It became completely dark out as I was reading my book.
One of my bad habits that take hold of me when I was in the middle of a big cleanup or tidying things up was my “oops, I started reading a book habit”.
Close call there… If what I was reading just now was a series, I would’ve found myself entranced in a reading marathon. And once I finished all the volumes, I’d end up spouting, “When’s the next volume coming out? Hurry up and do your job, author!”
I lifted myself up from the sofa I was laying down on and returned the book I finished reading back to the shelf.
With this, my big cleanup was all done. Nothing was actually tidied up, but whatever, I was done.
In life, so as long as you were unable to get rid of your past stains, then I had to say, ultimately, cleanups were an impossible endeavor and thus, meaningless. If life was the stain itself, then regardless of what you tried, you’d never see an end to cleaning up your life.
At any rate, since I was at least able to organize my bookshelf in my room, I made my return to the living room in triumph.
Only a few more days were left of this year.
Supposedly tomorrow was the last business day of the year for my parents. They had a lot of piled up work that needed to be taken care of so they were going to be running late tonight as well. For that reason, my mom had done her cleaning little by little as time permitted. Before long, the living room was neatly tidied up.
But in the neat living room, there was an individual sprawled out on the floor, emitting some kind of ominous aura.
It was my little sister, Hikigaya Komachi.
Her upper body poked out from the kotatsu and she was lying face down. Riding on her back was our beloved cat, Kamakura, who was grooming himself with his tongue.
“What’s wrong with you…?” I asked her on reflex, but there was no reply. It’s just a corpse…1 Oh, c’mon, Komachi, dying here of all places, a little pathetic, you know…
However, it looked rough having a cat on her back. It was almost as if she had been possessed by an earthbound spirit as she didn’t budge at all. On that note, I’d really like it if we could decide on whether an earthbound spirit cat was a cat, spirit, or a demon already, meow.
I made my way into the kotatsu while lifting Kamakura off of Komachi’s back and loaded him onto my lap. Kamakura kneaded my lap to get comfortable, drooped his head and flopped over, sleeping again. Sorry for the bad sleeping spot. Forgive me, meow ♪!
When I relieved Komachi of the weight on her back, she lifted her head.
My little sister who was always adorable had the sinking, rotten eyes of a fish. Oh my, you’re just like your older brother! We really are siblings! So if Komachi’s cute and I was similar to her, then that meant I was cute! But, wait, those rotten eyes were seriously not cute. So if Komachi’s usual cuteness wasn’t enough to make her look cute, didn’t that mean I wasn’t cute, like, at all?
Anyway, this was the first time I’ve ever seen Komachi look so backed up against the wall.
“Komachi, you okay…?”
“No… I’m done for…” Komachi grumbled and buried her face into her cushion again. She then uttered a delirious mutter with a fragmented voice. “Must, get to cleaning… Gotta, throw away the trash… Need, to toss out onii-trash…”
“Calm down Komachi. The house cleanup is more or less done. Also, it ain’t that easy cleaning up your onii-chan. You’d better be prepared for the long haul.”
“Uuugh, as far as Komachi’s concerned, I just want you to get married off already…”
She gave me a disgruntled look, but there really wasn’t much I could do about that. That’s like on the same hurdle as trying to marry off Hiratsuka-sensei, probably. As if you could marry off a guy as bothersome as me… But this wasn’t the time to be setting up my defensive barriers. Komachi was the issue here.
For the most part, I had an idea as to why Komachi turned out this way. It was probably because of her exams. “Studying’s too hard”, “The mock exams went totally bad”, basically stuff like that.
Ever since Christmas had ended, Komachi had muscled through days and nights of studying, but with the New Year right around the corner, she was now out of steam.
Mumbling and sobbing, Komachi said, “Crap, crap crap…”
She then made a glance at me.
When I went quiet, Komachi shoved her face into the cushion again. She spoke with a muffled voice. “Sniff, uugh, I’m soooo tired…”
She then made a glance at me.
Man, she’s a freaking pain… However, I was a senior veteran onii-chan boasting fifteen years of service. It was times like these where I made sure to understand the right kinds of words to tell her.
“Well, you know. Just studying all the time is a bit constraining. It’s almost New Year’s Eve, so why don’t we take a breather and go somewhere far for our first shrine visit of the year?”
“Sure!” Komachi instantly answered and abruptly rose from her position.
It looked like I was spot on. Of course, since I was a professional onii-chan, that’s par for the course here. As a matter of fact, I think this country should go ahead and prepare an onii-chan occupation. What the heck is an onii-chan occupation? Is that, like, being raised by your younger sister? Now that’s what I’d call an invincible job. Then again, that’s still considered being unemployed.
But as a professional onii-chan, I wouldn’t spoil her too much. I made sure to remind her.
“That’s fine, but you’ll have to study your butt off until then.”
“I know, I know. I can study better if I have something fun planned later, you know?”
I told her, but she wasn’t listening to me at all. She sat back up and reached out to a mandarin orange. Mmhm, I mean it’s fine if you’re motivated now…
“Any shrines you want to visit? Like a place that might give you its blessing or something.”
When I asked her, she began thinking.
It just might be that for test taking students, the very first shrine they visit for the New Year was a considerably important event. There was also the saying, “Whenever you’re in trouble, pray to the gods”.
If you’re seriously in a bad situation, then gods were the only ones you could rely on. Most people weren’t exactly reliable, after all. So the fact that you weren’t relying on people could also mean that you were relying pretty much on only gods in your everyday life. A pinchy pinch was a pinch no matter what. A time like that would be where I’d like a Ultra-something.2
“If it’s in this area, we can try the one that dad goes to. You know, the one he said he stayed up all night just to line up for. Kameido Tenjin Shrine or something?”
It was just one train ride on the Sobu Line from our place, so it wasn’t that far off. Of course, since we’re going to pray to the god of learning, it should be expected to be pretty congested given the season. When the thought of being in that crowd came to mind, I couldn’t help but make a “blech” face, I mean, I don’t like crowds after all ☆!
And for some reason, Komachi made a “blech” expression too.
“All-nighter… That’s one of the things that makes dad so gross…”
He’s a good father, give him a break… You know, if it wasn’t for mom stopping him, pops would’ve gone straight to Dazaifu, you know… I had the feeling she stopped him from doing all-nighters too.
“Well, putting pops aside, there’s also the god of learning at Yushima Tenjin…”
This shrine also had a god of learning, so it was incredibly popular during the exam season. In other words, it should be expected to be pretty congested given the season—etc, etc.
As I pondered over the possible candidates, Komachi groaned.
“Mmm, famous places are nice too, but… I think a place close to a high school might give me better luck!”
“Yeah? In that case… I guess Sengen Shrine would be one.”
“Ahh, that’s the one that’s always holding festivals.”
“No, not always.”
What kinds of shrines always hold festivals? Talk about having no feelings of appreciation. Are they stores in front of Akihabara station running a store closing sale? Just how much every day is everyday?3
But I guess it was natural for Komachi, who wasn’t familiar with Sengen Shrine, to have only an image of festivals associated with it. It being a big tourist spot was one thing, but actually making a visit to a neighborhood shrine typically only happened during the first visit of the year or when there was a festival.
But Sengen Shrine, huh…? I had the feeling there’d be a lot of acquaintances there, so I wasn’t feeling very up for it, but it was preferable to a local shrine. I didn’t want to meet any colleagues from middle school too. Actually, I didn’t even feel like going anywhere now, you know?
As if my hesitation was showing, Komachi gave me a considerate look.
“What is it?” I asked.
Komachi adjusted her sitting as if readying herself. “Oh, you know, onii-chan. It’s not like we need to go together or anything. I don’t mind going with mom too.”
Mmmm, you naturally just left pops out, didn’tcha? That’s pops for you, yep.
Anyway, I had a rough idea of the reason why she was being considerate like that. She may act the way she is, but she had her thoughts on me as her older brother. No, no, onii-chan had his own thoughts concerning himself too, you know? It’s just I was having trouble understanding those thoughts were since I was still unsure as to how to conduct myself.
That’s why this winter break of slightly less than two weeks was something I was grateful for. Of course, once school started up again, I’d have to confront the issue again.
But for now, I was on break. And since it was the break, it was my style to rest with every fiber of my being. As someone aiming to be a full-time house husband, brain usage during the breaks was out of the question. Put off the conclusion of your proposal, take it home and think on it. That’s what they call the knowledge of corporate slaves! Wait, so is that being a corporate slave or a full-time house husband…?
In order to rest as much as possible and also postpone things further, I decided to change the subject.
“I don’t need your bothersome consideration, jeez.”
“Oh you, if possible, I’d like to avoid that myself.” Komachi made an ostentatious sigh. Sorry, little sis, for being this kind of onii-chan.
“Well, if you’re not going Komachi, then I’ll just go by myself like every other year. Less to worry about and it’s easier for me.”
“There you go again, saying things like that…”
“As the ancients once said, New Year’s Day is the day to plan for the coming year. That is, if I make unpleasant memories on my first shrine visit, then the coming year is set to be a year full of unpleasant memories. First thing right into the New Year and you want to make make the unpleasant memory of being in a crowd of people? A foolish notion, do you not agree, Komachi-kun?”
I eloquently preached to Komachi who had a fed up face. She looked unamused at first, but now she was nodding her head, and then lifted her head and sent me a serious gaze.
“That makes sense. New Year’s Day is the day to plan for the coming year… Okay, maybe I’ll go with you then, onii-chan.”
“R-Right… Why’d you change your mind?”
She was looking at me as if I was trash just a second ago, but now she had an earnest face, a complete 180 from earlier. She then made a perky smile.
“I mean, if I go with onii-chan on New Year’s Day, then that would mean I’ll be with onii-chan all year long. That’s just so high in Komachi points.”
“Y-Yeah. I, guess…”
The words that she told me head-on caused my mind to freeze.
…Oh my gosh, what’s with this cute sister of mine!? Ignoring that cliché phrase she always adds at the end of her sentences, my little sister is super cute!
As I was sobbing, moved to tears from what she had said to me, Komachi puffed her flushed cheeks and looked away. She then gave me a side-long glance.
“D-Don’t get me wrong, okay! What I meant by being together with onii-chan is that since we’ll be going to the same school next year, it’ll be something like a prayer for exam success, okay! That just now was really high in Komachi points, okay!”
Ughh, what a cheap tsundere… Wasn’t that just some cheap Portopia4 criminal? The criminal was Yasu. Crap, now I feel depressed.
Her forced little act wasn’t exactly the cutest thing, but if I pretended she was just trying to hide her embarrassment, then actually, maybe it’d be okay to call her cute.
“In that case, let’s go together then.”
“Okay. Alrighty, I’ll go try studying some more in my room.” Komachi got out of the kotatsu and stood up as she spoke.
“Right on, have fun.”
While Kamakura was sleeping on my lap, I grabbed his front legs, waved them to Komachi, and she laughed.
“I gotcha, I’ll do my best!” said Komachi. She picked up her cellphone and fondled Kamakura little by little while humming a tune and went to her room.
The only ones remaining in the living room was just Kamakura and me. When Kamakura went funsu5 with his nose, I shook his legs. He woke up looking upset and did a stretch. He then squirmed his way into the kotatsu.
I followed his model and crept into the kotatsu up to my shoulder, becoming a kotatsu snail.
Only a little more remained of this year.
Like every year, it was a peaceful New Year’s Eve.
× × ×
The New Year started off safely.
Happy New Year.
Somehow, having to exchange that greeting with family members felt really shameless or it felt kind of stupid in some way.
However, I had to put up with it so I could get my New Year’s allowance. Indeed, my elite education to become a corporate slave had already started since I was an infant. If it’s for the sake of receiving money, then I could easily turn a blind eye to just a little injustice and irrationality, bow my head which I didn’t even want to bow, and wear a faint, servile smile. That’s what being a corporate slave was all about!
As those trifling thoughts ran through my mind, I safely received my New Year’s allowance this year as well. Many ages ago, that money was absorbed by the mysterious “mom’s bank” institution and now, there should’ve been quite the savings in there. Once it was time to leave the house, it’s likely that money would be returned to me. Probably, it should, for sure. I believe in her. I pray that she doesn’t remove the M from MOTHER6 and become an OTHER.
Since I was able to procure my money without any problems this year as well, I laid in the kotatsu and lazed about.
Instead of a pillow, I sat in a tatami chair and fiddled with my cellphone.
When New Year’s Eve approached, my cellphone was vibrating unusually a lot this year whereas every other year, never.
They were “Happy New Year” messages.
I received a stupidly long and formal mail as soon as the start of the New Year, a simplistic, yet stupidly cute mail, and a mail that was like some sort of written prophecy from an unknown sender… Yeah, stuff like that. I thought I was going to receive just one more dumb mail, but nothing came. It’s not like I was expecting it or anything. I hastily dealt with the chuuni-like mail and the mail with a raging storm amount of words by replying to them with whatever.
But I was at a loss with the remaining mail, the simplistic series, “THE Cute Mail”. If I went all out and responded with a long reply, that’d be creepy, but on the other hand, sending back a reply that was annoyingly spruced up with images and emoji would’ve been disgusting too. That left me with replying back in standard fashion, but that could give off a cold impression since it’d be too blunt.
Life would be easier if there was some kind of template like they had with New Year’s cards that laid out most of its design for you… It’s convenient since it was obvious whether the New Year’s card was just a simple formality or not. Things like New Year’s cards were usually plastered with illustrations and photo prints and once you filled in the remaining white space with “Let’s hang out again!” or “Let’s go drink again!”, your card would be complete. Seriously, Japan’s culture was quite impressive. Also, it’s abnormal how successful college students were using “Let’s go drink again!” whenever they were in a tight spot. If they drank so much throughout the year, I definitely thought they were going to become dependent on alcohol. Why that didn’t actually happen was because they only said that as a formality, so in reality, they never really did go out to drink together, I’m sure…
While thinking of those things, I typed my reply, erased it, typed it, erased it, typed it, erased it, typed it—Eraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaase it! Rewriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite it!7 Rinse and repeat.
I want to reply with a long message, but if it’s too long, that might be kind of revolting. But if it’s too short, then I might come off as cold instead. Feeling apprehensive of what to do, I decided to reply back with a similar word count instead. This was what they called “mirroring” in psychology. By emulating the actions of the other party, your affection levels would increase!
“Onii-chan, ready to go?”
As I was typing my messages, Komachi called out to me.
I checked the time and it was just about nine in the morning. Our parents had already left for Kameido Tenjin Shrine. For us two, it was as good a time as any to be on our way.
“Yeah… Let’s get going.”
After confirming that my messages went through properly, I crawled out of the kotatsu and stood up.
× × ×
It was several stations of being in a shaking, packed train. We went along with the waves of people that were spat out from the ticket gate, walking down the gently sloping hill until we finally reached the first archway gate of Sengen Shrine.
These large archways that overlooked National Route 14 were said to have once been in the sea. This was tweeted by the official CHI-BA+KUN account8, so there’s no doubt about it. And it’s likely, long ago, it had a majestic view similar to the UNIESCO World Heritage Site, Itsukushima Shrine. In other words, there was a small possibility of Chiba becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site; I’ve already thought so internally.
“Man, this is one crazy turnout…”
The obvious result of my own personal UNESCO World Heritage Site… It sure is popular…
“It’s the biggest temple in the area, right? Of course everyone’s gonna come here, you know?”
I see, that’s true too… It then hit me. If everyone was coming here, thinking on it again, didn’t that mean people from my school could easily make their way here…?
Crap, I go to a local shrine every year, so it completely slipped my mind…
When that thought floated in my head, Komachi who was next to me began looking around restlessly.
“Oh, there they are.”
She then pushed through the crowd and continued on.
“H-Hey, Komachi. Where you going?”
You’re a test taking student, okay? So you need to hold onii-chan’s hand so you don’t fall and slip and become a lost child, heck, onii-chan’s going to princess carry you! In the direction of my stretched out hand were faces I was familiar with.
“Happy New Year to you both!”
Komachi rushed over to them looking ready to hug them and the girl ahead cheerfully lifted her hand. When she did, her bright brown bun of hair shook.
“Happy New Year and yahallo!”
“What’s with that greeting…? Happy New Year,” I answered, flabbergasted.
Yuigahama was dressed in a vertically knitted beige coat, a long scarf was wrapped around her neck, and her raised hand was entirely covered with a mitten.
The girl immediately next to her was wearing a white coat and peeking out from under plaited mini-skirt were her legs in black tights. She was Yukinoshita Yukino.
“…Happy New Year,” said Yukinoshita, burying her face in her scarf. Well, formally doing New Year greetings was embarrassing in one way or another. I found myself fiddling with the ends of my scarf as well.
“Ahh… Yeah, right. Happy New Year.”
As we were walking, I nudged Komachi’s back. “Komachi-chan, can onii-chan ask you something?”
I secretly walked up next to Komachi and lowered my voice. “Why are they here?”
“A meeting with Komachi ☆!”
“Wait, a meeting…?” I said with a perturbed voice and she pouted.
“They’re my friends, so what’s the big deal?”
“Well, sure… But inviting them is, you know, how should I put it?” I said, scratching my cheeks as I was thinking.
Don’t you normally call friends from your school for these kinds of events? Well, not that I knew what “normally” was since I didn’t have any friends in middle school. I wonder if it’s something like that. Maybe it was the apparition’s fault? Maybe it was. So this was what they called a loner apparition, huh…?
However, the fact that Komachi was meeting up with her old brother for something like this made me worried about her relationships. I had a pensive look, but Komachi had an idea of what I was going to say and forcibly cleared her throat.
“Well, think of the season right now. Choosing not to invite your friends is like a form of manners, you know…” said Komachi, straightly.
I see, I get it now. So the reason why she didn’t choose to invite her friends was because of how nervous they were during this exam season.
Exams drew a boundary.
It’s a pretty common story: friends take exams for the same school, only for one group to fail and the other to pass. When you hear about couples failing to get into the same school, it made food delicious and when that acts as the trigger for their falling out and their eventual break up, food became Susumu-kun’s food9.
If they’re around the middle school age, then their friendships were definitely going to get fractured. Especially in the case where they decided to take tests for a college prep school, someone was bound to be left out since there was a limit to who could get in. And the person who was left out would sever his ties with them as soon as he was able. If it was me, that’s what I would’ve done.
It’s because you were embarrassed, frustrated, bitter, and jealous. If there’s a time when those ill feelings surfaced, then there’s also going to be a time where you restrained yourself, smiled, and then cut your relationships afterwards.
Being aware of your eventual break up was a rather complicated thing. If you wanted to graduate with a smile, shouldn’t you avoid approaching your friends too much? And that’s where having no friends was super convenient! Hachiman thinks that at exam prep schools, they should start off with teaching with how to destroy friendships!
That’s why a time like this was where having friends with a slight age disparity allowed you to take a breather. Both parties could interact with each other without feeling constrained.
Even now, the three of them would noisily chat with each other while walking, Komachi speaking to Yukinoshita and Yuigahama and them returning a smile to her. To Komachi, who had been stuck studying during the winter break, this might’ve been a moment of relaxation for her.
In the waves of people, Yuigahama made darting glances around the area. It looked like she was having trouble deciding on what food stall to line up on the sides of the main path.
“Wow, it’s like a festival here,” said Yuigahama, and Komachi’s face suddenly lit up.
“I know! Ah, do you want to eat something?”
“Totally! Then, maybe… I’ll go with candy apples?”
It looked like they were going to wander away from the main path while they were talking. Yukinoshita, who was next to them, tugged down her scarf and stopped them.
“We’ll do that after we visit the shrine,” said Yukinoshita.
The two then reluctantly returned to the crowd of people.
That was one sisterly exchange they had going there… There’s, like, no place for onii-chan here, you know…
Whether it was because of Yukinoshita’s dependable personality, Yuigahama’s affinity to comply with other people, or the globally notorious little sister, Hikigaya Komachi’s sister attribute of getting people to do things; whatever reason it may be, for those girls with an age gap, their compatibility wasn’t bad at all.
Yuigahama guided everyone by walking ahead, Komachi followed her with smiles, and Yukinoshita watched over the two of them quietly while going with them from behind.
I walked and watched the three of them from the farthest in the back.
And then, it was that moment. I felt a discomfort from my “sisterly exchange” thought I had earlier.
…This isn’t good.
Because I had to think of such an incredibly stupid thing first thing in the New Year that the corners of mouth had somehow curved up, a smiling breaking out on my face on its own. I pulled up my scarf as if trying to hide it.
Incidentally, I looked away from the front and my eyes swam around in the crowded waves of people.
Couldn’t they do something about this crowd somehow, I wonder? My train of thought had me on the verge of vomiting. I want to go straight home right now…
But once we made it up to the precincts of the temple after the stone steps, the congestion had dwindled somewhat.
It’s probably because there weren’t any food stalls set up in the precincts. Since the shrine was right in front of us, everyone went straight to it without dilly dallying around. We joined the crowd as well and found ourselves in front of the shrine.
“What’s everyone gonna wish for?”
“You don’t do something like that on your first shrine visit. This isn’t Tanabata, you know…”
“That’s true. This isn’t exactly something that would actually grant you your wish, after all.”
“Wooow, both of you are so boring!” Komachi said with a horrified expression and Yuigahama agreed with her.
“Yeah, you two! I mean we’re praying to the gods, so it’s better for us to ask for something since we’ll get benefit from it!”
Crap, I have no idea what mysterious logic she used to advance her argument there.
Yukinoshita pressed against her temple as if having trouble comprehending as well and sighed. “Okay… Well, I suppose we can leave it at that. However, I feel like the nuance is closer to making an oath than anything else.”
Yukinoshita made a sudden smile. Yuigahama made a big nod and jumped at her arm. Both of them tossed their offerings and shook the bells together. They did two bows and two claps. Then, they quietly closed their eyes.
A pledge before an altar in front of a lot of people somehow gave off an air of grandiose.
Copying those two, I went through with the custom and clapped my hands together.
A wish… or something to make an oath to, huh…?
I made a sidelong glance at Yukinoshita and Yuigahama.
Yukinoshita was quiet with her eyes closed, faintly breathing out. Yuigahama was groaning “mmmm!” while wrinkling her brow. Just what it was that those two wished for and made an oath to, I didn’t know.
Similarly, I shut my eyes. I didn’t have a wish-like wish, but I felt I wanted there to be things that I could manage to do depending on my efforts without wishing for them.
For now, I hope Komachi will safely pass her tests… Because really, this was the one thing I had absolutely no power over.
× × ×
After paying tribute to the shrine, we were finally released from the crowd of people.
I scanned the wide precincts and there were shrine maidens, shrine maidens, and nurses all over the place. Just kidding, there weren’t any nurses.
Discovering something in the wide precincts, Yuigahama raised her voice. “Oh, fortune slips!”
“…Let’s go pull some then.”
We lined up and took turns pulling a fortune slip. We shook some kind of hexagonal wooden box that was filled with sticks. I informed the shrine maiden the number of the stick that came out and opened the fortune slip I received.
Now that’s just odd… However, for just 100 yen, even if I didn’t get anything impressive, I had to accept it. I looked over the list on the slip and every single entry was odd. Just how odd? As odd as writing down regarding your health, “be aware of presymptomatic diseases”.
I worried over whether I should tie it or not since I couldn’t say it was a bad pull as a whole and that was when Yukinoshita, who was next to me, casually showed me what she received.
“…Good luck.” Yukinoshita wore a winning smile and told me.
Wait, was good luck all that much better than small luck? If anything, it’s not all that impressive since it’s just so normal, you know? But well, if Yukinoshita was elated about it, I suppose it was a more fortunate pull.
Competitive as always, huh… I thought. Then, going “ehehe”, Yuigahama showed off her slip to us.
“I got excellent luck!”
“…I see. I’m glad for you,” said Yukinoshita, her eyes candidly firing up. Is she going to be okay…? This girl’s not going to keep buying slips until she gets excellent luck, right…?
As I watched over the two in suspense, appearing from Yukinoshita’s shadow was Komachi with a stiff and gloomy expression.
“I got bad luck…”
For a test taking student to get bad luck… Yuigahama, who had been smiling gleefully, and Yukinoshita, who had been burning up with a confronting spirit, lost their words. The mood’s totally getting depressing here…
Yukinoshita coughed as if to alleviate the situation and gently patted Komachi’s shoulders. “You’ll be fine, Komachi-san. There’s already this ill-omened thing in your family already, so this isn’t that big of a deal.”
“Is that your idea of encouragement…? Well, look here, Komachi. Don’t let these fortune slips bug you too much. In about a week, you’ll forget what you even pulled.”
“You’re one to talk…”
“It kinda feels like my excellent luck doesn’t feel so amazing anymore…”
Yukinoshita and Yuigahama made complicated expressions after looking at their slips. That’s weird… Instead of trying their best to cheer up my little sister, they just made the mood even more depressing.
And it was that moment. Yuigahama clapped her hands together in realization of something.
“Ah, I know. Here, let’s trade,” said Yuigahama, and she held out her slip to Komachi.
“Eh, are you sure?”
At a loss to accept the slip despite being answered with a smile, Komachi looked at me.
“Well, it’s a lucky charm. Don’t be shy.”
At any rate, it was a fortune slip of excellent luck from Yuigahama who, somehow, bizarrely managed to pass the tests to get into our school. Perhaps it had some amount of blessing to it. It might even be possible to distort fate or defy the laws of physics with it.
“Thank you very much… I’ll try my best!”
“Uh huh. If you become my junior, I’d be happy, too,” said Yuigahama.
She handed her fortune slip to Komachi and in return, took her slip of bad luck. Yukinoshita who was watching them placed her hand to her chin and started thinking of something.
“Yuigahama-san, do you mind if I borrow your slip for a moment?”
Yukinoshita took the slip from Yuigahama and tied her own slip with Yuigahama’s together.
“We can average them out like this and we’ll both have small luck.”
“What kind of math are you doing there?”
Add bad luck and good luck, divide it by two, and then multiply it by two? The math was on the side of the sciences while the concept was on the side of humanities. Was this some kind of recent fad mixing of the sciences and humanities, I wonder?
“So now we’re all matching,” said Yuigahama, happily.
Yukinoshita then made a satisfied smile. “That’s true… With this, our pulls are all even.”
“That’s what you were after!?”
“What’s with that messed up way of solving things like you’d do in a pressure-free education10…?”
That’s like having everyone at a school arts festival dress up as Momotarou11, hold hands, and cut the goal tape together.
“I’m joking,” said Yukinoshita, and smiled.
Komachi excitedly put away the fortune slip she received in her wallet and shot up her face. “Since we’re done with our visit and pulled our fortunes, what should we do now?”
“Let’s check out the stalls!”
When Yuigahama suggested, who had been ready to check the stalls since earlier on our way to the precincts, Yukinoshita nodded.
The shrine path was the road home anyway. I didn’t have any problems with it. Not that I had any say, since the three of them had already started walking off.
When we returned to the path we came from, the section of lining food stalls came into view. Along with the standard okonomiyaki and takoyaki stalls, they also had stalls with amazake12, apparently appropriate for the season.
Amongst the lines of food stalls was a shooting gallery. I looked at it wondering if a stall like this you’d typically see at a summer festival should be out during the winter and I heard a gasping voice next to me.
“Why is there a shooting gallery here on the New Year…?” Yukinoshita gazed fixedly at the gallery as if saying “…how strange”.
“Well, it is weird, but there’ll be children coming, so isn’t it normal to show up since it’s a good time to make money?”
“That makes no sense… Why is it at a place like this…?”
But Yukinoshita continued to stare at the shooting gallery, looking like she wasn’t listening to what I was saying at all. And at the gallery, there was some kind of Pan-san the Panda item there. Ahh, so that’s why you were gazing at it…
“…Want to give the shooting gallery a go?”
“No, that’s not—“ said Yukinoshita, fidgeting. Oh, she clearly wants to get her hands on it…
She continued gazing at the Pan-san-like item while mumbling. It didn’t look like she was going to budge unless she won the item. What to do, I’m not particularly confident in the game, but maybe I’ll give it a try…
When I took into account the condition of my pocket, Yuigahama raised a small voice.
She then tugged at my sleeve.
“What is it?”
“Mm,” said Yuigahama, beckoning me over to her. It looked like she wanted me to crouch down for a moment. I followed her instructions and slightly lowered my head and Yuigahama moved her face closer to my ears looking to make some secret talk.
Taking this kind of stance was obviously going to bring our positions closer together. It wasn’t something to be surprised about at this point, so I didn’t need to be so conscious about it.
Nevertheless, with the drifting smell of citrus tickling my nose, and her faintly pink cheeks exposed to the winter wind approaching right before my eyes, I found it difficult to face her.
After taking a shallow, quiet breath, I urged Yuigahama to go on with a look and Yuigahama let out a small, small sigh. She then began talking in whispers into my ears.
“Hey, what should we do about our shopping for Yukinon’s present?” asked Yuigahama.
I gave it some thought.
Yukinoshita’s birthday was coming up very soon. The other day on Christmas, when we had the chance, we made the promise of going out to buy presents for her.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t forget that promise at all. It’s just I had been racking my brain over what I should do. When, where, with who, what, and how should I buy it, heck, how the heck should I even bring it up? I was thinking through it all starting from 5W1H. I mean, it’s pretty hard being the one doing the inviting. And I was really bad with picking out dates. It was one thing deciding things on my own since that’d be a bother to the other party. But asking them instead and leaving the decision making to them made me feel uncomfortable too. What’s with this never-ending life of indecisiveness?
Whatever the case, I appreciated the fact that she was the one that brought it up. Had I postponed it any longer, I had the feeling I’d overthink things more than necessary and be on the verge of yelling “Hachika wants to go home!”13, so I answered on the spot.
“…Then, are you free tomorrow?”
“Y-Yeah. I should be.” Yuigahama had a look of shock and fiddled with her bun hair.
“I see, alright, tomorrow it is then…”
“Sure…” Yuigahama answered and then went quiet, I following suit.
And there, Komachi came over and tugged at my sleeve. “Onii-chan, Yukino-san doesn’t seem to be budging from over there…”
Yuigahama jerked up her face and spoke to Komachi. “Ah, Komachi-chan, do you want to go too?”
“Huh? Go where?”
“Um, you see, I was thinking of going with Hikki tomorrow to buy Yukinon’s birthday present, so…”
“Ah, that sounds nice!” said Komachi, and she made a surprised expression. Then, she formed an unnatural smile. “…Then again, I’m actually really busy with studying for my exams, you see.”
“Th-That’s true…” Yuigahama nodded. It looked like she remembered earlier that she had handed Komachi her fortune slip and that she was studying for her exams.
But after groaning a bit more, her face jerked up and she took Komachi’s hands.
“B-But, hey, think of it as taking a kind of break! Besides, I bet if you give Yukinon a present, she’ll be super happy, Komachi-chan! I-I also want some advice too! Or something…”
“Eh? S-Sure, I guess…… Hmm?” Komachi answered and made a puzzled look. She glanced at me.
“You might as well, Komachi. It shouldn’t be a problem,” I said.
Komachi tilted her head.
“Mmm… What’s with this backward development…? The two of you went together alone during summer too…” Komachi grumbled in a small voice.
Well, look, a lot happened. It’s just, how should I put it, we’re having issues figuring out how to act with each other…
“Well, if it’s for that…”
Komachi looked a little bewildered when she answered, but Yuigahama nodded happily and took out her cellphone.
“Okay, we’re settled then! I’ll send you a message later!”
Yuigahama’s phone then vibrated.
“Oh, one second,” said Yuigahama, and she took a slight distance away from us and answered her cellphone. I followed her with my eyes and it looked like she was speaking with a close friend.
But asking “who was it?” was a bit boorish. I couldn’t ask either since it made me feel like I was acting like I was someone important enough to do so.
Until Yuigahama was done with her call, we couldn’t go on ahead. So it looked like we could only wait here. Either way, as long Yukinoshita was hooked by the shooting gallery, we weren’t going anywhere anyway.
Thinking that, I looked towards the shooting range and Yukinoshita’s shoulders were lowered and walking my way.
“What’s wrong? Done already?”
I called to her and with a sad face, Yukinoshita spat out. “Yes, I’m done. Something like that is just…”
I peeked at the shooting gallery again wondering what exactly happened. I looked at the stuffed toy that Yukinoshita had been fixated on the entire time and it wasn’t Pan-san the Panda, but Panda Ichiro-san the Panda14. Yeah, you get that sometimes at festivals like these. Instead of Natchan15, they’d have Occhan16, instead of Adidas, they’d have Kazides17.
Komachi who was looking at the same stall nodded convincingly.
“Ahh, those bogus things, right?” said Komachi.
Yukinoshita placed her hand to her chin and tilted her head. “Bogus? That sounds like someone I know around here. I believe his surname was Hi, Hiki…”
“Um? You’re not referring to me, right? Then again, my name’s one thing, but you don’t even remember my family name?” I said.
Yukinoshita flicked her hair from her shoulders looking upset. “How rude, of course I remember.”
“Except you’re the one that’s rude here…”
“More importantly, where’s Yuigahama-san?”
So we’re done with my name just like that…?
“On the phone over there.”
I pointed to where she was and Yuigahama was looking around restlessly while speaking on the phone.
“Right, right. Yeah, the rock steps, I think? That’s what we went down on. Oh, I see you!”
“Ah, Yui’s over there.”
Coming over with a phone in one hand was Miura Yumiko. Even in this crowd of people, her gorgeous looking collar of fur and her bare legs that stretched out from under her mini-skirt stood out even if you didn’t like it.
And then, behind her was Ebina-san.
“Yui, Happy New Year! Happy New Year to Yukinoshita-san and you guys too!”
Unlike Miura earlier, Ebina-san talked to us. She sure is a nice person.
“Happy New Year.”
“Wow! Long time no see! Happy New Year!”
“Haven’t seen you since the summer, little sis!”
I returned a light greeting to Ebina-san who talked with Komachi while looking in the direction of the girl group engaged in friendly chatter.
“Miura and them, huh…” I mumbled after realizing who Yuigahama was speaking with on the phone. She turned around and nodded, overhearing what I said.
Then, coming from the rear were a few more familiar faces.
It was the blonde and loudmouthed Tobe, the thickheaded and indecisive Yamato, and the virgin opportunist Oooka. It was the New – Three for the Kill!18 trio. But actually, Tobe’s hair is browner than it is blond… It’s just that it was so pointless that I never really paid it any attention.
The three of them were huddled in a spot a little farther away from us.
They were making lots of noise with paper cups in one hand respectively. It looked like they were drinking amazake. Tobe squeezed his cup and gulped it all down and made a groan-like sigh afterwards.
“Sake really is somethin’. Firs’ drink of the year man, firs’ drink of the year. For real, ya’ll need to drink more.”
“Totally,” said Yamato as if flattering him. He drank the entirety of his cup and let out a satisfied sigh. Yeah, well, it’s only amazake though.
“Beeh, I’m totes drinkin’ here, seriously. It’s gettin’ me all friggin’ warmed up here. But yo, ain’t it friggin’ cold? The marathon’s seriously not gonna be good.”
After Yamato and Oooka responded, I made a mental nod. Because of a turn of events in the calendar, the marathon this year was going to be held at the end of January instead of normally being held in February every year. We had to run along the seashore in the middle of this season that was getting increasingly colder.
Way to make me remember something so terrible so early in the New Year… I sent a bitter stare to the idiot trio of Tobe, Yamato, and Oooka.
It then hit me.
The three idiots of Tobe’s group and Miura’s pair with Ebina-san were the usual faces.
But in that lineup of people, the individual that was the center of those two groups was missing.
“Is it only them…?” I said.
Yuigahama took a step backwards and stood next to me after hearing me.
“I think they invited Hayato-kun, but it looked like it was a bad time for him.”
“I imagine so.” Yukinoshita replied with a nod.
Those words were surprising.
I looked in Yukinoshita’s direction as did Yuigahama, Miura, and Ebina-san.
“Huh? Do you know something?” Yuigahama asked, finding it curious how self-evident Yukinoshita’s tone sounded.
“Hayama-kun’s family has been that kind of family since a long time ago.”
“Ohhh, so that’s how it is.” Yuigahama made a convinced nod.
Well, Yukinoshita had always been an acquaintance of Hayama’s. More accurately, a childhood friend, so it wouldn’t be that odd for her to know about his family circumstances.
“…You don’t say.” I responded in slight disinterest while realizing again that I wasn’t very knowledgeable about Yukinoshita or Hayama. No, I mean even Yuigahama didn’t know all that much either.
And aside from Yuigahama and me, there were two others who reacted.
“…Hmph, oh really,” said Miura with a subtle voice, as if spitting it out, and then removed her gaze from Yukinoshita. She took a few steps away from her spot, twirling her hair with her fingers, and made a bored sigh.
“Like, I’m hungry.” Miura spoke briefly and walked off without paying any attention to her surroundings.
Yuigahama called out to Miura who stopped and turned around. But she was speechless and facing away. Ebina-san made a quick smile after seeing her and walked towards her.
“Okay, time for some food, huh?”
Tobe with his sharp ears caught what Ebina-san had said and approached her.
“Sup, sup? We gettin’ some food? That’d be like my firs’ meal of the year!”
There are guys like that, you know? Guys who attach “first” to everything they say when it’s the New Year. Talk about annoying…
Yuigahama alternated looks between Miura’s group and our group, wondering what to do.
“You sure you shouldn’t be over there with Miura and them?”
“Um… W-What are you guys gonna do?” said Yuigahama, letting out a troubled “tahaha”.
Yukinoshita looked at her and smiled. “I should be on my way now. I’m not particularly good with crowds anyway.”
A complicated look floated on Yuigahama’s expression from Yukinoshita’s words. Yukinoshita softly touched her shoulders, realizing her anxiety. “We’ll be able to see each other soon, won’t we?”
I didn’t think that would actually convince her, but Yuigahama replied back quietly.
Well, it certainly wasn’t pleasant having to see Yuigahama be conflicted between Miura and Yukinoshita this early in the New Year.
There was no way we could doubt that Yuigahama’s desire to get closer was just a show of her being affectionate.
However, a friend of a friend not necessarily being a friend is common in this world in the same way having everyone being in the same space and spending the same together isn’t the best thing to do.
Yukinoshita didn’t say much, but I knew where she was coming from with her consideration. It’s because the basis for that kind of behavior was something I was very familiar with. Therefore, I already knew what I was going to do after this.
“Alright, I’ll be heading home too.”
“Eh?” Yuigahama lifted her face in surprise.
But it wasn’t something to be so surprised about.
“We only came for the shrine visit. I need to make sure Komachi gets her studying done at home too.”
“Oh, I guess so… Right.” Yuigahama nodded.
Komachi then tugged on my sleeve.
“Onii-chan, you don’t need to worry about me, so just go!”
She raised me a death flag or a survival flag or some kind of incomprehensible flag, but I ignored it. Whatever the case, the option of me joining that group didn’t exist.
“Alright, see you again.”
“See you at school.”
After Yukinoshita and I said, Komachi bowed her head in resignation.
“…Okay, see you later.”
We left the area with Yuigahama staying behind, slightly waving her hand in front of her chest. Yuigahama was probably going to go group up with Miura and the others after this.
Yuigahama’s circle of friends wasn’t just the Service Club.
I wasn’t sure whether the concept of “best friends” existed and who it was that dictated that, but I’m sure one day, there will be a day where I’ll worry over it.
I pray that concern doesn’t mentally tire me out.
× × ×
We returned to the main path of the shrine we came from originally, passed under the large archway gate, and went out onto the side of the National Route.
A freezing wind blew through the wide National Route. My body shook from the cold in response and Komachi and I adjusted our collars. On the other hand, Yukinoshita didn’t look particularly weak against the cold and adjusted only the scarf at her neck. Komachi tugged at Yukinoshita’s sleeve.
“Yukino-san, let’s go home together part of the way!”
“…I suppose.” Yukinoshita looked a little hesitant at first, but then answered with a smile. Well, there really wasn’t a need to go home separately when the direction we were going in was the same.
The street that connected from here to the station was a shopping district and because of the congestion of customers on their shrine visit, there were small stalls set up on the side of the path, the energy toe-to-toe with the interior of the temples.
Komachi and Yukinoshita talked about various things like tests and the things they did during winter break.
When we made it to the front of the station’s ticket gate, having taken our time walking up the gentle-sloping hill, Komachi made a sudden stop.
“Uh oh! D-Dang it! I totally forgot to buy a good luck charm! Shame on me! I even forgot to write on the wooden plaques too, so I’m going to dash back real fast! So, Yukino-san, I’ll be taking my leave here!”
“Ah, maybe I’ll buy a charm too,” I said.
Komachi then looked at me with half-closed eyes. “Onii-chan, what the heck are you saying? You dummy onii-trash! You nincompoop! Hachiman! It’s fine, so both of you go home first!”
“R-Right… No, wait a second. Hachiman’s not even an insult.”
I replied back, but my words didn’t reach Komachi since she had already dashed off to the distance. C’mon, you’re putting me on the spot by being so spontaneous like that. What to do… Since I didn’t know what to do because of Komachi, I will call this phenomenon, “What to Komachi…” Ooooh my, what to Komachi?
I turned to Yukinoshita wondering what we should do and her shoulders were trembling and her face turned away.
“What…?” I asked.
Yukinoshita let out a small sigh and readjusted her breathing. Then, as if whispering inside of her mouth, she said with a small voice, “Dummy, nincompoop, Hachiman…”
It looks like her lexicon of insults was updated with new entries… I sent her a dubious and fixated stare, and Yukinoshita played it off by clearing her throat.
“No, it’s nothing. I just thought you two really do get along.” She said with a soft smile, immediately turned forward, and went past the ticket gate. I followed after her and went up to the platform.
As always, the platform was full of people. It looked this time was around when everyone heading home from their shrine visits was at the peak.
We boarded the train upon its eventual arrival and the seats were quickly filled up, leaving us two to stand. Well, it was only about two stations. We may be tired, but we should be able to handle it for that long.
The train shook when it took off from the station. I stumbled forward from the motion and frantically grasped the straphanger.
When I did, I could feel a grabbing sensation at the end of my coat. I made a quick glance and a white, small hand was squeezing the hem.
Because of that, I put strength into my straphanger holding hand and into my staggering legs.
The vibrations of the train running, the wind tapping against the window, and the noise of the passengers filled the interior. Even so, as the train shook, the sound of faint breathing coming from my right reached my ears.
…Well, it’s crowded, and it’s shaking. It’s not a big deal.
We didn’t hold a conversation in particular despite being considerably close together, and my eyes naturally drifted to the advertisements and notices above the windows.
Amongst them, there was a route map. A sudden doubt came to mind when I looked at it.
“Oh right, are you okay with going this way?” I asked.
She placed her hand on her chin while speaking and checked the route map as well. Not very confident, huh? Well, “way” was kind of a vague term…
“No, I just thought since it’s the New Year and all, I was wondering what was going on with your family or something.”
“Ahh, so that’s what you meant… I’m not going home this year. I don’t have any business there in particular, and it’s quite bothersome, so…”
I didn’t know the exact details of Yukinoshita’s relationship with her family. I replied back, unsure of just how far of a step I could take and ask her about it.
As if the anxiety was shown on my face, Yukinoshita smiled suddenly. “It’s not that big of a deal. They have a lot to deal with during the New Year, too. If I went home, it wouldn’t be a very pleasant feeling for the both of us, so I’m just avoiding any unnecessary contact.”
“Also,” said Yukinoshita, continuing. “There isn’t that much of a big difference even if I was there.” She looked out the window, looking at the scenery that rapidly ran past us.
“No problem then, right?”
Her turned expression had a slight look of surprise to it.
“If it doesn’t matter if you’re there, then that makes it easier on you. You also don’t have to worry about being a bother to anyone. After all, in this world, there are people who ruin the mood just by being there.”
“Are you perhaps introducing yourself?” Yukinoshita chuckled, showing a teasing smile.
“Right, right. That’s why, to this day, I’ve been keeping to myself as much as possible. Things stay peaceful because of my amazing consideration, so I’d like some appreciation here.”
“Consideration isn’t something that asks for a reward, you know.”
That makes sense. Tch, now it’s stuck in my head. Consideration, does not, ask for a reward. But while there may not be a reward for being considerate, there was backlash though, huh? Talk about seriously unfair.
Eventually, the train stopped.
It was the station for me to get off at. Yukinoshita was probably getting off at the next station and then onto the bus.
“Oh, this is my stop.”
We had a brief exchange and I got off onto the platform.
I turned around looking to tell her “be careful on your way back” and it was that instant before the door closed. Facing downwards, Yukinoshita said with a quiet voice as if whispering, “…I’ll be in your care this year as well.”
|First Memorandum||Top||Chapter 2|
- Dragon Quest – A typical response when you interact with dead bodies. ↩
- Ultraman and Sadola. ↩
- Every day is everyday is a store slogan. ↩
- The Portopia Serial Murder Case – Yasu is the assistant of the protagonist you play as and does everything for you. Wordplay here on the word cheap (yasui) and the character (Yasu). ↩
- K-On! – A noise Yui makes. ↩
- A slogan from one of Trygroup’s CM for tutoring. ↩
- Asian Kung-Fu Generation Rewrite lyrics. ↩
- Chiba-kun – Chiba’s mascot animal. Also, the actual tweet in question. ↩
- Gohan ga Susumu-kun is a brand of spices of the sort you use for various dishes. Susumu-kun is the mascot who eats a lot but gets mad when the food runs out. ↩
- Pressure-Free Education – Also known as Yutori Education, it’s an education policy that reduces hours of learning in a cirruculumn for primary education. Essentially, study less, play more. ↩
- Momotarou – Some kindergardeners have festivals where they all dress up as Momotarou. Cutting a goal tape together (like in a race) is pretty common. ↩
- Amazake – A traditional sweet, low- or non-alcohol (depending on recipes) Japanese drink made from fermented rice. ↩
- Love Live – Parody of “Erichika wants to go home!” ↩
- Panda Ichiro – A different Panda mascot. ↩
- Natchan – A juice brand. ↩
- Occhan – Different brand of drinks. ↩
- Kazides – Design company. ↩
- Three for the Kill – A Japanese television series that takes place in the Edo period. ↩