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And here we are, this is the endgame boys.
The Confession, and What Comes After That
“The culture festival was a whole lot of fun. Right, desu?”
Double Peace-sensei was stretching, letting her two soft bulges sway—Not that. Everyone agreed with her, making expressions that clearly seemed satisfied.
After all that happened, the culture festival dates more or less came to a safe end. Saying I had enjoyed them would have been a big fat lie, so I just kept my mouth shut. I just stood there, burned out beyond help. That being said, it’s over now, so I might as well start to cheer up a bit, I guess!
—Naturally, I was very well aware that things wouldn’t end that smoothly. Yes, after all that happened, I couldn’t forget the main reason why everything had taken place. What will follow next will be harsh questioning and investigation about who was the ‘winner’ here! Although I’m still not fairly sure I understand the whole competition aspect of it all, there’s no doubt that they’ll all turn around towards me, saying things like “It has to be me, right?!” and “No no, it’s me, desu.” and “It’s Sakura for sure!” and “It can’t be anyone but me.” and “T-This doesn’t have anything to do with me, okay?!” and that sort of thing.
Normally, at times like these, I would just choose Suzuka, since she always participates in this sort of thing, and that would be the end of it. Since I’m pretending to be the little-sister-loving author Towano Chikai, everyone would just accept it… Well, as a result of that, there’s been a lot of misunderstandings going around, but that’s not important right now. The problem is that I can’t use that method right now! Why? Because Suzuka didn’t even participate!
What would happen if I just said “You see, I’m a little sister lover, so although Suzuka didn’t participate, I think that a date with her would have been the best”? Truth be told, the thought of it sends a shiver down my spine so intense that I don’t even want to imagine it, but I certainly wouldn’t enjoy the result, that’s for sure.
In any case, I have no choice but to choose someone. Naturally, I don’t remember who made my heart beat the most. I didn’t even have the time to enjoy any of it, and since I didn’t understand the competition in the first place, I’m as lost as ever, to be honest. Do I just choose one of them at random? Would that even work? Would it be the end of it? Unlike last time with Suzuka, they still might not be satisfied even if I chose. And what will happen then?!
…This isn’t good. Now that I think about it, aren’t I in quite a pinch right now? As I grew aware of the situation, I felt cold sweat running down my back. If I could, I’d scram. Immediately.
“Now then, about the results of the competition, desu—”
H-Here it comes…! Double Peace-sensei’s words made me twitch. This is bad! This is bad! This is bad! How can I get out of here…?!
“We’ll wrap it up here. It seems the girl who Sensei’s interested in wasn’t one of us, so it’ll be a draw, desu.”
W-What did she just say?
“Right~ Sakura agrees.”
“Sensei obviously doesn’t have anyone like that.”
“Ahi, we all know that…”
W-What? What is going on? Someone please explain. And why is everyone in agreement?
“U-Um, what is this about…?”
“Hm? Like I said, based on all these culture festival dates, it’s pretty clear that there is no girl who Sensei is interested in, desu.”
Hold on! What’s up with that?! I mean, I’m glad that they finally realized it, but… whaaat?!
“Sensei is way too easy to see through, after all. If a girl like that really existed, we would have known, desu.”
“Yeah, it really shows on Sensei’s face after all.”
“It shows both in how you act and how the atmosphere around you changes. It’s completely obvious.”
“I-It’s not like I’m watching you that closely, okay?! Still, it’s true that you’re easy to read.”
I couldn’t force out any words. I mean, Suzuka always tells me that I’m way too obvious about things, and that I’m easy to see through, so that’s not all that big of a shock this time. But if that’s the case, then… Why…?!
“Why did we even do these culture festival dates…?!”
“Just to make sure? Or rather, it was just a pretense so that we could enjoy ourselves, desu?”
“No ill-intent whatsoever?!”
Double Peace-sensei’s response made me want to cry. W-What’s up with that? So that means that there wasn’t any misunderstanding in the first place?! Why did you make me suffer so much, then?! Really, can I start crying now? Though in all honesty, part of me was relieved by this sudden development.
As I was sighing in relief, I spotted Mai, who was yet again staying quiet by herself. She hasn’t said anything for quite a while now, had she? What’s wrong with her? But before I could call out to her…
“Now then, since all that has been cleared up, I’d really like to stay and enjoy the culture festival a bit more, desu. But—”
Double Peace-sensei got the jump on me as she prepared to announce something. D-Don’t tell me. Are we going to keep going? No, since everything’s been explained, there shouldn’t be any more reason to continue the dates, right?!
“It’s a shame, but I have to leave for my work now, desu.”
“…Sakura as well. She was barely able to make time out of her schedule, but it’s really time for her to go now.”
“…Same for us. Shame.”
“T-That was more than enough, Onee-chan. Let’s just go.”
Double Peace-sensei, Minazuki-san, and the Kanzaka sisters all stated that they had other businesses to attend to. Mumbling a weak “T-Thank God…!” to myself, I let out a relieved sigh. It’d be really bad if I was forced to continue with all these dates… Going out just once was unbearable at times, but if I went out with everyone at once, I’d definitely be the target of all the boys’ hatred sooner or later.
“It’s a shame, desu. If I wasn’t already skipping out on work so much, I could probably stay a bit longer.”
“But going to the cultural festival with Sensei was really fun for Sakura!”
“Seeing Sensei’s normal student life here was fun. Please come visit my university if you ever feel like it.”
“Onee-chan, you go to a girls-only university, right?”
In the end, we parted ways after everyone said goodbye. Since everything had ended more or less safely, I let out a relieved sigh. But why did I find myself feeling a tinge of loneliness as they left? Could it have been because of their liveliness, I wonder? Finding myself hoping that we could have spent some more time together… is that because of my soft personality? No matter the reason, Mai and I were left alone.
“Phew… It’s finally over…” I stretched.
Strangely, Mai still seemed a bit absent-minded. It was the first time I’d seen Mai acting like this. And no matter how hard I think about it, I still can’t come up with a reason why she’s acting weird. I don’t remember angering her, and she doesn’t give off the vibe that she’s angry either… Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe she’ll tell me if I just ask her outright.
“Mai, what’s—Ah, hold on. What time is it right now?”
Before I finished my sentence, I stopped myself and quickly checked the time.
“Oh, this is bad. I have to hurry.”
When I said that, Mai finally came back to her senses.
“Eh? W-What’s wrong, Yuu?”
“Ah, well, it’s almost time for the theatre club’s play.”
“Yeah, a friend of Suzuka asked her to take a role in the play. She said I had to go watch her, so I’m going.”
“Oh, now that you mention it… T-Then I’ll go as well.”
When I started walking, Mai quickly followed me. I arrived at the gym hall with her in tow, and many other students had already gathered there. Most of the seats were already filled, and it seemed to be standing room only. Our theatre club seemed to be very impressive (in fame, that is. I’d heard that there are a lot of cute girls in it). The theatre club’s play is always acclaimed as the highlight of the culture festival, as well, so that explains the mass of people present. I do feel like there’s more people here than yesterday, but maybe that’s just my imagination…
Well, that’s probably because Suzuka is in it. No doubt the rumours have spread through the school, leading to the current situation. But I can’t blame them. Although she’s a first-year, Suzuka has already attained celebrity-like status. Her grades are among the top of her year, she excels in anything she tries, she has an insane amount of charisma, and she’s a beauty above beauties. Both in her own grade and the second or third years, boys and girls alike are always swarming around her, and although she has a good-for-nothing older brother like me (it hurts me to say it, but it’s the truth), she still feels like a cheat character.
Naturally, since such a person is appearing in the play, masses of people would flock to watch it. It’s about what I expected, honestly.
“There are a crazy amount of people here… So what role is Suzuka-san playing? Or rather, what kind of play are we going to watch?” Mai asked me. She seemed flustered by the large crowd. I didn’t actually know the answer to her questions, myself.
No matter how many times I asked her about it, Suzuka never told me because “It’s embarrassing.” She was forcing me to watch it so I could find out. What role is it going to be? Maybe the princess again like last year at Hakuou? Well, that was a role well-suited for Suzuka, I have to say…
As I was thinking to myself, the lights in the gym hall went out, and the curtains were raised. The surroundings went quiet, and all attention turned towards the stage.
‘A long, long time ago, in a certain kingdom…’
The narration echoed through the hall, and the play started. The play seemed to be set in the Middle Ages in Europe, or maybe even a fantasy world. Words like ‘princess’ and ‘prince’ were said here and there. So that means Suzuka’s playing the princess? Or so I thought, but the spotlight focused on the ‘Princess’ standing on the stage, and it wasn’t Suzuka.
That is… Shiina-san, right? It’s amazing that she got the lead role. Shiina-san is a beauty, after all, and her long, wavy hair really gives her that princess vibe. Fellow members of the audience agreed as they raised their voices of admiration. But what role does Suzuka have, then?
As soon as the next person stepped onto the stage, I swallowed my breath. Not just me, but everyone else around me as well. And my question was answered.
‘So you’ve been hiding here, Princess.’
It was the prince, resting one arm on ‘his’ sword, wearing a noble’s uniform… But why is Suzuka playing this ‘Prince’ role?!
“T-That’s Suzuka-san, right…?” Even Mai’s eyes opened wide.
…Well I sure didn’t expect Suzuka to be the prince. It’s not like a male role being played by a girl is a weird thing, but I never thought that Suzuka would do it. I could only stare at Suzuka while she moved and talked onstage. With a small stature, and long hair bound up differently than usual, the girliest girl I knew, Suzuka, was playing a male character. I felt an immense feeling of discomfort.
‘Now, let us go to where the king is…’
She was playing the prince, like she really was one. This sense of discomfort, which seemed to be shared by everyone among the audience, was blown away immediately. “Suzuka” and “Prince”. Those two words, previously seen as having nothing to do with each other, were a perfect fit, and that feeling intensified the longer the play went. No, it wasn’t just her acting. It was like she truly became the prince, and with every gesture she made and every word she spoke, the aura around her assimilated into his.
“Nagami-san is so cool…”
“Yeah, she’s so beautiful…”
I could hear faint voices of admiration from the girls around us. It truly felt like everyone’s gaze was focused on no one other than Suzuka. I don’t know how to properly describe it, but it felt like it wasn’t her role in itself, but Suzuka alone who had pulled all the attention towards her. Normally, the fame and attention an actor garners depends on the role they play, but this time it was the opposite. The prince was getting all the attention because Suzuka was playing him.
Onstage, Suzuka, as the prince, took the hand of Shiina-san, the princess, and they started walking. Although the prince was a bit shorter than the princess when they were lined up next to each other, nobody paid any heed to that. Everyone was completely entranced by the play itself. To be completely honest, it was all because of Suzuka’s talent. If it were possible, I wanted to keep watching forever. That’s how beautiful it was.
…Really, just how much of a perfect human being can my little sister be? She’s a beauty above beauties, and I feel fulfilled just by watching her like this. When I realized yet again how great Suzuka was, a quiet laugh escaped my lips. But even then, my gaze was glued to her, unwilling to leave. Before I realized it, my heart was beating like never before. Even more intense than during the culture festival dates. Yet, at the same time, it was almost soothing.
…N-Naturally, I didn’t mean that in a weird way. I was just so surprised to see Suzuka acting so differently, and the role of the prince was so fresh, that I was a bit lost, that’s all…
‘I wish to walk alongside you towards our future.’
Even while muttering mysterious excuses to myself, I kept staring at Suzuka. My eyes didn’t budge a single bit. My heart kept beating as fast as before, and I started to space out, unable to think about anything other than Suzuka on stage.
…This might end up being misinterpreted… No, it’ll definitely be misunderstood, but I need to say this as objectively as I can. My little sister… Suzuka really is unbelievably cute. Probably more than anyone else in this room. Call me a siscon for all I care. I just needed to get this off my chest. This doesn’t have anything to do with being her older brother or anything else…
With my gaze focused on her, and my head filled with such thoughts, I was unable to see the face that Mai gave me from the seat next to mine.
“H-How was it, Onii-chan?!”
After a long applause and standing ovation, the curtains fell. While the people around us were still excited, Mai and I headed towards the back of the stage, where Suzuka spotted us and came running over.
“Y-Yeah, it was amazing…”
Albeit slightly overwhelmed by her momentum, I gave her my honest impressions. Naturally, as an aspiring author, I should have found a more eloquent way of phrasing it. But can you blame me after all that, really?
“Ehehehe, th-thank goodness…”
Suzuka seemed to relax after hearing my impressions, but she quickly regained her composure and spoke up again. “B-But wasn’t it weird for me to play that role…?”
Suzuka seemed a bit flustered, as she asked about her own role.
“N-No, I think that it really suited you. How do I put it… it felt like you became the prince. It was really, really good.”
“Wh-What’s up with that…”
Although Suzuka looked like she sulked for a second, her smile returned a moment later.
“Ah, Suzu-chan’s Onii-san, and even Himuro-senpai. So you two came to watch.”
Shiina-san, who had played the role of the princess, spotted us then, and she came walking over.
“Yeah, it was really good. You played that princess role perfectly, Shiina-san.”
“Fufu, thank you very much. Though I think that it would have suited Suzu-chan even more than me.”
“That’s not… Ah, I remember. I wanted to ask something. Why did Suzuka end up as the prince? Even though she’s not a member of the theatre club?”
“I mean, wasn’t it more interesting that way? Orthodox casting just makes things boring. Rather than casting based on appearance, being interesting and fun while acting is more crucial.”
I feel like I get it, but at the same time, I don’t…
“S-Suzuka! Kotomi! That was fantastic! I am yet again reminded of how grateful I am to be your friend…!”
This time it was Nikado-san who stormed into the backstage. She pushed me aside to hug Suzuka and Shiina-san. As a side note, she was still wearing her maid uniform. But who was I to complain? She looked good in it.
“H-Hey, Kaede, you’re over-exaggerating.”
“Fufu, thank you Kaede.”
Suzuka might have appeared to be complaining, but deep inside, she was probably really happy. And watching Suzuka happily spending time with her friends like this made me feel happy as well. I continued to watch over the three of them for a bit, when…
“Ah, I-I’m sorry, Onii-chan. I have to help put everything away, so could you wait a little bit?”
“Oh, yeah, sure. I’ll kill some time somewhere.”
When Suzuka told me that, I left the backstage.
“Hey, what’s wrong? Let’s go.”
I pulled Mai, who hadn’t spoken all throughout the conversation, along with me as I left, and we exited the gym hall. I lifted my head up towards the sky. Its color was fading to a vivid orange, and the school had calmed down since most of the visitors had left.
“Now then… It seems like the culture festival has finally come to an end. We don’t have to go back to our classes anyway, and I’m not interested in the upcoming after-party, so I guess I’ll just go home,” I muttered as I stretched.
Our class exhibition really didn’t need much help, so there was barely anything to do besides the usual preparing and cleaning up afterwards. Since we were in the preparing group, there was no need to stay any longer. With all of that done, I might finally be able to focus on my manuscript. Although I still have to work out just what kind of little sister novel I really want to write…
When Mai suddenly called out to me, I turned around and looked at her. “What’s wrong?” I asked. But, upon seeing her expression, I was immediately taken aback. Unlike her usual red-faced glare that I was used to, she almost looked hesitant, like she questioning whether she should speak up or not as she fidgeted.
“U-Um, I have something to talk about. Could you come with me for a bit?”
“Will here not work?”
“I-I’d like a place with no people around. Let’s go to the rooftop.”
Without waiting for my reply, she grabbed my hand and started stomping off. Not knowing what she wanted to talk about, I just kept quiet and followed her. Once we arrived in front of the door, Mai completely ignored the ‘No Entry’ sign and went out onto the roof. While we were up so high, the evening sun felt more intense than before, and the scenery beneath us looked like a different world.
“…So what did you want to talk about?” I asked, since she hadn’t said a word while we made our way up.
However, Mai ignored me yet again and just fixed me with a sharp gaze.
Mai had problems speaking up, as if the words wouldn’t come out of her throat. However, after a short break, she seemed to have finally mustered up her courage to speak.
“Who is the girl you’re interested in now…?!”
…Eh? N-No, hold on?
“W-What are you talking about? Everyone agreed that it was just a misunderstanding, right?”
They all said that such a girl didn’t exist, and that was supposed to be the end of it. Even so, you’re telling me that you’re still not satisfied?
“I-I’m not convinced yet!”
“Ridiculous! Even if you say that, I can’t name anybody if they don’t even exist in the first place!”
I desperately denied her assumptions as Mai closed in on me. Why are we talking about this again?! I thought we were done!
“And why are you not convinced yet?! Everybody else was! Double Peace-sensei, Minazuki-san… even the Kanzaka sisters!”
“…I-It’s because they didn’t see your face up close like I did!” Mai said, averting her eyes.
…Is she referring to the time she first had that misunderstanding? I-It’s true that Suzuka’s face flashed through my mind for a second, but that still doesn’t change anything! There isn’t anyone I’m interested in!
“Back then, you really seemed weird. Though I can’t properly express it in words… Even still, I just know. Your atmosphere was completely different from usual…”
Although Mai didn’t dare look me in the eye, her words held a certain strength. A part of her seemed to be aware that she was probably just imagining things, and she lacked confidence. The proof was that she didn’t try to maintain eye contact with me.
“Are you sure that’s not just your own imagination? Even if you close in on me like that, you should be able to see that I have nothing to answer you with.”
“Ugh! B-But my intuition is telling me that there is! I can’t help it! The intuition of this beautiful and graceful maiden says otherwise!”
Don’t make it sound like you’re a goddess! Also, what can I do if you suddenly bring up your intuition?! You’re totally fixated on that, so what can I do to change your mind?!
Then, I realized something crucial. Something that I’ve always been told, so I figured that I could use this for argument’s sake.
“Also, isn’t it way too easy to figure out what I’m thinking? If so, shouldn’t you be able to tell if I’m lying or not?”
Though I didn’t feel all too comfortable speaking ill of myself just to prove a point, I had no other choice this time. Mai snapped back. “It’s especially fishy because of that!”
But then, “Uuuu…” Unexpectedly, Mai suddenly went quiet. “I-I can’t help it, can I? It’s especially troublesome this time because I don’t know…”
“Because you don’t know?”
“Y-Yeah, that’s right, this is
totally different from usual! Normally you’re so easy to see
through when you’re staring at my breasts, or when you’re looking
at my thighs, and you immediately avert your gaze to think about
H-Hold on?! Am I like that all the time?! I-I don’t mean to stare at them or anything!
“…But this time, I really can’t tell. There really might not be a girl that you’re interested in, but the chances are equally high that there is… I’m having so much trouble precisely because I don’t have any proof…”
“Even if you say that, I’m the one who’s troubled here… I can’t convince you no matter what I try…”
Normally, she would force me to give her proof in order to be satisfied. This time, however, she’s not being quite so ridiculous, leaving me with the feeling that something’s off. She turned teary-eyed and fixed with a glare, but I was unable to react in any way.
“…Haaaah, even if you’re a fan of Towano Chikai… What are you planning by prying further when the person himself is saying that there’s nothing there?” I let out a sigh.
No matter how much of a stalker she is, there’s gotta be a limit.
But, instead of giving in, Mai quickly denied my words.
“T-This isn’t related to Towano Chikai at all…” She continued.
…It’s not related to Towano Chikai? Is this really Mai I’m talking to? The Mai who’s always going on and on about being Towano Chikai’s biggest fan, or his one true rival? But she wasn’t done yet. She stared at me with a bright red face, making my heart skip a beat out of surprise.
W-What? The atmosphere around Mai is completely different from before…? She’s been acting weird up until now, but… how do I say it… Not like this? But after hearing the bombshell she dropped next, my previous worries were forgotten in an instant.
“…U-Um, Yuu… W-Were you ever in love with somebody…?”
My confused scream rang out on the rooftop illuminated by the setting sun. I-In love with…? Ehhh?!
“W-W-Wha—?! W-Why would you ask that…?!”
I was panicking, but so was Mai.
“Y-You’re wrong, okay?! T-This is just…!”
Mai seemed to be struggling to come up with an explanation for her own words.
“Y-Yeah! This is just one step of collecting data! I-I-I just wanted to hear about your experiences for reference?! L-Look, I’m writing a romcom, aren’t I?!”
“B-But even so…! Asking someone else… W-W-W-What about you?!”
“M-M-Me?! I-I-I’m… Um…!”
Both our shadows, flailing our hands all over the place, were dancing on the roof… W-What’s going on?! Why would Mai suddenly ask me that?! I don’t understand at all!
Just then, it happened.
“………Is this fine?”
“Y-Yeah, it’s okay here.”
We suddenly heard voices coming from the door connecting to the roof, so we quickly hid in the shadows. Given the circumstances, on top of the two of us not actually being allowed up here, I have to say that our reaction wasn’t half bad. While hiding like that, we listened in on the conversation between the two people.
“This might be my first time coming up here.”
When I looked closer, I could see that they were a boy and a girl. Luckily, they hadn’t seemed to have spotted us, and they continued their conversation… T-Thank goodness. What would have happened if they did?! W-Well, even I’m not sure what was happening before they got here! My heart was about to jump out of my chest! B-But disregarding that… Why did the two of them come up to the rooftop? Coming up here is forbidden, and there’s nothing to see, you know? Well, not like I’m one to talk…
Anyway, all that we could do was wait until the two of them leave again. Better tell Mai—
But, in the moment I thought that, I realized what kind of position we were in.
I was holding Mai in my arms, completely embracing her. At the same time, two soft bulges were directly pressing against my chest. Mai’s face was as red as a tomato, and her eyes were dancing all over the place… Eh?
As I reflexively apologized, Mai hurriedly closed off my mouth. When she did that, she pressed herself against me even harder than before. She gave off a sweet scent, and I could even feel both of our heartbeats overlap. I could feel the softness of her whole body, and… Ugh…! My reason seemed to be close to its limit, and my head started spinning. When I looked at her, Mai was going through something similar, and she was red-faced… T-This is bad! How long can we even hold this position—?
“I-I’ve always liked you! Please go out with me!”
When that voice entered my ears, I was unable to process what just happened. When the scene grew quiet again, my head went blank. But Mai reacted before me. She peeked out of the shadow, ever so slightly. I quietly followed suit, and our heads poked out beside the building. The girl was looking straight at the boy, her face flushed. The boy was clearly taken aback, his eyes wide.
…T-This is—A confession?! N-No, this can’t be anything but a confession, given what she said! A-Although it wasn’t on purpose, we still happened to eavesdrop on them… Even while I was starting to feel guilty, I was still unable to tear my eyes away. The same held true for Mai. She tightly grasped my sleeve as we watched the two of them. But she looked more serious than flustered to me…
Anyway, we were all waiting for the boy’s response.
“..I-If you’re fine with me, then gladly.”
Finally, he accepted the confession. In response, the girl started crying tears of joy. After that, their exchange continued for a bit, and they left the rooftop soon after, hand in hand.
Left behind, Mai and I remained silent for a while, even after they left. I-It feels like we’ve seen something amazing. My heart’s still beating fast even now. I never thought that I’d watch a confession happen live, and with Mai of all people—
We realized at the same time that we were still in the same hugging position as before, hiding in the shadows, holding our breaths.
I quickly tried to get up. There normally shouldn’t have been any reason to apologize, but that just naturally happened to leak out.
But I was unable to move. The reason for that was Mai, who was still desperately clinging to my clothes. What’s going on? Or so I wanted to ask, but…
Seeing her intense gaze directed at me, I swallowed my words. For some reason, she’s shaking now, almost like she’s close to crying, with her lips tightly pressed together. Deep in her eyes, though, I could see a sparkle of determination, which left me speechless. The words she said next blew away any expectations I had.
“W-What if…! W-What if I said that I l-l-l-liked you, w-what would you do…?”
For a second, I was unable to comprehend her words. However, as her words echoed inside my head, and when I finally understood them, my heart almost leapt out of my chest, and I could feel my face burning up.
“W-What…?! W-What… Eh? Why? Huh?” I was left in a panic.
So much so that I thought this might be the first time I had ever been this confused.
“U-Um… that’s… because…”
For some reason, the same seemed to be true of Mai. I really wanted to ask her why she was so flustered over something she had brought up herself, but I wasn’t able to.
“B-Basically… I’m just asking theoretically… That’s why I said ‘What if’…! It’s not like—!”
Mai was still in my arms, desperately trying to explain herself as she held onto me. Maybe. What if. By chance. Those words appeared countless times in there, but she’s not denying the basic meaning of the question.
…M-Mai has feelings for me…?! N-No, hold on! Calm down! Mai is just talking about a what-if scenario! So basically that’s just… Yeah! A joke! Since the scene she just witnessed shocked her so much, she’s trying to lighten up the mood, right?! …Y-Yeah, that has to be it… She’ll definitely snap at me soon, saying things like “W-Why are you taking it so seriously?! Are you an idiot?!” and so forth. She’ll clear things up soon, right?!
However, those words never came. All I was met with was complete silence as Mai looked up at me. She looked like she was desperately trying to get her embarrassment under control, and was showing no weakness at all. On the contrary, she looked so serious that I gulped unconsciously.
“S-So how would you respond, Yuu…?”
And then, when Mai closed in on me even further, I was certain. Certain that she was serious. Certain that this wasn’t just a joke! Neither was it the shock, nor was it a lie. She was earnestly asking me. Asking what I would do if she said that she had feelings for me. The moment I understood that, my heartbeat accelerated even more. It grew so noisy that I thought she might have even been able to hear it. My world started to shake. The insides of my head turned into a mushy mess, and steam might as well have been rising from my head from how hard my mind was working.
W-Why is she suddenly asking me that?! I panicked. I panicked like never before. But even so, I forced myself to camly think it through. I thought through the sudden confession, and I realized something.
As of recently, I could feel affection coming from Mai. It was overflowing from her words and actions. It was the exact same the first time I got in contact with her, and even I am not so much of a dense idiot that I didn’t notice.
Yes, that’s it. Mai’s affection is definitely directed towards me, but that’s just me as Towano Chikai. And that’s perfectly normal. Towano Chikai is an indescribably important existence to Mai, so much so that she refers to herself as his number one fan. The problem is that I’m nothing but a stand-in. I’m nothing like the real deal. Basically, I’m a fake. I’m the kind of person who would never receive any affection from Mai under normal circumstances. That’s why I can’t accept this confession.
Still, I can’t explain the circumstances either. I just can’t, for Suzuka’s sake. But having her confess to me because I’ve been deceiving her like this makes my heart ache from the guilt. I can’t let this continue.
“A-Are you really sure…? That’s only because I’m Towano Chikai, right? I feel like there should be someone else…”
That was all I could muster. Although it would end up hurting Mai, I definitely have to turn down this confession no matter what. Naturally, I was prepared for her to hate me for making light of her feelings like this. But her feelings aren’t directed at me, so I can’t accept them.
“I’m not saying this because you’re Towano Chikai… I mean, at first, it might have been the reason I was trying to get close to you, but…”
With a serious and sincere gaze, Mai looked straight at me and continued.
“But it’s not like that anymore…
After spending all this time together with you, I understood lots and
lots about you. You’re indecisive, dense, but at the same time
you’re very kind, and when
it comes down to it, you’re good-looking as well…”
“Y-Yeah… That’s why… Um… This doesn’t have anything to do with me being Towano Chikai’s fan… Just… before I realized it… I fell in love with Yuu himself…!”
The moment she finished her sentence, I could feel my face starting to burn up. Mai was red as well, but I’m sure that her face couldn’t compare to mine. I-I can’t believe it. M-Mai likes me… and it doesn’t have anything to do with Towano Chikai…?! My head couldn’t function properly anymore.
After all, this was the first genuine confession I had ever received. Not to mention that it was from a beauty like Mai. Although she had her stalker tendencies, when it came down to it, she was giving it her all. She was a wonderful girl, really.
“W-W-W-Why… someone like me…”
Still, I had doubts lingering in my chest, which caused me to blurt out those words. When I did, Mai started sulking, and she puffed out her cheeks.
“D-Don’t ask me that… I don’t know myself! I just told you that it happened before I realized it…!”
Ugh…! D-Don’t say it in such a cute way! And it’s not just that. Every gesture she keeps making is playing with my reasoning here…!
“E-Even if you ask me why… I’ve never fallen in love before, so I wouldn’t know…!” Mai quickly averted her face, as cute as could be.
I-It’s the same for me, you know! That’s why I’m so lost as to what I should do! Also, from what I’m hearing, it sounds like I’m Mai’s first love? M-Me?! Th-This isn’t good. The blood is rushing to my head!
“A-And, what is your answer? How do you feel…?”
With a worried expression, she grabbed onto my clothes. Both her weak gesture as well as her gaze looked incredibly cute all of a sudden, making my heartbeat accelerate even further. So much so that I had to look away in order to calm myself down. Naturally, that wouldn’t end this situation any quicker.
…W-What should I do?! How should I respond here?!
Since this was the first time a girl had confessed to me, I looked for a response with the few remaining brain cells that hadn’t been deep-fried yet. It was unlike any of the other situations I had been in before where I had to act as Suzuka’s stand-in. This is my own problem. That’s why I have to answer her feelings directly.
Thus, I asked myself. Taking away the shock and embarrassment, how do I feel about Mai’s confession? The answer was simply a feeling.
I was honestly happy. Someone saying that they like me this much makes me so happy I could cry. My heart is beating at a wild speed, I’m really really happy, and my chest is so warm I’m starting to sweat. I’m pretty sure that… this is happiness. Honestly, with my head being an absolute mess right now, I can’t say what I feel about Mai. Of course, it’s not like I hate her or anything. Frankly speaking, there was no real reason to reject her and her feelings. There shouldn’t be any problem in accepting.
But then and there, my thoughts came to a sudden stop. Before I arrived at my conclusion, a certain wall built up in front of me. It was the word ‘But’. But why is there a ‘But’ there? I don’t know. I really don’t, but it stops me from moving forward. A certain unknown something is keeping me in place.
Before I realized it, I had fallen completely silent before Mai. That happy feeling I had just before was gone, and all that was left was unease as to how I should respond to her feelings. Why am I feeling this way? Why am I… hesitating…?
I was feeling lost at the unease that was continuously creeping up on me. It felt like an eternity had passed in complete silence. But, eventually, Mai grabbed onto my sleeves and looked up at me, calling out with a hesitant “Hey…”, only to grow silent immediately after. For some reason, it looked like a very sad smile.
“…Can I become the girl you treasure most in this world…?”
My heart almost leapt out of my chest. Not because of her words, but more because of the image that came flying into my head.
“Eh…?” I was floored.
After all, the person who appeared in my mind after I heard Mai’s voice was none other—none other than my own little sister, Suzuka.
“The most… in this world…”
Ahhh… I see. So that’s what this is about. In that moment, all my confusion was blown away, and I finally understood. It didn’t have anything to do with logic or reason. It was nothing more than the answer that appeared inside my head, and I was content with that.
…How laughable. It’s always been so simple. Why I’ve been so conscious of Suzuka as of late. Why I couldn’t accept Mai’s confession. Why… I didn’t realize it any sooner. Really, I can only laugh at this.
—I like Suzuka.
But I thought that I couldn’t look at her with those sort of eyes. Even now, this holds true. However, those feelings remain, and they are the reason that I can’t accept this confession. Thanks to Mai’s words, I’ve finally realized it. Treating her as the member of the opposite sex, her being my little sister, love, being siblings, being a siscon, all of that doesn’t matter. There is but one unmistakable feeling that I have.
—Unrelated to her being my little sister, Suzuka is the girl I treasure the most in this entire world.
It was a simple answer. And now I’ve finally realized it. But weirdly enough, I feel like this feeling has always been floating around in my head. Maybe even since the day she was born. Almost… like it was so simple and obvious that I had forgotten about it.
All the strength left my body. At the same time, a feeling of understanding and clarity replaced it. It felt like all my worries had disappeared, and all the loose ends finally began to connect.
When Mai spoke up, looking up at me, I apologized with a bitter smile. That’s right, I have to give her my response to her confession.
As I was about to give her my response, Mai quickly covered my mouth, stopping me mid-sentence. She made a flustered expression.
“…I feel like I know your answer already, so it’s fine…” She muttered as she separated from me.
I didn’t know why Mai had suddenly asked that, but I thought that she should at least have the right to hear my response. But she just turned around to look at me with a smile.
“It’s fine. I already understand your feelings completely, after all.”
She was smiling. At the same time, she looked relieved, and yet also close to breaking out in tears. Either way, I didn’t know what she was playing at.
“I’m going home… Ah, but, can I ask one thing?”
She was about to step inside the building, but she turned around one last time.
“U-Um… You don’t… hate me or anything, right?”
“O-Of course not… Of course, I do wish that you’d tone it down a bit with your stalker activities, and there are times when I’ve felt a bit troubled because of you, but… I’ve never once hated you, and I never will.” I responded with my serious feelings.
“I see… T-Then one more thing… Will you treat me the same way as before…?”
“That’s what I should be asking… Of course I will.”
“T-Thank you…! Ah, one last thing!”
Although I felt like making a retort to that, I felt like she deserved to ask as many questions as she wanted.
“…I still have a chance, right?”
That being said, I really didn’t expect a cheeky question like this one.
“U-Um… I don’t know…”
I started thinking about the confession just now, and my face started to burn up again.
“I-I see. So it’s not impossible…” She gave a faint smile, and left me behind with a “S-See you” as she stepped inside.
But, before that, there was one thing I definitely had to tell her.
“Well… I’m sorry.”
Even I wasn’t quite sure what I was apologizing for. Still, I definitely had to say this before it was too late. After hearing my words, Mai was a bit surprised, but then…
“It’s fine. I already knew, you see.”
This time she showed me a cheerful smile as she entered the building, leaving me behind. I let out a long sigh and looked up at the sky. I then started reminiscing about all my thoughts, and started thinking about what would happen in the future. That being said, I immediately came to a conclusion. No, rather, it had already been there from the start.
Nothing will change. The present will stay the same, forever. All that I’d realized just now was my own problem. Nothing will change. It can’t. We’re siblings. Suzuka is a light novel author. I’m her stand-in.
After I stood there dwelling in my thoughts for quite some time, the door to the rooftop opened once more.
“Ah. Onii-chan, so you really were here.”
Suzuka came walking towards me, seeming angry. As far as I could tell, she had finished changing and cleaning up in the gym hall, because she was wearing her usual uniform when she greeted me.
“What are you doing in a place like this? Trespassing is prohibited here, you know? If I hadn’t met Himuro-san a second ago, I would never have known where you went.”
“Ahh, sorry. I just needed to calm down a bit in a quiet place,” I returned a bitter smile.
“T-That’s one thing, but were you together with Himuro-san until now? You haven’t done anything weird, right?!”
She gave me a dubious glare.
“…No, nothing happened.”
I gave a simple response. I can’t let her know about the incident just now, in a lot of ways, and there’s no need for her to know in the first place.
“Hm? What’s wrong, Suzuka?”
“Ah, well… I just thought that Onii-chan looked a bit different than usual, but it must have been my imagination.”
Suzuka kept quiet for a second, but she quickly shook her head. Seeing this innocent gesture of hers, I caught myself smiling… Yeah, Suzuka really is cute. The cutest girl in the world… Although that sure sounds creepy coming from me.
Yet again, I confirmed that feeling inside me. At the same time, a kind of resolution was fortified inside my mind.
—Nothing will change. Nothing will be different from what we have now.
“Really, what’s wrong with you? Well, it’s gotten late, so let’s hurry home.”
As Suzuka still looked a bit dubious, I responded with a calm “Yeah.” With this, we left the rooftop behind us, leaving the school grounds as the students around us still gave us sidelong glances like always. Even on the way home, Suzuka constantly had that suspicious expression on her face, but I just told her that nothing was wrong. When we finally got home, I immediately went up to my room and sank down onto my bed. Naturally, I was yet again thinking about what happened on the rooftop.
…I really think that Mai had a lot of courage to do that. I wouldn’t be able to confess. I respect her from the bottom of her heart for that, and I’m thankful that she didn’t pry any further into my true feelings.
“True feelings, huh…?” I muttered as I sat up on the bed.
I started thinking about my feelings for Suzuka, and the resolution that came with it. Well, I say ‘resolution,’ but it’s not that big of a deal. All I decided was that I’d never lay bare these feelings I’m holding. I’ve come to terms with them, and there’s no feeling of discomfort there. However, whether those feelings should even exist or not in the first place is a completely different problem. After all, I can never ever openly share these feelings that I’m harbouring. I have to seal them off forever, and never let them even touch the surface.
Suzuka’s happiness takes the utmost priority. There are no other choices here, and there’s no need to waver away from the expected outcome. The time when I realized my own, true feelings, this outcome and resolution had already come with it. There are no objections here. However—
There is, but one exception.
“…At the very least, this.”
I got up from my bed, and headed towards my desk. Turning on my PC, I booted up my writing software. During that whole process, I kept repeating the word ‘At least’ inside my head. The thing is, when I realized my own feelings, I realized yet another truth that I was wavering about. That was that both my feelings for Suzuka as well as the direction for the little sister novel I’m writing are going in the exact same direction. Basically, in order for me to write a little sister novel, I’ll have to put all my feelings for Suzuka in there.
Just a second ago, I said that I had decided to never let those feelings of mine reach the surface. However, a voice inside me keeps repeating this ‘at least’, ordering my fingers to move over the keyboard, almost without my control. Yes, I know I should be sealing those feelings away, but I ‘at least’ want to put my feelings into a worthwhile story, and maybe even deal with them that way, and I can’t hold this desire back.
I want to write. I want to write my own story right now, from the bottom of my heart. Right in that instant, I felt like the little sister novel I wanted to write had taken its final form inside my head, finally enabling me to write.
I just continued to write, not uttering a single word.
It was like I was possessed by something. Maybe this is what Suzuka was talking about when she said that she was possessed while writing. In the meantime, my fingers didn’t stop moving. As I wrote those feelings that I was supposed to seal off, the guilt and disgust almost overwhelmed me. But—
—O-Onii-chan, will you become my stand-in?
Suzuka’s words from back then echoed in my head, making me chuckle. There’s no need to worry. I understand everything now. Even if I finish this novel, things won’t change.
“…I really am an idiot.”
While making a bitter smile at myself, I still continued to write. That night, I didn’t get a wink of sleep, and I finished my novel in one session.
The days after that flew past, and there were real changes to speak of. That being said, it was also like there was no change at all.
“Hey, Yuu, come help me collect data for my romcom.”
“You still haven’t finished it? It’s been quite some time, you know?”
“W-Whose fault do you think it is that I have to rewrite it? I’m not giving up yet, though, so you have a duty to follow through… right?”
Mai was treating me the same as always, while sometimes sneakily pulling off some approaches here and there. Well, thinking back on it, she’d already tried some different approaches before, but I’d never realized it… Don’t call me dense, please.
“W-What are you doing? Himuro-san, you’re way too close!”
At the same time, Suzuka realized this, and would often get between us. Well, it was pretty much the same as how it was before, but the more Mai approached me like this, the more Suzuka grew disgruntled. But this was about all the change that occurred. Besides that, I was still tagging along with Suzuka’s data collecting as her stand-in, I was still being played around with by Mai, Double Peace-sensei, Minazuki-san, and the Kanzaka sisters, and I was still being teased by Shinozaki-san and Esaka-san. As time passed, the season changed from fall to winter… But there was one thing that definitely changed during this time.
“The final round, huh?” I looked at my smartphone.
The novel I had finished that day had actually managed to get through all the preliminaries, and it ended up making it all the way to the final round…