A summary thus far.
I messed up.
“—Say, where’s the cup that was here?”
“What? I took it to the sink.”
“Huh? I was still going to use it. …”
“How would I know? Your fault for just leaving it around.”
See? It’s a conversation that happened between a boy and a girl after they kissed.
We’re used to each other these days. Everything’s supposed to be calm. Next thing you know, we’re back on bad terms.
How did this happen?
No. I know. I know. Wait a sec, okay? I just tried to hide my embarrassment, just a little! I just thought it would be embarrassing to admit why I kissed him, so I just tried to reject my own reality and escape! But…!
And then, after that happened with Higashira-san, I felt I barely managed to fool him about that kiss~ and then before I realized it, this happened. Mizuto became more prone to anger compared to before the summer vacation, and I couldn’t help but be spiteful in my words.
Uuu~…! No. No. No…! It’s the exact opposite of what I wanted to do~…!
I wanted to approach Mizuto like a little devil, make him embarrassed, get him to act a little more suspicious. ~!
How should I go back to that time… Do I explain to him that I was just hiding my own embarrassment? Right now? No way! How am I supposed to act like a little devil?
I sat on the sofa in the living room. Inside the kitchen, Mizuto poured water into his cup from the water purification pot.
Anyway, I had to stop with the spiteful reactions. It’s my spinal reflexes that got me into trouble. Right. I’m a woman who learns. I’m good at the PDCA cycle—
Thud! There was a loud sound. I spun around in shock.
Mizuto looked down at the floor with a frown,
I got up and went to see. The lid of the water purification pot fell off, and the water was spilled all over the kitchen floor.
The pot was made of plastic. It’s not broken. Maybe it’s not my fault…
Mizuto grabbed a rag and crouched down. I move closer to help him.
I was interrupted by a hard voice,
“Don’t come any closer. I can do this alone.”
I stood there. I couldn’t do anything,
… that’s it…?
He hated me that much? Really?
Oh it’s true. It’s damn true. We broke up once. But, didn’t we want to patch up, both of us?
And now, did he hate me so much?
Was the old me that different …?
Mizuto finished wiping the wet floor, refilled the water purification pot, and put it back into the fridge.
And then. He didn’t say a word. He just walked right past me.
I turned around and saw Mizuto’s back while he left the living room.
For some reason… he looked pale, huh?
My thoughts were in a mess.
My body ached all over.
My throat felt really dry deep inside, and I had difficulty just breathing.
All in all, I think I had a cold.
I returned to my room with much difficulty, and immediately collapsed onto the bed.
It’s been a long time… How long has it been since I last had a cold?
Did I get a virus in the countryside? …. I knew I shouldn’t have gone to the festival…
…She probably wasn’t infected by me, right …?
I snuggled into my bed to try and fight off the crawling feeling on my lips.
Anyway. Let’s go to bed. That should cure it.
That’s what I always did when I had a cold, ever since I was a kid.
… So cold…,
I woke up to a cool sensation on my forehead.
While in a daze, I checked on my condition. My throat still hurt, and I still felt sluggish. Seemed like I needed more sleep.
I need to get better as soon as possible. I was about to surrender myself to sleep again, but then a question popped up just in time.
What’s the cold thing on my forehead?
It felt like a cooling pad, but I didn’t remember using that.
I slowly opened my eyelids.
In my blurry vision. I saw a familiar face,
She noticed that I opened my eyes, brushed her long black hair behind her ears, and peered into my face.
“Are you okay?”
She asked me as though we’re a normal family. I thought I was still sleeping.
Because, well, yeah.
I didn’t know what bothered her about me. Recently, she’s been scowling before me, and too lazy to approach me…but at this moment, it’s like she’s worried about me…
“Anything you want? I got some isotonic drinks.”
“Hmm. Can you get up?”
I slowly got up, Yume poured the isotonic sports drink into a glass with a straw and held it up to my lips.
“…I can drink it by myself…”
“It’s all for nothing if you spill it all over. Just behave.”
Even then, I propped the cup in Yume’s hand. And put the straw in my mouth. The sweet, cold drink reached the back of my throat.
“You could have told me…that you’re having a hard time.”
Yume said in a dumbfounded tone.
“What if it’s a really terrible flu? It’s summer vacation…”
“… Shut up ….”
“What? I’m not even allowed to take care of you?”
As I was feverish, I didn’t filter the words coming out of my mouth.
“…I was…scared …”
That’s when I run out of steam. And put my head back onto the pillow.
A few words and I was tired …
“Are you going to sleep? How’s your temperature? Did you test it?”
I couldn’t even say that, and fell into a deep sleep.
…He fell asleep…
I looked at Mizuto’s face while he breathed quietly in his sleep. Left without a choice, I took a thermometer,
And then. Slowly. I put my hand on the button of Mizuto’s clothes,
I had no choice. I had no choice…I wasn’t planning anything lewd. Not at all…!
I popped the button off. That white collarbone and chest entered my eyes, and blood came gushing up to my face. He’s ill right now! Calma! Calma…!
I’m going to put a thermometer under his armpits… I always thought he wasn’t the hairy type, but I never thought he didn’t even have any armpit hair…,
Pipipipipi. A sound rang, signalling the end of the the measurement
I came to my senses. I pulled out the thermometer from Mizuto’s armpit. Ah, that was dangerous…I nearly kissed him, not because I wanted to stare at a sleeping invalid without permission. I must control myself. Control. Control…
The number indicated wasn’t exactly low or high. If that’s the case, a night’s rest should be fine.
If this kept up for days, I wouldn’t be confident enough to exercise enough restraint. It’s not exactly a good thing to realize my true feelings…
I fixed Mizuto’s clothes, averting my eyes with a strong will. I took a deep breath, and looked at Mizuto’s sleeping face.
—I was…scared …
What was he scared about…was I too harsh on him? Did he have to talk about me even in my sleep…? Ngggghhhh…!
…I wasn’t trying to act tough against him or something.
But basically, our relationship had already changed. Yesterday, today, suddenly, we couldn’t just change it like that. Whenever we met, we just naturally trash talked each other, and if someone said something, the other would talk back. That’s the normal distance between us now.
I knew that just because I wanted to, it didn’t mean that we could return to the past.
No, I shouldn’t return to the past, for it would just be a repeat of the past.
Just as I fell in love with him in this state—I too hoped he would fall for me in my current state.
I knew it’s a tall order, but…we couldn’t be lovers if we couldn’t go this far.
We’re still stepsiblings until we become lovers.
I tried to go on a date, but I just couldn’t get used to it. Our situation wouldn’t allow for it to happen.
…But, I didn’t know what to do.
If I actually told him forthright, he might be wary of me. How much trust did he lose in me?
If I didn’t do anything, would he fall for me, and then confess on his own…
…I felt like I regressed to a state worse than when I was in middle school, let alone grow up.
“…Maybe I’ll make some ojiya.”
I’ve never made it before, but I should be able to figure something out if I searched for a recipe.
I got up and left Mizuto’s room for the time being.
I knew immediately that I was dreaming.
“Can I get you some water? Do you want me to feed you?”
There is no sarcasm or irony from Yume Irido while she took care of me like a mom, and the only thing I felt was compassion, not asking anything in return.
It could never happen in reality. It’s a bone chilling hallucination.
“Shall I take your temperature? Alright. Lift your arm.”
—-What’s she doing?
Even if she did, the outcome’s the same. No matter how nice she was to me, how close we got, it’s the little things that ruined us in the end, right?
At their core, people are the same. Me and you, we haven’t changed much. It’s going to happen again. There will be times when we won’t agree to what the other does. When that happens, who’s going to break first? Who’s going to be the accepting one? —Surely neither of us would.
We couldn’t adapt as easily as Higashira.
We just drag on and on and on. We let our emotions pull us down. We’re stubborn, self-conceited—and the next thing we knew, we’re stuck.
Then we’re just… stepsiblings. Isn’t that good?
We’re finally about to let bygones be bygones.
I was finally able to let go of the feelings that bound me.
…But why did we have to do such an unnecessary thing?
I was sick of it.
I thought that things were going well, but they weren’t. I thought she was happy, but she was disappointed.
The tomorrow that would be the same like today would never come.
There was never a moment of calm.
…And yet. In the end, it will burst like a bubble and go to waste.
Love’s just a passing fancy.
It’s an adolescent’s dream. A nightmare.
—I had enough of such suffering.
I opened my eyelids absentmindedly, and could only hear the clock tick away.
There was no one beside the bed.
There’s only an isotonic drink on the side table.
I slowly raised myself up.
I stretched my elbows. The pain in my joints had subsided considerably. The queasiness rattling around in my head was gone. It’s not as bad as it was before I fell asleep. I was sweating a little, and my metabolism had revived. My throat still hurts though… it seemed the virus was about to be eradicated.
I drank a glass of isotonic drink to wash away the residue of the cold, and got up from the bed.
I didn’t really intend to do anything in particular. I just had enough sleep.
I left the room, walked down the stairs, and heard movement in the living room,
I opened the door.
“Let’s see. A large scoop of salt…how much is large!?”
Standing inside the kitchen was a clunker.
She had an apron over her indoor clothes, and tied her long hair in a ponytail so that it wouldn’t get in the way. Well, that appearance would seem reliable by itself. The manner in which she frowned and stared at the heap of salt on the measuring spoon made her no different from a kid having a first cooking class.
“One large scoop… should be like this, right? Whatever, should be fine.”
“That’s not fine.”
I was able to grab her hand and stop her right when she was about to toss in the heap of salt into the pot.
Yume turned around and blinked away at me.
“A tablespoonful doesn’t mean that. It means a flat spoonful. You learned that in home economics, didn’t you?”
“Eh… ah, really …?”
I let go of Yume’s hand, washed my hands in the sink and flattened off the excess salt, and poured it into the simmering pot.
There’s rice simmering in the pot, and I saw an egg next to the stove. Apparently, she was going to make rice ojiya.
“…Don’t do something you’re not used to while I’m sleeping. What if a fire breaks out?”
“I-I’m not that bad at cooking! I did help cook rice once in a while! I should be able to do that much by myself!”
“That’s true. You didn’t even know how to cook rice until I taught you.”
Yume turned away and looked elsewhere, her lips pursed unhappily.
“…Give me credit for trying. Anyway, it’s for your sake too…”
I side-eyed Yume.
“Is your idea of care to make the sick worry?”
Yume growled like a kid and glared at me. “You sarcastic man. You should’ve been a little weaker,” that’s what her face clearly stated.
Yep. That’s how it should be.
I cut my gaze to Yume, and opened the vegetable compartment of the fridge.
“Rice and eggs aren’t nutritious enough, right? Add some green onions.”
I took out a green onion, and put it on the cutting board.
“Ah…! I’ll do it…! You’re not cured yet, right? ”
“More or less. The illness will come back if I eat this salt mine of an ojiya though.”
“But that’s different from getting sick.”
“Beat the egg then. You can do that at least, right?”
“… I get it! Okay! Looks like you’re alright when you can bicker like this! I’ll do it I’ll do it! I’ve been practicing!”
Yume tapped the raw egg at the sink, tilted her head to see the crack, and tapped it again and again—and of course, she used too much force. She nearly broke it, so I had to rush over and remove the egg shells.
I chopped the green onions while she watched. If I let this clumsy fool touch a knife, my condition would worsen.
I poured the egg in a circular motion, added the chopped green onions as I desired. The ojiya was ready.
I was about to take the pot. “You dropped the pot just now, didn’t you?,” Yume said, and basically snatched it from me… Well, it’s true that I couldn’t say I was completely recovered. Maybe I was weaker than I thought, and given the potential danger. I decided to leave it to her.
I put a potholder on the dining room table, and Yume put the pot on it. She took bowls and a ladle for us, and we sat down across the pot.
“You’re going to eat too?”
“I want to see how it turned out.”
It’s still bright outside, but it’s already 7pm, almost dinner. To a healthy person, Ojiya wouldn’t be enough for dinner—so she’s been so busy with me that she never got to eat?
Yume didn’t ask for my opinion, and scooped the Ojiya into two bowls. “Ah, I forgot the chopsticks…maybe a spoon should do?” she muttered, quickly scampered off to retrieve spoons, and put them before us.
I obediently clapped my hands together, and scooped the yellow Ojiya with the spoon.
I foolishly tried to put it in my mouth, and naturally, I looked up, frowning.
“It-It tastes better when it’s hot.”
So I argued back as I huffed at the Ojiya to cool it.
I guess it’s because I was hungry—and I realized something, but I didn’t want to think any more about it. There’s no point imagining the sight of a woman who couldn’t really cook while I was starving.
Yume slowly put the spoon in her mouth and savored the Ojiya.
I let the Ojiya cool as I blew off the steam. I chewed on the egg-covered grains of rice for a few seconds,
“The rice seems watery. Did you add too much water?”
“…Well. It’s okay since it’s ojiya.”
I took a second bite. Fortunately, I had a bigger appetite than usual.
Yume looked at me with a surprised look as I moved the spoon again and again…and then she gave a relieved smile.
“We cooked together. We ate together…”
While I took a second serving from the pot, Yume suddenly muttered something absent-mindedly,
“…I guess that’s how it feels to get married? ”
I glanced at her face and muttered,
“I don’t think it’ll be much different from now though?”
“We’re living under the same roof, and we have the same family name.”
“I guess that’s true. … hmm?”
Yume suddenly tilted her head,
“That was ….”
“No. … erm.”
Yume’s cheeks were slightly flushed, and her gaze drifted to the table top.
“Did we just talk… assuming that we’re about to get married or something…?”
“Hmm? … Ah.”
My head was dull compared to usual, and I finally recognized what I said,
“…It’s your fault for saying this when we’re alone. You got a problem, go get a boyfriend—”
The denial was biting. I couldn’t help but stammer.
Opposite the table, Yume stared at the empty bowl.
“I don’t … want that.”
“…What do you mean by that—”
“—What do you think it means??”
She shot an upward gaze. It’s a probing look.
I felt like it shot through my body, and something was stuck deep inside my throat. I couldn’t talk for the time being.
Yume chuckled teasingly,
“I see. I’m starting to understand … a little better.”
“What’s that about…?”
“Nothing? I just had a really cool boyfriend in middle school, so other boys don’t really measure up to him, you know?”
She grinned away like a mischievous kid who just pulled off a prank.
Wait, did she just… tease me?
By this, high school rookie who only had her grades to show for it?
“Why don’t you get some sleep after you finish eating? You’re not thinking straight.”
“… Will do.”
Yeah. My brain’s not working. If I could get rid of the virus in my body, I wouldn’t have fallen for her jokes.
… What the hell was she planning, seriously.
She’s not being uppity like usual, nor was she showing affection like she used to.
She’s like—a different person,
I watched Mizuto head upstairs, let out a long sigh, and lazily slumped back against the back of the chair.
I was pretty much at my limit.
If I didn’t wrap it up by saying it was a joke, I wouldn’t be able to express my feelings.
And also…It was a little fun.
I couldn’t help but giggle away while I thought about how Mizuto’s still thinking about my provocative words and attitude.
This is a woman. The joys of being an adult woman.
After all, I grew up. The me in middle school wouldn’t be able to come up with such a grand masterplan—.
“Yume? What are you smiling about all by yourself?”
And before I knew it, mom returned and talked to me, scaring me straight.
“…is it true that people recover by passing their illness to others?”
Again I had a dream.
I knew at first sight. She’s just a smart aleck of a clunker who thought she’s smarter than she was. How could she possibly come at me with this alluring smile…if she’s trying to bluff me, that’s a poor effort from her.
I brushed away the looming smile and lips, and tried to regain consciousness.
Darkness falls before my eyes. I waited a moment, and then realized I hadn’t opened my eyes.
Ahh, I’m just too simple-minded for my own good.. How could I possibly have such a ridiculous dream just because I got teased? There’s no way she could attack me while I was sleeping? Even when we were dating, she never actually took the initiative to kiss me…
I laughed dumbfoundedly in my mind, and slowly opened my eyelids. It’s probably late at night. I might not be able to sleep properly since I had a long nap during the day. How should I spend my time? Speaking of which, I still had books I hadn’t read—
I thought I was still dreaming. I really doubted.
I opened my eyelids and saw Yume’s face in front of me, her eyelids closed. It’s true.
The tiny breath escaped from Yume’s lips, and brushed my lips.
Yume’s face approached mine, her hair hanging behind her right ear. She’d know I was awake if I turned my head away. So all I could do was squint my eyes at her.
I was reminded of the night of the summer festival in the countryside.
Yes. There was once. That’s one of the few times she took the initiative to kiss me.
… No. That’s not it. She just lost her balance.
So what’s this? She’s losing her balance again? That’s just a coincidence, right? That’s impossible! Calm down! What if this keeps happening over and over again? And we just forgive each other… and let it go all go…we’re family living under the same roof. How many chances do we get to be alone? If we take that step, we’re—
—Yume suddenly pulled her face away.
The oppressive feeling suddenly disappeared. It was as if I’d been left behind,
I squinted down and saw Yume looking down at me. When I hurriedly pretended to be asleep, Yume chuckled to herself,
“If it’s contagious and curable, getting infected isn’t something to be scared of.”
Yume muttered deceitfully—and slipped out of the room.
I couldn’t hear her footsteps anymore, and immediately stood up.
The cooling pad fell off from my forehead and landed on the blanket.
I stared at it for a while for a while.
Like hell it was!
Who are you joking with!? No one was looking at you! Even a clown would shut up when alone!
I was mostly recovered, just that my throat was a little dry and aching. I had a new symptom though. I was dizzy and light-headed,
I didn’t know.
I really didn’t know
What should…I do?
“—Ah, Mizuto-kun, you’re awake.”
The door of the room opened. Yuni-san poked her head in.,
She walked into the room, and sat down on the chair Yume had been sitting on earlier.
“How are you feeling? Better now?”
“Yes. Well… pretty much.”
“You’re so young. I wish I could have done things a mother would have done, but too bad, I didn’t get a chance to perform…”
I looked at my watch. It was almost midnight. I guessed I slept about three to four hours… Yuni-san said she didn’t have to act this time, so did she return home that late?
“Actually—ah, keep this a secret from Yume, okay?”
Yuni-san said happily, holding up her index finger to hush me.
“I asked her if I could take care of you. But Yume refused, saying she wanted to do it herself.”
… Taking care of me? By herself?
“She’s tired from doing something she’s not used to. Goodness, Yume really grew up as a responsible child before I knew it~.”
Yuni-san’s words didn’t seem to imply anything else, and she seemed to be genuinely happy with her child’s growth.
But, I just couldn’t accept this.
I didn’t think she acted out of responsibility alone.
…Do you like me or not?
As long as we’re siblings, none of these would matter. No matter whether you like me or hate me—the fact remained that we’re just stepsiblings who used to date each other,
But, if you don’t want it to be just like this, and want it to be something more—
… I was flustered. Bewildered. Restless.
A conflicting mix of happiness and anxiety arose in me.
The only thing I was certain at this moment was.
“Please convey my thanks to her.”
“Ehh~? Can’t you say it yourself?”
“…… It’s embarrassing.”
I looked away and muttered, and Yuni-san blinked away.
“Oh no. I can’t stop grinning. …! Mizuto-kun, aren’t you so cute yourself!”
“… Please stop.”
“Okay. I’ve decided. I’ll never tell! I’ll never say that!”
“If you’re really grateful, say it yourself. Any time, but make sure you say it. ”
“Fufu. Now do I sound like a mother now?”
“That’s the secret to living together. Take this as advice from a bad example who made such a mistake once!”
… It’s hard to understand her. But—
“I get it.”
As the kid, I had no choice but to nod my head in affirmation,
The next morning,
I woke up much later than usual, as I had been with Mizuto until late at night—I knew that he had more or less recovered, and that there’s nothing to worry about, but I guess it’s to repay him for taking care of me back in April…so I thought I should stay with him until the end… And, well, he’s so cute in his sleep.
Mom told me he’s completely recovered, so I went to sleep—until now.
I was in the living room, trying to figure out what to do for lunch, only to hear a creak from the stairs. The door opened.
It was Mizuto in his pajamas,
His head was shaggy from sleeping,
Mizuto glanced at me, walked into the kitchen, poured water from the water purification pot into a glass and gulped it down. His face was completely normal.
I walked up to him.
“Is your fever gone?”
“Are you hungry? I was just about to prepare lunch…”
Mizuto didn’t answer. He took out some frozen fried rice from the fridge, and switched on the microwave.
W-what? Why are you ignoring me? If you’re recovered, I don’t have to worry about catching it, right??
I reached for Mizuto’s shoulder,
He swiftly avoided it, and took a step away from me,
Mizuto took one look at me while my hand was still hanging in the air.
“… Don’t get too close.”
He said softly, and closed the microwave door.
Mizuto stared at the turntable as it started to move, and didn’t say anything.
I look at his sidelong face in amazement.
“….Wh-what was that…?”
I took such good care of him yesterday…! And he’s not grateful to me at all!? “Hmm.”
Mom, relaxing at the dining table, smirked at us.
“…What? Something happened?”
“Who knows? You’ll figure it out someday, won’t you?”
Not someday. Tell me now.
No matter how much I wanted my answer, mom and Mizuto just wouldn’t tell me anything,