“Where are we supposed to be turning?”
“To the right. After turning right here and walking down for a bit, it’ll just be on our left.”
“Ahaha, Rei-sensei, do you have a bad sense of direction or something?”
“…… Why am I here?”
From the top to the bottom, those lines were said by me, Claire-sama, Lana and Eve.
The four of us, all Bauer international students, were going to pick our dresses for the upcoming ball out.
As always, the streets in the Imperial capital city were overflowing with people, where you could see the figures of lots of different people wandering about between shops.
“No, I mean, we haven’t had the time to thoroughly take a look around the Imperial capital city yet.”
“But Philine even drew a map for us, didn’t she? All you need to do is follow the instructions, right?”
“…… Well, I’ll admit that I may not have a good sense of orientation.”
It wasn’t as bad as not having a sense of direction at all.
“Aha, I have a really sharp sense of direction! Ever since I was a child, I’ve never gotten myself lost before!”
“What about you, Eve?”
“…… I’m average.”
As usual, Eve was unfriendly as ever.
In addition to just being the blunt type, she appeared to be in a bad mood because of my presence.
Here’s the reason why she came with us at all.
Since the ball was considered a necessary part of our student exchange program, the prices of our dresses were being covered by the financial aid that was being provided by Bauer.
The other members from our exchange program had already finished shopping for their dresses, but for the four of us, who participated in the cooking competition, we had our shopping trip delayed.
After nagging the treasurers of our exchange program, we decided to gather today to shop for our dresses.
“Why do you sound so down about it? We’re picking out our dresses, you know? Don’t you think you should be a bit more excited about it?”
“That’s right, that’s right! And besides, even though there’s a spending limit, don’t you think it’s the best when we don’t have to shell out any money ourselves?”
“……. Lana, you’re the worst.”
Well, it’s not like I didn’t understand what everyone else was saying.
Even I liked to go shopping for clothes, and I wouldn’t say that not having to pay out our own wasn’t nice.
But the problem was that we were shopping for ball gowns.
“I may have agreed to this because Claire-sama agreed to dance with me, but in the end, I just don’t like skirts all that much.”
“You’ve mentioned this before, right? Why is that? Rather, I feel like women that prefer to wear outfits without skirts are the minority.”
Since this world was based on medieval Europe, the standard bottoms for women were skirts.
Although workers’ uniforms and farmers’ clothes consisted of pants, skirts were extremely common in everyday outfits.
“Don’t your legs feel a bit breezy?”
“If anything, don’t you think pants feel a bit uncomfortably tight?”
Hmm, perhaps this was just a difference in our tastes.
“About that…… Do you think it has anything to do with your sexual orientation, Rei?”
“Eh? This has nothing to do with that though?”
“I mean, aren’t men usually vehemently against wearing skirts?”
“Well, I’m most definitely a woman though.”
Ahh, was that what this was all about?
“Claire-sama, were you perhaps thinking that I identify as a man?”
“……. No, that’s not what I was thinking, but since you like women, I was wondering if you shared the same interests as men.”
“No, no, no, it’s completely different. These might be some complex terms, but sexual orientation and gender identity are two different things.”
“What is ‘gender identity’?”
Eve’s face was expressionless, so I couldn’t tell what she was thinking, but Claire-sama looked like there was a question mark hovering above her head.
“Gender identity is where you identify yourself as either a male or female. It might seem like something straightforward to most people, but there are also those who may feel out of place in their own bodies.”
“Ehh? So basically, some people might be born with male bodies, but identify as female, and there are people born with the body of a woman, but identify as a man?”
This was exactly what I was referring to with Misaki’s case.
In twenty-first-century Earth, it was called gender dysphoria.
“That…… sounds like it would be tough to live with.”
“Yes, I think it’s unimaginably painful.”
And that was why there were so many people just like Misaki, who end up taking their own lives.
“Well, without getting too deep into it, I identify as a woman, so it’s not like I want to be a man or anything.”
“Admittedly, some of the things I’m into are kind of masculine, but that goes for everybody else too, doesn’t it?”
“Ah, I get that. I don’t really like sweets that much, but whenever I tell that to my friends, they never seem to believe me and then call me strange.”
Lana nodded and agreed.
It wasn’t my intention to completely deny the concept of men and women.
It was a huge concept that accounted for some of the biological differences that existed within human beings.
However, even as society matures to some extent, I think it’ll certainly be impossible to catch up with the distinctions between the two genders.
Everybody has masculine and feminine parts to them that exist at the same time.
There are people who might identify as a third gender that is neither male nor female, or those that don’t really recognize the idea of gender to begin with.
For those people, the concept of having only two different genders must be especially cruel.
“……. Does it really matter?”
“Well, I guess it’s a topic that doesn’t concern the average person. However, it’d make me happy if you learned something new from this.”
“…… Is that so.”
It was rare to see Eve nodding so obediently.
Was she being dere?
Did her dere phase just start?
“Huh? Isn’t that Joel over there?”
Lana was pointing towards the backside of a tall figure.
Even in this world, blue hair was considered relatively rare, so that person was probably Joel.
I called his name out from behind, but it seemed that he hadn’t heard me as he made a turn around the corner.
“That direction…… According to the map that Philine drew, isn’t that where the red-light district is?”
Even in the heart of the Imperial capital city―― rather, it’s precisely because it’s the Imperial city that there are places that buy and sell sex.
“He’s usually so composed, but he’s still a man at heart.”
“Heeeh, but he doesn’t even blink an eye whenever I change right in front of him, though.”
I had a neutral opinion about practices surrounding the sex business, but I couldn’t overlook the potential dangers of those places.
“I’m going to go check on him.”
I left the three of them behind to chase after Joel.
“…… I lost sight of him…….?”
I thought I was quite quick on my feet, but when I turned the corner, Joel’s silhouette was already no longer in sight.
Even if I looked in all four directions, his characteristic blue hair was nowhere to be seen.
“…… What are you doing? If you go by yourself, you’re going to get lost.”
“…… As a teacher, you should understand very well what it looks like when a woman decides to come to a place like this by herself.”
However, if Joel was really planning to make use of the services around here, even if I couldn’t stop him, I wanted to make sure he was educated with the right knowledge.
“Let’s head back. If you linger around, you might get caught up in a misunderstanding.”
“…… Yep. Somehow, I feel like I can’t even tell which one of us is the teacher here.”
“Well, I’m way older than you, after all.”
“What’s with that reaction? Age has nothing to do with studies, right?”
“Well, I just thought you looked really young.”
“……. I don’t need your flattery.”
Eve turned and faced the other way.
I wonder how old she really is.
I completely thought she was younger than me.
I was worried about Joel, but it didn’t mean I could just wander around with Eve in a place like this either.
It wasn’t a matter of age.
The problem was that no matter how old Eve was, she was still a beautiful woman.
She came after me because she was worried, after all, so I shouldn’t cause her any more trouble than this.
“Let’s head back.”
I thought she would pull me by the hair or something, but I ended up just following Eve normally as we left that place behind.
Now that I think about it, I was completely wrong about Joel back then.
That was something I would only come to understand a little bit later though.