Chapter 25: Tsujikawa Family Epilogue


Translated by Dawn

 

Chapter 25: Tsujikawa Family Epilogue

All the final exams were over, and not long after that, all the tests were returned and the results were in.

My classmates were filled with a sense of freedom and excitement about the upcoming summer vacation, but for me, the real battle began from here.

“You’re going home today, right?”

“Yeah, I already picked up my stuff from Natsuki’s house.”

After school.

I was killing time at a family restaurant with Kazemiya until it was time for my father to come home.
In my bag, I also had the results of the final exam in it.

“Are you nervous?”

“I am.”

“How nervous?”

“My heart’s been beating too loud for a while now.”

“…Can I check it?”

Kazemiya’s unexpected offer came as a surprise, and although I was surprised, I naturally nodded my head before I had time to think about it.

I could offer my heart to this girl unprotected.

“Sure.”

“Then, come over here.”

I moved from the chair to the sofa seat next to Kazemiya.

Kazemiya’s hand was on my chest.
Soft warmth.
The sweet scent of a girl wafted through the air, making my heart beat louder than ever.

“…It’s true.
It’s beating so loud.”

Kazemiya’s voice was closer than usual.
She was at a distance that she could easily fit in my arms.

I almost impulsively hugged Kazemiya, who leaned in so defenselessly as if to surrender everything to me.

“Hey, Narumi.”

“What.”

“Your heartbeat.
Are you just nervous about your family?”

“What do you mean?”

“…Hmm.
I just wish there was a little bit of……me in your heartbeat.”

Kazemiya’s hands were pulled away.

…Ah, I’m so glad you moved away.
Because if it had been just a little bit later, you would have heard this loudest heartbeat.

“I think I’m going to die before you get to the showdown.”

“Why.”

“It’s a secret.”

I could not question the meaning of Kazemiya’s words.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to devote that much courage to the girl next to me right now.


“…Today is the last time Narumi and I will spend time together here.”

“Why do you think so?”

“Because for us, this is a place to escape.
When you don’t need to escape, you won’t come here anymore.”

“You don’t get to decide that.”

“But there’s no reason.”

“Not necessarily.”

I gathered my belongings and stood up with all my strength and courage.

“Okay then, I’m going to go, Kazemiya wait here, I’ll pick you up later.”

“…I’ll wait without expectation.”

“You can expect it.”

I left Kazemiya and left the store by myself.
It had been a long time since we formed an alliance, and I had always been with Kazemiya when I left the store.

And it had also been a long time since I walked along the road leading to Tsujikawa’s family house.

I hadn’t been home at all since then until today.

“…Well then.”

Before entering my home for the first time in a long time, I looked at my left hand.

The flower circle mark that Kazemiya wrote on my hand had already completely disappeared, but it was still there in my heart.
That was enough for me.

“I’m home.”

“…Welcome home”

When I came home, my mom welcomed me with open arms.

My heart ached a little.
Mom’s face was far from happy, as dark and stagnant as it had been when she lived with my father.
Still, it was better than back then.
It was probably thanks to the support of my dad and Kotomi.

“Mom, I’m sorry.
I made you worry.”

“Yeah…Mom too, I’m sorry…it’s my fault…”

“We’ll talk about it later.
Right now, we have more important things to do.”

When I entered the living room, my dad who had just come home from work, and Kotomi were already there.

“Welcome home, Kouta-kun.”

“I’m home, Dad.”

Mom’s eyes widened in surprise when she heard me say the word “dad” in a way that was completely natural to me by now.

“You, just now…you said ‘dad’…”

“It’s okay.
I can do it now.”

“Kouta……!”

Mom’s happy face.
Just by seeing this, I felt glad that I could change.

“I’m home, Kotomi.”

“……Welcome home, Narumi-senpai…”

Kotomi’s eyes were filled with hostility toward me.

I will surely beat him.
Full of a strong will to beat me.

“You came here without running away, I see.”


“Yeah.
I didn’t run away.”

“Let me ask you something.
Have you changed your mind?”

“I have no intention of changing my mind.”

“I see.
Then I will ask you to come back even if it is by force.”

Kotomi put the sheet with the test results on the table.

“I won first place again in my grade this time.
It’s my victory.”

“That’s impressive.”

“Is that a declaration of defeat?”

Kotomi quietly pushed me into a corner.
She looked straight at me as if she was going to shoot me.

“If I’m a hard-working person who accumulates day by day, then President Raimon is a genius.
Yet, you didn’t run away, you didn’t slacken in your efforts, and you have accumulated to this day.
Even so, you will never be able to beat her, and you will never reach her.
…….Therefore.
That is why.
If you keep running away, you will never win.
In a match like this, your defeat was obvious from the beginning.”

It was as if the tip of a master’s sword was being held to my throat.

“Now, let me see it.
Your proof of defeat.”

“…Yeah, I’ll show you.
My full effort right now.”

I put the test result sheet on the table, which I had put in my bag so as not to lose it.

“…Twelfth in your grade, huh?”

When Kotomi saw my score, her shoulders, which had been slightly tense, gradually relaxed.

“I knew it.
You lost.”

“That’s right.
It’s my loss.”

“I thought you had some kind of secret plan since you started the match yourself.”

“There is no such a thing.
After daring you so loudly, I studied hard and couldn’t even make it to the top ten.
This is the best I can do right now, and this is what I’m capable of right now.”

“…what do you want?”

Kotomi’s reaction was not surprising.

It was obvious to Kotomi that this was not a contest at all.

“What on earth did you want? Are you making fun of me? Did you want to make fun of me? Do you think it’s funny that I’m so eager to go through with this?”

“No.”

“Then, what are you…!”

“Not you, Kotomi.”

I felt sorry for Kotomi.
Even though she was looking at me so straight.

“You’re not the one I wanted to show you what I’m like now.”

“….!?”

It wasn’t you that I was looking at.

I was looking at—

“Mom.”

My mom.
That person that my dad was leaning on for support.

“Kouta……? What are you…trying to say?”

“I’m saying, I’m okay.”


“Huh…?”

“I tried to compete with my sister, and I lost spectacularly.
I couldn’t have lost any more badly.
…I gave it my all.
I studied like I was going to die.
With the help of others, I put forth my current best effort.
But I still lost.”

This defeat was inevitable, and Kotomi’s victory was also inevitable.

In fact, it would be strange if I could win with just a little bit of study.

“Kouta……no.
It’s not like that.”

“It is like that.
I am inferior to my sister Kotomi.
I’m a bad child.
This is an undeniable fact.”

This reality must be accepted.

“But, you know.
I’m not letting that fact break my heart anymore.”

“…….!”

Ah, I finally said it.
What I had to say.

“I’m standing here like this, even though I lost so badly.
It’s not going to be like it was with that shitty father anymore.
This is the reality that you’re seeing now.
You don’t have to worry about me anymore.”

“Kouta…Kouta…!”

Mom dropped to her knees and sobbed as she hung her head.

“Sorry…I’m sorry…I didn’t believe in you…! I myself assumed that you were a weak child…! I’m sorry…!”

“There’s no need to apologize.
It’s true that I was weak.
Let’s do it all over again.”

“Yeah…yeah…that’s right…thank you…me too…I have to do my best…”

While comforting Mom, I turned to Kotomi, who was standing still.

“…sorry Kotomi, for trying to take advantage of you.”

“…You were looking at mom, not me, from the beginning.”

“Well……I thought that I had to get to the root of the problem.”

“Is that why you went to the trouble of challenging me to a losing match…?”

“No.
I really wanted to win, and I was going to beat you.
I challenged you to a match with the intention of really winning…Well.
I knew that a little bit of study might not be enough to win over someone who works hard and puts in a serious effort regularly.”

“….”

Kotomi kept her mouth shut.
I guess she had yet to formulate what she wanted to say.

“Oh, and……It’s a little different when you say I was looking at Mom and not you.”

I silently clasp the vanished flower circle mark on my left hand.

“Certainly, it was Mom that I wanted to show her the most about this game, but I had something I wanted to tell you.”

“What do you want to tell me……?”

“You can run away.”

“….!”

“Kotomi, you can run away, too.”

This was what I wanted to tell my sister as an older brother.
What I had to tell my sister as an older brother.

“What…that’s…why is it okay to run away…”

“I’m just saying.
I was running away.
I kept running away from my family.
But I’m facing my family again because I ran away.”

In that usual restaurant.
At the usual seat.
Spending time with that girl in my class.

It might be an escape, but because of that escape, I had the chance to be with them now.


“You may not be able to solve the problem if you keep running away from it all the time.
But it’s hard to keep running.
So sometimes you need to stop and take a moment to catch your breath…….that’s my conclusion after running for so long.”

I’d been thinking about it.
What I could do as an older brother.

“I’m sorry I ran away from this until now.
Also, you did a good job without running away until now.
So you can run away now.
It’s okay to take a break for a while.
From now on, please keep that option in the corner of your mind.
I’ll……do my best, too.”

The only thing I could do was to say to my sister, who had fought so hard without running away, “You did your best”.

“That’s…it’s too late…it’s too late for you to say that…!”

That’s right.
Everything was too late.

“Then, was what I believed wrong? Was I choosing the wrong path? Has everything I’ve done so far…been for nothing?”

“It’s not for nothing.
Because you worked so hard on your own, we’re still a family.
If it wasn’t for you, we probably would have broken down a long time ago.
It’s irreparable.”

I turned my gaze to the other side.
There, I saw what Kotomi had protected.

“Kotomi, I’m sorry for everything.”

“I’m sorry, Kotomi-chan……”

“Dad…mom…”

“I failed to create an environment where you could escape, and it’s my…our fault.”

“I put the burden on you because…I was weak and didn’t move forward.”

“No……it was my choice! It was all……my choice!”

“You didn’t ‘choose’ it.
We made you choose.”

Kotomi was at a loss for words at dad’s words.

“Kotomi.
You only had one choice.
……You can run away.
You can run away.
I couldn’t offer you that choice.”

Dad looked straight into Kotomi’s eyes and spun words of gratitude.

“And thank you…….For keeping our family safe until now.”

It was certainly not a choice.
Still, it was a path that Kotomi chose for herself.

And yet, now she was told that it was okay to run away.
Perhaps she felt as if she had been denied what she believed in.

Perhaps he understood how his daughter felt.
Dad’s words of gratitude were words of exertion and praise for the path Kotomi had walked so far.

“Now it’s our turn to do our best.”

“…….”

Perhaps a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
Kotomi’s atmosphere, which had been tense, gradually relaxed.

“Eh…huh…?”

Beautiful, transparent grains like pearls overflowed from Kotomi’s eyes.

Drip, drip.

“Huh? Why…am I, crying…”

“You should cry now.
Since you couldn’t cry before, cry as hard as you can.”

“……!”

It must have been her limits.
Both her mind and her body.

Kotomi cried aloud.
Like a young child.
She just cried and cried.

“…I’m sorry, too.
And thank you, very much……”

With a tear-stained smile, Kotomi uttered those words with certainty.

“—Nii-san.”

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