Hellping

There was a downpour by the end of the sixth period.

I stopped by the library before going home, and walked down the stairs while listening to the sound of my own footsteps.

It was strangely quiet in the school on this day. I couldn’t hear the wind music band practicing or the baseball team shouting…instead, I could only hear the subdued sound of rain seeping into the walls.

 

I arrived at the entrance to the school, and quickly changed my shoes.

The ground outside was a little mudflat, and it would be difficult to avoid the puddles. It was sunny this morning…but I’d have to thank this technology called weather forecasting. Thank you, a certain search site.

I took out a folding umbrella from my bag and went outside…and noticed a certain someone crouched next to the doorway.

I looked over, and saw it was my little stepsister.

 

“…Yo.”

 

I called out to her, “Ack,” she looked over at me and retorted without a trace of cuteness in her voice.

 

“Did you forget something? My little sister?”

Once I said so with a smirk, my little stepsister, who was empty-handed except for her bag, glanced at the folded umbrella in my hand and made a sullen face.

As I suspected, she didn’t have an umbrella. I guess she didn’t notice that I had prepared an umbrella as she had deliberately avoided going to school at the same time as me.

 

“How unfortunate. I’d have wanted to help you out, but it so happened this folded one is the only one I have.”

“…Don’t worry, little brother. I have friends, unlike you. I’m waiting for them.”

“That’s nice. Enjoy you chit-chat on the way home.”

 

I unfolded my umbrella and stepped out under the rain. Yuna didn’t say anything else.

Before I left the school gate, I glanced back.

She was crouched beside the entrance, just staring blankly at the rainy sky, not playing with her phone or reading a book.

 

 

After a short walk out of the school gate, I encountered a familiar little animal-like girl.

 

“Ah! Irido-kun, are you heading back?”

 

It was Akatsuki Minami. It’s rare to see her walking in front of me. Usually, she would be trailing me quietly.

My gaze was drawn to her feet, half ignoring her smiling, friendly face.

They were boots. Red like an apple.

 

“Heh heh. Aren’t they cute?”

 

Minami-san noticed my gaze and gently lifted her right boot.

 

“Do you want to get married with me?”

 

I ignored the sly grin and the usual crazy words.

 

“…You’re in high school and you’re wearing boots. Aren’t you pushing it quite a bit?”

“Age has nothing to do with fashion though—”

 

Well, I guess Minami-san really had this distinct characteristic, that it’s not a ‘bad’ thing for her as much as it’s her ‘pushing it’. She twirled the umbrella that was the same color as her boots, and she either looked like a Korpokkur standing in the shade of a leaf, or maybe Hanako-san in the toilet. I guess the latter’s correct.

 

“—Hm?”

 

I tilted my head.

 

“You’re not with her—eh, I mean, the other Irido?”

“Eh? How are you even addressing her?”

 

Minami-san shrugged.

 

“Yume-chan said she had something to do, so we split at the shoe lock? Ahh—I really want to share an umbrella with her—”

“…Umbrella?”

“Yume-chan’s? She said she had a spare umbrella.”

 

So why was she just standing there…?

 

“Well, who knows~ maybe she just wants to be alone once in a while”

 

Minami stomped on her reflection in the puddle with her red boots.

 

“The four day break starts tomorrow after all. Maybe she was a little relaxed because of that?”

“…What are you talking about?”

“It’s tiring for girls to keep up with their friends all the time, especially for someone like Yume-chan who stands out so much.”

 

I frowned. “Ahaha” Minami-san let out a frivolous laugh.

 

“I thought this situation wouldn’t be so bad since we’re in a prep school”, but I didn’t think it would be more troublesome, since everyone is smart. I’d have wanted to console her a little if possible, have fun with her, but it’s important for her to have some alone time, yep yep.”

 

Well, she continued.

 

“She’s that cute and smart, so maybe she’s already used to it.”

 

…That’s not possible.

Not too long ago, she couldn’t find a partner during PE class…

I was pretty that she had no idea when it would be appropriate to address her friends by their given names, let alone be adept at advanced social skills.

 

The reason why such a person like her was able to act as a popular person.

Was simply because she was always so tense, ensuring that she would never mess up.

 

“Huh? Where are you going, Irido-kun?”

 

I turned my back on Minami-san.

 

“I forgot something.”

 

※※※

 

“…Haaah~….”

 

My sigh melted into the rain.

The rain didn’t weaken, and instead poured harder. My felt increasingly gloomy as I looked at the puddles expand.

Starting tomorrow, it’d be the second half of Golden Week. I wouldn’t have to come to school for another four days, and I would have four days to relax. The moment I thought so, I immediately felt weary.

Ultimately, I couldn’t keep up a façade before Minami-san and the others, and I was so frustrated by the idea of walking through the puddles and mud.

I wouldn’t be able to do anything, not in this state. In fact, I thought it would stop after a while, since it was a mere drizzle, but this was the result. In hindsight, I should have used my smartphone instead of trusting my own baseless weather forecast.

 

“…Haa~…”

 

I used to think how fun it would be to have lots of friends.

No, I was actually happy. I could do many things I couldn’t do in the past, and every day is exciting.

…But once in a while, I get tired of it.

I just feel bitter inside whenever the topic of the conversation involved badmouthing someone who’s not around.

 

I wonder if there will come a time when I too would be badmouthed.

No, perhaps I was already badmouthed, but I didn’t know about it.

… No, I was definition badmouthed before. As the representative of the freshmen and the talk of the class, I would assume even the boys would have something to say about me. It might be bad of me to say so myself, but in fact, there’s hardly any other girl who stood out. I guess it’s no wonder people would gossip about me in places I didn’t know of, like “Isn’t she getting carried away?” and such. Just as how we would talk about others.

I guess even Minami-san and the others would be saying such things too.

 

…I felt like I was crossing a thin sheet of ice.

Our daily lives resumed over this thin layer of ice called a cordial smile. If I were to underestimate this layer of ice one day…surely the people who might be on good terms with me at this point would leave me at once.

Hello paranoia my old friend.

I was never this terrified back was in middle school. After all, I never had anything to lose.

I was glad to have friends.

I was scared to have friends.

Minami-san and the others probably experienced such a world since elementary school…

 

“…It’s amazing…”

 

Given how I always had to improvise, I wondered if I could continue to play the role well.

If I messed up…would I revert back to how I was back in middle school…

 

Suddenly, the rainy sky was blocked.

A black umbrella blocked the raindrops.

 

I looked down from the sky, and saw a familiar face.

He, who had become my little stepbrother for just over a month, was looking down at me under the umbrella.

…Huh?

Why…? I thought he had left earlier.

 

“…What? Did you forget something?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I forgot.”

 

He said that, and then gingerly put his umbrella in front of him.

The shadow covered me while I was crouched down.

 

“Look, you and I are already family. No matter how we don’t get along with each other, how bad our relationship is, how much you improvised your high school debut…I hate to say it, but even though I want to make a clean break from you, we just can’t.”

 

He said that with a poker face.

I gulped and stared up at him.

…This guy.

Why is he always…goodness.

 

“…What, that’s…disgusting.”

 

I showed a faint smile, and he snorted somewhat unhappily.

 

“Look, you’re also a sibling of that disgusting guy.”

 

And the other hand, the one not holding the umbrella, reached out toward me.

 

“Let’s go home.”

 

I looked at the palm of his hand.

…I see.

No matter how ugly it gets between family…we’re still family.

 

“…Yeah.”

 

I grabbed his hand and stood up.

 

The sound of rain filled the area.

There’s no band practice to be heard, nor was there a baseball team shouting.

In this strangely quiet world, we left the school.

 

“Wait! My right shoulder is wet!”

“Shut up. That’s the biggest this folding umbrella can expand.”

“Then go over the limit! Lean closer!”

“Ew…”

“Don’t give such a disgusted look!”

 

Our shoulders bumped as we said so to each other, broke away, bumped, broke away again, as though this would repeat itself continuously forever.

We were under the same umbrella, on the same way home.

We walked in the rain.

 

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