Impact. Attack. No-Guard Exchange of Blows.
I thought as we ate home-made lunch together during the lunch break.
Mariko seemed happy. Even if she didn't say anything, I could tell from the atmosphere.
I should have been happy with her as well, but as if I was trying to swim with weights, my mood was sinking. That's why, as if to struggle, I tried being merry.
Mariko said "you seem strange?", suspicious.
As not to show I'm depressed, I forcibly smiled... but it was seen through by her. In that case, I should have acted depressed from the start, there was me who thought that.
Once again, I ended up minding others. While I could be honest with my little sister, Selene, I couldn't do so with Mariko. I was pathetic for not being able to.
I thought I didn't want her to worry, but I ended up making her worry anyway, thinking I was a troublesome guy having others pay attention to me, I didn't want to be thought of as annoying and disliked.
Not for someone else, for myself.
I tried asking Mariko.
"Do you have anyone you could tell anything, like, what you really think or feel?"
Mariko made a troubled expression, but answered properly. "Yup. Family, I guess..."
That was surely not something that was there from the start, but something cultivated over long time as she lived with her family, I thought.
While I thought there's also a need of refrain and consideration with family, I felt envious of Mariko's family, to whom she could tell anything.
After school, I erased my will and headed for Tomomi's room.
Meeting her for the first time after the quarrel, was hard.
The day before yesterday too, it seems like Tomomi too wanted me to speak honestly.
After that though, we collided with each other and broke.
I rang on the interphone and put my hand on the doorknob.
Because I experienced being locked out by a chain lock, I was extra cautious.
When I gently pulled on the doorknob, the door opened without the chain getting in the way.
I breathed out in relief.
The door opened, but Tomomi didn't come to the entrance.
My leg carried me from the front door to the living room.
Tomomi waited for me to come in. Her gaze focused on me. Anger was mixed in with her stare.
Now, facing her like this, I didn't know what to do. At loss, I spoke as if to run away.
"Um, s-sorry. The day before yesterday, I didn't act like older brother. That's why, um... I apologize."
"I won't accept such an artificial apology at all. And so, I absolutely won't forgive it."
"Then, what should I do?"
Standing upright she folded her arms, relaxing her mouth in a grin, Tomomi declared.
"Nii-chan. If you want to have a lovelove birthday party with Mariko-chan, you have to beat me first!"
If you want to proceed, you have to defeat me first...
"Are you a game character or what?"
"Anyway, let's have a match, Nii-chan!"
She pointed energetically at my face.
"No way, you're not going to say we decided it with a game, right?"
"In a game Nii-chan has no chance! That's why, it's a match in arguing. Dare persuading me."
"Even if you tell me to..."
With an irritated expression, Tomomi glared at me.
"The battle has already begun. If you're not attacking, I will! No chickening out, Nii-chan! Holing up in your room just because it turned into a quarrel, you're too sissy!"
"I thought that if I stay there, atmosphere will get even stranger... it was my consideration as older brother!"
"Consideration? Don't make me laugh. You won't admit you ran away and still say it's consideration?"
"Yeah, I ran away, I escaped! Back then I didn't want to hurt or be hurt any more!"
"Thinking the family would break up with just that much, what a brat. Being unable to stand up after stumbling just once, is Nii-chan that weak?"
"That one time was fatal. Yet today, you're adding an insult to the injury?"
"If you lie on the ground and wait for someone to save you, I'll kick you like this!"
Tomomi showed me some practice swings of low kicks on spot. She must have been familiar with martial arts, as they were unexpectedly sharp.
"Kicking someone's who's fell over, aren't you a savage."
"It's Nii-chan's fault!"
"Yeah, it's my fault. It was my fault!"
Suddenly, anger disappeared from Tomomi's expression.
"I'm saying that's what's bad."
Staring at me with a lonely look, she continued.
"When you need help, say 'help me' properly..."
She wanted to hear my true feelings, since she deliberately said things to provoke me, I felt like I heard her real feelings.
"Sorry... not. Thanks Tomomi. For worrying about me."
"S-stupid! I'm not!"
Blushing, her voice sounded weird.
Then she pointed at me and shouted.
"If you're going to blame me with embarrassment, I'll use my trump card! So, in the end, childhood friend Mariko-chan is... Nii-chan's what?"
What's "blaming with embarrassment. Also, why is she asking about Mariko now.
I could tell my face suddenly turned hot.
"W-what you ask, I met her again after a long time... just a childhood friend."
Proceeding a step forward, Tomomi peered into my face in wonder. She was at a distance where I could feel her breath, though.
"Really just that? For such a reason she's making you a lunch box every day? Would just a childhood friend whom you didn't meet for years, remember your birthday and want to celebrate it?"
I ended up turning my face away. Tomomi took my face in both her hands and turned it towards her, she spoke with a just a little of tears in her eyes.
"That's definitely, because she... likes Nii-chan."
I've made it so that I don't think of that, ever. The sense of distance I have with Mariko now was comfortable, I was scared of approaching her any closer, moving away from her... was even more scary.
"The l-lunch box is 'cause Mariko said she wants to practice cooking, um... rather than going out... I'm the guinea pig! I'm disposal unit of her creative cuisine!"
"Houhou... go on, c'mon? By the way Nii-chan, what's the favourite home cooking of Mariko-chan's?"
Her cooking was mostly delicious, but if I were to name one it would be fried chicken and fried eggs.
Heck, at this rate I'll be fully dragged into Tomomi's pace.
"Why do you ask me such a thing!"
"Obviously, because I'm curious what kind of a girl is Mariko-chan!"
"It has nothing to do with Tomomi, right?"
"It does. Nii-chan said he's quit being nii-chan, but for me, whether he stops or not... Nii-chan is still Nii-chan after all."
Troubled she raised her eyebrows and made an embarrassed smile.
"I didn't think I'd fall in unrequited love with Nii-chan. For normal siblings, that absolutely wouldn't happen."
Ugh... somehow... that was cute. Rather, being told that I'm so embarrassed I feel like dying.
"Unrequited love... does that mean you want me to continue with my older brother's role?"
"Tt-t-th-that's right! Even without saying you're in brother's role, you're my older brother himself."
"Didn't you tell me to quit?"
"I did! If Nii-chan doesn't want to, I won't force you. But to me, Nii-chan will always, always, be Nii-chan. That's why... it's unrequited love. Unrequited love telling me I want Nii-chan to be Nii-chan! Be nii-chan! I won't say that, but I can feel that way towards Nii-chan, right?"
As she turned red up till her ears, Tomomi's voice trembled. Being told it that way, is honestly troubling.
"D-doing whatever you please aren't you."
"Having unrequited love is everyone's freedom. T-that's why, I'm curious about what kind of girl is Nii-chan's girlfriend! As a little sister, of course!"
My face turned hot like infra-red heater.
"I told you she's not my girlfriend!"
"If you're not going out, it's Mariko-chan's unrequited love. That means, on Nii-chan's birthday there might be a pattern where Mariko-chan confesses you know?"
"What's with that fictious development."
"As if you could say that! Getting a huge inheritance, five little sisters, being confessed to by a childhood friend, and to top it all your birthday present is my-se-lf. Kind of thing... isn't that eroge?!"
Damn. I can't refute.
"When I became Taishido, thinking there's an inheritance lying around, Mariko used the fact she was a childhood friend and aiming for it, got closer to me. You can consider it that way too, can't you."
Saying it myself, I felt the worst.
"So, Mariko-chan is a bad woman?"
"Just now, it was only one of possibilities. As close as possible to zero... heck, I said it, but it's practically impossible."
Limited to Mariko, it was impossible.
"Then then, so Mariko-chan is a cute girl and likes Nii-chan?"
"Why did it turn out like that!"
"Nii-chan's face's red.'
"This is... b-because I'm angry. You're provoking me aren't you?"
"I'm not. I'm just doing what's called confirming your real relation. So, Nii-chan, what do you think of Mariko-chan?"
"You ask me... a good childhood friend..."
"If Mariko-chan was to say "make me your girlfriend", what would Nii-chan do?"
"W-wwhat I do is just my business right?"
"It's not. If she becomes Nii-chan's girlfriend, in other words, I'll be her nee-chan in law, right?"
"Nii-chan quit being nii-chan, but in my feelings that's how it'll be!"
"Don't be unreasonable."
"Being unreasonable is fineee."
Tomomi responded in monotone voice. Don't drag it out!
"Woah... that way of talking pisses me off."
"I intended to piss you offff. C'mon, what if Mariko-chans wraps her body with ribbons and hugs you, saying 'happy birthday Yoichi-kun!', what happens to Nii-chan? Become riajuu? Gonna explode? You'll die?"
Ugh... for an instant, I imagined Mariko's immodest appearance.
"Tomomi... just where did you find such dangerous information."
"Yafoo answers. There's a girl who makes a lunch box for Nii-chan every day, is it love? And that topic ended up with 1000 responses."
"It's anonymous so it's fine, isn't it. By the way, fishing out from the storm I summarized the public opinion, without a doubt it's true love, thank you... and so. A net celebrity 'Undying Cicada' wrote it's '200% certain'."
Even Selene... it's likely someone impersonated her, but the possibility it was her was high. Tomomi's attack on me did not loosen.
"So so, what about before you met again? Tell me about times as kids."'
"Asking about Nii-chan's past is twice as delicious. Or maybe you did something bad you can't say? Like going around with a metal bat destroying windows in school or destroying basket hoop with a dunk!"
"What kind of problem child is that! As if I'd do that!"
"Well, for sure you have one or two, three or four things you can't say. Maybe you wet the bed until third grade of elementary school."
It was until second grad... heck, it's not time to dig up my privates.
"If you want to silence me, you have confess obediently!'
Tomomi stared at me seriously.
Silence, the room was dead calm.
After one beat, I coughed and answered.
"Fine. It might be long so let's sit down."
As I sat down on the sofa, Tomomi brought two 500ml PET bottles with cola from the refrigerator in the kitchen.
I received one and started talking about my memories of Mariko.
That said, there was nothing special to say.
At that time Mariko was taller than me, like onee-chan... that kind of story.
In the first place, Mariko had a little sister Chitose-chan so I think she was used to acting like onee-chan. After that... when we were choosing groups for field trip and I failed to get in one, she invited me. Also... uhh, umm...
Before the talk about basics was over, it was already past seven in the evening.
I've had even more memories of various episodes with Mariko than I thought.
When Tomomi finished listening, she slowly exhaled.
"So Mariko-chan, since long time ago was someone like onee-chan."
"T-that's right. She's good at caring for others. Even now, she looks after me as an extension of that. That's why it's not really love..."
"That so? Maybe she won't tell you that directly because she's concerned about Nii-chan? Well, I don't know if it's true though."
"So she's someone Nii-chan can talk so much about... that Mariko-chan."
Tomomi threw the emptied PET bottle into the trash.. Like a basketball's free throw, the bottle entered right in.
"It's not something that happened just recently. How about you disappear, stuuupid."
She showed me an akanbe.
After that she laughed making fun of me. Still, somehow, the look in her eyes felt lonely.
But she kept smiling.
As not to make me worry. Brave. Firm.
At the same time I felt Tomomi dear to me, strangely I forgave her.
Confiding my feelings to Tomomi like this, I feel like my heart has gotten lighter.
Surely, if not for Tomomi, I wouldn't be able to let my true feelings clash with someone.
I felt like she shared with me her courage for not to fearing being hurt.