It was rather unusual for her to have a friend from school over since she was such a timid person by nature. Which was why Sohma Hinata was so jittery and practically beaming when she offered to go make some tea for her friend when they arrived at her humble home.
Or at least that was how the girl had said it was before entering an almost mansion-like house that had a huge wall separating it from the world of mere mortals. One of which, by the name of Sakamoto Machiko, felt absolutely misplaced in this palace-like place.
In an attempt to alleviate her nervousness, the girl looked around at the room she'd been ushered into. So this was Hinata-chan's room…
On a closer inspection, it was an even more otherworldly place than Machiko had first imagined it to be.
For one, it was full of sheep-related objects.
It had anything from an alarm clock shaped like a sheep through a lamp with the form of a sheep to various types of plush sheep.
Thinking about it, it was actually quite weird and a bit creepy. What, did the girl have some kind of OCD about sheep or something? Something was very wrong in this picture.
Instead of achieving its goal of alleviating her worries, her survey of her surroundings had only made Machiko more nervous than before. No sooner had she realized that than she'd gone out in search for Hinata, hoping to salvage some sense of normality in this visit.
"Ahh, darn this, why do you have to be so stubborn?! No one ever has as much trouble making tea with you as much as I do, so give it up already! Machiko-chan is waiting for me!"
Interest piqued by the shrieks of a voice that was almost like a bell chime even when abused in such high octaves, the guest stumbled upon her host battling a microwave machine in what seemed like a bloody death match.
"Hinata-…chan?" Machiko began carefully. "Are you alright?"
Composing herself in the blink of an eye, Hinata turned around to give a sheepish expression to her companion.
"I'm really sorry, Machiko-chan. I'm not much of a hostess, am I? This is… the first time anyone ever came over, so…" Her voice grew smaller and smaller, weighted down by some unknown burden to its sole listener. "I'm… not very good at preparing tea, so…"
The other girl only smiled gently and went to help her friend.
"Hinata-chan, you're really technologically challenged, aren't you? If it's a microwave, then this is how you go about warming water in it…"
They had started off on the wrong foot, but Hinata-chan's home definitely had a lovely feel of coziness about it after all. That was what Machiko decided an hour or so into her visit.
"That reminds me—Hinata-chan, why do you have so many sheep-styled items in your room? Is it a hobby of yours, collecting them?"
The addressed girl widened her eyes slightly at that question, and then slowly set down her cup which she was grasping with both hands.
"Hmmm, a hobby, eh?" She adopted a deeply thoughtful expression for a moment before her face quite literally began to glow. "I never thought how many they had become. I guess I had subconsciously come to quite like them, haven't I?"
"Ehh? What do you like so much about them?" Machiko asked puzzled, scrutinizing closely an almost obscenely cute and goofy sheep plush.
"Well, you know, sheep are such gentle and trusting creatures. Naïve and good at heart and so very warm animals." Her gaze had become so kind and unfocused that Machiko wasn't sure the girl was describing those wooly herbivores anymore. "Besides… nii-chan used to be possessed by the Spirit of the Sheep, so I guess that's why I like them the most out of the entire animal kingdom!"
She said such an undecipherable thing in such a happy face that Machiko almost lost her train of thought at that.
"What? I didn't understand any of that, Hinata-chan…"
"Never mind, it's just me babbling."
Machiko pouted when she recognized her friend shrugging a topic off. And she really wanted to solve this mystery.
"Hinata, you there?" A sudden knock to the door disrupted the girls' discussion. When the door opened, a tall young man appeared beyond it. His stern expression suddenly molded into one of surprise. "I thought I saw more shoes in the hallway than usual—you had a guest?"
Machiko muttered her 'sorry for the intrusion' and bowed her head, unable to look away from this gorgeous young man that had suddenly appeared out of what seemed like thin air.
"Hiro-nii-chan!" Hinata jumped up, embracing the man by the neck. "You're back! Welcome home!"
There followed an exchange in which Machiko could not for the life of her find room to fit in nor could she find the will to find any.
After all, those two siblings made for such a heartwarming sight together, she couldn't bear the thought of sullying their idyll by trying to jump in their conversation.
Machiko didn't know what it was about sheep that made Hinata-chan so particular about loving them, but as far as she'd grasped it had had something to do with the girl's older brother and from there on, all was quite clear.
After all, one had to be blind or a complete moron to be oblivious to how big a brother complex the girl had for her precious 'Hiro-nii-chan'.