As we left the building, we could hear some noise coming from the alley next to us.
Anri tilted her head.
“Huh? Doesn’t it sound like your stepsister’s voice ……?”
It’s true that this town is the closest downtown area to our house.
It wouldn’t be surprising if there were students from our school. Besides, my stepsister likes karaoke.
…… It certainly sounds like my stepsister’s voice. I’m curious …….
My feet were about to head for the alley on their own.
Anri looked at me and gave a small nod.
As I entered the alleyway, I saw men and women in plain clothes talking to each other.
It was hard to see because of the men’s backs, but there was definitely my stepsister and a girl I didn’t …… know.
“Yeah, yeah, let’s just sing together. Oh, I’m really trying to be an idol, so I can sing really well—-“
“Hii ……, don’t do that… I hate …… flirtatious men.”
“Idiot! Don’t touch Nanako’s shoulder! I’m calling the police!”
“Oh, This karaoke guy is my friend. He’ll give you a discount on the room rate.”
“Come on, Nanako, we had a lot of fun in middle school. We’re both high school students, you know.
“Abababa. L-Listen……, someone help me, …….”
My heart jumped.
It had been too long since I had heard my stepsister’s weak voice.
No, my stepsister was crying because of something I said. I was just pretending not to see it.
I felt a soft thump on my back.
My body was moving on its own.
My eyes met with my stepsister who was being cornered by a flirtatious man.
My stepsister’s head seemed to have a hovering question mark on it.
” Hey, hey, hey, are you listening? We and–“
“Haruka, it’s time for you to go home. I’m here to pick you up.”
I put my body in between the man and my stepsister.
My stepsister looked dumbfounded with her mouth open. Her friend who was next to her also looked surprised.
“Hey, don’t get in my way. I’ll–“
I slowly turned around and looked down at the man.
“…… This is my little sister. Do you have a problem with that?”
My mouth moved on its own. As the walls in my mind disappeared, I began to lose track of what I was doing.
I had been verbally abused by my stepsister.
But those things are in the past. Let the past be the past and don’t drag it into the present–
Just be a family man, a brother who cares about his sister…
“Oh? You’re her brother? That’s–“
“H-hey, wait, ……, that’s the guy from the violent incident, ……. Come on, let’s go.”
The men fled with blue faces.
Anri, holding a cell phone in her hand, ran up to me. When she saw that we were safe, she let out a sigh of relief. She was probably going to call the police if anything happened.
My stepsister’s eyes were wandering in the air. She was trying to say something to me, but she couldn’t get the words out and kept muttering. “Th-th-tha…….”
I couldn’t make out the expression on the face of the girl’s friend next to me with her shaggy, overgrown hair.
I was consciously trying not to think about it.
I couldn’t even consider what I would say now.
And I can’t say that my stepsister and I–no, we’re not relevant anymore. Instead of remembering the past and regretting it, I have to move on and put it behind me.
I denied myself that I was weak-minded.
I looked straight at my stepsister.
“…… I’m glad. There’s nothing in particular. Your stepmother is worried about you. You and your friend–“
I didn’t recognize her friend’s face. Wrong. I couldn’t recognize her. I wasn’t trying to see past it.
This girl who was next to my stepsister at Destiny and on the way to school in the morning was Nanako.
Her face hadn’t changed that much. She just changed to a more modest outfit.
It was just that I didn’t try to recognize her.
“…… Nanako, go home before it gets dark.”
“Yeah, ah ……, ah, thank you ……. U-hm H-Haruka? What should I do?”
Nanako’s body jolted, and she squirme up against her.
That’s all I can think to say at the moment. I don’t know what to do any more either.
I could hear her sobbing.
My stepsister smacked herself hard on the buttocks. W-wait? I don’t get it, …….
She was sniffling and biting her lip, desperately trying to hold back her tears.
W-was she really that scared of the guys?
“But the guys have already gone, so it’s okay–“
“……Uun…..No you got it wrong…..Onii……Ma-Makoto….,Not honorifics……You called me your sister……,Haruka……,But–I should be happy, I’m sorry, I don’t understand……So–thank you for helping me…….”
My stepsister bowed her head towards me. Nanako, next to me, also bowed her head. I could only hear her sobbing, as if she couldn’t control her mixed emotions.
Nanako-san looked at me and freaked out. I could feel the guilt and regret there. But now is not the time.
“Nanako, take care of my stepsister …… Haruka. I’ll see her off from behind to the station–“
“Huh? Ah, yes, ……. Can you walk, Haruka-chan? He said he’ll watch over you from behind. Let’s go, shall we?”
Haruka nodded her head and began to walk forward.
Anri and I followed them as if we were watching over them from behind.
We can walk to my parents’ house from here, or take the train.
Haruka and the others seemed to be going home by train.
I thought the flirtatious guy would be waiting for them somewhere, but I didn’t see any sign of them.
On the way to the station, my stepsister turned around several times with a runny nose.
Every time her eyes met mine, she would cry again.
…… Let’s just leave it at that. I can’t get my mind around it right now either.
When we reached the ticket gate, Haruka stopped once.
Then she turned around to face us.
Her nose was still dripping as usual. Seeing her face like that somehow made me feel nostalgic.
Haruka wiped her face with her own handkerchief and tried to say something to me with an emotionless face. –But before she could, I interrupted her.
“–Haruka, thank you for the grass cakes the other day. But I don’t like grass cakes, so please make me a different one next time.”
I waved my hand towards Haruka.
Haruka was staring at her hands. She looked as if it would be a sin to wave at me.
Haruka’s hand freaked out several times, and finally, with a face that I couldn’t tell if she was crying or laughing, she waved at me in really tiny little motions.
Haruka disappears behind the ticket gate, being pulled by Nanako’s hand.
She turned around and waved again and again until I was out of sight–
End of volume 4