Before Haruka comes back, I analyze the answer sheet and check what’s wrong.
The Japanese and social studies scores were in the double digits, but not more than half of the average. Other than that, the results were dismal.
I dig up my memory of how far I had gotten in the entrance exam.
I don’t know what happened, but I remember studying with tremendous concentration.
…… But the test is next week. Can she make it in time?
Haruka brought me the study tools, breathing a little faster.
She sits in front of me with a strange look on her face.
“…..I-I have brought it. U-uhm…..I-I……”
“Look, in high school there’s a thing called retention. Your friend Miyazaki and the others are going to be seniors. And you’ll have to pay for another year of schooling. First, you need to study for school–“
Before I started to prepare for the test, I spoke about Haruka’s situation in a halting manner.
I had to make her understand how bad the situation was.
No matter how much I taught her, it would be meaningless if she didn’t have the motivation.
Haruka listened to me, but she seemed to be squirming.
What? Is there something on your mind?
Haruka looked down and asked me fearfully.
“O-Oni……, U-um, can I, can I talk?”
“……What is it? If you have something to say, just say it.”
Haruka glanced at her stepmother, who was preparing dinner in the kitchen, and took a deep breath.
“…… Oh, Y-yeah, I’m fine after all. It is okay. S-study and concentrate. ……”
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me.
Maybe Haruka was asking if she could talk to me?
I will never forget how I felt at that time. But it’s something I need to get past.
Rather than forcing people to change their minds, I have to change mine.
“…… Well, you know, I’ve decided to come home once in a while, even if I don’t have anything to do. I’m just a kid, so I’m still under the care of a guardian — though it’s a little hard to visit home if Haruka’s grades are bad.”
Haruka, who had been looking down, looked up. Her eyes were wide open.
She mumbled in a quiet voice.
“…… if I do my best. …oni, will come again. …… good grades ……”
Hmm? There’s something wrong with Haruka. B-Besides, did she hear a word what I said? No, I don’t think she heard me.
Haruka stood up quickly.
Then, with both hands, she slapped her own cheeks with a bang. Using the same momentum, she now spanked her own buttocks. It was very rhythmic. But what is she doing?
Stepmother peeked out from the kitchen to see what was going on.
Haruka’s eyes were filled with intelligence.
“O-Oni……, yeah, I got into it. I’ve switched to study mode.”
“Y-yeah. …… Well, sit down. First of all, we’re going to learn how to study for the test.”
And so our study session began.
Two hours had already passed.
I taught her how to study and how to prepare for the test at the beginning.
Halfway through, Haruka began to study by herself, using her textbook and my notebook.
At first, she groaned and groaned, but then she said, “Oh, yes, I remember now. I remembered this from class…..”. She seemed to be working on recalling her memories rather than memorizing them.
Haruka is indeed a big idiot. Forgetting what she …… had done to me in the past, she stepped right in. If I rejected her, she would purposely forget about it after a night.
……I don’t know what’s going on in Haruka’s head, but I’m sure it’s something special.
Haruka was absorbing knowledge at a frightening rate, even from my point of view.
When it was time for dinner, we stopped studying for a while and sat down at the table.
Haruka was looking at my notes as we ate dinner. In the past, this would have been a scene that would have made my stepmother furious.
She said it was bad form to behave while eating. ……
However, my stepmother was …… watching over Haruka.
I don’t know when the last time I ate a meal like this.
I always killed my heart when I was at home.
After that day, I couldn’t taste anything at the table.
…… By the way, those pancakes that day were delicious.
I remembered the pancakes I had with Anri. It was the day I made up my mind to move on.
The day I recognized the love I had for Anri.
Haruka spooned the curry and ate it dexterously while looking at her notes.
She is so focused on her studies that she looks like a different person.
I held the spoon in my hand, but I still hadn’t touched the curry.
It’s not that I’ve lost my composure. It doesn’t mean the past is gone.
My stepmother hadn’t touched the curry either.
She’s trying to figure out what to say to me.
…… When I met Anri, I was able to change and decided to move on.
I felt a lot of emotions in front of the curry, but I closed my eyes and put it behind me. Without thinking, I put the curry in my mouth.
I took a bite.
The curry tasted so good, even though it was plain and ordinary.
The emotions that I had felt earlier came to my mind even more clearly.
The innocence of my childhood, the praise of my stepmother, the curry I hadn’t eaten since I was a child. My stepmother who didn’t believe in me. My stepmother who was bullied by my her friends because of me–
I chewed slowly and swallowed it down.
Don’t worry, I won’t stay in my shell anymore. I promised Anri that…… I have to show her how cool I am.
“…… It’s delicious, mother.”
When I said that, she couldn’t hold back the tears that welled up in her eyes and broke down.
The spoon in her hand was trembling.
In a stifled voice, mother said…
“I’m sorry, Makoto, for what I said. …… I’m sorry, Makoto, for everything. And ……, it’s all my fault. Makoto, I’m sorry. ……, I’m an unfit mother, I don’t deserve to see you…”
Haruka immediately looked up and tried to stop her mother. But I stopped her with my hand and interrupted her.
“Yeah, I don’t know how I feel about myself yet, but ……, it’s just that …… curry is delicious. That’s all I need to know right now.”
The scars of the past never go away. But if I face them, I can move forward. That’s why–
“Mother, p-please face it slowly.”
Mother nodded, holding back her tears. Then, like a broken speaker, she repeated, “Face it slowly….”
After regaining her composure, mother looked a little dazed.
We had a very peaceful dinner.
Such a normal thing was not normal for my family.
Haruka was looking at my notes the whole time. It was as if she was a different person.
It was getting late, so I decided to go home.
When I told Haruka that I was leaving, she threw away her textbooks and tried to hug me, but she seemed to have stopped herself.
“Ah ?! I’m sorry, my instincts got the better of me. I-I’m sorry. ah n-note——“
“No, I’ll lend it to you until the day after tomorrow. You can copy it.”
“Oh, ……, yeah, yeah! I’ll do my best …….”
Haruka did not look down this time. She looked straight at me.
The soul was in her eyes.
Even the weak and frightened mother had somehow regained some life in her face.
The heart comes out in the body. That’s human nature.
I want you to take this …… Makoto. I can’t say it well in words, that’s why …….”
That’s all she said, and handed me a cardboard box.
When I received it, I felt a heavy weight.
It’s probably filled with vegetables and other foodstuffs. …… Well, it’s okay because it’s close.
And so I left my parents’ house, with my mom and Haruka seeing me off.
I walked alone through the streets at night, carrying a cardboard box.
It was pretty heavy, but not too heavy that I couldn’t carry it.
I had no idea that Haruka’s grades were that bad.
If she studies hard at that speed before the test, she is sure to get an average score.
I guess we’re a family after all.
Maybe I had thought that mother and Haruka were strangers.
Maybe there was a wall that I couldn’t see, and I felt it, and maybe I was treating them wrong.
The past is the past.
Now we can face each other as a family ……. Oh, yes, I should contact my father too. …… and told him that I had dinner with mother and Haruka.
There is no way to change everything suddenly. Just like how Anri and I got to know each other little by little, …….
As I was thinking about this, I felt the phone shake.
It’s rare for me to receive a call ……. Oh, it’s Anri calling?
I hold the cardboard under my arm and look at my phone. It’s from Anri.
I feel a little nervous when she calls.
I nervously picked up the phone.
“Oh, Makoto? I’m so nervous, ……! I’ve never talked on the phone with anyone before. ……”
“Yeah, I was nervous answering the phone too, …….”
“Yeah, I guess so. …… How are things at home?”
“I had curry …….”
“Eh? Really! Then, you and your family—-“
I talk to Anri on the phone as I walk.
I guess I was so excited that I forgot the weight of the cardboard box I was carrying under my arm.
It makes my heart flutter. It makes me feel gentle.
“So, I thought I’d post a new one after the test. I wanted Makoto to see it before I posted it …….”
“Oh, you’re having a family meeting today about the …… follow-up to your last published work——.”
“Awawa! Ma-Makoto, aren’t you too happy?! I-Is it alright, you’re outside, right?”
“Ufufu, That’s right. It’s strange that two people who no one believed in could meet—–.”
“Eh? Haruka-san, Is she okay? Avoiding red marks from now on ……. Can you teach me how to study too?”
“R-right, I’m good at remembering things. …… Eh, do you forget about things that don’t interest you quickly? Fufu, I have a weird little sister.”
“Haa….you’re so kind after all, Makoto—–.”
A normal walk is enough. I took thirty minutes to slowly walk down such a path.
The weight of the cardboard doesn’t bother me at all.
“…… Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, then. I’ll be with you tomorrow after school—-“
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to your new work. –See you tomorrow.”
When I hung up the phone, I was already in front of my grandfather’s house.
I opened the cardboard box and sorted out the vegetables and rice inside, basking in the afterglow of the call.
…… There was a letter in there. The handwriting is mother’s.
I started to make coffee as I read it.
It was a beautiful handwriting, but the lines were distorted somehow. I could see that the handwriting had been erased many times. Some parts were blotchy.
Emotions that cannot be conveyed in words. This letter certainly contained the heart of my mother.
I exhaled lightly and turned on my tablet.
It was the first time I tried to write a letter. It was not unlike writing. I put my emotions into the letter and kept writing.