It seemed in general that a first love in middle school was considered late.
It could be a teacher in kindergarten, a classmate in elementary school, or—before one realized, a relative.
It’s easy to assume these were the most common, until middle school, but it’s extremely rare to find someone who had a requited first love without even experiencing a crush.
…Well, there were tenth graders who didn’t know how to write the word romance.
These people were exceptions.
It’s normal for people to be aware of their romantic feelings by the time they reach puberty.
And so—Mizuto Irido might have liked another girl before me.
…I knew how shallow this idea was.
It’s not dishonest or immoral, and most importantly, it got nothing to do with me right now.
I had a dream.
I dreamed off the year and a half since the summer break back in my eighth—or until now—
For me, and for him, those honeymoon days were the first love of our lives.
Even if this love had already ended.
I always dreamed that I had a special seat there, called first love.
…That’s disgusting of me.
It’s tedious, annoying, heavy, and feeble—
—It’s unbelievable to think there’s a guy who fell for such a woman.
I hid myself behind a thin shoji screen and shuddered at my shambolic self.
I poked my head out, and peered into the dark and dusty study.
My little stepbrother and ex, Mizuto Irido, was seated in the back of the room, practically buried under a pile of old books.
I had a simple task.
Uncle Mineaki got me to fetch Mizuto because he needed to get the latter, so I was here.
So all I had to do was talk to him and say ‘uncle Mineaki’s looking for you’.
And yet, I hid here for minutes—or even dozens, as though I had witnessed a sworn enemy of a little animal.
Mizuto didn’t notice me, for it seemed he was so concentrated on his reading.
I half-heartedly felt that I should have been noticed by now, and half-heartedly wondered what I should do if he noticed me, and they swirled within my chest.
Again with the communication issues…
Until middle school, it was normal for me to hesitate for dozens of minutes before I could talk, and I didn’t dare to enter the staff room. With the most efficient training that was love though, I thought I conquered it.
I’d resigned myself that my gloomy personality was something I was born with, that I couldn’t fix it, but I was proud of the fact that I was able to greatly improve my communication skills.
So why did it end up like this…
It’s infuriating, but I knew the reason. I could only think of what I heard from Mizuto while we returned from the riverbank.
—Someone who liked to laugh.
Whose face was he thinking of when he said that nostalgically…there’s no need to say anything more.
The premonition I felt when we first met was correct.
Mizuto’s first love was—
“—Eh? Yume-chan, what are you doing?”
Shock, my shoulders jolted, and I turned around.
A beautiful woman wearing red-rimmed glasses and a pure white dress, Madoka-san, gave me an intrigued look.
…A white one piece dress.
It’s amazing that this kind of clothing still looks good on a 20 year old…
No, I should be excusing my suspicious behavior …!
“Ah, no, Er…j-just spacing out a little …”
So I wondered, but I couldn’t come up with a good excuse.
It seemed my communication skills finally hit rock bottom.
“Eh~, you alright? Be careful~. This house has a lot of rooms without air conditioners.”
It’s hot, Madoka-san fanned her neck as she looked up.
There was sweat on her neck peeking out of her dress, and it was kind of alluring…
“Erm…ah, found him, found him.”
Madoka-san passed me by, peeked into the study and simply said,
“Mizuto~. Uncle’s looking for you ~?”
She easily accomplished what I couldn’t do for dozens of minutes.
Mizuto tersely answered, closed his book, and lifted his head,
And then he finally noticed me next to Madoka-san.
I was so embarrassed that I couldn’t help but argue back.
Mizuto didn’t mind my attitude, probably because he was already used to it,
“Anything the matter?”
But now, nope…
I said these words, scampered down the corridor, getting far from that study.
No—I fled the scene.
From Mizuto, and Madoka-san.
Nothing changed at all.
Even when we were stepsiblings, or when we dated, I just noticed.
I noticed that he had a past I didn’t know of, that’s all.
Even if Mizuto did like Madoka-san before—anyone else but me.
That…had nothing to do with me at this point.
Chikuma-kun widened his eyes hidden beneath his bangs.
After I fled the study, I walked around the house for no reason and found Chikuma-kun in a corner of the large Japanese-style room, playing his game console.
At a table some distance away in the same room, a group of uncles, including Chikuma’s father, were engaged in some kind of small talk.
It was lonely to be alone in the day, but I couldn’t join in…so I kept my distance.
Chikuma-san was shy, but he didn’t like alone time as much as Mizuto, and wouldn’t do things at his own pace like Higashira-san.
I felt a little sense of closeness and peered at Chikuma-kun, who had his knees tucked. I asked,
“You alright? Is the air conditioning too cold?”
Chikuma-kun uttered with a teeny weeny voice and covered his face with his game console.
Arara, still wary of me? Chikuma-kun would blush and look aside whenever I tried to talk to him …
Let’s see…maybe I should talk to him by the side to increase affection levels?
I recalled what I read in the books before, went next to him, and sat down.
Chikuma-kun’s shoulders jolted, but luckily, he didn’t pull away from me.
“Chikuma-kun, you like games, don’t you?”
“N-not especially …”
“I usually like to read novels. Have you read any books?”
“Eh? What’s that?”
“I-it shows ways… to clear games, data …”
“Are they interesting?”
The conversation ended.
Wh-what should I do…I didn’t know what to discuss with an elementary school boy…
Different ages, different genders, there’s too little in common to talk about…my communication ability improved, but it didn’t mean I had the overwhelming skills of a beautician or anything …
Topic…topic…a common topic regardless of gender and age….
“Erm…do you have someone you like?”
I chose the safest option.
This clearly was a topic any relative who I hardly met would ask.
And when I wondered if there wouldn’t be much reaction,
Chikuma-kun let out the loudest shout I had ever heard, and looked up from the game console.
“Eh? Hm, yes yes. Do you have someone you like? At school?”
Chikuma-kun’s tone dropped rapidly, and he looked back at the game console.
“I see. No cute girls around?”
“I-I don’t really know. I don’t really, remember their, faces…”
“Ah, I get that I get that. It’s hard for a shy person to actually look at others directly in the eyes.”
Nod nod nod! Chikuma-kun agreed fully, acting like a woodpecker.
Ah, found it. We got a common topic.
“And when you forget to bring your chopsticks on bento day, you dare not ask the teacher, which troubled you.”
“(Nod nod nod!)”
“And when you trek up the mountain, you can only enjoy the scenery yourself because you have no friends to talk with.”
“(Nod nod nod!)”
“And since you can’t find anyone to pair with, you look for those who don’t really look like they can form pairs too, but you just wait for others to invite you because you dare not to talk…”
“(Nod nod nod nod nod nod!)”
That’s some amazing reaction.
His eyes glowed.
It seemed he finally had someone who understood him for the first time in his life.
After all, Madoka-san was a scammer of an ultimate riajuu with a sunny disposition…she wouldn’t understand introverts.
“I guess it’s tough for a shy person…to attend school…”
“If you have any problems, just tell. I’ll probably be able to help you. Eh…do you have a smartphone?”
Chikuma-kun frantically searched his pocket and frisked a brand new smartphone. Yep, a modern kid.
“LINE…well, I don’t think you know how to exchange IDs, right? I’ll teach you.”
Chikuma-kun happily nodded and handed the phone to me. It seemed he didn’t need to voice his frustrations about being introverted, which delighted him.
…I too had such an experience.
When I first met Mizuto and interacted with him, he too would teach me this and that without me saying anything…
That was the first time I felt that I built a relationship with someone.
Furthermore, it’s a boy. I couldn’t really imagine so back then…
…Was he fond of Madoka-san back then?
When I confessed to him, maybe he…
“…Right, done. What shall we do next?”
I returned the phone to Chikuma-kun, as if to shake off his gloomy feelings. He hugged it to his chest and said in his clearest voice to date, though faint it was.
“C-can I…contact you…?”
“You sure you will?”
“Ahaha! I’m not good at contacting others too!”
Chikuma-kun’s shoulders shriveled. So cute. If only a certain aloof guy would learn just a little—
“—Excuse me while you’re chatting.”
And with a terse voice, a shadow stood next to us by the wall.
I looked up.
Mizuto’s cold expression was looking down at me.
“…Looks like you two are getting along.”
I braced myself and replied to his spiteful voice with an equally spiteful voice.
“What? Can’t we?”
“Nothing…I just thought you treat kids differently.”
“Huh? There’s nothing different though?”
“If that’s what you think, that’s fine.”
…What? What’s with him!?
If you have something to say, just say it.
You always think you know everything …!
“…What do you want? You aren’t here to insult me, are you?”
“Nothing much. Just—”
Mizuto snorted, and said impatiently,
“—Madoka-san got me to have a look, so I came by.”
Once he said that, something snapped inside me.
“…Do you do anything just because Madoka-san says so?”
Whenever I said anything to him, he would insult me.
He never listened to my requests earnestly.
Why was it so obedient to Madoka-san—
“……If there’s nothing, you can just leave.”
I did my best to rein in my voice.
“Just leave me be and go talk to your beloved Madoka-san, why don’t you?”
Mizuto remained silent, and stared at me for quite some time.
Finally, he let out a little sigh.
It was as though he had seen through me completely.
He said, and left.
I couldn’t see his back, and could only look at my knees.
Once I sensed a breath next to me, I noticed Chikuma-kun’s existence.
Chikuma-kun looked up at me with a timid face].
“Ah …! S-sorry that I scared you…”
I hurriedly put on a smile.
Ahh seriously, what was I doing in front of the kid …!
“We weren’t really, well, arguing. Really. We’ve always been like that.”
While I sought for an excuse, my heart slowly calmed down.
Yeah—I was already used to having such petty arguments.
“So…don’t tell dad and mom, okay? It’s a secret between us!”
I put my index finger at my lips to hush Chikuma-kun, and he nodded away furiously.
And for some reason, he turned his head down to avert from my eyes, and cupped his ears firmly with both hands.
I was somewhat relieved to hear the carefree voice over my phone.
“Sorry for calling you so suddenly, Higashira-san. Is it convenient now?”
“It’s …! Fine…ffuu!”
I could hear some weird sounds from the other end, and they seemed to be closer and further.
“It’s fine…haa~. I was just exercising …”
“Exercising? Feels like that’s a completely alien term to you, Higashira-san …”
“Mom told me…that if I’m all lazy at home, my rare boobs are going to sag…she even said I got nothing other than these, so I should exercise…I don’t get to eat if I don’t exercise…”
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but Higashira-san, isn’t your mom rather intense?”
So there’s actually a mom who told her own daughter that she’s nothing other than breasts?
“Huff~5 push ups done! Done for the day!”
“Even I could do a few more …”
“What do you want to talk about, Yume-san?”
I was ignored.
I looked up at the summer skies by the corridor, and cautiously thought about how I should express myself.
“…Nothing, just want to chat about recent stuff. So, about the swimsuit yesterday …”
“Don’t remind me about it.”
“You usually go overboard in front of him, but you actually do act embarrassed in appropriate moments.”
“It’s way too embarrassing! Think about it. I got a large ‘Higashira’ written on my chest! That’s too childish!”
“…Wait. That’s the point of contention?”
No no no.
I was talking about the chest that almost burst out, how the swimsuit just ate into the thighs.
“Higashira-san, I guess you won’t feel embarrassed even if you stand before Mizuto naked…you blushed when he saw your panties.”
“No no, I’ll still feel embarrassed to be naked.”
“Ah, I see.”
“I avoid taking baths during the study trip too.”
“…Ahh, so the shame applies to those of the same gender too?”
So it’s not because she would be naked while facing Mizuto, or any other guy.
“I might consider if I’m in the bath with you Yume-san…you got a nice body, you’re pretty, the perfect pretty girl look…ehehe.”
“That sounds disgusting, Higashira-san.”
“…I’m not that big a deal.”
I could sense the gloominess rising from my house, and softly muttered so.
“I look skinny, but that’s because I don’t have much fat. I worked hard for these breasts …”
“Minami-san will murder you over these words, you know?”
“Ah, that was dangerous.”
I shooed Mizuto away, left Chikuma-kun…and was alone.
So why…did I call Higashira-san?
…Was it because I wanted her understanding?
She liked Mizuto—so maybe I was hoping she would sympathize with this messy ball of emotions I had…
“…I’m in the countryside right now, at the Iridos home.”
“Yes, I know. Are there any weird customs there? Any disturbing counting songs passed down for generations?”
Even though I was a little hopeful for one.
“We’re at Irido’s grandmother’s house, on the paternal side.”
“Actually, there’s a…very beautiful sister who’s studying in college.”
That’s a weird reaction.
She’s not shocked, nor was she anxious.
“Maybe she was Mizuto-kun’s first love?”
“Say, what’s with that reaction?”
“After all, Mizuto-kun’s definitely very cute when he’s young. I love OneeShotas.”
What’s she saying? I didn’t understand.
“The already cute Mizuto-kun definitely was super cute when he was younger! And so the cutest Mizuto-kun was cared for by the pretty big sister, and that’s…wonderful! Fantastic beyond words!”
I-I couldn’t get her…
Why was she somehow so excited…
“Don’t you feel, shocked…? That Mizuto likes someone else?”
“Why? That aloof Mizuto-kun has a one-sided crush on a big sister next to him. Now that gets me going.”
“I-is that so …”
Uh, huh ~….
I guessed our concept of love, or values, were way too different. I couldn’t comprehend her at all….
A flat voice came from the other end of the phone—Higashira-san suddenly asked me.
“What sort of reaction do you want from me?”
My heart jolted with a thud.
It felt as though…my heart was shot through.
“I just feel…you’re giving me the impression that you didn’t get a reply you wanted. Sorry if I’m wrong here though!”
I didn’t get—a reply I wanted.
I just wanted…her to lick my wounds.
I just wanted Higashira-san to feel what I felt…
I wanted to hurt her.
I wanted her to feel sad.
I wanted her to feel as miserable as myself.
I wanted her—to sympathize with me.
……That’s…shallow of me…….
“…Sorry,.I don’t mean that…I just wanted to talk.”
“I see. That’s good—“
“—Isanaaaa—!! Are you training properly—!!?”
I suddenly heard another voice from afar. Higashira-san let out a weird shriek, and following that, there were frantic footsteps.
“Wh-what’s wrong? You alright?”
“M-mom’s here to check on me~ ~……!! So-sorry Yume-san! I got a tough quest to maintain my breasts …!”
“Ah, uh, huh, do your…best?”
The phone was cut.
… Higashira-san’s eccentricity was inherited from her mother?
“Done talking on the phone?”
The voice that came from above caused me to make a sound no different from Higashira-san’s.
I looked up and saw Madoka-san peering into my face with mischievous eyes from behind her red-rimmed glasses.
“You went all “Hyaaaaahhhhh!?” too. You’re so cute ~♪”
“Wh-what’s the matter, Madoka-san……”
To be honest, I didn’t really want to talk to her at this moment, but…
Madoka-san stood still,
“I mentioned about going to the festival tomorrow, right?”
“Ah, yes …”
According to her, there was a large summer festival in town, near the station the next day.
We would be leaving two days later, so this summer festival would be our last activity.
…Given the current situation though, I really wasn’t in the mood to play…
“Grandma Natsume rented some yukata for us to wear tomorrow ~.”
“Is that so?”
“Yep yep. So let’s go choose a yukata together!”
I answered instinctively, but…
…Two of us?
“Alrighty! Let’s go~!”
And before I could digest my miscue, Madoka-san pulled my hand and started walking away.
“There’s a lot of them here, just wear whatever you want.~.”
So Natsume-san said, and closed the fusuma.
“Thanks granny ~!”
Madoka-san called out from beyond the closed fusuma, “Alrighty” and put her hands on her hips,
Several neatly folded yukata were lined before her.
Each of them was more glamorous than the other, and usually, I would have gotten excited. I wasn’t in such a good mood though.
“Yume-chan, which do you like? I think anything suits you since you’re so skinny and you have long hair~.”
The last one I wore was…right, a navy blue yukata.
My already gloomy mood took a turn for the worse.
The last time I wore a yukata was…yes, summer vacation last year.
I was so indecisive when I went there alone, and waited for him to show up when I never made a promise with him…
I looked up, and saw Madoka-san stare at my face.
“…You don’t like to attend festivals?”
Madoka-san sounded concerned, and I was increasingly restless.
It’s not Madoka-san’s fault.
It’s not Mizuto’s fault either.
It was all my fault.
It was my fault…for being so weak.
“Just…have some bitter memories.”
“I see. Well, it’s rare not to have any trouble at a festival. It’s common to get lost or anything like that, trip and get scraped, or get blisters on the clogs. It’s a gacha of risks.
Nihihi, Madoka-san giggled, and said nonchalantly.
“I too messed up lots when I went on a date with my boyfriend ~.”
Madoka-san said it so overly naturally that I couldn’t react for a moment.
What did she…just say?
“Eh? Yes, boyfriend.”
“Y—you have a boyfriend?”
“I do~? Eh~? Do I look like I don’t have one ~?”
Fufu, when Madoka-san giggled as she said this, she looked so pretty to me, even as a girl, and she’s cheerful and charming.
Of course she would have one.
I hadn’t thought about it at all. Maybe it’s because thought of her as an older relative? Or maybe…
“Th-then just to ask. When did …”
“Hm~? I guess after I started college…a year and a half or so. I had another boyfriend in high school.”
“Hm, yep yep. I couldn’t get along with him though, so we broke up quickly. Nihihi.”
I never expected that this woman wearing stylish red-rimmed glasses and had the vibe of an antiquarian bookstore staff would actually say that she ‘couldn’t get along’.
That’s too much of an appearance fraud.
She probably wouldn’t have anything to do with me if not for the fact that we’re relatives…
“You don’t have to be so shocked ~. I’m rather low key here, you know? My friends are wilder compared to me. There are some who had double digits boyfriends during their three years of high school. I only had two. See, I’m more low key here?”
“Eh? Two…? So, the boyfriend you had in college was the third …?”
“Ah, actually, that’s my first boyfriend.”
“The third was the first …??”
“We patched up~. We broke up once, but we’re reunited in college.”
My whole body shivered unwittingly.
“Why…did that happen?”
I felt my throat getting parched as I squeezed out my voice.
“You broke up…so doesn’t that mean…you don’t like him again?”
“Well, that’s true in a sense. There was a period of time when I couldn’t stand him, and I did think he was unreasonable..”
This time, “Nihihi” the giggle had a self-deprecating hint to it.
“But after some time passed, I reunited with him…and then I thought “Ah that’s fine”. What I was angry about back then seemed so trifling in hindsight.”
“He’s really sloppy, unreliable, and a good-for-nothing, and I was so annoyed with him that I broke up. You know, when you enter college, your relationships are reset, so you basically lose your friends, right? That’s where I met him again, and naturally we started hanging out again…and then,”
Madoka-san unfolded a bright blue yukata.
“He’s sloppy, unreliable, and a good-for-nothing…but I do think “Whatever, I’ll patch up those flaws for you”, so I forgave him. Sometimes, I felt that such a side’s rather cute too …”
“…Erm, sorry to say this…”
“Madoka-san…are you the type who can’t ignore those good-for-nothings …?”
“……You think so too ……?”
Well, that’s the only conclusion I could draw from what you said.
“That’s what my friends said about me too…the boyfriend I dated and broke up right before him was a perfect guy who excelled at studies and sports, but I couldn’t take how perfect he was, so I chose to break up with him. I rejected him, he backed off so gracefully that I was super pissed off…I was like “You don’t miss me at all” “my ex cried and begged me not to leave” that’s what I thought.”
I didn’t think the perfect-looking Madoka-san would have such a stubborn side.
I was somewhat relieved.
“But well, we can’t possibly like everything about the other ~.”
Madoka-san said as she adjusted her yukata to her body in the mirror.
“No matter how much I like someone, there’s always a point or two that I dislike. That’s why couples break up…but when you can overcome this, we’ll be able to look at others with a more forgiving stance. Even if you do dislike some aspects, you can only go like, not that I can help it.”
“…Not that I can help it…”
“Yes, yes. That’s what I’m going through right now. The other day, my boyfriend asked me to lend him some money to pay for a game, and I kicked his ass. Nihihihi!”
No matter how much you love someone, there are always one or two things you don’t like about them.
That’s why couples… break up.
Madoka-san’s words bore down heavily within me.
…Though from what she said, I started to worry about her future.
Madoka-san put the yukata that was on her onto my shoulders, and smiled,
“I don’t know what happened between you and Mizuto-kun…but you don’t have to mind about some trifling matters. After all, in this world, there are more people who you don’t have to care about or that you dislike, so if there’s someone who you can like and dislike about, it’s all okay!”
Thinking about this, it’s to be expected.
He’s a living human too.
He’s not an existence projected through one’s ideals and delusions.
It’s normal for a person, who was completely alone before he met me, to care for me, and suddenly be narrow-minded and jealous.,
He’s not some idol.
He’s just an ordinary person living in his own world, in the same situation as me.
If I were to throw a tantrum out of jealousy, or the first love…there’s no end to it.
I knew this—right from the beginning.
“…In fact, it’s not like Mizuto did anything wrong.”
I looked down, only to see a glamorous yukata completely opposite of the mood.
“I’m a little depressed…because of how petty I am.”
If I could be as optimistic as Madoka-san…I wouldn’t be so shocked about such little things over and over again.
After all, there’s no right, no justification, no reason to be.
Everything and anything…was all my fault for being so annoyingly pessimistic, so helplessly weak.
Madoka-san reclaimed the yukata that was on my shoulders, and tilted her head perturbedly.
“Yume-chan—isn’t this room rather dusty?”
This change of topic was too sudden, and I lifted my face.
Madoka-san giggled with an impish smile.
“Once we’re done choosing, let’s go take a bath together.”
I was told to enter the bath first, so I took a quick dip, entered the large bathtub, and let the hot water soak up till my shoulders.
I looked up at the ceiling that was covered with water droplets, and realized that I stopped thinking.
…W-what is this situation?
I looked towards the changing room, and through the frosted glass, I could see Madoka-san tie her hair. She probably had taken off her clothes, and even through the glass, the curvy body looked so elegant.
—What are we doing? A secret talk between maidens, of course ♪
Madoka-san beamed happily when she told me….
I sat in the bathtub, and cupped my knees.
I guessed it’s the first time I took a bath with someone other than mom…since the study camp in middle school?
And it’s probably the first time I did it alone with someone else.
Wh-what am I being nervous for…! I wasn’t that nervous with Akatsuki-san!
“Kept you waiting ~”
I heard the door slide open, and Madoka-san entered the bathroom.
She didn’t wrap herself in a towel to cover herself.
Instead, she proudly put her hands on her hips, and boldly exposed her glittering white naked body.
I already knew she had a nice body from the swimsuit the previous day, but…
Her waist was taut and curvy, her hips were nicely raised, and her long, slender legs formed a slender figure.
The most amazing things about her though were her self-professed F-cup breasts. There wasn’t any support since she didn’t have a bra or a swimsuit on, yet her breasts didn’t sag like a bowl of rice. They swayed with every movement, and I started to feel that physics sus.
“What do you think?
Madoka-san looked gleeful, and I answered honestly.
“Thanks~! You look super beautiful too, Yume-chan! I’m jealous at how thin you are~! That’s an ideal body shape for all girls.”
I shriveled back. I was a little embarrassed to be praised by Madoka-san like this.
Madoka-san scooped up some water from the bathtub, poured it over her, “Sorry, some space please~” and crossed the edge of the bathtub I was in.
At this moment, I couldn’t help but look between the legs.
I guessed the reason why it was trimmed was because, someone else might see …?
Madoka-san sat opposite me in the bathtub, and the water level rose past her shoulders, overflowed, and went into the drain.
This bathtub was rather large to begin with, but it was no wonder it ended up a little cramped after the two of us entered. I cupped my legs while inside, and I could feel Madoka-san’s thighs from time to time, which caused my heart to race for some strange reason.
“Haa~. I feel released ~.”
Two round objects floated on the water before Madoka-san while she said this.
Given that they were so big, they must be rather heavy.
I guessed this was the period of time during the day where she would be released from this weight, in the buoyancy of the bath…
“Nihihi. Are you that interested?”
Madoka-san noticed my stare, and raised her breasts from beneath.
“Want to touch?”
“Eh?…n-no, but …”
“I won’t charge you money ~.”
I felt it would be rude to reject her, so I timidly reached my hands out.
Once I touched, my fingertips sank. When I let go, her skin followed. It felt like it was stuck onto my fingers.
So that’s how it felt to touch someone else’s breasts…
I continued to try and touch from the front or from the side,
Madoka-san suddenly let out a lewd voice.
Waahhh—! I hastily removed my hands and pulled my distance.
“Nihihihi! That was a joke, a joke!”
Th-that scared me…
I had as little skinship with other girls as Mizuto…no, I might have little compared to him ever since he had Higashira-san as a friend.
Madoka-san put her elbow on the edge of the bathtub,
“Let’s talk about something serious before we’re done ~.”
“Now you can open your heart and chat with me. After all, we’re naked to each other.”
“…I don’t have anything to open my heart about.”
“You do though~. What do you think of Mizuto? Do you like him? Do you hate him?”
I couldn’t answer her direct question immediately.
I did like him.
And I did hate him.
…And at this point, I didn’t know whether I liked him or hated him…
“I did think of it before.”
“What would happen if it’s me.”
Drop, the water droplet falling from the ceiling caused a ripple on the surface.
“If I were in high school and had to live under the same roof with a boy my age—I guess it’d be very difficult. There’s a lot of things to consider, and you’ll be conscious of the other no matter what…uncle and aunty might have been unexpectedly oblivious to this. This is the result of Yume and Mizuto’s efforts though.”
In reality, our relationship was more complicated than Madoka-san imagined.
But…if it weren’t for that particular circumstance, we probably wouldn’t have this family today.
He and I already knew each other, which was why we had the Irido family—or so I had been thinking recently …
“…So Madoka-san, what do you think will happen if it’s you? if one day, you have to suddenly live together with a guy…”
“It depends on who I live with…but well, if it’s with Mizuto-kun, I probably will like him though?”
I blinked my eyes in surprise at her nonchalant words.
“…E-erm…you say, if it’s with Mizuto, because …”
“To be honest, it’s because of the face.”
Madoka-san said so blatantly, “Nihihi” and she giggled.
“After all, that face is really cute~you might not notice if you’re just in the same class, but living together, you’ll definitely notice his good looks. Furthermore, you haven’t felt much stress living together with him, Yume-chan, so it shows he doesn’t have any personality problems. Now then you’ll be all the more concerned about him, and at this point, even his minor flaws can become an advantage. Is there any maiden out there who can overcome the superiority of ‘I’m the only one in this world who knows how good he is’?”
……I was speechless.
I was too familiar with it.
It wasn’t possible, but I felt that if Higashira-san was next to me, she too would be speechless.
“I think the same applies for Mizuto-kun. He does have a pretty girl in Yume-chan living with him…it’s really amazing.”
“Amazing as in what…?”
“I can’t tell you until you’re 18~♪”
I could feel my ears heat up, and I sank to my mouth in the hot water, blowing bubbles.
I hadn’t encountered any fatally awkward situations in the past four months…but even he would have that side to him, huh?
…He would. He had some erotic books after all.
After all, it’s not like we never went through any dangerous situations.
But…that was when we started off living together.
That’s because we weren’t used to living together back then.
That’s because—we hadn’t met Higashira-san.
“…Actually, even without me…Mizuto will be fine.”
I pulled my mouth out from the hot water, and said the obvious truth.
“After all…he has a girl who’s closer to him.”
“Ahh, that girl, Higashira-chan? I heard that. She’s his ex-girlfriend or something, and she’s been visiting your house since summer vacation started..”
“Well, the thing about this ex-girlfriend is that it’s just mom and uncle Mineaki’s misunderstanding…”
“Really? Then what is the relationship?”
“Higashira-san is a female friend of Mizuto…she confessed to him before, and he rejected her.”
“Ahh~, I get it I get it. So they returned to being friends, right? So she’s such a type ~.”
“Such a type?”
“It’s rare, but there are~ those who jump being friendship and love. It’s infuriating to those love rivals though, like ‘can’t you just back off when you’re dumped~!’ or something like that.”
“N-no…Higashira-san didn’t do anything wrong…”
“That’s more troublesome…anyway, you just admitted to being a love rival, didn’t you?”
“No, I’m not …!”
“Don’t play dumb.”
Madoka-san grinned impishly,
“If only they could have been just friends from the beginning, right? I’m sure there’s someone out there meddling in her love life..”
“……Sorry, that was me……”
“Your relationships are getting more and more complicated..”
Madoka-san murmured as she crossed her arms, lifting her large breasts.
“I see~. You just supported her not too long ago, so you aren’t really being aggressive…”
“…No, to be honest, I don’t think there’s a need to be so aggressive.”
“But do you feel a little restless when you see her next to Mizuto-kun?”
That’s just—an unrequited feeling.
It’s just a lingering possessiveness I had from when we were dating.
“…Maybe I’ll understand more if Higashira-san’s confession succeeded …”
“Yume-chan, you’ve been looking for excuses all this while.”
Madoka-san continued to support her head off her elbow, but her tone was a little harsher.
“You say that if only Mizuto-kun has a good girl next to him, but that’s just an excuse, right? You’re basically saying that you don’t have to fall for Mizuto-kun yourself—”
Have to like him—
“This is just my guess, you know? But just hear me out…I think to you, the most important person is your mother, Yume-chan, right?”
“Yep. I think you’ve very little self-esteem, Yume-chan. That’s why you end up trying to hold back all the time. You didn’t want Yuni-san and uncle Mineaki to break up, that’s what you’re thinking, and you feel that you shouldn’t be dating Mizuto-kun. It’s not like I don’t understand. In this world, some companies wouldn’t allow for office romances, and a family romance might be so troublesome.”
Well, I don’t have a non blood-related sibling though, Madoka-san quipped.
“But Yume-chan, there’s a time limit to your excuses and lies.”
“I guess it’s hard to notice when it’s family, but I’m sure ‘that time’ will come. When it does, you won’t be able to use uncle Mineaki and Yuni-san as an excuse. Until then, Yume-chan, either you or Mizuto-kun has to draw a clear line.”
Once she said that so confidently, the question naturally popped up.
“What do you mean…’that time’? What will happen then?”
“Hm~…let’s leave this as a surprise for ‘that day’.”
Again there was a mischievous smile before me.
“I always wanted to try out such vague words.”
The ‘time’ when I could no longer keep it vague and deceptive.
I couldn’t imagine it at this moment.
But it wasn’t like Madoka-san said it so baselessly—I just hadn’t realized it. It’s clear to anyone that time will come…that’s what I felt.
“So, it’s the same logic as your summer vacation homework. It’s easier to clear it off nice and cleanly before the deadline.”
Madoka-san raised her chest and stretched back, as though she was flaunting her chest,
“So until ‘that time’ comes, why don’t you forget about your family and friends first, and think of what you really want?”
“But…how do I do this …”
“It’s simple. If your heart races when you’re with someone, or like whether you want to kiss him, doesn’t that mean you like him?”
“…But well, what’s the difference from lust?”
At that moment, I realized how reluctant I was being.
I immediately continued on, as though I was trying to protect something unknown.
“Basically, isn’t part of love born out of a desire to breed? So what’s the difference with having a racing heart, and getting all horny?”
“Oho, you just mentioned a really troublesome question…hm~, the idea of love isn’t the same as breeding. If it’s as what you say, gay love is invalidated.”
“As for what’s the difference between love and lust…well, it’s a question that troubled humanity for thousands of years. Let me give you my answer first though—”
Madoka-san put her head onto the arm resting on the edge of the bathtub,
She showed a mischievous smile—and muttered as though it was a bedroom voice.
“—Well, after I did it with my boyfriend, I had a look at his face, and still felt that I like him, you know?”
I couldn’t help but recall how we failed when mom and uncle Mineaki weren’t at home in the beginning, when Mizuto pushed me down—at that moment, I got so hot, I couldn’t feel the heat of the bath.
“Nihihihi! Seems like it’s a little too stimulating~?”
And with a splash, Madoka-san stood up from the bath.
Water droplets fell from her ample bosom onto the bathtub like falling rain.
“I don’t need you to get your answer immediately. I just said ‘let’s finish this nice and cleanly’, right? In that case—let’s start by not avoiding him for the time being!”
“E-even if you say that …”
I wouldn’t have to suffer so much if I could do that.
Nihi, Madoka-san heard that, and giggled once again.
But this time, her laugh felt as delightful as an angel blowing the trumpet, harking the end.
“It’s fine. Leave it to this big sister!”
“Wait here for the time being then!”
Madoka-san said, and pulled the shoji shut.
After we took the bath, I was led by Madoka-san into a gaudy looking room.
It seemed to be an empty room, with only a desk, a chest of drawers, and an empty bookshelf —though it seemed to have been cleaned well, judging from the lack of dust on the tatami.
There are so many people staying in the house, yet there are still empty rooms…it sure is one large mansion
There was an old white light on the ceiling, but it wasn’t lit.
There was no string hanging down, so I rubbed my arm over my cardigan and looked for the light switch.
It’s summer, but the nights get cold here, so make sure to take precautions—given what Madoka-san told me, I wondered if my body would get cold if I stayed for long?
It seems she’s planning to mediate between Mizuto and me…
Ah, found it.
I pressed the switch on the wall.
…But the light bulb on the ceiling didn’t look like it would glow.
In that case, the only light source in this room seemed to be the moonlight shining through the shoji.
“—Over here, over here.”
And then two silhouettes appeared under the moonlight.
One of them was Madoka-san.
And the other…was probably Mizuto.
“Sorry~ to get you to do this!”
“…I’m here anyway. I don’t mind.”
“Thanks~! You should be able to find it soon!”
It seemed Madoka-san dragged Mizuto here on the pretext of finding something.
As expected of Madoka-san, nice going.
…He wouldn’t listen to me if I talked to him, but he always listened readily to Madoka-san.
“Here, come in come in!”
The shoji opened.
Mizuto raised his eyebrows slightly once he saw me stand in the room.
But Madoka-san nudged him in the back, and forced him onto the tatami.
“I think it’s in the Tansu over there! Do look for it with Yume-chan! Please continue!”
Mizuto gave a vague reply, didn’t even give me a glance anymore and proceeded to the pointed Tansu.
The mood’s really awkward.
You could at least say hello.?
—I strongly resisted the urge to lash out, and went to the same Tansu.
At this moment.
“—Ah! Owowow! Owowowowowowow~~~!!”
I heard a ridiculously fake groan, turned my head around, and saw Madoka-san hold her tummy.
“M-my stomach hurts~. I-I’ll be off to the toilet ~.”
And while we’re flabbergasted, Madoka-san left the room, and closed the shoji.
And then she yelled at us while we’re in the room.
“I won’t be back in thirty minutes! The uncles and aunties won’t be coming near here too~~~~! And don’t, don’t leave this room until I come back~~! That’s!”
That’s it! I could hear fleeting footsteps unbefitting of someone with a tummy ache, and Madoka-san fled the scene.
A painful silence engulfed the dark room that was lit only by the moonlight.
I had only one thought.
Allow me to take back the ‘As expected of Madoka-san’. This was such a flimsy setting! Even Higashira-san would have cared for us a little better!
Surprisingly, Madoka-san…wasn’t someone who could really lie.
“…Haa. So that’s it…”
Mizuto let out a sigh, and slotted back the book he had just drawn out into the tansu.
He probably realized that what Madoka-san spoke of was just an excuse to get him here.
Mizuto took his cell phone out of his pocket and checked the time. There was no clock set in this room.
After checking the time, he went to the brighter side of the shoji, and started fiddling with his phone.
It seemed he had no intention to go along with this setting Madoka-san prepared.
“…You’re not going to say anything?”
In this quiet space, I looked over to Mizuto.
“That’s your problem, right?”
He looked back at his phone.
“It’s not like you need me to take care of everything for you.”
It’s infuriating, but he’s right.
Back when we were dating, we probably could have compromised to maintain our relationship.
But then, we ended up in this unbreakable relationship as siblings.
There was no reason for us to lower our heads to each other.
He’s clearly implying that I should start the conversation.
But I—didn’t know.
I didn’t know what I should say.
I didn’t know what was the issue in me, and how I should resolve it.
It’s my third day at this house.
On the first day, in the old study, I knew of his roots for the first time.
On the second day, I had fun with my relatives, and felt that I could find my place in the family.
And then on the third day…I realized how petty I was.
Yeah. I was such a person.
I was such a negative, cowardly, intolerant, and small-minded person.
Surely Mizuto was fed up with me.
After all, our breakup in middle school was directly caused by how ridiculously petty I was.
No matter how much I remembered, I only remembered the wrongs I did. My incompetence, my incomprehension, my bad attitude, my bad response—in hindsight, I was in this state because everything was all self-inflicted.
And because I was such a person—my feelings lingered till today even though I should have long forgotten about them.
—Ahh, so that’s it?
Somehow, I started to understand.
I finally understood what the problem was, and how to fix it.
I understood what I had to say to him now.
But I needed courage.
I needed more courage than when I talked to Mizuto while he was reading, or when I touched upon his roots.
Because this was basically me cutting my wounds open.
It was akin to forcibly ripping off a wound that wasn’t healed completely, a scab over my heart.
But if I, or we, were to put our past behind and look to the future—
—I needed to accept this wound called the first love.
I went to Mizuto by the wall, and sat down before him.
Mizuto didn’t look up from his phone.
And because of that—I made up my mind, and said the name I couldn’t have used again.
The fingers fiddling the phone stopped.
A perturbed gaze looked at my face.
I should have faced him head on.
I should have confronted him.
I shouldn’t have acted like I was enlightened, like I was over the feelings festering in the bottom of my heart.
After all, I couldn’t possibly ignore the feelings, even if I wanted to.
“Irido-kun. Irido-kun. Irido-kun.”
I really—wanted to call him as such.
Any many times as I wanted.
A year and a half was way too short.
How I wished to spend that summer vacation with you.
And the second Christmas, and the second Valentine’s.
And the third, fourth, fifth…
I wanted to be with you more, always—
My lips quivered, and so did my voice.
But I didn’t call him enough.
I called him so many times, but it’s not enough, not at all—
Let’s break up.
When I first heard these words from him, I felt a load off my shoulders.
It’s finally over.
This pain, this sadness, this loneliness was finally about to be over.
That was what I…truly felt back then.
What could have been flashed in my mind.
The time that could have happened appeared in my mind.
The memories that could be created filled every corner of my mind.
Surely I would be happy.
Surely I would be blessed.
No matter how painful, sad, lonely to the point where I felt heartbreak, if I could exchange that moment.
——If only we hadn’t broken up to begin with.
I regretted it.
Ever since we broke up, ever since we became stepsiblings, I clearly―regretted, for the first time.
There were so many ways to resolve such arguments.
As long as we wanted to, it’s far too easy to realize our own feelings.
If I continued to play with him, to be with him.
If one side actually backed down, and made a phone call during summer vacation.
If we had prepared presents for Christmas.
If we had made chocolates for Valentine’s.
If one had refused to accept the breakup.
There were so many chances.
Yet I let all these chances slip.
I always thought the kind Irido-kun could settle it…I was so foolish, yet so hopeful…
I was a fool. I was really a fool.
New class, new friends, studying for exams, these were all excuses I made for myself.
What I really wanted was something else altogether.
And because I always chose to run away, I ended up twisting myself, and ended up in such an ugly state.
I don’t care if you don’t answer. I’m just getting closure on my own.
I don’t care if you don’t answer. I can move forward if I can get over these feelings.
I don’t care if you don’t answer. You’re right, there’s no reason for you to do so.
That’s why I can’t cry. That’ll cause you sympathy.
That’s why I can’t cry. If he consoled me, I’ll be back to how I was before.
That’s why I can’t cry.
The person who would wipe my tears―was abandoned by none other than me.
For a moment, I thought I hallucinated.
After all…he never addressed me like this.
But at the next moment, he gently put his fingers on my cheek, and I knew it was reality.
“…Just this once.”
Mizuto knelt down on one leg, and was within touching distance.
“Let’s go back to the past…for now, Ayai.”
Behind him, on the tatamis, was a phone that was switched off.
There was no clock in this room.
The phone was the only thing to check the time with.
As for what year, month, day, day of the week it was―
―Neither Mizuto nor I knew.
I whimpered―and then.
I embraced Mizuto with all my might.
“Irido-kun――Irido-kun, Irido-kun, Irido-kun――!!”
izuto gently answered my call, and gently patted my back.
I guessed I could apologize at this point if I wanted to.
I could have told him, sorry for being so strangely jealous, sorry for not getting along with you, and so on.
Just…let me redo this one year.
But neither I, nor he, did so.
After all…it’s all over.
Everything and anything, was over.
After all, a lot of things could begin only after others were over.
I couldn’t pretend that…nothing happened over the past year.
I started to understand how Higashira-san felt when I consoled her after she was rejected.
The wound of pus that was this lingering regret.
Only those in the same boat could heal the wounds.
The one I should sympathize with wasn’t Higashira-san―
―There’s only one person, and that’s Irido-kun.
Under the moonlight, we embraced, and didn’t break apart.
We didn’t kiss.
It’s all because I was the ex-girlfriend, and he was the ex-boyfriend.
“About 5 minutes more.”
Mizuto muttered as he looked at the phone that was switched on.
There’s another five minutes left till the thirty minutes Madoka-san declared.
Well, it wouldn’t be surprising if she was to return a few minutes earlier, or later, given her horrible acting…
I was a little tired from crying, leaned my back on the wall, and looked into the hand mirror.
Woah…my eyes are really red…
Someone would have known that I had just cried. Is there any way to deal with this…
Mizuto, seated next to me, put his elbows on his knees as he said.
“What do you dislike so much that you avoid me? I still don’t get it.”
Ah…speaking of which, I hadn’t mentioned it.
To Mizuto, I was the girl who suddenly started calling him in the old manner and cried.
…It’s amazing he could still deal with this.
Is he an esper? You understand me too well.
And this is―yes, what I liked about you.
Though it’s in the past.
“…Nothing really. I digested it.”
“I haven’t digested yet. My stomach’s all rumbling.”
“Can’t you just let it out?”
“I’m constipated. I’m stressed because of a certain person.”
I really hated this part about him. Always.
I exhaled softly, looked towards the dim ceiling, and made up my mind.
“I thought your first love was Madoka-san…and somehow it pissed me off.”
Ah goodness, it’s embarrassing!
Don’t make me explain my black history to you!
I wondered how he would take me as a fool, and glanced aside at him.
Mizuto frowned with surprise, and tilted his head.
“First love…? Madoka-san? Me?”
Wait…he’s really confused?
“I don’t remember liking Madoka-san.”
“Bu-but I thought guys often like older sisters amongst their relatives and such…”
“That’s just most of the time.”
“No wait…r-right. Aren’t you always obedient to Madoka-san!? You always ignored me when I asked you!”
“That’s because Madoka-san’s too forceful.”
Mizuto looked dumbfounded as he sighed.
“Weren’t you also shut in this room for no good reason?”
“Madoka-san’s the relative who’s closest to me in age, and it’s true she always took care of me in the past, but I never liked her. I found her annoying since she always pesters me.”
Though I’m used to it now, or so Mizuto said.
“I thought you were asking weird questions yesterday, but I didn’t think it would be about such misunderstandings…say, your basic specs are decent, but why are your screws always loose at the critical moment?”
I couldn’t make a sound.
This was completely my fault.
Msst, I could hear footsteps from afar.
Maybe Madoka-san had returned.
Mizuto stood up, basked under the moonlight, and looked down at me.
“You alright, Yume?”
He seemingly emphasized the manner in which he called me, and I answered.
“Yes, don’t worry, Mizuto.”
We addressed each other by name not because we got closer.
It’s just because we had the same family name
What drove this evolution of terminology was simply so boring.
For some reason, I found it strangely funny.
Maybe it’s because I realized after all these years.
We’re at this age, and I finally had such an old family member―and.
“…See. Didn’t I tell you?”
Mizuto suddenly muttered, and I looked up to see my little stepbrother hear the approaching footsteps by the shoji, as though hiding something.
“―Didn’t I say my first love was someone who liked to smile…you idiot?”
At that moment.
I was utterly grateful that the bulb in the room couldn’t light up.