「 Auuu. I-I… 」
Ai looks confused.
Her thoughts are all over the place, wanting to escape.
But, I won’t use “shuffle” here.
「 Ai, take a deep breath, and listen to what I say 」
「 Haafuuuu 」
Ai takes a deep breath as I ordered her.
「 What do you think of the past few days we spent together? 」
「 W-What? 」
Ai’s eyes open wide as she responds.
「 You’ve tried out everything that your mother does for you until recently. You had a lot of trouble at first, but what about now? 」
「 Uuuu, it’s still a lot of trouble 」
Ai looks down.
「 I-I’m clumsy 」
「 Look at me when speaking 」
Ai looks back at me.
「 It’s the same with me. I’m a clumsy, and useless man 」
「 Back then, I was just like Ai, timid, acting strangely, and I couldn’t even speak out a word 」
「 T-That’s a lie 」
Ai stares at my face, dumbfoundedly.
「 It’s true, it was disgusting to look at. He’s always trembling, and you can’t even figure out what he’s trying to say back then. I thought that he’s got brain damage 」
「 Well, I know that he liked me back then though 」
Back then, I was like that.
I’ve got worse communication disorder than Ai right now.
「 Nii-san doesn’t lie. Isn’t that right, Koyomi-chan? 」
Luna looked at my heart and said.
「 Yeah. It looks like it 」
「 I changed because of my family 」
Then, I take the bread Ai made…
「 Ai, what were you thinking while making this? 」
Ai looks at it.
「 I did it poorly. It shouldn’t be delicious 」
「 Is that all? 」
「 Agnes-chan and the younger girls are making it smoothly, but I, Ai’s the only one who can’t… 」
「 If you continue to practice, you’ll reach Agnes and Mana’s level 」
I said. Ai trembles.
「 No, Ai is useless 」
「 But, anyone who practices hard can create products they can sell in the counter 」
Agnes and Mana’s products are categorized as the 50-yen cheaper ones, the simple products.
「 But, Ai is Ai… 」
The insecurity her mother carved in Ai’s heart is deep.
「 I wonder? When I started making this four months ago, it wasn’t this smooth. Therefore, I think Ai has the talent 」
Ai looks up at me, trembling.
「 I was also bad at it at first. But, Katsuko-nee teaches me every day, repeating mistakes over and over again 」
「 But, you can do it now 」
「 A-Ai understood after staying in the counter for the past few days. I-I saw Yoshida-kun make the products in the mansion…A-And everyone’s helping to sell the pastries everyone made 」
「 Yeah, we’re doing our best. I need to learn as fast as possible to support my family… 」
「 B-But… 」
「 Minaho-neesan and Misuzu may have money, but, that’s another story, I want to move my hands and earn money to help them 」
Minaho-neesan’s supporting us right now, but…
I want to become a man who earns for the family as soon as possible.
「 Besides, I’m still not good enough. I need to continue making better pastries, or I won’t be able to open a business in Tokyo 」
「 Auuu? 」
「 I’m serious. Once I graduate, I’ll start my bakery with Katsuko-nee 」
I smiled at Ai.
「 For real, making pastries is hard. Once you make a new product, you’ll proceed to make the next. If you think that you’re done with just one, and look at it again after improving, you’ll see that your work is rough. You never say, “I’ve done it,” You repeat it. You can look smug with the pastry you made yesterday, but you notice that it’s still not good enough. Each time you level up, you’ll see the shame from what you made until now. Every day, you’ll feel “I’m so clumsy,” “I’m so useless,” and it will loop itself 」
「 But, tomorrow comes. Tomorrow, the food you make becomes better than yesterday. You have to repeat making mistakes. That’s how you move on, little by little. I lack in ability just like Ai… 」
「 Auuu 」
Ai looked at me.
「 Right, you were just like this idiot back then 」
「 No way? It doesn’t look like it now though 」
「 I mean, Nobu’s always so confident, composed, mature…he looks like a strong man to me 」
Kana-senpai, that’s how you see me?
「 His confidence and composure is inevitable 」
Edie smiles wryly.
「 Everyone would worry if Darling’s not composed. Especially the younger girls 」
I am Agnes and Mao-chan’s father.
Those girls look up at me.
「 Darling’s the King of our family. Kings need to stand firm. Darling knows that, and so he puts that into practice…He stays strong for us, his family 」
No, it’s nothing cool.
I just have a responsibility to my family, to my women.
I’ll do anything to make sure that my girls are happy.
「 Ai will surely understand when you find someone you want to smile 」
「 If you want that person to smile, you must never show a face of pain in them. You’ll make a face that says “you don’t have to worry,” “it’s okay,” “there’s no problem” 」
「 And that’s why Megumi’s an idiot 」
「 This idiot never shows weakness when Megumi’s present. He treasures Megumi more than Edie or me, and yet, that girl is also an idiot, so she doesn’t notice it 」
「 I mean, if she noticed it herself, she’ll move to the next stage as Darling’s woman 」
「 When she noticed the relationship where we support each other, then it’ll begin 」
「 Right, Megumi’s in the same spot as Agnes to this idiot 」
「 Let’s put that aside for now, we’re talking about Ai here 」
I looked at Ai…
「 Let’s change the topic. Ai, did you have fun while making this? 」
「 Huh? 」
「 I’m asking about this, the one you made, the one your mother and everyone here tasted. Besides, it’s interesting, isn’t it? You knead the wheat, ferment it, and it becomes a baked pastry 」
「 Y-Yes 」
Ai looks at the bread she made.
「 It’s a bit distorted, but don’t you feel that it’s cute? Ai made it with her all her best. Also, don’t you want everyone to eat this? 」
「 B-But A-Ai made that… 」
I tear the bread and eat it.
「 It’s delicious 」
Ai looks at me, surprised.
「 R-Really? 」
「 I’ve seen Ai do her best to knead it. Therefore, I find it tasty. It tastes Ai’s effort 」
「 Hmm, let’s see? 」
Yukino also takes a bite.
「 What. Isn’t this just a normal one?! The shape’s the only bad one here, it’s edible. It’s not as bad as you think 」
「 Then I’ll take a bite too 」
Kana-senpai also eats Ai’s bread.
「 Yeah. That’s bread. It’s nothing special, but you can eat it 」
They’re not forcing praise.
They speak out their honest thoughts.
「 Then we’ll taste it too 」
Luna also tears a piece and split it with Koyomi-chan.
「 We were helping out together at the same time, but it sure is better than our first try 」
Luna started helping out in the bakery only two weeks ago.
「 Ai-san’s slow but careful, I think that you’ll become better than me 」
「 People have their pace. Ai, if you go with your pace, I think that you’ll become better 」
「 With that said, Ai… 」
I speak after hearing everyone’s opinions.
「 Ai isn’t useless at all. We can see that from what you’ve done here 」
I eat up what remains of the bread.
「 Yeah, Ai will surely become better at this. That’s the taste. I can see the possibility. You’re never useless 」
「 That’s right, try it out first 」
Yukino gives Ai a piece of bread Ai made.
「 Uuuu 」
「 Go ahead, eat it 」
Ai eats it.
「 What do you think? 」
Yukino said. Everyone looked at Ai…
Ai’s mother included.
「 Uuu, it’s not that delicious 」
Ai mutters in tears.
「 But, it’s edible 」
『 Therefore, take Kiyohara-san out of there! 』
『 There’s no more conversation beyond this! 』
『 We will take Kiyohara-san back! 』
『 She’ll never help you out in the bakery again! 』
『 That’s right! Kiyohara-san is useless without us! 』
As usual, Ai’s classmates shout like they’re her parents.
「 Ai, go ahead 」
「 Uuuu 」
「 I won’t use the usual right now 」
I won’t use shuffle to refresh her mind.
「 I mean, you can use it on yourself, don’t you? 」
「 Auu? 」
「 Put your thoughts in order and go, Ai… 」
I smiled at Ai.
「 AI, let’s go! This is your fight! 」
「 I don’t care anymore, just go already! They won’t calm down unless you go out! 」
「 Go for it, Ai-san! 」
「 It’s going to be okay 」
Kana-senpai, Yukino, Luna, Koyomi-chan
「 Auauauuu, iiii 」
「 Do you get it? Then go already 」
「 Uuuuu, auuu 」
Ai nods lightly.
「 OK, I’ll open the door in three, ready? 」
Edie holds the door.
「 Okay, 3…2…1… 」
Ai swallowed her saliva.
「 GO!!! 」
Edie goes all out.
She opens the door with a flying kick momentum!!!
「 Auuuuu!!!! 」
The view of the outside…
It’s much more amazing to look at compared to the monitor.
The cafeteria’s crowded since it’s still lunch break, and yet…
Furthermore, in this period, most students are coming over to buy desserts.
That’s where Ai’s five classmates and Katsuko-nee argue at each other…
That’s when almost everyone around looked at Ai, who suddenly appeared.
Ai, sensing the gaze of people…
「 Aaaah, aaauuuuu!!! 」
She’s about to panic, but…
「 Kiyohara-san! You finally came outside! 」
「 Come here, let’s go back to our classroom 」
「 We’ll be sure to have them pay for the work you’ve done, Kiyohara-san! 」
「 To think that you were forced to work in here, poor Kiyohara-san 」
「 I’ll send a letter to *** Newspaper!! 」
The five classmates say all of that, then…
「 Auuu, S-Shuffleeeeeeeeeeee!!!! 」
She shouts “shuffle” loudly like a transforming magical girl.
「 Huh? 」
「 What’s wrong? 」
Ai did something too strange that nobody is laughing.
Everyone watching is making a “?????!!!!!” face.
「 I-I, Kiyohara Ai, I want to stay here. No, I will stay here. Right here. That’s what I want to do! 」
AI starts speaking loudly so suddenly.
「 Yamamoto-san, Sugishita-san, Kanbe-san, Kamiyama-san, Hirano-san, t-thank you for always coming to Ai’s help every time. I really thank you all! 」
She bows her head to her classmates.
「 B-but, Ai, doesn’t want to be always under someone’s protection all the time. Ai…I must become a girl who can do things herself. I had to. It’s a necessity!!! 」
Ai desperately tries to speak out the words that are coming from her heart.
Do your best.
「 What’s wrong, Kiyohara-san? 」
「 Wait, did anyone from the bakery tell you to do to that? 」
「 It’s okay now, Kiyohara-san, you can stay timid all the time 」
「 That’s right, we’re here to rescue you 」
「 That is Kiyohara-san’s charm 」
「 See? We’re kind 」
「 Kiyohara-san looks cute when you’re timid!! 」
「 You don’t have to come back to this bakery at all! 」
「 Come over here! Kiyohara-san! 」
They don’t think of Ai as their friend.
They are only into the superiority they feel when protecting Ai.
They’re just enjoying treating Ai, who looks cute, as their pet.
「 No, that’s not it 」
Ai desperately tries to speak up.
「 Just listen to us and come here! 」
「 That’s right! We’ll hear from you later! 」
「 Kiyohara-san, we don’t know what you’re trying to say so it’ll take a lot of time 」
「 It’s okay, you can take it slow with us. Kanbe’s in charge today 」
「 Huh? Me? I guess it can’t be helped. I’ll listen to you 」
「 Lunch break is about to be over, we need to return to our classrooms! 」
「 That’s right, and tomorrow, we can eat lunch together again. Kiyohara-san, do you get it? 」
「 She’ll understand that even if you don’t say it. Kiyohara-san’s like, ‘that,’ you know? 」
「 But this girl is slow 」
「 Let’s go already, Kiyohara-san! 」
No, they’re the type of people attracted to Ai’s personality until now.
Ai, reap for what she sowed.
This is more of a reason why Ai needs to make decisions herself.
「 W-Wait! I-I… 」
「 Just come over already! We all came all the way here just for Kiyohara-san 」
「 That’s right! Kiyohara-san can just shut up and follow us 」
「 You don’t have to think of anything unnecessary. Either way, you can’t do anything 」
「 That’s right, you can’t do anything without us 」
Hearing the voices on the other side of the wall…
「 That’s what you’ve done to your daughter 」
Edie speaks to Ai’s mother.
「 I… 」
Ai’s mother holds her head and falls prostrate.
「 What are you doing! Isn’t that your daughter?! What do you think will happen if you look away? 」
Yukino speaks to Ai’s mother.
「 Watch this to the end, that’s your responsibility 」
Yukino’s abandoned by her mother.
As soon as the Shirasaka Sousuke’s events happened, Yukino’s mother shut herself in her family’s home.
Yukino never received any contact from her mother.
She looked away from reality.
「 Ah, auuuu! 」
「 We’re returning now! Hurry up and come to us! Geez! You’re so slow! 」
To me, those words aren’t coming from friends.
「 Hey, stop that fucking bullshit you all! 」
I shout from the bakery to the counter.
「 This girl’s trying her best to tell you something, listen to what she’s going to say!!! 」
I speak to Ai’s classmates while releasing my Qi.
「 Don’t look down on people who are trying to do their best!!! 」
What? It silenced the whole cafeteria now?
Ai’s classmates are all speechless.
「 Go ahead, say it 」
「 Ah, okay 」
Ai calmed down and speaks.
「 I-I, I’ve been unable to anything until now. Everyone’s always so kind and helps me out…I was a girl who can’t do anything 」
Ai begins to speak out the thoughts from the bottom of her heart.
「 But, it can’t stay that way all the time…No, these people taught me that I can’t stay like that 」
These people. She’s talking about us.
But the people in the cafeteria thinks that it’s Katsuko-nee and the people at the bakery.
「 And then, they taught me to do things by myself, and they were gentle with it, showing me how to, again and again…They do it together with me, and point out when they find that I do something wrong, praise me when I do something right, but they never help me first-hand 」
That’s Ai’s life for the past few days.
Agnes and Mana play the central role of doing things together with Ai from early morning to evening.
That includes changing clothes, taking a bath, and even making the bed.
「 T-They also taught Ai about things I don’t know. They’re gentle when it’s my first time, they don’t get angry at me. They wait for me no matter how slow I am, they keep on teaching me the same thing until I understand it 」
They started teaching her cleaning, washing, and even cooking for the first time.
「 They see Ai as a real friend 」
As soon as Ai said that…
「 Kiyohara-san, you like the bakery that much? 」
One of Ai’s friends said.
Oh, right, they don’t know that Ai’s living in our mansion right now.
They think that Ai’s talking about the bakery right now.
That Ai’s talking about the breadmaking.
「 Well, I don’t mind it though 」
「 I heard a guy shout at us from over there- 」
「 If Kiyohara-san wants to do that, then I don’t mind… 」
「 But we’ll never come to help you with whatever happens next! 」
「 We’ll abandon Kiyohara-san no matter how teary you may look like 」
「 Shouldn’t you be grateful to us?! Do you understand? 」
「 You’re slow, so you don’t understand it 」
「 Are you sure? Do you seriously want to stop being friends with us? 」
Is that what you call friendship?
「 You all need to shut it! You’re no friends! 」
「 What? Do you know how much we care for this girl until now?! 」
「 That has nothing to do with it now! 」
「 It has everything to do with it! You don’t know anything, and yet you speak like that! 」
Megu and Ai’s classmates start a fire.
「 What? Aren’t you ‘that’? The girl who got engaged with the guy over there even though you’re just in first-year? 」
「 Wow, that’s filthy 」
「 Pervert! You’re a pervert! 」
「 What a disgusting woman! To think that you’re pretending to run a bakery in the school 」
「 Do that outside! We’re in school, you know! 」
「 Oh my! So disgusting! 」
They suddenly throw their hatred to Megu and me.
「 You two should just quit school 」
「 That’s right! Why don’t you go play husband-and-wife in a cart and sell bread in the park? 」
「 Either way, you’ll get bankrupt and die on the roadside! 」
「 We don’t want to see your face pretending to be good people! 」
「 It’s just strange to see this bread course made for you people 」
「 We’ll report this all to the newspapers! 」
That’s cruel of them.
「 What are you saying? This isn’t a school just for you!! 」
Nei roared at them.
「 Yo-chan and Megu-chan are also students here. Don’t speak for your convenience!! 」
「 But, people who disgrace the name of the school should leave! 」
「 That’s right! If the school doesn’t expel them, then they should go out by themselves! 」
「 That’s right! It’s just strange to see students who are engaged and living together! 」
So the other class thinks that way.
Well, I guess.
「 Yeah. It must be disgusting. I can understand that… 」
「 But, sorry but that’s how we live 」
「 What? Talking about fundamental human rights? I don’t care about you two! 」
「 That’s right! You should conform with the public welfare and drop out of school! 」
「 No objections! 」
The girls continue to make noise in the cafeteria.
「 I hate you 」
「 I hate you! I hate you! I hate you all!!! 」
To think that Ai shouts at her classmates.
「 Hey, did you not hear what Yoshida-kun said earlier?! He shouted, “don’t look down on people who are trying to do their best” 」
「 That’s right! Don’t look down on people who are doing all that they can! People who work hard are desperately trying to do what they can! Yoshida-kun and all these people are doing all their best! 」
Ai points at the remaining pastries in the counter.
「 Can you make this?! Can you do that every day?! You don’t know how much he’s working just to sell this every day! He’s doing all his to survive!!! 」
Ai’s words echo in the cafeteria.
「 He’s doing all his best to study on managing his bakery! Don’t look down on him as he’s working hard! Don’t do that! You can’t!! Auuuuuu!!! 」
「 Shuffle!!!!! 」
Ai restarts herself once again.
「 Hauu. 」
Ai, who took a deep breath, shows a refreshed face.
She wipes off the sweat on her forehead.
「 I’ve decided! 」
She turned to me.
「 I’ll join in this “bread course” 」
She declares in front of everyone.
「 C-Can I? Yoshida-kun? 」
I looked at Katsuko-nee.
「 No problems. I’ll negotiate with the school 」
Katsuko-nee said, and then Ai looked at me.
She’s waiting for my permission.
She’s showing an earnest, hardworking look.
「 Do you think you can make delicious pastry? 」
「 Ai’s slow, but will do her best 」
「 They’ll teach you, but they won’t help you 」
「 I know 」
「 I see. Then, since Ai decided already, let’s do that 」
Ai smiled for the first time.
「 Un! Yoshida-kun!! 」
That charming smile of her took the hearts of the boys in the cafeteria.
No, even the girls.
「 Ai will do her best! 」
That’s right, she’s cute from the start.
Thus, Ai’s smile makes her cuter.
I knew that from the start.