Responsibility. Liberation. First Step Starting from Minus.
I didn't see any dream.
On Monday morning, I woke up all alone in my room.
The little sisters disappeared without a trace. The living room full of models and life living room and kitchen were empty, as if reflecting my empty heart.
I prepared myself and as usual, went to the school.
In the classroom before the morning homeroom, Mariko called out to me worried.
Like that, I dodged it.
While usually I looked forward to when lessons are over, now I wished they were prolonged even if just for a little longer. I was scared of going back.
After school, half way when going back home I separated from Mariko, sat down on a bench in children's park and was at a loss.
I couldn't enter my own room and the reason to go to Selene's was gone. I already quit being onii-chan. When I looked at the ground below me, a procession of ants headed to its nest.
I was envious of them, having a place to go back to.
From now on, for next week, where should I go back I wonder. Faced with this realistic problem, I was at a loss.
Suddenly called out to, I flinched.
It was a girl's voice. Lacking intonation and clear like fresh water, it was familiar. However, I didn't feel any presence of someone approaching, so surprised, my heart started beating fast.
No, it can't be. Today is Monday, a weekday, it's difficult to even imagine her being here.
Possibly, it was just my hallucination. Hahaha. I no longer know what to do and finally, I started to hear voices of people who aren't here.
When I raised my head, a black-haired girl wearing a brand-new uniform stood there, with a student's bag in her hand she dazedly looked down at my face.
The voice I heard was no hallucination, the figure that stood in front of me was no illusion.
"Selene... hey, is it really you, Selene?! That appearance, no way..."
"...I went to school."
Selene, who only ever lazed around, stretched her back. Her appearance in the uniform without a single wrinkle looked dignified.
"...is beside you, okay?"
"Y-yeah. It's fine."
She sat down next to me. Her face didn't turn in my direction, she just stared forward.
"What happened. Even going to school."
While squinting as if she stared in the distance, Selene spoke matter-of-factly.
"...I can no longer rely on Ex-onii-chan, so I'm doing best on my own. Next goal is making real friends at school. While certain someone is standing still, I shall pull ahead."
I recalled a certain phrase that was in the period drama's The Retirement Lord's opening.
I stopped and Selene started to walk. Or rather, I didn't stop but actually moved backwards.
Now, even without me there, Selene is splendidly walking on her own feet.
She no longer needs me.
"Ex... huh. So you will no longer call me 'onii-chan' will you."
"Why are you here Selene?"
"...the park is a public place. Rather than that, why are you here?"
Something about her way of speaking was quite grown-up. Being referred to as "you", I once again realized we have become strangers.
In the first place we were something like strangers, but when I was called "onii-chan", there was always some familiarity between Selene and me.
"I'm here in the park... because I'm no longer onii-chan, I thought just entering freely into your room is not good."
"It's consideration. Rather, talking like this too, is a little awkward."
"...is that so?"
"It is! Yesterday, something like that happened..."
"...sibling quarrels, aren't something unusual."
"That's wasn't a sibling quarrel, was it. Somehow my onii-chan pretence was peeled off. And everyone was disillusioned. In the first place, wasn't it Selene who said 'stop being brother' wasn't it."
My way of speaking ended up being harsh. Why would you forced your unstable emotions on Selene, really... me.
"...I said it's fine to quit, that's all. If Onii-chan wishes for it, it's fine not to quit."
After saying so, Selene opened her eyes wide and shook her head lightly.
"...just now... me saying onii-chan... forget that."
"Y-yeah.. um... that's..."
Momentarily, Selene's face turned red. Because of her fair complexion, it was easy to tell the change. As I remained silent, unable to endure the silence, Selene muttered with a prideful voice, mixing it with her sigh.
"...as I thought... it's impossible..."
Her shoulders trembled lightly.
"A-are you okay, Selene?!"
Just what happened? The refreshing Selene turned into someone else... or more like, she turned back, she stooped like back when I first met her.
"...you are amazing. Going to school every day."
"Rather than amazing, isn't that normal?"
"...it's not normal. There's lots of unknown people, they're those classmates right? I'm suddenly being welcomed by others from class? I have to get along with people I don't know. It's impossible."
Ever since Selene enrolled in the middle school, she was holed up in her room the entire time and didn't even go to the entrance ceremony.
"Classmates usually don't know each other from before, they're all strangers to each other from the start aren't they?"
"...it might be so... but isn't."
Somehow, I managed to understand what Selene meant. She might have fallen into a situation like that of an out-of-season transfer student.
"W-well... I see. You had a late start by a month, forming groups of people getting along and such must have ended long ago, in April. It must be painstaking for a newcomer to enter one of those."
Me of now was also similar. I was treated like something similar to tumour in the class.
"...my mind suffers Full-Body Complex Pulverization Exhaustion Fracturing."
"...everyone was staring at me."
"By everyone, you mean both boys and girls?"
"...yes. I got nervous from being stared at. I'm not a freak show."
"That's... everyone is curious about you. Don't they want to get along with you?"
Selene made a distant expression and tilted her head.
"...I don't think so."
"You weren't bullied or treated badly by someone... were you?"
"Did you feel like you're being ignored?"
"...I wanted to be left alone, but they were glancing at me or speaking to me."
"For example what were they talking about to you?"
"...about family, where I live, what shampoo I use... it felt like a compressed interview done by a group, I was so nervous I couldn't speak up."
I ended up letting out a sigh of relief in my mind.
Selene's appearance had some fragility in it, she was a mysterious beauty. The inside was disappointing, but that difference also made her cute... heck, what am I thinking here.
Anyway, because she's a beautiful girl, it can't helped her classmates were curious about her.
I confirmed with Selene, who faced downwards.
"Speaking of which, what about the reason for leave of absence for entire month?"
"...Murasaki-san written an application saying I was sick..."
"I see. So she made preparations so that you can go to school whenever you get motivated."
"...it's impossible. Surrounded by so many people... I'll die. From tomorrow onwards, I'll normally return to being hikikomori."
"It's too early to declare retirement. Also, if it's you of now it'll be all right."
"...it's not all right. Onii-ch... you're no longer with me."
"You're a completely different person from the Selene I met. You decided on your own to go to school and was able to go there. What I did, was to help you a little making starting point. You are the one who did your best."
"Also, who cares about twenty or thirty classmates. Compared to Cicada-san's number of followers, it's nothing."
Selene suddenly opened her eyes wide.
"...is... that so?"
"Indeed. Isn't it fine to think of it as of having the number of your followers increase by thirty?"
She slowly nodded.
Before I realized, I once again started the consultation with Selene on her life. Not as her brother this time, but as the senior in being afloat the class... let's make it that.
"...as I thought, it's impossible without Onii-chan. I want to rely on you but..."
Burying her face in my chest, Selene clung onto me tightly.
Yesterday I declared that I quit, but my hand...
By itself... headed towards Selene's head and...
I ended up patting her head. I can't stop. I gently hugged Selene back.
"You did well, Selene."
With her head still stuck in my chest, Selene shook her head lightly to the sides.
"...no such thing. Onii-chan was there so..."
"I'm... a no-good human that isn't qualified to be called 'onii-chan'."
She slowly raised her head.
"...I'm no-good as well, so as no-good duo, let's get along."
"Aren't you angry? I quit being onii-chan and threw it all away you know?"
Selene shook her head sideways again.
"...I still don't mind. Also, since I'm a no-good human too, I can somewhat understand the-same-type Onii-chan's feelings a little. I don't want to be a burden to Onii-chan. That's why, if it's hard on Onii-chan, I thought it's fine to quit... it's not that I hate Onii-chan."
"It makes me happy to be told that, but I quit being onii-chan and chose Mariko? I'm disqualified from being onii-chan."
As a result, it ended up like that, but rather than my little sisters, I picked Mariko.
"...Onii-chan chose that while thinking of himself so I'm going to respect that. While Onii-chan said the reason for that choice was self-defence and compromise, but still, you thought and distressed over it, then splendidly made your choice."
Not the reasons, but the decision itself is important... is what she means.
She downcast her eyes and continued.
"...after that, when Onii-chan locked himself in his room, Tomomi-chan was in terrible state."
"She was very depressed, and said this."
Instead of Tomomi herself, Selene repeated her words.
"I felt like finally asking Nii-chan for his real feelings. He always seemed like he's refraining himself somehow. I thought that if I get him angry he'll get serious. And yet, after cornering him, I've gone too far to back out. I'm... an idiot."
I should have known Tomomi had that kind of personality. Rather, it was me who fell for simply being called an "idiot". I'm such an idiot!
"...Onii-chan. I don't think anyone started hating Onii-chan. But, that's just my own impression, meeting them... it might be the last time, but I think... it's better to talk with them properly."
"So, you're saying I should go to everyone's room again starting from tomorrow?"
"I don't know what should I talk about. More than that, I have no confidence we can reconcile..."
"...there's no need to reconcile. At the time, just act accordingly to how you feel and just honestly say what's on your mind. Before Onii-chan does something, he thinks too much."
"So without fearing the result, just go and do it, huh."
"...if you think that it won't get any worse, even if you hurt them by being honest, you can just give up. It might be your last chance to say what's really on your mind."
It sounded extreme, but it was just as Selene said. There was no longer any need to restrain the part of me that doesn't want to be hated.... I mean, having to go that far to be honest, I'm pathetic even if I say so myself.
"Yeah. It's just as you say."
She nodded, then stood up from the bench. After turning towards me, she quietly reached out with her hand.
"...Onii-chan. There's somewhere I want to go. Please come with me."
Not confirming where are we going, I took Selene's hand and stood up.
Pulled by hand by Selene we rode a bus, then arrived at the nearest station.
The sewing store that was in one of the station's buildings seemed to be Selene's "place I want to go".
Lined up on the wide and bright floor were several large rolls of cloth.
There was also a corner with sewing machines and knitting supplies. Even for an untrained eye, it was quite the line-up.
Compared to the size of this floor, there was very few people in here. While I thought that's bad for the store owners, for Selene who felt better outside the crowds, it was good that it was quite deserted.
"Selene, is there anything you want to buy?"
"...not in particular."
"You came here without having any?"
Selene fell silent. It feels kind of awkward.
As I looked around us, I found something interesting.
"O-oh. Look, there's corner with fittings. Amazing... they even sell parts for purses. Also, there are belt buckles in there. If you use it with chosen cloth or leather you can make whatever belt you like."
"...de-deen... Onii-chan... out."
Indifferently, Selene declared
"What on earth is that 'de-deen'..."
"...it's Do Not Laugh Series."
Ahh, certainly, every year when the end of the year comes it appears in TV. It's a counter-program for national festival, when the participants laugh hearing set-up story, their butt get slapped with slapstick...
And so, my butt was slapped by Selene.
"H-hey, Selene! It didn't hurt but... what are you doing all of a sudden?!"
Looking from the outset, a high school boy getting spanked by a younger girl... even if there's few customers, there's a clerk on the floor, it was incredibly embarrassing.
"...it's because Onii-chan was 'out'."
"Even if I was, just now... did I do something to you?"
"...de-deen... Onii-chan... out."
"Eh? Wa- wait, Selene..."
Once again, Selene delivered punishment to my butt.
Just what is this... Anyway, it seems like Selene suddenly turned moody. I need to do something...
"T-that's right, Selene! Since we're at the station, how about we go to take a look at Nippori... or something?"
She energetically shook her head.
"...if we go now, by the time we get there, the stores will close."
"I see. That's a shame. Umm... then, let's take a look around this store."
Once again, Selene fell silent.
"Are you interested in knitting? There's lots of colourful wool!"
"...de-deen... Onii-chan... out."
I proposed, but it was irrational. If I were a person who's happy when spanked by little sister, it would be a reward. But, I'm not! I'm aboslutely not! I mean, we're in public.
Ah, no... it's not like I would hesitate if we're alone behind closed doors.
Heck, what excuses I'm making here.
"Hey, Selene! Why am I 'out' the entire time?! If you don't stop that, even I'll get angry."
Selene stretched on her legs, stretched her hand and pat my head.
This is... am I being praised for now?
"Answer my question properly."
"...yes. Go on."
Go on... what. It can't be helped, let's ask again.
"Uhh, well... for a while now, Selene didn't come to the sewing store because you wanted to buy something, then you started judging me for what I say and spank me, then suddely judged me safe. First, I don't know what are criteria for that. What should I do to be safe... no, I don't care if it's safe. Tell me what to do not to be 'out'."
"...de-deen... Onii-chan... infinitely close to grey... out."
There was no power in the slaps delivered by Selene's slender hands, but the clerk and customers noticed us acting irresponsible. Their stares hurt.
But, just now she purposely added "infinitely close to grey" didn't she.
Again, Selene fell silent. She just stood there dazedly.
Hmm. I wonder. Are these Selene's whims?
I... decided to watch in silence.
For now, it seemed like it would be out no matter what I say.
Selene stared at my face in silence, then tilted her head like a little squirrel.
"W-what's up, Selene?"
I ended up retorting. For a split second I covered my ass with both hands to protect it.
But, Selene didn't do anything. As if ignoring me, she walked to the corner with decorative buttons and started looking through them. Maybe because she liked them, from the small shelf of a drawer she took out two buttons.
"Found something good?"
"...this and... this..."
A decorative button, like a brooch with a blue stone and a big decorative button with a milky white shell.
"Both of them look beautiful."
Honestly, it was hard to say which one is better.
O-oops. Once again, I ended up acting carelessly.
It's something I heard from Mariko before, but when women pick up two goods, they're not wondering about which to take, their answer is already decided and they are fine with either. Having someone care about them and chose for them made them happy.
Rather than look for a correct answer, I ended up vaguely saying that both are fine.
Selene remained silent.
Hmm, I still can't tell the conditions for "de-deen".
In that case, I can only try various things and watch her reactions.
I don't know how many times was I slapped, after several times, I found a visible trend among the correct answers.
"U-umm... wasn't it 'out' just now?"
"...de-deen... Onii-chan... out."
"Uwahh! Why with this timing! If it was a choice of two, I'd understand it's out when I fail!"
"...Onii-chan. Choices and such... it's not a game of life."
She muttered absent-mindedly, then returned the decorated buttons she had in hands to the drawer.
"Hey, Selene. What did you want to do for a while now?"
No, well, we've come to a store so that's normal...
"Didn't you say there's nothing in particular you want to buy at first?"
"...if there's a bargain, then within the limits of that."
I can't understand at all.
Installed along the passage outside of the store, there was a break space for customers. There were vending machines and benches.
The moment they entered my field of view, naturally, words leaked out of my mouth.
"Haa... got it. I'll sit there on the bench, call out to me when you're done."
And I ended up saying my real intentions. Honestly, even though the cloth and decorative buttons looked beautiful, to me myself looking at them wasn't that fun.
Selene nodded in response to my words. Eh? It isn't 'out'?
"Umm... is that fine, Selene? Can I really take a break? Is it really okay?"
"I'll take a break. I will do it. I'm off!"
Before Selene could finish "de-deen", I fled to the break space with the bench.
And then, Selene started to move more actively than when I was beside her. She concentrated similarly to how she does when she works in the room with sewing machine.
Ah... maybe... when I was with her, I was in the way of shopping?
Then she didn't have to come here with me, did she. If she came to the store alone... heck, that might have been difficult for Selene.
But, in that case she could have told me about it.
...I want to concentrate at looking for goods, so please take a break there... or something.
After about twenty minutes, Selene finished looking through the goods and in the end, came back without buying anything.
"Welcome back, Selene."
Somehow, it was as difficult to approach her as it was when we first met. Can it be, that it was actually better for me to stay with her, and was angry in secret for not shopping with her... or something?
I stood up from the bench and asked her.
"Can it be, that you are angry that I took a brea..."
"...de-deen... Onii-chan... out."
When I stood up, once again Selene's slap burst into my butt.
"H-hey! Cut it out already!"
Without fear, Selene curiously stared at my face.
I thought she's a difficult to grasp girl in the first place, but today's Selene is really strange.
Recently, I thought I finally understood Selene, but it must have been my one-sided assumption.
"...does Onii-chan too, want to spank me?"
"Why would it come to that?! No wait. You said 'too', does that mean you slapped my butt because you wanted to?"
It can't be, that she got offended by my provocation...
"Umm... Selene. Maybe... are you trying to make me angry? That's not very like you, or rather... no, it would fit Tomomi perfectly! Better not to tell her that."
Selene stared directly at me. Her pupils like jewels, remained silent as if appealing to me.
She was serious. That seriousness... there was no doubt.
What did I miss?"
Right now, she remained silent, as if waiting for my answer.
I recalled the times when it was 'out'.
The purse metal fittings corner. Knitting. Did I do something to her? I asked. I confirmed if it wasn't out.
When I pressed on her to confirm if it's okay to take a break, Selene nearly called an 'out'.
And when I asked her if she's angry for me taking a break... I was mindful of her.
Yeah, that's right. All of it... I made sure to mind Selene.
She might have felt that.
That's why when I let out my real feelings, she didn't call 'out'.
"Can it be, that when I'm mindful of you, that you call 'out'?"
I asked while minding her expression as hard as I could. For an instant, she made a surprised expression and raised her head.
"...de-deen... Onii-chan... out."
It seems like I wasn't wrong.
Then, what was it when she called safe just once.
Certainly, I said "If you don't stop that, even I'll get angry".
Getting angry, would be my own feelings. Not something... from refraining for the sake Selene, my own feeling.
Yeah, I feel like I understand. She wanted to remind me.
But, what should she do to make me understand it well? No, don't think of it. It's because you think of it like this, that you start minding others all the time.
"Selene. Hitting your onii-chan is bad thing, right? Please reflect on it."
Hearing my words, she opened her eyes wide. Then, she lowered her head.
"...yes, I shall. I'm sorry."
"...um, Onii-chan... is that all?"
Selene muttered anxiously. There wasn't enough words, there were times where I had to add complimentary words and translate it
But, I quit it. In the end, that's all Selene said. Of course, I should do it if necessary, but there was no need to match Selene all the time.
"...that's unlike Onii-chan."
"Unlike me? No such thing. More importantly, I've gotten hungry, how about we head back?"
Though Selene might not necessarily be hungry, I am hungry now. Rather than waiting for other's reaction, it's fine from time to time to request something myself. Surely, it was what Selen wanted me to notice... no, definitely.
I felt like that was it, so I have decided so.
"All right. Let's go home then!"
I stretched out my hand. Selene gently gripped it in return.
Holding hands, we started walking side by side.
"Rather than eating then going home, it's better to do it in your room. Let's buy something in convenience store and go back."
"...as Onii-chan commands."
If they have an objection I'll listen to it, but being mindful of others more than usual is unneeded, isn't it. Also, with my little sister... family, even more so.
As we headed for the bus station, Selene spoke as if she remembered something. Without any prelude, she asked something important.
"...Onii-chan... about Friday."
"Y-yeah... you prepared haven't you, for birthday party."
"...is Onii-chan going to childhood friends, Mariko-chan's home?"
Let's answer honestly. Worrying about Selene... I gave up on that, for today, it was enough looking for an answer for which I'm not hated.
"I intend to."
She slowly nodded.
"...okay. Onii-chan has become honest. Rather than mind others, you were able to decide properly. I think you did well."
Selene knew how weak I was. Knowing someone's weakness, she could sympathize me.
And tried to make me realize it.
I was really glad to have Selene with me. I thought so from the depths of my heart.