Chapter 4: They are Already Family
The next morning glistened in the sun.
If it weren’t for the leaves and branches everywhere, it would seem like that violent storm last night was a lie.
“I’m Kousei Ishikawa from next door. My uncle, Daiki Manabe, is working today, so please let me be the one to greet you. We will be in your care. It isn’t much, but I’ve baked some cookies…”
Kousei cringed a little inside.
Although he thought it would be better for them to buy baked goods from a moderately trendy store back in Tokyo, Daiki-san insisted that Kousei’s were better, and in the chaos of the move, Kousei hadn’t had time to protest, and now they were already here.
Then maybe he should have just gone with the customary hand towels, after all… what will these people think of being given cookies baked by a high school boy…
“Oh my, thank you very much! We wanted to introduce ourselves when you were moving in, but we were worried we’d be a bother… My, you’re a well-mannered young man! I wish my grandchildren were like you!”
“Thank you very much.”
Aaah… it would have been nice for that disembodied voice to have woken up and said stupid things while he was doing this, to loosen his tension… Kousei’s stomach was in knots.
It’s not that he was dreading talking to the new neighbors, but even after living until he was 16 in this lifetime, Kousei was still having trouble determining what kind of distance he should have between himself and others.
Daiki-san was one of the few exceptions, but even then Kousei was still on his guard around him.
Right now, Kousei was introducing himself to the neighbors. Daiki-san wanted to do it with him, but having to go in and work today… Anyway, Kousei was doing it on his own.
“I’m sorry not to have come and greet you earlier, but …”
“Oh, nonono, yesterday was a bad day with the typhoon! Come to think of it, did you get your storm doors up? Aaah, we were such bad neighbors; we should have come to help! Next time, don’t hesitate to come to us for anything!”
This neighbor was an elderly couple, and although the grandfather was away, the grandmother answered the door. She’s a sweet, grandmotherly woman, but honestly, this kind of openheartedness made things a little more difficult for Kousei.
“Are you entering high school this year? Ah, I heard your uncle is a policeman, is that true?”
“Ah, yes, I’m entering high school this week as a first year, and yes, my uncle is a policeman.”
“Aah, as I had heard. If he works long hours, DEFINITELY come to us if you need anything. Even if he doesn’t, with only two men in the house, come to us if you need anything anyway!”
Kousei could only smile and answer in short, polite responses, a smile stuck on his face.
When she finally let him go,
“Mom? Who was that?”
A young woman from the backroom came out to meet the grandmother.
The grandmother smiled and handed her the small package of cookies as she bent to pick up the vacuum she had set down when she went to answer the door.
“The new neighbors’ boy came to give his greetings, and he brought some cookies. Aren’t they cute?”
The young woman, the grandmother’s daughter, accepted the cookies offhandedly.
“Heeeh… what are the new neighbors like?”
“The boy is a polite kid, very conscientious. Your kids could learn a thing or two, fufufu! Ah, but you can’t really tell what he’s thinking. Anyway, it sure is reassuring that a policeman will be next door!”
“It’s the ones who seem too perfect that snap and kill a bunch of people, you know.”
“Mou! I didn’t raise you to be so judgmental! Without knowing a thing about them, making such a thing up!”
The daughter laughed goodnaturedly.
“Sorry, sorry. That’s not what I meant. I meant you should be aware of your surroundings, since YOU don’t know that much about them, either. You’re not getting younger, and I worry with you and Dad being all alone…”
“Haa, we’re fine, Maiko, it would be too much for both of us to move into your household. We’re still able to get around, and this is the house we’ve lived in for so long…”
The daughter absentmindedly opened the small package of cookies as she said,
“Even so, Jiro and I worry about the two of you. When Dad hurt his back, and you couldn’t lift him at all…”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. Next time, I promise I’ll call you immediately.”
The daughter sighed at her mother’s response and diverted her attention to the cookies kind of grumpily.
There was no helping it; her parents are so stubborn.
“Oh! These are really good!”
“Could you please stop laughing already?!”
“B-because, even though you’re like this, when you talk to other people …. hahaha, it’s soooo out of character!”
“You’ve had over half a day to laugh about it! Please, just give it a rest already!!!”
Uwoooh, to think that the voice actually WAS awake when I was going to greet the neighbors…
Shit! It’s not like I LIKE playing like I’m some perfect model of a kid, you know?!
It’s just easier to get by like this!
Even though I told that voice all of that already… This is why hikki-neets need to go get a life-!
Stop fixating on thaaat!
“Like I said, I was just making sure the thing they remember about me is ‘polite’, okay?! It makes it easier because there’s no good or bad impression, okay?!”
“Daaaammit! Talking to you makes me feel like I’m going crazy!”
“Ah, but you’re way more amusing if you just act like your normal self, you know?”
“And by amusing, I assume you actually mean ‘funny-to-you’.”
“Well, I can’t deny that since I haven’t laughed like this in centuries!”
I finished breaking down the cardboard boxes and stacked them together.
Shit! I’ll take out my embarrassment on the next set!
Rustle shuffle rustle
As I was clearing the empty boxes, I uncover a moderately small cardboard box, still sealed.
“No… I wonder what was in this box?”
It’s labeled ‘for memorial altar(butsudan)’, but I had already set up the altar and my mother’s photograph… Grandma is memorialized back in my aunt and Kenji-san’s house.
It’s not like our altar is a particularly well-stocked one, and our altar is on the cheap side (or like, it’s basically just a cupboard on top of a cupboard), so there shouldn’t have been another box.
I cut the tape and open it up.
“So? So? What’s in it? Hm?”
“Annoying, I’m still trying to get it open!”
“Geeez, hurry up.”
We both grumble a little as I give up my wrestling and pick up the box cutter again to cut the tape on the ends.
“It says it’s for the altar, but I already set that up … nn?”
On top of what looks like a yukata and a sequined clutch, there was a picture of a young woman I’ve never seen before. Next to it was a hair ornament and a jewelry box, the kind you’d put a ring in.
“…I think this is Daiki-san’s. I’d better put it away…”
Even so, my hand moves towards the jewelry box. Curse my curiosity.
“What? What? What is it?”
It was as I thought. Inside that box, although it wasn’t extravagant, was a woman’s ring with a cluster of three tiny diamonds in the shape of a flower embedded in the band.
“Mementos of a young woman I’ve never seen before, and an engagement ring.”
“Eh?! So your uncle was engaged… heh…”
“…It’s probably better if I pretend I didn’t see it… where’s the packing tape again?”
I said as I moved to rewrap the box up.
If he wants to put it in the altar next to Mom I’m okay with that, but since Daiki-san hasn’t told me anything about this woman, I feel I’m intruding just by taking a look.
After securing the tape, before I close up the box, I hesitate a moment, and I can’t resist the urge to say,
“I’m Daiki-san’s nephew, Kousei, and I’m in his care.”
Kaaa-! I feel kind of dumb for doing that!
I quickly close the box and tape it shut.
Strangely, the disembodied voice doesn’t make fun of me for addressing the photo.
I’m not sure what to do with the box, but it’s small enough to fit into the bottom of the altar, among the incense burners and stuff, so I tuck it away in there.
I mean, it’s too awkward to say I didn’t see it if it’s the only cardboard box left in the house!
… I agree, it’s not my best idea…
Daiki-san doesn’t mention a thing about the box when he gets home, and he seems too exhausted so I don’t really want to ask.
Let’s light another stick of incense and double the food offerings tomorrow.
And the next day…
“Please, I’m begging you, don’t talk to me during my school orientation…”
“The first day is REALLY important for a high schooler…!”
“Tsk, fi-ne, but don’t expect me not to laugh when you’re trying to sound all prim and proper!”
Dammit, I don’t know how I’m going to keep a straight face knowing THIS is listening to me!
I try to reason with the voice while I get dressed for my first day in high school.
Two times through high school, and I have yet to wear a gakuran, but I guess that makes sense. Both times around, I went/am going to schools with similar rankings in their prefecture, na.
My first high school, in my previous life, was actually a low-ranking prep school (I assure you I got in on sheer luck), and this one is a high-ranking prefectural school, so somehow they ended up being very similar in terms of academics.
I guess this level of school all prefer blazers.
Though Tsunato High’s uniform is a bit more trendy, oi.
Slim-fit, dark blue blazer with khaki-colored pants that were recommended to be hemmed so they brush the tops of your shoes with only a few centimeters overlap … how precise are they trying to be, oi?
And the three gold buttons up the blazer’s sleeve cuffs are way overkill!
I can totally expect good things from the girls’ uniforms… uh… I mean, this is ridiculous.
Seriously, whoever designed this was totally going for a fashion award, huh?
Since today is the first day, I should go for a more proper look and wear everything in a straight-laced manner … ah, well, in this life I was going to go with the proper look for my everyday, huh…
Carefully combed hair, fake glasses (technically, they’re reading glasses so they’re not 100% fake), tuck in the shirt, properly tighten the tie, button the blazer …
Ugh! I look so much like a model elite prep school kid, I’m giving myself hives!
No good, no goooood!
Ah, but I already decided…. guh…
Endure it. Endure it! Your goal is to be as proper and boring as possible-! Your goal is to have the teachers assume you won’t need any ‘special’ attention, and the students to assume you’re not interesting enough to ask to do things while being nice enough to not bully.
That’s right! Your goal is to be a wall! No, air-!
Even though I’m totally screaming, “Why, my high school life-!?” inside.
Kuuu-! My (second) youth!
But even while dancing in agony on the inside, I can see the reason for it outside my bedroom window.
As expected, it would be better to keep everyone at an arm’s length, in case anything happened.
Still glancing at that thing from the corner of my eye, I say,
“… I’ve thought this before, but why are there so many youkai in this town?”
“Maa, it’s THAT kind of place, after all.”
“But you won’t tell me what THAT kind of place means.”
“Just saying that won’t make it cute!”
“Aaanyway, I’m so excited! I’ll be getting to see what a school’s like for the first time!”
Tch. It changed the subject again.
“Surely there are school dramas on TV.”
I say sullenly.
“Sure, but they’re not the REAL thing-! This is going to be great!”
“…But even if I’M going to school, it’s not like YOU’RE going to be able to hear what’s going on, you know? Aside from me, and I won’t be talking all that much.”
“Did you seriously realize it just now?”
Bickering with the voice, I leave my bedroom.
“…! Daiki-san, you didn’t go into work already?”
I inadvertently said.
Daiki-san grinned as he saw me come out of my room.
Crap. He didn’t hear me yelling at that voice, did he?
I’m seriously breaking into a cold sweat, here-!
“Because I worked all day yesterday, they said I could take off for the morning today. I mean, it’s your first day of high school!”
He didn’t mention anything about me talking to myself, whew… wait, he took off work because it’s my first day of high school?
“Ah… you didn’t have to…”
Daiki-san leaned forward and grabbed me by the shoulders.
Owowow! Daiki-san, your strength! Your Strength is level 3!!!!!
“It’s your first day of HIGH SCHOOL! It’s a BIG DEAL!”
Daiki-san ended up walking me to school and taking a picture of me next to the school’s signboard.
Maa, sometimes it’s not a bad thing to have an overly doting uncle.
<a/n: It’s kind of backwards, where you’re introduced to how the main character’s family situation has already gotten better before you’re told how it was worse than it is now… well, whatever.
The youkai bit should start making an appearance soon.>