“Welcome to the Quizline Radio! The show you all wait for so loyally! Today, our quiz will be based around Western celebrities... The first person to answer all our questions right will be able to earn a secret treasure~! A beautiful journey~! Which of our loyal listeners will be triumphant?”
“Oh? Looks like we’ve got our lucky cat here! Hello~?”
“...hello! I’m Kokonose from Kashiwa…”
“Nice to meet you! Kashiwa City, huh? Thanks for calling in. Do you think you can answer all our questions correctly?”
“Uhm… yes… I do!”
“Right! Let’s begin, then…”
“You won a trip to Osawa Hot Spring?”
“Through a radio show?”
“That’s… that’s cool,” Shintaro leaned back in his seat, stirring his drink anxiously. The afternoon cafe atmosphere was somewhat oppressive to the introvert, and he wanted to be elsewhere. “Why are you telling me?”
“Hm? I want you to come with me.” Haruka stated this fact so casually that Shintaro had to do a double take. He looked at the older man curiously. “We’re friends, y’know? So I wanted to make you feel included and it’s been so long, y’know-”
“You need a driver.”
He froze, quickly averting his eyes towards his own drink. “...well, yes...”
“...How far is it?”
“Uhm… A little less than six hours if we go straight there, but I was kind of hoping to go on a trip. With you. And the others.”
“The others?” Shintaro envisioned the entire Mekakushi Dan driving in his and Seto’s cars. His imagination quickly filtered through all the worst possible outcomes, both for his sanity and his safety. Marry getting left behind at a gas station… Kano trying to drive… Momo insisting they take every random pitstop possible… The disasters were endless.
“Yes. You, me, Ayano, and Takane. It’d be just like old times!” He smiled, resting his head on his hands. Shintaro could feel his feet kicking the legs of the table in excitement.
“Doesn’t it sound fun? The prize was a family trip, which counts for four people, but we’re four people too so I figured…”
“I don’t…” Looking across the table, he was met with the big, round stare of his friend. “D-don’t give me puppy eyes… ugh… okay, fine, sure. It… sounds fun. I’ll go with you.”
“Yay!” He clasped his hand tightly, smiling earnestly. Shintaro already felt the regret building up inside him.
The next morning…
Parking in front of the apartment building, Shintaro kicked his feet up and waited. He’d tried to dress nicely, but for him that consisted of wearing his iconic jersey around his waist, simply sporting a white long-sleeved shirt and brown pants.
He had told Haruka he’d be there at nine, so he expected the others to be here soon.
Surprisingly, the first person to arrive was one Takane Enomoto.
He waved her over. She was wearing a pair of jeans, and a sweatshirt with the design of a video game character on it. Her hair sported its usual pigtails. As she approached, her face twisted into a smirk.
“You drive a Ford?”
“Ford F-250,” he clarified. “If you make fun of my car I’m leaving you here.”
“Bye,” he grabbed the steering wheel as if he were about to drive away.
Chuckling, Takane tossed her bags in the back of the truck. She slid into the front seat triumphantly. “Since I’m the first one here I get to sit in the front, right?”
“I’m also gonna sleep here. I got like, three hours last night.”
Shintaro nodded. As Takane closed her eyes, he saw the flash of red beneath her eyelids. His phone buzzed a moment later, and he pulled it out. Ene was hanging out on his apps, smiling up at him. He set her up in one of the car’s cup holders.
Soon enough, the other two joined them in the car. Ayano arrived first. She was wearing her usual red scarf, which actually looked quite cozy in the late autumn weather. She was also wearing a white v-neck and black pants. Haruka came last, unsurprisingly with a bag dedicated to food. He was wearing a black sweater with the design of a smiling emoji on it, paired with yellow plaid pants.
“I brought a cooler, it’s in the back so you can put drinks or anything in there. Does everyone have everything?”
“Yeah! We’re all packed up,” Ayano confirmed. “It’s a lot easier to remember what to pack when you have three minds working on it.”
“Alright, time to head out then.”
The drive started out fairly simple, with Ene giving directions and Shintaro driving them. Music came from the radio, playing some of the more popular songs. A familiar tune floated up from the speakers.
"This is one of Little Sister's songs, isn't it?" Takane, now back in her body, looked over at the driver as she asked this.
He nodded, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel to the tune of the song.
"I'm glad she's still making music. Her songs are really good," Ayano leaned forward in the backseat to join in the conversation.
"She seems a lot happier now that she's her own boss. I'm just grateful she isn't being dragged away by creepy advertising scouts so often anymore," Shintaro gripped the wheel. "Those guys piss me off real bad. Especially when they show up to our house."
Ayano patted his shoulder from behind in a comforting motion. He relaxed almost instantly, his iron grip of the wheel loosening.
"How about we play a road game?" Ayano suddenly suggested.
"Hmm… I Spy?"
"That's a kid's game," Shintaro scoffed.
"But it'll be fun! Come on, please?" She dragged out the vowels in 'please'.
"Ugh. You're going first."
"Alright! Hmm.. I Spy something with stripes."
"The road?" Haruka piped up, suddenly involved in the game.
"Correct! Now it's Haruka's turn then."
"I Spy… something red."
"Ayano's scarf," Takane guessed.
"...my jersey?" Shintaro followed up, motioning at the jacket around his waist.
"Yep! Good job, now it's your turn."
"Uhm… I Spy something glass."
"The window!" Takane shouted out, smacking the dashboard as she did.
"Haha! Nice," Takane prided in herself for a moment. "I Spy something tall."
"Oh! Oh! That billboard!" Ayano pointed out the window, showing a large billboard advertising some lawyer in the distance.
"That was it! I'm surprised you got it on the first try. There's quite a few tall things around."
"Hehe, thanks. Now it's my turn." Ayano thought for a moment. "I Spy something beautiful!"
"Takane." Haruka spoke up, grinning cutely.
"Hm?" Takane looked back at him, confused.
"That's my guess. Takane is beautiful."
"O-oh…" Takane practically melted in the front seat. "Well then, I guess Haruka…"
"Both of you are wrong. Next guess!"
Shintaro squirmed, uncomfortable over the fact that he was the only one to guess left. "I don't know… I forfeit."
"Aww…" Ayano reached over the back of the seat to hold onto Shintaro's head. "It's a shame because I was spying you!"
"Oh," he looked down for a moment before snapping his eyes back to the road. "That's… cute."
He reached up with one of his hands, pulling Ayano's so that it rested on his shoulder instead. She kept her hands there, but she started slapping his shoulders to some sort of tune.
The silence came back to the car for a couple of hours, the city passing by until they were driving through some forest. A long hike from here and they'd find themselves at the door to the Kozakura household. The drive continued.
The forest ended after a few hours, the view of the sky-filled horizon being practically new to them after the dense trees. Haruka dug through one of the bags he'd brought with him.
"Something wrong?" Ayano asked him.
He pulled out a large piece of paper. It was a map, with circles and lines marked up around it, signifying places that he wanted to go on the trip. Their official destination was circled twice. He squinted at the map, drawing his finger along the road.
"Uh… I think… I think we went the wrong way."