Ore no Imōto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai:Volume 2 Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

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This may be strange coming from myself, but I’m an extremely ordinary high school student.

I don’t belong to any clubs, and I don’t have any hobbies worth mentioning. In my free time, I watch TV and read manga, and also hang around town with my friends.

Well, lately, I’ve also been doing something else in my free time, but I don’t really want to talk about that.

You might think I’m being safe and boring, but for me, normality is a relatively important thing. Being ordinary, without standing out, without attracting attention, living out each day in a laid-back, peaceful way… that’s my stance on life.

“…. Yawnnnn…”

I was in a classroom during my break period. Following my creed, I gave off a long carefree yawn.

“Ahaha, you seem sleepy today as well. Kyou-chan?”

“I guess. I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately… oh, thanks.”

I felt a refreshing breeze blowing gently on my sweaty face. Sitting at the seat next to me, my bespectacled childhood friend was using a desk pad [1] to fan me. Desk pads were very valuable cooling devices for students in the summertime, and I don’t think anybody can disagree with that. Around the classroom, I could see many classmates fanning themselves as well with desk pads.

“Feel nice? The test is coming up soon, so don’t strain yourself too much, alright? If you stress yourself out and get sick, then there’s no point, right?”

At her caring words, I gave her a smile. “Ahh, yeah… I’ll be careful.”

“I’m fine now, you can fan yourself.”

“It’s alright. I’m not that hot.”

Liar. Isn’t that a good deal of sweat on your brow?

Sigh… I felt a strange pain in my chest. It’s probably because I’m carrying a pretty shameful secret.

The real reason why I seem so sleepy is that every night, I’ve been playing eroge deep into the nighttime. It’s not like I can say that to anyone.

Especially to this girl, who’s putting all her effort into fanning me with the desk pad.

This girl seriously thinks that I’ve been staying up late at night because I’ve been trying hard to study.

“Oh, right, Kyou-chan. Today, do you want to come over to my house? We just made some cold kuzukiri. [2] You need to take a break once in a while, right?”

This plain-looking bespectacled girl was Tamura Manami. She was a childhood friend of mine, and her family ran a Japanese confectionary.

Her grades were on the bottom end of good. She didn’t participate in any clubs, but her hobbies were cooking and sewing. She was well-mannered and had many friends, but almost none of them were intimate friends who would hang out with her after school.

She was the quintessential supporting actor. There was nobody else in the world that fit the bill of “normal,” “ordinary,” or “plain” as much as she did. She was the polar opposite to Kirino.

“I guess that would be fun.”

“Eheheh~… great.”

As usual, Manami sent me back a warm happy smile.

She was a bit of a natural airhead, but that’s one thing I liked about her. When I was beside her I found an amazing sense of calm.

“Alright, Kyou-chan. It’s a promise!”

Saying that, Manami went away from my seat, and went to talk with her other friends.

A male student by the name of Akagi came over and took her place.

“Hey, Kousaka.”

“What’s up? You look so gloomy.”

“This has been bothering me for a long time, but are you going out with Tamura-san?”

Taken by surprise, I widened my eyes a bit.

“No… did it seem that way?”

“Yeah, it did. You can ask anybody in this class and they’ll tell you the same thing.”

Huh… that’s quite surprising.

Manami was talking with her girlfriends in another part of the classroom. I gave Manami a quick glance, and turned back to Akagi.

Indifferent, I opened my mouth.

“… It’s not like that. We’re just good friends. After all, we’ve known each other since we were small.”

“Oh. So… you don’t have romantic feelings for her or something like that?”

“………”

Raising my eyebrows, I tried to hurry him along.

“None.”

“………. Oh.”

I responded reluctantly. I don’t think I have any feelings like that for Manami. If I had to say it, I would say she’s more like a little sister… nah, that way of explaining things is wrong too. Hm, how should I put it…

“Hey, Akagi, take this for example. Imagine that ever since you were young, you’ve lived with a real nice grandmother. And suppose that you’re naturally very attached to that grandmother.”

“… This doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything.”

Akagi narrowed his eyes, and I stuck out one of my hands at him.

“Just let me finish… and then, one day, by some magic your grandmother got 50 years younger and she’s now the same age as you. Try to imagine what you would feel about that girl.”

“… How did this suddenly turn into a fantasy…?”

Akagi just became more bewildered, and I nonchalantly continued.

“It’s sort of like that.”

“What am I supposed to understand from that?!”

“Well, then whatever. It’s not like it bothers me if you don’t understand.”

Increasingly losing interest in this topic, I tried to stop the conversation then and there, but Akagi wasn’t satisfied.

For some reason, the conversation felt like it had suddenly turned serious.

“Well then, if you two are not going out, then is it safe to assume that you also have no plans to go out with her in the future?”

“Huh? What exactly are you asking?”

I responded to his question with a question of my own. I was getting a bit testy.

“For example… if some other guy were to ask out Tamura-san, you wouldn’t mind, would you?”

“Huh? Of course I would mind. I wouldn’t allow it. Who is it, then? They better watch out for me.”

At my immediate, irritated response, Akagi seemed shocked.

“… But, you said a few seconds ago that you don’t like her in that way.”

“So?”

“So… why? Kousaka… why would you say something like this? If you really are just childhood friends with Tamura-san, then it’s not like you two are going out. And it’s not like you’re in love with her. But you don’t want any other guys going out with her?”

“… Something wrong with that?”

Dammit, why did I have to respond that way? It makes me look like I’m some cliché thick-headed character who hasn’t realized his secret feelings for his childhood friend or something. Even though that’s not true at all.

Although, I was being completely honest in my responses.

I didn’t think there would be anyone that interested in such an unrefined girl as Manami… but if by some chance such a person appears, I would throw my entire body and soul into blocking his advances.

When I’m by her side, I feel more calm than I have ever felt. Even though there aren’t any romantic feelings involved.

If someone tried to intrude on that feeling, I would never forgive them.

“You’re saying some really selfish things, Kousaka… don’t you feel sorry for poor Tamura-san?”

“You know, you have no right to be saying that. If the person herself said it, I would consider it.”

I said that with the intention of getting him to cut it out, and with that Akagi fell silent.

“… Hmm.”

Acting quite naturally, I looked around for my childhood friend.

And then, suddenly, our eyes met. Manami sent me a worried look, as if she was asking “What’s wrong?”

I snorted, trying to tell her “It’s nothing.”

When all is said and done, that was what my relationship with Manami was like.

It was after school. With Manami beside me, I was headed towards the Tamura house. Her house was done in the old style, and was a bluish two-story building. Honestly, it wouldn’t feel too out of place if it were placed in the middle of Edo Wonderland. [3]

At a glance, it was a sturdy, relatively large house.

A part of the first floor was a Japanese confectionary, so we could always eat and drink in there. By the way, they didn’t only get old people as customers; surprisingly, their main customer base came from young girls.

Even though it’s such an old-fashioned shop… I don’t understand it.

Well, certainly, depending how you looked at it, you could say that it was a well-known shop that boasted a long tradition of making confections.

“I’m home.”

“… I’m home.” [4]

We entered the house through the back entrance. The minute we entered into the entranceway, I could smell the scent of incense drifting about in the air. It was a smell you would expect in an old man’s house out in the countryside. Manami let me pass into the Japanese-style living room, and then…

“Wait just a second.”

With that, she went up the stairs. I raised one hand to send her off.

“Phew… let’s settle in then…”

Stretching my legs out on the tatami mats, I felt quite at home. In fact, without Kirino here, you could say I felt even more relaxed.

As I was thinking this, I heard a voice. “Oh, is that you, Kyou-chan?”

“Ojiichan, hello. [5] Sorry for intruding.”

“You’re not intruding. Feel free to make yourself at home. Hey, baa-san [6]. Kyou-chan came over. Bring the watermelon.”

He looked happy as he called down the hallway. I then heard the pitter patter of footsteps as Manami’s grandmother came into view. This person was always smiling. I’ve never seen her with a different expression.

“Well, Kyou-chan. Did you come to take Manami as your wife?”

This was Manami’s grandmother’s idea of a classy joke, and probably her favorite thing to say.

I responded as usual, with a wry smile and with a “No no, that’s not it.” With that, Manami’s grandfather pouted.

“Baa-san, cut the watermelon. The watermelon. That big one I just bought a little while ago.”

“It’s still a bit early to be eating that watermelon, ojiisan.”

The Tamura household consisted of Manami, her brother, her two parents, and her two grandparents.

This large family contrasted strongly with the Kyousuke household, which was more of a typical nuclear family.

Just as you would expect looking at Manami, her entire family consisted of gentle individuals, and were also all airheaded, albeit to different degrees of severity… as I was thinking this, one other person arrived.

“I’m home! Ohhh, who’s here?!”

With heavy footsteps, Tamura Iwao came into view. He was Manami’s younger brother.

He was currently fourteen years old. He went to a local junior high school (different from the one Kirino went to, though). Like his sister, he didn’t stand out too much, and the last time I saw him he had an exceedingly plain appearance, with black hair and black rimmed glasses.

But I had heard from Manami that lately, he dyed his hair, changed out his glasses for contacts, and got really into Western music or something…

“Ah! It’s An-chan! What’s up?!”

“Hey. Uhh… what’s with your hair?”

“I cut it! Hehe… what do you think? Super cool, right?”

“…….”

Standing in front of my childhood friend’s brother’s “super cool new hairstyle,” I was at a loss for words for a moment.

Iwao patted his own head, and puffed out his chest with a proud expression.

“An-chan, did you know?! This hairstyle is the skinhead style that’s really in fashion right now!”

“No no no no! That’s just a close shave! It’s not a skinhead style or anything!”

I couldn’t help but interject. What the hell is this junior high student saying?!

Also, this “skinhead” thing wasn’t really in fashion, was it?

Iwao put on an expression not unlike a millionaire who had just discovered that the hard-earned, prized painting in his collection was fake.

“Huh? Huh? … Haha… what are you saying, An-chan? You don’t know much about this stuff, do you… no matter how you look at it, this is a skinhead style, isn’t it?”

“Where is there a skinhead with hair that shade of blue?!”

Stroking his hair, Iwao let out a scream like he was the subject of Munch’s “The Scream.” [7]

“Really?!?! Dammit… that guy in the barbershop completely lied to me?!”

“Well, if it’s the barber you usually go to, then he probably didn’t want to give you a skinhead haircut even if you asked him to, or else your parents might complain afterwards.”

“U… ughh… ooo…”

Iwao seemed heartbroken. Something he seemed so proud about turned out to be a flop…

There was also a more cynical explanation, that the barber was just agreeing to give him a skinhead haircut jokingly. It’s probably better if Iwao didn’t know about his haircut, but I had already let the cat out of the bag. Well, to some extent it’s his fault for getting the haircut in the first place.

“Ugh, maybe I should cut it again myself…”

“Stop that. You wouldn’t be able to do that well. They used a special razor to cut it in the first place, right?”

“Ugh… but nobody at school told me about this…”

Who knows why? But, why is it that this junior high student wanted so much to be different from everyone else?

At this time, the forms of Kirino’s otaku friends that I had met last month appeared in my mind.

Right then, Manami came back, having changed out of her uniform. She brought tea with kuzukiri on a tray with her.

“W-what are you two doing?”

“Not much, he just had something shocking happen to him…”

I spoke while rubbing Iwao’s closely shaven head. Manami faced her heartbroken little brother and smiled.

“I see. Well, I don’t know what happened, but cheer up. Here, I also brought Rock’s portion.”

“What do you mean ‘Rock’?”

I asked expressionlessly, and Manami smiled.

“Hm? Oh, umm… a while ago, Iwao came back from the barber’s and told us ‘Haha… with this cool haircut my name up to now is not adequate anymore! From today, call me Rock, neechan!’ [8]

“I see. Alright, I’ll try that too. Nice to meet you, Rock. That’s a really stylish haircut you have there.”

“Uwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!”

Rock ran out of the room while bawling. Having heard his own embarrassing idea come out of someone else’s mouth must have really brought him to his senses. Poor guy.

And he’s probably been spreading the same idea at school, so there’s a distinct possibility that this might become a very long-running nickname for him… and if that happens, he won’t be able to shake that name until graduating high school, and even then he’ll still be tormented by it during class reunions.

Seeing her brother off, Minami blinked, confused.

“W-what’s wrong with him…?”

“For men, there are things in the past which we want to forget.”

“… Huh… I see… hm, that’s pretty cool.”

You were the one who finished him off though. I stopped myself from saying this to Manami.

In any case… Manami’s parents were still at work, so they haven’t been introduced yet, but the Tamura family was pretty much like this.

I see… you could say that it’s precisely this kind of family that would raise a daughter like Minami.

“Oh. This is really good, this kuzukiri. Although I usually eat it with ponzu…” [9]

“It’s nice with brown sugar syrup once in a while, isn’t it? … We made a lot, so be sure to fill up.”

“Ahh, I’ll do that then. By the way, did your grandma make most of this?”

“Yeah. Ehehe… I also helped.”

“Really… pretty impressive.”

It was really a very normal conversation between me and Manami.

There was nothing exciting about it… which is exactly why I always loved the conversations I’ve had in this house.

“Kyou-chan, if you become my grandson, you’ll be able to eat delicious sweets everyday, you know.”

“Waah… Obaachan, stop it… you’re annoying Kyou-chan…”

“Obaasan, good thinking! Kyou-chan, you really should! If you get together with Manami… umm… lots of good things will happen! If you do it now, I’ll also follow you to the end!”

If I do it now… stop treating this like a limited time offer or something…

Seriously, jii-chan! Those extra few words you tacked on at the end were just too much!

“Geez, ojii-chan. Don’t say unnecessary things.”

“Hm? So, you don’t need your old grandfather anymore? Such words being told to me by my grandchild… there’s no more point to living…!”

Swish. As Manami’s grandfather seemed to fall over dead, Manami’s grandmother faced him with a smile.

“Ah, your ojiisan is playing dead again. Don’t take it seriously, alright? He gets too caught up in the moment sometimes…”

“Hehe.”

Manami began to play dead as well, but when I realized her grandfather was joking I wanted to smack him.

Absolutely ordinary, without standing out, without making lots of noise, living out my life quietly and in a laid-back way…

The life I wanted was probably something like this.

Also, of course, there were no annoying little sisters around.

It was the next day, after school. As always, I was studying with Manami at the local library.

This was a custom that we went through every time it approached exam time.

I have to confess that during junior high, my grades were pretty awful. But even then, I didn’t want to go to cram school. So, I asked my childhood friend, who had pretty good grades, to help me.

The result, as you can see, was that I was able to safely get admitted into the same high school as my childhood friend.

And now…

“Ah, dammit, I don’t understand this here. Manami, look at it for a second.”

“Hm? Ahh, this one… well, you just use this formula here like this… see?”

In order to get admitted to the same college as my childhood friend, I found myself again sitting next to Manami, asking her to help me study.

You could say that I hadn’t grown. That I hadn’t changed for the better.

And, if that’s the case, isn’t that a big deal? But do I really have to be ashamed because I “live an ordinary life” and because “nothing changes”? Although, you could also say that this gives off the impression of “having no dreams” or “having low standards”… In the end, the meaning of “living normally” is not as simple as it seems.

On the other hand, you could also think of it as really great. At least, I thought that way.

And so, well, I’m fine with the way things are.

To not change for the better, to seek the same future as the present… those are the things I’ve always desired.

The person I wanted to be when I was in middle school I’ve already become today, so I have no complaints at all.

Although, it’s not like everything was perfect.

For example, there was my sister, or my sister, and my sister.

Well, such was life. There are always things that are out of our control.

“I see… so you do it like this. I got it. Thanks, Manami. What about this one?”

“Hm? Which one?”

“Here, this one… this one where you have to prove this ugly looking formula…”

Math was my weak point, so for a while I’ve been getting Manami to help me out with math.

You’re probably supposed to differentiate here or something, but…

I leaned forwards to allow Manami easier access to my notes.

When I did that, Manami started saying something like “wah, wah…”

“Uh, something wrong?”

“N-nothing… um, this one? Uhh, uhh…”

“Why are you so worked up…? Hey, your glasses fogged over, you know.”

If that were true, she wouldn’t be able to see anything.

“H-huh?”

Like she had been attacked with a Medapani [10] spell, Manami looked around restlessly. It was certainly an interesting little act…

“Hey.”

Snatching the fogged over glasses from her, I watched as Manami squirmed shyly.

“Ahh, no… if you take my glasses I won’t be able to see,” Manami said with upturned eyes.

“I know. Haha, your eyesight is really bad isn’t it?” [11]

“Oohh… Kyou-chan, stop being mean. G-give me back my glasses.”

There are characters in manga and the like that are true beauties when they take off their glasses, but my childhood friend’s glasses-free face, as you can see, is quite plain. However…

Whenever I stole Manami’s glasses, she would always get flustered just like this.

“They say that putting on glasses makes you more plain looking, but you stay the same.”

“O-oo…”

I guess I have to confess that honestly, I love seeing my childhood friend flustered like this.

Yes, it might be a bit mean, but I can’t help myself from getting her like this over and over.

“B-but, Kyou-chan… they also say that putting on glasses makes you look wiser.”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

Either way, you don’t look even a bit like an intellectual.

I didn’t say that to her though. Wiping the glasses down, I tried them on myself.

Of course, they were too strong for me, and I watched as the world warped before me.

“Hm. How do I look… like a genius?”

“Mmm~~……….. ??”

“… What’s with that harsh tone?”

I raised my eyebrows, and Manami, confused, tried to clear up the understanding with a “Huh? Ah, no, that wasn’t what I meant…”

“You’re not wearing your glasses, so you won’t know until you come closer.”

“Ahh.”

While wearing her glasses, I brought my face closer to hers.

But because my sense of direction was warped by the glasses, I ended up lightly touching my nose to hers.

“….. ?!?!”

“Ah, oops.”

I apologized to Manami who seemed to have lost her breath. Separating myself from her a little, I asked her again.

“Well? Do I look smarter?”

“Ugh… y-you idiot.”

… I wasn’t asking for a compliment or anything, but that just sounded cruel.

Did I really look that stupid…?

And like this, we continued to study, sometimes talking back and forth and making conversation.

For me, this type of studying was much more agreeable than going to cram school and jamming in knowledge.

That’s why I made progress every time I studied with Manami.

“Alrighty, let’s stop here for today.”

While I stretched, Manami gave me a smile.

“Yeah. You worked hard today, Kyou-chan.”

“Haha, I guess. At this rate, I’m going to ace the exams.”

“And like that, soon you’ll start neglecting your work. If you don’t continue doing this every day, it’ll all go to waste, alright?”

“Yeah yeah, I got it.”

Picking up my bag, I headed towards the library exit with my childhood friend.

Reaching the exit, we saw a sunset spread out before us.

I’ve seen this same scene a countless number of times, but I’m still not tired of it.

You could say that it was a scene that was filled with the satisfaction of a full day’s work.

Like that, we headed home. Soon, we arrived at the usual road where we branched off from each other.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Kyou-chan.”

“Yeah, see you tomorrow.”

Separating like we always did, we began to walk on our own separate paths.

And so another normal day, another day in which nothing out of the ordinary or worth mentioning happened, came to a close.

Every day was warm and gentle, without change, but also a bit lacking in some ways.

For a long time, I’ve felt this way.

If I could just live a few more decades like this…

Then I think I’d be satisfied with my life.

It was another day. On my way home from school with Manami, we happened to meet an unexpected acquaintance at the junction by the side of my house.

“Ah, good afternoon!”

“Oh?”

Facing the person who had sent me that greeting, I raised a hand in recognition.

It was Kirino’s friend I had met a few days ago, Aragaki Ayase. She was wearing her uniform, so I guessed that she was on her way back from school. Even though Kirino was also a pretty girl, when she wore a sailor uniform she gave off the impression of a cheeky kogal [12]. Ayase, in contrast, had the appearance of a trim and tidy schoolgirl.

It wasn’t just because of her long, black hair or her slender physique, but also how she exuded an aura of peace and tranquility.

“… Kyou-chan. Someone you know?”

“Hm? Yeah. Umm…”

I started to introduce Ayase to a surprised Manami, but Ayase beat me to the punch.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Aragaki Ayase.”

“Huh? … Ah, it’s a pleasure.”

Facing the cheerful pretty girl, Manami seemed nervous as she also introduced herself. “Um, I’m T-Tamura Manami. Nice to meet you.” I couldn’t say I didn’t know how she felt. I had a hard time talking to pretty girls as well.

After the introductions were over, Ayase sent me a suggestive smile.

“Ahaha, thanks for the other day.”

“Ah, ahh…”

Strangely finding myself at a loss for words, I gave a vague response.

The other day, when Ayase had come over, I at first looked at her through cruel eyes. But, getting to know her proved to be a happy occurrence, one of the only bright spots in that gloomy day.

We even exchanged mail addresses. You could say that my address book was getting filled with the names of junior high school girls.

From an objective perspective, I guess I was in an enviable position.

“Well, please excuse me then,” she said, expressing her intention to leave.

“Ah, is your house around here? You’re coming home from school, right?”

“No, you can actually see my house over there, in that direction.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Yup! Well then, I hope we’ll see each other later… oh right, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about. The truth is, I got some samples from the first magazine featuring both me and Kirino. Kirino should have them to, so please take a look at them later!”

Hm, so she also was a model…

“That’s pretty amazing. I’ll be sure to take a look.”

“… Hehe, the truth is, it’s a special summer edition of the magazine, so we’re wearing swimsuits, so it’s a bit embarrassing.”

“H-huh… swimsuits?”

“Yeah. Ah, but but, I’m not as stylish as Kirino, so don’t get your hopes up, alright?”

I’ll look forward to it. Much more than my own sister in a swimsuit, at the very least.

“Oh, shoot, if I’m late Kirino’s going to get angry. Well, see you later!”

With an angelic smile [13] and her parting words, Ayase left.

“Yeah. See you later.”

I raised a hand to send her off. Manami stood blankly, staring at us strangely. Finally, placing a hand on her chest, she let out a sigh with a “Haah…”

“… S-she was really mature… like an actress or something.”

“Mm. She’s certainly a beauty.”

There was no other way to put it. Incidentally, Manami’s evaluation of Kirino boiled down to “super cool and cute.” Both of her assessments were pretty intuitive, but I think the different nuances to these descriptions expressed well the differences between Ayase and Kirino.

“Ahaha, Kyou-chan, you sure were staring closely at that girl’s face.”

“Eh? R-really? Seriously?”

I was startled. It was a rule of mine to never do that when I was with female friends, but… if Manami said I was doing that, then I believe her. After all, she looks after me more than anyone else, so for better or worse, she wouldn’t lie to me.

And if that was true, then Ayase would have probably naturally also noticed my gaze…

Ugh, not good… What am I doing?

Feeling uncomfortable, I couldn’t bring myself to look at Manami.

While gazing at me, Manami put one hand on her cheek, and spoke as if she was looking at something charming.

“Hm. Kyou-chan’s a boy, after all… I’m a bit relieved.”

“Hey, why are you treating me like I’m your grandson or something?”

No matter how you looked at it, that was something you said to your grandson who was able to get the girl he wanted.

For a high school girl to speak like this went way above awkward, and I was worried for her.

Will she really be alright, when she’s already talking like an old woman now…?

“Ah, I’ll bet you’re thinking something rude. I know already, I know what you want to say. Punpun. [14]

Just take a look, ladies and gentlemen. Here is a high school girl who actually uses mimetic words. [15]

“Ah, you’re thinking something mean again. Geez, Kyou-chaaan… if you don’t cut it out, I’m going to tell your mom that you were looking at a junior high student with pervy eyes.”

“Don’t do that!”

That’s not funny! If my mother caught a whiff of something like that, she’d definitely bring it up at dinner. And then, Kirino would find out too, right? I didn’t think there was any way she could hate me more, but there was also that time before when I accidentally pushed her down, so this would be really bad to bring up.

And also, what does she mean pervy eyes?! I never put such an obscene thing into how I was looking at her! Absolutely not!

But I didn’t say any of this. Because if I started making excuses here, soon I would be lying through my teeth.

Instead, I tried to dodge the issue by answering jokingly.

“… Hm, well if I had to stare at someone, I would rather stare at a cute girl.”

“I guess that’s true… hmm… I should try my best too…”

Crap, I forgot.

Whenever I said something like that to this girl, she would get really sad and start seriously meditating on her own shortcomings.

Dammit, now I feel guilty.

But I had a perfect countermeasure to this. Timidly, I whispered.

“No, I mean… Manami? I think you’re fine just the way you are.”

“… Really?”

“Yeah. Instead of trying to do strange things beyond your ability, just try to be yourself.”

“… R-really? You… think so?”

While looking downwards, Manami stole a glance every once in a while at my face.

Giving my consent, I gave my opinion clearly.

“Yeah, I think that’s for the better. It’s best if you don’t change.”

“… Is it really alright… if I don’t change…? You… like me that way?”

Although this would definitely not happen, if Manami became like Kirino, I would be outrageously bothered by it. It might be too late, but withdrawing my previous remarks, I tried to comfort her somewhat desperately.

“Yeah, I do. I really like you this way, even more than that other girl just now.”

It wasn’t the most eloquent of praises, and for some reason I couldn’t come up with anything less stale, but I’ll praise her with these words anyways. It doesn’t really matter, so I’ll praise her to high heaven. And then…

“E-ehehe… that makes me happy…”

Manami had looked like she was about to cry, but her expression widened into a smile, and I stroked my chest in relief. It seemed like my smiling childhood friend’s behavior would never change.

But…

It was morning in the classroom.

It was the break right after first period. Drawing near to Manami’s seat, I called out to her, not having spoken to her yet that day. It was a bit strange, but this morning Manami was late, and didn’t show up to our usual meeting spot.

“Hey. What happened this morning? Did you oversleep?”

“… Eh? Y-yeah… I did. Sorry, I kept you waiting…”

“You don’t have to apologize. You never make me apologize when I’m late.”

“Y-yeah…”

Manami nodded, but maybe she was still apologetic or something, since she kept her head cast downwards.

I felt slightly uncomfortable seeing her in this strange mood, but pushed it to the back of my mind.

Thinking back, I guess that Manami was acting like that all through class too, but I had missed breakfast that morning, so I was too busy thinking about how hungry I was to really pay her any mind.

It was after school on the same day. In an unusual turn of events, today it was me who called out to Manami.

It was almost a perfect recreation of the scene that morning.

“Manami, let’s go home together.”

“Umm… uhh…”

Manami put a hand to her forehead as if she had a headache, and looked at me through upturned eyes.

“Sorry… I have something I need to do. I can’t go home with you today…”

“Ah, I-I see…”

I was surprised at how disappointed I felt at this point. I just didn’t want to admit that to Manami, so I continued in the most cheerful voice I could muster.

“Ah, fine fine. Don’t worry about it. We can take a day off of studying together. I don’t want to keep imposing on you anyways. Sometimes it’s nice to study by yourself.”

“I’m really sorry…”

“I said it’s fine. I just wouldn’t feel right about forcing you to study with me every single day anyways.”

This is probably the first time this kind of conversation has ever happened. Usually, I would just say whatever I wanted to her… How unusual.

As I predicted, when I went home, I couldn’t get any studying done.

It would be best if tomorrow things could go back to normal, and I could get helped by Manami again.

I was perfectly carefree as these thoughts passed through my head.

But…

“Sorry, Kyou-chan… I can’t today either.”

After school on the next day, Manami once again told me that she couldn’t study with me.

W-what?!

Feeling shaken by her announcement, I replied with my voice in disarray. “W-why?”

She wasn’t waiting for me at our usual meeting spot this morning either… what exactly was going on?

“… It’s just that… I have plans…”

Manami was terrible at lying. But this time, it was difficult for me to gauge whether she was lying or not.

One reason for this was that Manami was hanging her head sadly, so I couldn’t really see her face.

Another reason was that I could honestly feel how bad she felt for doing this.

So, even if she was lying about having plans, I couldn’t really hold it against her.

“… Alright. I guess there’s no helping it if you have plans.”

Leaving without raising a fuss, I headed towards the exit of the classroom…

“Haaah…”

I sighed. After all, I felt that Manami had definitely been acting a bit strangely… but also, to be frank, my traditional study session with Manami was not just to help me get better grades, but also served to be a precious time when I could rejuvenate my tired spirit.

Especially ever since I was forced to give my sister those life advice sessions, spending my free time with Manami in that carefree way has become all the more important.

As soon as that was taken away from me, even though it’s only been two days, I could already feel my spirit becoming heavy.

… Yeah. I guess I am pretty dependent on her after all…

These thoughts were all going through my head at that time. Then, Akagi appeared and spoke to me in a teasing tone of voice.

“What’s wrong, Kousaka, is she avoiding you?”

“Huh? What are you…”

It wasn’t like he was saying something outrageous, so I couldn’t do anything but fire back a stupid response.

So, what happened? Did he see my little exchange with Manami back there?

… There are lots of characters like this in dramas too, I guess.

I guess this makes him the meddlesome minor side character, whose first name doesn’t even get revealed during the story.

“I mean, Kousaka, you’ve realized it yourself right? Lately, Tamura-san has been plainly avoiding you.”

“… Manami’s been avoiding me?”

I hadn’t even considered that possibility. I guess my understanding of the situation was pretty dim.

“Why do you think that?”

“Come on, no matter how you look at it, that’s what’s happening, isn’t it? Just now even, you two looked like a bickering couple or something.”

“……….”

Normally, I would immediately ignore such a crazy remark… but honestly, it is true that Manami’s been acting strange lately…

Frowning, I fell into silence.

… Manami… was avoiding me?

That should be impossible, but thinking back on the recent conversations we’ve had, it definitely fit the situation.

Certainly, these two past days, she’s been trying to avoid eye contact with me.

Also, even when we talked, her voice sounded weak, like it had no energy.

It seemed like she was trying to act normally though, so I didn’t bring any of this up with her.

But now she’s refusing to study with me, to walk home with me, because she “has plans.”

At the very least, to a casual observer, it certainly might look like she’s trying to avoid me.

Well, what if it was true? Let’s suppose that she really was avoiding me.

I can’t imagine why she would. Did I do something to her? I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong…

Also, generally, it was pretty easy to tell when Manami got angry, with the way she would pout and blurt it out.

She was definitely not the kind of person to avoid someone without even telling them why.

I seriously have no idea. I really don’t know what to do here.

“… Does it seriously look that way?”

I had left the classroom with Akagi, and I asked him that.

If she really was avoiding me, I would want to know why and why she was doing this without even telling me. Akagi’s response ran like this:

“… yeah. Kousaka, you know, I might know what’s going on.”

“What?”

“Tamura-san probably got a boyfriend, didn’t she?”

“Huh?”

My face probably held the same kind of grimace I gave when I was forced to give my sister life advice.

“Umm… why do you think that?”

“I mean, just think about it, Kousaka. If you got a girlfriend, wouldn’t you also try to distance yourself a bit from Tamura-san? But it’s hard to just tell her ‘Oh, I got a girlfriend, so from today we can’t go home together and we can’t study together.’ And lately, Tamura-san has been telling you that she has plans so she can’t go with you. The facts fit, don’t they?”

That doesn’t make it true. I immediately rejected Akagi’s outrageous claim.

I couldn’t imagine Manami being able to get a boyfriend, just like I couldn’t imagine that Kirino had gotten one…

“Well, I have club activities, so I’ll see you later, Kousaka. Don’t get too depressed over it. Hahaha.”

After completely ruining my mood, Akagi patted me on the shoulder as if trying to cheer me up, and darted off briskly.

That asshole. As I glared fiercely at his retreating back, I continued to think.

About how it was utterly unthinkable that Manami could have gotten a boyfriend.

Although… well… even if she didn’t have one now, I could see her having one in the distant future. Even though I don’t really want to think about it.

Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, we would probably continue to spend our days the same way we’ve spent them up until now.

But I might be being a bit optimistic to think that this would still be true five years, or ten years later.

This comfortable life may be exchanged for a completely different type of life in the future.

Adhering to my personal motto, I wanted to try to keep this lifestyle going for as long as possible..

It was impossible to completely stop people from changing. For me, and for Manami, and of course even for Kirino, every year we grew a year older, and soon we would graduate, and would even have to go job searching. There are plenty of things that would change, whether I like it or not.

“Hm…”

I tried to imagine it. For example, if in the future… if I got a girlfriend… would I try to avoid Manami?

Definitely not! Well, at least that’s what I thought now.

It was nighttime on the same day. I was sitting on my own bed, reading manga.

While I was reading, I was thinking about boring things.

… Was Manami… really avoiding me…?

Earlier, I had thought that she might have been, but gradually, as time passed, I changed my mind and decided that she couldn’t be.

I don’t think Manami could change how she acted around me that easily.

I would do my best in my own way to keep that from happening, so that we could live on normally like we’ve been living.

It’s just, today, I felt a strange prickling pain in my mind. As I thought, I was in no mood to study, but even when I read manga or watched television, I just couldn’t get into it.

Because that idiot Akagi had said those stupid things, I was getting a bit worried by some trivial things in Manami’s behavior that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

“I’m bored.”

Tossing the manga I was reading away, I collapsed onto my bed.

Taking out my cell phone, I hit the number one on my speed dial.

I mean, it’s probably better if I just ask the person herself. That’s what I thought. In any case, it was probably some boring misunderstanding, so I should call Manami right away, get this cleared up, and then this will just become a funny story I can recall later.

But…

“The cell phone you have dialed is not in an area with cell phone service, or is turned off-“

The phone call didn’t connect.

“… What the hell. Haaah…”

Sighing deeply, I squinted at my cell phone display.

I guess there’s no helping it. I’ll ask her at school tomorrow.

For some reason, I found this all very hard to swallow, and could feel myself getting irritated…

So I had to be patient till tomorrow… a bitter smile appeared on my face.

But the next morning, I was unable to talk to Manami.

That day, Manami didn’t even come to school.

“Tamura-san is dealing with a situation at home, so she’s taking a few days off.”

That’s what my homeroom teacher said.

A situation at home… what could that be…? I haven’t heard anything about something like that…

I tried to ask my homeroom teacher for more details, but he couldn’t supply any. We might be childhood friends, but he couldn’t just carelessly give out the personal details of his students.

I begrudgingly saw his point, so I had no choice but to retreat.

I tried to ask the other girls in the class, but I got responses like “I don’t know” or “But, now that I think about it, she’s been a bit out of it lately… maybe that has something to do with it?” But nobody could tell me anything about this “situation at home” that I wanted to know about.

Hmph. Well, that’s that. If I really wanted to know, I should probably ask Manami herself.

But Manami was still unreachable by cell phone. My phone would still go to the same old “The number you have dialed-“ message, read by a robotic-like voice. As I listened to the message, I thought,

“Well… what should I do…?”

I started to think of another plan of attack.

It was after school.

Having returned to my own room, I took out my cell phone from my bag, and called a certain someone.

Even if I couldn’t connect to her cell phone, there were a few other ways I could try to get in touch with her.

The phone in the Manami household was used both as the phone for their home and for their business. So, whenever I had to get in touch with someone, I would try as much as possible not to call their home phone and call cell phones instead, since I didn’t want to interfere in their work.

When the call connected, the person on the other line greeted me very loudly.

“HEY WELCOME! This is the Tamura shop!”

“… Why the hell are you answering your cell phone with business talk?”

Also what was with the sing-song way he was speaking?

“Huh?! It’s how I always do it! That kind of question… could this be An-chan?!”

As always, he was such a flashy guy. And his voice was so loud.

Slightly bewildered, I responded with a “Yeah, this is.”

“Seriously?! This is seriously An-chan?! You’re not trying to trick me right?! If you’re really the real An-chan, over there on the other end, you should be able to beat me into submission with a witty remark!”

“… You’re really an idiot. Just look at your Caller ID, dammit. My number should be listed.”

“Ooooh it’s really you?! HEY! [16] As expected from An-chan!”

I moved the phone away from my ear, and turned the volume two levels down.

You can probably tell by now, but the person I was talking with on the phone was Manami’s little brother “Rock.” I immediately began to regret calling him first…

But I pulled myself together and said this.

“Hey, Rock. You really don’t need to shout that loud, but do you have a minute?”

“Oh, what a coincidence, An-chan. I had something I wanted your advice on too. How do you get rid of a nickname once it gets attached to you?”

“You can’t.”

“Instant KO?!”

Having answered Rock’s question in an instant, I continued in a harsh tone.

“And don’t interrupt someone in the middle of asking you a question with your own problems, dumbass.”

“… uh… you sound like you’re in a bad mood. Usually you would play along for a bit longer.”

Maybe. But, the only reason I called you was to deal with my bad mood in the first place.

“Sorry. I’m not in the mood to play around with you right now. I need you to help me with something first.”

“I see. Okay. Hehe… alright, I shall listen to your request.”

This bastard, acting so smug about it.

“Unfortunately, I’m not calling to talk with you. Could you put Manami on? For some reason, her cell phone doesn’t seem to be on.”

“Huh? You need something with my sister? Well, you’re out of luck since she’s not home.”

“What? She’s not home? Why? I heard that she didn’t come to school today because of a ‘situation at home’ or something… does this have something to do with that?”

These questions all came out lumped together, but as if evading my questions, Rock answered in an annoying way. With an irritating tone, he said,

“Tch tch tch… Sorry, can’t say.”

“I see. Next time I see you, maybe I’ll try out the Palo Special [17].”

“W-why, An-chan, are you always only making jabs at me?!”

“It’s your imagination.”

It’s not like I was singling him out or something. Rather, I’m being pretty nice to him. He doesn’t know the things I say to Kirino, so he can complain like that… but with Kirino, I had to be three times as forceful as I am with him, or else she wouldn’t even give me an inch. It was seriously annoying.

And also, I reacted that way because he was so self-important.

I remained silent, letting him interpret the silence however he wished.

“Ugh… you’re seriously in a bad mood… how unusual. But, I mean, it’s not like I’m trying to be arrogant or something… I seriously can’t say anything about it. My sister told me told me ‘if Kyou-chan asks you don’t tell him’!”

“… What…?”

What the hell? Manami had anticipated that I was going to come asking about this, and told her brother not to tell me? … Why did she have to do that…? Dammit, I don’t like this at all.

… Tch… even though Manami was usually pretty bad with planning ahead…

I felt my mood getting progressively worse.

It was inevitable that I would get angry at Rock in this situation, and I couldn’t help myself from getting more aggressive in my questioning.

“Why the hell did she do that?!”

“I-I don’t even know! That’s all she told me to do… but my sister isn’t home right now, and she’s taking a bit of a break from school too. That’s all I can say!”

“Tch, are you trying to piss me off?! Alright! Fine! Whatever!”

“… You’re really in a bad mood right now… you’re being really scary.”

“Ugh… alright, I’m sorry. I won’t get angry anymore.”

Trying to calm down the muttering Rock, I continued talking.

If he was told to not tell me anything, then I wouldn’t get anything out of him.

“… Well. When is Manami going to come back? You can at least tell me that much, right?”

“Umm… in the evening on the weekend, she said.”

So, in three days then.

Until then, Manami wouldn’t be in school. I wouldn’t be able to see her, and of course, I wouldn’t be able to talk with her.

Even though three days wasn’t even as long as a week, to me right now, it seemed like a horribly long time. It’s not like I liked my childhood friend in that way. If she’s not here, I won’t be able to study. It was also really annoying that I had to spend these three days not knowing why exactly Manami had been acting so strange lately.

… Yeah, that’s all it was.

Well, setting that aside, this business is probably why Manami’s been acting so strange lately too.

That might be it, or that might not be it.

In the end, without hearing it from Manami herself, I couldn’t come to a definite conclusion myself.

… Hm… let me see if I can approach this in a different way…

“By the way, lately your sister has been acting pretty weird… have you noticed?”

“Hm, now that you mention it, she’s seemed a bit down lately… maybe.”

“Really? What do you mean by ‘lately’? Can you be more specific?”

“I don’t think so… it’s not like I’m always paying attention to my sister’s mood or something…”

“Tch. You’re a useless idiot, aren’t you.”

“Argh, you’re seriously being terrible today, An-chan! You’re going to make me cry soon!”

Well, sure. After all, I sounded like Kirino just now… dammit, I guess I’m way more annoyed about this than I thought I was.

But if I think about it, I don’t always pay attention to my sister either. So here, Rock was acting correctly.

“Sorry, sorry. My bad, Rock. I apologize… so could you try just a bit harder and tell me if you remember anything?

“It’s fine… umm… I think that a few days ago, while she was watching Psychic Detective and eating dinner, she really seemed down about something, I think. I can’t remember anything from before then though.”

“Ah, umm… that was five days ago, maybe? Hold on a second…”

I checked with the television schedule on a newspaper I found, and as I thought that was five days ago.

If I thought back, the first time Manami began to act strangely with me was around three days ago.

And, before that… I had met with Manami… umm… there was a day off in between… yeah, it was the day when we had met Ayase on the way home from school. So, in other words…

Between the time we separated on that day and evening on the same day, something had happened to Manami that put her in a really sad mood…

“Rock… so did anything else happen?”

“Well, that haircut was a pretty big fail, so that was pretty depressing…”

“I’m not talking about you! I’m talking about Manami! I’m asking about your sister!”

“Well… I know, but…”

Liar. He didn’t know at all… but I didn’t comment.

I had already said that I wouldn’t get angry. I really shouldn’t keep on breaking my promise like this.

“Hey, speaking of hair, I was thinking that I should buy a wig while my hair is still short.”

“You really didn’t understand what I said, did you, idiot?! Fine, I’ll give you one word of advice, don’t even think about doing that! If you suddenly come into school with a full head of hair after being bald, your classmates won’t let you live it down!”

“I see… so if I don’t do it gradually, I’ll get exposed, right?”

“Can we please get back on topic?! I seriously might smack you!”

In the end, I really couldn’t get any more useful information out of Rock.

A few days had passed since my conversation with Rock. There weren’t many days left before I would have to take my exams.

Ever since that conversation, I hadn’t been able to meet with Manami, hadn’t been able to ask her why she was acting so strangely… and every day passed by lazily. And I still hadn’t made any progress in my studies.

Well, I have an excuse for that. From the start, when I wasn’t with Manami, it was difficult for me to study. I knew this wasn’t exactly a good thing, so I was pretty nervous at this point…

But honestly, I couldn’t muster up even the tiniest bit of motivation.

I would think to myself ‘I’ll do it later,’ and then go surf the net or read manga, and suddenly it would be nighttime.

On the bottom right of the display, I could see the cruel time display showing 0:41.

Uuugh… haaaah… that was supposed to be ten hours of time…

… What the hell happened?

In my room at this time of night, I stared at the computer screen with a painful expression.

But, naturally, the time that had been stolen from me by the Internet could not be returned.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this…!

“Ahhh, dammit! This seriously isn’t funny! Students should definitely not be allowed to have computers! Your time just gets sucked away so damn fast!”

Unintentionally finding myself yelling to no one in particular, I heard a thud coming from the wall.

It was my sister, who then told me “shut the hell up!” I looked at the wall with a sour expression.

By the way, my relationship with my sister was pretty much the same as always. Occasionally, she would ask about my progress in some eroge or insult me, but other than that we basically didn’t talk or make eye contact.

My sister has hated me for quite a long time, and I also really hate that bratty, arrogant girl, so I welcomed the fact that we didn’t talk to each other with open arms.

“Geez…”

Feeling as if someone had splashed water in my face, I found my willpower to continue surfing the net fade.

Once again, my thoughts drifted to my childhood friend who had been recently acting strangely.

“Tamura-san probably got a boyfriend, didn’t she?” Akagi had made that rash remark, but I could say for sure that his statement couldn’t possibly be true.

But, there was no denying that she’s seemed down lately, and seemed to be avoiding me.

After that, no matter how many times I thought about it, I couldn’t for the life of me think of why Manami would act that way. In the end, just being bothered by this by myself here didn’t lead to any good ideas.

She was definitely being bothered by something. I could say with reasonable certainty that at least that much was true.

She supposedly had a situation at home, and she was also taking off from school.

But it also seemed to be something that Manami didn’t want me to know about.

She probably told her brother (and maybe even our homeroom teacher) that when talking with me, they should try to act normally and not tell me anything about this “situation at home.”

In that case, maybe I should just not try to do anything here…

At the very least, it seemed that Manami didn’t want me to interfere…

No, that conclusion was just unacceptable.

This was bothering me so much that I couldn’t possibly study… I tried once again to think about whether or not I could do anything for her.

At this point in time, my reasons for my actions were no longer for Manami’s sake.

Nobody was asking me to do this, and I couldn’t ask anyone else for help.

To the very end, for my own sake, I thought about what I could do for Manami.

So… I wasn’t able to meet with Manami herself, I already knew that her younger brother wouldn’t be of much help, my female classmates didn’t seem to know anything, and asking Akagi was out of the question…

Including myself, there wasn’t a single person around me that I could depend on for this matter.

“… Hm.”

Was there anybody else that I could ask for help on this matter, that would actually be able to give me some useful ideas…? Maybe someone I knew that I hadn’t thought about yet… hm… someone who didn’t think in the same way I did… someone who understood how girls thought… And also, someone who could keep a secret and wasn’t a gossip.

First off… well, I had already tried the first person I could think of, Manami’s brother Rock, and that effort had proven pretty fruitless.

I could also try my father… but that wouldn’t work. He would never gossip, and he would definitely listen to me, but you could tell just by looking at him that he was too rough and unrefined to understand the female heart. My mother, as you would expect, excelled at these kind of things, but she was way too loose-lipped to be trusted. Ugh…

So… that would leave…

“……………………………………….”

I contemplated it for almost a minute, and finally with a exceedingly complex set of feelings, narrowed my eyes.

There did exist someone. Only one person… Someone who would listen to me seriously, someone who understood girls, someone who would never gossip about this with anyone else, someone who might be able to give me useful advice…

But… that person was… that person was… ugh…

As I thought of the most suitable person for this job, I felt my determination wavering…

Deep wrinkles formed on my forehead, and I groaned.

… This might be exactly how she felt last month.

After all, no matter how much it pained me to do so, I was about to lay out one of my secrets to someone who I hated so much.

When I thought about it that way, my hesitation slowly disappeared.

I mean, if she can do something like that, then there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to as well.

“Alright.”

Making up my mind, I slowly turned my gaze to the wall.

On the other side of that wall was Kirino’s room.

I decided to ask my sister for advice. Becoming resolute, I wanted to take action as soon as possible while my determination was still there. I found myself standing right outside the door to Kirino’s room.

It was already really late, but when she came asking me for advice it was also in the middle of the night, so I was just doing the same thing that she had done.

Thinking back to that dreadful incident, I remembered that in the middle of the night, even though I had been sleeping soundly, she had smacked me awake… I was completely confused at what was going on. When I asked her what she wanted, she told me “I told you to be quiet. How late do you think it is?” And what’s more, without letting me respond she told me “I need to talk so come with me.”

She wouldn’t listen to my complaints that I was sleepy and we should do whatever she wanted the next day, and wouldn’t even tell me why she woke me up…

Seriously, in this world, is there any big brother who is as nice as I am, who would listen to his little sister’s request like that?

I’m seriously a saint. If I were my little sister, I would have fallen in love with me a long time ago. It would be a straight line to one of the good endings. [18]

So, let’s put this plan into action. No longer hesitating, I began to turn the doorknob to my sister’s room.

Click

It was locked.

“… Ugh. Life is pretty unfair…”

I mean, seriously. My room didn’t have a lock installed, but my sister’s room had one.

Last year her room kept on being redecorated, and so became much better than my room, even though I’m the eldest.

Dammit! I won’t get frustrated about this!

Facing the door to my sister’s room, I pointlessly grit my teeth.

Feeling annoyance wash over me, I continued to turn the knob with a rattle rattle. As if the bastard door detected my impending hostility, it fired back first.

Bang! Suddenly, the door swung forcefully open, and hit me right in the face.

“Guaaaaaaaaaah…!!” I held my face through the agony. In my pain, I crouched down. “Ugh… oww~~…” I sounded pretty pitiful, if I say so myself.

As my field of vision blurred with tears, I looked upwards and saw…

“…………”

Seeming like she was looking at some piece of garbage by the roadside, Kirino stood over me.

She was dressed roughly, wearing a pair of short pants with a shirt.

Whoaa… what a cold stare…

‘It’s not even worth saying anything to you at this point’ she seemed to want to say.

Silently, she waited for me to tell her what I wanted.

Wiping my tears with my shirt, I stood back up.

Still rather confused because of the pain, I pulled myself together and acted like nothing was wrong, deciding to say what I had prepared beforehand. I would try to say it as suavely as possible.

Fufu… I had predicted how my sister would react to me suddenly coming to her room, so I had prepared an appropriate response. It was a response that my sister had used before, filled with the same level of sarcasm. What response, you ask?

“Be quiet… exactly what time do you think it is?”

“……………….”

Unexpectedly, my statement seemed to have backfired.

I don’t think I’ve ever sounded quite as lame as I just did.

Kirino expressionlessly shut the door. Click. I heard the sound of the door locking.

“I’m sorry. Please open the door.”

She didn’t open it. I waited ten seconds, then a minute, and she still didn’t open the door.

Although, I probably wouldn’t have opened the door in her position either.

Well, no use complaining about the situation. Still rubbing my face to deal with the lingering pain, I began to knock. Knock knock, knock knock, knock knock, knock knock…

After continuing to knock for six or seven minutes, it seemed that Kirino had finally run out of patience, and she opened the door forcefully once again. As I began to mentally celebrate my victory, she sent a few extremely threatening words my way.

“What? What do you want? Do you like pissing people off or something? Huh?”

“I have something I need to talk to you about. Come with me for a bit.”

Kirino let me get away with saying that to her, but when I thought about it I realized something.

Those weren’t exactly words you said to someone who was already angry.

Kirino’s response was pretty much exactly how I had responded in her position months ago.

“Huh? You want to talk? At this hour?”

“Yes.”

“Ah, I see. Go die.”

Finally saying what she was planning on saying in the first place, Kirino tried to forcibly end the conversation by closing the door again. But, I managed to just barely shove my leg into the door before she closed it. Bam! my tiptoe was jammed in the door.

“J-just listen to what I have to say…”

“I don’t want to… you’re being stubborn, aren’t you? Why do I have to listen to you?”

“I-I mean, I listened to you back then too…”

“Are you an idiot? That was that and this is this.”

What cruel logic. I already guessed that she might say something like that, but that didn’t make it any less cruel.

Also, my leg hurt like a bitch! It seriously hurt!

Bastard… usually in this situation, the other person would stop trying to force the door closed…

Dammit! I had imagined something like this would happen, but why do I have to go through so much pain just to get her to listen to me?! If I were her, I would have agreed to listen a long time ago already!

“Aagh, come on! Can’t you just be reasonable?!”

“Oogh….”

I was also getting a bit stubborn here, so I held my ground even though I should have probably already given up.

“Please! All you have to do is listen! You’re the only one who I can talk to about this!”

“……”

My desperate plea might have had some effect, since the pressure on my foot weakened. These words weren’t just some ploy to get her to listen to me, but they were honestly partially my true feelings.

“… What…? You mean… you mean that… you want my advice on something?”

“Yeah, exactly. I wanted to say that from the start… my bad?”

“Yes, your bad.”

Instant response. But Kirino didn’t end there, and with an extremely annoyed tone, continued.

“Yes, your bad… but, well, this is annoying, so I’ll listen to you for five minutes only. Be grateful.”

What an arrogant person.

I see… even though now the giver and the taker have switched positions, our positions with respect to each other have not changed at all.

Well, whatever, at least we’re getting somewhere now.

Hmph, I honestly didn’t think that there would ever be a day where I would go to my sister for advice.

“Come in quickly. I don’t want to go into your filthy room.”

“Yeah yeah, as you command.”

“Huh? What’s with that attitude? Aren’t you being a bit rude to the kind person who’s giving you advice?”

It must be nice being able to put yourself up so high on a pedestal!

And well, so it came to be that I stepped into the life advice room of Kousaka Kirino.

I thought back a few months.

When I was being cross-examined by my father, Kirino had stubbornly refused to reveal that I had been her accomplice in her crime.

And in regards to her modeling job, it wasn’t play at all, but a serious job for very professional people. I knew that she had made a promise with my father to keep up her schoolwork and athletics while doing the job on the side.

Her stubbornly firm personality was probably something she inherited from our strict father.

She was more tightlipped, resolved, and well-versed in matters of the female mind than anyone I knew.

Somehow or other, after the events of last month, I began to have a certain amount of faith in Kirino in various respects.

Although, of course, the fact that I really hated her still hadn’t changed.

The light was on in my sister’s room. It’s not like I cared, but if you looked at her in a lit place, my little sister’s face did look pretty cute. Only her face though.

As always, there was a strange sweet smell in the air, and red seemed to be the predominant color in the room.

Kirino sat quietly on the bed, and pointed to the floor.

“Hey, sit there.”

Is it just me, or did these positions make it seem like I was a criminal and she was the judge…?

Of course, even if I mentioned that to her she wouldn’t care.

Obediently doing as my sister had instructed, I sat on the floor on her cat shaped cushion. At that moment, Kirino raised her eyebrows, seeming displeased. She probably really didn’t want me touching her things.

… I won’t say anything else on that end. After all, I came here especially to ask her to help me.

Kirino crossed her arms arrogantly, and coldly jerked her chin up.

“Well? What do you need advice on?”

“Ahh.. well… that is…”

When I tried to begin talking about my problem, my mouth stopped moving.

Was it really alright to be asking her for advice? My mind began to hesitate.

I knew that this was a pretty late stage in the game to be thinking like this, but… well, that’s how I felt.

“Hey… what are you mumbling about?”

“Well, umm… that is… do you promise not to make fun of me?”

It wasn’t like I was trying to copy her from before. I just naturally spurted that out.

This wasn’t a pleasant situation, but in the end, we were brother and sister, right? Incidentally, last month, when my sister asked me the same thing, I responded “I will definitely not make fun of you” in a super cool way.

Kirino’s response ran like this.

“Of course I’ll make fun of you. Come on, quickly. You’re wasting the precious time that I’m sparing for your sake.”

I wasn’t sure if I should fault her for her cruelty or if I should applaud her for her honesty.

I dropped my shoulders sadly, but I made up my mind. She had already told me beforehand that she’ll make fun of me, so there’s nothing to be frightened about anymore.

You could call it positive thinking or resigned acceptance. Either way, I slowly opened my mouth.

“Well, honestly… it’s about Manami.”

“Huh? What are you talking about? This isn’t about some special hobby you couldn’t tell anyone else about?”

“No! Who the hell do you think I am?!”

And plus, she really shouldn’t be applying her own standards here. Certainly, the life advice session last month was unbearable beyond belief, but to the end that was the “little sister” asking the “older brother” for help, so there was some line of propriety that we could apply to that situation. Whether or not we crossed that line or not is a separate issue.

But if we switched positions, that would be terrible, wouldn’t it?! Try to imagine it, if we went through last month’s events with our positions switched.

The “high schooler older brother” takes his “junior high schooler younger sister” into “his own room” in the “middle of the night” and says “The truth is, I really like little sister eroge. What should I do?”

And seriously, this isn’t about eroge in the first place! What kind of insane older brother would actually talk about eroge like this?!

Just imagining talking about eroge like this made me want to kill myself.

“Ugh…”

I’m getting a bit too worked up here… (even though I didn’t say a word out loud yet).

“Well, what is it? … Do you need love advice about her or something?”

“No, not that either. We’re not involved in some sort of love affair like that.”

“… Huh? Even though you two cling to each other enough to make me gag?”

What an unpleasant thing to say, even though she doesn’t really know about our relationship. I found myself suddenly getting annoyed, and I responded.

“What exactly do you think you know about my relationship with Manami?”

“As always, whenever we start talking about that girl, you get annoyed…”

Kirino spoke, looking irritated.

… She seriously hates Manami, doesn’t she? I have no idea why. I mean, she’s barely ever even talked to Manami, so why is she talking about Manami as if she had something against her?

“Certainly, I don’t know too much about your gross relationship with her. So why are you coming here to ask me about her? Are you an idiot?”

“I was hoping to get your opinion as a girl. I’m a boy, so I’m pretty thickheaded about these types of things. I thought that you might be able to understand the situation in a way I can’t…”

“… I see.”

Looking at me with a scornful expression, Kirino swung her crossed legs bak and forth.

“I see. Go ahead. I’ll listen.”

“Ahh. So, honestly… lately, she’s been acting strangely…”

I told Kirino about how Manami had seemed pretty depressed as of late, and how she might be avoiding me.

“And then, what happened was…”

Kirino suddenly interrupted me mid-sentence.

“Hold on. Rewind for a second.”

“Huh? … Um, to where?”

“The time when you came home with her, give me a few more details there.”

“A-ahh…”

It seemed that something about that time set off Kirino’s sensors.

So, I went back and spoke about that time when Manami and I had met Ayase on our way back home.

But for some reason, I didn’t actually bring up Ayase’s name.

… Well, it’s not like there was any reason to, in any case.

Also, if I had exposed that detail this situation might get a bit more complicated… so I didn’t mind leaving it out.

After that, I continued and talked about my conversation with Rock a few days ago.

“… So that’s what happened… what do you think?”

“I think you should die.”

Her sudden response felt like a knife in my chest, and I began to protest with a “Hey….” But, Kirino didn’t flinch at all. “Well, in all seriousness though…” she continued.

“I don’t know what exactly is going on at her house, but… I do know one thing. You should go die.”

Looking into my sister’s eyes, I could feel the temperature sharply drop. Kirino continued.

“How in hell didn’t you notice this before? Having your appearance being made fun of by the guy you’re walking home with, and then being compared to another girl… that would obviously depress any girl.”

“I wasn’t making fun of her! And I smoothed it over afterwards too!”

“It doesn’t matter why you said what you said. The important thing is how she takes it. Also, keep in mind that I really don’t know what you’re relationship with her is. This is just what I would think if I were in that situation. Well, of course, if it were me, before I got depressed over it, I would put the guy in his place first for screwing around. Also, what? You smoothed it over? You already said these words once, and you think you can take them back that easily? You’re an idiot if you think that’s true.”

“…….”

That was pretty harsh, but… I silently mulled over Kirino’s words.

So, Manami was depressed because of what I had said back then…?

Was that it? Certainly she looked pretty sad and mentioned that she should “try harder” with her own appearance, but… I thought that my attempts at smoothing the situation over had been successful.

Also, it’s not like that was the first time Manami and I had had a conversation like this.

Although, in the past, I had once told her “You smell like tatami. It’s like grass is going to start growing on your body or something.” And suddenly she started crying.

In retrospect, I do feel like I had really hurt her feelings that time.

Hm… but when all’s said and done, I’m still not fully satisfied here. This explanation also didn’t seem to be connected at all to any situation she was having at home…

But, there wasn’t anything else I could think of that would explain all this, so let’s just see what we can do with this one hypothesis.

“Well, for argument’s sake, let’s say you’re right… what should I do?”

“I told you, you should go die.”

“Something other than that!”

Ugh, this person. She has absolutely no compassion for her brother, does she? Not even a shred of compassion. Why did I come to her for advice? Suddenly, I couldn’t understand my reasons anymore…

After I asked her for some advice other than telling me to go die, Kirino looked troubled. “Tch… that’s a hard question…”

… It honestly seemed like she thought the best answer she could give me was to “go die.”

Not being able to bear this for much longer, I opened my mouth to try to at least come up with some ideas.

“What would you do… in my situation? For example… if I made you angry, what should I do to be forgiven?”

“I would never forgive you.”

“Just assume there is a way and think about it!”

“Eh… but seriously, no matter what you did I wouldn’t forgive you.”

Kirino stared blankly at me and blinked her eyes in confusion.

She said that as if it were the most natural thing in the world…

Don’t put on such a cute expression here, dammit. I won’t fall for it.

When I faced her with a stern stare, Kirino shook her head, with a “I guess it can’t be helped…”

“How should I put it… I definitely wouldn’t forgive you no matter what you did. But what if I just thought about this from the standpoint of a normal girl?”

“Well, alright. Please do. How does a guy deal with a girl when he’s hurt her?”

This would be the opinion of a real junior high school girl. Everyone should also pay attention.

“I think you should give her some money. Something like that.”

“Money?! You want me to give Manami money as an apology?!”

“It’s the sincerest way to let know you’re sorry and to compensate her, isn’t it?”

“It’s not like I’m the government or something!! Do you really think that kind of thing would be able to heal a girl’s heart?!”

“It’s not like I think like that… but from what I’ve heard, isn’t that the case? My friend once told me ‘When I get presents from guys, the more money I can turn them into, the happier I am.’”

“… Who the hell could be so evil? She’s just trampling their pure feelings under her foot!”

“You mean, Kanako? She was the short girl who came over that day.”

Her?! She was the girl who was spewing those terrible insults about me! Now I can see where Kirino’s advice was coming from all too clearly.

“… Kirino, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to reject that proposal. No matter how I think about it, giving Manami money won’t help the situation.”

“… What? How can that girl be so greedy?”

“That’s not what I mean!”

She needs to understand that Manami honors a completely different set of values.

After all, Manami wasn’t the type who would care much about money.

When I invited her to hang out with me wherever she wanted to, she suggested we go to the park, didn’t she?

If I really gave her expensive makeup or jewelry, instead of being happy she might actually be really troubled by it.

“Ah, well whatever. Just do what you want. Your five minutes are up, so get out.”

Kirino began to shoo me out with her hands.

“Yeah yeah…”

Heh… it was a mistake coming to her for advice after all, wasn’t it? Picking myself up from the floor, I headed towards the door.

… In the end, I wasn’t able to get any good advice from her… what should I do…”

“But, hey.”

Having already gripped the doorknob in my hands, I heard a voice come from behind me.

“You might think that you’re trying to bribe her with a present or something… but it’s really not about what you give her. The more important thing is that you’re doing something for her sake, don’t you think?”

Kirino was muttering nonchalantly, as if she were completely spaced out, but her words stuck right into my chest.

“…..nn…. mm…”

When I nervously turned back towards her, Kirino slowly stood up, and took out a single magazine from her bookshelf. She casually tossed the magazine my way.

It landed at my feet, and I stared at it. Kirino spoke curtly.

“Look. Feature on page 175.”

I guess she wanted me to pick the magazine up and flip to that page or something…

Feeling a bit intimidated by my sister’s haughty attitude, I did as she ordered.

When I opened to that feature page, I saw the title jump out at me with its large font.

Summer Special Edition – You have to have these! [19] With our magical charm items, become a Cinderella by the beach!

What the hell… what’s with this annoyingly extreme article?

There was a sparkling rosary-like bracelet, and earrings, and…

Wearing those really flashy accessories, the brown haired swim-suit model shown in front of me, making a cool pose by the beachside, was none other than my sister. Next to her, Ayase sported a blue bikini.

This must be the sample magazine that Ayase was talking about the other day.

… This was an article that modern junior high girls would take a liking to, probably.

How cute.

Well? What was she trying to tell me? Why is she making me look at a photo of her in a swimsuit?

When I looked at my little sister, puzzled, she lightly clicked her tongue.

“It’s not like I’m telling you to give that plain-looking girl such flashy accessories. No matter how you look at it, they really wouldn’t suit her. Tch… well? I mean, magazines and TV programs always have these fashion special features and they try to stir girls up into buying these things, but if you think girls can’t think for themselves and just drink this all up, then you’re completely wrong. Don’t take girls lightly. And I mean, of course girls worry about fashion and things like that, but they also have to think about what suits them the best, and what looks the best on them. When it comes down to it, I obviously know myself much better than the media knows me.”

Even though she was a magazine model, she was strangely critical of the article that she was featured in.

But also… she got completely off topic there, didn’t she…? She was seriously hopeless when it came to talking.

As if guessing what I was thinking, Kirino clumsily tried to wrap up what she was talking about.

“I-I mean… what I wanted to say is… um, you want to tell her your feelings, but you’re obsessed with thinking about whether or not giving her money or presents is right or wrong. But really, all you have to do is to think hard about her, and then choose a way to fix this situation. That’s all.”

Finishing her speech, Kirino once again sent a serious look my way.

“At least… if someone gets a present from a person she’s close enough to have an argument with… there’s no reason she wouldn’t be happy about it.”

“… Does that also apply to you? Or rather, does that only work for average girls?”

“Huh?”

My tone was slightly rude… but she was probably serious.

Certainly, she hated her brother from the bottom of her heart, and had a terrible, sickening personality.

But, she wouldn’t give a half-hearted response to someone who came to her asking her sincerely for advice. In contrast to her outwards appearance, perhaps through strict discipline and training, she really did have a strangely tough interior.

I had already come to understand that from how she acted during last month’s events.

And that’s why I came to her about my troubles.

Hm…

Giving her a light nod, I spoke.

“Thanks, Kirino.”

“Hmph.”

Kirino coldly faced the other way. There was no mistaking that, towards her brother who had expressed his thanks so suavely, she was thinking…

My brother can’t possibly be this cute.

… As if.

In the end, I still really didn’t know why Manami had been in such a strange mood lately. Earlier, Kirino had pointed out Manami might be depressed because I had compared her with Ayase, but I didn’t know if that was really the real reason or not. So right now, one thing I didn’t understand is why Manami had been acting this way.

Also, I still didn’t know if she really was trying to avoid me or not.

In any case… Manami would be back tomorrow.

When I met with her in person, I would have to make sure she told me the whole story.

But, if something was really bothering her, then I wanted to do something to help. I wanted to help cheer her up.

And if I really had done something wrong, then I wanted to sincerely apologize.

At any rate, this was about Manami. For me, I couldn’t treat this nonchalantly like I had with Kirino’s friends, as if this had nothing to do with me. Manami had helped me out a lot in the past, and I planned to rely on her in the future as well.

In that case, it wouldn’t be bad if I got her a present, right?

Yes, a present. Obviously, I wouldn’t just give her cash or anything too high-class… but if giving her something would make her happy, certainly this wasn’t a bad idea, was it? And I mean, it’s not like I had any better ideas.

When I had thanked Kirino earlier, I was expressing my true feelings. In the end, she gave me some very valuable advice. At the very least, that’s how I saw it.

… That is, she told me that it didn’t matter what I bought her, but it was enough to do something for Manami.

That I wanted to tell her how I felt, but I was fixating on whether or not giving her a present was right or wrong. That all I had to do was think hard about her, and then choose a way to fix this situation.

… That generally, if someone gets a present from someone she was close enough with to argue with… there’s no reason she wouldn’t be happy about it.

In this case, it’s not like we were arguing or something… and Manami and I weren’t strangers. But…

… Yeah. No matter what was troubling Manami, this might make her feel just a bit better. Even if she really was trying to avoid me.

If this could make her happy, then it wouldn’t be a waste, right?

I really didn’t like seeing her so unhappy like this.

“Yeah… that’s it. That’s it.”

She had always helped me study, and even if she wasn’t going to do that anymore, I should at least get her something. That’s what I decided…

“Hm. What should I get her…?”

It seemed that a new problem had come into sight. Manami’s frugal nature was rather troublesome in this case. I couldn’t really imagine what I could possibly get her that would make her happy.

If I were buying a present for Kirino or Kirino’s friends, I would buy something as expensive as possible, and I could figure that out by consulting both my own budget and a store clerk… and I did have quite a bit saved up. After all, it’s not like I have much to spend my money on.

Umm… things that Manami would like, things that she would want…

Tea? Candy? … No no, those are things her family sells.

Well… glasses? Clothes? I felt that these were probably not right either… they were too expensive, and might make her feel uncomfortable… I had to find a present that wasn’t expensive enough that it would make her embarrassed…

“Hm……….”

I couldn’t figure anything out for a long time, but at least, I had a flash of insight from something Manami had said in the past.

–“Hey, lately I’ve been sleeping with this bear-shaped body pillow. It’s reaaally comfortable.”

–“I’m collecting pillows right now.”

“… So… a pillow?”

At my own words, I tilted my head In puzzlement. I really didn’t have much confidence that a pillow was an appropriate present for a girl.

For example, what if I gave a pillow to Kirino?

“Hey, Kirino. This is a present for you… it’s a pillow.”

“Die.”

It would definitely be like that. But, I was dealing with Manami here, not Kirino… so maybe this would be good… that’s what I thought, even though I didn’t really have an ounce of confidence in my idea.

Even so, I was supposed to be the person who should know Manami the best. If the present I got her was wrong, then it’s doubtful that anybody could get her an appropriate present. Right?

“Alright, a pillow, then. Let’s get her a pillow.”

Quickly reviving my computer from standby [20], I began to look up prices for her present on the Internet. I got the idea to try the pillow site I had found before.

Manami was, in the end, a girl, so she probably really liked character pillows… so let’s take a look at those. [21]

I guess computers weren’t originally just tools for killing time. They also could be used at times like this [22]. For the first time since I had gotten it, I felt comforted by this computer that Kirino had lent me.

It was the evening Manami was supposed to return.

I was standing on a road right next to the Tamura house, leaning on a concrete wall, and staring up at the sky.

“So hot…”

I narrowed my eyes in the sunlight of this pretty summer day. I wiped the sweat off my face with a handkerchief.

It was hot beyond belief. It was already evening, but the temperature was so high that I could still see the top of the telephone poles around me distorting in the heat.

… I might have come too early…

That’s what I was thinking. But, I couldn’t help it, could I? I really wanted to see Manami as soon as possible.

But… waiting around like this was making me increasingly anxious…

Even though Rock had told me Manami would be coming back this evening, I wondered if she really would be… I also wondered about what I would say to her when I saw her… and what I would do if she still was trying to avoid me…

“Agh… dammit… how pitiful…”

My mind wouldn’t stop turning. Thoughts of Manami seemed to relentlessly swirl around in my head.

My handkerchief had already taken in so much sweat that it had become sticky. I thought about going to buy some juice, but thinking that in that time, Manami might come back, I couldn’t move an inch from where I was.

You might think that it would be better if I went into the house and waited for her there, but for some reason I didn’t want to do that. There’s no reason for it. Honestly, none. But, I just wanted to wait for her out here.

At the very least, if I did this, I could see her face a few seconds earlier.

After that, I waited for around ten more minutes, and then…

Soon, I saw Manami appear around the corner. She came lugging a heavy-looking trunk behind her, yelling out “yoisho!” in self-encouragement every time she took a step.

And occasionally, she would stop and wipe off the sweat from her face.

“——“

In a second, a number of various feelings passed through my chest.

Worry, loneliness, irritation, nostalgia, and also… well…

In my confusion, I couldn’t really describe this feeling in one word, but… it was probably a feeling closest to relief.

When I was next to her, I couldn’t help but feel relieved. That was true even now, even though I was afraid that she might be trying to avoid me.

You could say that this was an immutable behavior that had been slowly etched into me over the years. You could also call it a conditioned reflex.

Hah… seriously, I’m so lost when she’s not around.

It would be great if I could fix whatever had happened between us. I really thought that.

I casually raised a hand in greeting, trying as hard as possible to make it seem like everything was normal.

“Hey, welcome back.”

“Wha-whaaa?”

She probably was surprised because when she rounded the corner, suddenly I was there.

Widening her eyes, Manami looked shocked.

“K-Kyou-chan… what are you doing here…? How did you know that I was coming back today…? Umm… could it be… that you were waiting here for a long time for me…?”

“Hm? It’s not like that, no.”

Well, honestly though, I’ve been here for around two hours.

“I mean… I just… wanted to see you.”

“…Uh… a-ahh…”

For some reason, Manami looked embarrassed as she mumbled something under her breath. She looked really confused, so I spoke up while scratching my cheek.

“Ah… did you not want to see me?”

“N-no, it’s not like that. N-not at all…”

When I tried to get a good peek at her face, Manami suddenly turned her head downwards. What’s more, as if she were trying to run away from me, she began to slowly move backwards with her trunk. She looked like a teary-eyed puppy who had just lost a fight with a bigger dog.

… Geez.

I had hoped that when she came back, everything would return to normal… but it didn’t seem like that was going to happen. Manami’s mood seemed just as strange as it was before.

Dammit. This wasn’t normal at all. This wasn’t like how we usually acted towards each other.

Alright…

Making up my mind, I held out my hand. And then, I firmly caught Manami by the wrist.

I had already prepared myself to do things I didn’t want to do, and I definitely couldn’t let her run away from me here.

And then, I started pleading with her with a pitiable tone of voice.

“Hold on, wait wait wait… please don’t run away.”

“I’m… not trying to run away…”

Liar. If that’s true, why won’t you even look at me? If everything were normal, you would send me a pleasant smile instead, wouldn’t you? That’s what you would do when you talked with me.

Agh… dammit, what should I do? I had thought about plenty of things I could start the conversation with, but I couldn’t remember any of them. It felt like I had failed cramming for a test or something…

“Has something been… bothering you lately?”

I had no choice but to get straight to the issue. It was an amazingly blunt way to start.

“Huh? Huuuh?”

As if I had hit the bulls-eye, Manami raised her head.

But, immediately afterwards, she turned her heads downwards once again.

“W-why do you ask? N-nothing’s been bothering me. Ahaha…”

She was absolutely terrible at playing dumb like this. Even worse than Kirino.

But… I see… as I thought, something was bothering her. And what’s more, it was something she didn’t want to talk to me about. It was perfectly clear, as I watched her desperately trying to hide whatever it was she was trying to hide, that she didn’t want me to ask her about this.

In other words, Manami didn’t need my help right now.

I didn’t want to admit it, but that’s how things seemed.

It’s just, I couldn’t consent to leaving this alone so easily here. No matter what.

I might be repeating myself, but I really wanted to just do something for her, to help her out of this.

If I couldn’t do that, at the very least I wanted to cheer her up. It wasn’t for anyone else’s sake, but just for my own. To the very end, I was just acting selfishly out of my own self-interest.

So, therefore, she might not want me to, but I can’t let this conversation end here. I sincerely bowed my head.

“… Sorry.”

“Eh…? K-kyou-chan?”

Manami’s voice sounded rather confused.

She was probably surprised at my sudden apology.

“’I don’t quite know what’s bothering you… but I can tell that whatever it is, you don’t want to talk to me about it. But, I can’t let that go. No matter how much you say it doesn’t have anything to do with me and refuse my help, I can’t just stand by and pretend nothing is happening.”

“So, you mean…“

“At some point, you also said something like that to me, right?”

For just a second, Manami, wide-eyed, made eye contact with me. In the next second, she once again turned her eyes away.

“D-did I?”

“Yes, you did. It’s always been like that. Whenever I’ve been tired, you’ve always interfered and meddled in my business. Even though I didn’t ask you to.”

I gave a strained smile while thinking back to those pleasant times. Yes, whenever I got like that, she would come to my rescue. So, this was just me giving her the same thing back.

“That’s… I mean… I just can’t leave Kyou-chan alone.”

“I know. You seem more like my mother than my own mother sometimes.”

“… So, by that, do you mean you love me?”

Manami asked that with a slightly downtrodden tone of voice.

A different response from before spontaneously burst forth from my mouth.

“Yeah.”

“E-ehhh?!?!?!”

Manami’s body began to tremble in surprise.

“Ah… n-no, not like that. That’s not what I mean… argh, dammit… ummm… I might have responded too quickly… I mean that you’re like family… umm…”

Idiot! What the hell am I saying?!

Did standing for two hours in this damn heat scramble my brains or something?!

As I desperately tried to clear up any misunderstandings, Manami, staring at me all the while, began to chuckle. She wiped a few tears from the side of her eyes with her finger.

“Geez… Kyou-chan… you’re the same as always.”

“………. Ugh……….. look who’s talking….”

“……. But…… I did change.”

Stopping her giggling, Manami looked downwards once again.

If nothing had changed, then here we would start laughing together at each other, and then that would be the end of the problem.

… But, I guess she’s right. You could say that lately, she’s “changed.”

Even though I honestly didn’t want things to change like this…

The silence stretched out for a little while longer.

In that silence, I thought about my childhood friend, who was standing in front of me.

We had known each other for longer than ten years. There were still probably things that we didn’t know about each other… but I probably knew Manami better than anybody else, and she me.

But I grew used to that kind of relationship, and I grew complacent. And if, because of that, I didn’t realize it when I hurt Manami… then just like my sister had said, I really should just go and die.

They say that even with good friends there are good manners, and there’s really no reason that our good relationship could continue forever unconditionally. So, to keep our friendship for as long as possible, I had to try my best.

That’s what I came to understand.

Somehow or other, this was something I had to come to accept.

“… The something that’s bothering you… is it my fault? Was I the reason you changed…? Am I why you’ve seemed so sad lately, why you’ve seemed like you’ve been avoiding me…? If I did something bad to you, I apologize. So, please. Just tell me what’s going on.”

“Whaaa?!?!?!”

Upon hearing what I had to say, Manami shouted in protest and waved her hands back and forth.

“N-no! T-that’s completely wrong! I-It’s really not like K-Kyouchan did something like that to me!”

“Eh?! R-really?”

“Yes! Where did you come up with such a ridiculous idea?!”

Manami strongly protested my statement with an unexpectedly loud voice.

It seemed like my words might have even angered her.

I faltered a bit at her angry look, but even then I felt relieved. I heard that I wasn’t the cause of my childhood friend’s problems, straight from the person herself.

… But I couldn’t stop here. This means that her troubles came from some other source.

“But, honestly, you’ve been acting strangely lately, right? And… you said that you changed, right? Is that why you’ve been avoiding me…? What’s your reason for doing that?”

When I asked this, Manami bashfully fiddled with her fingers and blushed.

“Well… that is… that time when I came back with Kyou-chan… that time when we met that girl, do you remember…?”

And, like that, with her glasses almost completely clouded over, my childhood friend began her explanation.

“Y-your bangs?”

“Y-yeah…”

What Manami ended up telling me was completely beyond my expectations, and filled me with surprise.

“The day we met that girl, right…? I… After I went home, I cut my hair… but… that is… I sort of failed at doing that… my bangs came out uneven… and when I tried to fix that, it just got worse and worse… a-and eventually, there wasn’t really anything more I could do to fix it…”

Reminiscing on that day, I remembered that Manami was close to tears.

“Even though you complimented me that day… I changed like this… and then, I didn’t even want to go to school, and waited until the last possible second to leave the house.” [23]

“… And then, you didn’t want to show me your face.”

Is that why she seemed like she was avoiding me?

“… Yeah.”

Looking completely dispirited, Manami sniffled.

It was like we were in some shounen manga, and the heroine who had been turned into a monster was confessing her dirty secret to the protagonist, or something.

I still was a bit stumped by what was going on, but for now I should deal with the remaining questions I had, and so I went through them in order.

“So… this all happened because of that time we met Ayase…?”

“… What do you mean?”

Blinking her tear-stricken eyes, Manami cocked her head to the side in confusion.

What?

“T-then… when I called your cell phone, it seemed like your phone was off…”

“Huh? You called me…? Sorry, I left for a while to go to a relative’s house…”

“No, I called your cell phone though.”

“… I don’t really leave the house with my cell phone. I’m afraid of losing it…”

Then what’s the point of a cell phone? That’s seriously something I’d expect an old person to say.

I was seriously troubled when I couldn’t reach her by phone, though.

“W-well… what about this ‘situation at home’ they told me about at school?”

“A-ah, that. I went to my relative’s house, they run a store out of their house too, to help out. Their grandmother… well she’s fine now in any case… she was hospitalized…”

“I… see… B-but, you even told your brother not to tell me about this. He told me that you told him that if I asked about this to not tell me anything… why did you do that?”

Because of that, my suspicions that I had done something bad to you grew stronger…

“Huh?” Manami widened her eyes, and then looked downhearted, as if she had made some major blunder.

“It’s not what you think! That time, I didn’t know what the condition of that relative was… if her condition worsened and this situation got worse… well, Kyou-chan would worry about me… so I told him ‘Until we know about her condition, even if he asks you, don’t tell Kyou-chan anything, alright?’”

“I… see…”

I see. When Manami started taking off from school because of some “situation at home,” even normally, I would probably go to Rock to ask about the situation. And if I heard that one of Manami’s relatives had been hospitalized and so on, of course I would be worried. Thinking about Manami’s feelings, I would feel pretty downhearted.

So she decided to not tell me anything.

But in this case, her plan backfired. Not only did the person she entrusted to tell me say suggestive things, but he explained his sister’s intentions rather carelessly.

So, that means…

The “situation at home” and the “thing that’s bothering Manami” were two separate things…

“So, you weren’t angry because… I had made fun of your face…?”

“Like I said, there’s no reason I would do that. I mean… that time, Kyou-chan told me that he liked me the way I was, right…? That you like me [24] this way, even more than you liked that girl… you made me really, really happy.”

D-did I really say something like that…? If I try to remember, I guess some words that resembled those came out of my mouth… but wasn’t the nuance a bit different the way she said it?

Hey hey, what kind of smug idiot would say such embarrassing words without the least reservation? I would? Really?

Incredibly bewildered, I watched as Manami gave me a loose smile, looking quite happy.

“… That’s why… there’s no reason for me to be mad at Kyou-chan…”

“I-I see…”

Well, I couldn’t help but feel embarassed, so with great effort I turned my thoughts elsewhere.

U-umm. So that means… all in all, this was a one person sumo match…?

Was that really the reason you seemed so troubled…? I was speechless, but I wanted to say that [25].

So, probably, because she had changed her hairstyle even though I had told her that I liked her the way she was, that’s why she was so worried, right?

And she was so depressed about it that she didn’t even want to come to school?

What a huge idiot. What an unbelievably huge idiot. Just listening to her here made tears well up in my eyes.

Was I mistaken? That she had such a ridiculous reason for all of this…

… But also…

“So… where is it? Where did you cut off too much?”

“Umm….. H-here. See, here… isn’t it weird looking?”

I mean, even if she points to it with such a miserable expression…

“Haah… I’m really sad about this change…”

At the same time that Manami dropped her shoulders, I sadly did the same. T-this person…

Even if she says that she cut off too much, I can’t see it at all…

And first and foremost, certainly, I did tell her that I liked her the way she was.

But there’s no reason I would get angry or hate it if she just changed her hairstyle.

… Geez, I really didn’t understand these girls who took these small things so seriously…

Well, it seems that everything was alright, so I’m relieved. I’m seriously relieved. With this, from tomorrow we can return to how everything was. We can go to school together, study together, go home together, and eat sweets together…

Buhaha! Do you see, Akagi?! She didn’t have a boyfriend at all! Serves you right!

….. Wha? But, how should I put it… there was something else…

As I thought back on the conversation I exchanged with Manami’s brother a few days ago, the person in question showed up.

He probably spied Manami and I talking outside.

He leaned outside from the second floor window of the Manami house.

“HEYO! Welcome home Nee-chan!!”

He waved his hand energetically.

He then went back into the room, and soon flew out of the house entryway.

“Nee-chan Nee-chan Nee-chan Nee-chan! I got my allowance today! And I went out and bought a wig for you! Don’t worry don’t worry, it’s one that only covers a part of your head! So people definitely won’t figure it out! This wig… oh!”

It was Rock. He ran towards us with noisy footsteps, and when he realized I was there he raised his voice enthusiastically.

“OH! If it isn’t An-chan! Hey!!”

“Hey…. Good timing, Rock. Come here for a sec.”

As I beckoned him to come with my hands, the idiot rushed over like some over-eager dog. “What, what? Do you have something for me?”

When that baldie came within attack range, I quickly put him in a headlock and tightened my arms around his neck.

“You bald asshole! Bastard… you knew from the beginning what was bothering Manami!”

“Ahhhhhh! That hurts! B-but I said it already! I said ‘Well, the haircut went overboard’ didn’t I?! You’re the one who wouldn’t listen to me!!”

“Ohh? Well sorry about that. Because it’s not like there’s ANY way I could misinterpret that!”

I began to grind my knuckles on his head. I’ve often wrestled with Rock in the past, so it’s not like Manami was that bothered by what was happening in front of her.

Rather, she thought it was quite amusing.

“… You two are getting along well as usual, huh?”

“… Agh, geez! You two…”

Dammit, I’m exhausted. Why the hell have I been so worried for the past few days? I even went for advice to my annoying sister…

But, well, I might be repeating myself again, but I’m seriously glad that nothing was wrong.

As soon as my strength waned a bit, Rock found a gap in my hold and ran away.

He’s like a little rat, isn’t it? Well, whatever.

“Haaah…”

Sighing deeply, I stuck a hand in the bag on my back. Taking something out, I held it out casually towards Manami.

“This is for you.”

“Huh? Huuh?”

She received the gift properly, but she put on a rather strange expression and blinked rapidly.

“… This… is for me? T-thanks… but, why? Is it… my birthday today?”

“… Idiot… of course it’s not your birthday. Aren’t you 50 years too young to be going senile?”

As I watched my childhood friend act 50 years too old for her age, I felt an extreme sense of ease. In a pleasant but somewhat embarrassing way, I spoke.

“Your birthday is May 4th, isn’t it? That’s it, right? But don’t worry, since you’ll definitely get something on your birthday too. This isn’t a birthday present… ah, dammit, whatever!”

I felt rather embarrassed talking like this, but because I couldn’t think of anything else to say, my speech became jumbled up like that.

“Just take it!”

“A-alright…”

Hiding my embarrassment behind annoyance, I managed to get Manami, still blinking, to nod.

Maybe due to my bad temper, I continued to say unnecessary things.

“… It’s not like there’s any strange meaning behind this. Don’t misunderstand what I’m doing here.”

After I said that, Manami looked happy and replied with a “…yeah, alright.”

… hm, why do I suddenly feel so fidgety?

Tch… because it seemed like it would be difficult for Manami to lug my present together with her luggage, I put on a stern expression and took up her trunk. She quickly thanked me, but I turned the other way and ignored her. When I stole a glance at Manami,

“… Hm, should I open it? Ehehe… I wonder what it is…”

I watched with bated breath as Manami began to gently, gently peel off the wrapping on the package.

At long last, the present lay bare on Manami’s arm.

“Whoooaa…”

I had selected a rabbit hug pillow. The body was long, and it was made from a very comfortable material.

Honestly, I think it might have been an anime character or something, but whatever. I just liked the design. I really felt that this present would make Manami happy.

And it seemed like my prediction was completely correct.

“Such a cute pillow~~! Thanks, Kyouchan~~~!”

“… Haha, it looks strangely lazed and sleepy, doesn’t it? Well, if you like it then I’m happy. Be sure to sleep with it once in a while!”

I stroked my chest in relief, and Manami happily hugged the rabbit pillow close.

“Mhm, I’ll pretend it’s Kyou-chan and take good care of it!”

“… Don’t do that.”

“Eh? Why? Its drowsy eyes remind me of Kyou-chan though…”

“Nevermind.”

When you think of “thickheaded,” you usually think of guys… but her head was definitely also quite thick.

That was super embarrassing!

So, in the end, the situation turned out to unfold like this…

There wasn’t really anything serious happening here, it was simply me jumping to conclusions.

My relationship with Manami was the same as always, and hadn’t changed in the least.

“Hey, when summer break starts… be sure to come over and hang out with me, alright?”

“Hm. If you’ll help me with my homework, I’ll come.”

“Mhm. And, aand, because I made you worry… as an apology and as thanks, I’m going to make Kyou-chan some yummy food.”

“… By ‘Kyou-chan,’ I hope you don’t mean that bunny rabbit there…”

As always, with wrinkles creasing my brow, I began my retort as my childhood friend feigned innocence.

It was the same scenery as always.

The life I had always desired, that I would continue to desire, was certainly here with me right now.

… Geez. Our inseparable relationship was sturdier than I had thought.

I got the impression that I would be with this airheaded, plain-looking, bespectacled childhood friend for quite a long time.

As long as Manami and I both shared the same desire about our relationship, then that desire would be fulfilled.

Even if, someday, that desire would change.

But I was happy with what I had right now. I didn’t have a single complaint.

I’ll be depending on her after today as well.

Looking up, I gazed languidly at the evening sun [26], and a pleasant exhaustion filled my mind.


Translator's Notes

  1. Not too sure what a desk pad is anyways. Google image searching turned up results for what looked like mousepads, folders, clipboards, etc… Whatever, it’s not that important to the story.
  2. Kuzukiri are chilled noodles, usually served with a sweet sauce.
  3. Theme park in Nikko that highlights the Edo period of Japanese History.
  4. It doesn’t sound as weird in Japanese if you say “tadaima” when going into someone else’s home. A more literal translation of “tadaima” would be “just now.”
  5. Reasonably respectful way to say “grandfather.” I will try not to translate honorifics when it makes sense not to.
  6. “Baa-san” translates to “grandmother.” He is referring to his wife in a sort of casual way.
  7. Expressionist painting by Edvard Munch. Google image search it. I’m sure you’ve seen it before.
  8. Neechan is an endearing term that means “older sister.”
  9. Ponzu is a citrusy thin sauce very popular in Japanese cuisine.
  10. Dragon Quest reference to a spell that confuses enemies. Dragon Quest references do not make me a happy camper.
  11. He says her eyesight is less than 0.1, which is a measure of eyesight I’m not familiar with. So I just translated it as “really bad eyesight.”
  12. Japanese fashion style often associated with school uniforms. Wiki it.
  13. Translated more literally as “with a smile as if she had a halo above her head.”
  14. Punpun here probably is an expression of mild unhappiness or annoyance. But I didn’t translate it so the next line would make sense.
  15. Mimetic word – a word that mimics something that doesn’t make a sound.
  16. He says “HYO.” I have no idea what that means. My best guess is that it’s some form of HEY or HEYO.
  17. Some wrestling move of some random character from some random anime. Hell if I know. Click here for more information.
  18. He’s presumably talking about a good ending for an eroge.
  19. Literally, “If you are begging, look here!” which I interpreted as “These are the items you should beg your boyfriends/parents/whatever for.”
  20. Yes, it’s technically Kirino’s computer, and he never says “my” in the novel. But Japanese can get away with this – English cannot. It would have sounded really awkward if I wrote “Quickly reviving the computer from standby.”
  21. Are these pillows that have characters printed on them or pillows shaped like characters? I don’t know. Google Image Search also seems to be noncommittal.
  22. Avenue Q would disagree.
  23. If you need a refresher, these events are described in Volume 2, Chapter 2-4. Ed: on the original sight each chapter was split into multiple parts: This comment refers to an earlier part of this chapter, not the next few chapters.
  24. Here, the way Manami says it, it sounds like Kyousuke confessed to her. The word “like” in Japanese is much more commonly used in the romantic sense than it is in English.
  25. He actually says he wants to say that to “praise himself.” This doesn’t translate well to English at all, so I left it out.
  26. Literally, “I couldn’t get enough of looking at the evening sun.”
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