It was supposed to be the same homecoming as always.

But today was not the same as usual.

When I got home from work, I got on the elevator and got off on the third floor…

Then I froze.

Because in front of my apartment there was a blond guy trying to peek inside through the peephole in the door.

No matter how you looked at him, he was a very suspicious person. But that guy wasn’t actually a suspicious person or anything like that.

“Kouki…” reflexively, I mumbled the name.

Immediately after, this person also seemed to notice my presence. He raised his head and looked in my direction. “Yo, Niichan, welcome home. I mean, long time no see!”

With a carefree smile and raising a hand, he was my younger brother, who not long ago lived with me in this apartment.

For the time being, I moved to the front of the apartment.

This situation was bad, too bad.

If I remembered correctly, Himari was supposed not to be working today…

“Man, you’re acting suspicious. The residents of the building called the police, you know?”

“My fault, sorry. The truth is, I lost the keys to this apartment, so I was waiting for you to come home, Niichan.”

…Hmm?

Did that mean Kanon hadn’t returned yet?

He must have pressed the intercom once to know that I hadn’t returned yet —if Kanon had been, she would have taken care of it.

But the fact that he was waiting outside meant that apparently, Kanon hadn’t come home yet. Was she taking her time with the shopping?

No, better to put that aside for now.

“Call me before you come, okay?”

Those were words that came from the very bottom of my heart. Had I known beforehand that he was coming, I would have been able to take better countermeasures.

“My fault, I hadn’t planned on it. I happened to have a gig nearby. I took the opportunity to just drop by.”

Kouki was a freelance photographer.

However, he seemed to usually take more pictures of establishments and food for magazines than of people.

When we lived together, we used to go on excursions to photograph wild birds, stray cats, and the like.

“I see… In that case, shall we get something to eat?”

Anything was fine. I had to get Kouki away from this house no matter what.

Then, I would contact home from the restaurant’s bathroom and ask Himari to hide.

There was nothing left to do but stick to the plan.

“Hmm, I’m not interested in going out to eat. I’ll cook something when I get home. Or rather, I think my girlfriend will handle it.”

This normie! I immediately shouted in my mind.

How could I be so envious of something like having a girlfriend waiting for you and having her cook for you when you get home…

Wait, I was in a similar situation now too, wasn’t I? Although it wasn’t a girlfriend at all.

I mean, the plan had already crumbled down… What could I do?

“More importantly, father told me. You’re taking care of Kanon-chan, right?”

“Hm-mmm.”

“I see… I haven’’t seen her for a while. How is she now?”

“That… How should I put it… Very high school student?”

“What does that mean? Niichan, your lexicon sucks, you know!”

While laughing for a while, Kouki gave a slight glance at my suitcase.

I guess he meant to say open the door quickly.

…This was terrible.

As expected, it would be too unnatural not to enter the house in this situation.

On the other hand, if I entered the house as things were, there was no doubt that he would have a ‘random encounter’ with Himari.

I put my hands inside the suitcase, moving as slowly as possible. Although I knew at this point there was no point in stalling for time.

“Ah, isn’t that Kanon-chan?”

Hearing what Kouki said, I turned toward the elevator.

And there was Kanon, holding two shopping bags and looking at us with wide eyes.

Kanon slowly approached us.

“Uhm… Long time no see… Kou-nii.”

With her eyes looking up at him, she greeted him shyly.

“Long time no see. Oh, you’ve really grown up, Kanon-chan.”

“Thank you.”

Kanon glanced sideways at me.

Our eyes only met for a moment, but it was enough for Kanon to convey to me that she was also thinking, ‘This is terrible.’ In this situation there was no alibi to keep him away.

If it were someone else, I could excuse myself by saying ‘it’s just that the inside is a mess,’ but Kouki was family.

Even if I told him, he would probably dismiss it by saying there was no need to worry about it.

If it happened, I had nothing left to do but prepare for the worst.

After a brief pause, I finally took out the house keys.

* Gachari. *

The unlocking sound was heavier than usual.

When I slowly opened the door, the house lights were off. Himari’s shoes were there, but a sepulchral silence reigned inside.

This…

Could it have been that Himari noticed the unusual event in front of the door and hid?

“Oh, I missed this place.”

Kouki came in and followed me from behind, not alluding to Himari’s shoes. Maybe he thought they were Kanon’s property.

Kanon came in and turned on the light switch, then put the grocery bags on the kitchen table. Kanon’s expression was stiffer than it had been a moment ago.

Kouki walked into the living room and crouched down before the TV.

“By the way, I left some games I bought over here. Do you mind if I take them?”

“Hmm, no problem.”

Now that I thought about it, I hadn’t touched the video game console since Kanon and Himari came home. Or rather, I had hardly done so since I became an office man.

After finishing work, I was too tired to plug the console cable into the outlet…

I looked toward my room, a short distance away from Kouki, who was looking for his video games.

Himari wasn’t there.

But the fact that her shoes were in the doorway meant she had to be somewhere.

I beg you, please let Kouki leave without noticing…

‘Oh, right. Is my T-shirt here? I think I left it too.”

“How does it loo-”

In the meantime while I was answering, Kouki opened the closet.

“Uwaaaaaaa?!” he shouted and then jumped.

I immediately knew the reason. It was because Himari was curled up at one end of the closet.

I could feel how in an instant my face lost all color.

Likewise, Himari’s face was pale and her eyes were watery.

All of us were gathered in the living room, just staying silent.

Kouki looked Himari up and down and then in my direction.

“Niichan…”

I had no response to Kouki’s call which clearly felt like he was saying… ‘I’ve witnessed something so wrong.’

Yuuri offered to cooperate by becoming an ‘accomplice’, but we couldn’t expect Kouki to say that under these circumstances.

Contrary to his appearance, Kouki was relatively serious.

“When I first saw her, I thought she was a corpse, and I felt my heart stop…”

Wait, did he say corpse…? Anyway, I had no answer.

“But when I walked into the living room, I faintly thought ‘hmmm?’ That’s because there were two futons.”

I was still at a loss for an answer.

We didn’t have room in the closet to store Kanon and Himari’s futons, so we left them in the living room folded.

“That is, Kanon-chan also approves of it, right?”

Also Kanon when called by name couldn’t do anything but duck her head, looking uncomfortable.

Kouki looked at Himari, who was with her head down and then looked at me once more.

“If it gets out, they’ll probably report it as a crime, you know!”

It wasn’t ‘probably,’ it was a crime. But I had known that all along.

“To think that Niichan likes young girls…”

…Hmm?

“More so, living together so abruptly?”

Hmmm?

“Also, you don’t keep any discretion with Kanon-chan being here, which is not just a little bit, but quite creepy…”

Hmmmmm…?

This means…?

Did Kouki think Himari was my girlfriend?

But thinking about it normally would be the first answer to come up with. Normally, they wouldn’t think something like you’re harboring a girl who ran away from home…

Incidentally, the gaze of the three of us met… Then we nodded our heads slightly so Kouki couldn’t notice.

It was a signal that said, ‘we’ll let Kouki continue to have that misconception.’

Indeed, it was telepathic communication. A shared mind. Here are the results of living together for a month.

“Well, what can I say, there’s nothing to do if you’ve fallen in love… I’ll keep it a secret from our parents… Niichan, try not to let anyone know about this, okay?”

I still didn’t fully understand, but I was safe.

…I wondered if this was really a salvation.

Well, we’d pretend it was for now.

“Well, for now, let me see… How about introducing me to her?”

I nodded and then coughed slightly to regain my composure.

“Understood. This is Himari. She’s the same age as Kanon…”

“The same as Kanon-chan,” Kouki was surprised. Then he looked at Himari and me successively.

“Let me see. To tell the truth, Kanon and Himari are acquaintances… What can I say, things just happened…”

“An acquaintance? Eh… You’re not upset, Kanon-chan?”

“Hmm, well… Rather, I’m happy to have Himari. It’s just that I’ve never lived together with a man…”

“Ah, for sure, right…? I see…”

Although our explanation was ambiguous, no tsukkomis came from Kouki.

Probably, he felt the atmosphere of ‘don’t inquire too much.’ Anyway, that was a great help to me.

“Err, Kou-nii. It’s time for me to cook some food…”

“Ah, you don’t need to prepare for me. I’ll be leaving soon.”

“I see, okay,” after saying that, Kanon headed to the kitchen.

“I-I’m going to help too,” saying that, Himari joined Kanon. It seemed like it was going to be awkward for her to stay, and I think it was also the best thing for me.

“Hmm… What was it I was doing?”

Maybe it was such a shocking situation for Kouki that he forgot his original goal. If I were in his position, I would have forgotten it too.

While scratching his nape, Kouki asked me.

Kouki took his T-shirt out of the closet and moved to my room. I simply followed him.

“So, Niichan. I mean, I’m curious, but I’m also worried… I know this is indiscreet talk, how are things going for you?”

“…”

Immediately, he asked me a sudden question with a whisper.

As expected, I couldn’t answer immediately either.

“You don’t do it, do you? You know, Kanon is here.”

“Well… that would be a crime… For now we live normally.”

It was quite embarrassing to talk about these things, even if it was a lie… But I’d put up with it.

“I see. I’d like to say I’m relieved… but, honestly, it’s hard, isn’t it?”

“Well… There’s the toilet, you know…”

“I knew it would be like this… She’d easily tell by the smell if it’s in the bedroom. Ah, I would advise you never to do it in the shower. It tends to get hard in hot water… I plugged the drain in the bathroom, and my girlfriend got really mad at me for that. Then she said. ‘that means I’m not necessary, huh!’ and even though I told her she was wrong, she didn’t understand. That was a real slaughter…” Kouki said this while looking distant, as if he had just returned from the battlefield. He completely conveyed to me ‘it was truly terrible.’

“I’ll remember it, thanks…”

“Special care with the shower drain…”

The story of how Kouki dug his own grave was deeply etched in my brain.

“So, Niichan, Kanon-chan and Himari-chan, see you.”

We were waving goodbye to Kouki at the entrance.

As he had announced, Kouki didn’t make a long visit.

“Ah, right, Niichan. Maybe you’ve already heard, but our mother is about to leave the hospital.”

“That reminds me, they said by the end of this month, right? I’ll drop by their house.”

“Okay. I’ll see you next time.” Waving goodbye, Kouki left the apartment, still with the ridiculous misunderstanding that Himari and I were dating.

That was certainly helpful, but that being said, how was it that my own brother didn’t think the situation of me dating a high school girl was strange…?

That is to say that for Kouki I was the kind of person who would do such a thing? That left me somewhat depressed…

After closing the door, we almost simultaneously let out a ‘phew!

“I haven’t seen Kou-nii for a while, but he’s still the same, you know?”

“Indeed…”

“Things have ended in a terrible mess, haven’t they… I’m sorry…”

“He doesn’t come here often, so we should be fine. In fact, it’s the first time he’s been here since he moved.”

“Is that so?”

With a time lapse like this, Himari shouldn’t be here the next time Kouki came.

So I figured there would be no problem at that point. Besides, I would later send him a message reminding him to let me know the next time he came.

“But even so, in terms of appearance and personality, Komamura-san and his brother are polar opposites, aren’t they?”

“Right. Kazu-nii, it would be nice if you became a little more stylish like Kou-nii is. At the very least, wear contact lenses.”

“I don’t like sticking my fingers in my eyes, you know!” And it would also be a problem to style my hair. I’m fine this way.

And most of all, I wasn’t really into the funny, lively vibe like Kouki.

That said, it wasn’t like I didn’t like that guy. It’s just that he’s always been like that. Still the fact that I lied to Kouki left a thorn inside me.