"Onii-sama, sorry for the wait."
From behind Tatsuya and the rest, who were talking in the corner near the exit of the auditorium, the voice of the person whom he was waiting for called out.
Miyuki slipped out from the crowd surrounding her.
Initially, Tatsuya felt that she was a little early, but thinking about his little sister's character again, it was perhaps just about time.
Even though she wasn't one who would shy away from socialization, it was undeniable that she had a tendency to be obsessively displeased with flattery and compliments. While you could say that she was behaving like a child, since she was young, there had been no lack of opportunities for her to receive praise, and among them, the times when such compliments were coated with a mix of jealousy and envy numbered not just a handful.
If you think about that, then it was quite understandable that she would be somewhat suspicious of the adulation she received. You can even say that she was bearing it well for today.
"You were quick" was what he had intended to say as he turned around, but even though the words remained the same as planned, his intonation turned into a questioning one.
Accompanying the person he was expecting from behind was someone whom he hadn't been.
"Hello Shiba-kun. We meet again."
In response to that amiable, disarming smiling face and words, Tatsuya nodded his head without saying anything.
Despite his inadequate acknowledgement to her courteousness, the smile of the Student Council President, Saegusa Mayumi, did not give way in the slightest. Perhaps it was a type of poker face of hers, or perhaps this was something inborn in this young lady who was older in age. Which it was, Tatsuya, who had only just met her, could not tell.
But, more than the elder brother's strange response to the student council president, his little sister appeared to be bothered by the two young ladies who had snuggled up (?) intimately to her big brother beside him.
"Onii-sama, they are..."
Before explaining her own situation as to why she was not alone, Miyuki was seeking out an explanation on why Tatsuya was not alone. Even though he was a little taken aback by her abruptness, he had nothing to hide. Tatsuya answered without a second's delay.
"This is Shibata Mizuki-san. And that is Chiba Erika-san. We're in the same class."
"I see... isn't it a little too soon to be dating your classmates?"
With her adorable head tilted to the side, it's not like I have something against it, Miyuki's face seemed to say as she asked. Her lips formed a lady-like smile. But her eyes were not smiling.
Oh my oh my, thought Tatsuya.
It seems like immediately after the ceremony, she has been bombarded with flattery from left and right, setting her on edge, resulting in plenty of accumulated stress.
"There's no way that could happen right, Miyuki? We were just chatting while waiting for you.
You are being rude to both of them, aren't you?"
His little sister's pouting face looked cute to him, but to not give her own name after being introduced to the other party might not be favorable for her reputation in front of the upperclassmen and the same year students. Upon seeing Tatsuya's slightly reproachful eyes, a look of resignation flashed across her face for an instant, and following that, Miyuki fixed up an even more gracious smile on her face.
"Good day, Shibata-san, Chiba-san. I am Shiba Miyuki.
I'm also a freshman just like Onii-sama, so I look forward to being in your care."
"I am Shibata Mizuki. Same here, I also look forward to being in your care."
"Nice to meet you. You can just call me Erika. Can I call you Miyuki?"
"Yes, please do. It'll be hard to distinguish between my brother and I from our family name."
The three young women introduced themselves to one another again.
The greetings exchanged between Miyuki and Mizuki seemed appropriate for people who have met for the first time. But for Erika, right from the start, she was surprisingly (if this is the right way to put it) friendly.
However, only Tatsuya felt bewildered at Erika's forward manner of speaking.
There was no sign of Miyuki being bothered by the almost overly-familiar behavior from her nod.
"Ah-ha, Miyuki, I didn't expect you to be so sociable from your outward appearance."
"You are just as candid as you appeared to be. Nice to meet you, Erika."
After getting exasperated by all the flattery and compliments, it was understandable that she would be quite fond of Erika's frank attitude, but it seemed like both of them had somehow acquired a mutual understanding beyond that. Miyuki and Erika were both exchanging unreserved smiles with each other. While Tatsuya could not help but feel left behind, it would not do to remain rooted there. Since the group with the student council president who had followed his little sister were of the same crowd, they weren't really obstructing anyone, but because of this, if they continued to stand around here, they would become an obstacle to people who would want to pass through.
"Miyuki. Are you done with your business with the student council? If you are not, I can go kill some time myself, you know?"
The one who had replied to Tatsuya's question and suggestion was the other party.
"I'm here just to say hello for today.
Miyuki-san... may I call you that as well?"
As Mayumi addressed her, Miyuki nodded, her unreserved smile replaced by a solemn expression.
"Well then Miyuki-san, we'll catch up on another day."
Mayumi bade goodbye lightly with a smiling face and started to make her exit out of the auditorium. However, one of the accompanying male students at the back called Mayumi to a stop. On his chest, blooming proudly as if it were a natural thing, was an eight-petaled flower emblem.
"But President, what about the schedule on our side..."
"We didn't really make an appointment beforehand. If she already has another engagement, she should give that priority right?"
After the male student, who appeared to want to press further, was restrained by her eyes, Mayumi gave a meaningful smile to Miyuki and Tatsuya.
"Well then Miyuki-san, I shall take my leave. Shiba-kun as well, I'd love to catch up with you one of these days."
After bidding them off again, Mayumi left. Following that, the male student who was following behind her turned around, and he glared at Tatsuya so hard it was as if one could hear his tongue clicking.
◊ ◊ ◊
"...Now, shall we go back?"
While he had somehow managed to provoke the displeasure of not just the upperclassmen, but the student council executive members as well, when he had just enrolled into school, it was something quite beyond his control. Of course it was not like he was going to experience a smooth-sailing life where he could just brood over things like that. Despite having less than a full sixteen years of life experience, Tatsuya had already experienced negativity to such a degree.
"I'm sorry, Onii-sama. Because of me, people are getting a bad impression..."
"It's nothing you need to apologize for."
Without letting the distressed-looking Miyuki finish her sentence, Tatsuya brought his hand up and placed it on Miyuki's head from the side with a small pat. As he continued to stroke her hair in a combing fashion, her downcast face became colored with an enraptured expression. To any onlooker, this pair of siblings appeared to be approaching a dangerous boundary, but perhaps, still withholding their reservations as a consequence of having just met the siblings, Mizuki, and Erika as well, said nothing about it.
"Well, since we are all here, why don't we go have a cup of tea?"
"Sounds great! There seems to be a nice cake shop around."
In other words, it was a teatime invitation.
There was no need to ask them whether their families were waiting for them. Asking such a thing would probably be a needless consideration. It was the same for Tatsuya and Miyuki.
That aside, Tatsuya had something else to ask. In truth, it was really an insignificant thing, but it was something that would gnaw at him if he didn't ask.
"You didn't check up on where the school entrance ceremony would be held, and yet you know where a cake shop is?"
It might be a question of a slightly teasing nature.
"Of course! It's something important, isn't it?"
But Erika nodded confidently without the slightest bit of hesitation.
"'Of course,' huh..."
His acknowledgement turned into a groan. But, as if it were somebody else's business, Tatsuya thought that someone would receive the brunt of that.
"Onii-sama, what do you think?"
But it seemed like Tatsuya was the only one shocked at Erika's rash remarks.
Even Miyuki did not appear to have paid heed to the lack of common sense in prioritizing a confectionery over the ceremony venue. —Though in the first place, Miyuki was not familiar with the details of the whole story.
"Well, sounds good. After all, we just got acquainted with one another. Be it the same gender, or the same year, we won't find another friend too many."
Even though he said that, he had not really put much thought into his assenting response. There was no particularly pressing matter awaiting him at home either. Originally, Tatsuya did think that they should go somewhere to spend the afternoon to commemorate his younger sister's enrollment before going home.
Since it was not a well thought-out line, it offhandedly reflected his true voice.
Apparently aware that it was his true voice speaking, Erika and Mizuki returned their words in this manner.
"Shiba-kun I say, when it comes to Miyuki, you don't ponder too deeply over it..."
"You really care about your sister, don't you..."
Whether it was a compliment or a comment from blank amazement, before each of their differing gazes combined, Tatsuya could only remain silent with a bitter face.
◊ ◊ ◊
The "cake shop" that Erika brought them to was in fact a "French cafe with delicious dessert." They took their lunch there and spent some time chatting merrily (it was the three girls talking, and Tatsuya was only listening), and by the time they got home, it was close to evening.
There was no one to welcome them.
The house, which vastly exceeded the average in size, appeared to be inhabited by just Tatsuya and Miyuki.
He returned to his room and took off his uniform first.
He really didn't want to think that such a 'makeshift mantle' could affect him that much, but after taking off the blazer that was intentionally fashioned to look "different," he felt a little lighter. He clicked his tongue once at these feelings of his and quickly finished changing.
As he was relaxing in the living room, before long, Miyuki, who had finished changing, came down from her room.
Even though materials had become much more advanced, apparel design had largely remained the same as a hundred years ago.
With her beautiful shapely legs revealed below the short skirt of a style from the start of this century, Miyuki approached him.
For some reason, this little sister's fashion sense tended towards a more revealing nature at home. Even though he seemed to be more or less used to it, her considerably increased femininity due to it frequently caused Tatsuya to feel troubled about where he should rest his gaze.
"Onii-sama, would you like something to drink?"
"Sounds good. I would like a coffee then."
As she headed towards the kitchen, her loosely bound ponytail swayed behind her slender back. It was to prevent her hair from interfering with her kitchen work, but from the fleeting glimpses of the fair nape of her neck, which was normally covered by her long hair, an inexpressible loveliness radiated from the center of the wide neckline of her clothing.
In an advanced country where the use of Home Automation Robots (HAR) was widespread, women—as well as men—who involved themselves with kitchen work belonged to the minority. There were few people who performed any actual cooking in general, such as toasting bread or brewing coffee, with their own hands unless it was a hobby.
And Miyuki belonged to this minority group.
It was not because she was technologically challenged.
When friends came to visit, she would normally leave it to the HAR.
But, when together with just Tatsuya alone, she would definitely opt to perform the labor herself.
The grinding sound from the beans and bubbling sounds of boiling water faintly reached Tatsuya's ears.
She could be said to be pretty hung up to even go to the extent of using a most basic paper drip, rather than using an old coffee maker model.
He had tried asking her once, and her reply was that she wanted to do it that way, so it was probably indeed a hobby for her. He also recalled the time when he had asked her whether it was a hobby, and she had glared at him with a pouting face.
At any rate, the coffee Miyuki brewed was most suiting to Tatsuya's taste.
"Onii-sama, here you go."
She placed the cup on the side table, came around from the other side and sat beside him.
The coffee on the table was black, while the one she held had milk added to it.
"Tastes really good."
There was no need to compliment further.
Just from that alone, Miyuki broke into a grin.
Then, peering into the satisfied face of her elder brother with her smiling eyes, a relieved look surfaced on her face as she brought the cup to her mouth— that was the usual Miyuki.
With that, the two of them savored their coffee.
Neither of them struck up a forced conversation.
Both of them were not bothered by the presence of the other person besides themselves.
The times when it felt uncomfortable to not speak to each other for a long period of time had long since passed.
The topics they could talk about were plenty. Today was the school entrance ceremony. They had made new friends, and for some reason, they had encountered worrisome upperclassmen. Miyuki was invited by the student council as expected. The things that could be recalled, and the things that could be discussed, were too many for one night.
But facing that pair of siblings, in that house of theirs, were merely cups being tilted in silence.
"—It's almost time to make dinner."
Holding her empty cup, Miyuki stood up. Handing over his coffee cup to his little sister's outstretched hand, Tatsuya also stood up.
The evening deepened into night as usual for the two siblings.