Hellping

“…Are you awake?”

“Hyaargh!?”

 

I heard a knock and a sudden cry outside the door, and couldn’t help but let out a pitiful shirek.

Th-that was…him? Wh-why in the middle of the night…? Di-did he find out about that…!?

Before I could get my mind working, I noticed something next to me.

The diary! I couldn’t let him see this diary…!

I hastily hid the diary in the drawer, and at the same time, I tossed all the things that would be terrible for him to see (a girl’s room has all kinds of things in the room!) into the closet.

Again and again I checked my room. It’s fine…fine…right? Good.

 

I approached the door, and lightly cleared my throat. I couldn’t let him sense how I faltered. I had to muster a frigid tone as much as I could.

 

“…What?”

 

I thought my voice was about three degrees Celsius colder than I expected, but it was passable.

Beyond the door, my little stepbrother didn’t seem to notice anything amiss as he said.

 

“I got something to talk to you about…Can I come in…?”

“…Whatever.”

Good. It’s perfect. I’m ruthless. Look at how ruthless I sound. Now, best case scenario if he left.

Alas, my wish didn’t come true, and I heard the knob turn. I unwittingly pulled some distance, and sat on the bed.

Mizuto entered while dressed in a completely plain sweatshirt. He’s always dressed like this, even at night, or during the holidays.

He gently closed the door behind him and looked down at me as I sat on the bed.

 

“What do you want at such a late time?”

 

I averted my eyes awkwardly, and showed a little mocking expression.

 

“If you’re planning to confess to me again, I’ll refuse.”

“… Let me retort at this part. You’re the one who confessed to me back then. Do you want me to recite what was in that love letter?”

“You actually remember? That’s disgusting.”

“Yeah, that was really disgusting. Yeah, it was almost like a poem.”

“…Shitty otaku.”

“…Shitty poet.”

 

We glared at each other.

That’s basically how we always greet each other.

 

“…So, what do you want? We’re still family, but do you think that’s enough justification for you to barge into a girl’s room? Depending on what you say, I’ll ask for an arbiter, you know?”

“Fine, I’ll take it. But let me ask you something first. Did you say anything to Yuni-san today?”

 

Jolt.

My heart jumped.

D-Did he find out after all…!?

 

“………Nothing in particular, you know? Anyway, what do you mean by that?”

“You really can’t lie at all. Seriously, how did you manage to bluff your way through like that, high school rookie? ”

“Sh-shut up! It’s been a month already, I’m not a rookie anymore!”

 

He’s always nagging, again and again and again and again! I broke up with you because I hated this part about you!!

Mizuto sighed as though he was dealing with an idiot. He. Annoys. Me…!

 

“Yuni-san asked me to go shopping with her, and I was asked a few things.”

“Asked?”

“My relationship with you.”

“…………………………”

 

I averted my eyes.

Wh-What did she talk about…?

 

“Yuni-san’s probably wondering if we’re getting along well, or maybe it’s just me worrying too much. The mood back then was a little weird though…you got into trouble, didn’t you?”

“……Not, at, all.”

“Look into my eyes when you say that.”

 

Mizuto pulled out the case I had been sitting on, and sat down before me.

Woahh, he looks like he’s definitely not letting me off…! Seriously! He just ignored my LINE messages all this while, so why now of all times!?

 

“Alright, ‘fess up. I’ll have a restless night, if I don’t get this clear.”

“……Shut up. Just die from sleep deprivation then.”

“And then you’ll be my cushion this time.”

“Uuuuuuuuu……”

 

I groaned and grabbed a pillow, hugging it to my chest to cover my mouth. I couldn’t seem to cover up my expression by myself anymore.

Mizuto crossed his arms and shook his foot, giving me the look of a detective during an interrogation. I wanted to scream for a lawyer, but I was afraid that even the best lawyer wouldn’t be able to help me at this point.

 

At the very least, I exercised my right to remain silent, and continued to look elsewhere.

D-Do I have to say it?

If I talked about the mistake I made on this day, that’d mean I had to show him the photo I took of him two days ago. He’s going to find out that I hid such a photo!

I-I couldn’t do it…! Absolutely not! I’ll die! No!

 

“…Ho-how long are you going to remain like this…!?”

 

I tried to act as hostile as possible, but Mizuto remained so with his arms crossed and took my attempt head on.

 

“I’ll leave if you can come clean and confess your sin. After that, we’ll have a good night’s sleep.”

“A confession of sin…you’re the complete opposite of a priest.”

“What kind of existence do you think I am?”

 

The devil. The devil who fooled an innocent, cute, gloomy, shy eighth grader and ruined her life.

 

“Obviously, I’m not a priest, but I can promise you that I won’t tell anyone else.”

“………(You’re the one I really don’t want to tell.)”

“You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention.”

“Some ears you have…!!”

 

Couldn’t you have played dumb and act like you didn’t hear it! That’s what I hate about you too!

Uu… it seemed trying to bluff him would be impossible.

I wonder what face he’d show if he heard about this huge mistake… would he be dumbfounded, angry, or just condescending?

… Oh well.

I didn’t really care what this guy thought of me at this point. Ultimately, it’s his fault for sleeping naked on the sofa like that. Not mine.

After coming up with a series of excuses, excuses, excuses, and more excuses, I sorted out my mood, and finally confessed.

 

“I made a mistake…I sent a photo to mom.”

 

Mizuto frowned in bewilderment.

 

“Photo, of what? ……Wait, back in middle school?”

“Th-that’s not it…! She’d have known immediately if it’s that!”

“That’s true.”

 

There’s no way I’d show her that photo of us being a couple! I mean, did he think that’s all the photos I had! … Well, actually, yeah.

I tapped at my own phone…after countless hesitation, I opened the photo…and showed it to Mizuto.

 

“……I-It’s this…”

 

Mizuto took the phone and frowned as he looked at the picture.

I couldn’t look at him.

An uncomfortable silence lingered as I turned my face away.

 

“………………………”

 

There was a frosty silence.

I felt like I was on tenterhooks, and covered my face with my pillow.

 

“Huh……? Eh? Ahhh!?”

“Uuuuuu~…!”

“Wh-when did you take this photo—ah!?”

 

Mizuto, who was unusually upset, raised his voice while being triggered.

“Ah~…” He lowered his head, and cupped it in his hands.

…He probably had an idea. The only time I had a chance to take a photo of his sleeping face was two days ago.

 

“…Y-you…were home, back then…?”

“Y-yeah…! I was just cooped in my room…! When I entered the living room, I saw you naked and sleeping soundly, and I was a little shocked…”

“…Shocked?”

 

I felt a frosty look.

 

“Would you be so shocked to actually take a photo!? Like ‘Woah! That shocked me! Snap!’ Huh? Are there such people around?”

“…I exercise my right to remain silent.”

 

I shut off all pressing questions with the pillow, like a politician getting into a black car, waving off the press.

So what do you want me to say!? Would it be convincing if I said “I took this picture because your sleeping face was a little cute,”!? That’s baseless!

 

“……So you sent this to Yuni-san?”

 

I felt a frigid look that came with the voice.

 

“You…messed up, huh?”

“~~~~~~~~~~!!!!”

 

I pinned my face into the pillow, screamed, and flopped onto the bed.

My rampant emotions ran wild in me, and I could only flail my legs.

 

“I-I know that…!! Of course I know that’s a horrible photo to take!! That’s why I didn’t want to say anything—!?”

 

My mom definitely misunderstood.

That sleeping face, and he’s naked. It’s obviously weird for me to have such a photo!

I made an excuse right after I realized that I had sent it, but I panicked so hard that I wasn’t sure how I tried to explain myself. I could have checked the chat logs, but I was so scared of looking at it!

 

Sure, it’s true that I wanted our parents to see that we got along well.

But not like this. I didn’t want them to see that we went that far—…!

If they thought it’s an unhealthy relationship, mom and uncle Mineaki might give up on living together…!

 

“U-uuu…! This is ridiculous…! I messed up so badly…Just laugh at me for being such a dull girl…for being some high school rookie who could only improvise…that I’m just a gloomy, boring girl with communication issues…uu, uuu~~…!!”

 

Mom, who had allllwaaaayysss raised me by herself, finally found someone reliable, and I decided not to cause her trouble…

Or so I thought I could do it. I assumed I was no longer the same as before, but I actually made such a stupid mistake…Why did this happen every time…?

 

“…Anyway,”

 

Mizuto sighed, and said,

 

“I’m deleting this photo.”

“Uehh?”

“Hm?”

 

I couldn’t help but lift my head. I exchanged looks with Mizuto, and hastily averted my gaze.

I showed a calm look to hide the fact that I was this rattled.

 

“O-of course…with this photo in here, even my phone will be polluted.”

“That’s pushing it considering that you kept it in your photo for two days like a baby…”

“……………………………………”

 

Yume.exe stopped working, and buried her face into the pillow.

 

“…No…I’m dead. I’m dying. Farewell.”

 

It’s over…they’d find out at school sooner or later anyway…those illusions shall be destroyed, my friends would leave me one by one, and I’d be alone again… A month, huh…? That’s quite a long time…

My mood hit rock bottom, and I even doubted if I’d be one with the bed. This is fine…it’s a pain being human…it’s much easier to be a bed. …

 

Snap.

 

“—Eh!?” 

 

I jolted.

I looked aside, and saw Mizuto point his phone camera at me.

 

“Did you just take a photo?”

“Ah—my bad—I just took a photo and sent it to Yuni-san accidentally—”

“Haaaaahh!?”

 

Did he just take a photo of me lying on my bed!?

I snatched Mizuto’s phone, and looked at the screen in shock.

 

“…Y-You really sent it…”

 

It’s a photo of me in my pajamas, lying on the bed, sent to mom using Mizuto’s account.

 

“W-what should we do now…! Sh-she’ll definitely suspect us…!”

“Problem solved.”

“How so!?”

 

Mizuto deliberately whistled and looked away from me…wh-what’s with him…!?

Soon after, there was a knock on the door.

 

“…Mizuto-kun? Are you in Yume’s room?”

 

I jolted the moment I heard my mother’s voice.

Sh-She’s suspicious of us after all…! What do I do what do I do what do I do!

I looked towards Mizuto with bated breath, ‘just watch’ and that was the look he gave me as he tossed my phone back at it.

I hastily caught it, and Mizuto reached for the door to welcome mom in. Wait a sec!?

 

“Good evening, Yuni-san.”

“Woah, you’re really in here…Mizuto-kun? What was that photo about…?”

 

Mom straightened her back slightly and looked over Mizuto’s shoulder, towards me on the bed.

This is really bad! A guy and a girl together in the same room in the middle of the night!? Obviously she’d assume that’s the relationship we have, even though we never did such a thing even when we had such a relationship before! …Huh? Then what about us in this situation? Ahhh, I’m so confused…!

Mizuto glanced aside at me who was completely concussed, and flat out explained to mom.

 

“I wanted to borrow a book, but I happened to see that Yume-san was very frustrated, which was a rare sight. I found it amusing, so I couldn’t help but take a photo. Sorry.”

 

He-He really can lie…! But the last bit is real though! He just mentioned the part that’s easiest to bluff! Thank goodness I broke up with him!

Mom tilted her head in confusion.

 

“Frustrated? As in?”

“She said that she sent a weird photo to you or something.”

“Ah! That photo of you naked…?”

“Yeah. I guess it happened when I was sleeping in the living room two days ago.”

 

Wh-why’s he being honest!?

She’d find out, you know!? She’d find out!!? Are you an idiot!?

 

“She said that you might misunderstand, Yuni-san, but to be honest, it’s really nothing. I’ll delete that photo then.”

 

I-it’s really nothing…he said it’s nothing even after seeing how troubled I was…!

“Pfft.” Mom giggled while hiding her mouth. Why are you laughing, mom!?

 

“Ahh yes. This child always worries about some little things!”

“That’s why I wanted her to sleep earlier.”

“That’s right!…But.”

 

Mom swung her gaze between Mizuto and me.

 

“Mizuto-kun? I’m glad that you’re getting along well with Yume, but to be honest, you two being in the same room at this time is a little…”

 

I stiffen.

I knew it. I knew we looked suspicious…! Ahhhh, what do I do…!? How am I supposed to fix this …! What excuse can I make…!

And while I was feeling troubled, Mizuto tilted his head.

 

“Are we suspected?”

“After all, you two are still young…right?”

“I think if I was actually aware of that, I wouldn’t be able to remain calm here.”

 

Mom stared at Mizuto intently for quite some time.

I couldn’t see Mizuto’s face from where I was, but I had a feeling he was giving an inscrutable smile.

 

…That’s nice.

If only I had that level of guts, that kind of confidence.

I had no idea…how many times I had such a thought in my mind.

 

I waited for mom to speak, feeling like a prisoner awaiting her sentence.

I heard my rapid-fire heartbeat, and eventually,

 

“Of course~!”

 

Mom smiled heartily.

 

“I may have been thinking too much then. I’m sorry for doubting you, Mizuto-kun.”

“It’s fine. I was being a little careless too.”

 

Both sides nodded, and Mizuto left the room just like that.

 

“I’ll be leaving then. Good night.”

“Ah, good night~”

 

Mizuto returned to his room, and mom waved lightly at me before heading downstairs. The master bedroom was on the first floor.

The door closed with a thud, and Mom’s footsteps disappeared.

 

“…Haaaaaaa~”

 

Alone, I finally heaved a long, sigh of relief.

How did he, manage to…?

But, it’s like, a full frontal assault—

 

The phone in my hand vibrated.

I immediately picked up the call.

 

“See? Isn’t this fine?”

“Look what you’ve done!!”

 

I exclaimed immediately after the first sentence.

What do you mean, see? You made it sound easy…! Don’t you know how shaken I was!?

 

“The more you try to hide things, the more suspicious you might be. In this situation, the best way out is to be honest.”

“Even so…!”

“And furthermore.”

 

He interrupted me, and I shut up.

 

“The fact remains that we don’t have such feelings…right?”

“……Of course.”

 

He’s right.

There’s no love lost between us.

There’s no such relationship between us.

It didn’t matter that I had a photo of his sleeping face, or that we’re alone in the same room late at night, that was the unshakeable fact.

So there is no need to hide anything.

…He’s completely right.

So infuriatingly right.

 

“They say that when there’s smoke, there’s fire, you know? I’d say our relationship is filled with liquid nitrogen.”

“That’ll cause smoke instead…but I get what you mean. Just don’t fret over such things all the time. If you can’t resolve it, just hurry up and sleep. That’s all I’m telling you.”

 

…I started to recall the past, just a little.

Back in middle school, whenever I was troubled, I would go to Irido-kun for advice. Thanks to him, I felt a lot relieved. He was much gentler back then.

The blunt tone he used showed the change in our relationship before me.

We’re not dating anymore…we’re just stepsiblings.

And yet, even though our relationship had changed, he was still on the other end of the phone, just like he was back then.

That’s…

 

“…………T-thanks.”

 

There was a hint of a gasp on the other end when I said this with a hushed voice.

 

“……We’re starting school tomorrow. Don’t say such things that’ll cause snow.”

“You idiot…good night.”

 

After hanging up the call, I collapsed onto the bed in a daze.

With my head buried in the pillow, I look at the phone screen. 0 minutes and 53 seconds, less than a minute.

 

…The memory from 4 days ago came to mind.

I recalled his face when he held out the umbrella to me in the rain.

Lovers break up someday.

Friends may disappear one day.

And we knew well that even husband and wife wouldn’t remain together forever.

 

But what about siblings?

 

“…………”

 

It’s pointless.

We’re stepchildren. Legally, we’re strangers. If—though it’s not possible short term-wise—our parents were to break up, we wouldn’t be siblings anymore.

But as long as we’re siblings.

No matter how much we fight, no matter how disillusioned we are…no matter how bad we are at reconciling…

 

Suddenly, I received a LINE notification.

It’s from him.

 

“Good night.”

 

A tad later,

 

“Even if it snows, I’ll lend you my umbrella.”

 

—Yeah.

He’d still lend an umbrella to me.

Just like four days ago, even if he wouldn’t lend it to anyone else.

 

I replied.

 

“Baka.”

 

—But,

I worked hard till this point because I felt I didn’t want to rely on you all the time.

 

“I won’t forget about it again. I’m fine.”

 

There was no answer.

Fine.

I charged my phone, and closed my eyes.

 

We’re heading back to school tomorrow.

At this rate, it’d definitely be sunny.

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