!"
"But I'm kissing for baseball, not for them, remember? When they buy those tickets, they may be thinking about hot good-looking dudes like me, but deep within they actually do care about our awesome baseball boys. Remember, it's their money, ne?"
"Oh God…" I dropped my head and gently slammed it right on the desk, covering my sheer embarrassment after hearing Kaito's interest in this so-called kissing booth.
Dori, who was sitting right in front of me, turned his head towards us and I even felt his hand patting me on the shoulder. "Hokuto's gonna volunteer to be one of the kissers, since he's the hot good-looking stud of the entire baseball team anyway. A lot of those Starduster Studs fangirls think that he and Kodaka Arata-kun here would be two good additions to those Starduster Stud dudes. But anyway, I've committed myself to Momo-chan so I'm not gonna participate— but I still have to help facilitate the booth."
"How can Kaito be so calm and casual about this…" I muttered my words, still with my face buried against my desk.
"He's an idol, Kairi," I heard Dori answer. "He's kissed plenty of girls since we were ballers, remember? He did have his first kiss at age eight—"
I quickly lifted my head and glared right at him. "Don't even say a word about that…"
"Say, Kairi…" Oh boy. What now…?
I lifted my head slowly from my desk and gazed right at Kaito. "What…?"
"If you're so worried, why not buy a ticket? Get yourself a chance with me?"
Eh? Dammit he's teasing me again. How on earth could he ever trap me like this? He knows me way too well.
"Huh? Are you serious? I'm not just gonna go around kissing some dude for money!"
"But you'll be willing to get a kiss for baseball, ne? You really care about Dori and class rep Hara and Hasegawa and the Doumoto Dudes, right?" Right then, the extremely good-looking tall idol boy grinned.
"Um, why are you getting me involved in this, Kaito?" Dori muttered with a soft nervous chuckle.
"I'll help facilitate the booth and collect the money or something but… that's a huge help for me to support Dori and the Maple Leaf ballers… right, Dori?"
"Uh… I guess…?" Dori shrugged his shoulders.
"Buy a red ticket. You'll definitely have a huge chance with me if you do. Not everyone's gonna be going for the red ticket after all…"
"Ha? I don't have 5000 yen to buy just one ticket! I'm poor, remember?" I crossed my arms, rolling my eyes all at once. "I go to their games whenever I have the time anyway!"
"Kaito, if you're one of the kissers I'm sure the entire girl population who would fork up the 5000 yen to make out for three minutes," Dori shrugged again. "It'd be easy money for us and Coach Ogina and the baseball staff and the team would be so happy."
Just as the nonsense conversation was about to continue, from out of the blue, Yuki raised his hand.
"What is it, Yukinojou-kun?" I heard Tachibana-sensei take notice of him.
"I don't feel well. I'm gonna head over to the nurse's office, Tachibana-sensei. I'm having a bit of a headache."
"I'll have someone go with you just in case—"
"I'll be fine, Sensei. Thank you." Yuki sounded rather serious with that. I wonder if our little scare that we had this morning got to him? Hmm…
Jun exited the girls restroom looking refreshed and just recently fixed her hair. She adjusted her eyeglasses to make sure that they were a snug fit. She turned around the right corner to head back to the classroom when she became startled to see Yukinojou already leaning against the adjacent corner with his arms crossed.
"Y-Yukinojou-san!" Jun shrieked, covering her mouth to calm her voice down. "Wh-what are you doing here? Are you alright?"
"Nurse's office, Takakage-san. Please?" Yukinojou responded. Right then, he took her by the hand.
The couple in secret made their way to the infirmary, making sure that there was no one lingering around the area as to risk themselves getting caught. Once they reached the infirmary, Yukinojou sighed in relief. They knew that there would be no nurse or medical staff active on Saturdays and that the office was quite open and free. He closed the door behind him just as they entered.
Jun sat at the edge of the bed while Yukinojou stood right next to the window, gazing right outside. "What's the matter, Yuki? Why did we come here?"
Without hesitation and expectation, he turned immediately at her and kissed her gently and passionately on her lips. Once he released her, she gently placed her fingers on her lips, immensely soaking the tenderness of her lover's kiss while blushing all at once.
"I'm sorry I dragged you here, Jun," he began. "I want to be alone with you."
She smiled happily with a positive outlook in her eyes. "Oh Yuki, you know I've been waiting patiently for our time alone together."
Yuki sighed, leaning against the wall, punching the wall behind him with a closed fist. "I'm a bit nervous about us, Jun, ever since that day we started becoming open to each other… the first time that we kissed, touched each other, exchange sweet and loving words to each other… the first time we made passionate love to each other… all of that, it's still very visible in my mind. It just makes me want to give up everything just so I can always be with you all the time…"
She reached for his cheek, gently caressing it with the tips of her fingers. "Yuki, don't give up your dreams just because of me. You know that once I've become connected with you, there's no turning back. Once I've become connected to you, I just can't bear myself to look at any other guy except you. I'm surrounded with the people I trust the most, like Kairi, and Ken-senpai and Gin-senpai, and of course, the 1-A girls. And of course, there's you and Kaito-kun and the other idol boys and Taisuke-senpai and Mirai-senpai of course. We're like a family living in Stardust House altogether. I finally understood what Mirai-senpai was saying about us becoming more like a family. So, you don't have to worry about me like that. Ne?"
He sat down right next to her and then lowered his head. "I'm taking Aki out to Cafe Gillette right after school. Just the two of us."
"I understand. You two are still together through the eyes of the public after all. And you know how much I trust you, Yuki."
"We'll be talking about how we're going to announce to the public that we've broken up and are already seeing other people in secret. I know it's only about a month that we've started going out as a couple, Jun, but I can't handle keeping our relationship a secret. I know you daunting this must be for you, being a private citizen and everything. But it's a whole lot more daunting for me. I mean I have to spend and pretend to be romantic with some other girl on the set and then other guys have been checking you out back in school when me and the other Starduster Studs aren't around. You may not know it but I've heard from the other guys at 1-A telling us things about the other guys from other classes."
Jun chuckled in slight amusement, then planted a small kiss on his cheek. "I'm happy that you worry about me… and maybe I kind of enjoy it when you get a little jealous sometimes— I don't mean it like that of course— but… well… it's all the more that it makes me feel how much you love me when you act like this. Is… is that a bad thing, Yuki?"
He shook his head confidently. "Maybe I should be more jealous then?"
"No no, I appreciate it but you know, I want you to trust me too, Yuki." With no more words exchanged, the two share another passionate kiss. It had been quite a long time since they shared kisses with real life and such being on the way. Even during the third week of final exam study hall period, the two knew that it was best to put their romance on hold and focus more on what was needed to be done before summer break.
He took her by the hand. "Close your eyes for a bit, Jun. I got something for you."
"For me? What is it?"
"Just close your eyes…" She followed as he commanded. From the side of his pocket is a soft, silk-embroidered pouch. He opened it carefully and brought out a distinctively-woven bracelet with threads of red, blue, and gold. Right then, he tied the ends tightly and snug, making sure that the bracelet is not loose enough to be .
"Okay then, open your eyes now."
She slowly opened her eyes and gasped happily to see the bracelet. "Aww… this is beautiful! I love handmade bracelets and things like this!"
He raised his left wrist and also revealed the same woven bracelet. She threw her arms around him, knowing that the bracelets meant that they truly are an official couple, regardless if the public still hasn't recognized them as one yet.
"Thank you so much, Yuki… I love you!"
In exchange for her words, he planted a kiss on her cheek. They both released each other and he took her hands once more. "During workshop two weeks ago, the famous jewelry designer of the stars, Beri Pomegranate, stopped by, and introduced us her newest collection to be released in her jewelry branches soon, but at the same time she's also experimenting in creating handmade jewelry and accessories. She offered us to make requests to make these handmade bracelets for free, so I requested to Pomegranate-san to make me two of these… one for you, one for me, of course."
"You're so sweet, Yuki. I want to give you something in return too…"
He placed a hand on her soft, creamy cheek. "You've given me plenty, Jun. Just you believing and trusting in me, and of course, loving me, is more than a guy could ask for. Even with just a smile and say things like 'I love you, Yuki,' means a lot to me."
Jun nodded, then rested her head on his broad, strong shoulder. He placed his arm around her to keep her close to him. "It'll be over soon, Jun. I really admire you for your long patience. I feel like I failed against you when it comes to patience… but this will be over soon."
"We don't need to rush things, Yuki."
"I know… I mean to say… me pretending to be some pretty model girl's showbiz boyfriend will be over soon. She and Shunta can be openly free and love each other and I will be free to love you even more, even in the open."
"Ah, I see," she nodded. "You know, I've never seen Shunta together with Kitano-san. Were they also hiding from the public like the way we do?"
He scooted closer and began to caress her hair while her head still remained leaning on his shoulder. "Who knows. Forget them. What matters the most now is you and me. Don't talk about other couples when we're alone…"
"I have a feeling Kairi's looking forward to the Kissing Booth because she'll have a chance to receive that sweet kiss from Kaito, don't you think, Yuki?"
Just as he was about to answer, he found himself rather tongue-tied. "… well, except them. You can talk about those two." He sighed, shaking his head. "Those two have issues they seriously need to get over."
She lifted her head from his shoulder and continued to gaze at him. "What issues?"
"Kairi's issue: she needs to stop playing cool all the time and whatever situation she may be just to hide her insecurities and her jealousy. Kaito's issue: he needs to stop leading her own if he knows how much she likes him…" He crossed his arms, shaking his head at the same time.
"Eh?!" She gasped, covering her mouth. "K-Kaito-kun knows Kairi's feelings for him?"
"Jun! Even if she ain't saying anything almost everybody can tell she likes Kaito just by her actions alone!" He sighed. "Even Uncle Keita knows she's got the hots for him!"
She gasped once more while he hushed her. "Don't worry, Uncle Keita's not worried or anything. Actually, the only thing he's worried about is Kairi not doing anything about it and not say anything about it to him. He's more lenient with Kairi than Aniki is considering he never had a chance to be a father to a daughter— until now, of course."
"Ne, Yuki, I think we should help Kairi somehow. Maybe if she and Kaito kiss at the kissing booth next week, maybe Kaito will also realize how special Kairi is and maybe reciprocate her feelings, ne?"
He frowned, shaking his head in disagreement. "It's not easy, Jun. Kaito's obviously messing around with Kairi and whenever the other Starduster Studs ask him about the whole deal with her, he messes around with their minds too. He even messes with my mind and even Aniki's mind too."
"But why? Why would he do that?" She sighed sadly, looking as if she was about to cry. "I know it's none of my business but… Kairi deserves to be happy with the one she truly loves the most. I mean, don't you think so?"
"Of course I do, but I guess I might as well make this short. Those two 'Kai's have the same issue. They always play things cool when it comes to each other."
"How does Kaito really feel about Kairi? Do you know, Yuki?"
"Kaito is hard to read, Jun. I wish I knew too."
Silence befell the two once more, then moments later, he leaned to her for another passionate kiss, placing one arm around her and then his other hand gently caressing the side of her face. Once the two lovers found their full, tender lips tasting one another, he gently slipped his tongue through and found her own, devouring her right then. She returned the favor, and without expecting it, he slowly dropped his hand from her face and then placed his hot palm on to one of her breasts, gently and tenderly kneading it. She cried a soft squirm in pleasure and did not even hesitate to stop him from doing so.
He was finished indulging her sweet, juicy taste, left her lips, and then traced his lips down her chin and right down her neck. With that, he continued to taste her creamy white skin. She gave out a seductive moan and arched her head back in pleasure.
Just as things were beginning to heat up at the infirmary bed, they heard the door slowly opening from behind them. They heard footsteps closing in. Quickly he released her and began fixing his uniform, as she also did the same fashion from her hair and then to the collar of her top. Once it was too late for the two to escape afterward,, both were startled at the sight of who just entered the nurse's office.
"Eh?" Yuki gasped to see Shunta and his ex-girlfriend, Aki Kitano, appear right at the bed area, holding hands no doubt. "Wh-what are you two doing here?"
"So, you weren't lying when you said you were going to the nurse's office," Aki Kitano answered, crossing her arms and looking suspicious. "Why is Takakage doing here?"
"Leave her out of this, Aki," Yuki retorted. "I waited for her at the girls' restroom and dragged her here to talk. I could ask the same with you and Shunta—"
"Ah!" Shunta gasped and hushed Aki. The he turned to the couple. "Yuki, Jun-chan, did you know, the bell already rung. Homeroom meeting's over. You missed all the good stuff for the kissing booth plans!"
Yuki snapped his head towards the wall clock and gritted his teeth. "Oh crap. Tachibana-sensei's probably pissed at us…"
"Nah, don't worry about it, it's summer break now!" Shunta gave the two the thumbs up. "We just came here because Aki needed tampons or something because she just got her—" Just before as he was to continue, he noticed Jun already glaring at him. "Uh… uh… I didn't mean to say it out loud!" He then quickly turned to Aki and apologized.
"You're so old-fashioned, you know that, Takakage?" Aki then broke in to laughter. "There's nothing to be ashamed about talking about all this stuff. I mean we're becoming adults, after all." She then excused herself from the spot and found the cabinet that contained the tampons.
Yuki stood up from the bed and placed his hands in his pockets. "Well, I'm going on my 'final' date with Aki at Cafe Gillette now."
Jun also stood from the bed and sighed. "Come back home soon, ne? Don't be late. Ken-senpai, Gin-senpai, Kairi, and I will be making chicken pies for dinner. We're gonna have a final lunch meeting of the Singers and Songwriters Club at Tee-Yaki Burgers before summer break."
"Ah!" Shunta gasped. "Tee-Yaki Burgers— isn't that burger joint right across from Cafe Gillette?"
Yuki blinked. "Hey, you're right Shunta." He then turned to Jun and planted a kiss on her forehead. "Don't worry, I'm not gonna be a two-timer or anything. I'll be home early." Right then he quickly moved to her ear and then whispered. "Let's continue this later tonight. I'll sneak in your bedroom when everyone's asleep."
Jun giggled softly and nodded without any words exchanged.
"Well, all the top teen idols at StarPros will be having a luncheon too at Cafe Gillette and…" Shunta then slapped his forehead. "Of course, all of the Starduster Studs and other idols from Momiji Academy will be at Cafe Gillette. Meeting, press conference, end of the spring trimester lunch! The entire Cafe Gillette is reserved for StarPros tonight and it's closed to the public."
Jun chuckled. "You boys are so silly." She then waved at them and made her way to the exit. "I'm gonna go meet Kairi at 1-A. I don't want her to worry about me. See you later at home!"
Right when the sweet country girl left, the two idols turned their heads at each other. Shunta sighed. "You're so lucky to have a girl like Jun-chan, Yuki. I should've said yes when she confessed to me those months ago—"
"Heh," Yuki snickered, shifting his eyes right at him. "Even if you did say yes and started dating it wouldn't last anyway."
"Eh? What makes you so sure about that, Yuki?"
"Spoiled bastards like me would be getting in your way doing all he can to steal your girl away from you. That's why."
"Aw, Yuki, why you gotta be mean like that? I'm sad…"
STARDUST HOUSE - Family Library
We had burgers and all that other good stuff at a local burger joint that I forget the name. There was some kind of a live press conference and luncheon at Cafe Gillette with all the StarPros idols and staff and the media. The entire place was closed to the public so no good coffee or tea to all the regulars there. Even I wasn't even allowed in there even if the cafe owner knew that I'm the StarPros CEO and president's daughter. Ah, the few minor disadvantages of being a private citizen.
For the entire week, Dad also assigned all of us tenants a rather daunting chore: cleaning up the library. What the eff, I thought. Why not hire some professional janitorial services or something to clean up the entire library, I asked him earlier. Dad simply said that Sara-san will be away to spend her entire summer vacation with her family up in Hokkaido and will not return until late August. Regarding the janitorial services he said that there are a lot of rare books and documents stored at the shelves that he couldn't trust stranger hands to touch them. He thought that it would be safer if we the tenants do all the cleaning by themselves.
So, here we are, the four of us non-teen idol tenants, slowly taking out the stacks of books per shelf. We had all the cleaning materials along with the tall ladder. The guys were the ones removing the books from the shelves while Jun and I did the dusting. A little lemon-scented wood cleaning spray here and a there. Of course, we all wore facial masks and bandanas and aprons to protect our noses from all the nasty dust flying all over our faces and on our bodies.
Hattori-san, the family chauffeur, decided to work extra shifts as a temporary butler of the house. Since we don't have any butlers in the first place, plus considering how big this house is, it was wise for someone to supervise the lobby area of the house in case someone rings the doorbell. Normally the residents of the house would just enter through the back door rather than the front because it was a whole lot closer to the garage area, but when guests come and visit, obviously they go to the front entrance.
After about an hour of clearing out the books and other materials kept in the shelves, Jun and I finished dusting off the shelves. It was time to do the round routine again when we put the books back together. I had to commend Ken-senpai and Gin-senpai for being very organized. In fact, Ken-senpai indicated that Gin-senpai is one of those people who suffer from OCD, where anything and everything should always be neat, tidy, and orderly. While Ken was simply took the books out, Gin did his part of the job by sorting the books by alphabetical order and by type. There were books that were in Japanese text and English text, so rather than occupy too much space by separating the Japanese books from the English books, he decided to combine them together and list them by English alphabetical order. In addition to that type of organization, he also opted to sort the books by book type as well and then add labels on to the shelves by the book types. In that way, the entire library would look completely organized like the way public libraries and bookstores would do. After we dusted the shelves, we chipped in our labor to help him sort out.
"You have so many old books," Gin said, already sorting through the reference books from various dictionaries and other types of style guides. "A lot of them are really outdated too. Maybe we should suggest to the boss that he should replace these reference books with the latest updated ones. I mean there's like two of these that were still dated back in the early 1900s!"
"Maybe these books have sentimental value or something," I said, gazing through one of the reference books. "Maybe we can just set these aside and then talk to Dad about it when he gets home."
"Good idea, Kairi-chan," Gin said. We focused on the reference books first and segregated the current editions of the reference books to the very outdated ones that were dated way before Dad or Grandpa were even born.
So far, so good. There were so many versions of the Koujien and the Daijirin that you can't even tell which version is the latest one to the other since they both have the same faint black color on the covers and the names. What made me laugh somewhat was that our Japanese-English dictionaries were very updated. There were a few Japanese-French, Japanese-German, Japanese-Chinese, and Japanese-Korean dictionaries. Hm, someone knows how to speak French, Chinese, and Korean in this family?
Just as we were about to finish, Ken-senpai stumbled upon a leather-bound black folder. The folder was more like a mini-folder box with a leather knot locking it. There was no title anywhere around with the exception of a small text with a name on the corner. The first two characters is obviously read Irie. The second two next to "Irie" were… uhh…
"'Kaizen.'" Immediately, Gin read the next two unfamiliar Kanji to the surname. "Just by the usage of those Kanji characters obviously this was older than the year 1946 or so."
"What the heck does 'kaizen' mean?" I asked curiously.
"It means all-around complete. Both of these Kanji were already simplified to something easier to read and write. For kai, they removed this extra unnecessary stroke, and as for zen,, they removed this entire radical entirely and use the right radical instead."
"So, it's a person's name?"
"Definitely a person's name. It's right next to your surname here."
"Hm, I wonder what's inside that folder?" Jun became curious regarding the folder. "Maybe we should open it and see?"
"I don't know, I don't have permission to open this, Jun-chan," Ken-senpai said.
"Just open it, Ken-senpai," I said, using my authority being a member of the powerful Irie Family. "Dad and Tai-nii and Yuki would understand. If we get busted, I'll take responsibility. Just open it."
"Alright then." Ken-senpai shrugged and untied the knot binding the folder box thing. Once he opened it, he took out very aged, browned documents slowly as to careful not to be abrupt and then everything breaks. The indescribable stench that smelled ancient history immediately overwhelmed us. We quickly placed our face masks back on as to not suffocate from that nasty smell. Luckily Ken had latex gloves on so his hands— or maybe the documents— wouldn't have to be dirtied.
Ken decided to take the entire package to the table, where we followed him and sat at the seats. Slowly and carefully, he unfolded one of the documents and out revealed what may look like a diagram or a map of some sort. The sunlight going through the large windows were not helping with the light inside the rather dark-ish atmosphere so I went to the light switch and turned on the lights, at least on the side where our table is located.
"Alright," Ken began, "it looks like it's a map of some sort…"
Taking out a piece of pad paper and a pencil from his messenger bag just sitting on one of the seats, he tore the pieces of the paper and wrote the labels in Katakana to the rather complicated-looking Kanji written on the original document. He placed each of the written pieces over the document to replace them with the Katakana labels.
"Hoshihokori Ie…" Gin pointed to the huge bold Kanji characters written on top of the diagram.
"Stardust House," Jun, Ken, and I translated the name in to English, its original name.
"This looks like it's a map of the entire Stardust House Estate," Gin indicated. "This is the gateway, this long trail is obviously the driveway leading to the entrance of the house. There's acres of woodland about half a mile from the backyard area of the house. Well, that still exists obviously since we ran through it earlier this morning."
"But then isn't there a haunted old gateway that we stumbled upon this morning when we went through the woods?" Jun asked curiously. "It's not drawn in this map?"
"According to the date of this map, this was dated back in 1895. The size of the house indicated here was smaller than the house we're standing in today. I guess as time passed, the house size increased. Maybe because the family increased.
Ken-senpai looked through more of the documents inside the folder box and unfolded another one. "Hm, I can read a little bit of this, but it looks like this is some kind of a will or testament?"
Gin gazed at it and identified it quickly. "Close, Ken. This is the original title of the house and the entire estate, presented by Kaizen Irie to… someone named Kouji Irie… it looks like this is eldest son. It looks like this is a wedding gift to his son and his newly-wedded wife. Dated year 1898."
"Wait, there's more here…" Ken said. He unfolded more of the documents and a few of them looked identical to the original one. "How about this one, Gin?"
We all took a look at the newly-unfolded document as Gin identified it. "Looks like this is a will and testament coming from Kouji Irie." He then read a few of the lines. "'I, Kouji Irie, shall pass on the family fortune, Stardust House, and the entire estate along with Stardust House to my eldest son, Kozaburo Irie…' This was dated 1896." He then turned to the next unfolded document. "This is another title to the house, only this time, signed by Kouji Irie to his son, Kozaburo Irie. The year was dated 1907."
"Looks like Kouji Irie didn't live that long enough to remain the owner of the house," I said, sighing and thinking about this ancestor of mine.
"Jackpot!" Ken-senpai gasped as he placed more unfolded documents. Gin read briefly while we continued to look at these documents as well.
"What's this? There's two titles?" He pointed the similarities in style and text, however there were differences. "Wait, there's a difference. There is the Stardust House estate and what they call Shou-Hoshihokori Ie… 'Little Stardust House'? The first one has Kouta Irie's name as the beneficiary. The second one has Kyosuke Irie as the beneficiary… but they're both located in the same area?"
"Kouta and Kyosuke Irie… those were the names we saw carved at that tree earlier this morning!" I confirmed. "And there were two more in there: Great-grandpa Kenjiro and another one, Kirie Irie." Kirie Irie, what a way to name a child. I bet that person must have been made fun of by other kids because the name rhymed with each other. Even I can even see myself making fun of that person.
"But then," I continued on, "Grandpa said before, well according to Yuki anyway, that it was Kenjiro Irie who inherited Stardust House after Kozaburo Irie, not Kouta or Kyosuke… but then the name who signed these titles was from Kozaburo Irie? Where's the title that has Great-Grandpa Kenjiro Irie's name on it? How can Great-Grandpa Kenjiro Irie ever inherited the main house and the entire grounds if it wasn't his name written on this?"
"Hm, I noticed that the years dated on these titles are dated 1912 and 1913, respectively," Jun indicated, pointing at the dates.
"When did Great-Grandpa Kenjiro Irie inherit the house, for one thing…" I began to contemplate, and then shook my head, trying to figure things out with what I can remember from Yuki's account and trying to connect the dots.
"Gin," Ken said, unfolding another folded document. "I think I may know the reason why. Take a look at this." He unfolded it and spread it out over what we were looking at now. "This one was dated 1910. Take a good look at the forest area. See anything different?"
With just one short glimpse it was already obvious what the difference was. There was another diagram that looked almost identical to the original Stardust House to the left, only it was smaller in size. Ken pointed to the main house.
"This one on the left is Stardust House. Compared to the one we're looking at, dated 1895, this one, dated 1910, had the size and structure shape expanded. I think this one on the right, the house with almost the same shape but smaller size as the main one, is probably what that 'Little Stardust House' is."
Gin rubbed his chin, already comparing the maps from 1895 to 1910. "There's a second house within the Stardust House estate grounds."
"Ah!" Jun shrieked, then pointed her finger towards the "Little Stardust House" on the map. "That haunted gateway that we stumbled upon this morning… could it lead to…"
"It has to, Jun!" I also exclaimed, looking rather shocked at this new discover. I felt a whole lot more ashamed now for being an Irie and not even knowing the entire story of the house I was born and currently living in, let alone my own ancestors. "I mean it's not as if we were imagining things— I mean all of us have seen it with our very own eyes!"
Gin reached for his cellphone and then opened his photos, where he took the photo of that gateway along with that visible ghostly figure. He then laid his cellphone down where that photo was shown. "There has to be old photos regarding this gateway, but it's not in the folder box that we're looking at right now. We have to find photos of this second house, how it looked like before, and of course, the people involved."
Ken looked through the folder box again to see if he could find anything else stuck in there. There weren't any more pieces of old paper stored in there, but instead, he found something else small, but a whole lot more intriguing. There was a folded cloth tied with a leather string. Once he untied it and unfolded the cloth, it revealed a very old, not necessarily rusted, but dark, iron key. Maybe it was copper key or bronze key. I don't know, it's a metal key of some sort.
"Hm, a key. I wonder what the key is for?"
"Maybe it's the key to the haunted gateway that we saw!" Jun made her conclusion. "I mean, it's locked, right? Maybe that key would lead us there!"
"Whew," Gin sighed in relief. "Luckily I downloaded an app to my phone that would record our jogging tracks and make a trail way on the map. If you want we can go back there later and test that key."
"Good idea!" I said, giving a thumbs up. Somehow I felt the thrill of excitement. First I was dealing with teenage romance and peer pressure crap and now we just delved in to a mystery adventure, just like those Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie novels, Edogawa Ranpo stories, and even those Kindaichi mangas. "Let's do it!"
"Wait, just the four of us?" Ken asked curiously. "Shouldn't we tell Tai and Yukinojou-kun and everybody else when they get home?"
Sorry to my brother and cousin but somehow my gut instinct was telling me that having those two and the rest of the teen idols hanging around us regarding this new mystery adventure that Jun, Ken-senpai, Gin-senpai, and myself were about to endure. Those teen idols would be busy with their showbiz stuff this entire summer anyway so why on earth should we let them in our new summer adventure? They can have their glitzy stardom life. Let us have this real-life investigative adventure to ourselves.
"As if they actually care about the history of this entire house," I made my statement. "It'd be too dangerous and too complicated with too many people involved. We can't even let Hattori-san talk about it either because knowing his loyalty to Dad, he'd rat on us anyway even if I ask him not to."
"Oh, and care to explain why it's too dangerous if the Starduster Studs and the Starduster Sweetheart get involved in such an intriguing mystery quest, Kairi? You're not the only Irie in this house, you know…"
Oh snap. Caught.
STARDUST HOUSE - Family Library
All this time, when Dad and those Starduster Studs (and Mirai) arrived back home, Grandpa came along with them. It just so happened that Grandpa was lounging at Cafe Gillette when the facilities had to close for this meeting and press conference and luncheon or whatever they call it. Because of the fact that Grandpa, Kuze Irie, was the founder and the first CEO and president of StarPros, he became an exception and remained in Cafe Gillette with the rest of the StarPros people. It wasn't much of a shocker that he arrived here anyway. After all, along with StarPros, Grandpa Kuze also was the previous owner of Stardust House and the entire estate before he retired and decided to hand over the ownership to Dad.
Grandpa Kuze truly loved Mom. It was like he fell in love with her the first time Dad introduced her. They were still around my age when that happened so you know how it went. He loved her the moment he first saw her, and became the perfect candidate to be Aunt Ibuki's babysitter when she was still little. When Mom died those months ago, aside from Dad and Aunt Ibuki, there was none other Irie in the entire family who wept more for her soul than Grandpa did. Like Dad, Grandpa was also a closet gigolo in his younger days. He hid it very well though, and I was told by Dad also that my late grandmother, whom I never really met since she died before I was born, never knew about his past exploits with women. Good lord.
So, here we are, sitting at one of the longest tables in the family library. Today became the moment of truth. It was Grandpa and Dad against the rest of us. Well, Hattori-san wasn't included in the discussion but Dad wanted him to be around just to listen anyway. After much convincing from Dad, Tai-nii, and Yuki, Grandpa decided to spill the beans and give us all the answers regarding the history of Stardust House. The documents that Ken-senpai discovered were still laid out on the table, which included the old maps from the ones dated in the 1800s and the ones in the early 1900s.
"I'm sixty-eight years old this year," Grandpa Kuze said. To me, he didn't look sixty-eight. He would look a lot more at his age if he endured plastic surgery when he still didn't have the wrinkles, but if you see both Grandpa Kuze and Dad standing next to each other you would think they were brothers. In fact, he still looked a lot stronger than he thought even though he was already wheelchair-bound. He had quite a history of strokes before but even if it left him paralyzed, he didn't look like he was going to deteriorate anytime soon.
"I was born in 1944. My father, Kenjiro Irie, was only twenty-seven and my mother, a Takarazuka stage playwright named Kana Kose, was only twenty-five, when she gave birth to me. They both met as classmates at Kaede Elementary School, which was one of this area's top boarding schools for young children. They eventually fell in love when they reached age eleven and at age twenty, my father asked my mother's hand in marriage. They were married at age twenty-five because they wanted to graduate from university first with flying colors and made sure they have steady jobs and careers before they can have children regardless that Father was already the head of the entire clan. When my siblings and I were told by our father of his life story, how he said we were so fortunate to be living in a close and loving family this young and that we shouldn't take all of this for granted. You see, he said to us, he lived most of his childhood life living with his grandparents, that is, your great-great-grandparents, Kouji and Ayane Irie, than here at Stardust House. My grandfather, Kozaburo Irie, and my grandmother, Hanako Wao, were… let's just say… obsessive compulsive enough to neglect their youngest son in favor of their first three."
Grandpa still hasn't answered our main question yet: Who were Kouta, Kyosuke, and Kirie Irie? Yeah, they were Great-Grandpa Kenjiro Irie's older siblings, but who exactly were they?
"Family tradition with any Irie Family property always to have the oldest son be the default beneficiary of the family fortune and all its properties. It has always been this way. In the case of today, it's already defaulted that once Keita here dies or retires, Taisuke will be the heir to the Irie Family fortune and of course, Stardust House and everything else included in it. Anyway, the exception to this tradition was of course, my father, Kenjiro Irie. He was the youngest of four children of Kozaburo and Hanako Irie and originally, his name wasn't even included in my grandfather Kozaburo's last will and testament, however… something went very wrong. Something scandalous that can immediately destroy the family reputation and everything else… eventually changed his mind. And of course, a major tragedy hit our family real hard during those times that immediately had my father be the heir to the family fortune and assets by default. It was all unexpected and even my father knew about it."
"Poor Great-Grandpa Kenjiro," I muttered. Seriously, Poor Great-Grandpa Kenjiro. Why on earth wasn't he included in Great-Great-Grandpa Kozaburo's original will and testament regarding the family fortune? Poor kid. Was there something that the entire family didn't like about Great-Grandpa Kenjiro that he had to stay in the dorms of that elementary school and then live most of his childhood life with his grandmother rather than with his parents and his siblings?
Right then, Grandpa took out an old photo album cased in a special box, right from his attache case. He flipped open the cover and then revealed the official family photo of the Irie Family back in the late 1800s to early 1900s. The photo was dated in 1924. Great-Great-Grandpa Kozaburo wore Western-style clothing, while Great-Great-Grandmother Hanako wore a traditional, almost intricately-designed kimono sitting down. The children wore Western-style clothing.
"Ooh!" Mirai gasped in awe. "That tall boy with the girl next to Kozaburo-san's side is really handsome!"
"Heh," Tai-nii snickered, gazing at that side of the family photo. "I hate to admit it but I gotta agree with you, Mirai. I guess the hotness good looks are really in the genes."
Idiot, I thought. The only reason Tai-nii agreed with Mirai regarding that boy was because he looked a lot like himself. Somehow, that tall handsome boy in the photo looking like Tai-nii actually gave me the chills.
On the other side, sitting next to Great-Great-Grandmother Hanako, were two boys. The younger boy on that side of the photo looked quite overweight, very stout, and obviously unattractive compared to the other three. While Mirai thought the boy next to Kozaburo looked really cute, Jun, on the other hand, thought the taller boy on Hanako's side looked really hot and handsome. And just like Tai-nii, her boyfriend Yuki also agreed with Jun. You can take a guess why.
"Idiot! Duh!" I made my reaction. "The only reason why you agreed with Jun is because that dude looked a lot like you! I mean just look at it!"
"Hey come on now, Kairi, they're your ancestors too, you know. Stop hating just because you ain't that cute," Yuki snickered as he and Shinoda even exchanged hi-fives.
"This chubby and unattractive little boy in that photo was my father, Kenjiro," Grandpa interrupted my outburst, pointing his finger at the little boy standing in front of the Yuki-look-alike ancestor. Oh boy, I thought. I thought that shorter boy was overly fat and ugly before and now I felt I had just insulted my direct ancestor. My apologies, Great-Grandpa Kenjiro, for those remarks.
"He was only seven in this family photo." As Grandpa stated, this fat and heinous-looking little boy was his father, Great-Grandpa Kenjiro. Okay, so he was fat and not exactly like prince charming cutie pie. I wonder how he looked like when he got older though.
Then, Grandpa turned to the boy standing behind his father. "This was the second son, my uncle, Kyosuke." He then pointed to the other side where the tall handsome boy and the beautiful girl sat. "This tall boy here was the eldest son, my uncle, Kouta. The girl, my aunt, the third-born. Kirie."
"Whoa… your auntie was really hot, Grandpa Kuze!" Himemiya made his comment. I have to admit, the girl, Kirie Irie, was indeed an angelic beauty. She was way too beautiful, I thought, so much that even girls like me are even beginning to fall for her. I am not a lesbian, trust me.
"I have to admit, but you're right," I said to Himemiya. "She really was beautiful."
"Ne," Shunta exclaimed, "if Kouta-san looked like Taisuke-senpai and Kyosuke-san looked like Yuki, then maybe this pretty Kirie-san must look like Kairi-chan?"
"The hell, Shunta?" I reacted quickly while Shinoda suddenly burst in to laughter.
"What the hell? Kirie-san looking like Kairi? Are you frickin' kidding me?" Shinoda continued to laugh out loud. Damn, how I feel like slapping his head right now.
"Actually," Kaito said as he pointed at Great-Grandpa Kenjiro's photo. "Kairi looks more like Kenjiro-san. The round face, the complexion, even the little moles too. Kenjiro-san looks so much like Kairi…"
"Hahahaha," Shinoda continued to laugh. "No wonder why we mistook Kairi for a boy when we were kids. That's gotta be the reason why!"
"Okay, that's it, Shinoda! Time for you to die now!" Just as I was about to leap, Kaito and Ken stopped me from behind, dragging me away from Shinoda with their strong arms. How can Kaito say that I look like Great-Grandpa Kenjiro with a face and size like that? That's just… insulting! Not that I meant to insult Great-Grandpa Kenjiro, of course, but still…
Right then, Gin immediately showed his cellphone with that photo to all of us, which immediately cowered the rest of us. That's right, I thought. I almost forgot about that ghostly figure from this morning. The face really resembled Kirie-san on that photo a lot. So beautiful, so serene, yet very… spine-tingly.
Grandpa sighed, then gave a slight grin. "I thank you all for the compliments regarding my father's older siblings. Unfortunately for me, I have never met Uncle Kouta, Uncle Kyosuke, and Aunt Kirie at all. All three of them died when my father was only twelve."
"What the heck!" I shrieked in shock. "Twelve? Poor Great-Grandpa Kenjiro… that must be a major tragedy for him!"
"It was a major tragedy, not just within the family, but throughout Hinasaki as well. Almost the entire town fell in love with this family, especially the first three of the four, so much, that both their parents became very possessive of their children. Those three became some kind of a secret treasure that no one must touch or get near at. In fact, they wouldn't even let them speak to anybody else outside the family, let alone with my father." He then paused, and then changed pace.
"My father was only thirteen when he officially inherited the entire family fortune including Stardust House and everything else included in its borders. He hasn't even reached high school and yet all of a sudden he became the master of the entire Irie Family. His father couldn't bear living in the house because of the major tragedy that he pretty much gave up life altogether. It was the same with his mother. The rest of the Irie Family including Kozaburo's brothers, as well as their mother, already found him unfit to be the master of the family due to his obsession with wealth and beauty, plus neglecting the youngest son and have him live away from Stardust House and have him live at the elementary school dorms and then live at his grandmother's house during the summer? The only time that my father was allowed to enter Stardust House to spend time with the family was during his birthday."
He continued to flip through the photo album. The photos posted were primarily of the four children including Great-Grandpa Kenjiro. I noticed one thing about Great-Grandpa Kenjiro though. Whenever he was sitting with his older three siblings, he looked very cheerful, very happy. However, whenever he was alone or whenever he was standing with his parents, he looked melancholic. Those expressions alone already reminded me that Kenjiro didn't have a happy childhood life except whenever he gets to spend his time with his siblings.
"This photo album that I'm showing you now belonged to my father. It was the only collection of visuals that he had of his older siblings. He truly loved them so much and they loved him also. Their parents were a bunch of self-centered tyrants. They were not happy to see how Kenjiro turned out when my grandmother gave birth to him. They got so obsessed by the natural and very appealing beauty that their first three children inherited that they both felt that having an ugly youngest child became some kind of a curse or something…"
"And yet," Dad said, "Grandpa Kenjiro became the most successful among the four siblings. He carried on with the family name and made it great again. I remember him telling us a few stories of his childhood too, Dad."
"You know, Keita," Grandpa continued, "I'm actually kinda glad that my father didn't live most of his childhood under his parents. He didn't turn out to be like them when he got older. He was forced to learn how to be independent and how to think for himself at such a young age. While the rest of his family were always showing off and being conceited about their perfect beauty and wealth, they neglected Father's wisdom and independence that he learned from his teachers, his classmates back at the school dorms, and even from his grandmother. He made a promise to his siblings that he would work hard and become a respectable individual that everyone would look up to and that he would do anything to continue on the greatness of their family."
Right then, Grandpa shut his eyes closed and sighed deeply. He then lowered his head and by the sound of his tone, he sounded like he was about to shed tears in pain. "My father, Kenjiro, was indeed a great man. He did all he can for the entire family, the future generations of the family, and for Hinasaki City. He lived a fulfilling life and he was able to live up to age eighty. The local Shinto priests and priestesses believed that the love and power of the three siblings who died at such young and tender ages were passed on to Father. Even though Father and Mother were not exactly teen idol or model material, the children they bore were all very attractive, beautiful, very appealing to the masses, just like how his siblings were when they were alive…"
I have a feeling that this was going to take a long time. Sit back and relax, I thought. It was a good thing that Hattori-san even took the time to serve us some snacks even if we were in the library. After all, the library's pretty messed up right now and we haven't exactly finished sorting out the books. Ken-senpai and Gin-senpai already explained to Dad how we were going to reorganize the books and we weeded out the outdated editions of some textbooks and reference books. Dad allowed it and he even promised to pay us for all the hard work we've been doing.
At this point, Grandpa was about to reveal more about his father's family and of course, the mysterious second house within the grounds only known as the "Little Stardust House."
"Grandpa loved both his first two sons so much that he also wanted Kyosuke to have his share of the fortune too, so he had a second house built almost identical to the main house, except it would be a bit smaller, you know? He named the house 'Little Stardust House' since the shape looked identical to the main house and the fact that it's located right behind the main house and still within the estate borders. That house was made for Kyosuke so that when he does get married to the right girl and decide to raise a family, they can reside in that house. Construction of the second house began in 1914 and it took about six years to have it completed. But at that time, because of the way they were brought up and were not allowed to make contacts with anybody else outside the borders and outside the family, the siblings found themselves becoming closer and closer, up to the point that they simply crossed the borders of who they really were to each other. That's where this whole scandalous incidents occurred in that family."
Scandalous? I just hope Grandpa would finally get to the point.
"I'm no psychologist, however, could it be possible that three siblings become so close to each other as if there was no one else who care about them but one another, so much that they end up become… more than just siblings…?"
Oh boy… don't tell me…
"Two handsome, very eligible brothers fighting over the affections of their overwhelmingly beautiful younger sister that ended up in tragedy. Could such a thing ever happen?"
"Nothing is impossible, Grandpa," Tai-nii answered, sighing. "Let me take a guess. The sister, that is, Kirie-san, fell in love with one of them… or both of them… and couldn't decide which one of the two brothers whom she should return her affections to… and then somehow their parents found out of their dangerous affair that something must have happened that lead them to their deaths?"
"The elders of the Irie Family, I don't know how the system went back then, found Grandpa an unfit head of the family that they were able to strip off his title and his ownership assets and forced him to revise his final will and testament to have everything he owns to be inherited to Father. He was only thirteen-years-old, a year right after his three siblings died, when the elders transferred all of his father's titles and assets to him. Father wasn't particularly proud and happy, but he didn't have a choice. He said that he made a lot of promises to his siblings the last time they spoke to each other. Although, he also admitted, when the three of them died, he also witnessed their horrible death in his eyes."
Somehow my heart stopped beating at this point. I finally realized why Great-Grandpa Kenjiro became silent about his own family. That would obviously trigger anyone who was a witness to someone's death.
"The second house… locking that entire house, never to be opened or entered again, was very painful for my father. When Father witnessed everything and the sins his own father committed against his beloved older brothers and sister, he ordered the second house to be shut down. He forced my father to keep quiet about what he saw and to never see it or else some kind of sinister punishment would befall on to him. What a pathetic threat against a twelve-year-old boy who wasn't even involved in that mess. After my tyrant grandfather died, Father couldn't bring himself into reopening the gates of the second house again because revisiting it within those gates would bring so many painful memories. So instead, he had the local Shinto temple bless it while he continued to visit its gates to bring flowers as his way of showing his love and respect for those who died in there."
So. In short. All three siblings died with the gates of that second house, the one they call "Little Stardust House." That's why it had been kept locked all this time. But then, right after Great-Grandpa Kenjiro died, were there still flowers being placed in front of the gates? Why didn't Grandpa Kuze tell us about this before? We could have continued the tradition Great-Grandpa Kenjiro started.
Maybe that's why this morning…
Grandpa bent down and lifted a shopping bag. He took out an old dark brown leather box. He unlocked it with a key, and out revealed a huge stack of opened envelopes. With a closer look, all of these letters were addressed to Great-Grandpa Kenjiro in two different addresses: one was the address to his elementary school dorms and the second was the address to his grandmother's house. He allowed us to take a look at them and read them. We then realized that all of these letters were written with heart from the three siblings, talking about how things were back at home and all of that. Skimming through these letters, all three siblings had commonalities, all reminding Great-Grandpa Kenjiro that he may not be as attractive or as good-looking as the rest of the family on the outside, but they envied him for being free and independent and not living under the clutches of their conceited parents.
Mirai found one intriguing letter and then read it aloud to us. "'I know, maybe you're too young to be asked this question, but… is it possible for a girl like me to fall in love with my own brother? Is it possible for a girl to forget that particular boy was her brother and see him as a potential lover? I can't talk to Mother and Father about it and I know I can't talk to Kouta-niichan and Kyosuke-niichan about it also. Have you heard of something like this, Kenjiro?…'"
"Kirie," Tai-nii muttered and scooted closer to Mirai to read the rest of the letter. "This letter was dated 1928."
"Father was only eleven at that time," Grandpa said. "He was living in the school dorms again at that time. In the letter after that…" He quickly found the letter and unfolded it to show us. "Aunt Kirie finally revealed the one particular brother she fell in love with…"
"Kyosuke?" I read on the letter. Luckily I recognized those old Kanji I saw from the tree this morning or else I would be struggling like a moron trying to read them. One of the other reasons why I hate the Japanese writing system so much. "She fell in love with Kyosuke?"
"Aunt Kirie was three years older than Father. Uncle Kyosuke was five years older than Father. Uncle Kouta, six."
Ken quickly calculated the years in his head. "They were only teenagers— our ages— when they died. Since you said that Kenjiro-san was only twelve when they died, that meant that Kirie-san was only fifteen, Kyosuke-san was seventeen, Kouta-san, eighteen. What tragedy… barely even twenty."
Grandpa nodded, and then revealed another piece of the memento collection from his bag. It was another medium-sized almost flat box, and once he opened it, a black textured leather book— or whatever animal skin that may be— was revealed. He took it out and then handed it to Tai-nii. "Your father already seen this when he was your age, therefore I want you to read this to everyone."
"What's this?" Tai-nii asked, gazing at the cover. Right then he noticed a small almost faded engraving at the corner. "'Irie… Kenjiro'?"
"My father's diary. Great-grandma gave it to him for his 10th birthday. She wanted him to write anything that he wanted to write about in order to learn more about himself, to help him discover who he really is as a person and how he would proceed with living his own life once he becomes of age. When I turned thirteen, he handed it to me. He made me promise to pass on his diary to the future eldest sons of the family. I eventually handed it to your father, of course…"
"I gave it back to your grandpa for safe keeping," Dad said to Tai-nii. "I eventually did plan to hand the diary over to you when you reach your teenage years but I forgot about it. Thanks for bringing it, Dad."
"Go ahead and open it, Taisuke," Grandpa said, looking very confident. "I don't know how much you like reading, but it's definitely a good read."
Tai-nii then unlocked the diary using the attached key, and then read, or rather attempted to read, the first page.
"'To whomever may have stumbled upon this diary, thank you for reading. Even though this is supposed to be private, I supposed that eventually, some stranger eyes would eventually read it. Welcome to my childhood, dear Reader.'
"'May 10, 1927 - Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kenjiro Irie. I just turned ten on the day I received this little diary from Grandma, therefore, Happy Birthday to you, Kenjiro's Diary. I think a diary should have a name. I know. I think I'll just call you Hoshi. I was born in the House of the Stardust to Hinasaki's most prominent family, the Irie Family, to the current head of the family and business tycoon named Kozaburo Irie and to his stage actress wife, Hanako. I was born the youngest of four children, with two older brothers and an older sister, respectively named Kouta-nii, Kyosuke-nii, and Oneechan, Kirie. That entire family were born beautifully attractive, but unfortunately for me, I had the unfortunate fate of being born ugly.'
"'Ugly meaning ugly by physical looks. My parents were so obsessed with love and beauty that they pretty much forgotten what the true meaning of love and individuality really meant. I can't really describe the relationship I have with my parents because they were so busy with their own businesses while trying to look as handsome and beautiful as they can to the public eyes and also instilled the same influences they had on my siblings. Kouta-nii and Kyosuke-nii, even during their younger ages, were the future prince charmings of Hinasaki. Kirie-nee also was the prettiest girl in the entire town, so much that so many parents hoped to have their sons grow up to be handsome and successful young men eligible enough to marry a girl so beautiful as Kirie-neechan. All of these were inherited directly from my parents. As for me, I was left alone by myself, working my way up and catch up to the rest of my family and install myself as a true member of the Irie Family.'
"'I didn't mind the concept of work though. I learned a lot from Grandpa Kouji and Great-Grandpa Kaizen when they were both alive about the true value of work. Both of them worked so hard to earn their own fortunes, especially Great-Grandpa Kaizen. When he was younger, he was almost a penniless schoolteacher, but when he continued on with his schooling, he worked his way up in to getting admitted to the best universities in all of Japan, even worked his way to educating himself overseas without any support from his parents before him. He eventually became successful teaching future educators and successful businessmen, and because of that, all these top schools paid him huge lump sums just to teach in their institutions. That was how his fortune was built…
"'Dear Reader, maybe you may be wondering why I am not very close to my parents compared to my three older blessings. When I was born, I was told by my father that their local Shinto fortune teller read that there will be a major disaster that will cause tragedy within the head family that will be caused by one person. They all perceived that because of my unattractive looks from face to my stout build that I may become the one that would bring tragedy to this family. This was why they tried to keep me away from them, my siblings, and from Stardust House, to preserve their perfect beauty. This was why then sent me off to an elite boarding school to live there during school and then live at my grandparents' still-palatial home with grandma during the summer. The only time I was allowed inside the gates of Stardust House was during my birthday. Even though I finally got over their obvious, shallow hatred for me for being born ugly, I still appreciate Kouta-nii, Kyosuke-nii, and Kirie-neechan for fighting against my parents' vanity in my favor. At first I thought I was an adopted child at first, that I didn't really belong to the Irie Family, but my siblings, my grandparents, and almost the entire clan were present on the day my mother gave birth to me.
"'Kouta-nii, Kyosuke-nii, and Kirie-neechan already planned on what their youngest sibling's name would be. Kenjiro if it was a boy and Kanako if it was a girl. Well, you know the rest of the story from this point…'"
Tai-nii then trailed off, then flipped through the next two pages and then closed the diary. "I'll read the rest later. Thank you, Grandpa."
"Why didn't you continue?" Kaito asked curiously. "This Great-Grandpa Kenjiro sounded like a very interesting individual."
Tai-nii grinned nervously and then gritted his teeth. "Sorry Grandpa, Dad… I got really bad grades in classical Japanese… I can't read all them obsolete characters and Kanji that no one uses anymore… Well, first page was easy to read because there weren't any weird-looking characters there, but when I got to second page, well… I stopped."
Grandpa glared right at Tai-nii and sighed. "What on earth have you been doing not studying classical Japanese, Taisuke? Have you been slacking off lately?" He then quickly turned towards Yuki and me. "How about the two of you…?"
I ended up grinning in the same fashion, knowing that I'm as epic fail at classical Japanese writing system. To my surprise, even Yuki also admitted that he can't read all the obsolete characters and the Kanji. Grandpa sighed and then turned to the rest of the tenants.
"Does any one of you non-Iries know how to read classical Japanese? Anybody?" Quickly, Tai-nii and Mirai pointed right towards Gin.
"Oi!" Gin scooted away from the table. "Why me?"
Tai-nii stood up and patted Gin's shoulder from behind. "Guess you're going to be our reader, Gin. You should be lucky!"
"I ain't your secretary, Tai!" Gin frowned. Right then I begged down on my knees to him. "Eh, Kairi-chan?"
"Please, Gin-senpai. I really want to learn more about my ancestry. Please…?"
Gin sighed as he took the diary from Tai-nii. "Alright, alright. Later after dinner, I'll read…"
So much for visiting the haunted gateway leading to the second house tonight…
STARDUST HOUSE - Balcony Lounge
Ken-senpai was playing a very soothing, haunting, yet pure piece of music from the the piano to soothe the mood down while Gin-senpai was lying down at one of the window sill seats looking relaxed while skimming through the diary. I was sitting next to Ken, trying to read the musical sheets in front of him myself as he played, hoping if I would be able to play the same tune on my acoustic guitar. He was playing the instrumental version of "Sakura no Kogarashi," a very solemn yet sweet and uplifting old tune that he just happened to find in the piano seat. This was an old song and the musical sheets were dated back in 1919 written by another Irie person I wasn't familiar with. Ah well.
We were just chilling at the second floor lounge until everyone were finished washing themselves, changing in to their PJs and all that. The chicken pies that we made for tonight's dinner totally ruled. The house became seriously so much better with Ken-senpai and Gin-senpai being part of our tenant family. Even though the library was still a mess, at least all we had to do starting tomorrow was to bring the books back in the shelves and then donate or discard the outdated books to the library or to schools who may need them.
Once we finally gathered around, Gin stood up. Kaito even had the nerve to sit on the piano seat, right next to Ken. I had a feeling then that Kaito still had a bit of jealousy towards Ken, and now poor Ken-senpai was sitting right smack between Kaito and me.
"You're not reading the entire diary, are you Gin?" Tai-nii asked curiously as he and Mirai sat right next to him.
"Psh, of course not," Gin snickered. "Although I gotta admit, for a ten-year-old kid Kenjiro-san wrote like a twenty-year-old adult. But anyway, he's got some very interesting things he wrote in here, but I skimmed through the part where he writes about his siblings and the days they died in 1928. I was afraid at first that he didn't write about it, but he actually did."
"Okay, let's hear it!" Yuki exclaimed. He was sitting at the couch adjacent to the main windows with Jun next to him. "Let's hear what Great-Grandpa Kenjiro has to say about the beautiful three!"
Gin cleared his throat and then began to read.
"'July 9, 1929 - Grandma was feeling very ill and had to be taken to the hospital. Because it's summer now and the school dorms are officially closed for the summer break, I had no choice but to go back home to Stardust House. I wanted to see the finished construction of Kyosuke-nii's 'Little Stardust House' just about a mile away from the original Stardust House. I wanted to see my future home, as Kyosuke-nii promised Kirie-nee and me awhile ago. I really looked forward to seeing that, most especially the inside of the house.
"'What I really was more looking forward to this visit back home was the secret relationship that my three older siblings have with each other. I've already heard from my classmates about forbidden love and all that, even through classical literature that we began reading in school. Sometimes it made me wonder if it was appropriate to talk about forbidden love in the first year of middle school. But, I guess in some ways, as time passes, Japanese society also changes gradually as well. This country's society is becoming a lot more progressive, definitely.
"'I was beginning to suspect that Kouta-nii, Kyosuke-nii, and Kirie-nee are getting involved in a very dangerous situation with each other. According to the letters they wrote to me in the last few months, these three seemed so overwhelmed with their physical looks and natural beauty that they couldn't find any one unrelated to us with the kind of beauty and perfection that they had that they simply became so overprotective and even obsessed with each other and found themselves 'falling in love' with one another. I don't know what that means, I mean was I supposed to know how to think like an adult now at twelve-years-old? I don't know, I wanted to talk to my teacher about all this but there was no way I could ever reach him during the summer break.
"'I'm writing this in the middle of the night because the entire house was completely hectic. Father was angry at both Kouta-nii and Kyosuke-nii, which was a first for me to witness because they refused to engage themselves in omiai meetings and meet their potential brides in the future. Although omiai is a common practice among the elite families in Japan, I actually didn't like the idea of marrying some stranger just because your parents wanted you to. I was suspicious with my brothers' refusals as I even took a glimpse on what those girls looked like myself. Those two were truly, extremely beautiful. I mean I would agree to marry any one of them if I were around their ages, but alas, I'm still a child.
"'What baffled me at this situation was that Kirie-nee always shed tears whenever she heard the words 'omiai.' It wasn't as if she was the one who was also getting engaged in an omiai, but when I confronted her alone in her room, she complained about how she would be miserable for the rest of her life, seeing both Kouta-nii and Kyosuke-nii giving their love and devotion to these girls they've never met when they marry. She even refused a lot of suitors herself whenever boys would approach her in the public. Learning from my teachers and my classmates and even from Grandma, eventually we would end up marrying someone special and then raise our own family and carry on the family tradition from our parents to ourselves and to our future children. She praised me again, telling me how lucky I was to be free, to not live under my parents' reign in this house, and even though I still looked ugly-looking compared to Kouta-nii and Kyosuke-nii that I had a whole lot more than what they had. I have freedom, my own personal thoughts without restrictions, and how many friends and connections I earned from school and everywhere else. She even gave me a warning that should anything drastic happened with her and with my brothers that it was best for me to run away from this house and never to return, not just for my sake, but also for the sake of them and for the sake of the future generations of our family to come.
"'Be your own man, Kenjiro. Stand up to be who you want to be and who you are. Find a good girl you'll fall in love with and get married. Raise your children with tender loving care along with respect and discipline. And when you have enough power, seize Stardust House, Little Stardust House, and everything else under Father's name away from Father. Please, promise me this. Do this for me, for Kouta-nii and Kyosuke-nii, and for our entire family. Do this for Kouta-nii, Kyosuke-nii, and for me, Kenjiro… I beg of you…'"
Gin stopped immediately once he already noticed Tai-nii's impatience. "I'm almost to the good part, Tai. Be patient."
"Can you just skip all that crap and get to the point on the day or days that the three siblings died?"
"Alright, alright… calm down…" Gin then flipped a few pages forward and then found the page.
"'July 27, 1929 - Before I went to bed last night, there was a major argument between Kouta-nii and Kyosuke-nii. I couldn't tuck myself in to bed because they were so loud. I was surprised that both my parents were ignoring all this and slept through the conflict. I couldn't help myself but to have my curiosity get the best of me and just opened a very small gap on my door enough for me to eavesdrop on what they were arguing about. I don't know how to describe my shock once I heard what they were arguing about.
"'Kouta-nii admitted or something to Kyosuke-nii that he discovered about their… forbidden love… that they shared. That is, this forbidden love between Kyosuke-nii and Kirie-nee. Everyday whenever no one was at home or no one was present that they would meet and spend their time together at the 'Little Stardust House' doing what lovers normally would do. Kouta-nii argued about two things: first, obviously romantic love is a completely taboo between siblings and second, he also admitted that once Father retired and that he would finally take over the Stardust House Estate that he too had plans to be with Kirie-nee and raise their own family. Kyosuke-nii argued that he was being selfish. It was bad enough that he gets to have the entire estate and all he got was that second house that still is within the estate grounds that he deserved some happiness as well.
"'As I was leaning against the wall and right next to the gap of my door I asked myself several questions. I asked myself if Kouta-nii and Kyosuke-nii only cared about the family fortune and to preserve the purity of this family. They weren't even of age for them to become head masters of the Irie Family and they were already fighting each other for wealth and power. And another thing, why were they so attached to Kirie-nee. In fact, how can Kirie-nee and Kyosuke-nii suddenly get past through the blood borders and finally saw themselves as lovers. I could also say the same with Kouta-nii, who also fell in love with Kirie-nee and wanted her for himself. I wanted to run to someone so I can freely tell them what I witnessed that night but I was too scared. Even if I was free enough to speak about my family I also have some pride, of course. My parents were conceited tyrants while my older brothers were too obsessed about their wealth, looks, and status, and yet I share the same blood as them. It already dawned at me and made me wonder if the local Shinto fortune teller was right about me being the evil karma that would bring destruction to the family altogether.
"'After breakfast this morning, I decided to visit the local Shinto temple to have some advice and of course, another reading regarding my real fortune and what my position really is within the family. As always, Father and Mother would not let Kouta-nii, Kyosuke-nii, or Kirie-nee to accompany me to the temple, so asked Cousin Yasukuni to bring me there instead. When we got to the temple and exchanged a few of our prayers to the gods, I sat down with the head priest of the temple. He happened to be the same fortune teller who consulted my parents regarding the upcoming destruction that would befall my family in the near future.
"'The priest said that my parents were wrong about me. He saw nothing but the purest good on me, he said. Physical looks does not always equate to good fortune at all, and even though I was not exactly prince charming material like my older brothers were, he can read how much good my heart and my mind and my spirit was overflowed with. Rather than being the bad karma, I was the one who would bring good fortune to the family, as long as my parents treated all their children equally and with a positive outlook. Apparently, of course, that wasn't the case with my parents. They treated me like an outcast while they treated my three older siblings as their most prized possession due to their extremely good looks. The priest said to me that too much beauty can actually bring a lot of ominous destruction towards that person or the people around.
"'Thinking about that time while I jot everything down here on this diary, I began to feel ill. Not physically ill, so to speak, but my gut feeling was giving me very ill and ominous vibe that this destruction was about to happen anytime soon. I will try not to think about this and simply move on and live as much as I can until it was time for me to go.
"'After my appointment with the Shinto priest, I traveled to the hospital by the street trolley to visit Grandma. On the trolley, I ran in to Kana, the girl I promised to marry when we graduate from university. Somehow we were truly connected in many ways even after we parted from graduation back at elementary school. She now attends an all-girls school not too far away from my new middle school and that she was happy to see me right at the trolley. She was actually heading the same direction as I was because she was working as a junior candystriper volunteer at the hospital where Grandma was resting. Just seeing her lovely face and her sweet voice truly made things refreshing for me.
"'While we were heading to the hospital by foot, we caught up with what was going on with our lives. I told Kana-chan that I came back home to my parents and siblings right after Grandma had to be treated in the hospital. She said to me that somehow fate was bringing so much good luck to me, plus she complimented in a way that I was somewhat losing weight, but either way, she said, I was still the most handsome boy she has ever met. She said I looked really adorable when I was chubby and would still look adorable even if I lost some weight. It was thanks to being involved in sports lately that I was finally able to grow up to be at least above average.
"'We parted once we arrived at the hospital. She headed to her station while I headed to Grandma's room. Grandma really looked frail and weak, however she was still able to speak at that point. I knew here days were being numbered now, however, I could never forget what she told me at that time. She asked me a favor, that when the day arrives for her to die, she made me promise to do one thing: live. She wanted me to live, never look back, but instead, live the present and look forward to the future. She knew and felt that having my father as the current master of the house and the Irie Family Clan would only bring a lot of trouble throughout the entire clan due to his personal conceit and that I mustn't grow up to be just like him or anyone else in my family. She admitted that she never approved of my mother personally, but Grandpa Kouji was very lenient and that Father was very much in love with Mother, plus of course, Mother was from an elite family, so all the more she was accepted in to the family. I really don't know what to say about this anymore.
"'When I got home, it was already in the middle of the night and the sun was gradually setting down. That was because on my way home, Kana-chan invited me for dinner at a small restaurant that recently just opened and it was her treat. I couldn't thank her enough for all that. Right when we parted to head home, we promised to each other that we'd hang out right after school when we can, and that we promised that we'll keep in touch with each other by visiting the hospital. When I entered the house, somehow I felt uneasy and that my gut feeling was bringing me ominous chills down my spine. The house was normal as it was, however when I arrived at the living room area, I found my mother crying. I asked her what was wrong and all she said to me to stop Father from reaching Kouta-nii, Kyosuke-nii, and Kirie-nee. Without asking any more questions, I dropped my things and ran off to the Little Stardust House, knowing that anything involving my siblings always occur at the Little Stardust House.
"'While I was rushing through the forest, I caught sight of my father also dashing his way towards the Little Stardust House. He had a gun in his hand, which got me a whole lot nervous than before. Sadly I was too slow and lost sight of Father, but nevertheless, I arrived through the front grounds of the Little Stardust House. I called out for Kouta-nii, Kyosuke-nii, and Kirie-nee everywhere from the front of the house through the sides. Just as I was closing in to the left side of the house, I heard a very loud bang that completely rung through my ears…'"
"Stop right there, Gin!" Tai-nii suddenly interrupted. Somehow his eyes looked rather worried. I actually felt a lot of tingling throughout my spine all this time. I couldn't believe myself that these words were coming right from a twelve-year-old kid. "Don't tell me… don't tell me Grandpa's grandpa… I mean Kozaburo-san… murdered his own children?"
"God damn…" Yuki muttered, shaking his head. "Now I see why this became scandalous… I see that a forbidden romance between siblings can be very scandalous that it can ruin a reputation of an elite family… Could something like that actually happen?"
"There has been thousands of incest cases year after year throughout the world though," Ken-senpai made his statement. "So, no matter what time period, siblings falling in love with each other is very possible."
"But it's not quite incest… or is it?" I asked curiously, wondering if Kirie-san ever had any sexual relations with either Kouta-san or Kyosuke-san. Then I realized that she admitted to Great-Grandpa Kenjiro through that letter that she was already seeing Kyosuke-san as her lover, rather than the older brother. According to Great-Grandpa Kenjiro's diary, it seems that both Kyosuke-san and Kouta-san also fell in love with Kirie-san too. Oh damn, poor Great-Grandpa Kenjiro! His family's seriously screwed up!"
"And regardless if he was born fat and ugly," Tai-nii said, "all this time, it turned out that Great-Grandpa Kenjiro turned out to be the most normal among that entire family. Even his parents are also screwed up."
"And this is why I'm telling you all earlier this morning," Yuki added, "that beauty is a sin. I mean look at what happened."
Gin flipped through the pages of the diary and then found something stuck in between the pages. It was a photo of Great-Grandpa Kenjiro and a modest-looking, not exactly supermodel-pretty but still lovely girl looking like a happy couple in a professional photo setting.
"Kenjiro Irie and Kana Kose," Gin read the writing at the back of the photo. "Dated 1934."
"They were seventeen on this photo," Kaito quickly calculated the ages on his head. "Kenjiro-san did lose weight, plus, his complexion really looks like Kairi's own complexion now." He turned to me and then grinned. "You should be proud, Kairi, that you're a true descendant of a very respected good man like Kenjiro Irie."
"Oi," I muttered, slightly blushing at the same time. "I… I don't know if I should be proud looking like him, but I am proud at everything else. I feel really bad for Great-Garndpa Kenjiro's childhood. He must have love his older siblings so much."
"I'm happy also," Tai-nii nodded with a smile on his face. "This is Great-Grandpa Kenjiro and Great-Grandma Kana. Childhood friends, then teenage lovers, and eventually, became a married couple and raised their own family. Seven children, with Grandpa Kuze being the oldest."
"I remember what my dad said too," Yuki added, "Great-Grandpa Kenjiro was the only exception of all the Irie males. He was the only one who didn't go through being a player and all that with girls…"
"You mean, Great-Grandpa Kenjiro wasn't a closet gigolo?" I asked curiously. Yuki nodded to confirm.
"He didn't need to be like that. He already has Great-Grandma Kana ever since childhood. When he didn't have his parents and his siblings there to support him growing up, he had Great-Grandma Kana and his grandparents and even his classmates back in his boarding school to support him. He truly was the blessed child among the four. Maybe that's why he was born ugly and fat. I don't know, but I have this feeling that maybe God was testing the Irie Family to see which one is more important to them: success through hardwork or success through vanity. Apparently Great-Grandpa Kenjiro's parents failed the test, however the youngest, neglected, fat and ugly kid that no one even looked at in the eye came out the victor."
"Now, isn't that amazing," Tai-nii sighed.
Gin then cleared his throat. "Do you guys want me to continue on or should I just tell you the quick version of what happened on the day his siblings died?"
"Just give us the quick version. Sometimes I'm falling asleep just reading every single word Great-Grandpa Kenjiro wrote in that diary. I was a whole lot more ghetto with writing stuff like that at age twelve, but then again everyone was more high class back in those days."
"Okay, I'll give you the quick run through," Gin said. "When Kenjiro heard the loud bang, it really did ring through his ears, almost deafening him in a way. He was able to follow where that bang came from. When he arrived on the scene, his father ran past him in the opposite direction, and then Kyosuke, also with a gun in his hand, was running right behind his father, ignoring Kenjiro. Kenjiro ran to see what happened and then he saw the first shocking scene in front of his eyes."
"What?" We all screamed out in shock.
"It was Kouta… lying on the floor with blood flowing out of his body!" Gin exclaimed. "When Kenjiro ran to him, it was too late. Kouta was already dead. He saw the bullet hole on his chest and he immediately assumed that his father was the one who shot him…"
"Hold up," I said, "that doesn't explain why Kyosuke also had a gun in his hand."
"Well, that's what's according to his entry. I have to admit that Kenjiro has a strong attention to detail and has very keen observation skills," Gin shrugged. "With tears in his eyes, Kenjiro ran right after Kyosuke and his father, wondering where they were heading to. He was able to catch up to them entering inside the Little Stardust House."
"Don't tell me!" I cried out. "His father shot poor Kirie-san too?"
"When Kenjiro got there, he overheard screaming and arguing coming from upstairs. He decided to stay downstairs and eavesdrop rather than sneaking upstairs and then get caught snooping around them. According to what Kenjiro heard, his father blamed his sister for screwing up the minds and hearts of his two brothers because of her overwhelming beauty and assumed deception that got the two brothers turning against each other. Then the words exchanged got messy and then he heard two loud bangs with the second bang blasted twenty seconds after the first one. Kenjiro decided to run upstairs to see what just happened and who were the ones shot. By the time Kenjiro got there, his father exited the room first and spotted him."
Right when Gin said those words, I felt a complete chill all over me. This incident was just surely… way beyond what I expected. During the time when everything was very conservative, all of this was going on behind the doors of the mighty Stardust House. Now I see why Grandpa did not allow Dad and the rest of his siblings talk about this entire incident. This was indeed an incident that would truly leave a scar of an elite family such as my own. Seriously.
"And get this," Gin continued. "Kozaburo grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him out of the house. He wouldn't let him see what has happened to his fateful siblings. Once they got outside, Kozaburo warned his son that he didn't see anything that just happened, that he had to pretend that he was an only child in the family, and that he must never say a word or speak to anyone, most especially the elders of the family, about what had just happened. Because of fear of his father's tyranny, Kenjiro kept his mouth shut and remained silent all this time. The day after the murders, Kozaburo ordered to lock the entire Little Stardust House area from its doors to the main gates, never to be opened ever again.
"It wasn't until several months later when Kenjiro finally had the guts to tell someone about what happened. While his grandmother was recovering from her sickness, Kenjiro finally spoke up, and that was how the elders and the rest of the Irie Family learned of the murders. That was when they took action and removed Kozaburo and his conceited wife from the right of being the head of the family and forced them to change their will and testament, replacing Kouta's and Kyosuke's names to Kenjiro's name. Kenjiro admitted though that he didn't see who did the killing, whether if it was intended murder or suicide, but whatever the case was, it was very clear that Kozaburo failed as a parent, which equates to him failing as the head of the family all at the same time. The following year came and the courts finally made the change official. Kenjiro, by default, became the new head of the family, however, he had Stardust House renovated as well as its grounds and decided to continue living with his grandmother until he graduated from high school. Ever since the removal of his parents from power, he started visiting Little Stardust House, and even though he doesn't have the keys to the gates, all he did was have the entire area blessed and placed fresh flowers at the gates as his sign of respect and a sign of how much he always has them in his prayers. It was also his way of saying that he was already fulfilling all the promises he made to them, with one major promise already fulfilled, and that was for him to live a more prosperous and normal life with a wonderful wife and beautiful children."
"And Kenjiro succeeded," Tai-nii nodded. "Sure, Great-Grandpa Kenjiro and Great-Grandma Kana were no handsome prince and beautiful princess, but it was heavily evident that Great-Grandpa Kenjiro, despite that he was fat and ugly, completely carried all of the purely beautiful Irie genes. I mean, I've seen the family photo of Grandpa Kuze and his six other siblings along with Kenjiro and Kana— him and all of his siblings can seriously pass on for being teen idols big time!"
Gin then gasped after realizing something from out of the blue. "I think I know why Kirie's spirit was still lingering around behind the gates of Little Stardust House." Once again he opened the photo from his cellphone and showed it to the rest of us once and for all. "Take a look at her expression. What does that tell you?"
As much as I still feel chills through my spine looking at that ghostly figure, somehow I realized the poor pretty girl's face looked rather sad or rather distressed. Somehow I felt as if she wanted to get out of that place, but then if she were to get out…
"She looks so sad…" Jun sighed sadly. "It looks like tears were about to fall from her eyes there…"
"What's the date today?" Gin asked.
"July 7, why?" Tai-nii answered.
"The date that Kouta, Kyosuke, and Kirie died was July 27, 1929. I know because that's when Kenjiro dated this entry."
"July 27 is like twenty days away from today!" I exclaimed. "Maybe that's why those ofuda strips were fading. Maybe something bad may happen if we just ignore it?" Okay Kairi, how on earth did you start becoming superstitious all of a sudden? This isn't like you.
"Well, whatever it is," Tai-nii sighed, stretching his arms, then resting one of them around Mirai's shoulders. "I think we need to find out what really happened inside that Little Stardust House area before that date. I'm not being superstitious or anything but since Gin was able to catch that on his phone camera this morning now I'm beginning to believe that ghosts do exist."
"Your grandfather said that my grandfather will be renewing the ofuda strips tomorrow," Gin said. "I'll see if I can convince my grandfather if we can enter that area before he starts replacing the ofuda strips with new ones."
"Do that!" Tai-nii approved of the idea. "Starting tomorrow we should go together and visit the Little Stardust House and we have to find the answers and solve this mystery before July 27."
"Oi, Tai-senpai," I heard Shinoda interrupt. "The week after next week is the premiere of 'Starcatchers on TV.' We won't have time to investigate that Little Stardust House incident if we're going to spend almost two weeks rehearsing."
"We still got the preparation for Foundation Day Festival too," Himemiya also added another reminder. "I mean we have rehearsals in the afternoon while we do preparation for the festival during the daytime in school."
"Who cares?" Yuki protested. "I'm more interested in finding out what happened at Little Stardust House more than anything. I mean this is about my family… and Aniki's and Kairi's family too… and of course, the history of the house that we're all living in right now. Don't you want to know what happened here so that at least we can find ways on how to make Stardust House a better place to board in?"
"Well, you guys are right," Tai-nii sighed. "We will be busy… plus we don't have the key to that lock that would let us enter the gates too…"
Immediately, Ken reached for the pocket and revealed that same folded cloth with the key inside. "You mean this key?"
Everyone dashed right to the piano area where he, Kaito, and myself were sitting, with Tai-nii being at the front. "Could this be… where'd you find it, Ken?"
"It came along with the maps and the title documents of Stardust House dated back in the 1890s. When you guys arrived at the library I decided to keep it."
"Sweet! Nice! Hahahahaha!" Tai-nii patted Ken on the shoulder. "You keep the key for now. Since tomorrow is Sunday and a free day, we can go and visit in the morning."
Right then, it was a sure deal and planned confirmed. Tomorrow in the morning, possibly during the morning jog, we'll just mosey along the scary old gates and take a little stroll to the Little Stardust House.
There is one thing, Tai-nii said. We can't let Dad and Grandpa know about this until Gin is able to convince his grandfather to not replace the ofuda strips yet until we finally put the pieces of the puzzle together.
We finally decided to call it the day, ready to hit the sack and get anxious for tomorrow's early morning jog. As I was about to head out, Kaito and Ken remained at the piano seat, with Ken playing that same piano piece he was playing earlier to kill time until everyone showed up for Gin's reading of Great-Grandpa Kenjiro's diary. The quite haunting yet innocent tune of the music obviously prompted me to return to the piano and sat on the same spot I sat earlier.
No words were exchanged at that point. It was just me, Kaito, and the pianist Ken-senpai, just enjoying the music and the way he played it with his masterful fingers. I helped flipped through the musical sheets as he played through the scale, up until the end. After he finished it with such a touching flair, Kaito and I both applauded for his performance.
"That was amazing, Senpai," Kaito complimented him. "You really were born to be a master of music, you know that?"
Ken simply chuckled. "Thanks, I guess, Ichinose-kun."
"Call me Kaito… I mean… please…" Somehow I felt comfort and relief that the politeness barrier finally shattered down.
"Sure, Kaito, okay," Ken said, nodding. "I was just being polite, you being a star and all that…"
"It feels weird for someone older and obviously a lot more 'senior' than I am to be referring me in a polite manner."
"I'm still a newbie here in Japan, let alone in a Japanese school, so I guess we're even with the whole 'seniority' thing."
"I guess you're right, Senpai." Kaito returned the chuckle.
Ken-senpai collected the music sheets together and placed them in one spot at the piano stand. "Just by looking at the build alone, this is a very old piano. Maybe early 20th Century, but the strings and such have been updated, so that's the only thing that's new. It's a very sturdy build." He then pointed to the music sheets he just collated just now. "Great-Grandpa Kenjiro actually composed this piano piece, did you know? While we were waiting for you guys to arrive earlier, Gin read a few entries from his diary regarding his love for music, composing, and songwriting."
Love for music? Maybe Mom wasn't the only one who possessed the musical gene. Could it be from Great-Grandpa Kenjiro and from Great-Grandma Kana, who was a stage playwright for the very famous Takarazuka Revue, that brought up the roots and influence in to Grandpa Kuze founding StarPros back in the mid-20th Century? And look at me. Not only that I inherited Great-Grandpa Kenjiro's genes but also his talent for music too? Now that's what I call amazing.
"Grandpa Kuze was the founder and first president and CEO of StarPros after all," Kaito mentioned. "All of us were required to learn the roots and history of StarPros upon getting recruited and go through their series of training workshops before they introduce us to the public. And as far as I know, Grandpa Kuze and the rest of his younger siblings also loved music. He was really good at the piano too."
"Great-Grandpa Kenjiro must have taught him and the rest of the children then," Ken said. He then took the music sheets from the stand. "Does any one of you two play the piano?"
To a surprise, both Kaito and I raised our hands. "I… had some piano lessons in the beginning but I really wasn't in to it. Dad and Tai-nii were the pianists in our family. I play a little bit of the piano but I love baseball and guitar more."
"I was actually learning how to play the piano under Grandpa Kuze when I was a kid, but I loved baseball more." Kaito grinned nervously. "I just started picking up piano again when I got accepted in to StarPros, also being taught under Grandpa Kuze himself even if he's already retired from StarPros. Then I just picked up guitar by myself and learned a bit from the more senior idols who already knew how to play guitar."
Ken nodded, acknowledging both our replies. "I found a whole folder of music sheets that Great-Grandpa Kenjiro composed. He was a talented musical genius at a very young age. My dad was an accomplished pianist too, so he also had me, Mal, and Vyn undergo piano lessons too. I eventually picked up guitar also, Mal still continued with her piano even if she had more interests in film and photography, and Vyn…"
Vyn? Malvyn? That tall slanky ghetto wanna-be who talks like he's a major illiterate from the streets?
"What about Malvyn?" Kaito asked curiously. "You know your brother's a very interesting person. There's a lot more to him than meets the eye."
"You're telling me," Ken snickered. "Vyn loved basketball, but because we lived in America where dudes over six foot were normal in our standards, he couldn't make it in to the school basketball teams because there were other dudes who were the same height as him and were even better at the game than he was. But despite of him acting like he's a raw gangsta, he's actually really good in music too. When he didn't make the basketball team, he was at the school band playing drums. He even picked up Turntablism too."
"What the heck is 'Turntablism'?" I asked. That was the first time I've heard of that English term before. And I thought I knew enough English for me to be considered fluent.
"Turntable mixing. It's a new term for DJs who actually do manipulative sounds using the turntables rather than just changing the records from one track to the next. He likes R&B and hip-hop music from the old school to today." We stood up from the seats so Ken can place the music sheets back in the piano seat compartment. We then sat back down after he was finished.
"Vyn may look like he's the lamest idiot you'll ever meet, but he's actually good at a lot of things. Despite that Mal may look like the overachieving twin, Vyn actually has better grades than she does. He's good with the piano and the drums and the mixing, he can even write slick poetry, spoken word, and yes, rapping. He just denies them because he was trying to eliminate everything else he's good at so he can focus more on to something he loves, even when he's not really good at them."
Strange dude, I thought. Better get used to him when he and his twin sister Mallory start to move in Stardust House sometime this week.
"Hey, speaking of your sister," I changed the subject, "how's her little affair with her long-distance boyfriend. What's his name again?"
"Sora-kun?" Ken answered. He shrugged his shoulders as his response. "Okay, I guess. Still the same. She still texts me about him. The latest news was that he also wouldn't be able to be on campus as often as much as the idols and starlets do in our school, so he'd be a long-distance student again using the school's online education system. He still texts her love letters, or email, or poetry, or whatever you call them, plus she's beginning to learn some basic Japanese from him also."
"Long-distance… online relationships… really baffle me," Kaito said, gently scratching a part of his head with a finger. "I don't think there's such thing here in Japan."
"Mallory's American. Sora-kun is British… well, by nationality, I mean. Western influences, you know."
Now that reminded me, this wasn't the time to talk about his siblings now. How was Ken-senpai doing now he's not under the same roof as Karen-chan anymore?
"If you only believe in each other and your love for one another, anything is possible," Ken said. "I can relate to Mallory in a way. Since I moved out of the dorms, Karen and I have been in constant contact through phone calls, texts, emails, sometimes in IMs like GTalk and AIM, and we get to see each other in school anyway."
"But then it's summer break now."
Ken-senpai acknowledged my reply. "She'll be out of town throughout break with her family. Mid to late July she'll be up in Gifu to visit her father's relatives there. Actually in early August she and the school cooking club will be going on a club field trip in Okinawa to learn more about Okinawan cuisine.. I've prepared Okinawan dishes before back when I used to live in America and they're very different from your standard Japanese cuisine. My uncle was a retired Marine and was stationed in Okinawa and is a food adventurer too, so that should tell you how I learned how to cook Okinawan dishes."
"That's amazing," I said, applauding softly. "Let's try Okinawan cuisine for tomorrow's dinner!"
"Good idea, Kairi," Kaito seconded my emotion.
"Don't rely on me all the time on cooking, guys," Ken-senpai chortled. "Vyn is a good cook too. He just likes to play it off in front of everyone that he doesn't so he wouldn't be made fun of, you know? You know youth culture in America is a whole lot different than here in Japan. If you're in to the latest trends and are as 'normal' as everyone else over there, then that's how you'll win popularity points. It's not like here when you're good at something or if you're smart at a lot of things, then you'll win your popularity points."
"Or if you're a foreigner or someone with foreign blood but look more foreign than Japanese, then you'll score popularity points," Kaito added jokingly.
"And don't forget hot and gorgeous teens who are smart and good at something even if it's not school-related, as long as they're just hot and gorgeous, you'll also score popularity points," I joked along in response.
Ken stood up from his seat, stretching his arms. "Well, now I'm beat. I'm heading to bed now. Gin's probably wondering what the hell I'm still doing up. You guys should too. We've got a lot of things coming up tomorrow."
Kaito and I stood up, following him from behind. "Thanks for the time with us, Senpai," Kaito gleefully thanked him.
"Thanks for giving me a chance to introduce myself more to you guys, Kaito, Kairi," Ken showed off that big brother grin of his.
Once we reached the hallway, we then parted with exchange of goodnights. Tomorrow will be another day.