The Girls Who Traumatized Me Volume 1 Chapter 2

Chapter Two: “Sister, Mother”
 
I’m interrogated as soon as I get home. The suspect, Kokonoe Yukito.
 
“Why did you say that? “
 
The dinner table is filled with the usual mysterious tension, but today their eyes are more frightening than usual. The one sitting in front of me, the accused, is my sister, Kokonoe Yuuri.
 
She’s in an incredibly bad mood. I have the feeling that a guilty verdict and death sentence will come without a trial, but can anyone help me? Impossible for me.
 
“I have no idea what this is all about…”
 
To be honest, even from a relative’s point of view, my sister was a beauty who resembled our mother.
 
She’s a goddess. Her long black hair reaching down to her waist was lovely, and her features were sharply defined – she could only be described as a prim and proper beauty. Her stern gaze also matched her mood.
 
I was supposed to worship her at least three times a day. I was lucky to get an SSR sister; I must have accumulated virtue in my previous life. The current me definitely isn’t enough.
 
She’s one year older than me, and like me, she’s a sophomore at Shoyo High School. I hear she’s famous as the next student council president candidate, and along with her looks, she’s one of the most famous people on school (I don’t really know the details). As an incompetent younger brother, she’s a sister I can brag about, but the gap in high school is so wide that we’re not even recognized as siblings. Is that good news?
 
I can’t even imagine that my mother and sister are of the same blood as me.
 
In the past, I innocently wondered about it and suggested the [Kokonoe Yukito, Picked Up Under a Bridge Theory] to my mother, causing her to cry her eyes out. Since then, this topic had become an absolute taboo in my mind, something that shouldn’t be brought up.
 
“Have you made any friends?”
 
I get tense and the backlight is blinding when my sister talks to me.
 
I can’t look directly into her big eyes and subconsciously avert my gaze. She has some kind of aura that I can’t see. Yes, that. Spiritual.
 
Anyway, since she usually wears loose, oversized t-shirts and shorts at home, it’s hard to know where to look.
 
“F-friends…friends…what is that…?”
 
“It’s scary that you’re even questioning this, so stop.”
 
Is she worried that her botched little brother can’t even have a normal high school life?
 
If I have a bad reputation, it could affect my sister. Uh-oh, I have to be careful from now on.
 
“That Mihou, is he your friend?”
 
“Yuuri-san, do you know Kouki?”
 
I’m stunned that the refreshingly handsome guy’s name suddenly came out of my sister’s mouth.
 
Is this guy that famous? He certainly has the looks and personality.
 
Could it be that my sister likes younger guys? Spring has finally come for my sister too!
 
“Could it be…her type…?”
 
“What?”
 
Her gaze nearly killed me. Her cold eyes are as if a guilty verdict could come at any moment. Timidly, I raise my lowered head to look at her face, and she stares at me. Looks like I stepped on a land mine.
 
Yuuri’s glare! Yukito’s cowardice exposed!
 
“N-not at all!”
 
My nervous self. I instinctively know that my life is forfeit if I upset them.
 
“So why did you give that kind of self-introduction?”
 
“Well, why you so terribly easy to see through me?”
 
“Answer the question.”
 
“Yes.”
 
Unfortunately, a younger brother is powerless against his older sister. Besides, from the way my sister talked, she seemed to have understood the scene in the classroom. Suspecting a spy among my classmates so early bodes ill for the future.
 
“Because of Suzurikawa-san and Kamishiro-san?”
 
“……No comment.”
 
“Guilty. Death penalty.”
 
“That’s a lie. No, I’m not lying. You’re right.”
 
Arbitrary sentencing in spite of the judicial system. The jury system won’t save me.
 
“Huh? But why does Yuuri-san know about Kamishiro…?”
 
“Of course I would know that much.”
 
Whaaat–?! So it was a given! I’m already stunned in April. At this rate, I am worried about the road ahead.
 
It was a subject I didn’t want to bring up, but it seems that my sister has a perfect understanding of my classmates. She knows more than me, who can barely remember any of their names. Amazing…
 
Maybe it’s just natural for my smart sister.
 
Still, I was surprised that my sister knew Kamishiro.
 
Hinagi was a childhood friend, so my sister knew her too, but she should have had no connection to Kamishiro.
 
The fact that their names were mentioned made me feel a little uncomfortable.
 
“Sorry Yuuri-san, I’ll study.”
 
I quickly clean up the finished dishes and make a hasty retreat.
 
At this rate, I’ll end up on the chopping block. Right now, I just don’t want to be in this place. The urge to escape overwhelmed me.
 
“Yukito, are you really okay? You…”
 
“No, I’m fine.”
 
I cut off my sister’s words. I’m irritated by my own terribly rude behavior. I decided to give my sister an allowance later as an apology and hurried to my room.
 
What did my sister mean? Could she be worried about me? No, impossible.
 
In the dark room, I flopped down on my bed without even turning on the light.
 
–Because my sister hates me.
 

 
“Why does he always have to go through this?”
 
Ahh…I’m so frustrated! I scratch my head in irritation. I thought the situation would get better when I entered high school, but instead it got worse. The fake-looking faces of my classmates annoy me.
 
I gritted my teeth in frustration at my powerlessness to call out to my brother as he went to his room. I may have upset him by tactlessly bringing up subjects he didn’t want to discuss.
 
Why am I so clumsy and insensitive? People around me always praise me, but the truth is that I’m so powerless. I can’t do anything for my brother.
 
My brother and I live in this apartment with my mother. We’re a family of three, and our parents got divorced a long time ago. We’re lucky enough to be well off, and Mom’s income is substantial, so there was no custody battle. But we’re dealing with another, much more serious issue.
 
I’ve been looking forward to the day he starts school, but it’s the same as before! The little hope I had is crumbling and my worries are only increasing.
 
I wanted him to have a bright, fun high school life. But at this rate, even that’s not going to happen. Inexplicable fear persists. My face clouded when I looked at who was in my brother’s class. It was the worst combination imaginable.
 
Hinagi Suzurikawa and Shiori Kamishiro.
 
That stupid girl who betrayed and dumped my brother, even though she liked him, and that scum of a girl who ruined all his efforts. Absolutely unforgivable. I don’t want those two to come near my brother again!
 
For him to end up in the same class as those two, how pitiful. I wondered if there was anything I could do to help, but nothing could be done until they moved up a grade and changed classes. There was nothing I could do.
 
I can’t help but make fun of myself. What good is it to try to act like a sister now, worrying so late? The reason I hate these two is ultimately just self-loathing. I hate myself. So it’s only natural that I hate those two who are the same as the self I hate.
 
I remember the look on my brother’s face when he left. I hurt my brother again. Nothing has changed since then. When my brother looks at me, he’s always afraid.
 
When I see how he averts his eyes from me, I can immediately tell his feelings.
 
He always gauges my mood and doesn’t talk to me first unless it’s necessary.
 
There’s no way you could call this a real sibling relationship. But I’m the one who made it that way. I had hoped that the passage of time would alleviate our discomfort, but instead of improving, it got worse. The more my plans failed, the more the harsh reality became apparent.
 
Since that day, my brother has called me Yuuri-san. He’s never called me sister.
 
Someone like me had no right to act like a sister and say anything to him.
 
–After all, I’m hated by my brother.
 

 
“I’m home.”
 
Mother – Ouka Kokonoe – returned. It was after 8 p.m.
 
As busy as ever, it seems. She often comes home this late, and I usually take care of dinner.
 
My sister is… not very good at housework. A case of not being blessed with both, perhaps. In that respect, it adds to her attractiveness as a beauty. Beautiful women are lucky, aren’t they?
 
“Welcome home.”
 
“Oh, yes. S-sorry I couldn’t make dinner.”
 
“No, that’s okay.”
 
I don’t think she needs to be so apologetic about working to provide for us, but Mom basically wants to do the housework herself. I think she could rely more on us. On my sister more than on me. Shouldn’t the slovenly sister be made to do more around the house?
 
“Is school going well for you, Yukito?”
 
“Well, I think so.”
 
“I see. That’s good.”
 
There is an awkward silence. Everyone in the family asks me about school because they’re afraid I’ll get into trouble. And I did on the first day.
 
You could say it shows how little they trust me, but considering I was a problem child in middle school, it’s completely deserved.
 
“I probably won’t cause any trouble. I plan to just keep my head down.”
 
“It’s not that, it’s not that…”
 
“There’s dinner I made in the fridge, so heat it up if you want. I’m going back to my room now.”
 
“Ah…”
 
My mother’s lonely gaze followed my back as I walked to my room. Unbeknownst to me.
 


 
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Scene Transition
 


 
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“Oi, refreshingly handsome guy. Tone down that bright smile a bit.”
 
“So you finally came to school?”
 
“What, something happen?”
 
“Well, there are things I want to ask about, but…”
 
In the middle of a pointless conversation with Kouki, someone comes in cheerfully. For a gloomy loner, a sunny guy who can keep up this energy in the morning is a mortal enemy. I was already feeling tired, and as expected, it was my rival Carne Sakurai.
 
“Morning, Kokonoe-kun!”
 
“Sakurai-san huh. Good morning. Sorry I couldn’t make it yesterday. Was it fun?”
 
“Ahaha. At first, we were chatting happily, but you see–“
 
“Hm? Did something happen?”
 
Elizabeth’s reaction was similar to Kouki’s earlier. From her vague attitude and the slight hesitation in her words, it’s surely some trouble. I want absolutely nothing to do with it, but then my gray brain cells hit upon the truth.
 
I see, I get it. So there’s been some kind of fight?
 
The most likely possibility is that in the middle of their fun, someone confessed to the refreshingly handsome guy, and the other girls who felt threatened also confessed, causing a fray to break out. And the awkwardness has carried over to today.
 
I can’t help but pat myself on the back for my flawless deduction. The true Sherlock of the Reiwa era is none other than me, Kokonoe Yukito. Unlike me, who’s never been popular with girls and has zero relationship experience for my age, you must be over the moon to be involved in a love affair so soon after enrolling.
 
“Hey, Kokonoe, do you know Suzurikawa and Kamishiro?”
 
“Well, I kind of know them.”
 
Why the hell is Elizabeth bringing up these names? I’m getting confused when she brings up their names after my sister mentioned them yesterday. Is there some kind of Suzurikawa and Kamishiro craze going on in the world that I’m not aware of? If that’s the case, all I can do is gracefully ignore the trend.
 
“Um, is it okay if I ask about this?”
 
“It’s nothing really. Just acquaintances. I was just a childhood friend of Suzurikawa’s, since our houses were next to each other in the past. As for Kamishiro, there was some exchange through club activities in middle school, that’s all.”
 
“So Kokonoe-kun has such connections with the two great beauties of this class.”
 
“Such caste categories have already formed without me noticing, huh…”
 
“No, but from the looks of things, it seems that way…”
 
Are those two great beauties Brahmins or Kshatriyas? Either way, they probably aren’t of the same rank as me. If it’s the highest rank, then I’d be hesitant to talk to them as a dark loner, but if it’s the highest rank, then it’s rather reassuring. No problem at all.
 
“Alright, take your seat quickly, problem child…”
 
The teacher Sayuri-sensei entered the classroom. This topic is over for now and I breathe a sigh of relief, but huh, when did I become a problem child? No wait, that nickname?
 

Let me repeat it.
 
I’ve always had bad luck with women.
 
At this age, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call me a master of bad luck with women.
 
I’m ignored by my mother, hated by my sister, and when I tried to confess to my childhood crush, she went and got a boyfriend first and rejected me. In the midst of my heartache, I became the target of a false confession during my heartbreak. In any case, it seems like I never have any luck.
 
I’ve had other misfortunes too, from almost getting kidnapped to trying to help a lost little girl, only to have her parents report me. I’ve been entangled in various troublesome and unfortunate incidents since I was a child, and as a result, my emotions have completely shattered over time.
 
I see. I must have been reborn from another world. After wreaking havoc and tyranny as a hero in that other world, I must have taken revenge, been killed, and been reborn in this world. Having such bad luck with women is surely the karmic consequence of what I’ve done.
 
I’m not good at forming deep relationships with others. Even before that, I can’t understand or empathize with other people’s feelings. It’s not that I’m afraid of getting hurt or anything like that. I just can’t understand those kinds of feelings anymore.
 
At this point, I also find it difficult to deal with other people, but on the other hand, I’m able to be superficially friendly so that I don’t cause anyone any problems and I can get along smoothly in life. You could call this my philosophy of life.
 
Once I knew THOSE GUYS were in this class, my mission for high school as a dark loner was to minimize contact with classmates while living in obscurity and peace like a luminescent moss hidden in a cave, but after impulsively lamenting my fate in my intro, the refreshingly handsome guy sitting next to me somehow took a liking to me.
 
This is bad! My dark loner plan is about to collapse.
 
But I have an ace up my sleeve. When you say dark loner, there’s one thing that comes to mind.
 
“Yukito, are you joining any club activities?”
 
Fufufufu. The topic I was waiting for has arrived. What a wicked man I am.
 
After school, while I was idly chatting with Kouki, the topic of club activities came up. Shoyo High itself isn’t known for being particularly good at sports, but the sports clubs are quite active. Fortunately, there’s no rule forcing everyone to join a club, so there’s a relatively relaxed school ethos that I found appealing.
 
“What about you then?”
 
“I’ve received invitations from various sports clubs. Still thinking about it.”
 
“Tch! That’s why sunny guys are so… Listen. For a dark loner like me, there’s only one club activity that fits me.”
 
“Yuki!”
 
The only one in this class to call me by my first name so far should be the refreshingly handsome guy next to me, right? When I turn around, I wonder if it’s someone I’d rather not get involved with.
 
“Kamishiro?”
 
Kamishiro’s expression suddenly becomes stern. Huh, did I do something to displease her?
 
Girls have a mysterious ecology that’s hard to understand. My sister is also sometimes in a bad mood, so she might be emotionally unstable. It’s a tall order to expect a guy who’s unpopular with girls like me to understand women’s subtle emotions.
 
“You don’t call me by my first name.”
 
“We’re not that close.”
 
“I see…you’re right…”
 
Why does she say that all of a sudden? I can’t just call girls by their first names. Only handsome guys like Mihou can get away with it.
 
“Yuki’s joining the basketball club, right? I was thinking of becoming the manager of the boys’ basketball club! So this time we can finally be together…”
 
Basketball. Remembering the three years of middle school that I devoted to basketball brings back nostalgic feelings. But only unpleasant memories remain. I didn’t achieve the goals I set for myself, I didn’t produce any results. I only have memories of causing problems for the team. I threw myself into it, trying to get ahead, but I couldn’t even do that, and I just stagnated.
 
“Kamishiro, I don’t play basketball anymore.”
 
“Huh? You’re joking, right? But you were so…”
 
“It’s all over. I don’t have the motivation anymore.”
 
“You did it all the time!”
 
“You know best what the result was.”
 
At this moment, Kamishiro’s expression has clearly changed. She looks at me with eyes that seem ready to burst into tears at any moment. I meet her gaze directly without looking away.
 
“Kamishiro, how long are you going to feel sorry for me?”
 
“This is wrong! I’m sorry, Yuki! That wasn’t what I–“
 
“First of all, there’s no way a dark loner like me would play basketball. It’s been a rule since ancient times that the most suitable club for a loners is the go-home club, regardless of time and place! So I’m on my way home. See you later. Good luck as manager.”
 
“–Wait!”
 
Ignoring Kamishiro’s call for me to wait, I head for the entrance. While putting on my loafers, I catch a glimpse of students enjoying their club activities out of the corner of my eye. How leisurely, the club life I had wished for. This is the ideal form of youth. In middle school, I couldn’t play after school at all because of club activities. You could say that I wasted my youth.
 
In this sense, I want to enjoy my school life in a relaxed way in high school as a go-home club member. I don’t feel anything when I touch a ball anymore. The passion and drive I had back then are completely gone. I probably can’t face it like I used to.
 
“Like I used to…huh…”
 

 
It was like seeing that scene from yesterday’s karaoke again. The classroom is buzzing. There are many classmates who have witnessed it this time. Right in the middle of it all.
 
(Kokone Yukito, there’s no way nothing happened between you two! It’s like one disaster after another?!?)
 
The classmates sneak a glance at Kamishiro, but she just bites her lip with a stern expression and stares at the classroom entrance. She seems completely unaware of the commotion in the classroom.
 
“Um, Kamishiro-san. Are you going to be a manager? I was thinking of joining the basketball club, so I’d be happy.”
 
“Sorry, let me think about it.”
 
“Huh?”
 
Does Ito have feelings for Kamishiro? He flashes a faint smile, but she brushes it off. Obviously, this was not the right time to talk to her.
 
(Pfft…I shouldn’t laugh, but, Ito-kun is kind of pathetic…)
 
(Ehhhhh!? What, so Kamishiro-chan was trying to become manager for Kokonoe-chan’s sake!?)
 
“Too bad Yukito’s in the Go-home Club. I like sports too, but I already did a lot of clubs in middle school, so I think I’ll try the go-home club here.”
 
Kouki was the only one who did not care about the atmosphere and muttered such things.
 


 
“Why does God keep testing me…”
 
I stared blankly at the blackboard. Last night, I suddenly became more eco-conscious and class turned into pretentiousness, so I started with what I could do, exchanging all my mechanical pencils for wooden ones. Plastic reduction. I smiled to myself at the time, but when the class started, I realized.
 
You can’t sharpen these. Why does no one have a pencil sharpener? Three brand new unsharpened pencils. I was powerless. Unsharp pencils are worthless as cryptocurrency that no one wants. Now they’re just good for rolling around and playing with.
 
As a result, I couldn’t take notes in my morning classes. You’d think I could just borrow a pen, right? But that is very difficult for a dark loner like me. Besides, if I borrow a pencil sharpener and use it, I haven’t really awakened to eco-consciousness in the first place. So I have no choice but to go to the school store.
 
As I’m about to get up, someone stops me.
 
“Yukito, want to have lunch together?”
 
“Naw.”
 
The Kyoto dialect slipped out, but I have no connection to Kyoto. Zero.
 
I went there once a long time ago, but all I could hear were foreign tourists, so I thought, “Is this really Japan?
 
But that’s irrelevant. There’s no way I could mistake the owner of the voice. My long-time friend, Hinagi Suzurikawa. Hearing this name sends a dull pain through me.
 
“Suzurikawa, don’t get involved with me.”
 
“W-why? We’re classmates. And childhood friends.”
 
“That’s in the past. It’s different now.”
 
“Why do you say that? Yukito is the one who decides that arbitrarily.”
 
Hinagi Suzurikawa. My childhood friend I used to like. The one I arrogantly pretended was returning my feelings. The pathetic clown who tried to confess only to be rejected first was me.
 
“Suzurikawa, go eat with someone else. I’d feel bad for your boyfriend.”
 
“–?!!”
 
A shock went through the classroom. Crap! It was pretty well known in middle school that Suzurikawa had a boyfriend, but maybe not so much in high school. I might have accidentally revealed her personal information.
 
“Can’t you… forgive me already…?”
 
“Suzurikawa, this is for you. If it were me, I wouldn’t feel so good to see my girlfriend making friends with the opposite sex. It would be one thing if they were just classmates, but it’s still her childhood friend. You wouldn’t like it either if your boyfriend got along with another girl, right?”
 
“But that’s…!”
 
That was the reason why I ended my childhood friendship with Suzurikawa. No narrow-minded guy would be jealous of her just because she was eating with classmates, but it’s different when it’s a childhood friend of the opposite sex.
 
Once Suzurikawa chose someone else, I couldn’t stay with her.
 
Seeing her with a childhood friend of the opposite sex would surely make her boyfriend uncomfortable.
 
Besides, Suzurikawa really loves her boyfriend. Considering that they did that so soon after they started dating, they must be quite intimate.
 
In that case, all I can do is keep my distance and behave in a way that does not interfere with her. I don’t understand why Suzurikawa doesn’t realize something so simple. We can’t maintain our previous relationship.
 
“Sorry. Anyway, I’m going to the school store now.”
 
Because I loved her, I want Suzurikawa to find happiness. These are my honest feelings, and I can’t be the cause of their separation. There’s no place for a pathetic guy who nurses heartbreak. I’m an existence that must not get close to Suzurikawa. I’m not the one who should stand by her side.
 
And what about now? Do I still like Suzurikawa?
 
The day when I’ll be able to understand that – will probably never come.
 

 
Kokonoe Yukito’s bombshell made the class buzz.
 
“Huh, Suzurikawa-san has a boyfriend?”
 
“With looks like that, no wonder she has a boyfriend…”
 
“Eh, I wanted to hit on her…”
 
“Someone from this school?”
 
“Oh yeah, Suzurikawa-san in middle school…”
 
The information spread from mouth to mouth. The one who stopped it was Suzurikawa herself.
 
“–Stop! Please don’t talk about it…”
 
Her scream resembling a shriek tore through the air of the classroom. It was rejection. The strong will not to allow her to talk about it. Suzurikawa’s emaciated condition denied everything.
 
“S-sorry, Suzurikawa-san…”
 
The classroom suddenly fell into silence. Lunch break. An oppressive heaviness pervaded the normally bright, lively time.
 
“It’s my fault…all of it…I…”
 
No one heard Suzurikawa’s small murmur.
 

 

 

 
Why on earth did I end up buying two cream buns? Wouldn’t you normally choose different flavors? I can only call it youthful indiscretion. Eternal mysteries were surprisingly close. The cafeteria was already crowded. Looking for a quiet place to be alone outside, I found the emergency stairwell. Isn’t this the perfect place for a dark loner like me? I’ll make it that place.
 
“Souma-san, please go out with me.”
 
In the paradise I arrived at, a confession unfolded. So this is a place of confession? If so, the utopia crumbled early, but this is the first time I’ve really seen a confession scene, so it’s new. Still, someone else’s romance has nothing to do with me. I have zero disposition as a viewer. Anyway, I completely ignored this exchange and sat down on the stairs.
 
Haa. Two cream buns was a mistake. By the way, I use the school store and cafeteria about twice a week. I make my own bentos for three days because Mom is busy, but doing it every day would be a hassle, so I compromised. Of course, I also make my sister’s share, and when I casually suggested that she try making the bentos herself on the other days, she gave me 5000 yen. It’s a bribe. And avoids eye contact with me.
 
Well, it would just end up a mess if I left it to my sister, who’s bad at cooking, so whatever.
 
“Um, do you have any business with us?”
 
For some reason, the guy who confessed earlier calls out to me. Seems like an upperclassman.
 
“Huh? We’re meeting for the first time, right? I don’t have any business.”
 
“Um…you are…”
 
I don’t really understand what he’s saying. Anyway, I have no relation, right?
 
Why did he mistakenly think I had a deal with him? Is it necessary to involve a stranger at the crucial moment of a confession?
 
“So why did you come here?”
 
“Oh, that. I was just looking for a quiet place to be alone and calm down, and I ended up here. Treat me as invisible as air, as a dark loner. I’m also as tight-lipped as a cold valley rabbit.”
 
Although he seemed puzzled, he reluctantly accepted it. Or rather, he has to accept it, since I really have no relation and don’t care.
 
“Um…so, can I have your answer, Souma-san?”
 
Sneaking glances at me, Senpai and the girl have a tense exchange. Even though I’m nothing but helium in the air, he seems to mistakenly think that I’m a problem to be dealt with.
 
“I-I’m sorry.” *glance
 
“Can I ask why…?” *glance
 
The inside of my mouth was too sweet from the cream puffs, and my body was desperate for moisture. At times like this, it has to be milk. Actually, despite appearances, I want to grow taller, you see.
 
“Well, I don’t know you very well, so…” Glances
 
“How about we get to know each other by going out? Or is there someone you like?” *glance
 
“It’s not that, but I’m sorry.” *glance
 
“Haa. I get it. I’ll give up. Thanks for coming.” Glances
 
Looks like it’s over. The senpai guy leaves. It should finally be quiet. Even if a senpai is guilty of disturbing the place of rest I finally found.
 
But for some reason, the senpai girl is sitting next to me. Hey, hurry up and go back as well.
 
“Haa. It’s disturbing, isn’t it? Things like that.”
 
“The one who is worried right now is me, though.”
 
“Ahaha. Then why did you really come here? Don’t tell me you want to confess to me too?”
 
“You have a terrible sense of self-importance, senpai.”
 
“You were listening before, right? It’s hard to say anything when someone you don’t know confesses to you.”
 
“Hey now, you started talking even though no one asked you.”
 
“You really are an underclassman? You show no mercy, huh? Don’t you respect your seniors?”
 
“Compared to the mystery of two cream buns, you’re less interesting.”
 
“I… lose to cream buns…?”
 
Get out quickly! She’s clearly dangerous. I don’t know why she suddenly started sharing her personal feelings with an unrelated underclassman she just met. Maybe she thought I was a wall or something.
 
“Good thing, right? At least listen a little when I come to talk in a place like this. You don’t have any friends since you’re a dark loner, right?”
 
“Senpai with a desire to show off!”
 
“S-sorry, are you mad?”
 
“No, senpai with obvious desire for self-display are good people. I’m touched because everyone around me refuses to acknowledge that I’m a dark loner, so this is refreshing.”
 
“Hmm, now I don’t want to acknowledge you either.”
 
“That wouldn’t do, senpai with a desire for self-promotion.”
 
“Stop calling me that, too! I’ve never been so humiliated in my life!”
 
“Then how about self-display, senpai?”
 
“Everything! Everything! Just what are you?”
 
“Then what should I call you… Oh, I’m not interested, so never mind.”
 
“Annoying! So damn annoying!”
 
Somehow, the atmosphere of this person changed from when the senpai guy was here. She gave a noble impression, but she seems to have a rather cheerful personality.
 
“I’m Kyouka Souma. Second year, nice to meet you.”
 
“I wonder why I didn’t get any pudding bread…”
 
“Listen! Please show more interest than in bread! Please!”
 
“Ehh…”
 
“Reacting with such disgust! See, your name, tell me your name?”
 
“I am Yukito Kokonoe.”
 
“Ohh. So Kokonoe, huh. There’s also a sophomore.”
 
“Ah, my sister, right?”
 
“Huh? You’re that Kokonoe Yuuri-san’s brother?”
 
“I think a DNA test would be required.”
 
“The self-deprecation is too scary to laugh at, so keep it moderate, okay?”
 
“Yes.”
 
Talking to my sister like that would end badly, so I can’t say anything reckless.
 
“Hmm. Will you be coming here again?”
 
“Since I usually eat in the classroom sometimes, probably once or twice a week.”
 
“I see. Then maybe I’ll drop by sometime.”
 
“How annoying… Ah, in a good way.”
 
“Just saying ‘in a good way’ doesn’t make anything okay, you know?”
 
“I didn’t know that… Educational.”
 
“I was a little down, but talking to you might have cheered me up. Thank you.”
 
“Can I charge a consulting fee?”
 
“Ahaha. Got it. Next time I’ll treat you to pudding bread.”
 
“A goddess… From now on, I’ll call you Goddess Senpai.”
 
“Please stop calling me that! You seem like the kind of person who would seriously call me something that’s scary.”
 
“My life itself is kind of a joke, you know?”
 
“That’s why it’s not funny!”
 
In the end, I talked with the senpai until the end of the lunch break, and my dark loner plan crumbled once again. When will I be able to achieve my goal of a quiet school life if that’s all I’m looking for?
 


 
In the battle in my head, DSLRs narrowly beat mirrorless ILCs 5-4. But let me be clear. For amateurs, ease of use is more important than high image quality. Because my family is a bit of a gadget lover and wants to take pictures of her kids (well, my sister, since she’s beautiful), mom impulsively bought a full-frame DSLR a few years ago.
 
I’ll be clear. It’s damn heavy. Add the lenses and what’s the total weight, pounds? Why didn’t she go for an APS-C model, why not a lightweight mirrorless? This unwieldy full-frame DSLR with poor portability ended up gathering dust at our house.
 
And there’s 5 lenses, just primes. What a waste.
 
“I’m going to work from home from now on. I only have to go to the office about once a week, so I’ll have more time at home.”
 
All smiles. Beaming with joy, smiling from ear to ear, extraordinarily happy. For some reason, my mother, Ouka Kokonoe, suddenly started saying things like that.
 
Perhaps due to changing social circumstances, the possibility of temporary school closures has also increased, and unstable days continue, but not knowing how to react, I’ll just grunt for now.
 
“Oh.”
 
“The workload is decreasing as well, so I’m looking forward to spending more time with you two.”
 
“Hmm. Good then. So you’ll be making our bentos from now on, Mom?”
 
“Of course. Sorry for leaving everything to you until now.”
 
“You’re working, so don’t worry about it.”
 
The conversation between my mother and sister makes me wonder. Huh? For some reason, I feel like my line has just been stolen, but could it be my imagination? In our house, making bentos is my job. Shouldn’t I say the “don’t worry” line?
 
But I’m not petty enough to flaunt it. I have a heart as wide as the Seto Inland Sea. Leaving it to Yuuri-san would only lead to sorrow, so it can’t be helped, but I can only hope that Mom will learn housework through this and be able to do it. It’s called bride training, but my sister is a beauty, so she won’t lack for suitors… if you exclude her personality. Hm, strange. I sense some hostility…
 
“You’re not thinking something rude right now, are you?”
 
“Not at all.”
 
With Mom home more often, there’s a limit to what I can do. I can only pass the time like a trained circus bear.
 

The Saturday after such an exchange. On my way home after being shocked by the improved performance of mirrorless cameras at the electronics store, I get caught in an unexpected downpour.
 
They didn’t say anything about rain today! I resentfully send complaints to the erratic weather forecast while thinking this. In front of my apartment building, I find a woman struggling with a large piece of luggage.
 
“Is something wrong?”
 
With the sudden rain, it can’t be helped that her things got wet, but she probably can’t move around easily with all that luggage.
 
She seems a little younger than Mom. A soft-looking woman. I’ve never seen her around here before.
 
“Oh my, and you are?”
 
“I live here, but do you need help?”
 
“Well, is that so! Then we’ll be neighbors from now on.”
 
“From now on?”
 
“I just moved here. I’m Misaki Himiyama. Nice to meet you.”
 
“I’m Yukito Kokonoe. So what’s wrong?”
 
“Um…sorry. Could you tell me again?”
 
“Mine appellation is Yukito Kokonoe.”
 
“Why the sudden archaic language? …Yukito Kokonoe-kun…you are…?”
 
“Do you know me? “
 
“Uh, well, …… I’m …… “
 
Himiyama-san starts to say something, but the rain is getting heavier.
 
“Let’s move first.”
 
You can’t stay here indefinitely. I have to ask what happened as a matter of etiquette, but it’s obvious just by looking. Smooth communication is like that, not to be taken lightly. Whether she knows it or not, she looks worried as she lifts her luggage.
 
“Well, I suppose so.”
 
“The rain’s getting heavy, so let’s hurry. I’ll carry it.”
 
“It’s a bit much with all this luggage since it suddenly started pouring. I appreciate the kind offer, but don’t you want to hurry home? Sorry.”
 
“Don’t worry about it. Like I said, smooth communication, etc.”
 
“It bothers me when you cut it short, but… I am in a bit of a fix. Can I ask you to help me?”
 
“Verily, of course.”
 
“Oh my, oh my. Heh. You use some pretty outdated phrases, don’t you?”
 
“Seriously, though卍. I’m a JK.”
 
“JK means high school girl, you know.”
 
We take the elevator to the 5th floor and arrive at Himiyama-san’s room. It was a single room next to ours on the right.
 
“Sorry, you got wet. I’ll get you a towel right away.”
 
“No, don’t worry about it.”
 
“That’s not possible. Can you come up?”
 
I’m suddenly faced with the heart-stopping event of being invited into a single woman’s apartment, but Himiyama’s house is still filled with boxes, so there’s nothing to worry about. I breathe a sigh of relief. After all, I’m a man too. I mumble an apology to someone who isn’t there.
 
“I’m sorry. I haven’t finished unpacking or anything. Sit over there. Would you like some tea or coffee?”
 
“Thank you. I’ll take coffee if that’s possible. Did you move in this week?”
 
“Yes, I did. I didn’t know anyone, and I was a little nervous, but I was lucky to meet you right away.”
 
She’s making coffee, but, uh, why is she sitting next to me? Isn’t it normal to sit across from someone in this situation? A faint sweet smell tickles my nostrils. Are these the pheromones of a grown woman? Even though she was quite “mature”, Himiyama-san was very beautiful.
 
But my mental steel won’t waver. Yes, I’m great.
 
“Do you live alone?”
 
“I used to be engaged. But the fertility treatments didn’t go well. He wanted to inherit an inn, so his parents wouldn’t approve. I really wanted a child, but…”
 
Huh? Why is this person suddenly talking seriously to someone she’s just met? Do I have some kind of aura? Now that I think about it, something similar happened to Goddess Senpai (I forget her name) a while ago…
 
“I wonder, if I had a child around then, maybe I wouldn’t be so alone now.”
 
“Is that so?”
 
I can barely answer at this point. Cold sweat drips down my back. I feel like I’ve gotten into a nasty situation again, according to my life experience. My life is in danger if I don’t get out of here right now. No, my chastity is at stake!
 
“And I wanted to be a teacher, but I had to give that up as well.
 
“I think a lot of people would be happy if Himiyama-san was their teacher.”
 
“Do you really think that?”
 
“Huh?”
 
“Are you sure?”
 
Hey, don’t get in my face! Her purple eyes stared at me. A fragile, uneasy look wavered in them.
 
“I…think so, but…”
 
“I see, thank you. If it’s all right with you, could we get along from now on?”
 
“Um, of course…yes.”
 
It’s an awkward answer, but she’d know if I refused. She’s a veteran. With my zero relationship experience, I’m no match for her. I mean, she smells pretty damn good. Why are we talking so intimately? Does she like me? It makes me aware of you, you know!
 
“Oh right, I’ll come and visit you later. I want to say hello to your parents, too.”
 
“You don’t have to worry that much, right? You see, cities are called concrete jungles, and unlike rural areas, not knowing your neighbors is common in many cases, interaction between neighbors is weak, and freedom from such annoyances is characteristic of modern people…”
 
“This is unacceptable. Besides, didn’t you just talk about smooth communication?”
 
“I have no objection.”
 
“I’ll bring you some soba noodles.”
 
“Yes, sir.”
 
I’m weak with older women.
 

“Oh my, who could it be?”
 
The next day, after barely surviving that dangerous Saturday. Around 7 p.m., the doorbell rings at our house. It is Sunday and Mom is home. Her outfit of a loose tunic and leggings was too hard on the eyes. I can only avert my eyes. I mean, her butt… And for some reason my sister is staring at me, so I’m going to stop this train of thought.
 
Yes, her style is extraordinary. She’s very particular about proportions, isn’t she?
 
“I’ll get it.”
 
That was Himiyama-san. Come to think of it, she said she’d stop by later. Seeing her again after a day, an unpleasant sweat immediately broke out.
 
“Good evening, Yukito-kun.”
 
“Himiyama-san, nice to see you again.”
 
Somehow, she’d already shortened the distance without me noticing. When did we become so familiar? This is a classic pattern of the road to ruin.
 
“Thanks to you, I was saved yesterday. Thank you. I just wanted to visit you today, but let me thank you properly later, okay?”
 
“No, don’t worry about it.”
 
“I can’t…”
 
“Who was it, Yukito… Oh, and who might you be?”
 
This is Miss. Himiyama, who just moved here.
 
Oh, really? Oh, is that right?
 
Mom comes to greet her. Saved. I wanted to flee the scene, but considering how we met, I had no choice but to stay.
 
For some reason, Himiyama-san won’t let go of my hand. Why did she grab it?
 
“Pleased to meet you from now on.”
 
“Likewise. If you have any problems, please come visit us anytime.”
 
“Thank you very much. See you, Yukito-kun.”
 
“Yes, you too Himiyama-san.”
 
And suddenly she whispers in my ear.
 
“To thank you, tell me anything you want.”
 
“–A-anything!? I might take you literally when you say that, but…”
 
“It’s okay if it’s something you like.”
 
Way too much return just for helping to carry some luggage a little! What’s going on?
 
“Don’t take me lightly. If you spoil me that much, I’ll cling to you.”
 
She should find this creepy and keep her distance now for sure.
 
“That’s okay. Come here.”
 
My plans crumbled in a second. Without any hesitation, she just hugged me.
 
“Wrong! That was a lie! A lie, I tell you! Wow, something’s super soft! I’m drowning.”
 
“W-what are you doing?!”
 
Panicked by the sudden outrage, Mom rushes over and tries to pull her off, but surprisingly, Himiyama-san’s hugging strength, also known as HG power, is strong.
 
“Ahh~ I’m starting to not care about anything anymore.”
 
“Yukito, get a grip! Why are you making that face?!”
 
I can’t move at all. The current me has zero ohm resistance.
 
“Haa. I’m satisfied.”
 
After this struggle, Himiyama-san finally releases me, but for some reason, she seems to be in an even better mood than when she arrived.
 
My head is patted lightly.
 
“Sorry. I couldn’t help treating you like a child because you were cute. You didn’t like it, did you?”
 
“Well, how can I put it, I’m not used to being treated like that, so it was fresh and I kind of thought you were like a mother. Excuse my rudeness.”
 
“Ufufu, is that so? It makes me kind of happy.”
 
“I’m glad I didn’t ruin your mood.”
 
“Nothing like that. If you ever want to be spoiled, just say so, okay? That’s about all I can do.”
 
“I’ve started high school, you know…Himiyama-san?”
 
Somehow, her worried expression was very striking.
 
“See you, Yukito-kun. Well, good night, Ouka-san.”
 
“Yes, good night.”
 
Himiyama-san leaves. Looks like I got through it somehow. Even though she’s a neighbor, we probably won’t see each other’s faces that often. What a relief.
 
For some reason, Mom looked at that with a trace of fear.
 

“Haa…”
 
A deep sigh escapes. To cool my head, I step out onto the porch. The cool air feels pleasant, softly caressing my cheeks. Raindrops that had fallen from the sky had softened the area.
 
Misaki Himiyama. A woman with a gentle personality, easy to talk to. I think she is a good person herself. From now on, we may have to deal with each other for one reason or another.
 
But what clouded my heart like this sky was something else.
 
“How envious…”
 
Envy. Longing. Longing. Complex emotions intertwined.
 
My son’s last exchange with her seemed intimate, like a close parent and child. It’s an ideal to which I also aspire. How happy I would be if I could interact like that. If we could have a pleasant conversation like that, I could learn so much more about my son.
 
I can’t even do that now. Our awkward parent-child relationship, where we can only talk about safe, harmless things. Unable to improve it, not even knowing how to try, it had remained a burden.
 
The camera I bought to take pictures of the children, to see them grow up, to be in the pictures together, is now covered with dust. When was the last time the three of us as a family went out somewhere? I couldn’t even protect those bonds between the three of us.
 
I can’t get my son’s line out of my head. “I’m not used to being treated like this” and “like a mother,” he said. Then what am I to him?
 
Can I safely call myself his mother? When I try to remember the last time my son acted spoiled with me, no matter how hard I think, it’s useless. He’s never acted spoiled with me.
 
Without looking at him, without listening to him, without letting him speak. It was the foolish me of the past that caused this.
 
Before I knew it, it became normal and he stopped looking for anything from me. What’s reflected in his eyes is resignation. Expecting nothing, seeking nothing, having given up everything.
 
It’s my responsibility to make things that way. By the time I realized it, it was too late, and I could say that everything that happened after that was my fault, I was the cause.
 
And he gradually broke down, our relationship thinned out, we passed each other by. Someone gets hurt, he gets hurt without even realizing it. Where will things go if this continues? Maybe it is already too late for everything.
 
Fear fills my chest. I shake my head. To be honest, when I look directly at my feelings, they were much uglier and simpler. At that moment, watching the two of them interact, I was purely jealous. A fear appeared in the corner of my heart.
 
Could it be that my son would be taken away from me?
 
I have to admit that I felt something like that somewhere. It shouldn’t be like this. It’s undeniable that he is my precious son because of our blood connection. But even though we are related by blood, does that make me a mother? I had my doubts. You could even say that it’s the only thing that proves it.
 
Maybe he doesn’t think I’m his mother. Otherwise, would he seriously bring up the theory that he was found under a bridge?
 
He probably thinks he’s not loved. That’s the only thing I know for sure. No matter how much I deny it with words, my past behavior won’t allow it.
 
The affection that should have been given and received was missing. Feelings hadn’t developed. A heart that withered without being watered. The result was what he is now.
 
Could she, Misaki Himiyama, provide that affection? Even though we only met once, I somehow felt that there was affection in her eyes. She was also strangely affectionate with my son. I want to do the same, but my past action can’t allow it.
 
But if the presence that is trying to give affection is not me, I might be useless to my son.
 
No, I don’t want that-! Vague fear.
 
Why did I work? It’s because I have a family that is more important than anything else. I don’t want to let them go. I don’t want to be seen as a mother who gave up. Anger swirls in my heart. A family of only three. A family reduced to three. Since I made this decision, they’ve been my support. I can’t just leave it with regret.
 
My work has settled down and I no longer need to go to the office. Switching to remote work has been a blessing in disguise, as it has significantly increased the amount of time I can spend at home. This may be my last chance. To fix the strained relationship I’ve been avoiding and face it head-on, the last one.
 
If I miss this opportunity, this time it might really be too late. I wanted to believe. That it’s still possible. That I could still make amends.
 
But it’s just too steep.


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