Chapter 12: What Lies Ahead

After devouring the rewards of juice and sweets, I parted ways with Natsuki on my way home, knowing that I could not play with him this late in the day.

I could have gone home, but my feet naturally took me to the usual family restaurant.

“I feel like my body is just so sore.”

Kazemiya joined me and quenched her thirst with a lemon soda with a wry smile on her face.

Probably the reason why she chose the drink instead of tea was because she had just had it at school.

“I feel like I’ve moved a lot of muscles I don’t normally use.”

“I get you.”

It was a different kind of fatigue than when I worked part-time.
I felt like I was going to become one with the chair in this restaurant.

“Kazemiya is……”


Forget about that just now.”


She was right.
It was too late if I told her to forget about it now.

“What? Just tell me what it is.”

“I was about to ask something a little more personal, so I stopped myself.
We agreed not to ask anything too personal.”

Our alliance was only to complain to each other.

Nothing more, nothing less, and we wouldn’t get into each other’s business.
That was the agreement.


Kazemiya was troubled for a moment, and after thinking a little bit…

Why don’t we do it this way? Narumi asks me that question.
In return, I’ll ask Narumi one personal question.
If we do that it would be fair…….you see, I did the same thing the day I formed an alliance with Narumi.”

“Is that okay with you?”

“It is since it’s Narumi.
And I’m really concerned about it if we don’t do it that way.”

Since it’s Narumi.
I was tempted to ask her what she meant by that, but I held back.

It’s fine then.”

“Okay then, go ahead Narumi.
Ask me some personal questions.”

“It’s not that big of a deal, but……Kazemiya, you’ve been letting the rumors about yourself go on for a long time.
So I wondered why you were trying to clear up that misunderstanding today.
That’s all.”

That was Kazemiya’s personal matter.

I could not care less what she thinks about the rumors, or if she suddenly tries to clear up misunderstandings.
That would be for Kazemiya to decide, and it was not for me to interfere.

But it bothered me.
Even though I knew it was an intrusion, and that it was against the alliance.

About that, yeah.”

“If there are circumstances that make it difficult for you to tell me, you don’t have to tell me.”

I don’t have that kind of thing.

She was unusually lost for words, even for Kazemiya.
She put her mouth on the straw to disguise it and drank the lemon soda, of which there was only a little left, in one gulp.

“…You don’t like rumors like that, right?”

“…? Me?”

“You said it yourself.”

“I did.
I did say that, but…is that why?”

“…Is it bad?”

“It’s not.
But, is it good for you? That rumor is self-defense for Kazemiya, right?”

“That’s right, but…I just thought it wasn’t something I should leave if it made my friends unhappy.
That’s really all.”

If Kazemiya said ‘that’s all,’ then that must be all there was to it.

I couldn’t step in any further.
It would depend on the occasion — regardless of the alliance, it was the minimum manner in interpersonal relations not to go into something that was difficult to be asked and answered as much as possible.

“Yes, we’re done talking about this.
That’s it.
Next, it’s my turn.”

“Y-yeah…ask me anything.”

“Mhm…but I can’t think of any questions to ask.”

“Anything is fine.”

“I think it’s better if I don’t say such things so carelessly, though?”

“I trust Kazemiya.”

“Hmm…I-I see.”

She looked away.
No way.
Was she implying that my trust in her didn’t reach her?

“Then……tell me your little sister’s name.”

“Her name? Hmmm…I don’t know.
That’s personal information, at least.
But, I mean, why?”

“It’s also that my personal information is known to the Narumi family, but I don’t know anything about them.”

“Aah…that’s true too.”

The name ‘Kazemiya Kohaku’ was well known because of the previous phone call to the Narumi family……no, now is ‘Tsujikawa family’ if it was according to the family register.
Even my stepsister, Tsujikawa Kotomi, knew the name ‘Kazemiya Kohaku’ (although she knew it even without that phone call since Kazemiya was famous for that rumor).

I will tell you because I trust Kazemiya.
Just in case, I’m warning you, don’t go around telling everyone about it.”

Kazemiya said, “Okay.
I promise,” and nodded, waiting for me to say it.

“Tsujikawa Kotomi.
That’s the name of my stepsister.”

“Tsujikawa Kotomi…She’s a freshman, right?”

“Yes, you know a lot.”

“Because my friend told me.
I heard from a friend that there is a very talented first-year student.
As I recall, she gave a speech at the entrance ceremony as a representative of the class, didn’t she?”

If you ask me, yes, Tsujikawa was an honor student who entered the school with top grades.

It wouldn’t be surprising if some of the students in the second grade and above were taking notice of her.

I never thought I would be reminded of my stepsister’s excellent specs at a time like this.

“I see.
That was your little sister.
…You have it hard, huh.”

It’s hard in a lot of ways.”

I knew very well that Tsujikawa was not the one to blame.

The uncomfortable feeling in that house was caused by me, and because of that, I felt a great deal of guilt toward her.

“You know, Narumi.
Aren’t you going to…try to outdo your brilliant little sister or something?”

“…I would have done that back in the day.”

“Why not now?”

“Do I look like the kind of person who would do that now?”

“Hahaha, you’re right.”


Even if I did that, the result would be obvious.

When the outcome became reality, the comfort in that house would become even worse.

“I was the same way there.
I used to try, too.
But it was no good.
There wasn’t a single thing I could do to beat my older sister.
Mom gave up on me and I gave up on myself.
I stopped looking for something that could beat my sister, stopped trying to beat her, stopped everything.”

Kazemiya and me.
Both were people who stood still.

The world would say, “Don’t give up.
Keep going.
Don’t stand still.
Don’t run away.
Keep trying.”

…I know.
Lip services like that were not wrong.
It was never wrong at any time.

I and Kazemiya knew that.
It was precise because we understand the legitimacy of lip services that we feel guilty about them.

“I ran away from my older sister.”

“It’s okay to run away, no?”

“I wonder.
Running away isn’t going to solve anything, is it? You’re just postponing the problem.”

“You’re right.
It’s certainly not going to be solved.
Someday the problems we put off will be waving in front of us…but it’s not all bad.
If something good comes out of your escape, it’s not a waste.”

“Good things?”

“I ran away from my family.
But I became friends with Kazemiya at this restaurant where I ran away.”

“…Is that a good thing?”

“It is, for me.
I’ve only been friends with you for a few days, but I like spending time with Kazemiya at this restaurant…”

Kazemiya didn’t say anything.
She just stared at me in surprise.

“I’m glad I ran away, how about you, Kazemiya?”


Kazemiya looked down.
As if asking her own mind again.

“…Me, too.

She squeezed out the words as if chewing them.

“Before, I felt guilty.
I felt bad about it.
But now I’m glad I ran away.
The time I spend talking with you here is…un because it’s fun.”

Before I knew it, I was looking forward to going to this restaurant that I had been running away from with a guilty conscience.
I didn’t even realize it until I put it into words.

I’m sure that Kazemiya feels the same way.
I hope so, I think.

It’s weird that we’re glad we ran away.
Normally, you’re not supposed to run away.”


—I didn’t know much about Kazemiya’s older sister, the publicly famous Kuon.

But I had to admit that the smile of Kazemiya in front of me right now was surely…as attractive as her older sister’s.

I didn’t know or could imagine a smile more attractive than hers.


After paying the bill, I left the restaurant as usual and walked Kazemiya home.

There was not much conversation on the way.
It was partly because we had talked a lot at the restaurant, but after seeing Kazemiya’s smiling face, for some reason, I couldn’t say many words.

I couldn’t figure out why.
I was even a little flustered myself.

And Kazemiya’s behavior was also a little strange.
She was talking less than usual.

…I get it.
This is probably because of embarrassment.
Me too, and Kazemiya.

Looking back on it with a clear head, I felt I said something a little embarrassing, and I think I let her hear me say it.

Above all, I was too vigorous and talked too much.
I think I went too far.

Fortunately, it only took me about five minutes to get to the apartment building where Kazemiya lived.

“…we’ve arrived.”


Perhaps we were both relieved.
All that remained was to exchange the usual, conventional words.

“…See you later, Narumi.”

“…See you later, Kazemiya.”

Originally, all that was left was to watch Kazemiya’s back as she entered the apartment.

“Where on earth were you wandering off to this late at night—Kohaku?”

Until a cold woman’s voice was called over Kazemiya.

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