Facing forward. Empty. Curry pot.
Right before I left the classroom after school ended I've been stopped with a "Wait." by Mariko.
It looked like she had something she needed to ask me no matter what.
Why the hell was she so formal? I put on a guard just in case, however, her question was just "Is there anything in particular you would like to eat?".
She's been always treating me to boxed launches, I couldn't be grateful enough just for that.
That's why as long as it was not something strange, I would welcome any side dishes in the boxed launch. After I answered like that, she responded with "I don't mean a boxed lunch.".
So what I wanted to eat other than boxed lunches, huh?
After being told that, I couldn't think of anything, and told her that's the case. Then, for some reason I've been taken to supermarket on the way home.
Maybe she's been asked to do shopping for dinner. While I was looking at the ingredients as I passed by them, I considered things I'd like to eat.
Hmm. I can't think of anything. I could only image things only someone skilled at cooking could do... and it became even harder to think of something.
As I was waiting for Mariko with a basket in my hand, a mail came and my smartphone rang.
It was from Yuuki. She wrote that she'll be late today and to wait for her in the room... eh.
It's been quite a while since I went home and was alone. That's somehow lonely... and, when I thought that I realized. Yuuki had her own school life, and that I was convinced was natural for me to meet her soon after that.
I wonder how late she'll be. If it was just five minutes, she wouldn't bother sending a mail. Considering she contacted me as not to make me worry, it felt as if she was not to come back at all.
While I was looking at the fresh food corner, an inspiration appeared in my head.
I'll make a meal for Yuuki today. If it's curry then I should be able to do it without practice, I won't fail... probably.
I started to collect ingredients for curry in my basket.
And when I did so, Mariko saw the ingredients and asked if I want to eat curry. I wonder how did she know that, I only put a leek, carrots and potatoes and still haven't bought curry roux.
Mariko let out a small sigh. Certainly, curry couldn't be put in a boxed lunch. As she said that to me, she looked somehow lonely.
Oh, that's right. The reason I came with her to supermarket was to consider what I wanted to eat. With my thoughts preoccupied by curry, I could no longer think of anything else.
In the end, to take it all home and prepare it I bought ingredients for salad and curry.
Mariko got worried over the fact that I bought a large amount of ingredients, but I told her that I plan to freeze part of it and somehow managed to convince her.
Then Mariko advised me "It's better if beginners don't try putting any hidden taste in the curry.".
There were things like soy roux, peanuts butter, chocolate or instant coffee which could be added as secret ingredient but putting too much of it would cause the dish to fail. It should be fine with just making it with stable taste of roux that was available for purchase.
Even if one were not to put anything unnecessary, there was one more option to try being bolder. I ambiguously thought.
Although I said "I'm back.", the other person wasn't there.
Yuuki's room seemed strangely deserted. Just because there was no sight of her in the living room, a hole in my chest started gaping as my loneliness raged.
It was lonely to be alone. Now that I think about it, every day someone is waiting for me.
Ever since the first weekend of this life began, I was finally alone for the first time I was alone... now that I thought about it, I couldn't believe it.
I wondered if Yuuki will come back soon. No, Yuuki has her own life, I can't become a burden to her.
Bear with it, me. There's something to do before Yuuki comes back isn't there.
I borrowed the coffee apron that was in Yuuki's kitchen and rolled up the sleeves of my shirt.
All right! Let's do it!
There was unexpectedly many cooking utensils in there, they were all neatly prepared in Yuuki's kitchen.
The fact that there was a peeler was a fortunate miscalculation. Thanks to that I was able to safely peel the potatoes which were most difficult ones to peel.
Then I cooked the rice. I've helped Granny before with that much.
I thought that Yuuki only ate frozen foods, but it seemed like she properly cooked rice. After putting the rice in the rice cooker I pressed the start button.
I did as it said on the curry roux's package and cooked it.
After putting vegetables in the water I boiled it. I picked off the scum from inside and cooked it on low fire for a while.
As I did that, before long a nostalgic smell started to fill the kitchen.
A curry or stew, it was at a point where I didn't know what it'll become, but I loved the smell that rose from the pot.
As I continued to stare at the pot in the kitchen, I was suddenly hugged from behind.
"Nii-san, be my bride!"
As I screamed in surprise, the person who hugged me from behind was also surprised and fell down.
I quickly directed my line of sight towards her face.
"Don't scare me like that. I thought my heart would stop."
I reached out to her with my hand. Yuuki took it and stood up, truly she's a little sister who's tall and well proportioned like a model.
She was wearing a skirt. As well as a middle school uniform.
"It seems like you're able to wear a skirt now, Yuuki."
"Y-yeah. It's thanks to Nii-san and everyone else. Wearing a maid outfit on Saturday last week was a good experience."
As she said that, Yuuki picked up the tip her skirt and raised it. I spat out a sigh.
"But, I was able to go outside while wearing a skirt, and had to do my best to go to school like that... there's more of training for me as a girl to do."
Yuuki released the tip of the skirt with an unconcerned smile.
She was a little sister who was boyish in a different way than Tomomi was. Although she's been cross-dressing up until now, after meeting with me she started aiming to raise her girl power and underwent a special training.
After putting in a lot of effort, in this short time she's grown enough to wear a skirt.
But it seemed like on top of wearing a skirt, going in it to a school was quite difficult for her.
She tilted her head in wonder as she gazed at the pot on the stove.
"Nii-san, can it be that you can cook?"
"Yeah. This is not a chemical experiment. The plan is to make something that can be eaten, so don't worry."
"Is it a curry? Or maybe a white stew?"
Yuuki's pupils started sparkling.
"Yesss!! I love curry. Why does Nii-san know my favourite food?"
"If it's my cute little sister then I can tell. At least that's what I would like to say. It was just a coincidence. It's just that I'm a completely novice at cooking and since I didn't want to fail, I decided to make curry you know?"
She raised her voice slightly.
"Even if it's a coincidence, I'm happy! This must be a destiny Nii-san."
The innocence she displays from time to time makes me worried as her brother.
As Yuuki continued to jump in joy, I asked her to wait in the living room.
After the ingredients in the pot were cooked enough, I put in the roux and stopped the fire under it all at once. When the curry powder has completely dissolved, I slowly stirred it on low fire.
With perfect timing, the rice also finished cooking.
I washed the tomatoes and lettuce with water and cut it making into a salad.
I sat by the table together with Yuuki. As we ate a meal together, I was really happy. Even more so, considering the fact that we ate the food that I made.
After parting with Grandpa and Granny, the current situation didn't allow me to realize how lonely it is to eat alone. Thanks to my meeting with the little sisters and eating together with them, the loneliness was blown away.
Today, I noticed it because Yuuki wasn't here, what a sorry guy I am.
The curry I prepared has a stable and delicious taste to the point I can't believe myself... is what I thought. Yuuki as well, has been happily eating it.
"Nii-san! What kind of hidden taste is in this curry?"
"Love... I guess."
Yuuki's face turned red up to her ears. She ate the curry in no time.
"C-can I have seconds?"
"Sure. Eat all you want."
Being asked for seconds... made me very happy. Can it be that cooking becomes a habit because of a nice feelings like this? As long as there are people who would gladly eat your cooking.
Looks like this is something to be very, very happy about.
After the meal Yuuki started washing the dishes. Although I one-sidedly decided to prepare it on my own and should have done it, she took the initiative.
The remaining curry was portioned into small tupperware and frozen to be reheated at later time.
Yuuki smiled while sipping a coffee after the meal in the living room.
"I'd wish everyone ate Nii-san's curry. It was very delicious."
Since I just prepared it according to recipe, it will be troubling if she raises the bar that high...
When I glanced at the clock in the room, it was already 8 p.m. in the evening.
I calmly confirmed it with Yuuki.
"Hey, Yuuki. Won't you become my little sister?"
"That's... no can do, Nii-san."
"So you too?"
"Yeah. If I become Nii-san's little sister, I'll surely get spoiled."
"It's okay to be spoiled. Relying on each other is part of what it means to be family."
"I too want to become a respectable person who is able to say such things."
She stared me with unconditional respect. I'm not such a respectable person. Yuuki overestimates me. I... I'm someone who is all talk and can't do anything when it comes to it.
"That's why I have decided, when I become more independent I will once again ask you to become my Onii-chan."
So that's Yuuki's 'Shall I make you older brother!?' huh?
I felt it was a little bit similar to Tomomi's. But in Yuuki's case these feelings were a little bit more natural. Rather than 'Let's compete against each other!', it's more like wanting to slowly grow. That's how it seemed to me.
As I looked at Yuuki, she started to squirm and fidget.
"N-Nii-san! It's all true!"
"No no, I'm not doubting you. But is there any other reason for that?"
"T...tt-there's no way there is!"
So... there is.
Because of Yuuki 'that possibility' has become more likely.
"Hey Yuuki. Selene, Tomomi and Sayuri... neither of them will become my little sisters... can it be that you're doing it so that I pick Mika?"
"...umm, please don't ask any more!"
Seeing her make a troubled expression, I was reminded of the chat I had with Selene. It seemed like there was no 'secret' meeting between the little sisters.
Everyone might have decided by themselves for Mika's sake. I don't know what Mika herself thinks of that though...
Anyway, it's better not to trouble Yuuki any more than this.
"Got it. Um, do you want a report on the current situation from me?"
"Yup. What will become of us?"
"On Tuesday I went together with Tomomi to Murasaki-san's room. But she didn't tell me anything important. I think that this weekend, we will be gathered once again to listen to her announcement."
"I see. Depending on the contents of the announcement, there's a chance we might be separated."
"I don't know whether it's possible or not, but I want to stay together with everyone. I will relay these feelings to her."
"It'll be fine Nii-san. I'm sure it will turn out well."
Although she was anxious earlier, now she made a smile. Seeing that expression made my heart skip a beat. It was a smile which warmed the recipient's heart, like gentle spring sunshine.
"Thank you Yuuki. I feel better now."
I wasn't facing forward, I was pulling down everyone else who did.
She made me notice such an important thing.
Even if we were to be separated, we can connect each other if we'd like to... hey! At a time like this we can use that.
It seems like STRING which I've been taught how to use by Mariko will prove helpful here.
"Oh right, do you know about STRING?"
She tilted her head puzzled, still having a smile on her face.
"E-ehm, what's that?"
Yuuki spoke in monotone voice again. It seemed like she knows about it but pretended not to know. If she wants it that way, then I'll play along.
Little sisters have their own privacy. Were I to continue insist on it, I would be an older brother with no delicacy at all.
"No, if you don't know then that's fine."
Suddenly, Yuuki stood up.
"Nii-san, want a refill?"
Before I noticed, my coffee cup was already empty. I asked for plenty of milk and sugar. By the way, today too Yuuki was drinking black.
Concerned about the future, I asked her and confirmed about a lot of things.
"By the way, did something happen to you in school today?"
"Yeah. Actually... there was a club activities tour."
"But Yuuki's a third year, right?"
Normally the third years concentrate on their exams and retire from clubs. Did she really intend on joining a club?
"I-it was really just a tour, I only looked. I don't intend on joining any club."
Yuuki turned away from me and her eyebrows lowered. Looking more closely, I noticed that her eyes were wandering around. There were waves on the surface of coffee in the cup she held. You're trembling too much!
"What's wrong? Did too much coffee hurt your stomach? Want me to rub it?"
"You'll do it if my stomach hurts?! Nii-san, I... will drink. I will keep on drinking coffee until it hurts!"
"You don't have to! So that means it doesn't hurt right?"
"N-no it doesn't. And even if it would it's not a big deal."
Her eyes started to wander around even faster. For a while now she hasn't looked in my direction.
"Are you trying to keep something in secret from me?"
*bikun*... Yuuki's shoulders jerked.
Just how easy is it to see through her? Yuuki's really honest.
"If you're fine with that, you can consult it with me."
"U-uu... i-in fact... it's about the club tour..."
I asked and then went silent, she continued in a low voice.
"The tour... or rather, peeping..."
I guessed it already. But I continued to listen until the end.
"What do you mean by peeping?"
"I-I'm a third year, it would be outrageous for me to join a club."
"Ehm... what kind of club you peeped on?"
"That's, the tea ceremony club; flower arrangement club; handicrafts club as well as cooking club."
"All of them are clubs which would increase your girl power aren't they."
"I wanted to study more on how to be a girl... but all club members are girls... and it was difficult to speak with them."
Just by going to school in a skirt all the strength was drained from Yuuki, and yet she aimed to increase her girl power even further.
However, it seemed she felt guilty over voyeurism, the smile she encouraged me with earlier disappeared completely.
I nodded in agreement.
"The third years usually retire in order to prepare for the exams. Although the sport-type clubs generally do it after the summer competitions. But for cultural-type clubs to have a third year join them in early spring is a bit..."
"That's right Nii-san. That's why I looked from outside the window or listened in secret while staying beside the door... and then I thought I did something I shouldn't have..."
"It's all right. They surely would welcome you. Why don't you ask them properly if you can visit them?"
"It will go well as long as you do it properly. Yuuki's a really good girl. There's nothing anyone would hate about you. However, I think it would be impossible for you to join the club, but why don't you ask them if they allowed you to visit? You can tell that you're trying to become more feminine."
"But that would be causing trouble for the club members, wouldn't it?"
"I think peeping as you are now is more suspicious. If it's you it'll definitely be all right. I think considering the circumstances you can give up on joining the club, you can't really do anything about it. Isn't that the main point?"
"Nii-san... I get it. I will do it."
Seeing her smile once again, naturally, I smiled as well.
With a refreshed expression, Yuuki stretched her back muscles. As she did that her chest was emphasized... not good. She's my little sister so why am I looking at her like that. I'm disqualified to be an older brother.
After she finished the stretch, she spoke shyly.
"I'm being spoiled by Nii-san after all."
"I-I just consulted something with you, calling that spoiling you..."
Tomomi's request for a lap pillow crossed my mind.
"Um, what is it Nii-san?"
"You're being weird."
She chuckled and continued like that.
"Can I ask you a question that can be considered being spoiled?"
"As long as I can answer it, then anything!"
"Umm, ehm... what would Nii-san do if I found a girlfriend?"
A blush appeared on her cheeks.
"A girlfriend huh? I guess that if you participate in club activities, the junior girls will probably fall for you at the first sight... hey, a girlfriend is no good! You've gone through all this trouble to be more girly after all."
"My girl power is still not sufficient for ascension. Then um... what if I found a boyfriend?"
I wonder why has she suddenly asked such a question. Does she want a boyfriend?
That's... not a bad thing... is it?
It's not a bad thing. It's a good thing. But somehow... it makes me feel uneasy.
I tried to advise Yuuki following the proper rationale as much as I could.
"Whether you find a boyfriend or not is your freedom, if that boy has acknowledged your girl power then that would make me glad as your brother."
Yuuki's eyes turned round and she nodded lightly.
"Y-yes. But Nii-san, just now it was talk about 'what if' only. It's a purely hypothetical situation!"
She denied it so desperately.
Can it be, that she came back late... because she meet with her boyfriend...?
"I-I see. It's only hypothetical."
"That's right Nii-san. Of course it is—. Ha ha ha ha."
Since Yuuki laughed while making an expression of a handsome guy, I couldn't help but to join her and laugh as well.
My little sisters eventually finding a boyfriend is something natural, why am I so... uneasy about it?