Now that the day was hinging on night, while a little more decent when compared to noon, a somewhat sultry air still lingered.
“… Last Sunday was hot as well.”
In that empty park of night, Chizuru’s voice clearly rung through.
“Last Sunday… you mean the day of the sugar incident, right?”
As Ageha sought confirmation, Chizuru lightly nodded a yes. He turned his face straight towards Kaede.
“Well the Kurokawa-senpai. On such a hot day, what did you order when you entered that store?”
Her words were stuck for a moment, as she toyed with the hair around her eay, but eventually she looked at Chizuru with upturned eyes.
“A café latte, I believe. Grande, iced.”
“Is that so… so it was iced after all.”
“I mean, yes, it was hot outside.”
“However,” Chizuru said sharply, “Toujou-san ordered not a cold, but a hot drink. Why do you think that is?”
“I-I wonder,” Ageha tilted her head, “Well, she could’ve been in the mood for it.”
“… According to the menu, the healthy soy latte she ordered was a low calorie drink. And the hot version has even less calories.”
Kaede looked at Chizuru as if she didn’t quite understand.
“So what is it you’re trying to say? Isn’t that enough of a reason for why Mashiro decided to order it how?”
“A reason? And what would that be?”
“And I’m saying… you just said it, did you not? It’s low calorie. I think it’s completely natural for a high school girl to find herself attracted to such a phrase.”
“I see… but if the low calories was what drew her, then why did she order a chocolate parfait? Chocolate is surely a high calorie flavor.”
“That really is strange. Contradictory, even.”
Ageha nodded as she spoke. But Kaede tilted her head as if she still wasn’t satisfied.
“Oh really? She liked chocolate parfaits to begin with… it wouldn’t be strange for her to order a low calorie drink alongside it to balance it out.”
“I guess you could look at it like that. But if health was her intent, why did she order the largest grande size? She had the option of short and tall. No matter how healthy a soy latte may be, it’s not something that will slim you down just by drinking it, and there’s no better choice than not drinking at all.”
“That’s also true. She got herself quite a strange assortment.”
Ageha gave a large nod. Kaede was starting to lose a bit of her confidence, “Well, if you look at it like that, it really is mismatched,” she conceded.
“And more than anything.”
Chizuru insisted even harder.
“Have you forgotten? The main point of this incident was the large amount of sugar she added to her soy latte. There’s no way she would order the drink with health anywhere near her mind.”
“… Ah, that’s right. That’s how it is.”
Kaede finally seemed satisfied as she gave a large not, but she soon tilted her head once more.
“But then why did Mashiro order such a peculiar combination?”
“… And here, as I said before, as long as you noticed a single something, this matter would be as good as solved.”
Kaede remained silent for a while, eventually exhaling a deep sigh.
“It’s no good. I can’t see it.”
“… In your case, Kurokawa-senpai, you probably have a large preconceived notion, making it unnecessarily more difficult to perceive the truth.”
“That’s right. Well then in order to undo that notion, let’s bring back up a few facts.”
As if he was some sort of therapist, Chizuru started into some trifling questions.
“Kurokawa-sanpai. How did Toujou-san pay for her soy latte and parfait?”
“… I just said it. With two five hundred yen coins.”
“Then where did she take those two coins from?”
“Where was her wallet?”
“In her jacket pocket… hey, these are all things I just told you, aren’t they?”
“Well please, just answer the questions for now. Why did you remember something so specific as the fact it was in her jacket pocket?”
“… Because I thought it looked dangerous. It was largely sticking out.”
“Right, that’s it!”
Chizuru suddenly raised his voice, so both Kaede and Ageha were startled.
“Why was she walking around with her wallet in such a dangerous state? She might drop it. She might have her pocket picked. She might have it snatched. Would she really walk around town with it just like that? Would she heedlessly go drink a latte and eat a parfait in a crowded café?”
“… That’s strange. Sure enough.”
“If one’s wallet didn’t fit in their pocket, they’d usually carry it around in a bag. Since Toujou-san is a woman, when she goes out into town, it would be difficult to imagine her without any sort of bag or pouch.”
“T-that’s right,” Ageha nodded, “It’s true a girl might need her cosmetics… Kurokawa-senpai, was Mashiro-san carrying a bag with her?”
“… I’m sorry. I don’t really remember.”
“I can’t blame you,” said Chizuru in a collected tone, “Unless she had a bag with a striking design… in the case she wasn’t carrying one around, strange as it may be, as long as there was nothing to notice, you wouldn’t realize unless you looked for it.”
“… You’re right. But even so, why didn’t Mashiro-san have a bag with her?”
“Perhaps she had one, but she left it somewhere temporarily… does that sound plausible?”
Chizuru stuck up his index finger.
“She was in a café. And according to Kurokawa-senpai, at the time the seats were largely filled. On top of that, there were a few customers in line at the register. At such a time, what action would the girl who wanted to get a bit of rest take?”
“… To save a seat?”
Ageha said it as if taken aback.
“Right, exactly. If seating was a free-for-all, it was a natural mentality for her to want to secure a seat. Leaving one of your belongings is standard practice. When Kurokawa-senpai entered the shop, she was already in line, so that would mean she already saved a seat for herself.”
Chizuru turned to look at the other two’s faces.
“Here’s where the problem comes. Saving a seat, depending on how it’s done might leave an exceedingly bad impression. When you haven’t even bought anything, taking up a space for yourself is irrational… of course there would be some people who think that way. On top of that, there was a risk the item she left behind might be swiped or moved… do you know how you avoid leaving a bad impression, and drop the danger of theft unbelievably close to zero?”
“Eh? You know such a trick?”
Ageha was bewildered. Keade also suspected, “Is there really such a thing?”
“Try to remember.”
Chizuru heaped on his words without panic.
“Both Kurokawa-senpai and Ageha must have done it before.”
The two of them thought, but they were still confused as ever.
“No, I’m sorry, but I don’t know such a method.”
“That’s right, Chizuru. If I came with a friend, it would be another story, but alone…”
Ageha raised her head.
“It couldn’t be…?”
“Yes it could,” Chizuru calmly smiled. “Toujou Mashiro-san wasn’t in the shop alone. The truth is, she had someone with her. That was that single something.”
“That can’t be!”
“It’s not strange for you to be surprised, Korokawa-senpai. I mean, you saw her lined up at the register alone when you entered the store. By that, a strong preconceived notion that, ‘she came to the store alone,’ was planted. What’s more, after that, you witnessed her sitting alone, so that notion was reinforced…”
As the two girls were taken aback, Chizuru continued hammering in his words.
“To summarize, it went like this. Toujou-san wasn’t alone when she entered the store. From how she ordered two items, deducting her own, she was probably with one other person. In short, she came as a pair with another. And she told the other person, ‘I’ll go buy the things, so could you save us a spot’. Perhaps they looked at a nearby menu, or had already decided beforehand, the other person knew the item they wanted was five hundred yen, and handed a coin over to Toujou-san. Toujou-san momentarily put it in her wallet, and left her bag on the seat beside her companion, leaving them to look over her things as she went to the register.
That’s why Toujou-san used a strange payment of two five hundred yen coins. Of course, in theory, if she used a thousand yen bill, it wouldn’t be any different, but it’s a natural mentality to use the money she was given for the transaction.”
“… I kinda get that.”
Chizuru continued on.
“If each of them had ordered one item, then… while there are still some signs of a paradox… the strange combination doesn’t look so strange anymore. And this is the important part… she went to the back of the store. You could think up any number of reasons for her doing so. In order to get sugar to put in the latte. In order to get a straw. In order to get a spoon for the parfait… because in that store, it was all self-service.”
Ageha seemed to have a bad premonition, her eyebrows drawing close.
“So why did Mashiro-san put so much sugar into the soy latte?”
Chizuru went silent a moment before opening his mouth.
“According to Kurokawa-senpai, Toujou-san often orders herself a chocolate parfait. Meaning the probability she was the one who got the parfait is higher. Two minus one. A simple subtraction a grade schooler could do… the soy late wasn’t for her, it was for her companion.”
Kaede swallowed her breath.
“A hot healthy soy latte. For someone to order one on such a hot day, that person would either have to be on a diet, of at the very least, someone considerably mindful of their calorie intake. So put ten sticks of sugar into their latte. There could only be one reason for that… it was harassment.”
Kaede muttered in a low voice.
Chizuru continued on in a tone where his emotions couldn’t be read.
“No, I think it’s true. First, the space you found her in was completely invisible to the other customers. On top of that, you said she was pouring them in and mixing them so vigorously you described it as wholeheartedly. I think it’s because she was keeping her companion waiting. The reason I explained the sugar and spoons and a reason for her to go there was to discuss the front she must have given her companion.”
“B-but… even if it’s harassment… wouldn’t they notice if it was too sweet?”
Ageha said it with ample distrust.
“They’d definitely notice. In truth, perhaps it was so terribly sweet it would make them want to vomit. But you yourself said you didn’t know what to do with your syrup. Hearing that, Kurokawa-senpai said this, ‘The drinks at these sorts of places are sometimes made really sweet so they’ll meet with anyone’s tastes’. And in truth, on that menu, it said, ‘Low calories, yet you won’t believe this sweetness’ in regards to the soy latte… so even if she put in so much sugar, making it nauseatingly sweet, wouldn’t they think that’s just the sort of drink it is?”
“Come to think of it, maybe… but wait.”
Ageha gestured for him to wait.
“I don’t get the most important part. Why did Mashiro-san conduct such terrible harassment? Who was she with?”
“Let’s restate all the conditions we’ve learned. First, it was an individual close enough to entered a café with Toujou-san. Second, from how Kurokawa-senpai didn’t notice them, it was likely someone she’d never seen before. Third, someone so mindful of calories they ordered a hot healthy soy late. Fourth, someone Toujou-san hated enough to harass.”
Chizuru raised four fingers, flapping his index and middle fingers back and fourth.
“I’d like you to notice how contrary the first two are. The reason being, Kurokawa-senpai in Toujou-san’s best friend from her class, and she boasts a complete knowledge of her human relations within it.”
“Huh? I get the feeling I heard something about that not too long ago…?”
Ageha tilted her head and suddenly raised her face.
“Wait, you couldn’t mean the wind instrument ensemble…”
“Ding ding ding. Even if you get along in class, if you have different clubs, it’s common to be estranged from some human relations.
Now onto the third condition. That person was mindful of their calorie intake. This is… well honestly, I can’t make any conclusions, but it’s a single pointer in the general direction that the person was a woman. If it were a friend from club going to a café with her, there’s a high probability they were female. As it was, there was only one third year boy in the wind ensemble, apparently.
And the fourth condition. Toujou-san’s motive… recently, she had faced a terrible betrayal from her lover, Kuranishi Yuuto. He discarded Toujou-san, and jumped onboard one of her female friends. To this day, Toujou-san is continuing to play the part of a good friend to them…”
Kaede cried out. Chizuru nodded.
“Right. The person Toujou-san harassed by pouring sugar into their drink… was her good friend in the wind ensemble, Miwa Akko-san.”
It had thoroughly gone dark all around, and it was right about time to go home. The three walked off towards the station.
“From your explanation, we know that Mashiro-san isn’t sticking her hands into any criminal conduct, but…”
Ageha confirmed the bad feeling she had.
“This is a bit too much.”
“… What am I supposed to do? I’ve no clue.”
Kaede was troubled, her eye cloudy as she averted her face. From there, she locked eyes with Chizuru, pleading for help. Chizuru was also troubled as he averted his gaze.
“… All I can do is reach the truth. When it comes to the dealings after that… I can’t say anything. But…”
“Sugar harassment will only work once, twice at best. So the probability Toujou-san will do something like that again is exceedingly low. And since she told Miwa-san she, ‘dumped him reself,’ at the very least, doesn’t that mean she wants their friend-relationship to continue? This sugar incident might have just been a temporary lapse of judgement. Um, so what I’m saying is…”
Chizuru tantalizingly searched out his words.
“I think she’ll overcome it in her own way.”
Kaede gave a sudden smile.
“That’s right. But I at least want to help her out. So… I’m going to go ask her about it.”
“That’s for the best.”
Chizuru shrugged as he spoke.
“Senpai, in the mystery genre, do you know there’s a subsection called everyday mysteries?”
“Everyday mysteries… it’s the first I’m hearing of it. What sort of thing is that?”
“Not of murders or kidnappings, it’s a genre that deals with the curiosities too worthless to pick up. A puzzle of putting too much sugar into a drink is exactly what it is. And every time, the readers always send in their complaints… ‘Without deducing anything, just ask the one who did it directly!’ they say.”
By the time they noticed it, they were at Yumoto station. Kaede’s face under the station’s lights seemed to have lost its hesitation.
“Right. From the start, that was the best option… I get the feeling I’ve taken quite a long detour.”
“In the end, you didn’t have to ask Chizuru about it.”
On Ageha’s words, Kaede gave a venturous laugh.
“If you say something like that, it makes me feel somewhat bad, but… anyways, Chizuru-kun, I’ll definitely thank you for this sometime soon.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
Chizuru said it in his same rhythm as ever.
The next Monday, Ageha told Chizuru about the events that followed.
“In the end, the harassment ended at an attempt.”
In Yumoto Academy’s High School Division, the second year special class’s classroom. It was before morning homeroom.
“Kurokawa-senpai asked Mashiro-san directly, it seems. ‘Why did you harass Miwa-san with sugar?’ she asked. It seems she was surprised that senpai got it right, but she opened up about it honestly. So this is what she said.”
… In that café, I met eyes with Kaede… and I came to my senses. What was I even doing? If the one who took my boyfriend wasn’t Akko, but Kaede, would I have done the same thing… when I thought about it like that, it all seemed so stupid, so in the end, I made it look like an accident and slathered that latted all over the floor. I bought her a new one. But Akko insisted she’d pay for half.
“… And that’s what happened.”
“What, so it was a happy ending. Then it’s only a matter of time before Toujou-san mends her relationship with Miwa-san.”
“Right. And for Mashiro-san to regain her vigor.”
“Well, despite this and that, the worst one here is that guy called Kuranishi.”
“Sure enough. Just as I thought, nothing good ever comes out of normal love. Girls should love girls, and boys should love boys. I think there was a saying like that.”
“… We’ve gone quite off topic.”
“Does it really matter?”
“You sure go at your own pace.”
“Anyways, there was something I wanted to ask you! You see, at the start, when Kurokawa-senpai explained the case, you instantly saw through that it wasn’t ‘taste bud impairment from drug abuse’. How did you know?”
“Oh, that? It’s simple. I mean, if taste impairment was the reason, she’d keep putting in sugar because, ‘she couldn’t tell the taste,’ right? In that case, she’d have to drink some and put more, drink some and put more.
But according to Toujou-san, she threw all that sugar in without any hesitation. That was enough to tell. It wasn’t a problem with her sense of taste, there was meaning in itself to the act of throwing sugar in.”
“… I see. So that’s why. If she was regulating it by taste, she’d normally have to do it bit by bit.”
Ageha nodded with a satisfied face, before hitting her hand as if recalling something.
“Right! Chizuru, Chizuru. The newspaper extra we finished on Saturday is off the press.”
“Really at your own pace… wait, what’s this?”
Chizuru was dumbfounded. On that newspaper, ‘The Great Detective of Yumoto Academy’ occupied a full page. It introduced that individual as, ‘K-kun of the second year special class,’ but it was clear who it referred to.
“Wait a second. What about my privacy?”
“Eh? We didn’t even print your name.”
“’Genius level deduction ability’… ‘unparalleled intellect’… you sure know how to flatter someone. Not that I’m denying it.”
“So you’re not.”
“No, I don’t really care about the article, but… could this be the thanks Kurokawa-senpai was talking about?”
“That’s right. To let your achievements ring out throughout the school! Is what she called your reward.”
Chizuru bent his body over his desk.
“This is more of a penalty… My lust for the limelight and desire to be acknowledged aren’t that strong…”
“It’s interesting how you can spew words like a critic when you’re so let down… but isn’t it fine?”
As Ageha turned on him, Chizuru raised his face. He stared at her intently.
“No it’s not! I worked for nothing.”
“Well, well, she treated you at the café. Can’t you call it off with that?”
“No, that was expenses…”
Like that, Chizuru ran out of fuel, and his words came to a stop. He sank down into the desk again.
“Ah, it’s tiring to get angry, it takes quite a bit of stamina. I’ll give up on anger.”
“So even anger can’t trump trouble.”
“An emotion that can overcome my listlessness doesn’t exist.”
Way too many unnecessary specs… Ageha retored as Chizuru neatly folded the newspaper in two, tucking it away in his desk. As all his textbooks had been, ‘forgotten’ there, that newspaper would vanish from his sight in no time, or so Chizuru had a premonition.
And just as he thought, for a while Chizuru forgot the article existed.