I can say now that I was young and foolish, but I had an existence called a girlfriend between my second and third years of middle school.
Recently, it feels like whenever I mention this, the first thing to pop into people’s heads is “What kind of dark history’ll be revealed this time around?”
Everyone, please wait a moment first. Yume Ayai and I were really a couple of shitty brats with screwed-up minds, but we didn’t exactly cover everything a couple would do.
Well, we were middle schoolers, in this society that made us powerless, mere nobodies. Of course we couldn’t do whatever we wanted… let alone stay out at night as we pleased. And it’d be ridiculous to even consider us asking our parents, especially considering we never even told them we were dating in the first place!
Not because we didn’t have the guts. Not at all.
…..Well, if we really had to put it, I guess the school camp in May during our second year of middle school might be considered one. Yume Ayai and I were just ordinary classmates at that moment, just a boy A and a girl A who never talked properly to each other. Actually, if we’re ranking how much we stood out in class by alphabets, we’re around P or so.
Did anything noteworthy happen between this boy P and girl P? No, of course not. Basically, we just brushed by each other, and the gloomy dark history of us becoming lovers later on couldn’t possibly happen there.
We didn’t get to know each other back then. There was no way there’d be any formation of valuable bonds.
We couldn’t possibly have any memories.
It really was just a trivial passing matter.
But I still remembered what happened back then.
It was an incident where I had a rare glimpse of Yume Ayai’s true self.
The school camp.
I have no recollection of whatever it was we did there, since I had no interest in any of these traditions at all. The only thing I could be certain was the title of the book I read during my free time, “Mathematical Goodbye” by Hiroshi Mori.
For me, there’s no real difference between using manga, games, or novels as entertainment, but it seemed like for any other human being out there seeing a student reading a book without illustrations, they would probably think “Oh, this guy’s amazing”. So I spent my time reading silently, but nobody said anything.
I had a feeling that if I said so, I would be pitied by those who never accounted for reading or gaming as part of the schedule, but this was my own way of enjoying the school camp. It’s a unique experience reading a detective novel in the hills, and I often wondered if there was some strange mansion beyond the forest.
And so, night fell.
We weren’t assigned our own rooms, but just slept in our sleeping bags, like it was a banquet.
There was some distance between us, but the girls too were sleeping at the same place. There were some whispers in the dim space. They might have been whispering to begin with, but no matter how soft their voices were, a dozen voices would form a ruckus.
I couldn’t sleep, so I got out of my sleeping bag early. I got a few ‘Is this guy for real?’ looks from the guys nearby, but the teachers weren’t watching us like prison wardens. I held a textbook, told them “I’m off to the toilet”, and hurriedly left the gathering area that functioned as a common bedroom.
There were no lights on the corridor, but the moonlight outside shone upon the wooden floor. I could read the words with this little light, so I moved a little away from the common bedroom, leaned on the window, and looked towards the night sky.
The book I was reading, ‘Mathematical Goodbye’, heavily involved the starry sky. I probably acted unusually by doing my own astrological observation because of it.
Hmmm, it sure looks pretty, so I thought.
I guessed that’s probably the reaction of those looking into the starry sky probably. Some TV stars or Youtubers will probably react with a “Woah…” for show or something.
Then I suddenly heard this little exclamation next to me.
What was that?
Did someone get out from the common bedroom like me to watch some Youtube video or something? That’s what I thought when I turned my eyes aside, looked to the window next to me, and spotted a little girl marveling at the sky.
I was the kind of guy who couldn’t remember the names of my classmates, but there were exceptions.
Basically, we’re talking about school misfits like me.
I knew very well that when lone striders encounter one another, that’s just two striders meeting together, and also an inevitable sense of camaraderie.
That was the name I remembered.
She was a girl who never left her table, and spent every day just reading. I never saw her talk with any friends. She couldn’t blend into any social circle during this school camp either, and I could only see her acting suspiciously, panicking here and there.
Please allow me to explain for those who had a smooth sailing school life. For us lone striders, there were those who were useful, and those who weren’t. The former had no friends, but could naturally deal with various crises (like if we forgot to bring our textbooks). For the latter though, they’re goners if they couldn’t ask others for help. I can boast of being the former, but she, Yume Ayai, clearly was the latter group.
And I started to feel uncomfortable meeting someone like her.
Was it because I hated those of my kind, or that I felt shame for meeting one of mine? Even I would be perturbed seeing how perturbed she was.
Ultimately, I unwittingly offered a helping hand.
In fact, I did share some excess ingredients with her when we made curry during morning camp.
She was the type to never honestly admit her own mistakes, and I was the only one to realize so, and gave her a lifeline. It so happened that I was the only one in class who could imagine the hardship of someone so shy, and the only one who could help her.
I only knew of two states of Yume Ayai, the misfit in class whom I brushed by, and the timid one whom I helped.
But at this point, she was by the window.
She was basked under the hazy moonlight, and that expression she showed…an expression I didn’t know of…one I couldn’t do.
…I was silently ashamed of myself.
Somewhere deep in my heart, I had been belittling this girl…I was ashamed once I realized this.
I should have belittled her forever, I would have said so at this point, but that was an impressive reflection of my own thoughtlessness as a middle schooler. This was the one part I had to praise myself for.
I guessed I shouldn’t have stared at her intently while having such thoughts.
Ayai looked towards me, and shriveled somewhat bashfully, and kept quiet…seriously, she’s really useless.
There’s no way a girl like her could have slipped out of the common bedroom for no reason. She definitely wanted to look for me.
I had a feeling that if I flat out asked her “what do you want?”, she probably would become more timid, and run away.
…In hindsight, I didn’t think that’s something to worry about. Back then though, I turned my eyes beyond the window, towards the night, and said.
—The moon sure is pretty (tsuki ga kirei dana).
It’s super effective.
Anyone else other than her would be really dumbfounded, but Ayai’s face turned completely red, so much so that I could sense her expression wavering suspiciously in the darkness.
—E-erm, I-I, ahhh, aau…
—I don’t mean that.
I cackled away. Seriously, why did I choose to tease her with those words back then? Even at this point, I couldn’t figure out what I was thinking back then. I probably foresaw her change in image later on though. Yep, let’s take it as that.
For some reason, Ayai stared at my face, her mouth half opened.
I was a little curious as to whether there was anything strange about my face, but she did not say anything, and instead stared at the moon that I called ‘pretty’.
The moon in the center of the many stars seemed to hang behind the thick clouds. We remained silent as we stared at the same bright moon, through the different windows.
And once the moonlight was finally covered by the thick clouds, I heard her softly murmur.
—…Thank you…for this morning…
And before I could turn towards her again, she had already scampered off to her own room.
I understood something once I saw her thin little figure vanish in the corridor.
…Did she chase after me because she wanted to thank me?
It couldn’t be called an encounter, it was a mere brushing by.
There’s no way it could have caused anything, nor could it be the reason or opportunity to do so.
If, just if, this conversation that was a window width away was the foreshadowing of an event, Yume Ayai and I becoming lovers three and a half months later, God must have read too many detective novels.
After all, there’s no way in reality that everything and anything that happened would correlate to the future.
But in an unusual gesture from me, I made a wish towards the starry sky that wasn’t exactly pretty.
Not as a boy and girl, not as boyfriend and girlfriend, and obviously not as stepsiblings.
But as a bond between lone striders who couldn’t blend in at school.
This school camp definitely wouldn’t be a pleasant memory for her, so I prayed that the starry sky could be a little prettier…
And then, I realized that I didn’t answer her with, don’t worry about it.
Well, I’d just mention it next time. There’s definitely a chance.
So I thought, and then two years passed.
There’s something called May sickness. It means that once people start getting used to a new life starting in April, as the season got hotter, motivation would nosedive, and people would start getting lazy. I was really envious that people could get used to a new life or something in a single month. I still haven’t gotten used to living under the same roof as my ex.
But in mid May, the Saturday right after Mother’s Day, I could finally break free from the stressful environment for two days. How could I not be overjoyed?
“Thanks Kawanami. Leave your upcoming midterms to me.”
“Oh, you’re giving me study tips?”
“Just vocal support. Do your best.”
Kogure Kawanami, a really rebellious guy who punked his hair even though he’s attending a really uptight high school, grumbled away. He’s a frivolous guy. It’s rare for me to vocally support anyone.
It happened while I was on my way from my house to Kawanami’s.
Because of certain reasons, I decided to stay over at my classmate’s place.
My dad and stepmother remarried, and were still in their honeymoon phase, but they really appeared worried about whether their children could get along well, and they never actually managed to spend time properly as a couple. As their children, we considered their feelings, and decided to grant them some alone time this weekend as a gift.
So, over these two days, Yume would be staying with her friend, Akatsuki Minami.
After a month and a half, I finally had a night when I could spend the night separately from her.
“We’re here. This is my place.”
Kawanami said as he stopped. It’s a somewhat old apartment, rather tall for one in Kyoto…it’s about 10 stories tall.
I was led by Kawanami through the auto lock entrance.
We went to the elevator hall as Kawanami’s apartment was said to be very high up. Over there,
I spotted the face I didn’t want to see. There were two high school girls there, probably waiting for the elevator.
One of them was a small girl with a refreshing looking single ponytail. There was a knot tied at the waist of the large T-shirt, and the thin legs were exposed under the shorts. Basically, she looked very tomboyish.
That’s Akatsuki Minami.
Next to her was a woman with an annoying long black hair resembling a ghost. She’s wearing a white one piece dress, and actually looked rather innocent. She’s a plebian and she had to dress up like a princess? Is this some tactic for a high school rookie?
That’s Yume Irido.
I shot Yume a malicious, hostile, standoffish look. Yume in turn shot back a hostile, murderous look.
“Can’t you vanish?”
“Don’t you have other friends?”
“Ah sorry, I haven’t been considerate to those who don’t have any other choice.”
We shot a silent spat with our eyes.
Ending this absolutely pointless spat was none other than Minami-san’s cheerful voice.
“Ahh, Irido-kun~? What what what!? Are you staying over too!?”
Minami-san then skipped towards me, and looked up at me as though she’s inspecting.
She’ll kill me!! So I thought as I instinctively took a step back.
“We-well, something like that…”
“Such a coincidence! Yume-chan’s staying over at my place too…”
Minami-san then took a step closer, and whispered to me,
“(…I heard you suggested this, Irido-kun?)”
Her lips showed a different smile the usual little animal.
“(Thank you very much, you know. A, world, for, two, with, Yume, chan. It’s like a dream! A Yume-chan dream!)”
I had no idea what nonsense she was talking about, but she’s a crazy woman who wants to become Yume’s sister by getting married with me. I had to hammer home the point.
“(…Don’t do anything weird, Minami-san.)”
“(Are you jealous of me~!? Wowie~! The relentless attacks finally paid off!)”
“(I really can celebrate that idiot brain of yours if you’re for real.)”
I’m not praising you at all. Don’t get cocky here.
Kawanami grabbed Minami-san by the back of the neck, and pulled her away from me like a cat.
“Don’t enter a guy’s sanctuary like that. You can go ahead and pick your flowers.”
“Woooahhh, what’s with the male female bias? A boy’s sanctuary too? Hmph, sure suits you?”
“Oy, you okay with that? The princess who’s being ignored by you is looking all lonely over there.”
We turned our eyes towards Yume, who hadn’t been involved in a while, and she appeared to be looking at us with a pout. Once she noticed me looking over, Yume then turned her face aside with a pout again.
Minami-san broke free from Kawanami’s hand, and immediately leapt into Yume’s clutches.
“Sorry Yume-chan! I won’t exclude you!”
“No, it’s fine, Akatsuki-san. I’m just ashamed as a family member of a certain little brother who is giving an indecent perverted look.”
An icy stare was directed at me. Me? Indecent? What are her eyes made of? She needs to check out her eyes or something?
Minami-san latched onto Yume’s arm, and turned towards Kawanami.
“…So then, Kawanami, don’t get involved with us, alright? It’s a girls’ sanctuary here.”
“I’m not going over to your room even if you beg me to.”
Kawanami shot back brutally as he dug his ear, and Minami-san spat out a tongue. Yume then said,
“…Say, Akatsuki-san. I’m a little curious…what’s your relationship with Kawanami-kun?”
Yes. That’s it.
This was the one misstep I had.
The original plan was that while we gave dad and Yuni-san some alone time as a gift, I could stay away from Yume for the time being.
“Ah, you don’t have to mind, you know?”
MInami-san smiled and told Yume as though it really was nothing.
“That guy and I are just neighbors who started being together since elementary school.”
“Aren’t you two just childhood friends?”
We were at Kawanami’s living room. It’s said that his parents were often not home, and they didn’t seem like they would be home on this day either. I could use all the space as I wanted, so I was served with some barley tea at the table.
Kawanami sat opposite the table.
“It’s not anything that amazing. We’re just neighbors, playmates since elementary school.”
“If that’s not being a childhood friend, I don’t know what else is!! Apologize to all the childhood friend characters in the world!!”
“What’s with you getting all riled up?”
Kawanami answered me with a really calm voice, sipping the barley tea. What’s going on!? You’re making it sound like I’m the weird one. Am I the weird one!?
“Childhood friends…? I think I used to be called that…”
“Don’t sound like you’re a hermit of a protagonist who used to be legendary.”
“But well, aren’t childhood friends supposed to be those who are still on good terms? We’re just called childhood friends by our friends because we got assigned to the same class in elementary school.”
“You two still appear to be on good terms.”
“Both she and I are somehow very sociable. You know? What they call being sociable is just grouping those who aren’t that sociable together such that they look to be on good terms.”
I couldn’t help but agree with his logic that’s so casual yet so close to the truth. By this logic, I had zero communication skills.
“So in other words, you two were on good terms in the past, but now you’re strayed away? That’s quite a cliche in another sense…”
“Don’t call someone else’s life a cliche. More importantly, she and I now are so distant from each other, mere words won’t be enough to describe it.”
“So far, and you’re physically neighbors?”
“That’s Hell you’re in now.”
I understood that this guy’s predicament was eerily similar to mine.
“…But if I’m not mistaken, didn’t you say that you and Minami-san were ‘in the same cram school during middle school’?”
“I’m not lying you know? She and I were in the same cram school, and neighbors starting in elementary school.”
A narrative trick huh? Don’t include such things in normal conversations, you.”
“…Ah whatever, I’m not going to pursue the matter anyway.”
“But I want to know more about your side. How far have you progressed with Irido-san?”
“Show some concern for me already!!”
Kawanami leered away like a stalker.
“Why, don’t say that. They say you have to repay for a meal and a night, so can’t you just satisfy my curiosity a little?”
“You’re checking out my face for weakness or something?”
“I’ll even check out your palms and feet.”
“You’re just a sicko.”
“So did you see her breasts? What color are the nipples?”
“Like hell I’ll say that!! And I’m definitely not telling you even if I see them!!”
“Heh~? So intel on Irido-san’s breasts are limited only to you?”
“Alright just take it as that…”
“Hmm~ I see.”
Kawanami showed a long, meaningful smile. I had a bad feeling about it, and he suddenly raised his voice.
“Irido told me ‘Yume’s breasts belong to me’!!”
At that moment, BAM BAM BAM!! I heard loud noises from behind.
Covered in cold sweat, I looked towards my grinning classmate.
“Ah, forgot to mention, the walls of this apartment are really thin.”
YOU SHOULD HAVE SAID SO!!
A continual series of terrifying slams could be heard from the wall behind him. This sure is some kind of kabedon (that won’t appear in a romance movie).
“Y-Yume-chan Yume-chan! Stop stop stop! The wall’s going to break if you continue to do that!!”
I thought I heard the wild cries of a beast, and then, my smartphone signaled away as LINE messages kept coming in.
I guess she’s too lazy to switch to kanji and add in some exclamation marks or something. Well, these were more frequent than the spam mails I got.
I immediately switched off the phone.
And with a frostier stare, I stared at the guy who was laughing before me.
“Hiii hii, hii, hihahahahahah!!”
“Where’s your room, you bastard?”
Kawanami’s smile froze.
Mizuto Irido’s never going to cry himself to sleep.
Tit for tat. Repay double the damage I suffered. That’s how I was raised, through various kinds of books.
“—’My future dream, by Kogure Kawanami. I dream of becoming a police officer. A strong powerful police officer, so that I can protect Akatsuki-chan’—”
“(BAM DONG KLING THUMP DOINK DOINK!!)”
“Wai, stop stop Akatsuki-san!! It just cracked! The wall just cracked!!”
I did a little search through Kawanami’s room, and found something of a black history. I guess this elementary school essay’s probably written at an age when he woke up to his feelings. Seemed like he never doubted that he would have taken Minami-san as ‘his bride’. Even I started to shiver when I imagined him reading such a thing to everyone in class.”
“Kaaaaawaaaannnaammmiii! I told you to throw away that thing! ! Now Yume-chan heard it!!!!!”
“It’s not my fault here!!?”
“It’s all because you started with that weird joke you bastard!!”
“Shut up you idiot!!”
Kawanami, tied up by the cords, was engaged in a verbal spat with Minami-san over the wall.
This guy’s always giving a meaningful smile, watching the world burn, but I never thought he would go crazy with the energetic Minami-san to this extent.
I looked down at Kawanami, whose hands and legs were tied, and smiled,
“Say Kawanami…you two are still on good terms now, right?”
“Didn’t you know of the saying, don’t do unto others what you don’t want done unto you?”
“Pot, meet kettle.”
As to be expected of me, I mastered all the arts pertaining to the black history. Guess I didn’t waste my time hounded by my past for no reason. I didn’t want this power to begin with…(Shivers)
“Hmm, wonder if I’ll dig up something a little more interesting.”
“You’re not done yet!? You’re a total sadist aren’t you Irido!? You look all obedient and such and yet you like to bully others!? What’s with you!?”
I didn’t know I have this side. Is this…me…!? (Shivers)
I rolled the bound Kawanami into the living room, and entered his room once again.
Scattered on his bed was a set of striped pajamas, his bookshelf contained manga, and the game console cords were in a mess. I guess it’s a room of an ordinary high school boy.
I went to the laptop placed on the table, and instinctively opened it. Guess it’s only in sleep mode, and I logged onto the desktop without having to type a password. Hey, you’re way too careless for someone who invited others to your place.
I wanted to search for some folder with erotic pictures, but I spotted a line of words.
It’s a folder titled such. I guessed he had a diary on his computer. That’s so unlike him.
Guess it’s too private…or so I had a moment of conscience, but I changed my mind once I saw the last update, which was several months ago.
Hahaaa? Some half baked habit again? I thought he wouldn’t have written anything important, so I double clicked on the folder.
The words written in plain font entered my eyes.
“October 13th. If anyone is reading this diary, I probably am not alive on this planet anymore.”
It’s my first time in real life seeing someone start off a diary entry like that.
He’s still yapping away in the living room next door, still alive and kicking on this planet at least. My curiosity was piqued at that moment, and I looked at the following text.
“October 14th. I have a nightmare that Akatsuki’s washing my body. I won’t lose.”
“October 15th. I don’t feel so good. Got diarrhea here. My stomach’s been rumbling all day long.”
“October 16th. I got a bald patch. Think I can disguise it with a change of hairstyle.”
“October 17th. Coughed out blood for the first time. Wanted to go to the hospital, but Akatsuki found me.”
“October 18th. Tired, grounded, and my head hurts.”
“October 19th. I can’t do anything. She’s not letting me do anything.”
“October 20th. Can’t take it. Saaaaaavveeeeeeeeeeeeeeee meeeeeeee.”
I closed the file. Let’s pretend I didn’t see it.
I should be a little kinder to Kogure Kawanami, so I thought.
In the blink of an eye, it was night.
Kawanami’s parents really didn’t return home, so we had to go out for dinner. According to him, there’s a family restaurant he often visited. “There’s only frozen food in the fridge. I usually eat them, but I can’t be serving them to a guest.”
For some reason, the night streets had an isekai mood to it. It’s like there’s a different filter layer from the usual scenes. Maybe I was being more sensitive to it since I don’t go out at night.
We passed by the bar billboards lights, and I said,
“Your parents really return home late.”
“It’s Japan, the country infamous for its black companies. That’s how it feels anyway.”
Kawanami shrugged as we passed the shadows formed by the streets.
“Seriously, I was really impressed when you told me that you wanted to stay over at my place because you wanted your parents to have some alone time. Didn’t think there would be such amazing young people in Japan these days.”
“How old are you anyway?”
“Stopped counting past 10.”
“How bad at math are you?”
Some things were understandable if that guy really has no family at home since young, that it’s a daily occurrence. It’ll be weird if he didn’t get along well with a neighbor of the same age in such an environment.
It’s basically—a sibling-like relationship.
…This guy and Minami-san were more like stepsiblings than Yume and me.
“Table for two?”
“There are two empty seats there. Please, over there.”
It’s a little late for dinner time, but the family restaurant remained bustling as it’s catered towards families. It’s a miracle that we got two empty seats. We followed the waiter towards the empty seats by the window.
The four of us echoed in unison.
We were ushered to our seats, and seated at the next table were Yume and Minami-san.
“Guh!” Minami-san gave a look of regret.
“I messed up…! I forgot Kawanami comes to this place too…!! It’s supposed to be dinner time for us two…!!”
“What dinner time are you talking about at this family restaurant that sells cheap stuff? You’re just going to order Milano Doria anyway.”
“What’s bad about Milano Doria!? It’s cheap and delicious! And you’re going to order pizza even though it’s bad for your body!”
“What’s bad about pizza!? It’s cheap, delicious, and can be shared.”
Kawanami and Minami-san immediately started their verbal scuffle, and I bluntly stated what I thought,
“Obviously it feels like ‘you two often show up together’…as to be expected of childhood friends.”
“”Childhood friends!? Like hell we are!!””
“You two are doing this on purpose, aren’t you?”
On a side note, such a reaction should be more typical of those who were mistaken for couples? Why such a reaction when I called them childhood friends?
Kawanami slumped onto a chair by the alley unwillingly, and I too had no choice but to take the chair by the wall. Thus, I ended up sitting next to Yume, and Kawanami sat next to Minami-san. I thought that if they weren’t willing, we could have switched places, but this Kawanami probably was being cautious in his own weird way.
We have to pay attention to the attacks coming up close and personal, so I thought as I looked towards Yume next to me, and found her looking around, fidgeting about anxiously.
“…If you need the toilet, it’s next to the drinks bar, you know?”
“That’s not it! No-not at all…! It’s just my first time visiting a family restaurant with a friend.”
“Hah, as to be expected of a high school rookie.”
“I already said I’m not one.”
“Doesn’t sound convincing at all from you when it’s your first time at a family restaurant.”
“What? You never had such chances too, right? You don’t have friends after all.”
“I don’t have the kind of experience with family restaurants Kawanami has though.”
“Oi oi those are some outrageous words to tonight’s host.”
It’s the first time in my life that I saw a menu, and I chose a rather cheap pasta, along with a drink from the bar.
I talked about the drinks bar as a matter of fact, but to be honest, I only knew of that thing, and to be honest, it’s my first time ordering for myself. Free flow of drinks for 200 yen? That sounds amazing.
“Oi Irido. Get a drink for me.”
“Why am I the gopher now? You go instead, pleb.”
“Why am I suddenly belittled here? I’m saying that I’ll watch your stuff, so help me get some drinks here.”
“Ahh, I see.”
“So, together with Irido-san.”
“See, you’ve never used the drinks bar before, right? Can’t you have her teach you? Hands on.”
Kawanami gave a perverted smirk, and next to him, Minami-san’s giving the ‘absolutely disgusting’ stare.
Can’t you go since you’re experienced with it? I was about to refute, but I heard a voice next to me.
“Heh~? I see? You’ve never used one before? Even though you’re in high school? Hmmm…”
“…Oi, little stepsister, what’s with that really annoying stare of yours.”
“It’s rare to see a high schooler who has never used a drink bar at a family restaurant, you know? You haven’t visited with a friend before? Too bad, shall I teach you?”
She’s getting all giddy just because of a stupid drink bar?
I had enough, stood up, and declared.
“…I’ll show you what a real drinks bar is like.”
“Then show me.”
“What’s this? The start of a cooking battle?”
Minami-san tilted her head; Yume and I went towards the drinks bar like warriors.
Cola, orange juice, soda, tea, iced coffee, there were all kinds of beverages. No matter which button you press, the outcome will remain the same…that’s the feeling I got when facing this simple structure before me. Just as I like it.
“How about some iced coffee..”
“Really? Is that all?”
I put my cup at the ice coffee slot, and was about to press the button when Yume made a really troubled voice. She shrugged and shook her head, as though she was deliberately acting disappointed in me.
“Goodness…I guess you don’t know. Rookies these days…”
“What…? You’re not going to press a button and fill it with drinks?”
“I’ll demonstrate to you what they call a bar drink etiquette!”
Yume put the cup on her hand, placed it under the melon soda, and filled a third of the cup with green liquid. She then filled another third of it with orange juice, and finally added soda, as though she was going to blend the green and yellow together. The terrifying color bubbled as though it was churning in the intestines, and the flowing demonic river was formed.
“The correct way to use this self-service drink station…is to personally blend your own concoction!”
I shivered in cold sweat as I stared at the liquid that was a byproduct of some science experiment gone wrong.’
Are all high schoolers in the world raised by such monstrosity? Are they monsters who grow stronger after eating some industrial waste or something?
“Now then, try it yourself. Mix it as you please.”
I frowned towards the drinks station. I didn’t like soda, so that’s out…
“…First, some tea.”
“And then some grape juice.”
“Finally, some orange juice, and done.”
She’s doubting my mental state? Rude.
“It’s just something similar to Russian tea. You know what that is, don’t you? The type where you add jam to tea.”
“How rude, of course I know that! But yeah, now that you mention it, I think it does make sense…”
You’re quite the suspicious one.
We returned to our seats with juice in hands.
“Pfft!” And once Minami-san and Kawanami saw us return with our mixed drinks, they burst out laughing.
Minami-san cupped her tummy as she shivered away, and Yume looked nonplussed.
“The ‘etiquette of blending your own drinks’ I told you…that was a joke…!”
“Puuahhhh!! Ahahahahahahahaha!! I-I didn’t think you would take it for real….!! Kukukukukukuku!!”
Minami-san was sprawled on the table laughing, and Yume, who was taken for a fool, was completely beetroot due to the shame.
What? Was it just a joke from Minami-san? No wonder I found it weird. Didn’t think she would believe such an obvious lie.
“Bfffttt!…A-anyway, you believed that too, Irido…!?”
Kawanami too burst out laughing as he pointed at this Russian tea-like drink in my hand.
“Bffahahahahahahaha!! Somehow you two actually took this stupid joke for real! Bfftt, you two are really siblings, siblings!! Bffahahahahaha!!”
“”THE HELL YOU LAUGHING AT, YOU CHILDHOOD FRIENDS!!?””
We protested with blushing faces, overwhelmed with shame and humiliation, probably because the childhood friends pairing were laughing out loud in tears as though it was really funny.
“Erm…may you please be a little quiet…?” Both of them continued to laugh until a staff member of the family restaurant came to coax them.
“Ughhh~~…my stomach’s still growling…”
We were on our way back after dinner. Minami-san was next to Yume, giggling away as the memory of the prior incident remained fresh.
“You somehow managed to finish that demonic drink.”
“It’s not good to waste food after all…”
“You’re really serious~ That’s what I like about you, Yume-chan~!!”
Minami-san hopped about as she latched herself onto Yume’s neck. “Yes yes” Yume continued to hold onto Minami-san as she answered back, and led her away.
I continued to hold onto my rumbling stomach while watching this scene between girls before me.
Kawanami spoke up behind me.
“Is it better if I do the same thing?”
“You do that and your shirt gets dyed in the chaos from my abyss…”
“I’ve no idea what you’re saying, but I get your point.”
Kawanami in turn took a few steps back. Good decision.
“I just had a feeling that you and Irido-san aren’t familiar with the outside stuff, but I didn’t think it’d be that bad.”
“Novels don’t teach us how to use a drinks bar.”
Until recently, I’ve been wondering, what kind of bar was a drinks bar they often depicted in the books.
“Kukuku. Looks like I can use this little tidbit. What shall I pull off next time…”
“Oi you happy jerk.”
Won’t get fooled again!
My left shoulder suddenly felt a lot heavier. Minami-san moved away from Yume before I realized it, and latched onto my elbow.
“I heard from Yume-chan that you’re good at modern language, right? I guess it’s fate. Save me will you~ see, it’s going to be midterms soon.”
What’s going on? Why so passionate out of a sudden? You sure you don’t want to latch onto Yume?
Minami-san might have realized what I was thinking, for she grinned away, her peace signs twitching like scissors.
“(The night’s still long after all. I’m playing it cool now).”
I saw Yume glance towards us not too far away, giving a pout. Ah, I see.. She’s not just a monster of communication, she’s capable of tactics.
On the other side, Kawanami muttered away in a meaningful manner.
“(Say, are you really the jealous one?)”
Minami-san directed her hostile glare at Kawanami, who was giving a poised smirk. Can’t you two just argue without me being the middleman?
After a few words, Yume was increasingly isolated. Ah seriously, seems like I don’t have a choice here.
“…Too bad Minami-san, I don’t think you can take inspiration from my modern language studying methods.”
“Read 1 novel a day, all 365 days a year…can you do it?”
“Woahh, I can’t!”
“I don’t really have a special studying method. She’s better at teaching than me.”
I pointed forward towards her, who was excluded. She noticed that I was pointing at her, “Eh, ah?” and started panicking for some reason.
“Yes you. You’re more suited for this task, since you’re a hard worker.”
Yume looked around for quite a while, as though she was looking for something, and started ruffling her hair to misdirect us or something.
“H-huh…looks like you know your place after all. Yep, that’s right. I’ll guide you through your homework. A lot better than that guy anyway.”
“Ahh, I don’t study hard, unlike you. I go by intuition on how to score points, so I can’t really teach.”
“What are you saying now. Will you die if you don’t annoy me!?”
Truth hurts. Any problems?
I was about to dismiss the insults as nothing, but Minami-san, still latching onto my arm, and her cheeks trembled up close.
“Y-you’re really amazing, Irido-kun…you’re using me to score points…I have to respect that even as the enemy…”
I didn’t know what she’s impressed about. I really was the type to go by intuition after all.
Akatsuki☆: “Waaahhh~! I didn’t get to see Yume-chan’s naked body~! I wanted to enjoy it to my heart’s content~!” – 22:32
Yume: “No, that’s because, your eyes look rather perverted, Akatsuki-san…” – 22:32
K_KOGURE: “Good decision Irido-san! She looks like a school kid, but she’s more like an old uncle inside. A real perverted loli!” – 22:33
Akatsuki☆: “I’ll remember this Kawanami” – 22:33
Minami-san fired away several chopper emoticons. “Ugh…!” Kawanami laid on the bed and waved his phone at me, shivering as he made strange noises.
We returned from the restaurants, took our baths (of course, we took turns), and I opened my textbooks and notes on the low table in his bedroom.
There were blinking notifications from the phone that was put aside. Minami-san created a LINE group chat when we reached back, going all nonsense with a “here’s a live broadcast of my lovey-dovey life with Yume-chan”. Well, at the very least, I would pay attention to the chat from time to time, just to keep watch over her and stop her from going crazy. I guess her self-defense instincts were decent though.
Akatsuki☆: “Why aren’t you talking, Irido-kun?” – 22:38
K_KOGURE: “He’s revising. Didn’t he just boast that he scores points on intuition? This is boring!” – 22:38
Akatsuki☆: “Ahh? You aren’t studying, Kawanami? We’re studying and chatting on LINE.” – 22:39
K_KOGURE: “Here we go again.” – 22:39
Akatsuki☆: “No I’m serious.” – 22:39
Yume: “Kawanami-kun, you may be careless thinking that there is more than a week till the exams, but our school is a little different. Think of how difficult it is to get into this school.” – 22:40
Kawanami stared at the phone in silence, and then quickly got off the bed.
He then gingerly turned his head towards me.
“………Is it that bad?”
“It’s that bad.”
I flipped through my textbook while answering immediately.
“It’s bad enough that I have to start revising before the exams even though I say that I go by intuition.”
I realized that empathetically right after entering this school, when I browsed through the textbooks assigned to us. It really is a prep school.
“Kawanami. You know a lot of people right? You probably heard from our seniors how difficult our exams are.”
“More or less, I think….uuuugoooooohhh…! I’m still in the honeymoon phase after our entrance exams though…!!”
I understood that. It’s been less than two months since we were released from the hellish exams. We really couldn’t bring ourselves to enter that hell again.
“Well, we don’t have to study this hard if we’re just going for average scores.”
“Hmmm? Then why are you studying so hard? That’s so unlike you.”
“Of course, that’s because…”
I looked towards the LINE app.
“…There’s someone I just don’t want to lose to.”
I actually experienced the taste of defeat during the entrance exams, and I couldn’t allow myself to fall behind her.
There’s a rumor that the exams results would be pasted along with the rankings on the corridor. This time, I’ll definitely take the crown she had never let go of thus far.
“…You two are really amazing.”
Kawanami suddenly muttered for some reason, and I lifted my face from the textbooks.
“I really can’t fight head on like you. Sure, I can pretend to understand, pull a fast one, but that’s it. I really can’t go all out and clash head on.”
“…Is that so?”
I pretended not to hear what he said completely, and answered,
“Just from today’s results, aren’t you two more motivated than usual?”
“No, well, you’ll probably understand if you paid attention to how we acted today. You’ll know if you’ve seen everything between us…both of us appear to be hiding it really well, and we aren’t fighting so openly like you two. We know that’s very tiring to begin with.”
“…That’s…because you two are adaptable enough.”
To me, Kogure Kawanami was a comrade who experienced similar circumstances.
But this was the only difference between us, if I had to say so.
“I’d say that the flexibility you two have is something to be admired.”
If we had their ability to adapt like them…our relationship wouldn’t have ended up like this.
Kawanami gave a somewhat cynical smile.
“This is what they mean by grass is greener on the other side huh?”
“Not bad. Some language revision while we’re at it.”
“Good fortune follows upon disaster.”
Kawanami got off the bed, rummaged through his bag, and frisked the textbooks.
“I should work hard at least. Now that I think about it, I want to score better than that Minami.”
“You get it? I’ll cheer you on. Ganbare.”
“No no no teach me your ways, o potential userpor of top rank.”
And just like that, we spent the night fulfilling our obligations as students.
That Kawanami was asleep on the bed.
It’s just 1am, and surprisingly, he couldn’t stay up.
I already finished my planned study session for the day, but it wasn’t the time where I would feel sleepy, since I was a night owl to begin with.
It’s vexing to hear a guy’s snoring, so I left for the living room.
The dim living room looked a little hazy due to the moonlight shining through the veranda.
I turned towards the veranda, and saw the night, the starry sky that seemingly stretched to the ends of the world. So I say, but it’s just the night sky that I can see from the apartment. Seeing this from a tall place was a rather new experience for me however, since I grew up in a detached house.
I was captivated by the night, and opened the sliding window connected to the veranda.
The cool night breeze grazed my neck. It’s May, right in the middle of spring. The passing spring breeze was refreshing and yet not chilly, really comfortable.
I borrowed the sandals that were placed by the side, and went to the railing.
Written at the sides of the veranda were white boards with the words ‘break in case of emergency’. To my left was Minami-san’s room…the room she was sleeping in.
They said the wall’s thin, and given the setup, I could easily get over if I really wanted to.
So I said, but it’s not everyday I get a chance to break the wall.
I put my hands on the railing, and stared into the night.
The endless sea of lights extended beyond the arms, severed by the shadows of the hills, and dispersed in the skies once again.
The stars felt a lot closer than usual, and they were unexpectedly pretty. Maybe it’s just because I never actually stared at the stars for real though. I never once opened the windows to look into the night, even when SNS messages tell me to look at some super moon or some blood moon.
If I had to mention about my own astrology experience…yes.
It’s the night of the school trip back then…
Right at that moment.
I heard a familiar voice.
I turned to the left.
In other words, in the direction of Minami-san’s house.
Our eyes met.
I, and her, beyond the white partition.
Yume Irido noticed my presence, averted her eyes somewhat awkwardly, and seemed to mutter something.
“Is it that embarrassing that a high school kid was going all ‘wow…’ at a starry night?”
“Don’t say that if you know!”
She buried her face onto the railing, her face red like a heating oven.
It was a childish hoodie with some ears, bear or whatever it was, so childish that it’s indescribably childish. Her hair was tied with two white scrunchies, dangling before her chest like she was just out of the bath.
“I guess it’s embarrassing to you that a high school kid is wearing cute animal pajamas.”
“Adding insult to injury! You devil! Demonic little stepbrother!”
I told you I’m the older stepsibling, little stepsister.
“Uuuu~…!” Yume shivered as she remained prone, and I gave a saintly, poised smile as I consoled her.
“Well, don’t mind. I guess you built up too much stress from living under the same roof as me who’s of the same age as you. I get it, I get it. You want to use this chance to relieve some stress.”
“Can you stop it? Your sympathy just feels so evil…Akatsuki-san forced me to wear this pajamas…”
“It’s fine it’s fine. I think it’s cute (baka mitai)”
“I heard that! Don’t think I’ll be happy just because you’re calling me a cute girl!”
“I know that. That’s why I’m saying it, right?.”
“Not to mention, you’re horrible!”
I was in complete control, probably because she couldn’t ready herself for a counterattack. Well, I guess I’m in the bonus stage now. Let’s see how many karma points I can get.
While I was pondering about how I should rub it in, Yume lifted her somewhat red face, and glanced aside at me.
“What are you doing, spacing out alone at the veranda? Feeling like a mastermind looking down at the night streets? Are you a chuuni or something?”
“I can’t say that I don’t have this thought outright, but I don’t think it’s that serious. Don’t look down on chuunis…”
Chuuni, the moment I mentioned this term, I recalled what I was thinking, spacing out here.
Yume looked at me in surprise, “…ah.” and blurted out as she turned back to look at the night sky.
And then, her lips formed a faint smile as she said,
“—The moon sure is pretty (tsuki ga kirei dana).”
My face twitched…she’s sharp in such useless situations.
Yume turned her eyes towards me, and smiled impishly.
“You still remember~~? About what happened during school camp. Decent memory, huh?”
“Grrr…right back at you. Didn’t think you would remember what I said. I guess that in terms of memory, you’re…”
“H-how could I have forgotten?”
Appearing on Yume’s lips was a fleeting smile akin to the dazzling stars, and my breath was taken away.
Her thin fingers reached past the thin partition, and slowly extended to my face…
—Before they suddenly turned away and reached for my hand.
“That was the book you were holding back then. I remember it clearly because I like that book too. Do thank Hiroshi Mori-sensei properly.”
I looked towards the starry sky, averting from her eyes, and held up my face with my hand. It’s just me resisting weakly since I didn’t intend to show how rattled I was, but the smile on Yume’s face became more ostentatious.
“Is it that embarrassing that a high school kid still holds an insignificant memory dating back to middle school?”
“…Yes yes yes, it is. Congrats on the comeback.”
“You really aren’t cute at all.”
Yume put her chin on her folded arms resting on the railing.
I didn’t know whether it’s because she’s hunched over, or because of the teddy bear pajamas, but she looked a lot more childish before. Yes, just like the past, when Yume Ayai was still a kid.
She asked while maintaining the same posture.
“What if I tell you—that was the moment when I fell for you?”
I looked towards Yume’s sidelong face, and she too sideeyed towards me.
She didn’t seem like she was teasing me.
“…Nothing at all. Even if that’s the case, how does it change things now?”
“I guess so…and in fact, I did not actually like you back then.”
“You heard nothing.”
Yume covered her mouth, and averted her eyes. I guessed she said too much, and wanted to retort, but it seemed inappropriate, so I went back to what we were talking about.
“Why are we talking about this now?”
“Nothing…just, after seeing Akatsuki-san…I got a feeling that maybe, there’s some that will sink in after a long time.”
“Sink in after a long time…huh?”
It’s true that there was some kind of bond between Kawanami and Minami-san…but if I mentioned that, they’ll probably retort with something like “with this guy!?”, so I should phrase that differently. There’s a certain know-how shared between them.
—Both of us appear to be hiding it really well.
This relationship was possible because of their adaptability, and also the mutual understanding they had since childhood. The long time meant that they could understand each other well, and know when not to cross the line, when to pull the distance, and thus look like they’re on good terms.
It’s impossible to do this in a mere year and a half.
But even so, there wouldn’t be any obvious change, even with the two months and so before we actually started dating.
“…Say, even if we don’t count the two months that didn’t exist.”
I murmured, and Yume moved her cheeks to her arms as she turned to look at me.
“We can spend as much time together as we want to—assuming dad and Yuni-san don’t divorce, that is.”
“…Do you think there is a possibility of them divorcing?”
“I can’t imagine so.”
We might feel a little uneasy if they were so lovey-dovey that it blinds us…in other words, just as we were. Well, they’re adults after all, and I felt that both dad and Yuni-san would keep an appropriate distance, and maintain a good relationship. Objectively looking at this, they’ll spend a long time together.
In other words, Yume and I might be stepsiblings forever.
“…This is annoying, isn’t it?”
This might last a lifetime, and it’s not a joking matter.
…But, if we spent enough time together…maybe we could end up like Kawanami and Minami-san, act like we’re doing well…and don’t have to bicker every single time.
Then, how would I put it—
I looked aside, and saw Yume smiling with her cheeks still on her arms.
“I can scold you however you want if you’re feeling lonely~?”
“There’s no rivalry to speak of here. I have no intention of getting scolded by you.”
“You~ stupid~ shitty~ otaku~”
I stared at Yume’s somewhat dazed expression.
“You’re about to sleep, right?”
Yume affirmed with a muffled voice.
“Don’t fall asleep on the veranda. I can’t get over there. I don’t care if you become a frozen zombie there.”
“I’ll have fabrics of your clothes on my fingertips before then~”
“You’re saying such terrifying things while half-asleep!?”
I pushed back Yume’s hands that were about to become a curse. The baby-like hands were a little warm, and if this really kept up, she might actually fall asleep there.
I wanted to flick her forehead or something to wake her up. But before then, there’s something I wanted to be certain about.
Her eyes were a little droopy, on the verge of being slaughtered by the sleep demon. I supposed that would be the first time in my life that I could get her most sincere answer.
I turned my eyes to the starry sky that was different yet similar from two years ago, and murmured a question,
“…Are you happy?”
I guessed that for her, it’s the first time she got to experience living over at a friend’s place.
She squealed about, had fun, and studied together. She experienced everything an ordinary student commonly would.
I wondered if she was happy that she could do something she never could two years ago.
Yume did not look up into the stars, and opened her mouth as she looked at me.
I turned my eyes to Yume once again, and picked up the lost item from two years ago.
“Don’t mention it.”
I then reached my hand out to flick at her forehead.
The distance between us was a lot closer than it was two years ago.
But this partition clearly divided us.
—Well, the partition between us could be broken in times of emergency.
I made a wish to the starry sky that was not exactly pretty.
I prayed that the day I would have to break the partition would never arrive.
The next morning, I left Kawanami’s place after having troubled him, and returned to home sweet home.
It seemed Yume wanted to stick around at Minami-san’s place for a little longer, so I went home alone, and opened the door to the entrance.
Uh oh, I had a bad feeling once I took off my shoes. Should I have said tadaima? It’s rare to have people at home whenever I returned, so I didn’t really have this habit.
Well, forget about it. There’s no significance in declaring that I’m home…so, leaving my little mistake aside, I opened the door to the living room.
Mizuto Irido made the biggest mistake in his life.
“Ahhh❤ Mine-kun, is it delicious~?”
“It is, Yuni-san. Can I have another mouth?”
“You greedy fellow❤ here, ahhh~”
I slowly closed the door.
I hastily turned my back on the door, and shivered.
…Wh-what in the world…
I saw it.
I actually saw it.
A middle aged man!
Acting like a middle school couple!!
Those two were flirting so indecently—————!!!!
Haa…I feel like vomiting….!!!
I couldn’t see them reacting to me in the living room behind me. It seemed they only had eyes for each other, and didn’t notice that I was back home.
…I immediately sent Yume a LINE message.
“This is an emergency. Dad and Yuni-san are in a dire situation. Get back home ASAP”
Within 10 minutes or so, Yume dashed through the entrance.
“What happened to them!?”
I put my finger in front of my lips to shush her, and silently pointed at the living room.
Yume looked mystified, opened the living room door as normal,
And she immediately closed it.
She turned around immediately, and covered her face with her hands.
And like me, she shivered all over.
Yep. I knew this would happen.
“Wh-what did you just show me…!”
Since we’re family, I thought we should share our family intel.”
“You just want to pull someone down with you, right…!?”
Well, you can say that.
We knelt down before the living room, and discreetly started our family meeting.
“Th-they’re like this when they’re alone…!? Were they just acting like nothing’s going on before us!?”
“It’s like us with our charade as good siblings. Those two are acting like reliable parents.”
“I can’t find such a couple in high school nowadays! I remember those two just started this year—”
“Shut up. Don’t say it. I really have the urge to puke.”
“…What do we do?”
“…Pretend that we saw nothing?”
“…Okay, let’s do that—”
And right when we had a common consensus.
The living room door behind us was opened.
We turned around in fear.
There was a beaming smile on Yuni-san’s face that was a little immature for a middle aged person.
“Did both of you…see it?”
We wanted to pretend so.
So we tried, but we just inadvertently averted our eyes.
An awkward atmosphere filled the space, and at that moment.
Yuni-san’s young face suddenly contorted.
For some reason, she started bawling with her hands covering her face.
As her children, both of us were stunned and at a loss when faced with the sight of a bawling mother.
“I-I actually wanted to be a capable mother, so I kept working hard…waaaahhhhhh!!!!! I’m sorrryyyyyy~~~~!! This old hag isn’t acting her age…WAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH~~~~~~~!!”
She said she’s not acting her age, but that’s no different from usual.
The sight of our parents bawling was as awkward as them flirting around. It’s a brand new discovery.
Yume and I immediately got up in unison to console Yuni-san, trying to escape this situation.
“I-it’s fine! You don’t have to cry! I think being young is good!”
“Yes mom! It’s not that you aren’t acting your age, but that you’re just being young! I think that’s a good thing, yes!”
Her swollen eyes gave us quizzing looks, and we had to nod away.
“I see…young…? It’s true that people often call me young…”
“Then, is it fine for us to flirt around…in front of you two?”
We averted our eyes.
“WWWWWWAAAAAAAAHHHH~~~!! MINE-KUN~~~~!!! OUR KIDS ARE WORRIED ABOUT US~~~~~~~!!!”
Yuni-san ran back to the living room, leapt into dad’s clutches, and continued to cry. Dad’s showing a super awkward smile as he gently consoled the wailing Yuni-san, patting her back.
It’s said that throughout history, children take after their parents.
We didn’t know how we would end up in the future, but in any case, we didn’t want to end up like that.
……After having seen this, we didn’t think there was a possibility of them divorcing, but why exactly did it feel different?