I grabbed the edge of the leisure sheet, but I just couldn’t voice out.
Standing opposite me was Mizuto Irido, holding the other half of the sheet and waiting for my instructions. We were putting a temporary rest place on this pebble riverbank.
And Mizu—my little stepbrother, frowned with surprise,
“No …erm…Mizuto—kun. Shall we put it here?”
“…? Ah, okay.”
We put the leisure sheet on the pebble-filled ground, and went about looking for some suitable rocks to hold the corners.
I…I couldn’t call him that…
It was so easy last night. I couldn’t call him by name after time passed after all!
Why? Was it because I was a little agitated last night? I thought I knew a little of his past, and that I got closer to him as a family.
And why are you so unwilling to call me by name!?
As I was trembling with unreasonable anger, I heard a voice coming from the direction of the rushing water.
“Come in Chikuma. The river’s slow, it’s not scary.”
“Watch out for rocks on the river bottom ~”
“I know …”
Madoka-san and Chikuma-kun put their feet into the water to see how fast the river flowed.
We were at the river near the Tanesatos.
The sound of the rushing river, the rustling breeze, and the quiet rustling of the leaves were pleasant. The sun was strong, but it didn’t feel too hot, probably because we were by the water. It’s a comfortable summer resort.
It’s said that whenever the Tanesatos had a family outing, they would hold a riverside barbecue. Such a fun family. Well, since they have such a place nearby, it’s not weird to have a barbecue.
We arrived earlier than the adults, and as uncle Mineaki requested, I dragged out Mizuto, who would otherwise never leave the study all day.
Everything went well when I dragged him out, and everything went well when we made our way here.
But on the way here, I noticed something. I decided to call him by name last night, but I just couldn’t.
Mizuto put the stuff on the spread out leisure sheet (towels and a first aid kit), quickly removed his sandals, and sat next to me, cross legged.
And then, he took out a paperback book from his items, and laid it out on his shorts-type swimsuit.
“…You’re the same no matter where you go.”
“I’m humbled to be complimented by you.”
I was envious of the manner in which he went at his own pace, completely ignoring others.
…Should I have brought a book too?
“Yume-chan, did you put on sunscreen and insect repellent?”
Madoka-san, who had been watching Chikuma-kun the entire time, returned to shore.
“Ah, I’m about to.”
“OK~. You should do it properly since you have beautiful skin. I’ll do so too..”
Madoka-san kneeled down on the leisure seat with her sandals on and took out some sunscreen cream from her luggage.
She then sat at a corner, and unzipped her parka-style rash guard.
Appearing then was an adult-looking black bikini.
A simple piece of cloth with no patterns covered her breasts that protruded greatly before her. The waist underneath was also taut, forming a magnificent hourglass with her breasts, waist and hips.
Madoka-san’s matured looks made the black bikini look all the more alluring.
She squeezed the sunscreen, looked up at me, “Nihi” and grinned.
“How is it? I’m confident in my body.”
“Huh, that’s it? Most men and women usually get excited looking at my breasts..”
“Ahh~…actually, I got a friend who has bigger ones…”
“Eh!? You serious!? She’s bigger than G!? Wait, H!? Introduce me to her! I want to rub them!!”
“I refuse. Even as a fellow female, that’s sexual harassment.”
“Ehhh~! So petty ~!”
I chuckled when I saw the pouting Madoka-san. I wondered why both Akatsuki-san and Madoka-san liked to rub other people’s breasts. Madoka-san’s were large enough already—speaking of which, she said they’re bigger than G, so that means hers were F, right…no wonder she chose a black bikini.
I glanced aside at Mizuto.
He continued to stare at the book—or so it seemed.
…Did he look? Or not? Was he uninterested in Madoka-san’s swimsuit to begin with, or did he look away after a glance…
I recalled the conversation I had with Akatsuki-san over LINE last night.
I took a chance during the conversation to ask,
“Do you know Kawanami-kun’s first love?”
I wanted to know the first love of a typical boy—in general. Yes, in general.
Akatsuki-san answered without hesitation.
“Ahh~, yes yes.”
“Wait a minute. It’s a joke! Don’t make it sound like you’re trying to make fun of me!!”
“So who was it?”
“I heard she was a preschool teacher.”
“Just to ask, who’s your first love, Akatsuki-san?”
Seemed like it’s Kawanami-kun alright…
Akatsuki-san was surprisingly careless to think she could fool me—she usually messed up whenever Kawanami-kun was involved. That’s strange.
I guessed it’s an older lady after all.
Well, to kids, most people were older, so the chances were normal. To Mizuto, he only had Madoka-san, his relative…since his mother…
Ugh, I was bewildered.
After all, I was the only one who confessed about my true love. Of course I’d feel that I lost?
But whatever!? It doesn’t matter~~~~~~who Mizuto’s first love is!
“Yume-chan, here. Some sunscreen.”
Pssh! Madoka-san sprayed some insect repellent on her legs, and handed me the sunscreen.
I received it, removed my sandals, and stepped onto the leisure sheet.
I looked for a place to sit down.
Mizuto and Madoka-san were already sitting on the not-so-large leisure seat. There wasn’t enough space for me to choose—
—And so, left with no choice, I sat next to Mizuto.
Like Madoka-san, I too had a rashguard over my swimsuit.
As it was, I could only apply the cream to my legs, so I unzipped my rash guard quite naturally.
Beneath it was the white floral swimsuit I bought with Mizuto the last time.
The top was a bikini, the bottom was a skirt. This was the limit of what I could expose.
I nonchalantly squeezed out the cream, and observed Mizuto’s reaction.
He’s still focused on the book in his hands.
…He was acting unconcerned, but it seemed like he was very interested when I bought this swimsuit. Since he had the ability to discern any stare though, maybe it’s just that he looked away immediately.
Or maybe he’s not interested anymore because he saw when I bought it.…?
Ahh goodness—! I don’t get him!!
Next to us, Madoka-san made a strange squeal.
“You’re so skinny Yume-chan…what’s with that waist? Are you sure you have organs inside?”
“Th-there are…I just don’t have much flesh.”
“No, no, I’m super jealous! I’ve been told I’m thin too. I’ve been told I’m thin too, but when you’re that thin, your breasts look big too.”
I immediately covered my breasts with my arms “I won’t rub them I won’t rub them.” Madoka-san giggled.
“Your swimsuit is cute too. Did you choose it yourself?”
“Erm….sort of …”
“Sort of?…hmm ~?”
Madoka-san gave a meaningful smirk, and immediately brought her mouth to my ear.
“(Your boyfriend chose this?)”
“(Hmm~. In other words, you aren’t of that relationship yet?)”
“(No, not yet, but…)”
Or rather, we were …
I instinctively glanced aside at Mizuto.
Madoka-san’s eyes immediately widened, and she hurriedly covered her mouth. She looked towards Mizuto.
Ah…! Uh oh!
“(Ehh ehh ehh, really!? Is that the case!?)”
“(No, no, no, no! That’s not the case at all!)”
“(That panic looks suspicious~)”
“(It’s really not the case…! Spare me already …!)”
“(I’ll take it as that then ~)”
Madoka-san’s eyes glowed, her lips showing an understanding look.
W-was this really fine…I didn’t think she would tell mom though…
“(Eh? But I heard from Yuni yesterday that Mizuto-kun has a girl who’s close to him…huh? Is Mizuto-kun popular…?)”
Looking at this, it seemed Madoka-san had no thoughts about Mizuto. Well, even if she did, it had nothing to do with me.
…Speaking of which, mom, aren’t you leaking too much of our personal information?
“Yume-chan, have you been to the beach yet this year?”
While I was carefully applying sunscreen, Madoka-san abruptly changed the subject.
“No…though my friend suggested this.”
“Eh~? Then why didn’t you go ~?”
“…That friend told me we’ll be wooed there, so we shouldn’t.”
“Ohhh~, such a good friend. She’s protecting you well. Even if you go out to have fun, it’s hard to enjoy it when annoying people are involved~”
Madoka-san stated as a matter of fact. She looked like she could be a bookstore clerk or a librarian, but even she too was wooed…
But well, it’s to be expected since she had a nice body, and was wearing a black bikini.
“So that bathing suit is for playing in the river, huh? That’s a waste.”
“But isn’t it embarrassing to wear a swimsuit in a public place…?”
“I can’t say that I don’t understand this idea, but I don’t mind. I think that since you got a cute swimsuit, why don’t you just show it?”
“…Can’t say I don’t understand.”
“Same to you, Yume-chan. You got a nice body, and you’re cute. At least show off to your friends! Take a photo, a photo!”
It’s true that I only showed this swimsuit to Mizuto, but to actually take a photo of it…
While I was all hesitant, Madoka-san rummaged through my belongings unprompted “Found it” and took out my phone. Th-that’s too much…
“Here. Take a selfie—no, wait …”
And before I could refuse, Madoka-san smiled like a naughty child,
“MI~zu~to-kun. Sorry to disturb you! Can you take a photo~!”
She handed my phone to Mizuto, who was reading.
My reaction was belated.
A-a photo!? What!? Why!?
Mizuto looked up slowly, saw my phone held out to him and Madoka-san’s beaming face.
No, it’s fine. That Mizuto wouldn’t interrupt his reading just to do this with us—
Mizuto closed the book, and received my phone from Madoka-san’s hands.
He wouldn’t even answer me when I talked to him…! So why Madoka-san …!
“Thanks! Ah, the password—”
Ah yes. I got a password on my phone. As long as I don’t tell him that—
Mizuto snorted, and entered four digits without hesitation.
The screen brightened immediately.
“Ho-how did you know my password!?”
“Well, who knows? I guess it’s just you being too simple-minded?”
It’s true that he knew this number, but I never thought he would enter that immediately…
“…Nihihi. Not bad, not bad. Both of you, stand up~”
Madoka-san made a weird laugh, and prompted us to stand up.
And Mizuto, facing me, immediately raised the phone before his eyes>
“Yes yes. Yume-chan, look at the cameras. As for the pose…you can do a V pose, but do put the hands behind your back!”
Eh? Why is the pose specified too?
I wasn’t given time to voice my doubts, so I obediently look up at the lens of my phone and fold my hands behind my back.
…Mizuto’s eyes were staring intently at the screen.
He’s looking at me in the swimsuit, through the lens.
I felt a living look through the black inorganic lens and felt ticklish all over.
Wh-what’s with this? It’s embarrassing…
“…It’s the opposite of the last time.”
That time? If we’re talking the opposite, that should be when I took a photo of Mizuto—
Ah, he’s talking about the date at the aquarium.
I remembered the photo of me with the handsome tutor with glasses which Kawanami-kun and I created together, still dormant inside my phone。
W-was I looking like that too…?
“Oh, Nice expression! Shutter chance!”
Snap! And with the click of the shutter, I instinctively jolted.
Wh-what was that!? I wasn’t prepared at all!
Mizuto put down the phone, and stared at the screen for a little while.
“How is it, how is it!? Show me show me!”
With Madoka-san insisting, Mizuto had no choice but to show the phone.
“Ohhh, this really is …”
I too peered at the screen, and saw a girl in a swimsuit with her hands behind her back, her body leaning forward, looking up with a hint of blush on her cheeks.
……This, looked like……
“Nihihi,” Madoka-san let out a weird giggle, and said,
“Now you have an impressive ‘Scandalous photo’, Yume-chan!”
Ahh. Ahhh ~~!
The angle, the expression, the pose, everything clearly gives the feel that ‘my boyfriend took this photo of me’…!
“No no no. Not this photo! Why do I have to hint at this!?”
“Don’t you find this fun?”
“Is this fun!?”
There’s no logic here! That’s why I can’t stand cheerful characters!
“Okay okay. Just cap it off with ‘I got onii-chan to take this photo of me~☆’. Your friends will ask who took this photo of you, and you’ll feel a strong sense of superiority, Yume-chan. Isn’t it a win-win…eh? Anyway, who’s the older one here”
“I’m the older sister.” “I’m the older brother.”
Mizuto and I answered immediately, and Madoka-san cackled once she heard that.
What should I do with this photo…I’m not really interested in feeling superior.
“Don’t think too hard about it, it’s like posting on Instagram, right? It’s important to share your memories with your friends, you know~?”
Madoka-san said, and returned my phone to me.
Sharing memories with friends, huh?
Now that she mentioned it, I felt it wasn’t wrong to do that.
But after all, I didn’t want to upload it into a group chat with my classmates…I didn’t want to start any weird rumors. If I wanted to, I should upload it elsewhere where it’s not too easy to leak…
After thinking about it, I decided to upload the photo to the group with Akatsuki-san and Higashira-san.
“Yume: I’m playing in the river like a child again.”
The message was read in less than a minute.
And after waiting for a response,
“Akatsuki☆：What a coincidence~! I’m at the pool now~!”
Eh, pool? With everyone? Was I excluded …?
Just as I was getting worried, Akatsuki-san sent a photo.
It was Akatsuki-san in a yellow swimsuit.
It’s a cute swimsuit with frills on top…but clearly they were meant to exaggerate her breast size…
She is holding an ice cream in her left hand and making a peace sign with her right. She seemed to be enjoying her summer.
Did she go to the pool by herself because she didn’t want me to be wooed—I was disappointed, and then I realized.
The camera frame was rather high.
Given Akatsuki-san’s height, it’s not unnatural for her to be looking up. But even so, wasn’t it a little too tall? There seemed to be a difference of at least 30cm between Akatsuki-san and the person taking the photo.
And furthermore—there was a black shadow on the poolside in the background.
I knew that deliberately messy hairstyle very well.
Such—an authentic perfect scandalous photo.
Right after I quickly downloaded the photo,
“Akatsuki☆: This message was deleted.”
“Akatsuki☆: Sorry, ignore that.”
“Yume：Sorry, I downloaded it.”
“Yume：Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone in class.”
“Akatsuki☆：No, wait a sec.”
“Yume：Sorry for disturbing you. Don’t mind me and enjoy the pool!”
“Akatsuki☆：Seriously, wait. This isn’t the case.”
What’s not the case~?
If you and a boy go to the pool together, if that’s not a date, what do you call it~?
“…What are you smirking about, that’s disgusting.”
“Fufufu. Look at this.”
I wanted to share the latest development of our common friends with Mizuto, so I showed him the screen.
It seemed Mizuto immediately noticed the secret hidden in the photo.
“What? That’s it?”
“The developments between those two got nothing to do with me, right?”
“Show more interest. He’s your friend, right?”
“That’s just what he said.”
Ahh…unwittingly, I was able to communicate properly with him. It’s still unexpectedly difficult to find a chance to call him by name though…
But at that moment, I forgot something very important.
In the group chat where Akatsuki-san and I uploaded photos, there was a certain other participant.
A notification appeared at the top of the screen.
And I instinctively tapped at it, right next to Mizuto.
The LINE screen appeared.
The photo was shown.
Higashira-san was in a school swimsuit.
We were looking at the same screen, and stopped in silence.
Just a recap.
The high school we attended didn’t have a swimming pool, let alone a swimming class.
In other words—there is no such thing as a school swimsuit.
Indubitably, the swimsuit Higashira-san was wearing in the photo was the one she wore in junior high school.
Higashira-san was rather well developed, and she’s wearing the swimsuit from her old school, so it’s obvious it would look good. The lower part of the swimsuit is so tight that it is digging into her buttocks, and her breasts are about to burst it open.
And I didn’t know if it’s because she’s bashful or suffering from the tightness, but Higashira-san was blushing, looking teary while she tried to take a selfie with her extended arm—
“Akatsuki☆：Higashira-san, what’s with that erotic looking picture?”
Hm…this was the only purpose I could think of no matter how I looked at this.
“Izanami：Isn’t this a contest for scandalous photos?”
“Akatsuki☆：I don’t remember us having such a contest. And what kind of scandalous photo is this? What are you hinting at?”
“Izanami：I wanted to take the photo off the bookshelf, but I couldn’t adjust the angle, so I had to take it myself. How are you all so good at this?”
Sorry, Higashira-san…we really had boys taking our photos…
I looked away from the phone, saw Mizuto let out a short sigh with his hand covering his face, and asked timidly.
“…Should I tell her?”
I could only grit my teeth and draft a message.
“Yume： Mizuto saw it.”
“Izanami: This message was deleted.”
The sight of Higashira-san screaming away seemed to appear before my eyes.
I’m really sorry.
The meat on the net was making a fragrant sizzling sound.
Such sounds came from everywhere, and the riverbank was immediately filled with the aroma of hunger.
“Start eating the ones that are cooked first~!”
Natsume-san put the skewered meat on the net one after another. I heard she was almost 70 years old, but she seemed to have more vitality than me.
I assumed the barbecue would be a more modest affair, but the elders of the Tanesatos had brought a total of six barbecue sets in their vehicles.
Where on earth did they get them from… I wondered if they had them in a warehouse or something.
“They say grandma Natsume has a friend who runs a camping ground, so these are all borrowed at a really cheap price.”
Madoka-san told me as she munched on the meat.
“As to be expected of a former rich noble~ I want to marry a rich person too ~”
“Madoka~, Mikado-kun will cry if he hears that!”
“Just kidding~! Nihihi!”
While I tilted my head in confusion.
Madoka-san looked elsewhere, and uttered so.
“Chikuma ~ your mouth is all sticky ~”
Next to Madoka-san was Chikuma-kun, his mouth in a mess due to the sauce all.
“It’s dirty. Goodness~. Erm, tissue, tissue …”
“Ah, I have a handkerchief.”
I took a handkerchief from the pocket of my rashguard, knelt down before Chikuma-kun, and wiped his mouth. His eyes widened, but he didn’t resist.
Yes, yes, good boy, good boy.
If it had been Mizuto, he would have pushed the handkerchief back and wiped it with his arm or something.
“Yes, it’s clean.”
Madoka-san saw Chikuma-kun fumble away, and she showed a strange smile on her lips.
“Chikuma~, aren’t you thanking Yume onee-chan ~?”
“Th……thank you very much…”
“Yes. You’re welcome.”
I smiled and replied, and Chikuma-kun’s face reddened as he went to hide behind Madoka-san for some reason.
…He’s hiding from me after all, right?
It’d be great if I had a cute little brother completely opposite of Mizuto though…
“Niihihi, you should check that~. Yume-chan~”
I didn’t remember us talking about shogi.
“Ahhh, poor Chikuma. Well, this is an experience though.”
Madoka-san gave something of vague meaning and turned her face afar.
“Yume-chan, how about you accompany Mizuto?”
I looked over at where Madoka-san was looking and saw Mizuto who was sitting on the leisure sheet.
“Again with the sudden…why me?”
“When I usually try to talk to him, he’ll always ignore me nonchalantly~”
I didn’t think she would talk about rejection so openly…
Mizuto was still looking down at his book and showed no signs of wanting to join the barbecue. The Tanesatos didn’t seem like they would try to drag Mizuto to join them.
It seemed to be a common occurrence to them.
Everyone seemed to have understood he was such a person.
“Hm~, looks like I got no choice then.”
Madoka-san suddenly ran towards the barbecue set and began to gather meat and vegetables on a paper plate.
So she’s not just a drunkard, but a glutton too? She’s so skinny…maybe she’s the legendary kind of person who had all the food go to the chest.
“Here.” And while I wondered, Madoka-san served me a large plate of meat and vegetables.
“Eh?…No, I have mine…”
I wanted to lift up the plate with meat still on it.
“No no. This is for Mizuto-kun.”
“Will you give it to him?”
Nihihi. Again Madoka-san let out a weird laugh.
…She’s mistaken about me after all, I guess?
Mizuto and I clearly didn’t have such a relationship—on the contrary, we’re in a relationship of mutual hate.
“Okay okay, go on now~. Otherwise, it’ll get cold.”
But if I was too insistent, it would make me look even more suspicious.
I quietly took the plate and headed for the leisure sheet where Mizuto was sitting.
It was evening. The sky was becoming covered by the sunset. The shadows of the forest near the river stretched long in the sideways sunlight, enveloping the area around the leisure sheet.
In the midst of it, I went towards Mizuto, who was still reading the paperback book,
I tried to call out to him but still hesitated.
It’s embarrassing…and for some reason, I was somewhat uncomfortable with it.
Madoka-san wouldn’t have hesitated over this then…
And then, I thought of an idea.
I cleared my throat, tried to sound cheering—and called out to Mizuto while mimicking Madoka-san.
The retort came without a glance.
He probably determined who was approaching from the footsteps.
Of course, I wasn’t happy at all.
I removed my sandals, and sat down next to Mizuto.
“Here. For you.”
I handed over the plate, and he finally glanced once. He wasn’t intending to put the book down at all though.
“You’re not eating?”
“Well, I’ll eat, but…”
I saw that Mizuto didn’t have many pages in his book on the left hand side, and understood.
He was at the climax. Surely he would want to finish the book before eating.
In that case…
Mizuto’s expression looked all the more sceptical. Uh oh, Madoka-san infected me with this laugh.
I used chopsticks to pick up a piece of meat from Mizuto’s plate.
The adults’ laughter could be heard from afar.
Mizuto glanced aside at the direction.
“It’s fine. The sky’s so dark, they can’t see.”
“No, that’s not the problem…”-
“What’s the problem then?”
And while his mouth was opened, I stuffed the meat in.
Mizuto chewed on the meat that was stuffed in, swallowed it, and shot me a protesting look,
“Oy! It’s dangerous—”
“Ahh dear. Look at your mouth, it’s all sticky~”
“Mgh mgh mgh!!”
And before he was done, I wiped his mouth with the handkerchief I prepared.
Once I wiped Mizuto’s mouth clean, I giggled.
“You can become as cute as Chikuma-kun if you keep your mouth shut.”
“…Can’t you just look for Chikuma?”
“You alright? Are you jealous that your older sister’s being stolen away?”
Kukuku, I couldn’t help but let out a giggle.
Even this jerk of a guy could become a cute little brother if I treated him differently.
He might be done reading his book, or maybe he just didn’t want me to keep feeding him, but Mizuto closed his book, put it aside, and snatched the plate and chopsticks from me.
From the side, I looked at my ex and current little stepbrother who picked up the meat and vegetables together,
Seriously, why can’t I call him by name!
Mizuto continued to chomp on his food as he looked towards me,
“Seems like you’ve been calling me ‘Mi’ the whole day. Now that’s a brand new name.”
“Of course. I was prepared to hear you call me by name in the future too.”
…So just as I needed to prepare myself if I wanted to call others by name, others too have to be prepared to be called by name too?
“…How about you call me by my name then?”
“Don’t you find it unfair that I’m the one who’s calling your name?”
“What does that have to do with me. You started it.”
“You sure? If I call you Mizuto and you’re going to call me Yume-san, everyone’s going to think that I’m the older sister, you know?”
“…Tch, that’s despicable.”
Mizuto cursed in defeat and pouted his lips begrudgingly.
“Now that’s a brand new name.”
Mizuto hollered and munched into the potato.
Was he embarrassed…or lamenting it?
Was he lamenting the loss of the name ‘Ayai’?
—Did you read that book, Ayai?
—I like you, Ayai.
The soft call tickled my ear again and again.
The traces of that first love would never be reclaimed once again.
I had to admit there were some things that caused my heart to ache…but it’s for this reason that I shouldn’t delve into our past.
And more so, that I shouldn’t cling onto my regrets.
He and I were both ‘Iridos’—merely stepsiblings.
Our past dating history was merely a footnote at this point.
That was all that bound us.
“We’ve gotten used to it, haven’t we?”
“This sibling thing?”
“Yeah…we don’t have to try and hide like we did in the past.”
“…Is that so? Well, at least I was very careful today.”
Mizuto looked down at the rushing river, and muttered tersely.
“It’s not befitting of a sibling to be looking at a swimsuit like that.”
…Ahh, ahh ….
So, I see.
“Wh-why did you have to say that?”
“That’s because you’re a troublesome one…are you relieved now to hear the reason why I didn’t look at the swimsuit?”
I hastily averted my eyes once I saw Mizuto give a mischievous smirk.
If I told you I was relieved, we wouldn’t be acting like siblings.
“Well anyway, let’s continue with this stress level, especially now. There’ll be too many troublesome people to deal with if they figure it out here.”
I glanced aside discreetly at Mizuto, and his plate was all empty.
And Mizuto’s eyes were staring at the empty plate.
“…You haven’t had enough? Shall I get more?”
Mizuto stammered, and glanced aside at my plate,
“You too, have something to eat.”
“Eh? I’m almost—”
“Any skinner, and you’ll only be skin and bones. Go eat some more.”
His strangely terse tone got me to realize.
He didn’t want to go alone.
Seizing this opportunity, I smirked.
“I’ll do that if you call me Yume.”
Mizuto looked away, his cheeks contorted.
Finally, he stood up unwilling, looked down at me who was still sitting down, and reached his hand out towards me with a serious look.
“Let’s go, Yume.”
Immediately, I let out a weird sound.
I felt a shiver down my spine, and a strange urge to run away spread throughout my body.
Mizuto looked down at me, “Hmph” and snorted away.
“Let’s go then, little sister.”
Then what was that? You’re so embarrassed to call me by name unless I forced the issue. That’s no different from losing!?
“…Got it, onii-chan~!”
This eccentric older brother of mine merely pretended not to hear.
I pulled Mizuto’s hand and stood up.
I probably wouldn’t call him “Irido-kun” again.
He probably wouldn’t call me “Ayai” again.
We were free from the vestiges of our memories.
We broke free from our past, ugly feelings, and accepted our new selves …
A thought appeared in my mind while we went towards our relatives.
Why, just why—did I want to hold this hand once again?
“The countryside roads are dangerous at night. Be careful on the way back ~”
By the time the barbecue ended, the sun was about to set over the mountains.
I looked towards the mountains with the sun setting over it, along with the black shadows of the steel towers when the barbecue broke up. Mizuto and I walked along the road with no traffic.
There was no one else in sight.
There were a few cars, but there wasn’t any seat after the elderly, the tired Chikuma-kun, and the accompanying Madoka-san boarded on.
And so, as the younger ones who were fit, we walked back.
Mizuto walked in front of me to lead me on.
There were three large spaces between us.
Somehow, we didn’t walk next to each other and maintained a distance while walking on the sunset-tinted asphalt.
“There’s really nothing here, huh?”
I scanned the surroundings and said to Mizuto.
There were a few houses here and there, but other than that, there were fields, rice paddies, and steel towers with power cables. Steel blocks on a mountain would seem very unnatural, but strangely, they blended in with the landscape.
Mizuto said without looking back.
“I never thought this place was inconvenient. We’ll be staying for five days anyway. A few books, and we’ll be going back.”
I wanted to swallow these words, but I had to ask this, so I mustered courage, and got closer by a step.
“—Do you hate your relatives?”
Just two steps.
Even when we were closer, Mizuto didn’t look back.
“No, it’s not that I hate them.”
His tone was flat.
“To be honest—they don’t matter.”
“That’s harsh of you.”
“I don’t really know them, that’s all. My relatives are all Tanesatos, and I’m not really sure as to how I should address my great uncle and the others. Furthermore, I can’t match the names and the faces.”
“…So what about Madoka-san? Your ages are rather close. She told me she’s been taking care of you since young.”
For some reason, there was a pause before Mizuto answered.
“…I do remember being cared for by her. My impression was…the first time I was here was back in kindergarten. Speaking of which, she was in grade school …”
To someone at such a young age, everyone older seemed so big.
He probably found her to be a rather reliable older sister, but thinking about it, he realized she too was just a little kid …
In that case—maybe to Mizuto, Madoka-san was a motherly existence.
And to him, who lost his mother since birth, Madoka-san was the one person that was reminiscent of his mother…
For some reason, my throat was parched.
“This is just small talk from me, but―”
It took a little courage.
I dithered over whether I should ask.
But I shook off my doubts.
I took a step closer.
“—What was your first love like?”
Just one more step.
I could reach him if I leaned forward.
Mizuto wouldn’t turn back after all.
“Fuu.” He let out a nostalgic chuckle.
“Someone who liked to smile.”
The distinctive laugh echoed in my ears.
“…Is that so.”
Do you still remember, Yume Irido?
Do you still remember that peerless plain girl? That whimpering, clumsy person?
The term smile would never suit the past me.
Of course—he once liked Madoka-san too.
One step, two steps, he pulled his distance.
The sunset was halfway through.
Beyond the fleeting sunset, the night would befall.