“Next stop, Komorimachi, Komorimachi~”
A monotonous announcement echoed through the bus, filling the otherwise silent interior. The bus ride was enveloped in a stillness where even such announcements sounded transparent.
The only sounds were the occasional passing cars in the opposite lane and the faint music leaking from the earphones of passengers in front of me.
Well, a Monday morning commute was expected to be like this. The salary men on board were bidding farewell to their weekends and reluctantly heading into what felt like a corporate hell.
I, on the other hand, was just a student, and I couldn’t truly grasp the emotions of those going to work. However, I knew one thing: the desire not to end the weekend was universal.
So, I sent my heartfelt encouragement to the salary men inside the bus. “Hang in there!” I silently urged them.
“Yuran, you were up early today.”
As I continued to send my thoughts of encouragement to the salarymen, I was suddenly interrupted by Ginro-san, who was seated beside me.
Seated beside me was a fragile girl, her hands resting on her lap, exuding an ethereal beauty. We had been in a romantic relationship for a few months now, yet I never grew accustomed to her beauty. Every glance at her made my heart skip a beat.
I didn’t understand the feelings of salary men heading to work on a Monday morning, but I knew the desire not to end a weekend was a shared sentiment.
“Ah…, yes, Mana was visiting me home… I wanted to show her that her Onii-chan sticks to the schedule after all.”
“Eh? Mana is at your place?”
My words were interrupted, and Ginro-san approached me with sparkling eyes, clearly excited. It seemed that despite only meeting Mana briefly last time, she and Ginro-san had become close, often chatting on LINE. A friendship between girls, huh?
Ginro-san pierced me with her overwhelmingly charming upward gaze. Did she understand the power of her beauty, or was it just her final tactic when she had a request she really wanted to make? Well, this time, there was only one thing she wanted to request.
“How about having dinner together tonight… the three of us?”
“!!… Thank you!”
She was happy that her request was conveyed through eye contact alone, and expressed her joy in a louder voice than usual. …Cute…
However, when Ginro-san makes a request to me with this superior eye contact, it is always the last resort.
In other words, it is always used when he has a request that I am not likely to give in, but he really wants to pass.
Why did he suddenly look up at me? I wonder if he thought that I wanted to spend family time with Mana.
“Yuran, are you nervous…?”
The reason for her upward gaze had become clear now…
She just wanted it.
“Next stop, Ouzakura High School.”
While my thoughts were completely dominated by Ginro-san, the bus had arrived at our stop.
The chime signaling the end of the fourth-period class echoed through the school.
For us, it marked the end of a long morning of classes and the beginning of lunch break, a time for rest. Rumor had it that anyone who heard this chime would experience an increase in their physical strength, agility, and all other stats.
I had personally confirmed this theory several times. My own stats, including my energy level, often reached critical levels just before the chime, but the moment I heard it, they would fully recover, sometimes even banishing sleepiness.
In other words, this theory was accurate.
“Yuran, let’s go have lunch.”
Noticing my distracted thoughts, Ginro-san, carrying an adorable lunchbox, called out to me.
“Oh, yeah, let’s go.”
I quickly retrieved my lunchbox from my bag and hurried over to Ginro-san.
At that moment, I noticed an empty seat diagonally behind me.
“Yuji-kun still didn’t come today, huh…”
Yuji-kun, my benefactor and friend. He hadn’t been to school at all for the past month.
According to the teacher, if he missed two more specific classes, he would fail to earn enough credits and be forced to repeat a year.
I felt obligated to do everything in my power to prevent Yuji-kun from repeating a year, considering it my duty as his friend.
However, no matter how many texts and calls I sent him, I received no response, not even a hint of where he might be.
I also had no idea where Yuji-kun lived.
The realization that I knew nothing about my only true friend, who was in a crisis, left me feeling utterly powerless and overwhelmed by a sense of emptiness from all directions.
[I know nothing… about Yuji.]
“Ginro-san, is this…?”
“Hmm? Just pasta.”
In the library.
Although lunch break was off-limits for students, Ginro-san, who was a library committee member, had the privilege to use the library during lunch. This peaceful and quiet place allowed us to enjoy our lunch in peace.
But none of that mattered.
I was currently fixated on a dish that made my tongue tingle just from looking at it—a mysterious, crimson-colored “noodle” that Ginro-san had prepared and placed in her lunchbox.
Ginro-san had a penchant for spicy food, and the curries she made used to be unbearably spicy, leaving me with a burning mouth and tears streaming down my face. However, she seemed to have mellowed out recently, opting for less fiery curries. I thought I had finally broken free from her ultra-spicy addiction, but it appeared I was mistaken.
This “noodle” she had brought today, despite being called pasta, felt more like an insult to all pasta in existence. Its malevolence radiated an unusual presence.
Ginro-san was a connoisseur of heat, always aiming for the spiciest option available. While she had finally realized the virtues of milder curry, it seemed that she was still on a quest for ultimate spiciness in other dishes.
I couldn’t help but sigh. This could be trouble.
“Yuran… Do you want to try this pasta?”
This scenario… it felt like déjà vu.
“I don’t really want to share, but if you look at me like that… consider it a special treat?”
What was Ginro-san talking about?
I wasn’t staring at this pasta because I wanted to eat it; I was trying to ensure my safety in case this dangerous concoction decided to attack me.
However, Ginro-san didn’t understand that. Instead, she cheerfully whistled, her eyes shining with expectation, and expertly twirled the pasta around her fork. Her gaze was undoubtedly filled with anticipation.
She can’t be serious about not wanting to share. She is definitely planning to make me eat this, right? She is determined to feed it to me, isn’t she?
In front of my eyes was the most otherworldly dish imaginable, exuding an ominous aura—an enigmatic “noodle.”
Honestly, I wanted to run away. If I ate this, there was no doubt in my mind that it would be my end. But Ginro-san, still holding the fork with a gleam in her eyes, was clearly eager to see me try it.
I couldn’t betray her… I couldn’t betray my beloved Ginro-san’s expectations!
I can’t run away… I can’t run away… I can’t run away…!!
“Here it goes… I’m eating it.”
I steeled myself and put the mysterious noodle into my mouth.
The next thing I knew, I had lost consciousness.
I woke up three minutes before the afternoon class.
After that, Ginro-san and I were banned from using the library during lunch for the foreseeable future… I’ll let you imagine what kind of disaster unfolded——
I uttered words that hadn’t been spoken in the past few months as I opened the door to my home.
While I had grown somewhat accustomed to living alone, knowing that there was someone who would welcome my return still warmed my heart and brought me comfort.
“… Is she sleeping?”
I had hoped to hear Mana’s response, a greeting to my return, but there was no sign of her voice anywhere.
I felt a slight disappointment at not receiving a response, but Mana had likely escaped from our parents’ home in the middle of the night, so she probably hadn’t had a good night’s sleep.
Or perhaps I was worrying too much, becoming overly possessive of my little sister just because I didn’t get a “welcome back.” But honestly, I understood that I might be a bit of a siscon, so the damage wasn’t all that high.
She had probably fallen asleep while sitting on the living room sofa watching TV or something like that, so I quietly tiptoed toward the living room to check.
I opened the living room door while trying to minimize any noise.
There wasn’t really a particular reason why I felt the need to move quietly or open doors silently, but for some reason, I had always exhibited this behavior when someone was asleep.
Whether it was because of an ingrained sense of wanting to be considerate and not wake people up or simply a quirk, the reasons behind this behavior remained unexplained.
Taking my time to avoid making noise, I finally opened the living room door entirely.
“What is this, Onii-chan?”
Upon opening the door to the living room, I found Mana standing there, holding something, looking utterly shocked.
Her expression was filled with despair, and I instantly understood that something significant, something beyond imagination, had occurred in her world.
The reason I didn’t hear any response from anywhere in the house wasn’t because Mana was asleep; it was because she wasn’t in a condition to respond.
“What happened!? Mana?”
I rushed toward Mana, who stood frozen in front of the dresser in the living room. It was rare to see such an expression on her face, and it was clear that something monumental had taken place.
Mana had come to my house because of conflicts with our parents and our older sister. Could it be that something had happened to escalate those conflicts even further during my absence?
“Onii-chan, what is this?”
As I approached her, Mana held out a box-like object to me, her face still reflecting a sense of utter hopelessness.
“What do you mean what is…eh?”
Understanding slowly dawned on me.
The true identity of the object that Mana had handed me.
…The box had “0.01” written prominently on it.
Once I grasped what the box truly was, Mana dropped it to the ground and began stomping on it violently.
She repeatedly crushed the box until it became a mangled mess, like the rubber that had lost its place, thrown out into the open by displaced individuals.
“Onii-chan… you did it, right?”
“You… you did it…”
Mana uttered those words like she was spitting out the end of a chewed-up piece of gum onto the pavement. Her face bore an expression I had never seen in the ten long years we had spent together – an expression filled with an indescribable mixture of hatred, disappointment, resignation, and every imaginable negative emotion.
“What Onee-chan did to you…Ginro-san….”