Chapter 5

“Good work today…and sent.”

The doors to the elevator opened on his apartment’s floor just as Yokozawa finished sending off a reply to the email he’d just received from a co-worker.

It was Sunday, and he’d just finished up helping out at a handshake event for an idol group who’d recently released a photobook. There’d of course been the reasoning that there weren’t enough staff for the event, but Yokozawa had also been tapped to help out because of his imposing presence, which would help stifle any unreasonable attempts by overzealous fans to get close to the idols.

Standing work wasn’t exactly difficult, but given that he had to constantly be on alert, it was exhausting on the nerves. His associates were thrilled to be able to see the idols up close, but Yokozawa couldn’t bring himself to to stir up any feelings for these girls who were a good decade his juniors.

“…Maybe I really am gay.” Engaged in his mumbled self-deprecation, he felt around inside his bag, finally pulling out his key.

Given that his apartment faced north, the hallway was rather chilly from always being buffeted by the wind. March was already more than halfway over, but Spring still seemed far away this year. On days like this, he liked to sleep curled up with Sorata. The cat was usually rather moody himself, but even he wanted to curl up for warmth on occasion, too.

“I’m home.”

Locking the door behind himself, he slipped out of his leather shoes. It was rather quiet in his apartment this evening—Sorata usually came to greet him at the door, but tonight, he was nowhere to be seen. He flipped on the lights and headed into the living room, and there he found Sorata curled up in a corner of the couch.

“…Sorata?”

When he called out, Sorata raised his head and glanced Yokozawa’s way, but then immediately curled back up again. He would usually come and rub himself between Yokozawa’s legs, waiting to be picked up, but today he seemed content with just a glance, not even moving to get up.

Maybe he was just sleepy from eating too much. Thinking he’d take the opportunity to refill Sorata’s water bowl, he turning on the kitchen light.

“…What the hell, you haven’t eaten a bite.” Hardly any of the dry food he’d set out before leaving that morning was gone. Given that Sorata was usually quite the glutton, Yokozawa had been worried recently that he would need to put him on a diet. For the cat to leave food in his bowl like this…it was really rare. Going back into the living room to check on him again, he noted that Sorata seemed rather listless.

“…Sorata? Oi, what’s wrong? Do you feel bad?” Despite knowing full well that of course Sorata could hardly respond, even when approached with questions as now, Yokozawa couldn’t help himself. This was the first time he’d ever known Sorata to have no energy or appetite.

He suddenly recalled a conversation with another owner in the waiting room when he’d taken Sorata to the vet clinic for a checkup before. They’d spoken of how a cat they’d owned before had seemed listless one evening, but they decided to wait it out and see if there was any improvement… By the next morning, the cat had died. Since then, the owner had made sure to immediately bring his cat to the vet any time there seemed to be something wrong with it.

Yokozawa had read about a number of similar cases on the Internet as well. What if something really was wrong? Maybe he was overreacting, but he couldn’t discount the possibility.

“I’ve…I’ve got to get him to the vet clinic immediately…”

Grabbing Sorata’s carry-case, he fished around inside the drawer where he kept Sorata’s vet ID card. It was a weekend today, so of course there were no examination slots scheduled—but if he waited until morning, it might be too late. Clinging to hope, he finally managed to locate the ID card and quickly dialed the number on it.

Regardless of the fact that it was a Sunday evening, when he called up the local veterinarian, they gladly agreed to see him. Hailing a taxi that allowed pets to ride with their owners, Yokozawa couldn’t help still feeling uneasy all the way to the clinic.

What if this was something serious, something that might threaten Sorata’s life…? He couldn’t shake that feeling of unease. Even when he tried to keep a positive outlook, only the worst-case-scenarios came to mind.

Others might look at him and scoff that it was just a pet—but to Yokozawa, Sorata was like family. Unlike humans, pets couldn’t speak, so they could only communicate their feelings through movement and expression. While there were certainly times when that was frustrating, they still managed to communicate clearly.

Frantically brushing aside any unpleasant thoughts, he settled in to wait for the check-up to finish—at which point Hiyori burst into the waiting room.

“Oniichan!”

“Hiyo…!”

Right on her heels was Kirishima. “Are you all right, Yokozawa?”

On the way to the clinic, he’d thought about calling Takano right away, but in the end, he decided not to. He couldn’t bear the thought, now of all times, of being pitied by him. But all the same—he couldn’t deny that he was lonely and wound up phoning Kirishima on impulse.

The moment he saw Kirishima’s face, he felt a wave of relief wash over him—but at the same time, a sense of regret settled as well.

Even if he was worried, it had been a mistake to call up Kirishima. No matter how precious Sorata was to Yokozawa, to any onlooker, this likely seemed like the most trivial of matters.

“I’m sorry… You came all this way just for a pet…”

“Don’t say just for a pet! That cat’s like your family, isn’t he?”

At Kirishima’s harsh words, Yokozawa felt a pressing heat behind his eyes. “Ah…yeah…” He dropped his head, determined not to cry in front of them, and grit his teeth.

Hiyori reached forward and squeezed his hand in her own. “It’s okay! I’m here now! Sora-chan’ll be just fine!”

“…Yeah, you’re right. Thanks, Hiyo.” He was one pathetic adult, having to be cheered up by a child. But the warmth of Hiyori’s hand was reassuring, and just as he returned a smile her way, the door to the examination room opened.

“Yokozawa-san, please come this way.”

“Right.” When the elderly veterinarian called out to him, Yokozawa stood up as if he’d been jerked from his place. Patting Hiyori’s head in thanks for her staying by his side, he stepped into the examination room.

Sorata was sitting quietly on a small, waist-high table and seemed to have had no issues with the check-up. He looked utterly nonchalant, as if his earlier lethargy had been a complete ruse.

“So, how is he, sir?”

Seeing Yokozawa’s worried mien, the doctor dove into his explanation of the check-up results with a gentle smile. “You can stop worrying. I gave him a general examination, but I couldn’t find a single thing wrong with him.”

“Really?!”

“Indeed. At the very least, it doesn’t seem that he was feeling bad from eating something that didn’t agree with him. He probably was just not feeling very energetic is all.”

“Then—there’s nothing wrong with him?”

“Yes—as you can see, he’s absolutely fine now, and there’s no worry of him being sick. But Sorata-kun isn’t getting any younger, so while he should be fine—just in case, you’ll want to keep an eye on him for the time being.”

Sorata appeared to be delighted being held by a veterinarian he was fond of. Maybe it was just as the doctor had said and he’d simply been feeling listless.

…Which meant Yokozawa had gotten worked up over nothing. He felt relief and shame well up inside of him at the doctor’s diagnosis. It hadn’t been anything major at all—and yet he’d gone and gotten worked up and roused the vet from his bed at this late hour, even going so far as calling up Kirishima. There were limits to losing your head over things.

Fighting against the humiliation that had started to bubble inside, he bowed his head low. “Thank you so much!”

“Think nothing of it. I’m only glad it wasn’t anything serious. Perhaps he was just feeling a bit lonely. Sorata-kun is very lucky to have an owner who cares so deeply for him.”

Taking Sorata back from the veterinarian, Yokozawa held him close to his chest, feeling a stab of guilt when Sorata brought his face close, looking for attention.

Yokozawa hadn’t been getting home until late recently, and he hadn’t been able to play with Sorata much or even bring him over to see his former owner, Takano. Of course Sorata would feel lonely.

“I’m sorry to have troubled you so late in the evening.”

“It’s nothing—this is my job, after all. Please take care.”

“I certainly will.” He bowed once more and then stepped out of the examination room, at which point Hiyori rushed over.

“Ah—Oniichan! How is Sora-chan??”

“Seems he was just a bit lethargic is all. He’s not sick, so there’s nothing to be worried about.”

“Really?? That’s great, Sora-chan! Oh—hello! I’m Hiyori! It’s a pleasure to meet you~!”

Hiyori straightened up and patted Sorata’s head. Sorata’s eyes flattened into slits, obviously enjoying the feel of her little hand.

“So—it wasn’t anything serious, then?”

“Looks like it was just me overreacting. …Sorry for causing you trouble this late at night.” He apologized for inconveniencing them due to a simple misunderstanding.

“What the hell are you acting all dejected about? Aren’t you happy it wasn’t a serious sickness or anything?” Kirishima slapped him on the back forcefully. Despite being called out on a Sunday night without warning, neither Kirishima nor Hiyori seemed put out in the least, simply rejoining in Sorata’s good health. At this, Yokozawa finally felt the tension in his shoulders fade away.

“You sure you don’t need to get any medicine for him?”

“Yeah, I can go home now. Just—he’s not a kitten anymore, so the doctor said to keep an eye on him.” Reciting what he was told by the vet, Yokozawa slipped Sorata into his cage. They couldn’t hang around in the waiting room forever.

As the three of them stepped outside, the night sky above was dotted with stars and a crescent moon. They seemed brighter than usual, as the quiet neighborhood in which Yokozawa lived had relatively few street lamps.

“When he said to keep an eye on him…did that mean during the day, too?”

“Nah—seems like the usual amount of time should be fine. I’d love to be with him always, but that’s hardly feasible…” He had a job, after all, so he could hardly stay at home full time just for Sorata. It would have been enough if he could at least get home earlier, but this week he already had a lot on his plate.

Perhaps if he had a friend he could ask to watch Sorata, that would be fine, but the only person he was close to who lived alone and could have a pet was Takano—and there was no way he could ask someone who had an even more hectic schedule than Yokozawa in sales to care for a pet.

Just as he was wracking his brain for any possible options, though, Hiyori’s hand shot into the air, waving around for attention after hearing their conversation. “I’ll watch him!!”

“Huh?”

“Sora-chan can just stay with us until he feels better! I’m on spring break right now, so I can be with him full time!”

“That’s a great idea!”

“Right??” Hiyori’s chest puffed out in pride as Kirishima praised her. But while Yokozawa appreciated the thought, he knew he couldn’t ask for that much. Sorata was the cat he’d taken in from Takano, professing that he would take care of him; Yokozawa had a duty to watch over him.

“I’m grateful for the offer, but if you did that, you wouldn’t be able to go anywhere, right? Don’t you want to play with your friends?” He couldn’t stand the thought of Hiyori’s freedom being taken away just for Yokozawa or Sorata.

But Hiyori remained resolute. “I can play with my friends anytime! It’s more important to make sure Sora-chan gets better soon, though, right? You’ve got work, Oniichan, so leave it to me!”

“Listen to Hiyo and accept the offer, would you? Or are you saying you can’t trust her?”

“Of course I’m not saying that!”

“After all, this is you we’re talking about: you’re probably thinking you don’t want to cause us any more trouble, right?”

“………” Being seen through so easily, Yokozawa had no room to refute the accusation. Kirishima probably saw him as nothing more than a child.

“I’ll tell you this straight out, then: It’s no trouble at all. In fact, it’s more of a pain to have to see you sitting on the fence like this. And—while we’re at it, you come and stay with us, too.”

What? Why the hell do I have to—”

“I’m worried for the cat, sure—but I’m worried about you, too. It’s not wise to leave you by yourself. Have you looked in a mirror lately? You look like shit.”

“Cut it out—stop poking me!” Yokozawa slapped away the hand that had come up to poke his cheek. He looked horrible because he’d been worrying incessantly over Sorata—it wasn’t like he himself was sick. It was nice of them to worry for him, but it was decidedly unnecessary.

“We’ve got a spare room, and if all you do when you get home is sleep, what’s it matter where you do it? You think it’s better that way too, right Hiyo?”

“Yup! Come stay at our place, Oniichan! It’s more fun if we’re all together!”

With Hiyori staring up at him with her eyes sparkling, Yokozawa found himself enveloped in an atmosphere where he couldn’t argue any further. Even though he knew full well this was all Kirishima’s doing, he couldn’t fight against the innocence of a child.

He snapped softly at Kirishima in a voice Hiyori couldn’t catch, “That’s low, using Hiyo like that…”

“It’s my policy to use whatever’s at hand to get the job done. Now quit your bitching and get in the car. We’ll stop by your place so you can pick up a change of clothes and the cat’s things.”

“But—”

When Yokozawa continued to hesitate, Kirishima pulled his trump card: “This is an order. You know what that means, right?”

“………!” At the emphasis, Yokozawa instantly recalled how he’d been taken advantage of. Having that incident held over his head, Yokozawa had no choice but to comply.

Seeing Yokozawa grow quiet, unable to object, Kirishima took the opportunity to draw things to a conclusion. “Well then, it’s settled! You’re fine with it, right Hiyo?”

“Yup!”

“Hop in the back with Sorata, Hiyo. And make sure you buckle up!”

“Yes sir~”

“Wait—oi!”

Hiyori picked up Sorata’s cage as instructed by Kirishima and climbed into the car, and before he could try to take it back, he found himself pushed into the passenger seat. He had to bend down to try and fit into the unexpectedly small space that seemed to have been sized just for Hiyori.

“Yokozawa—you buckle up, too!” Kirishima slid into the driver’s seat in high spirits, and the car sped off with its one feline and three human occupants.