Dad. Mom. Family Meeting.
The wall separating me from the classmates had further thickened. Even before the morning homeroom, everyone seemed restless as they stared at me from afar. They handled me like a rare animal in the zoo.
Yuuki's yesterday visit seemed to have become a rumour and spread throughout the entire school campus. As soon as I got to my seat, Mariko approached me.
The first thing she said was "Is it true you have a fiancée?". It seems like she was quite baffled by the rumour. As Mariko asked the straightforward question, I started thinking.
I wonder if it was all right to say "She's actually my little sister" here. I didn't want to lie any more, but I was worried about the gazes of the surroundings. Yesterday, just because Yuuki came over that much commotion happened. If it turns into Taishido's house scandal, I wonder how much will that get exaggerated.
The only neutral setting I was able to come up with, had leaked from my mouth.
"Umm... actually she's my middle school's junior."
Yeah. How foolish. Lying again...
After hearing my words, Mariko exhaled quietly and said "No matter how much you get along, to come after you to your school... is it really just a junior of yours?" then, tilted her head curiously.
"Y-you see.. s-she's a dutiful junior, she came to deliver me some belongings that I left behind in the student council's room."
Mariko responded with "Hmm, I see. So you it's not like you have a girlfriend.", confirming it.
"No, no way! Definitely not!"
Relieved, Mariko muttered "I was a little worried" and returned to her seat. Worried she says... w-what about?!
And thanks to our exchange in the morning before homeroom, before the lunch break "Taishido Yoichi's fiancée was actually a junior from middle school" and everything had calmed down.
Just this time I was grateful to STRING. The rumours spread in blink of an eye, but so did the follow up.
If I said "Actually... suddenly, I've gotten five little sisters and she's one of them", I wonder what would have happened by now. It's scary just thinking about it.
Still, at least I need to properly tell Mariko about it.
But... if I called Mariko somewhere where others can't hear, it might be misleading in a different way... even without that, it seems like our classmates think we're going out. Anyhow, I don't want to bring any trouble to Mariko.
As I distressed about things, soon enough the school was over.
I went back on the way home together with Mariko, as usual. After a while, I finally noticed.
There was nothing stopping me any more, I can tell her now can't I. There was no other students from our school in the sight.
When I was about to say it, Mariko said "Make sure not to forget about promise for next week, okay?" and with a smile, she had gone away at a branching of the road.
Poor timing, me.
It can't be helped. When going back on Monday let's tell her about it.
After deciding that, my feelings have calmed down a little.
Overcoming the slightly harder than usual day in school, I somehow returned to Taishido residence and headed to Mika's room.
After ringing on the inter-phone, Mika opened the door and welcoming me, smiled.
"Welcome back Nii-chama!"
I was pulled in by Mika who used both her arms, then dragged to the living room.
The room was as cute as usual. Also, it was well tidied.
Eh? The amount of origami decorating the TV stand increased. When I approached to check it, I saw it was crane folded in purple paper.
Even compared to the one I have made it was incredibly clumsily made or, how do I put it... it felt unfortunate. The paper was folded many times over and had become shabby.
Right beside me, Mika happily raised her voice.
"You see, this! Murasaki-neechama folded it. She can do anything, but she's bad with origami. How strange."
It feels like if asked to, Murasaki-san would fold a thousand paper cranes as training. Seems like she's sensitive when it comes to things Mika asks her, that person.
"I-is that so, that's unexpected."
She was bad with roller-coasters too and surprisingly clumsy, Murasaki-san is a mysterious person.
Mika lightly stroked Murasaki-san's paper crane with her finger and moved away from the TV stand, then sat down Maple on the sofa. Eh? I wonder what's this uncomfortable feeling.
"Nii-chama, sit over here today."
"S-sure. If you say so."
I sat down on the stool.
"You did well, there there."
While I was sitting Mika embraced my head from the front and started patting my head. Ah, there's a nice, soapy scent... heck, what's with this situation?
"Hey, Mika? I don't remember doing anything worth praise?"
"It's ten years early for you to refer to yourself with 'ore'. Say 'boku' properly."
"Oh no, Father. Yoichi seems to be in rebellious phase. Make sure to scold him."
Mika moved away from me, took up Maple who was sitting on the coach and raised him up.
"Acting like that towards your mother shall not be tolerated."
Then she turned around with a twirl and squinted while looking at me.
"Well well, Father, I did ask you to scold him but you don't have to go that far. Right, Yoichi?"
What on earth is... ah. There was something like that when I was kid. I did do this with Mariko.
Simply put, this situation was playing house.
Without any sign of it starting, I was in the middle of playing house.
"W-wait a second! Hey, Mika. Can it be that my role is..."
"Oh c'mon! And here Mii-chan has gone into a role of mother to be."
"To be, that's not mother but... a madam!"
Mika didn't understand my retort and looked dumbfounded. Even though I said that, what the hell is "madam"!
Anyway, it seems like Mika has the mother's role. I've just had a bad premonition, but I confirmed it once again.
"Can it be, Maple is father and I'm..."
"Nii-chama is eldest son you see?"
Mika said as if it was obvious. This is where I have to ask for role change.
"Wouldn't it be better if I did father's role and Maple was the eldest son? See, I'm quite tall and big."
"Eh! But Maple said he wants to be the father..."
She puffed up her cheeks to the limit.
"I want to be the father too. S-see, I'm probably older than Maple. In manufacturing date-sense."
As expected, there's no way Maple could be manufactured more than fifteen years ago. Eh? Sixteen years?
Anyway, I think it's more reasonable for an older boy like me to be the father, I thought.
Speaking of my real feelings, it was because being the eldest son of an elementary school mother would be embarrassing!
Denying my demands, Mika shook her head to left and right.
"Nii-chama, we can't have playing house feel like playing house. Playing house isn't playing."
W-what?! Mika continued as I was stunned.
"It's playing pretend, so you need to become someone you normally are not."
Even though she said we're not playing earlier... but, let's not find fault in all that. Mika was serious. Also, I know that it's possible to get serious when playing.
Precisely because people are released from responsibility and obligations, they don't have any unnecessary worries and can immerse themselves in the act in 100%.
Because they were playing, it wasn't just a game. Is how it felt.
Yup, with that as a basis let's make proper request.
"Still, having the role of eldest son is embarrassing!"
Mika did not falter.
"Murasaki-neechama did the eldest daughter's role! It was super cute!"
That Murasaki-san did...
She's a good person after all, isn't she? Though she said to be obligated by the contract...
Mika stared at me disheartened, her voice was slightly trembling.
"Or maybe Nii-chama hates playing house? Boys don't want to play house."
"I-I'll do it! Let me do it! I'll do my best as the eldest son!"
Her slightly clouded expression had become bright like sun all at once.,
"Now then, Yoichi will apologize to father."
Our playing house has restarted with a sudden, with a humiliating deployment. But, playing a good child here let's lower my head.
Speaking of which, I don't think I've used the words "father" and "dad" too many times before. As long as I remember there was no opportunity to use them, words unrelated to me.
Since elementary school, my guardians were Grandpa and Grandma.
Even now when I know who was my real father, it was somewhat hard to say.
Really, I can only think of him as of a distant existence, I couldn't think of Jinya-san as of dad.
I think that's why. The word "dad" coming from my mouth felt like a lie.
Mika had Maple nod twice.
"Yoichi is a good child, so I'll especially forgive you."
I had a feeling Maple's character has changed. His way of speaking was slightly old-fashioned. So to Mika the image of dad was something like that.
She stood up, went to the room in the back... and immediately returned with an apron.
Matching the size of Mika's body, it was a cute apron with a floral design.
"Now then, mother will make some delicious meal. The cabbage is expensive, it's troubling. Meeting ends in the household finances is hard, so let's do without cabbage today. We'll use bean sprouts."
That's some arrogant mother. Also, bean sprouts for lunch...
"Cooking is love, the sprouts are ally of the household."
It was unlike the usual innocent and gullible Mika. Mother needs to do her best. That kind of sense of duty could be felt... rather, it must be just my imagination.
"Pam pam pam pam. Pam pam pam pam. Cut bean sprouts into rice cooker♪ put in sauce and red ginger♪ healthy, tasty, reasonable."
Bean sprouts and rice, it's just rice cooked with vegetables!
The voice of my heart responded... not really, but Mika stopped moving her hands and raised Maple's hands in banzai gesture.
"Ah, father's shoulders are stiff."
Mika stared into my face. It was nothing but a silent protest to force me to participate.
"Ah! Yes! Dad, I just need to rub your shoulders right?"
"Nii-chama, it's 'boku' right?"
So I can't use "ore" huh. It can't be helped. Let's redo it. Childishly, I need to behave childishly.
"I-I'll rub dad's shoulders, okay?"
"Ohh! Son of mine, you're growing in the mind and body aren't you."
If I think about Maple's character any more, I feel like I'll lose. I took Maple from the sofa and sat him down on the stool again, then I circled around him and rubbed his shoulders.
Super sloppy shoulders.
"H-how is it, dad?"
"Yoichi is a good son. It's so comfortable I've gotten sleepy."
Mika changed the tone of voice.
"Oh my, father seems dopey. The work is tiring after all."
D-dopey... no, I can't retort here.
"Hey, Mika... not, Mom. What kind of work does dad do?"
"Father is a train's conductor, next time he's supposed to take an exam to become a driver."
She smoothly replied to my question without any pause. It seems like Maple's character and the role he plays was more solid than I thought.
"Now then, father went to sleep, how about Yoichi and Mother get along meanwhile?"
Heyy! Where did the cooking go?! As I retorted in my mind, Mika quickly removed the apron.
"Get along, that's..."
Mika sat in seiza on the carpet and pat her lap twice.
"Now, come here Yoichi."
This, it's a lap pillow isn't it. Am I going to borrow the lap pillow of a little sister from elementary school...?!
"Even if you tell me to come, it's embarrassing..."
"What Mother says is absolute."
"Does Yoichi hate Mom?"
Quickly tears appeared in Mika's eyes, the itching and embarrassment that welled up in my mind, my inability to successfully imagine a mother, were all threw out of the window.
I'm embarrassed after all. Calling my little sister from elementary school "mom", a high school boy lying on a lap pillow!
"Nii-chama, it's okay to be spoiled by Mii-chan, okay?"
"But being spoiled feels embarrassing."
"It's just parents and child here? Right, Father? See, Father says so too? Since when Yoichi has become such worthless son, he says."
"Worthless son... rather, wasn't Dad asleep..."
Mika exhaled in a troubled manner.
"Yoichi is being really fussy, can it be that you're hungry? Want boobies? Want to drink from boobies?"
"What on earth is my age's setting!"
"Children are always cute. Nii-chama, become a baby?"
"Please spare me at least that!"
"Ehh, how boring."
She continued with a smile.
"Then, let's stop with boobies, instead practice saying 'I love mom'."
"Um, p-please spare me at least that!"
Momentarily, tears appeared in Mika's eyes.
"Mii-chan wants Nii-chama to adore her as mom! If you don't want to say mom, I'll do this!"
Once again, she tried to take off her top.
If I don't say it... she'll undress?!
Mika accused me with a serious expression.
"Mom, or boobies. Choose one!"
"A-aren't there any other choices?"
"There isn't! Mii-chan too, is actually embarrassed about boobies too! Cause' you're not a baby"
From the middle of it, it seems like Mika got confused as well.
A-anyway, there are two choices. No, no matter how I think about it, there's only one way.
I resolved myself. It's enough that only I embarrass myself here.
"G-got it! I decided!"
"Nii-chama, is it boobies?"
"N-no! U-umm, M-M-Mo..."
She stared into my eyes. Normally she would be looking up at me, but being given a lap pillow our position was reversed.
In silence, Mika waited for me to speak.
"MM-M-M-MM-Mo-Mo...Mom... I love y...ou...."
"Your voice was too quiet and I barely could hear the latter half."
As she attempted to raise the hem of her clothes, I clearly declared.
"I-I love Mom!"
"One more time!"
"I love Mom!"
"I love Mom!"
"I love Mom!"
Rhythmically, with an interlude I chanted embarrassing words.
Mika made a relieved, satisfied expression.
"Well said! Yoichi is a very good child. Oh my, don't leave out Dad."
She embraced my head and once again started patting it.
Yeah, so embarrassing I feel like dying.
But, what's this I wonder. I was slightly... happy.
I love mom. Such a thing, there wasn't a single opportunity for me to say these words. It was a presence even more distant than that of dad's.
Words of appreciation for the person who birthed me onto this world... are they.
I wonder when was the last time I was spoiled by someone like this. I was at an unexpected ease.
It was enough of playing house and we didn't continue afterwards, as usual we did fold origami or did some painting, the time I spent with Mika felt strangely dense.