Editors: Yuuki, xyi
Chapter 11: Smile
“A case with a cute design would be better after all, right?”
“There’s no point asking me.”
Today was a rest day.
I had dragged Hashimoto along to go shopping for a mobile phone.
Using my ID, I bought a smartphone and signed up for a plan with a high data cap.
Now, I was racking my brains, trying to decide on what phone case to get for her.
“Maybe she would like a sparkly one?”
“Well, that’s sort of hard to imagine… I mean, she doesn’t have any outdoor clothing other than her uniform. I also don’t really have any idea about her interests either.”
To my answer, Hashimoto let out a wry smile.
“Despite being her housemate, you don’t seem to know much about her.”
“I mean, it’s not like it would be normal for me to go out of my way to ask her about her fashion choices.”
She typically wore the same set of gray sweats at home.
The phone that she had used before was buried somewhere in the seas of Chiba, so I couldn’t use that as a reference either.
“Seriously, if it bothers you that much then why didn’t you just ask her directly?”
“Because if I ask her that, she’d just plead me to not buy her a phone at all.”
I figured that it’d be best to just buy her the phone without her knowledge and give it to her after the fact. It was meaningless to show constraint towards something that had already been bought, after all. Since it had been paid for already, using it was objectively the better choice.
Taking a sidelong glance at me, Hashimoto let out a scornful laugh.
“What is it now?”
“Nothing much. I was just thinking that you seem to have taken quite a liking to Sayu-chan, Yoshida.”
As I scowled, Hashimoto continued to examine the countless phone cases that hung from the display rack plastered along the wall.
“I mean, if our purpose here was to just buy a phone, then the design of the case shouldn’t really matter at all, should it?”
“But we’re talking about a high school girl. Of course she’d care about the design of the case.”
“That’s exactly what I am talking about. Basically-“
Hashimoto released a huff as he chuckled, then continuing in a slow, composed manner.
“You want to make her happy, right?”
I was left at a loss for words.
No, that wasn’t what I was trying to do in the slightest. That wasn’t it, but for some reason I couldn’t find the right words to retort against what Hashimoto said.
Perhaps there was a part of me deep inside that really meant to do that.
“Well, if you want to play it safe, then just choose white or black.”
“That seems a little too foolproof, doesn’t it?”
“I think it’s important that it’s foolproof.”
As he said that, I took a good look at the white case.
I didn’t feel any dissonance imagining Sayu carrying a phone with a white case.
“Let’s go with white then.”
I grabbed a white case from the display and brought it to the cashier.
After checking out the case and walking a few steps away from the cashier desk, my gaze met with Hashimoto’s.
As I stared at him, Hashimoto continued.
“I think you should really give some consideration as to how you’ll be associating with Sayu from here on out.” 
The tone of his voice contained both the warmth of sincere concern, as well as the coldness of a stern warning.
“It’ll be problematic if she became emotionally attached to you, or, to take it a step further, fell in love with you.”
“…Well, you do have a point.”
As I nodded in agreement, we walked out of the store side-by-side.
“Not to mention, there’s also the possibility of you falling for her, isn’t there?”
“Hell no. Anyone other than a big-chested older sister-type is a hard pass from me.”
“But that’s just your sexual preference, isn’t it?”
Hashimoto asked with a chuckle.
“I love my wife dearly, but I don’t think I can effectively get off to her.”
“The heck are you on about?”
I said with a forced smile. Hashimoto continued indifferently.
“What I’m saying is that love and sexual preferences are two different things. You best be careful.”
“No, but seriously, I don’t have any interest in anyone other than older sister-types.”
“If that’s how it really is, then I guess you’ll be fine.”
Hashimoto chuckled and raised his walking pace.
I raised my pace to match.
“Sorry for dragging you out for this. Let’s get something to eat, my treat.”
“Alright, then I’d like to go for some ramen. There’s nothing but balanced, wholesome meals at home after all.”
“What a casual humble brag. Alright, let’s go for ramen then.”
As I nodded with an awkward smile, Hashimoto commented that ‘It’s more of a complaint though,’ with a smile on his face.
“Here, take it.”
I threw the paper bag without warning, which Sayu caught in a panic.
“Woah… W-, What’s this.”
Sayu nervously rummaged through the contents of the paper bag. Her eyes widened as she found a small box inside.
“Eh, this is-”
“Where did you get this from!?”
“I bought it.”
Sayu looked back and forth between the phone and me, before tilting her head in puzzlement.
“Are you going to use it?”
“You don’t need to play dumb. It’s obviously for you.”
“It’d be troublesome if I couldn’t contact you!”
Sayu looked at the paper bag with an indescribable emotion.
“…Wasn’t it expensive?”
“Don’t sweat it. I earn quite a lot.”
“…Is it really okay for me to have it?”
“That’s why I bought it.”
Hearing me say that, Sayu nodded her head firmly and let out a slight smile.
“Honestly, I was kind of shocked earlier. It’s rare for you to go shopping on a rest day, so I thought something weird was up.”
Sayu scratched her head awkwardly and let her gaze drift around the room.
“But I see now. It was for me…”
Saying that, she showed her usual ‘gleeful’ smile.
“Yoshida-san, could it be that you actually like me quite a lot?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself. It’s just for communication, got it?”
“Well, I guess so.”
Sayu nodded as she noisily tore off the seal of the box.
“Wow, it’s the newest model too.”
“Really? I only bought this model ‘cause it sounded kind of impressive.”
“The heck, that’s hilarious.” Sayu giggled.
She then stared me in the eye.
“Thanks a lot, Yoshida-san.”
Feeling a little embarrassed, I averted my gaze from her. To be frank, it made me happy that she was pleased with what I bought.
“Oh, there’s a phone case as well.”
Noticing a second box in the bag, Sayu quickly took it out.
“Do you like it?”
Sayu vigorously nodded her head in response.
“I love white.”
“I see, that’s good to hear.”
“Your sense isn’t half bad, Yoshida-san.”
As she said that with slightly mysterious condescending undertones, Sayu took out the case and quickly snapped it on the new smartphone.
“Good for you.”
Sayu smiled innocently as she pressed the power button on the phone.
This is how it should be. Children shouldn’t have to hold back for the sake of adults. She shouldn’t have to show restraint towards what she’s been given. Just a simple ‘thank you’ is enough to satisfy me.
It’s like I’m her guardian, really. No, actually, what I’m doing right now is no different from being her guardian. To be honest though, I’m not sure how to feel about having parent-like feelings for a high school girl whose background I know nothing about.
What Hashimoto said this afternoon came to mind.
‘Not to mention, there’s also a possibility of you falling for her, isn’t there?’
The more I thought about it, the more stupid it sounded.
It was absolutely inconceivable for such feelings to sprout. To me, before she was a ‘woman’, she was a ‘child’.
“Let’s exchange contact info.”
She came next to me and showed me the screen of her phone.
I was met with the main menu of a trendy and familiar messaging app. It seems that she had downloaded this immediately after booting it up.
“It’s impressive that you figured out how to download it so quickly.”
“Hehe, I’m a JK after all.”
The adaptability of younger people is really a sight to behold. Every time I switched phones, I went through all kinds of suffering since I wasn’t able to figure out how to access its functions when I needed to.
I launched the same messaging app and showed Sayu my ID.
I’ve recently been using messaging apps like these to contact my superiors at work. However, I would occasionally get an important message through a messaging app, to which I would frankly like to advise them to use the company mail instead for such important messages.
“Alright, I’ve added you!”
Sayu announced with a gleeful smile.
Looking at my screen, I saw the account name ‘its_sayu’ show up in the ‘friends’ column.
“Hey, shouldn’t you give your account name a little more thought?”
“Says the guy who made his account name ‘yoshida-man’. What the heck does the ‘man’ mean anyway?”
“Shush, I just decided on my account name on a whim.”
Hashimoto had declared that ‘it’s a pain to contact you through mail so just download this’ and forced me to make an account, after which I decided on a suitable name without giving it much thought.
Sayu giggled and laughed in response. Then she pressed the phone against her chest and gave it a tight hug.
Sayu looked at me as she slovenly giggled.
“What’s so funny? It’s kinda creepy.”
Sayu lunged the screen towards my face.
‘yoshida-man’ was the only account listed in the ‘friends’ column.
“It’s ‘cause you’re my only friend, Yoshida-san.”
“You’re talking about the app, right?”
As she continued to giggle, she squinted her eyes and said.
“For your use exclusively.”
Her voice tickled the surface of my eardrums.
There was something strangely bewitching about her smile. Feeling a shiver run down my back accompanied by goosebumps, I flusteredly averted my gaze from her.
“W-, When you start your part-time job you’ll have to add a few more won’t you…”
“Oh yeah, that’s right.”
Sayu returned to her usual indifferent look, which was soon followed with a full smile.
“Well, I guess we’ll be able to freely contact one another from now on.”
“Be sure to tell me if you’re coming back late, okay?’
“I got it.”
Sayu happily hummed as she paced back to the living room. Plopping herself down on the bedding, she began tapping away at her new smartphone.
With a short sigh, I headed towards the bathroom sink. After rinsing my hands with soap, I splashed water onto my face.
What the heck was that?
That strangely erotic smile. That tone of voice that made my mind skip a beat.
She’s just a child, yet she bore an odd intensity that made me want to clench my heart and it caused cold sweat to rise from my skin.
I was used to seeing Sayu’s loose and relaxed smiles. Rather, I thought, just a little, that such a smile was adorable.
However, the smile that she showed today was different from any that she had showed until now – I could feel some ‘motive’ behind it.
I splashed my face with water again and released a long breath of air.
“I just don’t understand high school girls…”
Despite my murmur, the recollection of the girl’s bewitching smile continued to cycle endlessly through my mind.
 Double meaning with ‘associate’ here. The term in Japanese is 付き合い(tsukiai), which literally means to platonically ‘be together’ or ‘accompany’, but depending on context it can also mean ‘dating’