Mizuto Irido ◆ The Easiest and best way to do this
In hindsight, it became a good memory now, but I had an existence called a girlfriend between my second and third year of middle school.
The first half of that period could be said to be a relative honeymoon, but for me and her— Yume Ayai, the most surprising thing was probably that day.
The day we told each other our birthdays.
The moment we found out that we were born on the exact same day, we, innocent and oblivious middle school students, felt a terrifying sense of fate.
In Japan, this day was usually a national holiday, but I had no memory of anyone other than my family celebrating it, partly because schools were closed. It suited me well though, because I could spend the whole day with my first girlfriend on our birthday, without being distracted by school.
Truth be told, I didn’t think my birthday was very important.
I often forgot about it until the day arrived—after all, I never remembered my birth, and I barely knew my mother who gave birth to me, so it’s hard to expect me to be aware of it.
That was the only time.
That was the only time in my life that I thought of November 3rd as a special day, when I was in the eighth grade.
On that day, we decided to go on a date and find each other a present. We were both novices at this, and had no experience in giving gifts to other people, so it helped to kill two birds with one stone, since we could naturally decide the theme of the date.
…Later on, I found out that the unimaginably dark-hearted Yume Ayai had kept the erasers and other things I had casually given her as gifts—but that’s another story.
The date on that day was one of the rare instances when it felt like a date, since we usually went to bookstores, libraries and other unglamorous places. We went to a department store that we were unfamiliar with, and we went around happily, used to walking in, and wandered around happily, curious about this and that, and pretending to be lost.
And in the end, we arrived at a bookstore, as usual.
—Oh, this book cover…
What caught Ayai’s eye wasn’t the bookshelf, but a corner where book covers and stationery were displayed.
She peered at a plain pink leather book cover from beyond her glasses.
—Do you want it?
When I asked, Ayai’s eyes wavered as she showed her indecisiveness,
—Hmm…I don’t actually have one, so…I want it, but,
—Erm… you know. The book cover was the first thing that came to mind! But…
—It’s the easiest option …
—We’re the same.
—That was my first thought too, but I thought it would be too easy an option.
Such was the reason why otakus have an overly inflated self-consciousness. All they do is consume, but they go one step further and try to act like writers.
We acted weird, and giggled quietly in a quiet bookstore for a while,
Yume Irido ◆ The Easiest and best way to do this
It is a good memory thinking back about it now, but between my second and third year of middle school, I had something called a boyfriend.
I had a birthday date with that boyfriend. We decided to choose a present for each other, and finally arrived at a bookstore, where we found colorful book covers.
It was the safest gift anyone could think of for a bookworm of a boyfriend.
That’s why back then, that was the first thing that came to mind, and the first choice I eliminated.
It was the intelligent thought process typical of a middle school student. I didn’t want to give him such a simple gift, and I wanted to give him something more tasteful and romantic, something I couldn’t do.
But it seems that he too was the same.
Then, just as I was thinking, he reached out his hand.
Mizuto picked up the pink paperback-sized book cover I was looking at.
—So this is the first thing we’ll be giving each other…huh?
Such moments filled me with happiness, back when I was still a simpleton.
We had the same thoughts.
Our hearts were in sync.
And when I sensed that reality, I was glad that Mizuto Irido was my boyfriend.
—Yes… I…guess. That’s why…
It was only in such instances that I could take a step forward.
I was timid. I was a coward. I hoped he would understand in his heart at this point.
I picked up a black leather book cover and smiled.
—Shall we get matching ones?
Well, to be precise, it was a different color.
Mizuto giggled, and spoke in a silly manner,
—Wow. A pair look.
—Fufu. You don’t like it?
—I’d think it was a bad idea if we’re choosing clothes…but I think books are fine. It’s typical of us.
Since we’re connected by books, our first gifts should be a cover to protect the books.
This really cool reason was a complete afterthought though.
After that, we started to bring matching book covers to school, and use them to read.
They were of different colors, and were unnoticeable. We were the only ones who knew about our pair look.
We would smile discreetly at each other while our classmates failed to notice anything.
We enjoyed ourselves for half a year or so, until we were separated into different classes.
I had no idea—if he continued to use that cover ever since we entered our third year.
Yume Irido ◆The student council of perfect pretty girls(?)
As soon as I entered the room following Senpai and the others, I felt the room quieten down.
Gathered in the conference room were the representatives of the various committees. It’s the second regular meeting of the new student council since its inauguration. I was slightly nervous the first time around, but I knew what to do the second time around, and took my place with ease.
But this time, I had a feeling there were stares on us that weren’t there the first time around.
“…Woah…it’s true…” “See? I told you right? This year’s student council has it bad!” “That’s too high of a level…” “I didn’t realize when I looked from afar, but…”
The room, which had once been calm, was now buzzing around something else.
Everyone probably tried to keep their voices down, but when they’re all saying the same things, the words were louder than expected, and reached my ears.
—This year’s student council is full of beautiful women.
I didn’t know who started this rumor, but it seemed that was the case.
It’s true that President Kurenai is charismatic and feminine, and Asou-senpai is tall and stylish (without knowing the truth), and Asuhain-san is petite, has big tits and a pretty face. It’s not unreasonable to say that I’m part of this group, but I feel ticklish just to be associated.
Also, Haba-senpai, the only male member of the council, was being ignored like the air.
“…Aren’t they frivolous?”
Asuhain-san noted spitefully next to me. She hates boys, and she hates romance, so such gazes were surely annoying to her.
Maybe this was the price of fame. It’s unlike fiction in that the student council was usually just a backroom role that would never draw attention to itself, but President Kurenai’s brilliance might be shining down on us.
“—Isn’t it unfair that she has such good grades?” I’m sure she has a boyfriend too~” “She does seem to have a really vibrant love life~”
…Is that so?
The gossip I overheard reminded me of an incident that happened before the midterms.
My birthday, and Mizuto’s, will be coming up at the beginning of next month.
It’s been more than two months since I resolved to kick the old me out of Mizuto’s mind and let the current me take over, but at this point, I hadn’t made much progress, so there’s no reason for me to let this big event slip.
I must prepare a gift that will surpass my past efforts, and seduce Mizuto!
…So I thought, but I hadn’t come up with any ideas at all.
How was I supposed to think of a present?
The year-long hiatus had completely dulled my romantic ability. I used to have a boyfriend, but I had no idea on what to do. No matter how much I thought back about it, I could only remember the misunderstood dark-hearted woman who was seared in my head, and I couldn’t picture the current Mizuto blushing and flirting.
At this point, I had no choice but to take a sample.
So, when I was alone with President Kurenai and Asou-senpai, I asked them a question.
“Erm…what did you two do for the birthday of the person you like?”
They looked at me with puzzled faces.
“Eh? What’s with that out of the blue, Yumechi? It feels like you have someone you like! I only have Senpai who’s fun to play around with in the palm of my hand. I don’t really have anyone I like.”
“You need a proper premise in your assumptions if you’re going to ask a question, Yume-kun. You’re making it sound as if I have someone I like. All I have is an annoying classmate with abnormally low self-esteem, and I don’t really have anyone I like, you know?”
I wanted to retort, but I barely held back.
“My apologies. I’ll correct my question. Asou-senpai, how did you celebrate Hoshibe-senpai’s? President Kurenai, what about Haba-senpai’s birthday? I’m trying to think of a birthday present for a boy, but I can’t seem to come up with a good idea…”
“Ho-ho~. A birthday present for a boy? And you want to talk to us about it?”
“If that’s the case, I’m more than willing to talk. I’d be delighted if my experience could help the kouhais.”
Ahh, they looked so happy to tell others about their romantic experiences.
To be honest, I had a bad feeling at this point, but I couldn’t say “No, thank you” since I was the one who asked.
“Well then, Suzurin, can I start?”
“Yes. Let’s see what you did.”
The excited Asou-senpai took the lead and folded her hands like a deer in the headlights.
“Senpai’s birthday was in August though~”
Aisa Asou ◆ A one time instance from a Kouhai
It was the middle of summer, and I was alone in my room in the middle of summer, feeling like I was declaring my loss.
I happened to naturally find out about Senpai’s birthday, and I prepared a birthday present for him—everything went well. I even had time to enjoy my fantasy that Senpai, who had little experience with women, would be freaked out the moment I gave this present to him.
…How should I give it to him?
I was stuck. It was August, the middle of summer vacation, and the student council only had a few days of activities, which was why we had few opportunities to meet each other. I could easily get in touch with Senpai through my cell phone, but how should I invite him out for his birthday?
Besides, wanting an appointment on his birthday would basically be confessing my love to him.
No matter how I thought about it, the face of that annoying peer would show up. President Hoshibe is going to retire soon, so you should confess to him while you still can. She’s been annoying recently. No way. That’s impossible. Confessing to Senpai…huh? What if he confesses instead? Maybe I’d think about it.
…Ahh~, how many times have I had this thought? If I don’t do something, I’ll lose the chance, and the gift I bought will remain in the drawer.
“Onee-chan, are you in? …well, woah!? What is your room? Don’t leave your pads lying on the floor.”
“Imouto~! Your onee-chan is facing the biggest crisis of her life!”
“Don’t cling to your little sister who’s four years younger. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
Don’t retort at me like that…! I don’t remember raising you like that!
“It’s about a guy anyway, right? Go get a date or something. Your room will rot at this rate.”
“It’s not that easy! High school is so difficult in various ways!”
“Then go out with whatever you want, onee-chan. You can go out with your friends in class, the student council, you have plenty of company.”
“Hang out with the student council—ah, that’s one way.”
I wasn’t stuck at all. I just couldn’t think because I was in heat(stroke)!
I leapt back to my bed, and with my little sister sighing in the back, sent this message to the student council’s LINE group.
(Let’s go to the pool together!~)
“What are you doing? Sen-pai!”
I tried to sound as calculative as possible as I sat up and peeked at Senpai, who was sleeping on a deck chair.
Someone like me wasn’t scared of swimsuits. My cleavage was perfect, I wasn’t scared of exposing myself, and I had the perfect neckline. I was wearing a pure white bikini, and obviously I was the center of attention at the poolside.
Senpai in his swimsuit was under the shade of the parasol though, playing with his phone without paying attention to me.
“Ah, I thought I got a login bonus. And then I got suckered into doing a mission.”
“That’s what the game committee wants, right?…Here we go.”
“…Oy. Why are you sleeping next to me?”
“I’m taking a break. What’s wrong with that?”
“That’s fine but…”
Pfft, I giggled, and hid my smile behind my loosely clasped hands.
I laid down on the deck chair next to Senpai, and faced him. There was some distance between us, a gap, but when I did this,
“It’s like we’re sleeping together, aren’t we?”
A tad later, Senpai’s mouth twisted with some slight remorse. Did I make you nervous? Did your heart skip a beat? That’s why you’re frustrated, isn’t it, Senpai? Kufufufu.
Senpai’s a blockhead, cold-blooded, and thick-skinned. Since he always has a thick wall built around him, it’s fun to see his defenses crumble like this sometimes. I felt like he was forgiving me, like he was welcoming me into his hard shell and wrapping me up.
Ahh…I wouldn’t be with Senpai anymore soon after.
It’s a long time until graduation… but after the school festival, the student council at ….
…This was the only time.
This day, today, was the only one and only time I could give a birthday present as Senpai and kouhai at the same school.
“—Senpai, do you want me to put sunscreen on you?”
I said as I got up, and Senpai looked at me with a quizzing look.
“What, are you imitating Kurenai and Haba? I don’t want that. I haven’t entered the water much. And anyway, you just want to touch me. Do you want me to sue you for sexual harassment?”
“Mmm. Then let’s go in the water. Come on!”
I pulled Senpai’s arm, got his huge body up, and dragged him to the pool.
“Oy oy oy! You can’t jump in!”
“You’re not the President today. Don’t be so rigid–~!”
I jumped into the water, falling on my back.
White bubbles rose up before my eyes, and in between them, I could see Senpai’s face with his eyes shut tightly. The biggest thought I had at that moment was that I was glad that I could open my eyes without goggles.
I put my arms around Senpai’s neck while his eyes remained shut like a kid, as if I was hugging him tightly.
Immediately after, Senpai’s body rose up and I was pulled up to the surface.
Senpai wiped his face with his big hands and ruffled his wet hair.
And while my hands remained on his shoulders, he looked at me and raised his eyebrows,
“Hey! You didn’t warm up, did you—hm?”
He finally noticed.
He noticed the silver necklace around his neck.
He had tilted your head to the perfect angle.
With the most mischievous smile I could muster, I said.
“Doesn’t it look like a collar, Senpai?”
That necklace was my birthday present to him—
Yume Irido ◆ The Punchline to the Story
I thought there would be some kind of stupid event popping up, but it’s a hundred times better than I imagined, and I was so moved by the story.
“Eh!? Isn’t it great? That’s great! You dragged him into the pool and took the opportunity! Ehhh!? That’s really great!!!”
“Hmph. This is the power of your Master. Respect. Respect. Respect.”
“You really can do it when you have to, Master!”
“Oy oy, you’re making it sound like I don’t really do it.”
It’s such a touching and devilish episode that I accidentally misspoke. Hieee~…th-that’s youth…
I shivered, overwhelmed with emotion while Master was smiling proudly, but President Kurenai was the only one with a blank stare.
“…Isn’t that story missing the punchline?”
President Kurenai had a hand against her cheek as she noted dumbfoundedly,
“After she jumped into the pool, she noticed that the pads spilled out of her swimsuit.”
“~Aah~! ~Aah~Aah~! I don’t know about that, you know~? I don’t remember that part, right~?”
Return my emotions.
I mean, I should have expected that the moment she started.
“Yes! Next is Suzurin’s turn!”
“Good grief…it seems I do have to fulfill my duties as the President here as well. I will have an increased workload if the Vice President can’t be counted on.”
“Shut uppp~…! It’s as annoying as emergency maintenance in a game…!”
President Kurenai smiled confidently and began to speak at ease.
“Joe’s birthday is a rather typical date for him—”
Suzuri Kurenai ◆ No matter where you are to hide in this world
“Last week, right?”
It was early January—after winter break, and I inadvertently froze in my tracks once a question I had casually asked was answered.
“My birthday is January 5th… last week.”
I hadn’t had any annoying sweat trickle down over the past few years until then.
Joe—Jouji Haba is a boy without any real presence. He always blended into the classroom like a backdrop, and in dire situations, the teachers would forget his name.
But that’s just the usual story—no matter how little presence he had, there’s no way he could fool my eyes. I never forgot his existence ever since we entered the same school and the same class. Even though nobody else could remember his existence, I could.
I was supposed to.
I should have known. ‘Anyway, when is your birthday?’ I didn’t need to ask that question. There’s no way I hadn’t seen the information in the student handbook. I had completely let it slip. My brain, which remembered every single lesson contents word for word, had somehow let that little tidbit slip somewhere.
“It’s nothing to worry about.”
He said as a matter of fact.
And with an unconcerned look on his face, he continued,
“My birthday comes right after the first three days of the year, when everyone’s tired of saying ‘Happy New Year’. Even my parents forget too, so it’s to be expected. I’m used to it, so you don’t need to worry about it, Kurenai-san.”
You’re used to it?
It’s to be expected?
How can that be!?
“Joe—your birthday is today, only for this year.”
Joe gave me an astounded look.
“We’re going to buy you a present. Right now!”
From the bus stop closest to the school, we took a bus for several minutes towards the downtown area, and rode for several minutes. We alighted at a busy sidewalk and started walking through the moving crowd.
“Is there anything you want? I’ve got some money saved up from my part-time job. There’s no need to worry about the budget.”
I asked Joe as we walked next to each other, exhaling white breath through my muffler.
Joe, wearing a coat over his uniform, lifts his collar with his left hand,
“Not really…besides, I don’t feel comfortable shopping with the money you earned from your part-time work, Kurenai-san.”
“It’s a gift, you don’t have to worry about it.”
“I think usually, the giver is the one who thinks of what the present is.”
Hmm. Is that so?
“Then, you should give me what I want…fufu, I’ve got a good idea.”
“…I’ve got a bad feeling about this, so for today, I—”
“Whoa. You’re not getting away, are you?”
So he said.
I tangled Joe’s body in my arms.
“I don’t care what anyone says, it’s your birthday. So you owe it to me to celebrate.”
I exerted more strength in my arms, and Joe leaned forward as though he was trying to break away from me.
“…Kurenai-san, just so you know you’re right.”
“Of course. A woman always wants to press her tits against the man she’s in love with, no matter what time of day it is.”
“I’m sure that’s not the case…”
I felt in my chest the embarrassment seeping from his blank expression and the minor movements of his arms.
If he really felt that he was part of the background, he’d have controlled his heartbeat perfectly, no?
“Let’s go then. There’s a nice place around here.”
I looked up at Joe’s blank face from up close, and easily latched my own arm around his.
“Just so you know, this doesn’t count as a gift.”
Joe’s eyes wandered away from me.
After all this trouble, that’s your only reaction? Goodness, you’re really a troublesome fellow.
“You have a presence problem.”
I pick up various pieces of clothing from the rack and place them on Joe’s shoulders.
“It’s one thing to not be naturally good-looking, but you can customize the impression others have of you. If you change your clothes, you can improve that shadow-like appearance a little bit!”
“I think it’s useless though…”
“I’ll take care of it. I’ll get you out of the background.”
Dozens of minutes later.
I stood in front of the changing room, my hands cupping my head.
I was troubled.
He was really troublesome.
I tried various clothes on Joe, from flashy ones that stood out to stylish clothes of modest colors, but to my horror, they all didn’t suit him.
What’s with him?
Whenever I tried to dress him up, he’d look like a middle school student who had grown too tall. He only wore plain clothes that his mother bought for him on a whim. If anything, he looked best in school uniforms, which didn’t showcase any individualism at all.
“…Are you satisfied now, Kurenai-san?”
“No, wait! Hold on! I’ll think of something right away! I’ll come up with an outfit that will neutralize that shadow-like presence of yours in no time.”
Joe took off the hat I put on him and uttered it with a blank look, and I didn’t know what he was thinking.
“I’m not worried about people noticing me, you know.”
“Again with that—”
At that moment, Joe showed a troubled smile and looked at me,
“…Anything more is a luxury for me.”
My brain, supposedly capable of solving any question or any calculation in no time, couldn’t immediately identify the name of the emotion that was tugging at my heart.
What was this?
I didn’t have to ask. The way he looked at me, the way he talked to me.
Ahh, you—how can you be so lacking in ego?
It’s not much of a deal for me. I’m just a more arrogant woman than most.
I looked away from Joe.
Don’t. Don’t look… If you look at me like this, I won’t be the Suzuri Kurenai you think I am.
I lift my muffler to cover my mouth and catch my breath.
I hated it when people didn’t understand their own abilities.
Moreso, I hated people who didn’t recognize their value.
That’s why I won’t give up. I’m never gonna give you up until you get the attention you deserve.
If you’re okay with just me, for now.
After Joe changed back into his original clothes, I pulled him by the hand and took him to a different floor of the same building.
I brought him to a cellphone shop.
I went to the phone accessories area, and as I stood before the shelves filled with with colorful phone cases, I asked Joe,
“Which one do you think resembles me most?”
Puzzled, Joe pointed to a sky-blue smartphone case.
“This one…I guess.”
“Then this is it.”
I said, and picked up the phone case.
“…Is that a present for me, by any chance?”
“Yes. What’s the size?”
“I think it’s fine…”
I went straight to the cashier and paid. I then put the phone case in Joe’s hand again.
“This is the phone case that you think resembles me most.”
“So, use it as if it’s me.”
I stared intently into Joe’s blinking eyes.
“In that case, I’ll be the only one who can see you, whenever and wherever you are, you know?”
Even if no one else around you notices you.
I’ll still be watching you, always.
“And if that’s not enough, you can call me directly—and I’ll find you wherever you are in the world. I’ll find you with this mind which they call a genius.”
I joked, and gave a fiendish smile like Aisa would.
“By extension, that means I’m your birthday present. Do what you want with it.”
Yume Irido ◆ The Punchline to the Story
I let out a sigh of admiration at this story that was cool in a different way from Asou-senpai’s.
“President, you’re so cool when it comes to Haba-senpai…”
“Oy oy, you’re making it sound like I’m usually not cool.”
“I’ve never heard of such a cool ‘your present is me’ before!”
“Of course, of course.”
President Kurenai nodded away, while Asou-senpai had a hand against her cheek as she noted dumbfoundedly,
“No… aren’t you just taking out the pretty parts?”
“I remember that after that, you complained to me on LINE that Joe-kun told you ‘I appreciate your feelings, but it’s heavy’.”
“I don’t remember that!”
…Well, it’s true that he must’ve felt conflicted about receiving a gift from a girl he’s not in a relationship with. It’s easy to notice that he’s not using the phone case.
“But when you put it that way, receiving a necklace by a girl he’s not even dating is pretty much—”
“Hmmm? That’s weird, am I getting deaf? Did you say something, Yumechi?”
“No, it’s nothing.”
I didn’t think that a phone case as a practical gift was any lighter in value than a necklace.
Asou-senpai crossed her arms indignantly and said,
“You can’t complain about something you’ve been given! I don’t care if it’s heavy or light, you’re supposed to receive it with tears in your eyes, you know!?”
“That’s a nice thing to say once in a while, Aisa, but the boys in the student council are all too passive. We live in a society of gender equality and diversity, but I’d like to see them show some worthiness once in a while.”
“Seriously! I don’t think those muscles and that physique are just for show! He should at least do a kabedon once in a while!”
The outburst of the girls’ complaining was out of control. I could only smile amicably while being forced to listen to the senpais badmouth the boys with their wishes mixed in…
Yume Irido ◆ The Punchline of all Punchlines
I came to the student council room, wondering what to give Mizuto as a present, and encountered Hoshibe-senpai taking a nap and Haba-senpai working.
And then I realized something.
A silver necklace peeked out from Hoshibe-senpai’s chest.
The sky-blue phone case was in Haba-senpai’s hand.
Both of them were carefully cared for, and remained so clean.
…Maybe they weren’t being passive after all.
It’s a matter of time until senpais’ feelings would be rewarded. I had this premonition and recalled my conversations with them.
If it is difficult to ask someone out alone, ask them out in a group.
As for gifts, I should give what I want to give.
I see…Then, in that case—
Mizuto Irido ◆ Birthday as a Family
—Keep your schedule clear for our birthday.
Ever since the moment Yume told me that, I have been looking forward to it.
Was she planning to have a date on our birthday? Were we going to exchange presents just as we did when we were dating?
It was atypical of me to have such faint hopes like a naive middle school student.
However, reality is often disappointing, and changed to seemingly mock my feelings.
It was my stepmother, Yuni-san, who said this to us while beaming.
Yuni-san placed a rectangular box in front of us, me and Yume,
“Choose which cake you’d like~. I bought some very expensive ones!”
“I was thinking of getting a whole cake. But it was so big when I saw it in person.”
“I’m not sure if we’d be able to finish it… Yume is probably at the age where she’ll start to worry about calories.”
“My apologies. I’m not on a diet yet.”
Yume joked, “I’m jealous~!” and Yuni-san pouted like a kid.
Yume opened the cake box, peered in “Then I’ll have this chocolate one!” she said. She carefully took out a brown cake, and slid the cake box toward me,
“What about you, Mizuto-kun?”
…She acted as if nothing had happened.
Keep your schedule clear for our birthday. She had said so with intent. Was it because of the family birthday party? Seriously, she made me nervous all day for no reason!
“…I’ll have the cheesecake.”
I didn’t show my inner frustration at all. I understood her reasons. She assumed that I’d ignore the birthday party, didn’t she? She could have explained so beforehand though. But you should have said so. Don’t mislead me like this!
“Now then, here’s your birthday present.”
Dad said, holding out in front of me and Yume small envelopes that resembled a New Year bag.
“Don’t worry, Yuni-san and I will prepare a present each for you two.”
“Thank you very much! Can I open it?”
“It’s not much. It’s a 10,000 yen library card.”
Yume opened the envelope and took out 10 cards from inside. They looked familiar to me.
“Ten thousand yen…”
“Mine-kun, you do that every year. Isn’t it really boring?”
“I can’t help it when these are the things Mizuto likes the most.”
“No, no! I’m really happy! Thank you very much!”
Yume beamed away as she said so. I could see a dream spreading in her eyes. With 10,000 yen, she’d have enough money to buy books for a while, which would really help her out greatly, especially since she usually bought expensive books.
“I’m next then! Here’s one for Yume!”
Yuni-san took out a bottle-like object from the bag in her hand, and put it in front of Yume.
Yume picked it up,
“Yes! It’s a little expensive and mature! I’m giving it to my daughter who’s starting to be sexually aware recently!!”
“Sexually aware—do-do I look like that?”
“You do, you know~? After all, you’re popular at school, aren’t you? That’s my daughter!”
She’s being modest. There’s never a day when I never heard a rumor about her, ranging from ‘she’s the top ranked honor student’ to ‘a member of the pretty girls student council’. Kawanami and Minami-san too had been raging, “There’s an increase in people trying to confess to Irido-san!” “Really! I really wish they could control themselves!” Anyway, what are you guys doing behind the scenes?
“As for you, Mizuto-kun, this is for you!”
Yuni-san said, stood up and took a round object placed in a corner of the living room with both hands.
“Yes! A bead cushion!”
Yuni-san pushed her hand into the cushion, showcasing how soft it was.
“I think it helps when you’re reading, you know~? Just be careful not to use it too much though. It’ll spoil you as a person!”
I crouched down in front of the cushion and tried to feel its softness in my hand. I see…it certainly was comfortable, but I had a feeling Isana would like it more than me…
“Thank you very much. I’ll use it in moderation.”
“That’s good. Tell Higashira-san about it too!”
“That’s nice…I might want one of those too.”
Yume peeked from behind.
“Why don’t you let me use it from time to time?”
“No, no…only someone like Higashira-san is able to handle such a typical boy’s messy room.”
“That’s fine, don’t be shy. They’re siblings after all!”
Because we’re siblings, huh?
The time we spend together as a family. The time I was conscious of her as a girl. Both of these things go hand in hand in my daily life, and sometimes, I felt they would tear me apart.
I want to be with you. There’s no denying that desire anymore.
But…maybe I still haven’t decided how to achieve it.
Mizuto Irido ◆ That reunion was to be expected
“Oh dear …mom, you drink too much…”
“Uhehe~. It’s fiiinnneee it’s fiiinnneee.”
“Come on. Go to bed if you want to sleep, alright?”
It was a rare sight to see Yuni-san so wasted, so Yume put her hand on Yuni-san’s shoulder and whisked her away.
Dad quietly tipped his glass as he chuckled.
“I guess she’s really happy to be able to celebrate this birthday with the four of us.”
“…Because our birthdays happen to be the same?”
I asked, and Dad lowered his eyebrows,
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s all just a coincidence. In a way, maybe it was inevitable.”
“They call it cause and effect. The world is really intricate…”
I had a feeling dad was drunk too, but his eyes seemed to be looking somewhere far away.
“Speaking of which, Mizuto, did we not talk about when dad met Yuni-san?”
“No…I heard you met because of work.”
I remembered that’s what he explained to me when he talked about remarrying.
But dad shook his head slowly.
“That’s the reason why we remarried again, yes, but in fact, we met once before.”
“That happened at the hospital where you and Yume-chan were born …”
I was just chatting with him to pass the time, but his comment caught my attention immediately.
The hospital where Yume and I were born?
Was it the same hospital?
“Are you surprised? But it’s natural when you think about it. You two were born in the same city, on the same day… it’s not unusual for you two to be in the same hospital. You don’t remember, but sixteen years ago today, you and Yume-chan were born together and slept in the same newborn room.”
Indeed, it’s to be expected if I think about it.
Yume and I attended the same middle school, were in the same school district, and our houses weren’t too far apart from each other. It was no wonder then that we were born in the same hospital.
“At that time, Kana…your mother was on the brink of death…I was just so anxious… I couldn’t even imagine what was going to happen in the next ten seconds or so…I couldn’t get any work done. I spent my time in the hospital…that was when I heard a woman passing by.”
“…Is that so?”
“Yes. That was…Yuni-san, who had just given birth to Yume-chan.”
Dad gave a troubled smile.
“I swear I wasn’t cheating. We didn’t even tell each other our names at the time…we just confided our fears with each other for that moment….Yuni-san was worried that her husband was too preoccupied with work to come and see their newborn baby…but she couldn’t leave me be when she saw how I looked so much more devastated than her …”
I heard from Yume that Yuni-san’s ex-husband was a workaholic who lived alone at home.
“Yuni-san said…she didn’t know what the future was for her family, but she could look forward to the future when she saw her child’s face…so when I heard that, I decided to see your face. And that gave me a little more courage to live for the next day. If it hadn’t been for that, I might have resented you when Kana left me behind…”
At this point, for some reason, the history that had existed in my life was strangely really terrifying.
From the bottom of my heart, I really wished I wouldn’t get to experience that.
“That’s why Yuni-san… was my savior.”
Clink. The ice shook in the glass.
“After fifteen years of frantically working and raising a family alone, I was finally getting my feelings for Kana sorted out…and then I encountered her again, my savior. I understood at once. If I was going to marry again, there’s nobody else other than her …”
Dad’s tone was slurred. His eyelids were closing in a daze.
“That’s why… I’m happy too…I’m glad that we’re all here today, the four of us, as a family…I’m happy…really happy…”
Dad’s head started to tilt, and soon, he fell asleep on the table.
It was unusual for dad to drink so much…I suppose it’s a really special day for him and Yuni-san.
While Dad was sleeping quietly, Yume returned to the living room.
“Huh, Uncle Mineaki is sleeping too?”
“Ahh…sorry, can you get me a blanket?”
Yume took a blanket from the bedroom and draped it over dad’s shoulders as he laid prone himself on the desk.
The birthday party was completely over.
Us kids were the only ones standing, and we grimly began to clean up,
I tried to say something in between, but eventually I stopped.
Maybe it wasn’t fate or destiny that made us siblings.
If anything, we were just caught up in the fate of our parents. It’s just that they met because of their children, and inevitably came together.
Maybe God’s trap was really set just that one time when we met in the library back in our middle school…
I said to Yume, who turned around.
“…Make sure you put the leftover cake in the fridge.”
“Eh? Yeah. I know, but…”
I guess I didn’t need to tell her.
Neither God nor fate nor all that stuff mattered in the first place.
We all have things we need to protect.
And what we do with them—that’s what I have to decide for myself.
Mizuto Irido ◆ Sometimes, idle chit-chat helps to sort out the heart
I returned to my room, and looked at my table.
There was a wrapped parcel.
I stroked its surface, and thought of Yume’s face, who had spent the birthday party as if nothing had happened.
…I felt like I was back in middle school. I got excited on my own, and got discouraged…
I thought I was done with such doubts, but just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in again.
Would I end up like that again?
If that’s the case, even if my current wish came true…it would all be a prelude to the destruction of my life, just as I experienced back in middle school.
If that’s the case…it wouldn’t just be a hyperbole this time around.
It wouldn’t just be us who would be destroyed …
The phone in my pocket suddenly began to tremble.
I took it out, and found that it was a call from Isana.
“Hello. Happy birthday!”
The cheerful voice blew aside the doubts in my mind, and I relaxed.
“You knew? Did I tell you?”
“I heard from Yume-san. I’ll give you your birthday present tomorrow at school.”
“You actually prepared it? That’s very dedicated of you.”
“Which do you prefer, swimsuit or bunny suit?”
“Stop it. Throw away whatever you’ve prepared immediately.”
“Ehh~? But I’m sketching right now~. It’s Yume-san in either a swimsuit or a bunny…”
“You’re sketching her!? Discard it ASAP!”
I assumed she was going to cosplay herself. Seriously, don’t use someone else as your birthday present.
“I need a very high IQ to understand your jokes…”
“Mizuto-kun, did you give your present to Yume-san? There’s no way you didn’t prepare one, right?”
I looked down at the bag in my hand.
“…I’ve prepared one.”
“Oops. That’s not the correct way to say it…”
“That’s fine. We live in the same house, there’s always time.”
“It’ll be next year before you can say that! Are you sure about that? Even if your table gets filled with gifts you’ll never hand over!?”
Don’t make me imagine something bad…is it really going to happen?
“If you don’t give it to her, I’ll give Yume-san a hint. You won’t mind if this birthday ends up as lame as a friend confessing her love to you, right?”
“Don’t do this…you’re giving me the shivers.”
That would be horrible to imagine. I would run away from home if that happened.
“By the way, can I ask what kind of gift it is?”
“It’s nothing fancy. I didn’t want to get her some accessory or something when we’re not even dating.”
“Oh, you mean something practical? Are you scared or what?”
Grrr…this girl really has a nasty way of telling the truth.
“It’s fine! The important thing is that I’m giving her a present.”
“Well, I guess it’s certainly much better than receiving it while smiling nicely, and then having to figure out how to deal with it later.”
“…Do you hate me for something or what?”
“If I had to say, I’d say it’s because I was rejected.”
“……Maybe I owe you one for the rest of my life.”
She’s going to mention this until the end of her life.
“Mfufu. Well, anyway, I hope you and Yume-san are in a good mood today. I’ll see you tomorrow!”
“You’re making it sound like I’m two-timing you…”
“Heh heh. I feel nervous like a mistress, I guess.”
“In many ways. However, I don’t know what you mean by a good mood…”
“You sound like a novice. Weren’t you in a relationship before?”
“Things are different now compared to back then.”
“Then let me provide you with a fantasy situation! During pillow talk—”
I hung up.
That’s a really, really strange situation she came up with.
I put down my phone and looked down at the gift I had prepared. I felt my rigid brain soften when I listened to Isana’s cheerful and appropriate remarks.
Yes, the present was different from the past.
I didn’t have to complicate things. I just needed to hand it over to her as usual.
It’s not like we were going to do anything major…as I said, the important thing was the fact that I was giving her a present.
I made up my mind and picked up the little bag.
And then there was a knock at the door.
“—Are you in?”
Mizuto Irido ◆ A desire that couldn’t be summarized in two words
The door opened, and Yume appeared in her nightgown.
“I’m coming in.”
Before I could stop her, Yume entered the room and spotted the bead cushion that I had received from Yuni-san that I had just brought up.
Pomf! And without hesitation, she sank her back into the cushion.
“Oh, this is good. I want one too.”
“…Didn’t we promise not to enter each other’s room?”
We wouldn’t go to each other’s room at night so as to avoid any unpleasant surprises from our parents. We would contact each other through phone if we had to. I was certain that was the agreement we had.
Yume looked up at me and giggled,
“Don’t worry, they’re both drunk and asleep. If you insist, I can say I broke the rules, okay, onii-chan??”
“…It’s been a while since I heard of that sibling rule…”
She didn’t use it the last time we had a bath, so I thought she had forgotten about it.
Yume wriggled around in the cushion,
“This cushion is so big, I think it’s possible to fit one more person.”
“Huh? No, what are you trying to make me do?”
“At least listen to your little sister’s wishes, onii-chan.”
“We’re done using this rule if you keep using it!”
Yume pulled me by the wrist and forced me to sit next to her.
The bead cushion was originally meant for one person, and was crammed fully at this point. Yume had her shoulder lean against mine. I could smell the fragrance of soap as she just had a bath.
“…Is this what siblings do?”
I moved as close to the edge of the cushion as I could, but Yume leaned closer to me in pursuit.
“They do. I think that’s how it was depicted in ‘Grave of the Fireflies’.”
I was pretty sure the siblings in that novel or movie weren’t huddled together on such a fancy bead cushion though….
In spite of this strange and forceful action, Yume didn’t bother to tell me what she wanted with me. For a minute or so, I could only feel the warmth and softness of human skin against my shoulder.
Are we going to be like this forever—just when I was beginning to have such a silly thought, Yume finally spoke up.
“…Oh, yeah. You too.”
What, after everything? When we just had a birthday party…
“I have…a present.”
My brain couldn’t process the words quickly enough when she said so, word by word.
“I had it prepared for quite a while, but I thought if I handed it to you beforehand, my attitude would be obvious to our parents…that’s why I decided to give it to you at the last minute.”
I looked at my watch, it was already 11pm.
There’s less than an hour before our birthday is over.
Yume put her hand between the bead cushion and her back, rummaged around, and pulled out a wrapped bag.
Wait, did she hide it behind her back the entire time?
Was that why she sat on the cushion?
The moment she handed it over to it, I received it, half-instinctively.
The gift was nicely wrapped, about as large as my palm…well, about the size of a paperback book.
I glanced aside, and saw Yume’s eyes focused on my lap. I didn’t know her emotions or intentions, despite us being together for so long.
“…Can I open it?”
I asked hesitantly, and Yume gave a small nod.
Once I saw the response, I unwrapped it as carefully as I could.
And emerging from the wrapping was something very familiar.
—A book cover.
A book cover that was bright and dark blue.
I couldn’t help but remember.
I recalled our birthday in eighth grade. We bought book covers of different colors together.
They had slightly different colors and designs, slightly different. But—
“—Recently, I’ve been thinking.”
Yume suddenly looked up at the ceiling and whispered,
“I might not have joined the student council if you hadn’t encouraged me. I thought I wasn’t relying on you anymore, but when I realized it, there were times when I felt like you were supporting me.”
Her words were so honest that they felt like a lie.
They flowed into my heart like cool, refreshing water.
“I’m fine with you hating me, but even then, I want to repay you for all the support you’ve given me…and if possible, I want you to continue with the same in the future…It’s not just about me being your ex, or us being siblings…I can’t really put it into words, but…”
Yeah, I understood.
Back then, the simpler, younger me was inexplicably happy.
We had the same thoughts.
Our hearts were together.
But at this point, I’m not so naïve now.
And surely, you aren’t that naïve either.
Complicated emotions swirled within me, and no matter how many novels I read, I just couldn’t express myself with the proper words.
“I wanted to give you… a new one.”
She was able to clearly tell me what she desired.
“You may have thrown away the one I’ve given you before…but I want you to use the one I’m giving you now.”
Yume didn’t remove her shoulder that was tightly pressed against mine.
She didn’t try to escape.
She expressed what she wanted when she shoved this present to me.
It might be a selfish gift that showed no concern for the recipient.
But…ah, I see.
I assumed we had already outgrown such a caring relationship.
I spoke up with determination, and Yume quivered.
“Me too—you can break the rule all you want, nee-san.”
Yume Irido ◆ Then, next year
I looked aside and saw Mizuto leaning back on the cushion, reaching over to his study table to pull a bag.
A bag as big as the palm of his hand.
The size of a paperback book.
No way, so I thought, “here” and he handed over the little bag to me.
I stared at the bag in the palm of my hand with disbelief.
“Eh…? No-no way, this is—”
He said, and I fearfully opened the bag.
Appearing from the bag was something I had expected.
It was a red book cover.
“…I didn’t think we’d have the same idea.”
While I was overwhelmed by so many thoughts and at a loss of words, Mizuto said with a sigh.
“Just so you know, my present doesn’t have the same meaning as yours. It’s just…the first thing that came to mind.”
“Wh-why…did you forget about what happened before!?”
“Of course I remembered.”
Mizuto’s lips puckered lightly as he seemingly dismissed his disappointment.
“…There was a time when I stopped thinking about it. I didn’t want to feel like I was clinging onto something…but the more I thought about it, I realized I couldn’t think of anything else. You’re always going around with your student council work, and you carry books around with you, so they get damaged easily… Well, it’s hard to use an ex’s present on a daily basis, so I thought you should have another.”
I thought I’d give him what I wanted to give him, and I did.
Instead…Mizuto thought of me and gave me this.
I held onto the book cover close to my chest, one that was a slightly different color than the one I received two years ago.
“I’ll take good care of it.”
“It’s fine. It’s not that expensive. You can buy another one if it gets damaged.”
“So, next year?”
“Don’t be too rough with it.”
I giggled, and Mizuto looked down at the book cover I’d given him.
“Same here, thanks. Surprisingly, I’m delighted.”
“Which one makes you happier, the one I used to give you, or the one I just gave you?”
“…About the same, I guess.”
About the same…well, I’m almost there.
“I’m sure there’ll be more next year.”
I’m almost there.
Wait and see, the old me.
I’ll surely surpass you.
Mizuto Irido ◆ The cowardly me (Mizuto)
For a while after that, we spent the time reading books while tucked into the cushions, testing out the book covers we had given each other.
Eventually, I sensed that a shoulder of mine was heavier than the other
I looked over to see Yume resting her head on my shoulder, breathing rhythmically in her sleep.
It was twelve o’clock, and our birthday was already over.
Yume would normally be asleep by this point. I had no choice but to figure out a way to get her to bed…
I peeked at Yume’s face through her bangs, trying to keep my breath quiet.
…I guess we’re about the same.
Yeah, I was about as happy as her.
We’ve already arrived at such a point.
I used to think that love was just a fancy word.
And then I realized.
This wasn’t a fleeting moment of fancy by any means.
Rather, it’s a feeling for this lost me to anchor myself, ‘this is it’. Just as dad didn’t hesitate when he met Yuni-san again, I already knew that she’s the only one for me.
Yeah, I admit it. I’m not going to lie anymore, at least not in my heart.
I like her.
I like her, and I want to be around her.
So I can’t be just a sibling.
I gently ran my fingers through Yume’s bangs as she slept.
…She’s not waking up, huh?
The first knuckle joint tapped at Yume’s bangs, stroking them lightly.
Do you think it’s cowardly?
That I felt comfortable with this moment, even though I had resolved myself?
That you didn’t notice me touch you only when you’re asleep?
And yet, I can’t stop thinking about it.
It’s just useless procrastination.
A cowardly moratorium.
But for now—
Yume Irido ◆ The cowardly me (Yume)
Do you think it’s cowardly?
That I felt at ease in this moment, even though I had resolved myself?
I was feigning sleep, waiting for you to touch me, leaving it up to you.
But still, I think.
It’s just useless procrastination.
A cowardly moratorium.
But for now—
—Let’s remain like this for a little longer.