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It’s been a while, but we’re back. And with a banger
The Way to the Debut
…Recently, I’ve been acting a bit weird. I often catch myself just spacing out.
And I know the reason for it. The reason is—
That horrible, disgusting confession that made me look like the lamest older brother ever. The confession that I made in the back of the school building early this spring.
But, well, thanks to that, the misunderstanding was cleared up, the bad rumours about us stopped, and miraculously, Suzuka didn’t start to hate me, so I guess it wasn’t all that bad. Of course, just because it turned out okay doesn’t mean that it hasn’t become part of my dark history that I’d rather have erased immediately. But it’s already happened, so there’s no use mourning over it now.
“………For crying out loud.”
So then, if one were to ask me why I was still thinking about it even though almost three months had passed, I’d have to say that the incident in itself wasn’t the main problem. Rather, it served as a catalyst, and I ended up becoming more conscious about… Well, a certain someone.
“Onii-chan, why aren’t you listening to me?”
While I was lost in thought, I felt my body being gently shaken, and I almost yelped in surprise. Barely holding back my voice, I turned around. The very little sister that I had been thinking about, Suzuka, was standing there as she stared at me with an exasperated expression on her face.
“W-What is it?! W-What happened?!”
“…That’s what I want to say. You were spacing out again, Onii-chan.”
I tried to gloss over it, but Suzuka’s gaze grew colder and colder.
…N-Now I’ve done it. I got lost in my thoughts again. Not to mention right in front of her…! Even though I was trying to be careful…!
Yes, the reason I found myself lost in thought more and more often recently was because my thoughts always drifted towards Suzuka.
…H-Hold on! Before you react with a ‘Disgusting!’ or ‘Eww…’, please hear me out first! I beg you!
Umm… The thing is, ever since that incident, I’ve found myself growing weirdly more and more conscious of Suzuka… Her face keeps flashing through my mind, before I realize it, my eyes start to search and ultimately follow her, and when I’m close to her, my eyes drift in her direction. Things like that. Basically, uhm, to say it in one sentence, it seems that I’ve grown extremely conscious of Suzuka. Though I don’t know the reason for that myself…
But don’t get the wrong idea, okay? It’s not like anything has changed about how I feel towards her, okay? We’re still siblings, so there’s no way I’d look at my real little sister in that way, alright?!
It’s true that Suzuka is crazy beautiful, and whenever I see that small body of hers, it just makes me want to hug her and think ‘Ahhh, she’s a perfect fit for my arms~’ and—Wait, n-nevermind that!
…A-Anyway, it really isn’t what you think it is. Basically, it’s not something idiotic, but rather, I think I’m just being conscious of her thanks to all that talk about her having someone she likes.
Suzuka herself said that she didn’t have someone like that, and I’m sure that she wasn’t lying to me, but this is just hypothetical. There’s no guarantee that it won’t change. Suzuka is a high school student, now. It wouldn’t be weird for her to find someone like that sooner or later. That’s exactly why I’m worried. I mean, as her older brother!
“O-Onii-chan…? What’s wrong? Is there something on my face?”
When I heard that, I returned to reality.
When I looked up, Suzuka’s face was right in front of my eyes. Not to mention that she looked a bit embarrassed, and she was fidgeting.
…N-Not good… Was I staring at Suzuka’s face…? Also, just how much of a beauty can you be? Her eyes are a bit watery as she’s glaring at me, and her sort-of-sulking pursed lips are way too cute. Being this adorable while being mad at me is way too unfair. If some other man saw Suzuka like this, they’d definitely fall for her. Please don’t show that appearance to anybody but me… Eeeeeeehm, nevermind!
I quickly averted my gaze. In response, I heard Suzuka’s disgruntled “W-What is it?!”, but my heart can’t take any more than this.
…Haaaaah… A-Anyway, today is worse than usual for some reason, but this is how it’s been as of late…
That being said, I can’t stay like this forever, so I tried to calm myself down while ignoring Suzuka’s complaints behind my back.
“Y-Yuu… I don’t understand this one…”
Just then, I heard a rather demotivated voice coming from across the table. Looking over, I found Mai, with an open math workbook in front of her, looking at me with tears in her eyes.
“I guess that studying becomes more difficult when you become second-years.”
“That’s what it looks like. I feel bad, Enryuu-sensei…”
Next to her were Suzuka’s friends, Shiina-san and Nikaido-san, who were also studying while watching over Mai. Shiina-san gave a bitter smile, and Nikaido-san seemed honestly worried about her.
“Yuu, help me, please…! At this rate, I’m going to fail the next set of exams…!”
“Y-Yeah, sure… But what part do you not understand?”
“Ugh… I don’t even know what I don’t understand…”
“Doesn’t that mean it’s a bit too late for me to even help you with anything?!”
“I-I can’t help it! My job has been taking up a lot of time recently! The manuscripts for SukaMaga, the magazine serializations, scoring SS ranks in the event, and my new novel—”
“Okay, I get it already! I get it, so don’t cry! …First, to make sure that you don’t fail any classes, we’ll have to aim for just enough to squeak through every subject.”
“Y-Yeah… Thank you, Yuu.”
When she heard my words, Mai’s tears stopped, and a smile formed on her face.
…She always behaved like a good-for-nothing over-the-top stalker, but she can be honest at times like these. Not to mention that recently, this honesty has been surfacing more and more frequently, which makes it a bit more difficult to deal with her. Well, at least sometimes.
“…Hmph, you’re looking away from me again… So you’re ignoring me to run to Himuro-san’s aid, huh? Interesting…!”
When I moved closer towards Mai, I could hear Suzuka grumbling about it.
Until I can calm down about it, I just have to make sure that I don’t look at Suzuka’s face for a while. I know, it’s pretty pitiful, but I can’t help it. Forcefully pushing any thoughts of Suzuka out of my mind, I steeled my resolve to at least not lose myself in thought when she’s nearby from now on.
It was the beginning of July, on a certain holiday.
We were holding a study session at our home. The group consisted of Suzuka and I, Mai, Nikaido-san, and Shiina-san. Just for the record, this study session is really only for us to study, and there’s no special or weird meaning behind it, okay?
Anyway, you’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation. Well, there’s a certain sequence of events that led up to this point. Or so I say, but it’s not that big of a deal. Anyway, to start from the beginning…
“…Yuu, help me with my studies… Please…”
Mai came groveling to me, close to tears. Just as the person herself had stated before, she’s the light novel author Enryuu Homura, and because of all of her work, she wasn’t able to focus on her studies at all. Not to mention that her grades were never on the high side to begin with, so the next end-of-term exams might end up being really close. Since she can’t afford to waste away her time in supplementary lessons, she came to ask her (self-proclaimed) rival while “Swallowing her pride” or something like that.
Well, since my father (and Suzuka in the beginning, as well) made the condition that I had to maintain good grades if I wanted to continue writing light novels, the teaching in itself shouldn’t have caused any major problems. She has her own set of circumstances, after all, and just ignoring her wouldn’t sit right with me, so I ended up accepting her request, but when Suzuka found out about it…
“Y-You’re holding a study session with Himuro-san? Just the two of you…?! Even I haven’t… I-If that’s the case, then I’ll join in as well!”
“Umm, you’re a first-year, though, so the things that you’ll be studying will be completely different from what we are, right? And even more so since your grades are better than mine—”
“As if I could leave Onii-chan all alone with Himuro-san! If some sort of problem occurred…! Also, I was planning on holding a study session with Kade and Kotomi for the upcoming exams, so we might as well join them together in one big study session!”
And that’s how we all ended up together in a single study group.
Again, I didn’t have any reason to decline, and I had been a bit worried anyway that Mai would use the opportunity to stalk me instead of actually studying, so this was actually to my benefit. That same Mai was a bit displeased by my decision, but she didn’t complain much about it since “This isn’t the time for it.”
—Now, here we are.
“Suzuka, sorry, but could you tell me how to solve this?”
“Eh? …Ahh, you have to use this formula here.”
“Suzu-chan, can I just solve this problem the same way as the other one?”
“Before you use the formula, you’re better off factoring both sides.”
The first years for their part were moving forward diligently with their studies, with Suzuka taking somewhat of a teaching role. We had called it a joint study session, but since the first-years and the second-years had completely different material in their subjects, they couldn’t exactly help any of us out, and we were too busy to help them out.
“For now, we’ll start with science to get the most important things covered. You said that you’d be able to fumble your way through social science, so if in the worst case you just try to rote memorize your other subjects, you should be able to avoid failing marks… That leaves math.”
“Ugh… Why does math even exist in this world… As long as I understand the price of one paperback book and the consumption tax, that’s all that matters…”
“Haven’t you already said something like that before?”
But, maybe because she was in such a pinch, there was no sharpness in Mai’s words. Ignoring her comment, we quickly moved on with our studies, as time was of the essence. Hence, I had Mai work over the problems in her math workbook, helping out whenever she was stuck on something, but…
“H-Hey, I don’t really get this part…”
“Do you even understand anything…? You’ve been saying that the whole time…”
“I-I can’t help it if I really don’t understand anything! I’m sorry, okay?! And it’s not just with my studies. I can’t even remember what I wrote in the first and second volumes of my series!”
“What do you hope to achieve by saying things like that?! C-Calm down, okay?! You’re starting to panic and blurt out weird things again!”
“The reason I didn’t have any time
to study was because I had to reread my earlier volumes in order to
move on with the new installments…”
“I’ve never heard about anything like that before?!”
While having conversations like this, we didn’t make much progress at all. Hence, instead of sitting across the table from her, I sat down next to Mai and showed her every single formula she had to use.
“Listen, in this problem, you have to do it as it’s shown above and take the X—”
“Hmm? What is it, Suzuka?”
A bit of time passed, and while I was busy focusing on Mai, Suzuka suddenly tugged at my clothes and started talking to me.
…What? And why does she look so disgruntled?
“W-Why are you suddenly clinging to Himuro-san like that…!”
“Eh? I mean, sitting next to her while I’m helping her out works better, so…”
“D-Don’t you think that you’re a bit too close…?! Your bodies are about to touch! I think that’s taking a bit too far…! I-Indecent…!”
When she told me that, I panicked. But, just as she said, we had indeed moved very close to one another. Our arms were nearly touching, and our heads were close together since we were looking at the same math workbook.
“Hey Yuu, what should I do here?”
Every time Mai moved her body forward, her soft, spongy breasts pushed against my arm?! T-This is bad…!
“Hey… Mai, could you give me a bit of space?”
“Why? Also, I feel like I’m getting the hang of it! For this problem, I just have to use the same method you just taught me, right?!”
However, Mai didn’t show any signs of noticing. She was completely focused on the questions. Instead, she seemed to get even more into it, pressing her body against me even more even more intensely. My sense of reason was drifting away, and it earned me a sharp gaze from Suzuka.
…Again, this is really bad…! Since it’s come to this, I should just move away for now—
—That’s when it happened.
“Ah, I solved it! I totally solved it, right?! Hey Yuu, look!”
Mai’s face lit up, and she made me look at the workbook. I did as I was told and lowered my gaze, and she had indeed used the right formula, even getting the right answer in the end.
“I-It’s right…? Yeah, your answer is correct!”
“Really?! Yay~! I did it! I finally understood it!”
In response to my confirmation, Mai put both her arms in the air to celebrate. Though she had just managed to solve the most basic of problems, that was at least a step in the right direction.
“Good for you! Well, this problem is nothing but practice for the upcoming ones, but you did manage to solve it. At this rate, you’ll definitely be able to avoid failing!”
“Y-Yeah! Thank you, Yuu! Then let’s keep going like this! As long as I barely avoid flunking out, it’s all good!”
“Your goal is a bit low, don’t you think?!”
Not paying any attention to my reply, Mai once again returned to her previous state of studying. Hence, the soft feeling from before returned, but…
“Hey hey, what about this problem? The formula is in a different form than usual.”
For a second, I was about to ask her to take her distance again but… I stopped myself.
You understand, right? Mai was currently focusing on her studies. I’d feel bad to disrupt her concentration because of something like this, and getting this close was something we couldn’t help considering the current circumstances, so it’s something like a force of nature. Being overly conscious of it is my fault.
Making excuses to myself about it, I tried my best not to become more conscious of that soft, spongy feeling hitting my arm—Well, it was pretty much impossible to ignore it one hundred percent, but I tried, okay?—and I continued to teach Mai. Thus…
“…Suzuka, since I have to help her study, I can’t help it this time. And this level of contact doesn’t make that much of a difference, anyway.”
I replied to Suzuka in a quiet voice.
“E-Ehh?! It doesn’t matter, you say…?!”
“I’m helping her study right now, so I don’t have the time nor the capacity to think about any wicked and indecent stuff. So please don’t pay it any mind.”
“W-Wicked?! No way… Why does it feel like I’m the weird one…?!”
…Sorry, I know that you’re just being considerate, but this isn’t the time for that.
“Instead, how about you go back to your own studies? Look, the other two are waiting for your help.”
When I glanced behind Suzuka, I saw Nikaido-san and Shiina-san looking over at us with puzzled expressions on their faces. They seemed to be holding a conversation like “What’s happened with Suzuka?” and “I wonder… Fufu…” They were probably waiting for her to come back.
After gazing at them for a second, Suzuka looked like she really wanted to say something, but held herself back and went back to her seat. Naturally, while she made her way there, she continued to throw me dubious glances
…Calm down. We’re really just studying here.
“Hey, Yuu, what should I do here?”
“Ahh, that’s the same principle. You have to use this formula to solve that equation—”
Like this, we returned to studying. We kept the same distance as before, and I could even catch a whiff of a nice smell every once in a while. The soft feeling continued to push against my arm, and I tried my best to ignore both.
“S-Studying together with Onii-chan at close range like that…! I’m so jealous…! I can’t have Himuro-san hog all the enjoyment to herself!”
Even after that, Suzuka kept throwing glances over at me while muttering something to herself, but I decided to not pay any attention to it.
Trying to not pay any attention to Suzuka, and not being aware of Mai’s closeness, I engrossed myself more and more fully into helping Mai study—
“Alright, now that you’ve come this far, I think that you only have to factor the numbers.”
“T-Thank you, Yuu!”
After that, a short number of hours passed, and the goal of getting Mai to pass her end-term exams was finally in sight. I hammered all the important basics into her, so all that was left was for her to slowly get used to the application of the complicated formulae. With that, she should be able to achieve the bare minimum of points she needs. As I watched her go through the remaining problems in front of her, I let out a sigh and relaxed my body. With this, we should be home free. Thanks to that, I doubt that I have to teach her everything that thoroughly anymore.
“Good work, Onii-chan.”
As my exhaustion assaulted me, Suzuka abruptly called out to me, making me jump a bit in surprise. When I turned towards her, she still had that disgruntled expression on her face as she looked at us.
…W-What? Is she still hung up on what I said before?
—Or so I thought, but…
For whatever reason, Suzuka started fidgeting, and suddenly shoved both of her hands forward. When I looked closer, I saw that she was holding a first-year math workbook towards me. Hmm? What’s she on about?
“Ummm, Suzuka-san… What is this…?” I timidly asked her, not knowing the reason for her actions. When I did, Suzuka’s face lit up like a lamp, turning bright red.
“I-I-I’d like you to teach me as well…!” She said, averting her eyes while suddenly blurting out these unreasonable words.
………Eh? What? Suzuka is…? Asking me… To teach her…? …Ehhh?
“Umm… I don’t really understand the meaning of this…”
“Wha—?! W-Why?! It’s exactly what I said…!”
“N-No no no, if you meant what you said, then you’re asking me to teach you, you know?”
“That’s exactly what’s happening here?! Why won’t you just accept my request?!”
“I mean… Why is there any need to teach you in the first place?”
Thinking rationally, this doesn’t make any sense.
“T-That’s… Umm… There’s something that I don’t understand…”
“As if. There’s no way that you of all people wouldn’t understand something. You got the top grades in the midterm exams like it was nothing.”
Yeah, even I was flabbergasted by that. Not only did she manage to get the top grades of students in her year, but she also got a perfect score in every subject. A perfect score, you know? One hundred points in every subject. Just what kind of monster is my little sister? Well, this isn’t the first time that I painfully realized just how much of a perfect superhuman Suzuka is. As you can see…
“There’s nothing that I would be able to teach you, you know?”
Nothing. I don’t even need to think about it, there won’t be anything. The story would be different if it was some second-year stuff, but teaching that to a first-year wouldn’t be of any benefit to them, and knowing her, she’d probably grasp it in a matter of seconds.
…No, she might even be planning on studying third-year subjects already… Or maybe she’s already preparing for university entry exams…!
Naturally, those scenarios were impossible for the normal human being, but it’s Suzuka we’re talking about. Hence my perplexed reaction when she suddenly asked me to teach her.
Suzuka swallowed her words. But after a short silence, she spoke up again.
“T-That doesn’t matter in the slightest!”
Why is she suddenly mad at me?!
“L-Listen! I’m a first-year, and Onii-chan is a second-year. Basically, I am the Kouhai, and Onii-chan is the Senpai. With that in mind, it’s obvious that the Senpai has to look after his Kouhai’s studies! It doesn’t matter if there’s something that I don’t understand or if there’s not!”
“Wha—?! Saying that it doesn’t matter is taking it a bit too far, don’t you think?!”
You can’t just decide on everything like that like it’s your legal right!
But Suzuka just turned slightly red in the face, said “A-Anyway,” and pulled me away from Mai, towards the first-year girls.
“You have a duty as a Senpai to help your Kouhai in need!”
Saying that, she sat down next to me and opened up her math workbook.
…Umm, you’re being a bit too forceful, you know…
“Ara ara, so this time I’ll be taught by Suzu-chan’s Onii-san.”
I heard that voice from across the table, and when I lifted my head, Shiina-san gave me a carefree (but somewhat teasing?) smile. And it wasn’t just her. From Suzuka’s other side, another voice spoke up.
“Looking at your exchanges with Enryuu-sensei, you seem to be good at teaching, so please treat me well,” said Nikaido-san with a diligent expression as she gave a slight bow. I was so flustered that I was unable to reply.
“L-Look, the other two are also on board with it.”
And Suzuka dealt the finishing blow. Though I feel like Suzuka is using the other two as leverage…
….Whatever. It makes sense that she would want me to look after her, since I’m her Senpai, at least in name. Not to mention that Mai is currently doing fine on her own, so I’m not too busy.
Whenever Suzuka gets this adamant, there’s always a reason for it. Knowing her, she’s probably trying to gather data again. Since she’s secretly such an incredibly popular light novel author, she tends to collect data about a lot of things in order to increase the quality of her novels. Considering the current situation, the next volume will probably have a scene where the siblings study together. Hence, she probably decided to use this occasion for research. I’ve already been acting as her stand-in for more than a year, so I can tell fairly easily.
“…I understand. So what do you want me to teach you?”
I completely changed my tone and decided to help Suzuka collect data.
In return, Suzuka’s expression lit up, and she hurriedly started flipping through her workbook.
“…Ehm…! I-I know! This right here!” Suzuka said, pointing at a certain page.
…Why are you so happy to find something that you don’t understand…? Even if you’re just pretending…
“Let’s see… Hold on. Isn’t this the most basic of the basics you learn as a first-year?”
“W-Well, I left that part untouched until now because I felt uncertain about it. But since I can’t keep going like this, I thought that I would ask Onii-chan to teach me…!”
“Then how did you get perfect scores if you left it untouched until now?!”
“T-That was just pure coincidence! I just had a lucky day! I just so happened to write the correct answer, nothing more!”
As if! If you want to collect data here, at least think of a better excuse!
“A-Anyway, I can’t help it if I don’t understand. S-So please teach me thoroughly like you did with Himuro-san just now…!”
Just after finishing her sentence, Suzuka immediately closed the distance between us. And then she brought her whole body closer to mine. Not just her arms, also her thighs.
The moment I felt her softness, my whole body twitched and I found myself taking my distance from her.
“……Eh? O-Onii-chan? What happened?”
Suzuka was making a perplexed expression, and so was I. Just a second ago, when she touched me, it felt like electricity ran through my body, and my body moved on its own.
“Ah, well, you surprised me, that’s all…”
“I-Is that so? …Please don’t scare me like that. Ummmm… then let’s start again. Calmly, okay?”
While my heart was still beating like crazy, Suzuka once again brought her body closer. Then, the second before our bodies touched, I instinctively jumped away again.
Suzuka’s voice was clearly shaking. I for my part was unable to look Suzuka in the eyes.
Why? Easy. Because I was crazy embarrassed…! I-I know why.
In the end, I still can’t help but be conscious of Suzuka. That’s why my body is reacting like this, even with that small amount of physical contact. Even though we’ve done even crazier lovey-dovey and flirty things than that to collect data…!
“W-Why are you jumping away from me?”
“I-I mean, there’s no need to stick that close when I’m just teaching you…” I replied, not looking at her.
Naturally, that’s just an excuse. Inside my heart, I kept chanting “I can’t be conscious of Suzuka…!” like a mantra, but I wouldn’t be having any trouble now if it really were that easy.
…Ahh, damn it, why am I suddenly feeling weird like this?
“W-What is this about? You had no problems with Himuro-san just now…! And you can’t do it if it’s me?!”
Suzuka’s body was shaking furiously.
…Exactly. I agree. But I can’t help it if I can’t do it. How do I put it, there’s no reason behind it… I just have to calm down for now.
“L-Let’s just forget about that and focus on studying. This is that you don’t understand, right? So basically you have to—”
“I already understand that, so there’s no need for you to teach me that!”
“Ehhh?! You just told me to teach you because you didn’t understand it, right?!”
How irrational can you be?! Now you’re just contradicting yourself!
But Suzuka just continued to close in on me. “Why are you this adamant about not clinging to me like that?!” She demanded. Naturally, I couldn’t say the real reason for it, and I didn’t know the details myself, so I had no other choice but to keep quiet. I felt really bad that I couldn’t fulfill my role as a stand-in to help her collect data, though.
“Onii-san, there’s something I don’t understand, so could you help me?”
Shiina-san, who was sitting across the table from me, called out to me with a smile. I had been hoping for a chance to cool down like that, so I gladly accepted and moved over. Naturally, Suzuka didn’t appreciate that, and she started complaining. “He’s ignoring me again!” Please forgive me just this once!
“U-Umm, what is it?”
“I’m having a problem applying the formula for this problem, and I don’t know what to do next after this step.”
Shiina-san and I leaned over her notebook at the same time. When we did, another comforting fragrance came wafting over from her, which startled me a bit But, it definitely wasn’t on the same level as when I was close to Suzuka.
…Calm down, I don’t mean it in a perverted way.
“If you transform it here…”
“Ah, then I can use the formula. Just what I’d expect from Suzu-chan’s Onii-san. You’re so good at teaching.”
With a delighted expression on her face, Shiina-san worked on the problem, making me feel glad that I was able to help her.
“Nagami-senpai, can I bother you for a second as well?”
Just then, Nikaido-san called out to me. When I took a closer look, I saw that she was also stuck on a similar problem, so I moved over to her. In the process, our hands touched for a moment as I reached over the notebook, but nothing came out of that either. Thus, I realized that I was only panicking when I was with Suzuka.
“…I see, I think I understand it now. I think I’ll be able to use this on the exam. I’ll definitely repay this debt. B-But nothing perverted, okay?!”
“I never once thought about that!”
“Ugh… But being driven into a corner by Senpai, will I be able to withstand his devilish hands touching every part of my body?! I can see my dark future already! Ahhh…!”
Thus, Nikaido-san started fantasizing about something.
I-I guess it’d be better to just leave her like this…
Since I was so calm while helping the other two, I’ll surely be able to handle Suzuka now, right?
Thinking that, I once again returned to my former seat.
What greeted me was a disgruntled Suzuka. I’d never seen her this disgruntled before.
“So you won’t teach me, but you’ll happily jump to their aid, I see… Ahh, how lucky you are…”
“N-No, it’s not like that…”
Sadly, I couldn’t muster any strength into my voice.
“What is with this?! Not just with Himuro-san, but Kotomi and Kaede as well! You’re getting so lovey-dovey! And here I am, being left out! Onii-chan is acting really weird!”
Suzuka averted her gaze and started sulking.
“Sorry…” I replied, feeling bad because I couldn’t help her collect data.
Realizing that my behaviour was starting to become harmful to my surroundings, I decided that I had to do something now. I don’t know what’s going on inside me, but I have to make sure that I don’t become any more conscious of Suzuka…!
Thinking that, I realized that something deep inside me found reassurance. That was because Suzuka, her mood slightly improved, called out to me with “Teach me properly this time!”, without trying to come closer towards me.
…Though if this development actually became more intense, then my determination that I gathered just now might be blown away immediately…
Ignoring that assumption, I pushed it into the deepest recesses of my mind.
“I-It’s perfect! With all this studying I did, rather than avoiding failing marks, I might even move up to the top of the school year, don’t you think?! No, I might even get perfect scores!”
When we took a break from our study session, Mai blurted out these words with a grin, totally returning to her normal behaviour. Just where did her low spirits from before go, I wonder? This is what happens the second she makes any sort of progress… Well, it’s not my business, so she can be as cocky as she wants for all I care.
“So this is the result after Onii-chan went out of his way to thoroughly teach you every single step like that, I see. That’s my Onii-chan.”
In response, Suzuka said this as she made tea for everyone. With a sideways glance, she glared at me, and emphasized some of the words, so I guessed that she was still disgruntled about before. Since avoiding the topic at times like these is the best way to handle the situation, I hurriedly changed the subject.
“O-Oh right, once end-terms are over, it’s summer break, isn’t it? Do you all have any plans?”
“I still have to work. Ah~ being a popular light novel author really is tough!”
Mai was still in her arrogant mode when she responded, but since that kinda ticked me off, I responded to her.
“You’d better do your assignments. I won’t help you even if you come crying to me at the end of summer break,” I said, driving a nail into her attitude.
…Hey, I was half-joking, so don’t start seriously crying now.
“Suzu-chan’s Onii-san and Himuro-senpai must have it rough with your jobs. I’ll probably just focus on my club activities, I guess? Once summer break ends, the culture festival is just around the corner, and our theatre club will be extremely busy with our preparations for that,” Shiina-san responded, flashing her usual gentle smile.
By the way, Shiina-san knows that Mai and I are light novel authors. Well, after what happened, we actually told her ourselves. Being the only one in Suzuka’s circle of close friends who didn’t know would probably cause suspicions sooner or later, so Suzuka advised that it might be better for us to tell her. Naturally, we had her promise that she wouldn’t tell anyone else.
“Same for me. I’m going to be practicing at home as well, trying to improve my sword… H-However, I would love to participate in this otaku event called ‘NatsuComi’…”
Nikaido-san continued, her face turning a tiny bit red as she fidgeted out of embarrassment. After what had happened a while ago, she had slowly started to open up to otaku culture, which was nice to see.
“That sounds good. How about we all go together?”
“W-W-What an honor to be able to go together with the Enryuu-sensei! K-Kotomi, how about you come with us as well?!”
“Ara ara, that sounds like it’ll interesting for sure. Naturally, Suzu-chan and Onii-san will come with us, I assume? Oh yes, Suzu-chan, what are your plans for this summer break?”
When she said these words, everyone’s gaze turned towards Suzuka. For some reason, her cheeks started to softly flush, and she threw glances at me as she answered.
“I want to… Umm… Well, since it’s my first summer break as a high school student, I want to make some special memories…”
She started glancing at me even more frequently, and she continued.
“G-Going on a trip and staying overnight somewhere sounds very summer vacation-like…! This so called ‘Adult Trip’…! N-Naturally, I don’t have anyone that I could ask for this, so the only person I can ask for this is Onii-chan…! A-Ah, of course, only in the sense of helping Onii-chan collect data for this novel. I don’t actually want to do this myself in the slightest!”
She stopped simply glancing at me, and instead she fixed her gaze entirely on me.
“Suzu-chan is really diligent when it comes to Onii-san.”
“I knew that Suzuka was helping Nagami-senpai with his novel, but make sure not to cross the line, okay! …I-If you really need someone for that, I’ll reluctantly take Suzuka’s place…!”
Both Shiina-san and Nikaido-san didn’t show any sort of doubt in response to Suzuka’s plans. As Nikaido-san said, Suzuka would help with ‘my’ novel, hence she doesn’t doubt us if we were always together. In reality, Suzuka wanted to collect data on those sorts of scenes, and I help as her stand-in, but for secrecy reasons, we pretend like it’s the other way around. Though I thought that they’d actually doubt her about it, since she normally acts like a different character when we gather data. After that incident a while ago, though, they completely stopped doubting her. In the worst case, I’ll just end up as the perverted older brother who forces his little sister to put up with him, while Suzuka ends up innocent. It’s kinda unfair, right?
That’s why they didn’t think that Suzuka’s actions just now during the studying session were weird, but let’s forget about that for now.
“S-Speaking about adult trips, a hotel with a romantic seaside view would be great, don’t you think?! But a calm and soothing atmosphere in the mountains at an inn is also a great possibility! O-Onii-chan, which do you prefer?!”
Suzuka took a step towards me with an inquiring gaze, and I unconsciously took a step back. Basically, Suzuka wants to go on this adult trip (whatever that entails), and is asking me, the stand-in, to play along.
“Ahh, well, umm… Let’s see…”
But the words that came out of my mouth weren’t anything that could be considered an actual answer.
…No, I know that it’s pretty pitiful of me, but hold on a second! I had just managed to calm down a bit, and now she’s suddenly bringing up a trip with just the two of us, you know! I know that it’s to collect data, but it’s with Suzuka, hence it’s a bit too much to handle. However, panicking forever isn’t an option either, so I tried to calm down the storm of emotions going on inside my chest, and forced some more definitive words out.
“Ummmm… Both sound fine to me…?”
…Uff, I barely managed to respond—or so I thought, but…
“W-What’s with that sloppy response…?!”
Not understanding my troubles, Suzuka just got angry at me.
…C-Come on, as if I could just respond here with something sappy like “I think that watching the stars with you on a beach at night would be the best!” Don’t ask for the impossible! I’m trying to play along as best as I can, but I do have my limits!
However, ignoring my inner turmoil, Suzuka continued to glare at me, showing no intention of calming down any time soon. Even during the following tea break, which went by rather smoothly, the silent pressure that Suzuka emitted kept stressing me out, and I could only try my best to calm my nerves.
“Onii-chan… There’s something that I’d like to talk about.”
After I finished my bath, I returned to my room, but Suzuka was already waiting for me. Although I had mentally prepared myself for a rant because of what had happened earlier that day, the dangerous aura that Suzuka emitted made me stiffen up in fear, and I replied with a weak “Y-Yes!”
“Onii-chan, what was that about earlier?!”
And just as I anticipated, her lecturing began. She said things like…
“Onii-chan is my stand-in, so I expect you to keep up the act!”—
“Onii-chan has been slacking off recently. Be a bit more serious!”—
“Why could you do it with Himuro-san, but stopped playing along the moment I tried to do it… O-Only for my data of course!”—
“You even helped Kaede and Kotomi out, so do you prefer your Kouhais over your little sister?”—
Though the contents of the lecture weren’t always quite what I had anticipated, she was no doubt angry at me. To be fair, whenever I act as her stand-in, it usually ends with me getting scolded for no reason. But just this once, I can completely understand her, and didn’t have the strength to try to fight back…
“Onii-chan is acting a bit weird recently. Is there something that’s occupying your thoughts all the time?”
Finally, Suzuka calmed down after venting all her anger at me, but I still froze up when she said that.
“D-Do you mean to tell me that you’ve actually found someone you like…?! And that’s why you don’t have the enthusiasm to help your little sister collect data…?!”
“No no no no! That’s not the case, okay?!”
When I fervently denied Suzuka’s accusation, she coldly responded with “Then what is it?!” to which I had no response.
…Again, I can’t just tell her that I’ve been growing weirdly conscious of her recently, which makes things feel really awkward!
But Suzuka isn’t the kind of person who’d be deceived that easily. Her intuition is impeccable, and for some reason, it’s even more so if it’s about me. So much so that I’ve been worried that she might find out about this feeling of mine any second now. Because of this, I frantically started searching for some excuse that could get me out of this situation. After wracking my brain to its limit, I thought of only one possibility and blurted it out immediately.
“I-It’s that, you know, I was just lost in thought because the results of the light novel contest will be revealed soon! I worked really hard this time, so I was thinking that I might actually be able to win the grand prize, or at least get close!”
“The grand prize, is it…?”
She had a blank expression on her face—or rather, she was wearing the very definition of a doubtful face. Though it totally sounded like a lie, she didn’t have any proof of that, and I didn’t have proof to confirm my own statement. The expression she made said that she was only doubting me even more as a result.
“And which one might you be able to win…?”
“I-I wonder. I don’t mean to brag, but I sent my manuscript to both major publishers, as well as some smaller ones…”
“That really isn’t something to brag about…”
Leave me alone! I was desperate to get you off my case, okay!
And I did that ‘Apply to many, get taken once’ tactic before, so I’m at least not totally lying.
“Well, that would explain why you’ve been spaced out all the time… You should be getting the results soon, right? Can you show me the places where you have a good feeling that you’ll win?”
When she asked me that, I panicked. I think that there should be a few where I made it past a few preliminaries, but their results are yet to be announced, so I can’t use them to cover it up…?! W-Weren’t there some results that were just announced recently…?!
While cold sweat started running down my forehead, Suzuka’s sharp gaze began cutting right into me. Suzuka seemed to have become more suspicious, and she said “Are you hiding something from me?” I could feel the pressure emanating from her. Just then, we were interrupted.
—Ring ring ring ring…
My phone suddenly started vibrating, and a ringing sound filled the room.
…A call? I-I’m saved?! I can get away from Suzuka’s questioning! I don’t know who’s calling me, but nice timing there! Thank you very much!
“S-Sorry, I’m getting a call,” I told Suzuka. I walked towards my table that had the smartphone on top of it.
“Hmph… It’s probably Himuro-san or Double Peace-san or Sakura-san or one of the Kanzaka sisters or Shinozaki-san or—Hold on, don’t you think that you have way too many women around you?!”
“Don’t get mad at me for something unreasonable like that, okay?!”
“…That reminds me, I feel like you exchanged phone numbers with Kaede and Kotomo a while ago, as well?”
“They asked me for my number, okay?! Don’t make it sound like I’m trying to pick up every girl I come across, okay?!”
“…Hmph, whatever. Anyway, you’re talking with me right now, so please cut the call as quickly as possible… No, there’s also the choice of not answering in the first place—”
Whoever it is, I’ll stretch the call out as long as possible. Even if that makes Suzuka angry, it’s better than being driven into the corner like this!
Thinking that, I lifted the phone from the table, but…
When I looked at the screen, I saw that the call was coming from an unknown number.
…Maybe they have the wrong number? It doesn’t seem like I can get any reprieve with this…
“What’s wrong, Onii-chan?”
But not answering in the first place isn’t an option. If I don’t answer it, Suzuka won’t let me get away. Wasting any time at all is better than that.
「Uhhm~ Hello? Is this the number of Nagami Yuu-san~?」
Unexpectedly, the person on the other side of the phone new my name… It seems like they didn’t dial the wrong number. But who is it? It sounds like a woman, but I don’t recognize her voice.
“Ah, yes, I’m Nagami Yuu…” I answered, a bit perplexed.
Maybe it’s someone from a call center?
「Ahh, good, I’m Sakaki from Crescent Publishing」
The moment I heard those words, I swallowed my breath.
…W-What did she just say…? W-W-W-W-W-What did she just say…? Crescent… Publishing? So basically, she’s from a publishing… Company?!
“…Onii-chan? What happened? Who is it?”
Though I could hear Suzuka’s voice behind my back, this was not the time to pay her any heed.
…W-Wait, calm down… This is a call from a publishing company… That can only mean one thing, right?!
My heart was beating so fast that I could hear it in my chest, and I could feel my whole body tensing up. Countless thoughts spun around in my head. All the possibilities, all the fantasies, everything.
「Umm~ I wanted to talk about your entry novel for our contest, so could I have some of your time? …Hmm? Hello? Can you hear me?」
“Y-Y-Y-Y-Yes! I can hear you just fine, yes!”
Suzuka stopped trying to talk to me and kept quiet. Maybe she realized that the call was important.
「Ummmmm, well first of all I wanted to thank you for sending in your novel. I took the freedom to read it.」
Without realizing it, I made a fist with my hand.
…I-It only could be that, right?! A call from a publisher after a contest. Yeah…! This must be the rumoured ‘I have called to inform you’ call that I’ve heard about…!
The unpleasant feeling from before when I was talking with Suzuka was now completely washed away, and I focused my entire mind on the call.
W-Will I finally hear the words I’ve been waiting years and years to hear?! ‘Congratulations on winning the grand prize’, or something like that?! I can’t be anything else, right?
….Or so I thought.
「Well, I’m sorry to say this, but you were eliminated from the contest, though it is very regrettable.」
Naturally, having not expected this turn of events, I couldn’t contain my shock.
W-W-W-What’s up with that?! I didn’t make it?! Regrettably?! Wait, again?! Are you doing this to me again?!
I remembered back to when something similar had happened a short while ago. I had gotten a phone call like this, and just when I started getting my hopes up, I was just told “Sorry, but please try harder next time”, which utterly destroyed my will to live. Feeling despair crawling its way into my heart once again, I fell on my knees.
“O-Onii-chan?! What happened?!”
Suzuka came over and knelt beside me in worry, but I was unable to give a response.
…W-What’s up with this? What did I do to deserve getting another call like this? Am I the only person these cruel jokes happen to…?
「Hmmm? Hello? What happened? Can you still hear me~?」
“U… U…! Y-Yes… I can hear you, loud and clear!” I couldn’t help but answer with a disgruntled tone of voice.
…Yes I did, and I don’t care! I knew that it would end like this! As if I’d just get a call that said “You won the grand prize of our light novel contest! You’re a professional light novel author now! Yay yay wohoo!” out of the blue! Ahh, shit, damn it…!
As tears started streaming out of my eyes, I cursed myself for getting my hopes up. In the meantime, Suzuka panicked and brought over a handkerchief. She started carefully wiping away my tears.
…You really are kind… You’re an angel, that’s what you are…
「Yeah? Good, because there’s something else—」
“Ugh… What else is there…? My novel lost in the end, didn’t it…?!”
「Yeah, you did make it to the final round. But it was lacking the final push, and we were worried that we might not get enough sales. At least that’s what we thought.」
“…Is that so?”
She’s probably telling me to work harder next time. Thinking about it rationally, maybe I should be thankful that they went out of their way to call me like this. But I wasn’t even an adult yet, and I was unable to show gratitude for this. I found myself just hoping that she would finish this call as soon as possible, or that she’d at least give me some sort of useful advice for next time.
「Well, that aside, let’s talk about the real reason I called.」
“…? The real reason? Why would you have something to tell me, since I got rejected…?”
「It’s true that your novel just barely didn’t make it. But there’s no way I’d just call you to tell you about that, you know? That’d be a waste of time.」
For a moment, I was unable to grasp what she wanted to tell me. If she didn’t call me to inform me about being rejected, then why would she call?
While I was busy feeling lost, the woman called Sakaki continued with a relaxed tone of voice.
「Actually, I want to meet up with you and have a talk with you if you’re fine with it. That’s why I called.」
“E-Ehh…? Meet me…?”
「In person~. Like in the near future or something.」
I was a bit surprised to hear the ‘Near future’ part.
“U-Umm, I did get rejected, didn’t I…? So why are you…?”
「See, I got a bit interested in you~ How about it? I’m not going to force you, but—」
“N-No! I’ll go! ….No, I’ll meet you! Please let me meet you!”
Before I realized it, I had already screamed my answer into the phone. My depression from before completely vanished, and my body was shaking with anticipation.
「Then, how about tomorrow? It’s a holiday after all… As for the location… Umm~ how about our publishing company?」
“T-Tomorrow? I understand!”
After that, we decided on the exact place and time, and after confirming it, we cut the call. I continued to gaze at the phone in my hand long after that, though.
“…Onii-chan? Who in the world was that call from? You said that your novel was rejected though…”
Suzuka called out to me, a bit hesitantly. She apparently had gotten the general gist of it, but my weird behaviour seemed to be throwing her off a bit.
“A-Ah, yeah, the thing is…”
I turned to her and explained what the call just now had been about. Especially about me meeting up with that person later.
“Umm… So what exactly is the meaning of this? Onii-chan’s novel was rejected, right? So what else is there to talk about?”
“I don’t know myself… B-But, what if…?!”
I had a certain hope that I was clinging to. Unlike all the times before, there was something else for me, even though I was rejected. Thus, this could only be one thing, right?
…No no no, it’s too early to get excited about that. There’s still a chance that my expectations might be betrayed yet again. But, I can’t help but think that, you know?!
“Ha… Ha ha ha he he he hee…!”
“O-Onii-chan?! Your laugh is really creepy, you know!”
Normally, Suzuka telling me something bluntly like this would hurt me a bit, but right now I didn’t care. Even I could tell that I was getting fired up to the extreme.
…T-This is really bad…! My heart’s pounding…!
“W-Well, it’s fine if Onii-chan is happy though…”
Okay, I have to calm down. I can’t confirm it yet. I can’t be happy yet. I have to save it all for after I go to their company tomorrow and hear them out. But there’s really only one thing it can be, right?!
“Aside from that, there’s a problem that we have to think about.”
“He he he…! Hm? What problem?”
“…Onii-chan? Are you really saying that?”
Suzuka looked at me as if I was nothing more than a mere insect. Like, I know that my head was in the clouds, but that’s still a bit rough…
“Haaaah… Onii-chan, are you going to visit that publishing company or whatever tomorrow?”
“Of course? They have something with me to talk about, so I have to hear them out.”
“The problem isn’t the talk in itself, but everything before that.”
“Everything before that?”
“…You are my stand-in, Towano Chikai, right?”
“Really?! You still don’t get it?! You’re the renowned Towano Chikai, so you can’t just casually stroll into another publishing company, acting like a complete newcomer!”
When I was told this, I slowly started to grasp what Suzuka was talking about.
…A-Ah, I see… No wait, hold on?
“That’s right, but that’s only when showing my face at official events, like the commemoration party, or the signing session, or my lecture at Hakuou, right? I don’t think that anyone from other publishing companies were there, and I can’t imagine that they’d just remember my face like that.”
“You’re letting down your guard. You never know when someone will see you. There’s no guarantee that the person you meet tomorrow won’t immediately recognize you as Towano Chikai, right?”
“E-Even if you say that…”
Then, I thought of something.
…So, basically, Suzuka is trying to tell me that…
“You’re saying that I shouldn’t go…?!”
“O-Onii-chan?! Don’t make a face like you’re about to cry! I do think that it’s the most safe and secure route to take, but I can’t just tell Onii-chan to stay home!”
With a disgruntled face, Suzuka quickly averted her gaze. Was it just my imagination that her face looked a bit red when she did that?
“It’s not that. I’m saying that you should be prepared if you’re planning on going.”
“Prepared so that they don’t figure out that I’m Towano Chikai…? But, how? Should I wear a disguise?”
I just blurted out that idea at random, but…
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
Suzuka actually agreed with it. Seriously?
“It’s all to prevent the worst-case scenario that they figure it out.”
“So you say, but what kind of disguise are we talking about here?”
“What about the clothes I wore back at your signing session?”
“Weren’t you wearing sunglasses, a mask, and a trenchcoat?! That makes me stand out even more, doesn’t it?!”
It’s basically the same as asking them to doubt me. Or maybe I’ll be arrested by the police before I even arrive at the publishing company.
“Hmph… Though I guess it makes sense in this case… You don’t want to stand out, but you also don’t want to cause any suspicion…”
…Why didn’t she think of that in the first place? It seems like Suzuka can be quite air headed at times as well…
“Then… I-I see, let’s do it like this.”
Suzuka was lost in thought of a bit, but she suddenly lifted her head with an expression of understanding on her face. She had me sit down on a chair. After that, she stormed off for a second and returned with a hairbrush and a dryer in her hands.
“If you can’t change how you dress, then maybe we should just change your impression. Like changing your hairstyle. An image change, so to speak.”
“Ohh, I see.” I nodded in understanding.
That was something that could be done easily, and it would still be effective.
“Just keep sitting there. I’ll try to style your hair in a different way from usual…!”
“That’d be great, but you don’t really have to do all that much, you know. A different impression from usual is all that I need, anyway.”
“N-No, I have to give thorough thought as to what hairstyle might be the best. Also, I want to see a different Onii-chan from usual… And by my hands… Ehehehe, this a chance…!”
“Hyah?! W-What is it?! D-D-D-Don’t get the wrong idea, okay?! It’s definitely not that I’m enjoying this situation! I’m just trying to avoid the worst possible outcome of them finding out, okay?!” Suzuka’s face went bright red, and she waved around the brush and dryer wildly.
…No, you’re totally enjoying this. It’s like you’re using me as a dress-up doll or something…
“A-Anyway, I’m going to start, so don’t move!”
That being said, now that it’s come to this, I have no other choice but to leave it to her. Doing an image change by myself would be impossible after all, and Suzuka has good fashion sense.
I kept quiet and listened to the sound of the hair dryer until Suzuka called out to me.
“Done!” She said, and handed me a small handheld mirror. Feeling a bit excited, I quickly gave myself a look-over.
“…Hold on, what is this…?!”
But I was at a loss for words. After all, the person reflected in the mirror had his hair parted to one side, looking perfectly groomed. And this person was, without a doubt, me.
“How is it? It has a formal feel to it, and I think that it looks wonderful! …Ah, naturally in the sense that the hair is wonderful, and it’s definitely not like Onii-chan looks really cool or something, okay?!”
But Suzuka didn’t agree with my feeling of discomfort, and got fired up in front of me instead… Seriously?
“…W-Well, umm, the hair parted to one side isn’t bad or anything, but, how do I say it… it doesn’t really suit me… This hairstyle would probably look better for someone who has a proper function in society, wearing a suit or something…”
Since my hair was still a bit wet from my bath, Suzuka had no problem styling it like this, which made me feel even more uncomfortable… Suzuka, though…
“Eh, really? I think that Onii-chan looks gallant with whatever hairstyle—Umm, I’m just kidding. T-Though I think that it looks very good on you!”
Her eyes were sparkling while she spoke.
…T-This girl, does she actually have weird fashion sense after all…?
“A-Anyway, I don’t think that this is it for me… So I’d appreciate it if you could try something else…” I asked Suzuka as carefully as possible.
When I did, Suzuka looked a bit confused and said “Is that so?”, but her usual smile immediately returned with “Well, I was planning on trying out many other styles, so it’s no problem!”
…I-I’m slowly starting to get worried here…
“Ah, but before that, let’s take a picture.”
While I was already tired from the get-go, Suzuka abruptly took out her smartphone and started to take pictures of me with my current hairstyle, making me panic quite a bit.
“H-Hey, what are you doing?!”
“A-A commemorative picture. I don’t get to see Onii-chan like this very often, so it’s only natural!”
P-Please don’t…! You’re totally treating me like a dress-up doll right now…!
“…Okay! Now then, onwards to the next hairstyle…!”
“U-Umm, maybe this one’s good after all? Maybe I can just put on a hat tomorrow and it’ll all be fine…”
“Wearing a hat indoors all the time would make you look too suspicious, and it’s very rude as well if there’s no real reason for it.”
“You’re not wrong, but it’s a disguise, so it’s fine, isn’t it?!”
“Since the hair makes the man, I want to see Onii-chan with a lot of different hairstyles—Excuse me! W-We have to consider the worst-case scenario, so we should aim for the best possible disguise!” Instead of showing any signs of stopping, Suzuka became fired up even more.
She even pulled some wax out of nowhere, making me want to ask where she even had been storing it up until now.
“N-Now then, the next hairstyle it is…!”
In the end, I was unable to talk Suzuka down, and I just let her do her thing with me. I let out a defeated sigh. After a bit of time passed, Suzuka once again let out a motivated “It’s done!”
“…Now my hair is standing up like I’m some punk?!”
My hair was sticking straight up, completely ignoring gravity, while I was crying.
“Though it’s a bit radical… It’s probably fine! This sort of hairstyle really suits you!”
“That doesn’t feel like praise!”
But, Suzuka’s eyes kept sparkling, as she said “W-Wonderful…!”
No, umm, your fashion sense might be a bit off, you know… Making me look like a super saiya*in is taking it a bit too far in my opinion…
While I was still at a loss, Suzuka took out her smartphone again and took more pictures of me. As of right now, I was nothing more than a tool that she could use to cure her boredom. I’d have to beg later for her to delete those photos…
“Ehe, ehehe… Then next is…”
“U-Umm… Aren’t you forgetting about our original goal? We’re doing this for tomorrow, right?”
“You just said ‘Ah?!’, didn’t you?!”
“N-No, I haven’t forgotten of course! We’re doing this for tomorrow, and I’m definitely not using this chance to satisfy my own desires or anything?!”
“…Then try to make the next one look more normal, okay…?”
“I-It’s fine… Next is…!”
And, after a few minutes passed—
“…E-Everything slicked back, huh… Well, it’s pretty normal, I guess…”
Though I was a bit perplexed, this was definitely better than everything before. But, just when I was thinking that, I could feel something at my ears, and my sight grew a bit darker.
“Try wearing this as well…!”
“I-It’s the most important part of a disguise. It’s fine, your slight yakuza-like look isn’t too bad, and it really suits Onii-chan!”
“It still doesn’t feel like I’m being praised here?!”
Not taking my reply seriously, Suzuka took pictures once again. In response, I slumped my shoulders as I looked at myself in the mirror again.
…Suzuka, your fashion sense is really weird. At least regarding men’s hairstyles…
“Haah… That was good… Now on to the next one…!”
“Ah, no, it’s fine. I’ll do something about it myself…”
“T-That won’t do! I have to try all those hairstyles on Onii-chan that I’ve fantasized ab—no, that I thought of for this special occasion just now!”
“You’re just playing with me, aren’t you?!”
However, Suzuka, completely engrossed, wasn’t listening to me at all anymore, and our preparations for the following day continued late into night.
…In the end, no matter how much I begged her, Suzuka remained strong, and didn’t delete the pictures in the end… Ugh…
“…Umm, this should be it, right?”
The following day, I arrived at the predetermined location at the predetermined time.
Standing in front of the shabby door, with a plaque that had the name of the company written on it, I could feel the tension in every inch of my body. The location was a shared office building near a station in Tokyo, on the second floor. There it was, in a line of doors with the plaques for many different companies.
“Woah… I’m getting really nervous right now…!”
Past this door is something that will greatly influence my future… probably. Once I started thinking like that, my tension grew tenfold. This might even be the time when I graduate from staying Suzuka’s stand-in.
“A-Anyways, one final check.”
Before I went to open the door, I once again checked over my own appearance, making sure that everything was still as it should be. Going along with Suzuka’s plans, I changed my hairstyle and added a disguise. It might sound a bit overboard, but we ended up with a hairstyle slightly parted, and glasses for show.
…For crying out loud, what was that about yesterday? It felt like she was teasing me as much as she wanted—
I grumbled about it as I prepared myself. Since I didn’t have any proper business clothing, I once again borrowed my old man’s suit. Checking to make sure that my necktie wasn’t crooked, I took a deep breath and put away the hand mirror.
“…H-Here I go!”
Steeling my determination, I knocked on the door, but…
“Hm…? No response?”
No voice came from the other side of the door, and there was no sign of movement.
“……Is everyone on the phone or something?”
After a short wait, I gave another knock, but still to no avail. Having no other choice, I carefully put my hand against the door. The door wasn’t locked, and it slowly pushed open.
“U-Umm, excuse me… huh?”
When I peeked through the tiny gap, I couldn’t spot anyone inside. The room was filled with books lying all over the place, even filling the desks, but no human being was in sight.
“What’s going on…? This is the right place, isn’t it? Well, it said Crescent Publishing on the door…”
A sleepy-sounding voice came from inside when I was still confused as to what to do.
“Hmm…? President…? You’re back…?”
I could hear a voice coming from the back of the room, located on the sofa riddled with books. Looking over there, I spotted a woman starting to sit upright.
Her age… Seemed to be in the middle of her twenties, I guess? She was wearing a t-shirt with jeans that had several holes in them, and she gave off a rough feel. Her slightly curled hair was ruffled, with no signs of make-up, giving off the impression of a girl who clearly didn’t act her age. However, the person herself didn’t show any concern about that, and she just looked around in a disordered manner.
“Hmm…? Who are you…?”
The woman seemed to have finally noticed my presence, and threw me a glare with half-opened eyes, only to let out a long yawn afterwards. For a second, I thought that I had happened to intrude into some random person’s home, but her voice sounded similar to the person I talked to on the phone, so I hurriedly opened my mouth.
“U-Umm, I’m Nagami Yuu. We spoke over the phone yesterday…”
“Hm…? Nagami…? Ahh, that’s what it is… I called you here.”
The woman stood up from the sofa and walked closer to me, still half-asleep. Once she arrived in front of me, she gave me a good, long look.
…Y-Your face is too close. But, seeing her this close, she doesn’t look too bad. Rather, with more elegant clothing, she’d probably be quite the beauty… But not with that plain look and sleepy expression.
“So you’re Nagami Yuu-kun~ I’m Sakaki, who called you yesterday. Sakaki Ruriko………… Huh? Have I met you somewhere before?”
“Eh?!” Not expecting that, I started panicking.
…I-It’s fine. Even if she knows Towano Chikai, it shouldn’t be more than a fleeting acquaintance, and I’m wearing a disguise right now…!
While I was still panicking inside, Sakaki-san let out a big yawn again.
“Hm… Maybe it’s just my imagination… Fuwaaaaa…”
With those words, she led me to a table in the back.
“Well, just take a seat over there.”
“Y-Yes… But the chair has a mountain of books on it…”
“Ahh, those have to go back soon… No, were they research material? Well, they’re probably not that important, so just put them wherever.”
“That’s a bit lax, isn’t it?!”
“This is how life works, you know~”
…I wasn’t talking about something that impressive, you know… Why are you looking at me like a kid who doesn’t know any better…
Though Sakaki-san sat down in front of me for a second, she immediately got up again with an “Ah!”
“I’ll get something to drink. What do you want, Nagami-kun? Maybe some coffee, or black tea, or barley tea… Well, I don’t know if we really have them in the refrigerator though.”
“Is there anything you’re sure about?! …No, umm, I’m fine with anything. Thank you very much.”
“Ah, really? I have some chûhai, how about that?”
“Alcohol is a bit bad, don’t you think?! Also, I’m a minor?!”
“Well, if you round it up, your age is in the twenties, so I’m fine with that?”
“How lax can you be?! Anyway, I’d like something non-alcoholic…”
“Anything aside from that, yes!”
When I replied, Sakaki-san gave a bored “That so… But searching for it sounds like a pain…” and walked off. What’s wrong with her?
“S-She really is a weird person… But anyway, it’s finally time…”
Though I was a bit taken off-guard because of Sasaki-san’s unexpected nonchalant behaviour, I’ve calmed down now that I’m alone again, and this finally feels like the real deal. I’ve been to a publisher before as Suzuka’s stand-in, but this is the first time that I’ve come here with business of my own. The feeling is totally different. Well, my novel was rejected, though.
I was once again reminded of my current circumstances. Unlike Sumeragi, this feels a bit more like a publishing company, and I can’t help but get a bit excited—
「…Onii-chan, can you hear me?」
That second, I suddenly heard Suzuka’s voice in my ear, which made me let out a shriek.
「Come on, what are you panicking for?」
“S-Sorry, I was just a bit lost in thought, so…”
Holding my right ear, I replied with a quiet voice. I had a small voice receiver in my right ear. Inside my necktie, there was a small microphone, which wasn’t visible if you just looked at it casually. Naturally, it was all so that I could keep contact with Suzuka.
…Well, Suzuka was the one who thought of this in the first place. She actually wanted to tag along today. She was too worried about me being all alone, or she thought it was her duty my little sister or whatever—well, there are a lot of reasons for it, but this is where we are right now. She certainly couldn’t just come with me, so I somehow got her to agree to this.
…Last night, Suzuka ordered this at the fastest delivery speed possible, and set up everything this morning before I went out. Why did we have to go this far, though?
「Well, it’s fine. Onii-chan, can you look outside the window next to you?」
“Outside the window?”
I followed her orders, and…
“Wha—?! W-Why are you there?!”
Through the glass, I saw Suzuka sitting in the building next door. When I did, I couldn’t hide my bewilderment.
「This here is a cafe. From here, I can have a good understanding of Onii-chan’s situation. I’m watching over you, so don’t worry!」
No no no no!
“Why are you acting all cool about this?! Did you just happen to spot me by coincidence…?”
「No. I scoped out the location and surrounding buildings yesterday, and I found this place that might allow me to have a clear view of the situation. I’m glad that I was correct. It seems like it was worth reserving a seat at the window!」
“Y-You even reserved it…! Aren’t you becoming more of a stalker? Is Mai’s behaviour slowly influencing you or something…?!”
「Wha—?! D-Don’t lump me together with her! I’m just worried about Onii-chan…!」
I could see Suzuka furiously waving her hands as she tried to deny my accusation.
“I’m thankful that you’re worried about me, but there’s really no need, you know? I’m not acting as your stand-in today, so there’s no chance of me making a mistake in that regard.”
「I know that already, but… I-I’m just interested, that’s all!」
Well, even if you are, you’re a bit too into this…
「…Also, there’s something weird.」
“What is it?”
「This company. I can tell just from watching here. It’s pretty small for a publisher, and it’s full of books. There’s no people in sight… And judging from what I’ve heard from the mic, Sakaki-san is also acting very suspiciously…」
“I-It’s true that she’s a bit weird, but there are lots of publishers out there, you know? Sumeragi is probably just a bigger one.”
「Still, it’s one of those minor companies that you even forgot applying to, right?」
When I was told that, I swallowed my words. She’s right that I forgot about actually applying to Crescent Publishing. So much so that I want to know which novel I even sent here since it’s been so long.
“That doesn’t change anything, though? It’s true that it’s not a big publisher, but the importance lies in the novels they publish!”
「…Onii-chan, I’ve been thinking since yesterday, but aren’t you a bit too eager right now? Let’s look at the situation more rationally—」
“Umm, I made you wait, huh.”
Sakaki-san came back, interrupting Suzuka. In a panic, I whispered a flustered “A-Anyway, we’ll talk later…!” into the mic, and cut my conversation with Suzuka. Though Suzuka made a sound like she wanted to complain, she understood my intentions and kept quiet.
“Hmm? Where you talking with someone just now?”
“N-No, I wasn’t. I was just talking to myself…”
“Ah, really? Well, whatever. Here, I brought something to drink, so feel yourself at home~”
Though she seemed to harbour some doubts for a second, Sakaki-san gave up on pursuing the issue. She put down a cup and filled with a dark reddish-brown liquid in front of me.
“Ah, barley tea. Thank you very much.”
“Aha, I actually don’t really know if it’s barley tea or soba sauce, even after I put it in, so take a sip and check. Then you’ll know for sure~”
“So you wouldn’t know without drinking?!”
“Everything’s the same once it gets into your stomach.”
“I think that those would still be different even in my stomach…”
“Gulp gulp… Puwa~! Ah, it’s fine, it’s barley tea,” said Sakaki-san after she took a good sip.
Her half-opened eyes were still the same as when she bad barely woken up, and everything about how she presented herself was screaming things like “lax” and “half-minded. “
Since I didn’t have any intention of actually trying that barley tea, I switched gears to the main topic of the day.
“Umm, may I ask why you called me here today…?”
“Hm? Ahh~ I remember.”
When I asked that, Sakaki-san emptied her cup, and put it down on the table.
“Well~ I did read your novel, and it was really close~ If we changed it up a bit, you might’ve been able to get the grand prize.”
Putting one hand on the bottom part of her t-shirt, she started scratching her belly.
“I-Is that so…? Thanks for that.”
“Well, you did end up getting rejected this time, so there’s no use in dwelling on it~”
“Then why would you call me here if my novel was rejected?” I said with a hint of expectation.
“Ahh~ right. That’s a given fact, but there was something shiny and sparkly in there~ That’s why I thought that I would talk with you in person like this.”
Before I responded, I could already feel my heartbeat accelerating.
“A-And why is that…?”
“Basically, we can’t immediately publish your novel right now, but if you’re fine with it, I was wondering if you wanted to write under our guidance for now. I’ll be acting as the one responsible for you, so I’ll be the editor who will support you until you finish a novel that can be published. And once I give the okay, we’ll do that. How about it?” Sakaki-san asked me, but I couldn’t give an immediate response.
But, that wasn’t because I was unsure, or because I was hesitating. Rather—
…I-I did it—!!! F-Finally, it’s here! The time has come!
No, I know! It’s not like my wish was finally granted! I know that I still haven’t secured my debut yet! This is just a chance, nothing more! But it’s still one step in the right direction! The first step up the stairs of being a professional author! This is completely different from all the other times I was rejected! I’m getting my own editor now, you know?! Once she thinks that the novel is interesting enough, it’ll get published, you know?!
Because the development arrived that I had been desperately hoping for, I felt so happy that I was worried that I might start breaking out in tears. The way to my debut is right in front of me right now!
…As if I wouldn’t be excited for thissssssssssssssssssss!!!
「O-Onii-chan, calm down」
Then, while my whole body was filled with happiness, Suzuka, who had kept silent until now, suddenly called out to me.
「I know that it sounds great, but again, this publisher seems a bit weird. To make sure that we don’t rush things, we should reserve this talk for later, and have a meeting later—」
Reserve this for later? What are you talking about! This is my chance, you know?! If I let this slip, I’ll be back to my daily life of sending entry novels everywhere! I’ll be writing novels with an editor to back me up here! There’s no way I can hesitate!
“Hm? What’s wrong? Is it no good?”
“No, I’ll do it! Please accept me!”
Whatever Suzuka was yelling about didn’t enter my ears anymore. I might become a light novel author—the moment that thought filled my mind, I became wrapped up in my own dreams, unable to think about anything besides writing a new novel.
“Ah, is that so? Glad to hear it. Then, I’ll be acting as your editor from here on out. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Yes! Let’s aim for the top of the light novel industry together!”
“That’s some crazy enthusiasm there. It’s much appreciated though~”
In response to my energetic reply, Sakaki-san just gave a bored yawn, saying “Well, let’s just take it slow for now~”
…As if I could keep calm here! Though I’m still standing at the beginning of the road, I can see the way to my debut! Now I only have to walk down that way, write a novel that’s interesting enough, and then my dream will finally come true!
“B-By the way, Sakaki-san! What kind of novel should I be writing? Just tell me anything! A battle novel, or school novel, and isekai novel or a fantasy or science fiction or whatever, I’ve read so many novels that I know my way around mostly everything!”
“Woah~ that’s pretty crazy. I haven’t found any motivation recently, so I’m not really up to date with most of the newer novels… Or any in general~”
I-Is that really fine as an editor…? But that aside!
“I’m very motivated, so I can write a novel in three days! So should I just try out several genres?!”
I leaned forward, and Sakaki-san again didn’t sound like an editor when she replied “No no, I won’t be able to read all of that~” as she waved her hand. “It’s not that. I’ve already decided on the genre that I want you to write,” she said, with no energy whatsoever.
“Eh, you already decided on it…?”
“I just told you, didn’t I~? That I felt a certain spark in your novel, and I want to build on that.”
…Well, she did say that.
“So what genre are we talking about…?” I muttered without thinking.
In response, Sakaki-san slightly opened her sleepy eyes, and a slight smile flashed over her lips. And, with her following words, the road for me was already decided.
“I want you to write a romcom. A romcom that can get the reader’s heart racing, filled with your ideas and fantasies. The best romcom there ever was, see~”