I was seen off by Shinozuka and Saeko-san as I made my way home.
Shinozuka and I walked home, hiding our embarrassment from each other.
Saeko-san didn’t say anything. She’s tired, but she was quietly watching over us.
When I bid farewell to them and opened the front door, I found my stepmother standing there.
She wore a bitter look on her face.
“Welcome back ……, Makoto, why didn’t you tell me …….'”
I knew right away that it was about the book.
I tried to fake a smile as usual, but–
I couldn’t get the smile to stick.
I couldn’t help but have a blank expression on my face.
“…… I’m sorry, I’m late in reporting this.”
When my stepmother heard those words, she clenched her fists tightly.
Her pure white hands turned red.
“‘Yeah, yeah, it’s okay, it’s a matter to celebrate. …… Makoto, has been a fan of manga and anime since you were a kid. …… light novels, right? Mom isn’t really sure about that, but she’s not a …… shady publisher, is she?”
The TV was only in the living room, When I was a kid, I liked to watch anime.
“You’re her Onii-chan, don’t watch that stuff all the time you should study instead.”
“Did you buy another manga? Huh, don’t waste your allowance.”
“If you’re going to watch that stuff, take care of Haruka instead of something like that.”
The school library was my place. The library is the place where I belonged.
Even after the incident with Saito-san, I still went to the library. It was the only place where I could be.
Fortunately, Saito-san had made friends and forgot about me and never came to the library.
That’s why I didn’t watch TV or read manga at home.
I went to that high school because it had the best library in the district.
That was the only reason.
I know that my stepmother has no ill intentions.
She must know that I don’t watch any manga or anime at …… this house.
My stepmother is not interested in me. She has only been looking out for my stepsister since she is her child.
I’ve always answered, “I’ll try not to bother you …… as much as possible. I will …… study hard and get good grades.”
But I’ve made up my mind.
I’m going to write a book.
“So, please listen to my only selfishness. I will go to a good university, a good job, or wherever stepmother wants me to do. The only …… thing I want to do is …… write books, I promise.”
I looked at my stepmother with eyes full of determination.
I won’t use my fake smile anymore. I don’t know if she will believe it, but I’ve decided to move on.
For some reason, my stepmother looked shocked.
“I, I’m …… just ……. I was just worried ……for you.”
That’s not for me, you are worried about how your neighborhood mom friends would see you, in short it is for your own sake.
“Y-yeah! We should celebrate! I know! How about going out to eat with mom and Haruka?”
“No need, thank you.”
“Why ……, why ……, but I’m sure Haruka will be happy to hear about that. So, can you tell me more about it?…… And …… why did you not tell mom about it? …… Why did you call father instead?”
I think your friends thoughts are more important to you. …… My stepsister knows this and pretends to be an idiot. Sometimes she’s really stupid. ……
It’s easy to let it go. But that’s not the way to move forward.
I have to be honest with her. I don’t need to use that mask anymore.
“I don’t know what to say to stepmother, who didn’t believe me, but I thought that you would dismiss my book deal and you would never understand.”
Stepmother wavered and backed away.
Her face was pale.
If I look closely, I can see that her gray hair has recently increased.
“No, no…I won’t..”
“It’s possible. As I’ve always been told, “You’re the big brother,” “Don’t bother me,” and “the other mothers will make fun of me.” And even when I was in trouble, no one believed me. How can I trust someone who doesn’t believe in me?”
“So, that’s what you’ve …… been thinking all this time. It’s not that I didn’t believe in you! I thought my discipline was wrong. ……, so–“
“Oh, you didn’t believe that just now, did you? …… Stepmother, I won’t get in your way.”
I stare at my stepmother, whose body is shaking.
“I’m sorry, but I think my heart is broken….. It’s not stepmother’s fault. It’s just that …… no one believed me.”
Stepmother spoke those words helplessly.
She was not looking at me. I think she might be looking at the old me.
I armed myself with the honorific again to mend my ways a bit.
“…… I’m sorry, I just said what I want to say. …… If I’m in the way, I’ll leave this house immediately–“
This is what my stepmother used to say to me a long time ago.
(“If you’re going to cause so much trouble, get out of here. You’re not our child!”)
I’m sure she’s forgotten, but the words she said to me when I was a child stuck a thorn in my heart.
Those words corrupted and bound my life.
Stepmother shook her head left and right in denial, while suppressing a sob.
“Mako..to, I’m sorry. ……, Makoto, I’m sorry. ……”
She called my name and apologized, over and over again…….
But I don’t feel anything in my heart when I hear it.
…… My stepmother raised me well. There were times when she was kind to me.
But I can’t trust my stepmother. My heart denies her.
I took off my shoes and tried to walk past my stepmother.
I heard a slamming sound from the stairs.
“Wait! Huhuhu, Onii-chan, wait! I don’t want you to go……! I don’t want you….. to leave, please don’t leave Onii-chan!”
My stepsister appeared, crying.
It’s …… okay, I don’t feel anything.
My stepsister struggled to hold back her tears as she told me.
“Hicc* ……, Onii-chan…, Hicc* ……, don’t leave ……,leave… …. nnn!”
My stepsister smacked herself on the cheek as if to remember something, It was quite strong.
Her face started to redden, but instead the expression on my stepsister’s eyes changed.
“….Oni….Makoto, If you want to leave the house, you can do so, okay? Hic, If you feel more at ease without us,……, right, mom? Hic mom and I are worried about for you. …… I’m sure you know your late grandfather’s house, right? I sometimes go there to clean it, but you can live there, right? Why don’t you ask your father?
My stepsister told her mother in a gentle voice.
“No, no, no. …… Makoto is my pride and joy. …… I don’t believe you’re leaving home. ……”
“Mom, it’s our fault for not believing in him……. so we will wait for you to come back, okay?”
My stepsister hugged stepmomther.
She rubbed stepmother’s back, looked at me, and just nodded.
“–I’ll take care of mom, okay? You are free to …… go to …… any place you want without being disturbed by anyone.”
She clenched her teeth, holding back her tears.
This is the first time I’ve seen my stepsister’s face like that.
It brought back some long forgotten nostalgic memories.
Haruka-san used to ran up to me happily, saying, “Onii-chan!, Onii-chan!”
In my heart – I can’t feel anything …….Do I really not feel anything?
What is this nostalgic feeling?
I pushed it to the back of my mind.
— but it couldn’t be contained and was leaking out.
I approached them.
The fake mask is already gone. I don’t know what I look like.
I remembered the gentle warmth of Shinozuka’s touch on my hand.
My body moved on its own.
I was stroking my stepsister’s head, who looked like she was about to start crying – just like I used to do in the past.
“Huh, ……? uh …… Makoto?”
“I don’t know, but thank you.”
The words were also coming out on their own.
She must have been thinking of me when she suggested that I should leave the house.
I could tell that she was let the feelings on her heart out.
A faint, but nostalgic memory came back to my mind.
I don’t know what my face would look like without the fake smile on it.
I’m sure it’s scary.
“‘…… Uh,nn I’ll see you off with a smile! Hahaha! A-ha-ha-! Hee, hee ……, guh ……”
My stepsister held her tears back.
She just gave me a smile as if to put to put my mind at ease.
TL: Sorry for the delay on posting this chapter, I thought it’s not my time to post yet so I’ll give 2 more chaps today to make up for it. – Seele_VollereiHI3 please join our discord!