MY YOUTH CAPRICCIO
Tittle: My Youth Capriccio
Summary: Naruto Namikaze is a normal fifteen-year-old high school student. He has a distant relationship with his sister Naruko, who always treats him rudely. One Day in Spring, he encounters a foreign girl playing the piano on one of his travels to a junkyard and helps her in many ways as he discover that her name is Weiss Schnee.
Disclaimer: I don't own Oreimo & SPS Story. I also don't own Naruto, or any anime characters that I use for this story. They belong to their own respective authors. Please support the official releases.
Genres: AU, AR, Crossover, Romance, Comedy, Music, School, Slice of Life.
Before I begin. This fic is fusion of Oreimo and SPS (Sayonara Piano Sonata) story. Naruto and Naruko will replace Kyousuke and Kirino roles as the main protagonists in the story. I also include other series anime characters to replace some of original Oreimo and SPS characters. For example Rias from DXD will replace Saori and Weiss from RWBY will replace Mafuyu.
Because I just remaking the original story, don't give me the full credit for this work, thank the original authors and the translators and if you can please support and buy their works, I doing this just for fun, if you find this work enjoyable to read, that's great!
"As usual, there is a great woman behind every idiot."~ John Lennon
With the windows of the train pushed up by just about five centimeters, the smell of the sea was already drifting in slowly.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and there were no other passengers aboard other than me. There will be a lot of visitors heading down to the beach once it hits the summer holidays. But for now, which was early April, there was still quite some time to go before the beaches were available. Therefore, high school students might be the only ones who would be taking a trip to the beach during spring break—which included me.
The double-carriage train rumbled past a gentle turn. The walls of mountains and bamboo forests suddenly disappeared before my eyes, and my line of vision broadened, along with the increasing smell of the sea. The clusters of rooftops and the copper-rust colored sea were darkened under the gloomy sky.
The train wobbled and stopped at a small station. I grabbed my backpack from the luggage rack. As I walked onto the open platform, I could immediately see a grey band between the dark green mountains on my right.
I have no idea when it all started, but the valley has turned into a huge dumping ground. I don't know if the dumping ground is legal or not but, there are plenty of trucks from all over the place that come here to dispose broken electric appliances or furniture. As time goes by, that place became strangely silent. It was so quiet, it felt as though it was fifteen minutes after the apocalypse of the world—an enclosed space was thus formed. recently I stumbled here by accident after being lost one day, I have secretly named this place The Department Store of Hearts' Desires.
My mother has a weird occupation as a music critic and due to that my house is filled with all sorts of sound systems, records, CDs, musical scores and other related items.
The equipment in our house are tools of the trade, and yet my mother handles them carelessly. She breaks everything—be it the speakers, the turntable or the DVD player. Since there weren't many people who bought toys for me and my sister when we were child, I resorted to dismantling the broken equipment, and slowly learned how to repair and assemble them. As of now, it's sort of like a half-hobby to me.
Due to the needs of my hobby, I visit this Department Store of Hearts' Desires next to the beach once every two to three days by making my way down via the wobbling train to collect some useful parts. It feels like I am the only living person left in this world when I walk around the rubbish heap by myself, and that feeling itself is rather pleasant.
However, I was not the only person to visit the dumping ground that day.
As I walked through the forest and made my way towards the valley, I saw a mountain made up of abandoned fridges and scrapped cars that were exposed to rain and shine. Surprisingly, I also heard the sound of a piano.
I originally thought I was hearing things, but as I stepped out of the forest and took a look at the heap of rubbish right before my eyes, I realized I wasn't just hearing the sound of a piano. The low chords of the bassoon were like the surface of the calm seas and the sounds of the clarinet came to me soon after.
I had no idea what the song was, but I have heard of it before. It's probably a piano concerto from nineteenth century France. But why could I hear it here?
I climbed up the roof of a derelict car, and began scaling up the rubbish heap. The melody of the piano turned into that of a march. I originally thought the sound of the piano came from a radio which still had some power left in it, but that thought vanished within seconds. The depth of the sound was not the same, it was definitely the sound of a piano played live.
I looked at the basin after I reached the peak of the heaps, and the sight which greeted me was so shocking it made me hold my breath.
A large grand piano was buried amid the cupboards and broken beds. Its lid was giving off a black glow, as though it was doused with water, and it expanded outwards like the wings of a bird. On the other side of the piano, was a bunch of snow colored hair that swayed along with the exquisite sounds of the instrument.
It's a girl. That girl was sitting in front of the slanted keyboard, with her gaze fixed on her hands, and her long eyelashes slightly drawn back. Those penetrating and exquisite sounds played by her were like the raindrops of late winter, bouncing out drop by drop from within the piano.
I somehow recognized her face. Her stern and pale white face was something that was out of this world, and she was so beautiful that I could not shift my sight away from her.
I've seen her somewhere before, but… why is that? I couldn't remember her name. As for the piece she was playing, I couldn't recall it either. There should be no one else around here either, so I should only be hearing the sounds from the piano as well as the gushes of waves that were filtered through the forest, so why? Why could I hear the sound of an orchestra?
I suddenly noticed that the piano beneath me was giving off a tremble and a slight sound whenever she played the low notes with force. Not just that, the bicycle that was buried within the rubble over there, the rusted metal container, the broken LCD screens, everything—they were all resonating along with the piano.
The rubbish buried in the valley was singing. But those echoes stirred my memories of the orchestra that accompanied this tune. It's just my auditory hallucination, but it felt way too real. I do know that piece of music somehow, but what exactly was it? Why… did it touch my heart so much?
The allegro march was like a flurry of footsteps that flowed into the expansive estuary before dawn, which was the music at adagio. Countless tiny bubbles of notes flowed upwards from the depths of the sea onto the surface, and gradually spread outwards. Then, the sounds of the orchestra rang from afar again, and this time it should continue on steadily, but the music suddenly stopped.
I held my breath, and looked downwards at the piano, while being stuck to the peak of the rubbish heap like a barnacle.
The girl stopped playing the piano, and was looking at me with an extremely stern look. The hallucinated orchestra, the reverberation of the piano and even the sounds of the winds rustling through the trees—it had all disappeared, leading me to think for an instant that the apocalypse had really came.
"… How long have you been standing there?" She spoke. Her voice was clear like the shattering of a wine glass on the floor. She was angry. I lost my footing, and slipped from the fridge that I was standing on.
"I am asking you, how long have you been standing there?"
"Huh, well…" I was finally able to breathe after squeezing my voice out. "P-Probably during the cadenza."
"The cadenza at the beginning?" She sprang upwards, and her soft snow-white hair fell down from her shoulders. It was only then when I realized she was wearing a white one piece dress.
"So you've been listening since the beginning?"
I couldn't help it, alright! What did you want me to do then? Do an Indian dance while yelling my lungs off for you to see? As I looked at her red face and her fluttering hair, I slowly regained my composure. I did nothing wrong, it was just that someone had arrived earlier than I did, right?
"No, hold on! Why must I be charged under those accusations?"
"To think you actually stalked me all the way out here!"
"Stalk? Oi! I am just here to visit!"
The instant she slammed the key lid of the piano, there was something that resonated along with it. Then, the fridge that I was standing on gave a violent tremble. It tilted slightly, and I slid down along with it.
I rolled away from the tilted fridge and the hood of the derelict car, towards the bottom of the basin where the piano was. My shoulders crashed into the leg of the piano.
Just as I was about to stand up, I realized that her face was right before mine, and her ice-blue eyes were gazing at me intently. I was shocked, and was unable to move. I could only stare at those lips of hers, which were gently quivering like the petals of camellia.
"Why are you here if you are not stalking me?" She knitted her brows. The mysterious magical powers that were binding me seemed to have weakened a little. I finally managed to regain control of myself, and scooted backwards while still sitting on the ground.
"I am here just to visit this place, I do come here recently. It's not like I am stalking you."
"Why would I lie?" Then again, did this girl know that she may be stalked by someone?
"In any case, leave here immediately, and tell no one about my presence here. You are to remove the memories of the tune you had just heard from your mind as well."
"How is that possible!"
"You definitely. Cannot. Tell!"
Her eyes were shimmering with tears, as though the stars were falling from the sky. Having witnessed that, I could no longer say anything else.
"I understand, I'll just scram, alright?"
I heaved my backpack onto my shoulders, and began climbing up the rubbish heap. Then cranking sounds of a machine suddenly came from behind me, and what followed were her screams of "Ah! Ya!". As I turned my head to take a look, I noticed a palm-sized tape recorder on the piano, and it was giving off a strange sound.
Could it be that she was actually recording this entire time? The tape inside seemed to be spinning back and forth. I couldn't bear seeing that worried look on her face as she grabbed onto the tape recorder any longer. I walked over and pressed the switch of the recorder.
"… Is … Is it broken?" She asked with a voice that was close to tears, as she carefully lifted up the tape recorder and cupped it like an egg that was close to hatching.
"Ah, don't do that. You can't just pry open the recorder like that."
She hurriedly stopped herself from attempting to open the cover. I placed my backpack onto the piano, and took out a screwdriver. Her eyes widened as she saw that.
"… Are you dismantling it?"
"No worries, I'll repair it carefully."
As I took the recorder from her hands, I realized that it was no ordinary recorder, but a double-track recorder and player. Not only can it play the A and B sides of the tape simultaneously, it can record on them separately as well. However, the labels on the recorder were printed with a language that I have never seen before, and it was obviously not English.
"What language is this?"
"Hungarian," she replied softly. European goods huh. Can I repair this?
As I unscrewed the screws and removed the outer casing, what appeared before me was an interior made with parts that I was familiar with. International standards are really useful.
"Can it… be repaired?"
I lowered the lid of the piano to use it as a worktable, and slowly began to disassemble the recorder. Just as I thought, the magnetic tape was pulled out of its cassette. It was spewed out and clustered into a bunch, just like how sea cucumbers spew out their organs, so it took me quite some effort to remove the cassette.
"… Hey, is this tape recorder defective to begin with?"
"Eh? Ah, mmm… the tape will not stop spinning even if it reaches the end, so it will get even more entangled if you don't press the stop button."
I see, the automatic stopping device was already faulty.
"I-It's because of your sudden appearance, that caused me to forget to press it."
So it's my fault again? Just buy a new one already.
"Is this important to you?" Since she was still using it despite it being faulty.
"Eh?" She looked at me in surprise, then lowered her head and said, "Yes."
I dug for parts from the rubbish heap, and finally completed the surgery of the recorder after finding the required parts. The tape recorder will no longer go out of control, whether it is rewinding the tape, or fast-forwarding.
"And it's done."
"Eh… ah, mmm."
Her face showed an expression of disbelief. I was about to press the play button to confirm if the recorder was working normally, but she suddenly snatched the recorder away from me.
"Y-You are not allowed to listen."
She tweaked the volume to its smallest, then pressed the play button to confirm if it was working properly.
She hugged the tape recorder tightly, and thanked me with a tiny voice while hanging her head downwards, with her face flushed red. For some reason, I felt embarrassed as well, so I turned away and nodded.
As we exchanged our glances, her face became red again, so she hurriedly turned her face away. As I stared at her side profile, there was a sudden impulse to bombard her with multiple questions.
Why are you here? Or rather… who are you? What was the title of the piece that you were playing? And also, I wanted to listen to what she had recorded, you know? Perhaps that orchestra which I had heard wasn't actually my hallucination? I thought of all those things, but she would probably get angry again if I was to actually ask her those questions.
She placed the recorder back onto the piano, then sat on a cupboard as a substitute for a chair and looked at her feet. I wanted to continue talking with her, but the atmosphere was no longer right, and I could not find an opportunity to speak.
Forget it, it felt like she was finding me troublesome anyway. I'll just head home for the day. I probably won't be meeting her again the next time I come here, right? Or perhaps she came here because there is no piano in her house? I thought of all those things while preparing myself to climb up the rubbish heap. Just then, her voice came from behind me, "Hey…"
I turned my head. She was fidgeting next to the piano. She didn't look angry this time round, but rather, she was blushing due to embarrassment.
"D-Do you live nearby?"
I tilted my head. "Nope. Takes about four hours to get here by train."
"Then are you heading to the station now?"
She instantly showed an expression of relief the moment I nodded my head. She slung the recorder next to her waist, and began to scale the slope created by the huge rubbish by following behind me.
"Are you going back? Then I can just stay here, right?"
"You can't! Just move, go on!"
What's with that…
I maneuvered past the bumpy heaps of rubbish unhappily, and slowly walked back towards the forest next to the valley. She kept complaining about how her feet hurt and how she was about to fall, but she still followed me all the way.
"Look…" I turned around and called out to her. She was startled, and fidgeted about three meters behind me.
"Could it be that you have forgotten your way back?"
Since her skin is a lot fairer than those of a typical Japanese person, it was really obvious when she blushed. Though she shook her head furiously, it seemed like I had hit the spot. I couldn't help but give a sigh, "Well, I was lost the first time I came here as well."
One single step in the wrong direction while on the path from the seaside to the station is all it takes for one to get lost.
"It's not my first time. I've probably been here three times already."
"So you still can't remember the route despite coming here three times…"
"I've already said that's not how it is!"
"Why don't you go back by yourself then."
She gritted her teeth and glared at me. I had no choice but to cease arguing with her, and walked out of the forest quietly. While on our way, I saw a purple colored truck passing by us, it's probably there to dump some thrash. The forest regained its deep silence as the truck went further away. The faint sounds of the truck, together with the sounds caused by the rubbing of tree branches, made me recall the rich ensemble of the piano concerto.
That was indeed a stunning experience that made me breathless. However, that miracle probably wouldn't have happened if this girl didn't play the piano at such a special place. I stole glances at her as I walked on ahead. Then again, where exactly did I see her before? Could she be a forgotten friend of mine? Why else would she be so brazenly willful in front of me? That couldn't be, right? If I knew a girl who left such a deep impression on me, I would not have forgotten her.
After walking to the small town between the mountains and the sea that is filled with plenty of ramps and slopes, the cluster of houses suddenly came into sight along with the train station. Almost all of the decorative lights on the archway of the shopping street were no longer lit up, while the four story high building, which is a relic from the Shouwa era, had a Glico advertisement board on its roof. How very nostalgic.
To the left, a sign with the JR logo as well as the station's name was hanging from the top of what looks like a prefab house. Aside from both of us, and a few stray cats that were scrounging for leftovers, there were no other moving things at the entrance of the soba shop.
"Here we are."
"I can see that."
That was all she said, before she rushed to the entrance of the station.
I stood blankly at my spot, and considered what I should do next, but I could not even call out her name. Couldn't help it. That was the first time I met her, and she asked me to forget all about her as well.
I should just head back to collect some junk. I turned away from her, and just as I was about to leave, someone spoke, "Hey you." The voice belonged to a middle-aged policeman, who was walking out of the small police station opposite to the bus rotary.
Seemed like I was not the one he was referring to though. She was petrified, and timidly turned around. The policeman went up and asked, "Eh, ain't you Miss Weiss Schnee?"
"… Eh? Umm, well…" Her face was ghostly white from the shock.
"Ahh, I'm right. Even your clothes fit the description. Miss Weiss, your family's looking for you, right? Seems like you came somewhere around here the last time you ran away from home as well. In any case, follow me. I'll contact your family members."
A runaway girl huh? Seemed to be a repeat offender too, so it's best that I do not associate myself with her. Just as I resumed walking and went past the policeman, I could feel her staring at me, requesting for my help. Damn, I still noticed it in the end.
It was as though her earnest and teary gaze was saying 'I'll hate you for life if you don't help me'. Stop it, me. Ignore her. But it was all too late. I'm not fit to be a human being should I choose to walk away silently after seeing that gaze of hers.
"Hey!" Looking at the sweat-drenched back of the policeman, I spoke. He was about to take the girl back to the police station, and the expression on his face as he turned around seemed to be suggesting that he had only noticed my presence just now.
"I think you have mistaken her for someone else. You see, this girl is my sister."
The policeman's expression became funny, as though he had accidentally chewed on a snail or something.
"Naruko, let's go quickly. We'll have to wait for a long time if we miss the incoming train."
"Ah, uh… mmm."
She scooted away from the policeman as I gave him a nod, and together we briskly walked towards the train station. I didn't know if he understood what I had just said, but there's no point in sticking around either.
After purchasing the ticket and passing through the gates, we sneaked a peek at the direction of the bus rotary.
"Will that work… you'll play along with me if the policeman catches on to us, right?"
"I, I…" the girl held onto her ticket, and shifted her sight away from my face. "I didn't ask for your help and I'm not your sister!"
"Fine, I'll just get the policeman then. It's not good to lie."
The girl's face turned red, and she didn't speak a word. However, she slapped my back repeatedly.
"Dammit… stop hitting me already! The next time you run away from home, choose a location where your parents won't find you!"
"That's not it! Things are not like what you think!"
So it seems like I was the one acting like a busybody. It couldn't be that she was actually hating me? Hey, I offered her help!
She suppressed her anger, and shot a glare at me, then walked towards the platform that is linked to the Kudari line. The opposite direction as me huh. I was slightly relieved, but felt a small sense of pity at the same time.
Just then, the station played a tune that signifies the arrival of the train. It's a very familiar tune—Mozart's Twelve Variations on Ah vous dirai-je, Maman.
The bulb in my head lit up all of a sudden. I got it! I remembered who she is. Yeah, didn't the police officer say earlier that her family's name is Schnee?
She was about to take the second step up the stairs, but she was so surprised she stopped in her tracks. As she turned around, her fair face was dyed red, and her pair of eyes were like the dark cloudy skies prior to a thunderous downpour.
No wonder I found her familiar, I had seen her on CD covers before, as well as on TV. She's France pianist prodigy who became the youngest winner of the International Piano Competition held in Europe, at just the young age of twelve. Her debut was met with a full house of applause as well. Weiss Schnee.
This mysterious lady had released quite a number of albums two and a half years ago, but she disappeared from the music scene at the age of fifteen. And now, this mysterious figure was right in front of me, grabbing onto the handrail with an expression close to crying.
"You… know me?" Her stuttering voice was nearly drowned by the railway crossing, but I still nodded my head slightly. Not only do I know her, I could even remember all the titles of the songs that she had released.
"Yeah, I do. That's because I have all your CDs, and—"
"—Forget it all!"
"Just, forget everything!"
I wanted to say something, but I could only see her running up the stairs, her snow-white hair fluttering behind her. Just then, the ding ding ding sounds made during the lowering of barriers of the crossing came to my ears. For a while, all I did was stand in one spot in a dazed state.
"Hey!" A human voice rang from my side. I turned my head, and saw a silhouette on the platform opposite of me. We exchanged glances for a moment, and then she, Weiss Schnee, swung her hands and threw something over.
A red object flew over the tracks. I extended my hands in an attempt to catch it. It was a can of cola. The train drove in between us.
She stepped onto the train, and it left the station after closing its doors, leaving me all by myself on the platform. The coke she gived me still cold, so she probably bought it from the vending machine over there. Could she actually be treating this as a sort of thank you gift?
I've heard all her CDs, her works are the only ones that I will not get tired of listening to. In fact, even the track order has left a deep impression on me. I enjoyed seeking those unintentional glimpses of warm pulses amid that clear, steady and inanimate melody.
Then I thought about the piece she played at the dumping ground, that piece should not be in any of her CDs, right? If I had heard of it from the CDs, then I would have definitely remembered it. What exactly did she face and encounter? She's not someone to play such a depressing tune. Her last words kept reverberating in my ears, 'Just, forget everything!'.
I grabbed onto the cola, and sat on a bench. That intriguing piano concerto and her voice echoed in my head, until my train arrived. That was what happened to me during the spring break before school begin, that unbelievable coincidence.
When I returned home, I continuously played the Twelve Variations on Ah vous dirai-je, Maman recorded by Weiss in her CD. As I listened to it, I recalled the incidents of that day, and couldn't help but wonder if everything was just a dream. That's because there was no way those junk could resonate to a piano, and it's also impossible for them to give off the sound of an orchestra.
The only evidence that could prove the reality of everything was the cola she gave me, which exploded on my face the instant I pulled open the tab. Dammit, you really can't shake or throw carbonated drinks.
After wiping my face clean with a piece of cloth, it felt like the only remaining sense of reality was gone as well.
Even if she didn't want me to forget all that, I would have probably done so anyway. I am a busy man, and I can't even remember the dreams I had two days ago. At that time, I obviously had no idea that I'll reunite with that French girl again under those situations.
When I returned home from school, my little sister was on her phone in the living room.
My sister's name is Naruko Namikaze. Thirteen years old. Her hair is bright yellow, same as mine, and both ears are pierced. Her long fingernails are manicured to a glossy shine. Her face is attractive enough to turn heads just by itself, but she always makes sure to carefully apply her makeup. She carries herself with an air of maturity almost unseen in junior high school age. Her frame is tall and slender, but her figure is undoubtedly filled out in all the right places.
If only she also had a knack for singing, she could have easily been a popular idol with the teens crowd. I'm not just saying this because I'm her brother. My sister is truly refined. It's also not as if I want to portray her as the perfect sister. My boy friends often tell me they're jealous of me for having such a sister, and while I can understand where they're coming from, I really wish they wouldn't joke around like that.
Honestly, I wonder if other people with sisters might understand my position. In reality, though, my sister isn't that great. Well, at least to me she isn't.
Take this as an example: in a typical junior high school class, there are usually a few closely knit groups of friends. Within those groups, one group stands out as the most outstanding. This is the group with lots of remarkable characters—the popular student who gets along with everyone, the genius who's also quite handsome, and the incredibly cute girl, among others.
Even within that outstanding group, one girl still stands out as the most refined, and that girl is my sister. She's the kind of person who lives in a different world, who you always hesitate before talking to, after all, she won't really be interested in what you're saying, right? She is the so-called "highest level girl." People might think that this sounds like a good thing, but she's the kind of girl who doesn't pair well with the average guy. Now, imagine being related to that kind of girl.
"I'm home." I decided to go for a rather polite greeting, but not only did she not respond, she didn't even glance in my direction.
Donning her sailor fuku uniform, Naruko was sunk into the sofa, her legs crossed under her very short skirt. She was on her phone with an amused expression, chuckling occasionally.
"What? Seriously? Why'd he do that? Ahaha, what an idiot."
The true idiot is me, for trying to talk to you! Cursing mentally, I looked inside the refrigerator. I found a bottle of cola, and pouring it into a glass, I downed it in a single gulp. Feeling refreshed, I left the room.
"Uh-huh, uh-huh… alright. Let me change and I'll go right away."
It's already getting so late, but she's still going off somewhere? Well, in any case, it doesn't concern me. My heart murmuring, I went up the stairs. My home consists of a single house built with three stories. My family includes my sister and me, along with both our parents for a total of four people. We're a reasonably well off and wholly unremarkable household. My room and my sister's room are both on the second floor.
After relaxing in my room for a few minutes I went back downstairs. Before starting to study, I wanted to use the restroom. Incidentally, when I go down the stairs into the entryway, on my left hand side there is a door to the living room.
"Ah." Near the entrance, I bumped into my sister, who had also changed out of her uniform. There had always been a blind spot here in our house, so it wasn't unusual to bump into people here.
My left shoulder lightly crashed into Naruko's chest. The impact itself was not very impressive, but in that instant my sister let go of her bag and its contents spilled onto the floor.
"Sorry, Naruko." After my simple apology, I tried to reach down to the various cosmetic products that had spilled onto the floor, but… when she saw what I was doing, Naruko quickly swept my hand away with her open palm.
"Wha—" Looking back up, I was left speechless by the sharp glare I found waiting for me.
Naruko began to speak. "… It's okay. Don't touch it." Only saying that much, she began to quietly gather her spilled belongings by herself.
Whoa… she gave me a bad feeling there… is it that bad if I touch the stuff she was holding? I looked silently down at my sister as she expressionlessly picked up her things.
An awkward tension filled the entryway. My sister turned her back on me, and hurriedly put on her shoes.
"… I'm off, see you later." She muttered this like it was an annoying formality, and shut the front door with a bang. There you have it. This is what my relationship with my sister has become. Well, it's not like I was offended or anything.
"… Dammit. Since when has it been like this?" I had the feeling that, even for her, there was once a time when it wasn't like this at all. Well, whatever. Whatever. It's a bit irritating, but whatever.
After taking a piss and washing my hands, I dove straight into the sofa in our living room. Picking up one of my Rolling Stone magazine scattered about, I lay on my back with my legs crossed.
Wasn't I supposed to start studying? Lying down like that, flipping through and staring intently at the magazine, my mood was filled with an extreme emptiness.
"This isn't the time to be doing this!" My brain was yelling at me, but my extreme sluggishness prevented me from listening to reason.
Ahh… dammit. I really don't want to study. This type of emptiness is probably pretty common for us high school students. Shaking my head like a dog that had its face splashed with water, I finally rose to my feet. Leaving the living room and entering the hallway, I spotted a strange-looking thing.
"Huh?" It was lying behind the shoebox in our entryway. I hadn't noticed it before, but now I could see half of a white thin case in the gap between the shoebox and the wall. Well honestly, my curiosity was just another way to procrastinate. As "I don't want to study, I don't want to study," repeats in my head, my brain is constantly trying to find a reason to keep me from studying.
Even if doing something like just picking up this strange object only really takes a few seconds. It's really all the fault of the lazy haze I'm in right now. I dragged out the object from behind the shoebox.
"What the hell is this?" I said, startled. It was definitely not something that I would expect to find in this house. This is… well… what? I held the case between my fingers and took a good look at it, but I still wasn't sure what it was.
It was definitely a DVD case. I knew that much. I've seen these types of cases often at video rental stores… well also, "DVD" was clearly written on the case. But, the contents of that case I could make neither heads nor tails of.
I'm sure my facial expression right then was one of puzzled suspicion. On the DVD cover, there was an outrageous drawing of a girl with pink hair. A drawing of a cute girl who looked like she was in elementary school.
"There so much pink in this girl…" I muttered to myself calmly, continuing to inspect the case like some detective examining evidence. It wasn't just the character; the entire DVD package had plenty of white and pink. Well, that much is fine. But the problem is…
"What's with this get up?" This small girl was wrapped in a pink costume. She wears a poofy pink dress with ribbons arranged at the neck, waist, and on the shoes. The middle of her torso is pale yellow with a white stripe and red buttons. On the back right under the white ruffles at the hem of the dress is a heart shaped hole. For the waist is a flower-like pattern that is a pink-white fade. At the edge of this are three diamond shapes and a red border. Under it is a white skirt accompanied by a petticoat of the same color.
She also wears a pair of white gloves with pink trims, white, knee-high stockings, and dark pink heels. In the upper half of the package, what was probably the title was written in a very round font.
"Puella… Magi, Madoka… Magi, ca? First time… limited edition? What's this?" I could go on and on picking out small details, but in short, this was obviously a Magical Girl anime. I might have been initially confused because I hadn't seen something like this in a long time.
"Then… why is something like this here?" I held this "Puella Magi Madoka Magica" thing with both hands and stood still in the entryway. Suddenly, the front door to the house swiftly opened right in front of me.
"I'm home… what's wrong Naruto? Why are you rolled up like that in the entryway?"
"D-Don't worry about it, Mom. I just wanted a change of pace."
Too close! I thought my social life was going down the toilet! But she wasn't mistaken. The instant the door opened, I fell to the floor and rolled up, hiding what I was holding. Phew… I made it just in time, didn't I? Although I don't know the culprit, maybe this was a trap set for me. If someone witnessed me holding something like this, I would be the laughingstock of the family. I could already imagine Naruko's disdainful stare, as if she was looking at a pile of garbage.
Mom, holding a few bags of groceries, looked down at me sympathetically. "You know, I heard from one of the neighbors. Mental counseling for students is pretty popular nowadays."
"W-Wait. Don't be rash. I'm not insane. It's just… today I studied a bit too much, I guess."
"What a lie. There's no way you would stress yourself out so much over studying, is there?"
Ah, even my mother is saying such things to me. Have more confidence in your own son, will you?
"It's not like that. My grades are plenty decent, you know?"
"But that's because of Karin-chan, right? Having such a talented cousin tutoring you, how exactly can you be patting yourself on the back like that? When have you ever liked studying by yourself?"
Dammit, she hit the bulls-eye with that one, and I couldn't respond. After all, up to five minutes ago I was lounging around reading manga. Crawling along the floor like a worm, I hid "Madoka" underneath my shirt and tried to escape from that place. Behind my retreating back, my mother called out.
"Naruto? I don't mind that much, but in the future, please try not to read your ero books in the entryway."
Dammit, how depressing. Then again, it's to be expected that Mom would guess such things by how strangely I was acting. After all, she had once cleaned my room and accidentally unearthed my secret Icha-Icha collection.
But this time, the thing I was hiding did not have such kind of meaning. Carefully letting my mother walk past, I held the DVD to my chest like a rugby player would hold a ball, and ran up the stairs. Flying into my room, I shut the door, and finally let out a sigh.
"Phew…" I slowly took the article out from underneath my shirt, and held it carefully in my right hand. Using my left hand, I wiped the cold sweat off my face.
Mission complete. Really, though, I'm used to doing things like this. I won't go into the reasons, but I believe that any healthy high school student would be able to sympathize.
"… I ended bringing it up here, didn't I?" Squinting at this "Madoka" thing in my hands, I grumbled.
Well, it can't be helped. If, in the middle of my excuses for not studying, I had suddenly gone "Hey, here's this thing I've also been hiding from you," then I'm sure that would have attracted unwanted interest. My examination studying time having been cut short by such unavoidable circumstances, I began my inspection of the thing in earnest.
My room is six tatami large. There's a bed and a desk. Reference books, Manga, CD, music magazine and etc are stored on my bookshelves. And I also have a closet. My carpet was colored orange, and my window curtains were blue. In my room wall, there some posters of FC Barcelona and The Beatle sticked on it.
Other than that, there a small mini-computer, CD Player, Radio, and audio system. Also, I had already pretty much given up hiding my ero books, so they were being stored in cardboard boxes under my bed. I had once begged my mother, kowtowing to her on the floor, to never clean under my bed. But, I have no reason to believe that she would honor such an agreement, and even if she were checking my collection every so often, I had no way of knowing.
Ugh, I don't even want to think about it! My pride really wouldn't be able to handle that. But at least my collection was not that risqué, so that even if my parents discovered my books this wouldn't lead to a family crisis. That's the best defense plan as far as I can tell.
I wonder how people without their own private room try to hide things like this… but, in any case, I've never really thought of anything but leaving my door open. I guess it would be pretty spoiled of me, to be troubled by not having a lock on my door. For a few seconds, I mulled over these thoughts. Then, I sat on the bed and crossed my legs. I took the DVD case in one hand, and rested my chin in the other hand.
"The more I look at it, the more out of place this thing seems…"
Bathed in the light of a fluorescent lamp, Madoka's smile sparkled as she raised her majestic bow.
"Hm…" Well then… who exactly does this belong to?
In turn, I went through all the other people in the Namikaze household. As I thought, there was nobody who I would expect to own such a thing as this "Madoka Magica." And, I don't remember ever seeing this DVD being played on the television in our living room.
So… what do I make of this? Why was something like this lying there? While I continued my musings, I opened up the case with a click.
"Wha-!?" I was more puzzled than ever. Much more intensely puzzled than when I had been just looking at the cover. In short, there was no "Madoka" DVD inside the DVD case. In its place, there was some other DVD.
… I guess this kind of stuff happens a lot. For example, after listening to CDs on my CD Player, putting each CD back into their matching case is such a bother that I often end up shuffling them around. But then, I soon have no idea what CD is in which case, and chaos ensues. This is probably what the owner of the "Madoka" DVD did; the owner probably put in the DVD, not really caring whether it was the right DVD or not.
Ahh, I understand now. This stuff happens often, after all. But… uhh… why is the title of this DVD "Loving my Little Sister"? What the hell are you trying to get someone to do? And what's with this quaint little "R-18" label?
"C-Calm down!" Beads of cold sweat gathered on my forehead, and my breathing became ragged.
This was bad. This was really bad. I thought about what could have happened in that little scene back there with my mother if she had found this. If I was discovered with this, I would probably have to kill myself. Is this really some sort of trick someone's trying to play on me? I might not deal with this kind of thing often, but my instincts were letting off loud warning bells in my head. What was this dark aura emitting from this title!?
Even without the R18 label, the title itself is plenty! The more I thought about it, the more I knew that this was something I definitely could not continue to hold onto…
"Naruto… are you studying properly?"
"Ahhhhhhhhhh!" Giving out an agonizing cry, I dove under my futon. Peeking out towards the door, I saw my Mom looking dumbfounded at my strange behavior.
"… Sorry. Is this a bad time?"
"Don't worry about it Mom. It was just speaking practice… but please, please knock next time."
"Alright, sorry. I'll be sure to do that from now on." With a forced smile and a knowing expression, Mom left and shut the door.
No good… it's a good thing I managed to hide this thing at the last second, but Mom definitely has the wrong idea now… dammit. Today has been such a terrible day… and all the blame is on this thing.
Still under my futon covers, I stared at the puzzling DVD case. "Dammit…" At this rate, I have to find the owner; I won't be able to live in peace until I do that.
I burned with angry determination to find the culprit. But… there's too much I don't know. That is, there's too much I don't know about the owner of this bizarre DVD.
The owner of this "Madoka" case, in which there was this very suspiciously titled "Loving my Little Sister" thing. If I had to make a prediction, I'd probably guess that whoever owned "Madoka" was the same person who owned "Loving my Little Sister."
And, considering I discovered this article behind our family's shoebox, there was a high probability that the owner was someone in my family—either me, my sister, my mother, or my father. Of course, it's not as if outside people never went in and out of our house, so I can't completely reject the possibility that someone outside our family is the owner.
But seriously… who would deliberately come to our house and drop "Loving my Little Sister" in a "Madoka" case behind our shoebox? I can't even imagine how that would happen.
Well, for the time being, I feel it would be useless to consider the possibility of an outside owner. For now, let's try to wring the identity of the culprit out from inside the family.
Me, my sister, my mother, and my father… out of these four people, one is supposedly the culprit. Objectively speaking, which one is the most suspicious…? "Madoka" and "Loving my Little Sister (18+)," who would be the most likely owner of these things…?
"Well, the answer would be me, and that's annoying." No, no, no. Of course it's not me! But certainly, I guess that I would be the most likely suspect. Man, saying that about myself makes me kind of sad.
But that thing obviously isn't mine. Because I really am not that interested in anime. There are a few people in my class who would talk about anime, but we're rarely talked about it. But, I mean, I could say the same for all the other members of my family… concluding that, I held my head under my arms, troubled.
Ok. Well, it can't be my mother, right? And I don't think my father also. Plus, just to imagine seeing Dad merrily watching Magical Girl anime gives me the chills. And my sister… well, she was the first one I had excluded. About five years ago, she may have watched stuff like Magical Girl anime, but lately she's only been into mainstream dramas and music programs, right? Such childish anime is definitely quite far from Naruko's hobbies and interests. No matter what, I can't possibly imagine her going so far as buying this "Madoka" DVD and then watching it.
And, as for "Loving my Little Sister," even thinking she would do that would be repulsive. So, could it possibly be Naruko? The popular junior high school girl? Just today even, there's no mistaking that she went out to hang out with her friends…
"I give up. I'm beyond stumped." My ship of reason had finally run aground. As I thought, the culprit couldn't be in my family, but if I expand the sphere of suspicion to include people outside of the household, there would be so many people to consider that I would surely make no progress. This is useless. I guess I really am not cut out to be a detective.
Well then, what now? This is so annoying… maybe I should just give up? No… as I thought, I can't erase this from my mind. I will definitely find the person responsible. It was strange, but I had become unusually determined. The usual me would have stopped this investigation right now, and then would have taken a nap until dinner. And, if I had done that, the peaceful life that I had before now would have continued. But, that didn't happen.
With purpose, I had decided not to give up the search. Of course, at this point I didn't know why I felt this way, but for better or for worse, I was determined now to be the decider of my own fate. In this case, I decided to go and tread on a huge landmine.
In my house, dinner happened at seven o'clock sharp. This was because my father always came home from work around that time. If you weren't at the dinner table at seven, then you weren't going to be eating dinner there at all that day, that's my mother rule, she was really strict. It was six forty-five. Scratching my head, I left my room and went down the stairs. But, I suddenly stopped mid-descent. Right beneath my eyes, I saw the figure of Naruko around the entryway.
Ah, so she came back. Now that I think about it, Naruko's curfew was 6:30PM. Setting aside whether that time was too early or too late, it seemed that she honored her curfew. Today, Naruko had on a black and orange striped T-shirt, as well as a black something that looked like a mix between shorts and a skirt. I don't really know, but it looked like something of the Sesi brand. If she were called a fashion model, then everyone would probably believe it.
… Pretty cute, isn't she? But I didn't really want to approach her. Because she seemed to dislike me, it was probably best that we keep our distance from each other. But no matter how often I repeated that to myself, it wasn't like we could stop being siblings. I just have to deal with it, I guess. So I waited there on the stairs for her to go to the dinner.
"… Hm?" But this was quite weird. The living room door was right next to her, but she did not head towards the living room, and instead just stood in the entryway looking dazed.
What exactly is she doing? Well, I didn't want to look like an idiot just standing there, so I descended the rest of the stairs. I stood in front of the living room door, my hand on the knob.
Suddenly, I turned my head.
"… Naruko, Something wrong?"
Whoa, what an intense stare.
… Dammit. Knowing this type of thing would happen, why did I have to open my mouth? Am I an idiot?
"Tch. It's nothing." Clicking my tongue, I turned the living room door knob forcefully.
On the dining room table was tonight's dinner of curry and miso soup. This room where we gathered to have our meals functioned as a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen, so it had no dividers and was very spacious. My sister and I sat down in empty seats, directly across from Mom and Dad. The newscaster on the television chattered away about overseas exports as well as other current events.
Dad sipped his miso soup silently. After taking a bath, he had changed into casual clothes. Dad was a police detective. On the other side, Mom was chewing some pickled vegetables. From her appearances, Mom looked like a 20 years old woman despite her age who's already in 40s.
My sister was very silent. In this family, my sister was fundamentally unsociable. Silently eating her meal like that, I thought she really looked like dad. Especially with her sharp glare… incidentally, I've been told that I take more after my mother.
My family's dining room was also a typical, normal family table, and for that I was grateful. Eating my curry silently, I looked for an opening to enact my plan. It was, of course, a plan to identify the owner of the DVD.
… Although, it isn't as complicated as I make it sound. It was a simple plan with no twists and turns.
In a word, because pure logic would not get me anywhere at that point, now that all the suspects were gathered in one place, I could fish for the culprit a bit. And then, there was the opportunity I was looking for. Draining my clam miso soup, I spoke to no-one in particular.
"I'm going to the convenience store after dinner. Does anybody need anything?"
"Oh? Then please buy me some of the new Haagen Daaz ice cream. The seasonal one."
After this conversation with Mom, I nonchalantly started talking again. "Oh right. One of my friends has recently gotten into some girl's anime. Umm… I think it was Madoka something, or something like that."
"What's this, so suddenly?" At my bait, the first response I got came again from Mom. Could it really be that…
"Well it's nothing, just that he thought it was interesting and recommended it. I was wondering if I should give it a try…"
"No. That sounds like something an otaku would do, doesn't it? Come on, I learned about this kind of thing on TV. It would be bad if you turned into something like that, wouldn't it? Don't you think so, Minato?"
The conversation had been turned to my father.
"Mmm, you should listen to your mother, Naruto."
Hm, as expected, Dad is always take side with Mom. But honestly this stuff generally doesn't leave a good impression, does it? For me, I don't really care what hobbies other people choose to take up. After all, it has nothing to do with me. But, objecting to my parent's words would be really annoying, so I just responded with a noncommittal "uh-huh."
Well, I guess Mom is not the culprit after all. She never faltered at all at my comments. I'm speaking, of course, about the owner of the DVD. And, from the beginning I had already ruled out Dad. So then… by process of elimination… the only one left is… I discretely glanced at Naruko out of my peripheral vision.
Naruko was intensely biting her lip. She had stiffened with all her might, to the point where the tips of the chopsticks she was holding were trembling.
… Wha-? … Could this mean…
"… What's wrong Naruko?" Dad called softly to Naruko upon detecting her unease.
"… Thanks for the meal." Naruko, looking quite annoyed, rose from the table and briskly walked out of the room. She closed the door with a loud bang! I heard the dan, dan, dan, dan, dan of her footsteps going up the stairs. The three of us left at the table were dumbfounded.
"… What's gotten into her today?"
"Wh… who knows…" I appropriately answered to my obviously dumbfounded father. But honestly, I had no idea what had just happened either. What did she get angry at? Something was said in the previous exchange between my parents and me that really made her angry. Maybe she was the real culprit, and realized exactly what I was doing, but that would be all the more stranger.
Normally, Naruko would never get so agitated and be so easily caught red-handed by me. So, why did this happen? Naruko, I don't understand at all.
"Hmm…" But… Naruko's behavior was anything but usual… I also have to take into account that she definitely reacted to my comments. Of course, this wasn't definitive proof that she was the culprit, but at the very least, this heightened my suspicions that the DVD belonged to a family member…
But could it possibly be, that the "Puella Magi Madoka Magica" DVD I picked up in the entry way belongs to… my sister?
The DVD's owner was Naruko. Certainly, if I assumed that… a lot of things would make sense. The time she dropped the item was probably the time she bumped into me earlier in the evening. At that time, when the contents of her bag spilled out, this thing may have fallen into the crevice between the shoebox and the wall. And then, she went out and realized that this item was missing. And, this also explains why she seemed like she was looking for something in the entryway right before dinner. Continuing along these lines, if my theory about the mismatched DVDs was correct, then Naruko meant to bring "Madoka" with her and not "Loving my Little Sister."
But still. I can't even begin to imagine why she had to bring this with her when she went out. I thought that she was just going to hang out with friends, and there's no reason for a girl who's going to a mixer like that to bring an anime DVD, is there? I mean, she definitely was going to meet with her friends…
I just don't understand. For one, until this day I could not imagine Naruko ever having to do with children's anime. Was I wrong? Is the owner really Naruko? That's impossible, isn't it? It's nice that I came up with this theory of Naruko's guilt, but so far in my heart I was still less than half convinced. Well, for now, let's see if we can set a little trap.
"Thanks for the meal." Having finished my meal, I left the dining room table. I stopped by my room to grab my wallet. Stopping in front of my sister's room, in a forced tone, I spoke, "Alriiight. Time to go to the convenience store."
I have no acting ability, do I? Well, whatever. It's not like I thought this was going to work. Instead of a trap, this was turning into some clownish sideshow. With a dan, dan, dan, I went down the stairs. With a bang, I left the house and shut the door. Leaving the house, I walked towards the convenience store. Rounding the corner, however, instead of going towards the convenience store, I walked along a different path that led me to the back of the house.
What exactly was I planning to do? Well, I guess I was trying to think from the perspective of the culprit. If Naruko was really the culprit, then she probably already knew that I had her DVD. So, then… if I were in Naruko's position, what would I do? Well, she would definitely want to take the DVD when I'm not looking, and then feign innocence… that's the only thing she could do.
Naruko was obviously in a strange mood earlier. She lost her cool. And in that state… when I left she may have finally reached the end of her patience and started looking for her DVD in my room. I mean, the chances of this ploy working were pretty low, but I wanted to try something rather simple.
"Ahh, as I expected, it's not good is it… or wait… could it be…"
As I muttered to myself, I went in through the kitchen door at the back of the house, and sneaked quietly up the stairs. And then, I forcefully threw open the door to my room.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing?!"
In the middle of the room, Naruko was crawling on all fours. At my entrance, she paled and swiftly turned her head in my direction.
"I asked you, what are you doing?!"
"I-It's nothing. Don't worry about it," Naruko snarled, with her behind still facing me. She seemed nervous, and her breathing was uneven.
"How is it fine? Freely walking into another person's room and looking around… what would you think if the same thing happened to you?"
And also, of all places, wasn't where she was sticking her hand where I kept all my Icha-Icha books? Instilling my words with a sense of inexpressible anger, I had spoken calmly.
Without speaking, Naruko turned away. Maybe it was from anger, but she began to blush. Then, without a word, she slowly stood up and walked this way.
"Out of my way!"
"No. Answer my question—what were you doing here?"
"I said out of my way!"
"Don't play dumb. You were looking for this, weren't you!"
While she glared intensely at me at point blank range, I slowly took out the "Madoka" DVD case which I had hidden under my shirt. Naruko's response was quite dramatic.
Naruko threw an intensely threatening glare my way, and reached out for the case, but I skillfully evaded her hand. With an excessive look of triumph on my face, I beat my palm against the back of the DVD case.
"Hm. So this really was yours, wasn't it?"
"N-No, there's no way that could be mine."
She spoke in a clearly displeased voice and obviously did not want to continue this conversation. Hey, hey, at least make an attempt to make your words and actions consistent, then.
"It isn't yours? I picked this up in the entryway this evening. Isn't it something you dropped when you bumped into me?"
"Definitely wrong… it's not mine… th… that kind of… otaku thing… there's no reason I'd watch something like that."
She's completely set on denying it, isn't she? We're not going to get anywhere like this.
"Well, if you weren't looking for this, what exactly were you doing in my room?"
"Well, that is… that is…"
"That's what? What is it?"
Upon my prodding, Naruko once again fell into silence.
Her shoulders shaking pitiably, she bit her lip and cast her eyes downwards. It was obvious that my questioning had left her incredibly embarrassed. For example, imagine if someone you hated came up to you and said "Hey, this Hentai book, it's yours, right? Hehe." That would be horrendous; it would be so embarrassing that you'd want to die.
"… Tch." Her glare was cruel, and her cold hostility struck me.
… Dammit. Why does she have to glare at me so hatefully?
"Hey." I casually held out the DVD case to Naruko. My sister looked up at me with hatred gleaming in her eyes.
"This is something important, isn't it? I'll return it, so please accept it."
"B-But, it's not mi—"
"—Then take it and throw it away."
"Wha-?" Naruko looked up at me with a puzzled expression.
What's with that look? It wasn't like there was any reason I should continue teasing her like this. I was only curious who this DVD belonged to, and now I know that. Why would I want to keep going back and forth like this with her? I didn't reveal these thoughts to Naruko, but I chose my next words to ease the tension.
"My bad. It was a misunderstanding. I know now that this doesn't belong to you. I don't know who it belongs to, but it somehow found its way to me. I'm apologizing, and then please, won't you throw this away for me?"
After I had made that attempt to calm the situation down, Naruko suddenly spoke, "… Uh …i-it's OK. Whatever." With that, she took the DVD case from me.
I stepped to the side, and Naruko opened my door and walked out of my room. I advanced into the center of my room. Geez, that was so unexpected! How many years has it been since I've spoken with my sister like this? I'm so tiiired… falling into my bed with a thud, I stared up at the ceiling. And then, my sister's voice appeared, even though I had thought she had left the room long ago.
She's still here? How annoying, can't you just leave?
When I turned my eyes on her, I saw that she was shyly looking at me. She wore a charming facial expression that I would have never expected her to normally have. Wh-What is this? What's going on?
"What?" I asked, feeling a bit uneasy.
"… Do you… do you think it's strange?"
"That is… okay, this is just hypothetical… it's like this. If I… Really owned that DVD… I'm asking you, is that strange?"
"Not really? It's not that strange, is it?" I answered. I wanted to get her out of my room as quickly as possible, and if I didn't answer like that she would just get angry again.
… Geez, why did she still want to fight over this? Didn't I return the DVD to her to protect her pride and avoid conflict? After all, her clumsiness is what caused this problem in the first place… she should be thanking me, why is she still so resentful?
"You… really think that? really?"
"Yeah. Whatever hobbies you might have, I definitely wouldn't make fun of you for it." Because it really has nothing to do with me.
"You're stubborn, aren't you? Yes, really. Believe me please." I chose my words a bit carelessly, but somehow or other Naruko seemed to be satisfied at my response.
"… I see… alright." Nodding her head repetitively, and holding "Madoka" with almost religious fervor, she ran out of the room. Why did this scene evoke such a sense of nostalgia in me? I feel like something like this has happened in the past long ago… but I've forgotten what.
"… She could have at least shut the door." Grumbling, I collapsed into my bed, facing skyward.
It was late at night. I was sleeping peacefully, when with a smack, I felt a sharp pain on my cheek.
"… W-Wha!?" What a terrible wakeup call. Something really knocked into my cheek hard. W-What is it!? A burglar!? Terrified, I hurriedly opened my eyes.
So bright. It seemed like the lights had been turned on. I felt a heaviness on my stomach, but it didn't seem like my arms or legs were restricted. Pretty sloppy for a burglar, isn't it… ascertaining the identity of my attacker, I opened my eyes wide. Due to the unexpected night attack, I could hear my heart beating.
"Be quiet." The attacker's identity was revealed to be Naruko, who was in her pajamas. My upper half sprang up. She was right over me on all fours. Her face, which bore none of its usual makeup, closed in on me.
"… Wha … it's you? What exactly do you—"
"—I told you to be quiet. How late do you think it is?" Naruko said threateningly in response to my accusatory question.
"'How late do you think it is?'—shouldn't that be what I should be asking?"
I'm on my own bed, my sister is sprawled over me, and we're staring at each other at point blank range. What in the world is this situation? Taken out of context, it seemed like a scene straight out of a certain romantic comedy, but my heart was bursting with an entirely different feeling.
"For now, get off my bed!" I said while trying to steady my breathing. With a clearly indignant expression, Naruko obliged.
If this were another girl, I would have also been really bewildered but probably for a different reason. But with my sister sprawled on top of me, the only thing that really bothered me was her weight. No matter how I looked at her, it never really registered that Naruko was part of the opposite sex. Guys who have a sister should understand this feeling.
Rubbing my temples with my fingers, I sighed and then began talking, "So? What do you want with me?"
"… I have something I want to talk about, so come with me."
Geez, why do you look so angry? I'm the one who should be angry, with you slapping me on the cheek like that. But, I'll be a nice guy and entertain you right now.
"You need to talk? At this time?"
"I'm reaaaaaaally sleepy though… is this something that really can't wait until tomorrow?" I said this in an obviously annoyed tone, but Naruko did not nod her head. Instead, she looked at me with an expression that said "Are you an idiot?".
"Tomorrow is no good. It has to be now."
"Just come with me."
Alright, alright. She didn't give me a reason. She also was obviously not giving up.
Geez, this girl is so spoiled. Even though these remarks flew through my head, I honestly just really wanted to go back to sleep… but I had already woken up, so I guess I'll play along. This is really annoying, but I'll respond, "Where do you want me to go?"
"… To my room," She said this while giving me an extremely fierce glare, and began to pull on my sleeve. Finally giving up resisting, I resigned myself to following her.
"See, you should come. Come with me."
Seriously, what's going on?
My sister's room was right next to mine. Dad had given her this room, when Naruko entered into elementary school. This room was once an old ragged Japanese-style room, but it had been refurbished into a Western-style room.
"… It's okay. Come in."
At Naruko's word of approval, I took my first step ever into my sister's room. I didn't really feel it was that big of a deal though. A strange sugary smell permeated the air.
… Hm. Isn't this bigger than my room? This room was probably around 8 tatami large. There was a bed, a closet, a desk, bookshelf, full length mirror, and a CD rack, among other things. The interior design of the room was pretty much the same as that of mine. The entire room was also covered in a reddish coloring. But she did have a personal computer on a desk, which I didn't have. It wasn't a room with too much personality, but in its relative modernity, it matched the image of Naruko I had always held.
"… What exactly are you staring at?"
"I'm not really looking at anything."
Seriously? Even though she invited me in, she's still saying stuff like that?
Naruko sat quietly on her bed, and pointed at the floor, "Sit." She said that so naturally too. Isn't this situation looking a bit too much like a judge with a criminal?
"Hey, at least give me a cushion to sit on, won't you?"
Naruko scowled, obviously displeased, and threw a cat cushion to me. Thankful, I sat on the cushion, cross-legged.
… Seriously, she looks really annoyed that I'm touching something that belongs to her. Does she think I have cooties or something? Are all girls this age like this? Ahh, that would be terrible.
"So?" I casually rested my chin in my hands. Naruko frowned, and was obviously agitated about something. Soon, she took a deep breath and murmured something.
"…ave something to…"
Her voice was so low. I couldn't hear it at all. At my request for clarification, Naruko's eyes hardened.
"… Advice. I need advice."
Whoa, am I hearing this correctly? Thinking my ears were playing tricks on me, I asked again.
"What did you say? I can hear you."
"I need some life counseling!"
For what I'm sure was a long time, I was silent, dumbfounded. In my silence, my eyes were blinking rapidly. Wait… what? Of all things, my sister is facing me and asking me what? For consultation? However I think about it, this seems like a dream. At this point, I wouldn't even be surprised if Godzilla started attacking the city outside our window.
Somehow or other, I managed to speak out of my parched throat, "You need… life counseling… from me?"
"Yes," Naruko gave a definitive nod. Seriously, is this real?
"… Is about what you said before?"
"You know… uhh… that time when you asked me 'would it be weird if I owned something like this.' That talk."
"That time… could you mean, when I asked you to throw that thing away?"
Why are we talking about that here?
"Umm… so you… really wouldn't make fun of me?"
Geez… should I even answer that? I wanted to say.
Naruko looked at me with a doubtful expression. I responded, "Stop repeating yourself so much. I already told you, I definitely wouldn't make fun of you."
After all, your hobbies are your hobbies, and I really don't care. Did she really call me all the way over here just to ask me that one more time?
"You de-definitely wouldn't? Really really?"
"Definitely not. Really really really."
"If you're lying… I'll never forgive you."
"Whatever, do what you want." Get to the point, won't you? What are you saying?
After my weary explanation, Naruko stood up, as if she made up her mind, and walked to her book case.
Hmm? What is she trying to do? Confused, I watched as Naruko went up and pulled one of her two bookcases off the wall. It didn't look too heavy, but she walked over and spilled the case's contents onto the bed. And now, one of the bookcases had disappeared from the walls, leaving just a large blank space.
"H-Hey… what… are you trying to do?"
Not answering my question, Naruko went up to the remaining bookshelf—having already dumped half her books on the bed, and began pushing on its side with her shoulder. Facing the empty gap on the wall, she started to apply pressure to the bookcase. Little by little, the bulky bookcase began to slide. And then, behind the bookcase, a Japanese-style sliding screen appeared. A secret hiding place. Naruko let out a breath, and then began to speak.
"… When I started going to elementary school, and got my own room… this room was converted from a Japanese-style room into a Western-style room, right? I'm not too sure, but this is one of the remains of the old room… I think. It was hidden by the bookcase, so even I didn't know it was here until last year when I found it while cleaning the room."
"Oh?" It's just like Mom to be so stingy. She probably thought that it would be OK since the problem spot was being covered by a bookcase.
"So… could it be that the counseling you need is about what's behind that door?"
Naruko nodded. She put a hand on the sliding door, but did not look like she was trying to open it at all.
Hesitating with an unsure expression on her face, Naruko stared at me intently. From the flow of the conversation, I tried with my limited imagination to guess what could be behind the sliding door. Whatever was behind there, it was also probably the reason for her hesitation.
… Needs life counseling, huh? … Why from me, of all people? Well, certainly, I did tell her that I wouldn't make fun of her regardless of what hobbies she might have…
"Hm…" I tried to imagine what I would do in Naruko's place. Well… if we're talking about life counseling, then there are really two main types, right? First, it could be the most common case, where you consult with someone you can rely on. In this case, you have some problem but you can't figure out what to do, so you want to think about a solution with someone else together. And then, there's the case where you consult with a third party who doesn't know anything about the situation. In this case, the third party can't give good advice from the onset, so he has to sit and listen to the situation for a bit before giving an opinion.
But, for Naruko, I was certainly not someone she felt like she could depend on and confide in. Definitely not… right? But if what's bothering Naruko is what I imagine it to be, I can understand that it's something that would be difficult to talk about with other people. She must be afraid of tarnishing her own image. It's not a situation in which she can freely choose who to confide in. At this point, there really was only one person in the world that Naruko could go to for honest advice. I already had found out her secret, and I was impartial and didn't care. That one person was me.
Huh. So it's like that, is it? Now that I was fairly convinced I had figured the general situation out, I wanted to just get it over with and go back to sleep. So, I spoke, "Don't worry. Whatever you bring out from there, I won't make fun of you, and if you want me to keep it secret, I won't tell anybody… alright?"
At my carefully chosen words, Naruko nodded once again. "… It's a secret, OK?" Murmuring that to reassure herself, Naruko opened the forbidden door.
"… Huh? Something… fell out?"
Before I went for a detailed look at the contents of the hidden compartment, I moved instinctively and picked up the fallen object. It was another DVD case… the title was "Loving my Little Sister ~ Little Sister Maker EX Vol.4."
"COUGH COUGH COUGH!"
I almost choked over my surprise. Th-This again!? Now that I think about it, she didn't only own that anime, but things like this too!
I was dumbfounded. Also, what the hell is with this half naked girl looking embarrassed and covering herself on the cover!? Such an indecent cover illustration is beyond my imagination! And, what's more, this is only part of an entire series!?
"Wh… what in the world… is this…?"
"Ah. That originally came out for the PS2, but it was ported over to the PC and renamed. It's really amazing, but it's a bit old and the content is a bit difficult, so I wouldn't recommend it for beginners."
That wasn't what I was asking! And also what do you mean by "beginner"? Are you a "pro" or something? Seriously a "pro"? Dammit, there are too many comments I wanted to make here, and with all my strength I don't think I can keep them in.
Wh-What exactly am I trying to start? What kind of strange business did I get myself caught in this time? Somebody tell me! The revelation of this "Loving my Little Sister" hit me right in the gut, and I felt groggy. My sister didn't really notice though.
Breaking out into a cold sweat, I raised my head and took a peek into that forbidden abyss that was thrown wide open. At first glance, the interior of the compartment looked like just any ordinary closet. It was split up into an upper and lower compartment, and was poorly lit. But, the inside of the compartment was stacked densely with a large number of goods. My eyes first landed on a tall stack of boxes in the upper compartment.
"These… boxes are…?"
"These? These are PC game boxes."
Naruko responded with a hint of pride in her voice, and with a bit of effort took a few of the boxes and placed them in front of me.
These boxes were mostly from the "Little Sister Maker EX" series, with titles including "Super Sister-in-Law," "Playing with My Sisters," "Tengen Toppa Sisters," "Sisters Complex Lulu," "Sisters DXD," "Sisters/Stay Night," "Ultimate Weapon Little Sister," and things of that type. There was a lot I wanted to say, but I didn't want to choose the wrong words and land myself in a terrifying situation.
For now, let me start with a relatively safe question. "Why… are these boxes so big?"
"I don't know either. But that's how they are," Naruko said, as if this were one of the world's unsolved mysteries.
I don't understand… I don't understand… I don't understand anything at all… Gulp… Straining to keep in dangerous comments that were threatening to come out from my mouth, I averted my gaze and turned towards the lower shelf in the compartment.
There, also, stood a line of huge boxes. These boxes were even bigger than the PC game boxes, and there were a variety of them. On many of them there were illustrations of girls, several which had a metallic shine to them.
"These… this stuff… what is it?"
"Anime DVD boxes. All the boxes here are deluxe editions."
"DVD Boxes? Deluxe editions?" It was a bit shameful, but I parroted her words back to her.
"Yes. These complete editions include extra story content, have bonus disks, special edition booklets, and other extras are included… fufu, incredible, isn't it?"
"And, it's the same with that… Madoka… whatever?"
For some reason, I felt Naruko getting excited. Being able to reveal her prized collection like this made her this happy? She's even smiling at me, her hated brother. But, for some reason, I still didn't feel that satisfied about this. For now, something was bothering me.
"All of this… wasn't it very expensive?"
"Hm? Well, relatively, I guess. Let's see… this was 41,790 yen , you see? And this one was 55,000 yen, see? And then, umm, this one was…"
"So expensive! What do you mean, relatively!?"
"Really? I mean, it costs around the same as one or two sets of clothing."
"Where in the world are you getting all that money!? You're a junior high school student, aren't you!? Why is it that you're only thirteen, and you already have so little restraint in spending money!?"
Ignoring my obvious discomfort, Naruko quickly responded. "Where am I getting the money… isn't it obvious I have a job?"
"I… I see…"
Hm… job…a job? I guess it's OK if that's true… no, wait wait wait wait! That's not good at all, is it!? Giving Naruko a penetrating stare, I continued my questioning.
"Job, you said?"
"… W-What job? Where did you get it?"
"Ahh, right, I never explained that. I'm modeling for a magazine."
"WHAT!? Ma-Magazine? Model? Like… a gravure idol or something? Naruko I don't like this as your bro—"
"—Completely off. Are your ears broken or something? I said I was a mo-de-l. For magazine subscribers."
My chest hurt at her scornful expression. I never really had made a distinction between a model and a gravure idol, but it seems that what I said was completely off the mark. Whether or not she noticed my confusion, Naruko took a magazine out from her bookcase, and tossed it to me.
It was some kind of teen magazine. On a white background, the title was flashily displayed in shiny font. On the cover, there were also various statements predicting the latest trends.
Flipping quickly through the book, here and there I caught glimpses of the familiar figure of my sister. I don't really know much about this kind of stuff, but it seemed like she was posing while wearing the latest in fashion.
I had always said that she looked like a model, but she seriously was one. I really shouldn't care what she does with her time, but why am I a little annoyed by this? I don't really know why, but without thinking, I let loose a snide remark.
"Doesn't posing like this make your back hurt?"
"You're an idiot."
I thought I saw a hint of disappointment within her scornful stare. It must have been my imagination. At her suddenly downcast eyes, I felt the mood of the room darken. I tried to smooth things over.
"… I mean… it's… pretty c-cute, Isn't it?" What am I saying? But it was also the truth. "… And I mean, this is a pretty popular magazine right? Even I've heard of it. You're pretty amazing."
"Hmph, not really. It's not that big of a deal, this magazine."
But at my words of praise, she seemed happy. She didn't appear to be as annoyed as she put on. Sensing that the tension had broken, I continued where I left off.
"So… how much do you make?"
"Umm… that would be around 300000 yen…"
When I heard her answer, I dropped my shoulders, heartbroken.
"… Hey hey… however you look at it, that's a bit too much to be giving to a kid."
"What are you saying, every day I have to make sure to practice and keep up my appeal too—that's also part of the job."
"Keh… well said, I guess." But man… I'll bet that the readers of this magazine would not believe that this cute, stylish model who's posing for them uses her pay to buy things like "Loving my Little Sister" or "Playing with my Sisters." Or, should I say, if her fans knew something like this, they would probably faint.
As I reflected on the unfairness in the world, I tried to peek into the bottom of the hidden compartment. But, Naruko stood there with her legs straight and arms stretched out, standing in my way.
"… Ah, I won't let you see any more than this today."
Well, it's not like I wanted to see more. I just thought that she wouldn't let me go until she had shown me everything. After taking one glance at the hidden compartment's bottom, I was met with a fierce stare. Stop looking at me like I'm garbage, won't you?
"I… still don't trust you. We won't go any further today."
What was this? What exactly was she saying? She made it sound like this was just the tip of the iceberg, that there was a lot of stuff worse than this. Ehh… seriously? Is that true?
"Umm… there's some stuff in here that's…a bit embarrassing… so… yeah… not today."
"…I - I see…"
Whaaa? My sister, who was almost proud to show me "Loving my Little Sister," is hesitating and telling me that there are embarrassing things in there… what kind of unthinkable, terrifying things were these? suddenly shivering and quieting down, I fell forward onto all fours.
"H-How could that be?"
"Wh-What do you mean 'how'?"
What in the world am I saying? If anybody knows, please tell me.
When I didn't respond, Naruko started a bit bashfully. "So… what are… your impressions? You saw. That's… my hobby."
"Uhh… my… impressions? …urm, I'm surprised."
"… Even if you say 'that's it?' I can't help it can I? I really am very surprised… I don't really have any other impressions about it."
At my intentionally conciliatory remarks, Naruko frowned and murmured wearily, "As I thought. Having this kind of stuff… Is strange, isn't it?"
"No, it's really not…" Whether it was strange or not… that wasn't really the issue.
So this was the "life counseling" that Naruko wanted? Leaving that aside, will she let me go back to my room soon? I want to sleep and just forget about all this. I really wanted to get away from this place as soon as possible, so I said what I felt my sister wanted to hear.
"I already told you. Whatever hobbies you might have, I definitely won't make fun of you. Isn't that enough? Whatever hobbies you want to have, that's completely up to you. It's not like you're causing problems for anyone, and nobody has a right to complain when you're using your own money to pay for it."
"… I know, right!? Haha… sometimes you can say good things too!"
Alrighty then, is she satisfied? So, please let me go back to my room now. With that, I began to lift myself up, but I suddenly changed my mind and sat back down. The truth is, for quite a while I've been being really patient and keeping in all the interjections I wanted to throw her way. If I made a poor remark, she might answer in a horrifying way, and so if I could I wanted to get through this without making any snide remarks. But I couldn't keep it in anymore. It was like the world was hurling me instructions to "Hurry up! Make a comment! Make a comment!" Of course, this was probably my imagination.
"Umm…" Alright… should I make a remark now? Should I really? Am I prepared? Am I ready to deal with it, to not lose my cool if she responds in a horrible way?
"Naruko, we've talked through all of it, but I still have one thing I would like to ask you."
"Huh? Gross. What are you being so formal?"
Dammit, why are you speaking like that to your brother who listened and reaffirmed your choice of hobby? At this point though, I got a feeling that things wouldn't turn as ugly as I thought.
Collecting my wits with a breath, I started speaking, "Your collection… why do you only have little sister eroge?"
Hey, hey… why is she being so quiet? Say something, won't you?
"What… do you think?"
"Ahh… I wonder…"
Wait wait wait. Why is she blushing? Why is she crawling towards me on all fours? Wait a second, wait a second… stop that, seriously! It's not like I'm into stuff like that… sensing danger, as if I wasn't able to stand, I began to scoot backwards.
"… Why are you running away?"
"I'm not running away."
"Liar. You're running away."
"That's because you… ah…"
Crap. My back hit the wall, and I couldn't retreat any further. Looking for a way to stand up and run from the room, I hurriedly looked around the room. Doing this quite slowly, I became more and more cornered.
Naruko looked like she was thinking hard, and had made a decision. With a serious look, she stared right into my eyes. I felt paralyzed, and could not move at all. Neither of us looked away, and a tense atmosphere permeated the room. Continuing to crawl on all fours, Naruko seemed like she was going to crawl on top of me… and then she thrust the "Loving my Little Sister" package in front of my nose.
"Wha-?" I was surprised at this unexpected development.
Ignoring my puzzlement, Naruko's attitude did a complete 360. She began to speak as if slightly entranced. "Looking at this package… don't you think it looks good?"
"Wh-What are you saying?" I don't understand what she's getting at. I can't even count how many times I've said "I don't understand" since setting foot in this room, but this time I was especially confused.
She seemed truly confused, as if she wanted to say "Seriously, you don't get it?"
"… It's really cute, isn't it?"
What is? Be more specific, won't you? At this time, I probably looked pretty doubtful. I didn't think that asking her anything at this point would get me a useful response, so I tried to read between the lines of her words and guess what she meant in my mind.
There were two clues. First, there was the package she had thrust in front of my face. And then, there was her abrupt description of this package as "really cute." If I thought about it normally, there was really only one answer… but, would that answer be strange? Or not?
… Not being able to come to a definitive conclusion, I timidly asked, "So you mean… that is… uhh… I might be wrong but… you like 'little sisters'? And so, you have a lot of those kinds of games?"
"Yeah." Correct answer… she's vigorously nodding.
But why does she look so proud of herself? Although, it would be nice if we could talk to each other like this usually. These thoughts were flying through my head when Naruko began talking without prompt.
"It's really cute, isn't it? Umm, I'll give you an example. Because the main character in a galge is usually a guy, the little sister will call you things like "oniichan," "onii," "aniki," "niikun," to show her affection for you, yeah? And these 'special nicknames' all match her type and personality. And that's… really adorable."
"A-Ahh… that's great." I responded the only way I could.
… Geez, she really seems excited about all this. And also, the only things you call me are rude things like "hey" and "you." What's up with that? That's not adorable at all; rather, it's pretty irritating.
Not noticing my silence in the slightest, Naruko continued to show me the "Loving my Little Sister" package, and pointed at an illustration of one of the girls. "In this game… this girl is my favorite one, Chino-chan."
The girl she was pointing to was short and seemed very timid. She has long, periwinkle colored hair, and she had on a shy, bashful expression.
"These types of tidy, obedient girls, you just really want to protect them, and you just really want to hug them tightly… hehe… It's great, isn't it?"
But you wear an incredibly short skirt, cross your legs, and sit with your ass in the air and talk on your phone. All that stuff you said now, it's impossible for you to become that type of girl, isn't it? Well, whatever. That's another matter.
"… I see." My little-sister likes little sisters. That's why she's collecting these things. I understood that much. But my curiosity was far from sated. Rather, my curiosity was just getting bigger. With a strained face, I asked my next question, "B-But… why?"
"I mean, why do you like little sisters? I'm not saying it's wrong… but the games you're playing, they're usually meant for guys right? And, what's more, isn't it illegal for you to be buying 18+ games? This just doesn't seem to match with your image at all. Why would you like, I mean, like things like that? Is there a motive, or reason, or something, for this?
"That's… that is…" After hearing my question, Naruko was clearly dismayed. She blinked as if her face were splashed with cold water, and her gaze darted confusedly around the room. It didn't feel exactly like she was just struggling for words. Waiting for a while like that, I heard Naruko speak. "I… I don't know!" Her eyes shut tightly, her face dyed a brilliant red, Naruko seemed just like a small child.
"Huh?" I responded.
Naruko held her chest with both hands, and, embarrassed, began speaking, "Um, that is… that is… I… I don't understand it… myself…"
Whoa. What is this, so suddenly… has she been possessed by a demon or something? Where did the usual hateful Naruko go off to? Looking so embarrassed is so unlike Naruko, in fact, she looks cute, and I was dumbfounded.
"You don't know, you say… but it's your own hobby, isn't it?"
"B-But! I can't help it… I really don't understand it myself… at some point, I just… started liking this stuff…"
"I… probably saw some anime in the window of a store or something… and that got me into anime."
Naruko, just like the little sister characters she liked, was getting more timid. She uneasily looked up at me.
"… I also… know that this isn't a normal hobby for a girl. So up to now I haven't told anybody… I always kept it hidden. But… in the end… it's really something that I like… I think when I was on the Internet, I accidentally Googled this stuff… and then I downloaded a trial version, and while I was playing that… ahhh… I got really into it and knew I had to buy more."
In the end, it was like this, was it? I looked at the high pile of little sister games, scrutinizing them. She's fallen into the devious game producer's trap, hasn't she?
"Th-This type of cute illustration… it almost drives me mad…"
That's the illustrator's fault, isn't it? And, anyways, why the hell am I sitting here in the dead of night, listening to my sister explain how she became an otaku? Is there any brother in the world who has done this before? Naruko continued.
"There were so many times I told myself that this couldn't go on, that I should stop… but, no matter what I tried I couldn't stop… whenever I opened up an Internet browser, and I go on news sites for all the latest news, they always try to make me buy stuff, you know? Mm, and also on cosplay and Akiba blogs…"
"Well, I mean… I don't understand this well at all but… the news sites? can't you just not look at them?"
"… If I could do that I wouldn't be having these problems in the first place…" At my light interjection, Naruko looked very disheartened.
Hey hey… who is this person in front of me? This cute sister in front of me is definitely not the Naruko I've come to know.
In front of me, Naruko clunked down and looked up at me with tear-filled eyes. "So… So, would you help me?"
If I wanted to be honest, I would respond "Why I should help you?" but as expected I couldn't say those words to my sister who was obviously depending on me. Whatever the case may be, I couldn't say that.
"… Alright, I'll help you."
"Re-Really?" Naruko had a surprised expression on her face. It seemed that she couldn't believe that I was Aceppting her request.
You… what exactly do you think of me? As I was thinking these unhappy thoughts, I nodded. "It's OK. If anything happens, don't hesitate to tell me. I can't really give you great advice, but I'll do what I can, after all, I'm you're brother." I regretted these words right after they left my mouth.
"Then, let's do that, I guess… yeah, if you do that for me, it would really help… maybe…" Naruko did not speak a single word of thanks, but she was repeatedly nodding and seemed happy. Seeing my sister like this, honestly, I couldn't think of a bad thing to say about her.
Hmm. So, even Naruko could get like this, huh… as I was mulling over my surprise, I gazed at my sister's shy face. How nostalgic… I don't know why, but it really felt nostalgic.
Geez… and for a moment there I thought that I had said something irresponsible. Well, whatever, it somehow came to this. I guess since I discovered that item in the entryway, she's been agonizing and agonizing and agonizing over this, until she finally came to me for advice. So now, I have to help her on this. Although, it's all still a bit annoying.
… Well well. But in any case, this situation could have been much worse… so I'm glad for that.
"So, in conclusion, you like little sister characters and you buy little sister eroges… there's nothing you're not telling me, right?" I had asked that question for some more peace of mind.
"Huh? If not that, what did you think it was?" Confused, Naruko inclined her neck. And then, a few seconds later, she realized the "worst outcome" I was worried about, and she scowled. "Gross. Of course it's not that. Pervert!"
Whoa, in a single second she returned to the usual Naruko. Such undisguised disgust. This is definitely my sister. Crap, I probably should be unhappy about this change but I can't help but feel a bit relieved. That charming side of Naruko was just strange.
"Aren't you the one who's pervert? The games you like are about a little sister loving an older brother, right? Are you denying that?"
"Are you an idiot? Don't mix two-dimensional things with three-dimensional things. Games are games, real life is real life. Generally-in reality, are there really that many little sisters who love their older brothers?"
This girl… Was that just a way to say "I hate you" in a really roundabout way? Isn't that cruel? There are a lot of brothers and sisters in this world that get along, aren't there? But it seems that in our case, we're eternal enemies!
"I don't have any more use for you. Could you leave?"
Dammit. As I thought, she really isn't cute at all!