Part 28: Spoiled Cat (+ Afterword)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Just a little before summer, he first spotted the cat through the glass storefront one sunny afternoon.
It was a large black cat with a rough-looking coat. The cat was a full-grown adult, but it looked like a scrawny little kitten. What had made the biggest impression on him were the eyes. They stared menacingly at him—that was what he first thought. However, the cat just stared fixated into the bakery.
The sharp upturned eyes watched closely with envy and fascination at the mothers and children floating through the store lined with fresh bread and pastries.
He used to know of a cat a long time ago with similar eyes. The cat had been abused horribly as a kitten and lost its trust in people. It would scratch at him with its claws and run away if he tried to approach it in the slightest, but it was actually a lonely cat that wanted to be spoiled, and once it trusted him, the cat followed him wherever he went. He had doted on the cat, but it had died quite a while ago.
Spurred on by the memories, he went to open the glass door without thinking, and that was how it had started.
It had been one year since then. That unfriendly cat with menacing eyes would swipe at the hand that was offered to it and run away, and yet it would secretly peek at him from behind a corner. It had been such an uncute cat, but now—
It was his day off on a sunny morning in June, just before lunch, and Agi had finished the single delivery that he had and went to return the van to the bakery. What would be for lunch today? What would Hiroaki make? Wine would be perfect for a day like this, and they could go out for Italian too if they wanted.
Agi took a leisurely stroll home as he thought about random little things. He rode the elevator up to the eleventh floor, and the corner apartment at the end of the hallway was the place that he called his home. Well, now it was their home. Up until half a year ago, he had written “Agi” on a piece of paper and stuck it into the nameplate holder, but now it was changed to a thick, polished plate. Instead of one name, there were now two—plus a pet.
Agi Hitoshi, Kase Hiroaki, and Croissant.
The final name was that of a stray cat he had planned to look after on a temporary basis but then the cat ended up staying. In that sense, the cat and Hiroaki were the same. As an aside, the cat’s full name was Kase Croissant, and they normally called him Kuro. Because the cat had black fur, and they all worked at a bakery, so Croissant.1 Rio was the one who named him. As for why his last name was Kase? It was because Kuro only accepted Hiroaki as his owner. The cat was very biased with his affections, just like his owner.
When Agi opened the front door, the scent of freshly baked bread wafted over, and his lips naturally lifted into a smile. They had lived together as lovers for half a year now, and Hiroaki’s sense of taste was pretty much recovered. A little while ago, he had even started to learn to bake bread from Chise. Chise had given her seal of approval—he already had good cooking skills, and he quietly threw himself into his work, and she was sure that he would pick it up quickly.
There was no response despite his greeting. There was a wicker basket filled with a mountain of round fluffy buns sitting on the living room table. It could be red bean buns or custard cream buns. However, Hiroaki was nowhere to be found. Agi looked around the room and noticed that a deck chair was placed out on the terrace.
Agi went out to the terrace, and Kuro, who had been sleeping on Hiroaki’s stomach, sensed his presence and glanced over at Agi. He seemed to say, Oh, it’s you, as he yawned and went back to sleep. So uncute.
Agi gazed down at his lover who slept out on the spacious terrace of their eleventh-floor apartment by the train station.
A wind filled with the premonition of summer swept over his lover’s long bangs. Agi bent down to kiss his hair without waking him, and the sweet scent of custard tickled his nose. Apparently their lunch for today was custard cream buns. Agi laughed quietly and watched his lover’s sleeping face. Hiroaki’s height of nearly 180 centimeters wasn’t very different from his own, and the menacing look in his eyes made him look like a thug.
But he sure is cute though…
Agi unconsciously made a goofy look on his face and remembered the friendly get-together from the other day for the local train station business association. There were a lot of young shop owners in the area who ran bars and cafes for the younger crowd, and when they got tipsy, the conversation would turn towards love and romance. Agi had been asked about his own love life, and he bragged that he lived with his lover without specifying that the lover was a man. The owner of BBQ Futaba had stood up in the middle of it.
—What’s with youngsters nowadays all whipped by their wives and women, huh? And you call yourself a man!?
The guy had dragged Agi over a hostess bar, that he knew of a good one, but it had been a complete flop. There were voluptuous hips. Gently sloping shoulders. Beautifully painted nails. Sure, there had been some sexy ladies at the bar, but Agi still thought that Hiroaki was much cuter. The owner of Futuba had complained that he was beyond saving, but the old man had no idea how cute a cat that was only attached to him could be.
Hiroaki had woken up. He looked up at Agi who stood next to him, and in a sleepy voice he said, “Welcome home,” and stretched his hands out towards Agi. Agi gave him a kiss as he said, “I’m back,” and took Hiroaki’s hands to help him sit up. They returned to the living room holding hands while Kuro followed after them and growled in dissatisfaction.
“This is the first time you’ve baked here at home.”
They arrived at the table, and Agi took one of the fluffy round buns. Hiroaki poured coffee into a mug and mumbled nervously, “Because I hadn’t made it by myself before…”
“Everything you make is delicious though, you know.”
Agi tore the bun in half, and he was happy to see the yellow custard cream. He never really told people this, but he loved custard cream buns. Hiroaki stared at Agi watchfully. He was probably worried about the taste. Agi didn’t put on any airs and took a bite from the bun.
“Oh, this is great.”
He wasn’t saying it to flatter him. Agi took two, three bites and tilted his head quizzically.
“It’s good, but it’s different from the custard buns at the shop.”
The bun and the custard were made using un petit nid’s recipe, but there was so much custard in the bun that he nearly did a double take. The custard-to-bread ratio was rather unbalanced.
“Because you told Rio before that you like lots of custard cream.”
“And that custard cream buns are your very best favorite.”
Agi stared closely at the bun jam-packed with custard. He didn’t remember saying that at all. It had probably been a random conversation somewhere. Hiroaki had remembered it after all this time and specially made the buns for him. The disparity between this and his normal gruffness was too cute, and Agi made a goofy smile to himself again.
“Yeah, it’s really, really good.”
Relief spread across Hiroaki’s face. Hiroaki also took a bite of the bun and nodded his head like he was verifying his work. He looked so cute that Agi thought, I want to eat you up, but he didn’t say out loud. Instead, he reached for a second bun.
“If you keep this up, it won’t be long before we open up a second un petit nid.”
“Once you become fully qualified as a baker, that is. Our sales have been pretty stable lately, you know.”
Hiroaki hung his head with the bun in his hand when Agi said this.
“…You want me to work at the second shop?”
“Well, yeah, of course. Why else would you become Chise’s apprentice?”
Hiroaki returned the partially eaten bun to his plate.
“Then I won’t learn anymore.”
“I don’t want to be apart from you,” Hiroaki whispered with his gaze down.
Agi was flabbergasted. “Wait, why do you think that? You and me will work at the second shop together. You don’t know how to run a business, and there’s no way I can leave you on your own with your gruffness. I plan to leave the current shop to Chise.”
However, Hiroaki narrowed his eyes in doubt.
“Hey, listen to me carefully. Before I thought about opening a second shop, I had always planned to give the bakery and the land with it to Chise. And when that happened, I had planned to quit the bakery business all together.”
Hiroaki snapped his head back up.
“If you plan to quit, then I’ll quit too. But I do like baking though—”
“Wait, wait, wait. Listen to me first.”
Agi had to stop Hiroaki from going off on his own thoughts.
“I had planned to quit, but now that you’re here, I’m reconsidering things.”
Agi had worked this job purely to help support Chise until she got on her feet, and once he helped her become independent, he had planned to do something a little less rigid like run a bar.
However, the future never went as expected. He had met Hiroaki. Ever since he lost Yuzuru due to his own foolishness, Agi felt like he had lost all ambition, all the drive to desire something strongly for himself. That was why he had held out for so long—for Chise’s sake, for Rio’s sake. However…
—You have to find happiness, Agi-san. I can’t rest unless you’re happy.
That was what Chise had told him when Hiroaki was hospitalized, and Agi realized that he had made the person he wanted to protect feel drained and exhausted. It must have weighed heavily on her to be made someone else’s reason for living.
He would still feel guilt into the future. However, he had to pick himself up and finally take a step forward. He never dreamed in a million years that his partner would be this gloomy, unfriendly man in front of him, but well, it was impossible to predict what life would bring. Agi ate the custard cream bun as he gazed deeply at his lover.
He had eyes that were very similar to his dead childhood friend.
That had been the only reason Agi had invited in the cat that he spotted. At first, the cat had been hostile to everything around him, and there were things that Agi had wondered about him, but Agi never thought to intrude on his space. But then one day, the cat suddenly threw himself into Agi’s chest, which made Agi want to ask where all the layers and layers of apprehension had gone, and the cat followed Agi everywhere he went and clung all over him.
Agi really hadn’t known what to do at the time. The cat had trusted him this much, but what would happen if poison got into his feed? And now that the cat had become this defenseless, how could he survive outside again as a stray? Agi had been at an utter loss for what he had done.
However, the cat had been sensitive to Agi’s misgivings.
When Agi noticed that behind all the clinging, the cat had been watching him carefully, trying not to cause trouble for him, he felt like there was no use in fighting it anymore. Agi wanted to hug the cat and tell him that everything was okay, that he didn’t have to worry anymore. Agi was probably already in love with him. Love was something that was utterly beyond anyone’s control.
Agi sipped at the wonderful smelling coffee.
“Anyway, I haven’t made any final decisions about a second shop yet. I won’t make you do anything you don’t like, so don’t worry so much. I just want you to know that the option is on the table, that’s all.”
When Agi peered at him with the clarification, Hiroaki nodded back at him.
“…I’m glad. I thought that maybe I was in your way here.”
“Listen, you, try to look on the brighter sides of things.”
Agi laughed away at the lover who sometimes ran overboard with his negative thoughts. However, Hiroaki retained the dark expression on his face and pulled something out from the breast pocket of his shirt.
Agi froze when he saw the items that were placed on the table. A crimson red lighter with the name Hostess Bar Amaryllis and a business card with a woman’s name on it. On the business card was a handwritten message in round feminine handwriting that said, Take me out to dinner next time, with a cell phone number.
“What’s this?” Agi feigned indifference. He had no choice but to do so here.
“I was doing the laundry and found them in your shirt pocket.”
Agi thought, Well shit, but he didn’t let it show on his face. Hiroaki fixed his gaze on Agi who somehow managed to maintain his composure. It was pretty scary to have those dark piercing eyes framed by the longish bangs stare at him like this.
“It’s just a place that the old boss at Futaba took me to.”
There was nothing to hide, so he confessed it to him, but Hiroaki turned his face away.
“Hey, you know the barbecue place by the station. It’s called Futaba. The old boss there practically dragged me to the bar when I had that get-together the other day. I didn’t want to go at all.”
It was the truth, but for some reason it came out sounding like an excuse. Anyway, why did he have to defend himself for merely going to a hostess bar? He was like a husband who was no match for his wife, and it didn’t sit well with him. He wanted to retort that he didn’t want to be nagged about going to a harmless hostess bar.
“…Anyways,” Hiroaki murmured, and Agi shrunk back with a start.
“It’s not like I’m criticizing you for it. You can go to any place you want. I’m sure that you want to see a beautiful woman sometimes, and if there’s one that catches your eye, you should just ask for her. You can ask for her company outside or even ask for after services if you feel like it. You have the right to do whatever you want.”
Despite the words, the tone of his voice was rather dark and gloomy. And why was Hiroaki so well-versed with the hostess bar system anyway? Agi then remembered that two days after the get-together, Hiroaki had been feverishly reading a how-to book about the nightlife entertainment business. Agi had thought that it was a weird book for him to be reading, so this was the reason why.
“Did you find a woman that you like?” Hiroaki asked with depressed-looking eyes.
Agi consciously hardened his expression. “If I did, what would you do?”
He couldn’t afford to act timid at a time like this. If he didn’t counter back every important point now, he was going to be whipped forever. That miserable position wasn’t happening on his watch.
“What would you do if I found a woman?” Agi furled his brows deeply and crossed his arms. “Will you tell me you want to break up? Am I something that simple for you?”
Hiroaki hung his head despondently. Good, this was how it was supposed to go. And after the stick came the carrot. Agi would have to butter him up in order to make up for it, but it made a huge difference to take action here.
“Geez, you’re such an idiot. Listen up. I’m seriously head over heels in love with—”
“If that happened, I’d quit my job and move out.”
Whaaat? Did he really just say that?
Agi turned pale inside.
“What will you do if you leave?”
“I’ll rent an apartment nearby.”
“And I’ll wait for you to visit me there,” Hiroaki murmured with his head still down. “It’s fine if you have a woman you like, but when you have time, I want to see you.”
Agi was flabbergasted again. Hiroaki’s negativity had made a full revolution, and somehow it went positive in a really weird direction. Agi wanted to tell him that his thinking went well beyond praiseworthy at this point and that there was something wrong with his head, but they had each grown up in tough environments, and there was a part of Agi that somehow understood it.
He could never obtain the things that he sought after, and when pain and disappointment was all that ever happened to him, he didn’t want to be hurt anymore, and before he knew it, he had hidden himself underneath a hard shell, and he would take care of all his own needs within that shell. However, at the same time, he was the very person who most wanted to break out of that shell.
Agi gazed beyond the table at Hiroaki who kept his head hanging down. This lover of his could be such a handful. He didn’t even understand how hard Agi had fallen for him— However, it also made him so unbearably cute that Agi couldn’t neglect him. Agi remembered how the old boss from Futaba had lamented how miserable it was for a man to be whipped by his wife, and Agi sighed and absolutely agreed with him.
“Hiroaki, come over here.”
Hiroaki glanced up from between his bangs when he heard Agi speak up.
“Come on, hurry up and get over here.”
When Agi prompted him again, then like scolded cat, Hiroaki hunched in on that large body of his and slowly made his way over.
“Sit over here.”
Agi lightly patted his lap, and Hiroaki thought for a moment before sitting himself gingerly on Agi’s knees. It was ridiculous that he was trying not to put his weight on him, and Agi told him to sit properly, hugged his waist, and pulled him over firmly.
“More than any beautiful woman out there, you’re the cutest in my eyes.”
Agi whispered his true feelings right into Hiroaki’s ear. In a meltingly sweet voice.
However, Hiroaki made a scared face. “You’re lying. There’s no way a huge man like me is cute.”
“I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks, but to me, you’re damn cute.”
Hiroaki pressed his lips closed in a huff. God, he was stubborn in his negativity.
“I’m not lying. Even with your gloomy personality, even with your big huge body, even if you’re heavy when I try to carry you, even if you aren’t all that showy, and even if your eyes are more menacing than any thug that you can find on the street.”
“You’re just badmouthing me.”
“And yet you’re far, far cuter than any woman at a hostess bar. I was bragging about you to everyone at the get-together, you know. You’re my little kitten.”
“…Nghh, who are you calling a kitten?”
Hiroaki frantically turned his face away. His cheeks were slowly turning red.
“Seriously, you’re so damn cute.”
Agi ruffled Hiroaki’s hair and kissed his red, burning cheeks. On the right, on the left, and on the tip of his nose. And on his lips too, of course. Hiroaki just let Agi do as he liked. Whenever he was treated kindly, whenever he was happy, this cat didn’t know what to do and just went quiet. It just made him even cuter.
“You’ll bake for me again next time?” Agi requested, trying to coax him back, and Hiroaki made a serious face.
“What do you want me to bake?”
“Anything, as long as you bake it for me.”
“Tell me what you want. I’ll bake something special just for you, something different from the shop’s.”
He had to say something so cute again. Agi buried his face into Hiroaki’s shirt and whispered, “Hmm, let’s see.”
Custard cream buns with lots of custard inside. Fruit danishes. Strawberries for spring, cherries for summer, and apples for fall. Cheese bread and pain de mie with orange peel. Any one of them would be good, but…
“For now, I want to eat you.”
Hiroaki made an indescribable expression on his face. It could be embarrassed; it could be angry.
“But it’s still noon.”
But his lover wrapped his arms around Agi’s neck as he said the words, and Agi held on to him tight.
It was an early afternoon on their day off, and he could smell the sweet scent of pastries from his lover.
Hello, everyone. Or perhaps nice to meet you. I’m Nagira Yuu. Thank you very much for picking up this humble work of mine.
First off, a bit of some background. This story centers on Kase Hiroaki, a character who first appeared in the book “A Gentle Kiss at Daybreak” published by Hanamaru Bunko. I would like to once again give my thanks to Hanamaru Bunko for agreeing to this spinoff story and to Takashina Yuu-sensei for the wonderful world that she created with the illustrations in the previous book.
I received a lot of feedback from readers when the previous book was first published that said that they would like to read a story that featured Kase as the main character. I really wanted to write the story too, but I couldn’t find the right opportunity for it, and so I am incredibly happy that I’m able to publish the story with Platinum Bunko this time.
When I was writing the spinoff, it was a done deal in my mind that Kase would be the bottom here, but maybe this particular development makes some of the previous readers go, “What?”
In the previous book, Kase had punched and kicked and caused a suicide attempt. So yeah, he was a pretty terrible person (laughs). You can see a glimpse of who Kase is underneath at the end of that book, and he parts ways with some hope in sight, but someone like him can’t turn into a good person overnight. And so for this book, I focused on what was needed in order for him to change and how to write and convey that process.
I needed someone who wouldn’t be pulled in by Kase’s gloominess, who went at life at his own pace, but was an adult who understood other people’s pain. And what came out of those conditions was the character of Agi-san. At first he was a stoic old dude who didn’t really talk, but then all the scenes with Kase would be like this:
That would be pretty bad, so I had to redo his character. And Kase isn’t quite up to the challenge of guessing what a stoic old dude might be thinking! They would probably never clear things up with each other if Agi was the stoic type, and on top of the misunderstandings, at the last scene it would probably end with Kase shot to death (laughs). I’m glad that I made Agi a bit of a comical uncle here because I was afraid that the story might get too gloomy, and I’m relieved that it didn’t.
Kase will probably never become a friendly person, and he’ll always be someone who slips into negative mode at the littlest thing and turns his back to the world. But Agi loves Kase as he is, that little child who hid deep inside of himself and grew up that way—and I hope that together, Kase can slowly collect the things of warmth that he never had. Oh, and Chise, Rio, and Croissant the cat really helped me out a lot to create a warm, cozy atmosphere.
With the main story as it is, I was able to write a much fluffier short story at the end from Agi’s point of view. Kase is a large man, barely talks, and never gets close to other people—and Agi is absolutely smitten with him. He refuses to be whipped, but too late, he already is. And Kase is still always negative in weird unexpected ways even though he is loved so much. Normally I don’t have much interest in a couple after they get together, and it scares me just how much I can write about these two in a happy lovey-dovey life together.
Kase has seen all this unhappiness and misfortune throughout his entire life, and I’m incredibly pleased as the creator that he was able to find such a happy landing place for himself. All the best to these sickening sweet love birds!
I had requested that Kasai Rikako-sensei do the illustrations for the book. I was really picky about Kase’s visuals since he’s 180 centimeters tall and has been a top, and I know that I caused her a lot of trouble. I would like to thank her so much for listening to my stubborn demands and for delivering on them so faithfully. The cover has Kase holding his knees to his chest with his eyes tilted up at Agi, and Agi looking back at Kase with the same gaze. This single illustration just perfectly depicts their relationship, and I think that it’s so wonderful. And I love Croissant who sticks to Kase for no special reason, and I really look forward to seeing it in all its full glory. Thank you again, Kasai-sensei.
And to my editor. This is the first time that they have worked with me in a full role like this, and they also picked up the reins from the previous editor. Thank you for telling me that it’s your job as the editor to make adjustments when trouble sometimes happens. It made me feel very reassured to hear that.
To all my readers. How did you like the story this time? I’m sure that there are plenty of people who don’t know what to think about the change from a top to a bottom, but personally, I had a lot of fun writing about a large, unfriendly man who becomes almost like a maiden but only in front of the one he loves. If you have any comments or feedback, I would love it if you could send them to the publisher.
My last two works have contained heavy stories and dark protagonists, so I think that my next work will be a more heartwarming story. There are times that I worry that my writing style is all over the place, but lately I’ve accepted that maybe the fact that my style is never fixed is my style. I want to do my best to continue to write the stories that are true to me. I hope that you can stick with me into the future.
And I hope to see you again next time.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- Kuro contains the first two characters for croissant in Japanese, and it is also the name for the color black.