「That Nasuhara – could she be the daughter of that Nasuhara Group?」
A few days later.
Ginbei said after hearing about my tour around the academy.
“Hm? The Nasuhara Group? Seriously?”
「Well, the name Nasuhara isn’t a that usual, right? All the more possible hearing how she’s a student of that prestigious school, right? Goin’ by your description, this Miss Anastasia gives off some celebrity-like atmosphere – something like that, right?」
“Ah, yeah. That’s true.”
The Nasuhara Group.
A monster corporation that was present in almost every single manufacturing industry from spaceships to doorknob screws.
「Assumin’ that’s true, Akito, you’ve made a strong acquaintance before school even started. How lucky, huh?」
“Yeah. Even if you say that, it’s still not clear whether it’s true.”
「Even if she wasn’t part of that large corporation lineage, I think the girl you met had quite the pleasant character nonetheless.」
“Well… true. I don’t think she’s just banal.”
Though, adding to that, there’s a bunch of other problems with her…
「Makin’ friends and not enemies is something good, especially when we think about the situation you’re in. Livin’ with your sister’s something that’s only possible ’cause delicate power relationships between some famous families are being balanced here. You should realize that this balance’s slowly chippin’ away. On top of that you hardly have any allies. Puttin’ your blood-related sister aside, there’s only me.」
“Mh. Well, guess that’s true.”
「That Miss Anastasia seems like a reassurin’ ally too, as long as you two get along, don’t you think? That’s a rare chance! You should take it no matter what. Not just her, that president as well.」
“Nikaido-san, huh? She’s certainly become an ally, but… rather than reassuring, she seems more like the dangerous type, you know?”
「Controlled poison’s medicine, fail to control it and it’s just poison. So, don’t you think takin’ in good and evil makes one exceptional? If there’s somethin’ you can use, then you must take advantage of it as much as possible.」
“No, well, maybe. But she doesn’t make it easy for me. If I carelessly dabble into it, then the hunter’ll become the hunted, or so. I think that in the end I’ll be the one being seduced.”
「Oh, really? I don’t really wanna hear this from someone who outwitted a great bunch of people to get where he is.」
An exasperated sigh slipped through the phone.
And a little while later:
「Akito, wouldn’t you consider to stop your current lifestyle?」
「You’re very important to me. That’s why I agreed to support you with all of that stuff. I gave you advice when necessary. And on top of that, I’ve tried to respect the decisions you’ve been making lately as much as possible, since it seemed like you considered ’em thoroughly. That’s why I hate to say this, but – I’m at my limit.」
For the first time ever, Ginbei, who always seemed to value some cynicism, had a somewhat serious voice.
「Akito, that’s my last advice to you. It’d be better if you stopped. Honestly, you’re not the type that’s cut out for such a life. It needs careful balancin’ of different relationships, like a tightrope act, you need to carefully hold those relationships together.」
「As far as I can tell, your personality’s more suited for a peaceful life, for cultivating spinach on some farm or so. I think your misfortune started when the Takanomiya Family adopted you, but… even though you’ve strayed off this far, you might still be able to get back on track. You know that yourself, right? The most suitable path for you, that is.」
“…Well, I can’t argue with that. I agree.”
「Come back, Akito! If you do so now, you could barely make it! Leave your sister to the Arisugawas. It’d be fine if you just relied on the Takanomiyas like you’ve been up til now. There’ll probably be some trouble, but the rewards wouldn’t lack either. Not to mention that the Arisugawa and Takanomiya Families weren’t trying to take away the relationship as siblings between you guys, right?」
“You’re right about that. Or rather, that’d be the best.”
「I must’ve been painful for siblings like you two to not be able to talk with each other and to be separated as you were. It’s not hard to imagine that it ached you both to get in touch. But this short living together should’ve calmed that aching. The Arisugawa and Takanomiya Families won’t be able to not reconsider how they treated you as siblings, so it should be easy for you to negotiate some improvements in treatment. It won’t change the fact that you two will end up separated again, but… it’d be better than no relationship at all, like before.」
“That’s true, probably.”
「And I don’t think I need to say this, but I want to make it clear. I’m not doin’ this ’cause the Takanomiya or Arisugawa Families asked me to.」
“I know, Ginbei. Like you said, no need to tell me that.”
「Then let me ask you again.」
There was a small pause.
「Akito, won’t you consider to stop your current lifestyle and come back here?」
I said without any hesitation.
“I neither have any intention of giving up on my current life, nor do I plan to return back there. As you said, I’ve put a great amount of consideration into what I’ve done. After I’ve come this far, I’ve no intention to withdraw or raise a white flag. I wouldn’t trade the privilege to live together with my precious family for the entire world. Being pushed around by someone who isn’t even related to me and on top of that being separated from my sister – I’ve had enough of that. Even if it’ll get me into deep trouble to protect this life, I’ll use all my power and knowledge to bulldoze my resolution through. And so I’ll always protect my right like that – no matter what. Gin, I think your advice is sound, if our situations were switched out, I think I’d do the same. But I can’t follow this time.”
「No matter what?」
“No matter what.”
「Even if it worked, what you’ve done this time was somewhat forceful. There should’ve been a more logical and smoother way to see it through. It might’ve taken a bit more time, but you should’ve been able to find a more stable solution after some thinkin’, I guess. So even though it’d be a somewhat roundabout way, that path’d be still available – knowin’ that… still no?」
“Give it up, Gin. This once I’d like to have it my way.”
Saying that, my good friend went silent on the other side of the phone.
「”What is it?”」
“Are you mad?”
「Why would you think that?」
“Err, well, you’ve gone silent, so…”
「Don’t worry. It’s just ’cause I’m tryin’ my hardest not to laugh.」
“Ah… Well, if that’s the case, then fine. At any rate, you’re the one person in this world I don’t want to anger.”
「If that’s true, then think about how you’re dealin’ with me a bit more… Anyway, I’m fine, your stubbornness really amazes me, but I’m fine. I somewhat expected that response, but I wanted to try nonetheless.」
“…? In other words?”
「If your resolution would’ve swayed just a little bit by my proposal, I had planned to use all I could to force you to stop. Your reckless ways to live with your family, that is.」
My friend probably really had that intention.
That’s just the kind of person Sawatari Ginbei Haruomi was, if Ginbei had actually tried to, I think it would’ve succeeded.
「I’m pleased that you’re a man who does everything in one logical go. That’s how a man I’m approving of should be.」
“What’s that? Praising me again? Flattery will get you nowhere, alright?”
「You’re sayin’ that, but you’re probably blushin’ and avertin’ your eyes to nowhere right now. And yet you know that I’m on the other side of the phone.」
“Oh, shut up.”
「Fufu… Anyway, I’m relieved. If your resolve’s that resolute, then it’ll be fine. From now on there’ll be a lot of trouble. But if it’s you then you might just be able to overcome it.」
“That’s very optimistic considering it’s coming from you, Gin. To be honest, I don’t think the prospects are that bright.”
「No, I’m sure everythin’ will be fine.」
With a strange, deciding tone, my good friend gave the seal of approval.
「Well then, Akito. I’ll be comin’ to visit you before long. Until then, take care.」
I was in the usual apartment in the 70-year-old, run-down dormitory.
After I’ve had finished up my phone call with Ginbei, I let out a big sigh and collapsed onto the tatami mat.
“Gin’s mood seems to have improved a bit, huh…?”
Sawatari Ginbei Haruomi, the person that always seemed to have a cynical smile on the face. Even though I’ve known my friend for a long time, I’ve never once seen that person raise their voice at me.
But it’s precisely because we’ve known each other for such a long time that I knew…
Voice and tone sounded exactly the same as usual, but… Since my move, Ginbei’s anger gauge has been swinging like crazy.
In reality my friend had already said that themselves.
Gin had properly responded to any suggestions I proposed and cooperated whenever I had asked for help voluntarily.
However, that means Ginbei’s anger has completely dissolved.
To put it simple, it’s not an overstatement that Sawatori Ginbei Haruomi was able to contain complete objectiveness in action and emotion. Because of that, my friend was able to always choose the best solution right on the spot.
Even though almost everything I do doesn’t even compare to Ginbei – that point specifically amazes me every time.
Calm, no matter what, yet no one’s more zealous than Gin.
For exactly that reason, I couldn’t help but be worried.
When’s Ginbei’s mood going to improve?
What could I do to improve it?
At the moment, I had an innumerable amount of silly worries in my head. Though my greatest worry was what one of the few friends I had was going to do.
I mean that person, I really had no idea what that person was gonna do.
Well, there was no helping it, right? I had proceeded with my plans in total secret, not discussing a single detail with anyone. That should’ve cost me my credibility as a friend, but Ginbei still insisted that it had not affected our friendship.
However, if I may borrow the words of none other than my friend, ‘Bein’ angry and forgivin’ are two different things’.
I already thought about visiting Ginbei and bringing that beloved cake with me, though. I wonder if it’d be better to just send it over quickly. Gin probably wouldn’t like it if I tried some manipulation so obviously, but that’s the only thing I’m really capable of right now―
“Onii-chan, are you finished with your phone call?”
I heard my sister’s voice.
It came from outside the door.
While I was using the living room phone, my sister had considered my feelings and waited outside the room for a while.
“Ah, sorry. It’s fine, you can come in.”
I called out laying down on the tatami mat.
I knew it was a slovenly thing to do, but I was worn out from the conversation earlier.
That kind of behavior would’ve been unacceptable at the Takanomiya residence, but she was my one and only family, so please overlook it this time.
I reflexively shot up straight.
On the other side of the door, my sister had sat down in a formal manner while wearing a kimono that I wasn’t familiar with.
She silently bowed like that.
Then she slidingly crossed over the doorframe with her knees and quietly shut the door.
After getting close to me, she once again bowed.
“…What’s that? What’s up with those clothes all of a sudden?”
“Are you surprised?”
Then I said to my sister who had raised her head and stuck out her tongue:
“Well, yeah of, course I am. That’s surely a surprise attack. I mean, didn’t you leave all your kimonos and other stuff in the Arisugawa residence?”
“Yes, that’s what I had intended. However, Shouko-san said, ‘Take this little something with you at least’, without listening to anything I was saying. So I borrowed this kimono that was forced upon me.”
“Hm. I see.”
Now that I think about it, this had been the first time that I’ve seen my sister dressed up properly and courteously. I hadn’t seen my sister in a kimono for at least those six years, last at her shichi-go-san.
“That’s great then. It really suits you.”
“Ehehe. Thank you very much.”
“…And? I know where the clothes came from now, but why are you wearing them to begin with?”
“It’s for ‘imitate the kind of person you want to become’. I felt that I could surely convey as much as possible of my feelings this way.”
“Moreover, tomorrow is the opening ceremony. I think it’s the perfect occassion… Above all else, if I kept delaying this, I’d feel like I may never get another chance to tell you this.”
My sister said, placed three fingers on the floor and lowered her head, performing a very formal bow.
“Onii-chan. I’m truly thankful for everything you’ve done to establish our current situation. As your little sister – no, more than that, as a person I want to deeply and humbly express my gratitude to you.”
“…What the heck?”
I was shocked when I glimpsed at her pure white nape through her collar.
While putting on a bitter smile to try to hide that, I kept a calm appearance and opened my mouth.
“You’re so strange. I’ve wondered why you’ve dressed in those unusual clothes and are acting so formal. What’s going on? Why are you thanking me?”
“I’m truly thankful to you for taking me away from the Arisugawas. I’m thankful for being able to live with you like this. I’m truly thankful for how you’ve raised like a parent would.”
“Hahaha. So that’s what it is.”
I let out a small chuckle towards my sister who had her head deeply bowed.
“Isn’t it only natural for me to do that? There’s no reason to thank me. You’re my little sister and the only family I have.”
“Even if we’re blood relatives, I can’t just accept Onii-chan’s grace like it was nothing. Not to mention who-knows-how-much trouble Onii-chan went through to give me all this… I might now appear like this, but up until a while ago I was a member of the Arisugawa family, so of course I can understand how difficult it must’ve been.”
“Raise your head.”
“I won’t. We’ve been living together for these 13 days now. I haven’t been able to properly say how thankful I am until this day. Until I’ve properly conveyed my gratitude, I can’t raise my head.”
I sighed inside my head.
Can’t be helped. If it’s like this, I guess I’ve to let my sister finish.
Rather than just feeling happy that I’ve finally met up with her again, I thought that my debt to her was quite large nonetheless, as I had made her wait for such a long time. But it seemed as if my sister’s view on things was elementary different from mine.
“…And also, the truth is…”
Slightly shaking towards the end of her sentence, she looked like she was forcing her words out.
“I must apologize to Onii-chan.”
“That I’ve doubted Onii-chan.”
“Yes. Six years ago, at the time we were separated, Onii-chan had asked something of me, right? ‘I’ll definitely come and take you back someday, believe in me and become a good girl’, you said.”
“Yeah, I said that.”
“Of course I didn’t doubt you at first. If it was something Onii-chan said, then it couldn’t be wrong, surely he’d come to get me soon, I had thought.”
It wasn’t just towards the end of her sentences.
Now that I was paying close attention, my sister’s slim shoulders were shaking too.
They were quivering repeatedly, like a child that was startled from a lightning strike.
“But one month passed, then half a year, and finally a whole. From there a second year, then the third, and a fourth year passed by. I had no longer been a child around then, I was able to distinguish between the possible and the impossible. I had already come to understand what kind of place the Arisugawa and Takanomiya households were. I had forgotten about the Onii-chan who’d come for me to take me back. I couldn’t even exchange honest letters with Onii-chan.”
“In the beginning, the only thing I thought about was Onii-chan. But before I knew it, there’d be days where I didn’t. Whenever I became aware of those days, I felt like the blood in my body was flowing wrongly, it was heartrending and unbearable. On top of this, Kyotsugu-san and Shouko-san were both strict, but treated me well nonetheless. I started to think that I’d already become a member of the Arisugawa household and that it couldn’t be helped if I wouldn’t meet Onii-chan ever again. B-But I really hated m-myself for t-thinking like t-that, I felt v-very u-uneasy and h-hopeless――”
“Are you crying?”
“I’m not crying!”
The sound of sniffling.
“Isn’t that crying?”
“I’m not crying!”
“Those are things of the past. All of what you’ve just said.”
I pondered about what to say and continued toward my very formally sitting sister:
“It’s not like everything has been solved, of course, but right now you’re here – and so am I. That’s all that’s important now. It doesn’t matter what path we took to get here. Don’t you think so?”
“I do. I think so, but―”
“Besides, if Akiko’s apologizing, then so must I.”
She unintentionally raised her head and then hurriedly lowered it again.
“There were times when I couldn’t help but feel anxious too. Whether you were really waiting for me or not. The few letters we exchanged had been censored, so there was no way to know if those words were really what Akiko intended. That’s why even though I’ve spent those six years for our reunion, I didn’t have any confidence. Is Akiko really waiting for me? Is that attempted reunion just going to annoy her? Is Akiko already living a plentiful life as one of the Arisugawa with no need for me? I’ve thought things like that.”
“Impossible! How could something like that ever happen?!”
My sister raised her head and yelled with all her heart.
But right after that, she suddenly realized what she did and lowered her head yet again.
“Onii-chan… That Onii-chan’d someday come and take me back, that was the one thing that I’ve never stopped to believe. Throughout the strict discipline I’ve received, the lessons I took, all the studying I did, I was able to struggle throughout all of this because I knew that Onii-chan was watching over me from far away. I had to properly follow Onii-chan’s with, so that when we finally met again I could show him the fruits of my labor.”
“Ah. I see.”
“Onii-chan. Did I satisfy your request? Did I grow up to become a good girl just like Onii-chan has asked me to…?”
I nodded my head without any hesitation.
“You did everything I asked you to properly. Just like I wished, you’ve grown up to become a good girl.”
“That’s what I really think from the bottom of my heart. I’m not exaggerating here. And that’s why I think I can be really proud to call you my sister. Even more so than back then you’re my little sister that I really take pride on. On top of that――”
“On top of that?”
“Even more than back then, you’ve turned out to be really beautiful.”
I heard such a sound.
Her ears turned deep red all of a sudden― Still sitting in a bow with three fingers on the floor, my sister’s voice started to tremble.
“What do you think you’re saying?!”
Why had she become angry? I was perplexed.
“It’s just like it sounds. It’s what you’re always asking me to say. ‘Please say that I’m beautiful’ or ‘Please say I’m cute’, right?”
“W-Well that might be true, but…!”
“I really do think you are beautiful. Even more than six years ago… Ah, could it be that Akiko doesn’t feel the same?”
“No! I don’t think differently at all! So that I’d be ready for the day when I met Onii-chan, I’ve neglected my endeavors to improve myself not even once!”
“If that’s the case then it’s okay, isn’t it? Just accept the compliment.”
“I-I’m happy to hear that, but… a surprise attack like that’s really troubles me!”
What a troublesome person she is.
“Well, anyway, that’s just how it is. Isn’t it about time you raised your head?”
“Why not? Aren’t you satisfied now? I’ve heard all your gratitude and thanks, right? Aren’t you fine with that?”
“No, I’m already satisfied.”
“Then why not? Why can’t you raise your head?”
“B-BECAUSE I’M OBVIOUSLY EMBARRASSED!”
My sister almost screamed.
“I don’t even need to look into the mirror to know how blushed my face is. I’m smiling so stupidly that it’d disgust anyone. This expression’s one I definitely mustn’t show to anyone. I’d rather die than show Onii-chan such a thing, to say the least.”
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it. We’re the only family we have, right? ‘There shouldn’t be secrets between siblings!’, it’s you who keeps saying that, right? And you’re still going to hide your face from me nonetheless?”
“T-This and that are two separate matters―”
“I really want to see it. Your face.”
Still hiding it, she gave a reproachful groan.
My sister raised her head slowly and nervously.
Her eyebrows reminded me of the character ‘ハ’, and her lips were squeezed together tightly. On top of that, she had her shoulders hunched like a child that was about to be punished.
Just like she had said, her face was bright red and not just the ears like I thought earlier, but she was dyed in a deep red all the way down to her neck.
As if she wanted to say, ‘I won’t let our eyes meet, no matter what’, her eyes were fluttering about the place.
So that’s how it is.
That’s how it is after all…
“You really are cute. You’re the number one cutest girl in the world for me.”
With those cliche-like sounds, my sister pitched forward and collapsed.
“Ooooi~ Akikooo~ Ooooi~”
No response – like a corpse.
“There’s no helping you, huh…?”
Maybe she got overwhelmed by embarrassment and ascended to heaven.
She’s even redder than before, seems like she’s challenging the limits of the human body. Nonetheless she keeps lying face-down persistently, just so that I can’t see it.
But I should reflect upon myself too.
I might’ve went overboard there. I regret that.
“…But I mean, it’s rare for her to show me this cute side. Not taking advantage of it would’ve been rude too… right?”
That wasn’t directed at anyone, I was just talking to myself.
And thus I decided to appreciate my sister, who had steam rising up from her body like in a manga.
Well, if it had been something like this then I’d probably be forgiven, I thought to myself.