The Happiness Written on Her Palm ＊2
I take out the freshly-baked scones from the oven and arrange them on a plate. The brown color and appetizing aroma indicate that I’ve managed to bake them well. I try one of the scones, the crunchy texture mixed with the taste of walnut permeate in my mouth.
“I wanna have one, too~!”
Perhaps lured by the smell, Saki came to the kitchen. She’s really a shrewd one.
“Thanks. Aah— Mm?! Hot!!”
That’s because she’s biting into a scone that is just out of the oven so hastily. She’s holding her hand over her mouth. I make a strained laugh as I hand her a cup of water, which she gulp down in one go in a fluster.
“Fwaah~ it’s too hot…”
“Well, of course it is. I just took them out from the oven.”
“But it’s delicious~ Oh yeah, put some cocoa chips in them next time. You know, like the ones you made the other day.”
“Okay, okay. Next time then.”
Afterwards, my sister satisfies herself by snacking a few more scones before going to the living room to watch the TV. I’ve finished eating my share as well, so I proceed to wash the cooking utensils and plates that I used. Although I like baking sweets, I don’t really like having to clean up afterwards.
Usually, I would get Mom to help. But it seems that she’s coming home late today, so that option is out. I turn off the faucet, and I line up the utensils and plates on the rack, signifying the end of the chore. When I’m wiping my hands with a towel, Saki appears with a cell phone in her hand.
“You got a call earlier. From her…”
I receive my cell phone and check the incoming call history. It seems it was Rumi.
“Aah, it’s from Rumi…”
Saki looks as if there’s something she wants to say. But in the end, she doesn’t say anything to me. I return to my room before operating my cell phone to give Rumi a call. After a few rings, the call finally connects.
“Ah, hello, Rumi-san?”
“[Hmm~? I can hear Hinata-chan’s voice~]”
That awfully cheerful, mushy, and lisping voice… Don’t tell me.
“Are you drunk?”
“[Eeh~ I can’t hear you~! One more time~!]”
“…I’ll take that as a yes.”
I can’t imagine her speaking like this if she were sober. Rather, it’s as if her mind has regressed to that of a child. I remember her speaking like that a long time ago when she was younger.
“I saw your miscall, so I was wondering if you need me for anything…”
“[Hmm~ It’s nothing~ I just wanted to call you~ Ehehe.]”
“You sound so drunk. Are you okay? Are you by yourself right now?”
“[Earlier~ I was drinking with my friends, but I’m alone now~ I feel soooo lonely~]”
Bam, bam! I can hear her striking something from the speaker. Seriously, what is she doing? I’m getting worried. So Rumi isn’t a strong drinker… Either that, or she kept drinking until she got into a drunken frenzy.
“Where are you right now?”
I’m worried to leave her alone in her condition, so I decide to go and fetch her. She said that she had been drinking with her friends. They’re so horrible to go home by themselves and leave her like that. It’s already dark outside, who knows what may happen.
“[Hmm~ Where am I~?]”
“I have no idea how to answer that.”
“[Ah, I remember~! I aaalways played in this park with my Onee-chan!]”
“Aah…… what are you doing over there…? Anyway, I’m coming for you, so stay put, okay?”
I tell Saki that I’m going out. I leave home and increase my pace as I head towards the park that Rumi mentioned. There’s no telling what can happen to her if I make her for a long time while she’s drunk. I keep talking with Rumi on the phone to prevent her from sleeping.
While pressing my cell phone to my ear, I can hear her talking so cheerfully.
“[You know~ Our principal was changed this semester. The new guy’s a baldie, and he’s sooo scary.]”
“I-I see. But you can’t mention about your new principal’s hair to others, okay? I feel sorry about him.”
“[And that middle-aged vice principal is soo fussy! She always goes yadda yadda yadda! She’s keeping an eye on me just because I’m still young!]”
“Rumi is cute, after all—”
I wonder if she’s been getting stressed out at work as she keeps letting out more complaints and grumbles. She told me before that she enjoyed her job, but I guess it’s not all fun and games. Although, since she said that she had been glad to become a teacher, I think she doesn’t think of them as anything serious. From what I can tell, she’s using the alcohol as a leverage to release her all her pent-up stress.
“[Haa~ Working is hard~]”
“But even so, you enjoy it, right?”
She gives an energetic reply right away. I’m relieved to know that matter what kind of hardship she may face, she’ll never say she hates being a teacher.
“I’m almost there.”
The public park is close to my home, and I’m running all the way here while talking with Rumi. So by the time I noticed, I’ve already arrived. I look around as I enter the park, and I spot her sitting on a bench.
There is a slight dent on the signboard near her…… I’ll just pretend I didn’t see that.
“Ah! It’s Hinata-chan~!”
I hang up the call and put my cell phone back in my pocket. As I run over to Rumi, her eyes gleam and she hugs me.
“Wow, you smell like alcohol.”
She hugs me tightly while leaning her face on my shoulder. I have no idea how much she’s been drinking, but the smell of alcohol is deeply ingrained in her clothes.
“You’re so soft and warm—”
“…Good for you.”
I can’t move around since she’s hugging me like a girl would her favorite plushie. I’m sure she won’t listen even if I tell her to let go, so I have no other choice but to leave her be for a while. Besides, when I look at her blissful face, I think being hugged like this is just fine.
“Haah~ This is really calming~”
I can’t calm down in this posture, though. It hurts somewhat.
“And you smell good~”
She’s starting to sound like an old man… I should tell her to drink in moderation next time.
She shoves her head against my body to fawn on me, so I pat her gently. Both of our appearances have changed, but I feel as if we have returned to that time for this moment. It really brings me back. I thought that she had become a reliable girl, but I suppose she is still a spoiled child by nature.
I wonder if Rumi is reminiscing the past like me. True, in the former times, she called me ‘Onee-chan’ instead of the more formal ‘Nee-san’ later on. Maybe she can’t distinguish dream and reality right now. With how drunk she is, she’s bound to forget everything by the time she wakes up in the morning.
“Onee-chan… why… did you leave me?”
Rumi shed tears without sound, while I keep patting her head silently. It had always been my role to console this little crybaby.
“I’m sorry… I really am.”
I say those words in a whisper. Who knows if she can hear it since I’m speaking in such a faint voice.
The only thing I can do is to apologize. When I departed from this world, Rumi was still a small child. Faced by the death of someone so close to her must have been a great shock to her. After causing her so much grief, I still dare to stay with her in secret like this. I’m such a coward.
I’m sorry for being so selfish. I’m sorry for giving you painful memories, for making you feel lonely.
I had wanted to stay with Rumi as her sister if I could. I want to tell her about [me], but I don’t have the courage to tell her that “I’m the reincarnation of her sister”, not when she’s learned to grow apart from me. I’m afraid that I might end up breaking her effort for the past 16 years… But no matter how many excuses I try to pile up, it only shows my own cowardice.
“Rumi… you did great.”
She lost the sister that she had always relied on. But even so, she kept doing her best, enduring many hardships all this time. I don’t know what she ended up thinking when I died, or how she spent the days afterward. But, the more I see the reliable self that she has become, the more I believe that she’s been giving her all as she lives on.
You no longer need your elder sister, you’ve become able to walk on your own now, my sister. But even so… you never forget about me… my precious little sister.
Thank you for still thinking about me, for calling me.
“Even though Sekiguchi Tsubaki is no longer of this world… I will keep watching over you. I may have been reincarnated… but I’ll always be your Onee-chan, Rumi.”
I wipe away the tears that are gathering around her eyes. Maybe she’s tired after crying her eyes out, she’s now sleeping while letting out cute breathings. I thought of letting her sleep like this, but she’ll end up catching a cold.
“Rumi, wake up.”
“Mnya… I love you… Onee… cha… huu.”
She doesn’t wake up no matter how I call out to her and shake her body to and fro. Unlike the past, carrying a grown-up Rumi to her home would be a Herculean task. After all, I’m shorter and (maybe) lighter than her.
“There’s no helping it.”
I consider hailing a taxi, but I decide against it. I’ll just give her a piggyback since my home is closer. I’m sure with my stamina, it will be just fine. I somehow carry the sleeping Rumi on my back, and staggeringly bring her home.
The first thing I do when I reach home, is to ask Saki to help carry Rumi to my room and lay her on the bed. Since she doesn’t seem to be waking up anytime soon, I gently cover her with the blanket and quietly leave the room.
I head to the living room, and I see Saki eating a rice cracker with one hand and tea with the other while watching the TV. She’s acting like someone’s wife who has too much time on her hands. When I enter, she just turns her neck to look at me.
“So, what’s with that drunkard?”
“Hey… you know that you’re supposed to be showing some appreciation for all the care she’s given to you…”
Saki seems to be in a bad mood as she ignores me and directs her attention back to the TV.
“Why are you in a bad mood?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Haah… Isn’t Mom home yet?”
“She called earlier, saying that she’ll be staying out today.”
I sit down and start watching the TV, too. It’s currently showing a comedian frantically running away from a lion. I’m pretty sure that the lion has been tamed. But, with the performer running away like he’s holding to dear life, it’s making me doubt if it’s actually safe. The supposedly comical scene feels like a horror flick to me instead.
After watching the TV together with Saki for a while, I’m starting to feel sleepy, so I return to my own room.
I can hear sounds from my room, so I hurry and go in. Rumi has fallen from the bed and is now holding her head. It seems that she’s still not quite awake after falling from bed.
“A-are you okay?!”
“Mm, I’m alright.”
She’s smiling as if everything’s normal, except that there are tears around her eyes. It’s clear as day that she’s lying. Rumi tries to stand, but she can’t seem to be managing by herself since she hasn’t completely sobered up. I lend her a shoulder and help her sit on the bed.
“I’m sorry for the trouble… Ow.”
She’s pressing the side of her head. Maybe she bumped into something earlier when she fell.
“I’ll bring some ice.”
“Ah, it’s okay. It’s not a bump. My head hurts because I drank too much.”
“Then I’ll bring some water–”
“Mm-mm, I’m okay. More importantly…”
I restlessly take my seat, and I see her serious expression as she stares at me. Her cheeks seem to be flushed a bit. She still looks tipsy to some extent, but at least she’s not in a drunken frenzy anymore.
“I’m sorry… for the trouble.”
“Mm-mm, don’t worry about it.”
I guess she’s still under the influence of alcohol? Rumi just stares at me without giving me any response. When I wave my hand over her face, and she suddenly opens her eyes wide, seemingly having realized something. Afterward, she seems to be disoriented, as her eyes keep darting everywhere across the room.
“Um, are you okay?”
After behaving suspiciously, she takes a deep breath to finally calm herself. Then she makes a face like she wants to say something. She opens her mouth, closes it, opens it again for several times until she finally says out the words.
I wait to hear the words that she wants to say, but she stands up without completing her sentence.
“A-actually… Never mind!!”
With that, she launches herself out of the room and noisily leave the house. As for me, I’m bewildered by the unexpected turn of events. Instead of chasing after her, I only stiffen up in place with my mouth hanging open… Um, did I do something bad to her?
While I’m thinking of the possible reason why Rumi left as though she was running away from me, my sister enters my room. She has an amazed look on her face.
“Hey, Onee-chan. What did you do to Sensei to make her leave so hurriedly?”
“No, nothing particularly comes to mind.”
“Eeh~? Are you sure~?”
I didn’t say anything weird to her when she wakes up, and I don’t think I did anything to her. Ah, maybe she was embarrassed because I saw her while she was drunk. I will get embarrassed, too, if someone younger sees me while I’m drunk and defenseless. Yup, that should be it.
“Hm? This purse… Isn’t it Sensei’s?”
Saki picks up a purse that’s lying next to the bed on the floor and passes it to me.
“There is a fare card inside among other things. Won’t Sensei be in trouble tomorrow?”
“Mm… I guess you’re right. I’ll give it back to her.”
I think I can catch up with her if I leave now. Although my objective is to return her purse, I’m actually worried to let Rumi go home by herself when she’s still drunk.
“Then, I’m going.”
“Ah, stop right there!”
Saki calls out to me just when I’m about to leave.
“I’ve been wanting to ask all this time. Onee-chan, have you known Sensei before?”
“It’s not just Sensei. I mean, Hiori-san and Tsubaki-san, too.”
“…W-what are you talking about? I met them after we moved in.”
My face stiffens up at her sudden question. My voice starts to tremble because of my agitation.
“Mm, I see. You know— I was curious about something.”
“What is it…”
Saki seems to be hesitating, and she looks away from me before muttering in discontent.
“After we come to this town, it just happens sometimes, but… Onee-chan, you look like [a stranger] to me.”
“Especially when you’re talking with Hiori-san. That’s why somehow… you know, it makes me feel anxious somehow.”
She clenches her fist as she reveals her feelings. When I take a closer look, I notice that her small shoulders are trembling.
“I-I don’t get it! Recently, whenever I see Onee-chan speaking with Sensei, I feel uneasy! Somehow, I don’t get why myself… but it’s like someone else is trying to snatch something away from me! I feel irritated!”
Have I ever seen my sister making such an earnest and desperate face as she tries to appeal to my attention?
After saying things like, “I don’t get what’s going on with myself!! I really don’t get it!! You idiot!” she still snaps at me in the end. Perhaps because she keeps on talking without pause, her face is now beet red as she gasps for air.
I gently place my hand on Saki’s head. Even now, she looks as if she’s going to bite me. When I slowly pat her head, she’s still pouting, but she doesn’t brush my hand away. My sister remains quiet as she lets me continue patting her, it makes my heart feel warm.
“Saki, no matter what happens, you’re my sister. That will never change.”
I pack all my feelings as I say those words. Saki’s small shoulders twitch when she hears it.
“…Hmph! That’s a matter of course!”
My younger sister pouts as she gives a snort. She’s so darling that way.
She always acts as if she doesn’t care, so I didn’t think that she would suspect me like that. That’s why, even though I feel bad for her, her words earlier actually made me happy. It makes me happy, so happy that I think my face will turn into a smile if I lose focus. However, I strain myself to prevent her from noticing.
“Aah, geez! Forget it! Go after Sensei already.”
It seems that she’s getting embarrassed. She keeps pushing me and prompt me to leave.
“I’ll be back soon.”
Ooh, I wonder where her meek self has gone. My pompous sister has returned to her usual self who likes to hurl her insults. Well, even THE thick-headed me would notice that it’s just her way to hide her embarrassment. I’ve been her sister ever since she was born, so of course I can tell that much.
“…Why are you grinning like that?”
“Nghh— I’m just thinking that my sister is the cutest in the world.”
“…Siscon… There’s a siscon right in front of me…… urp.”
She frowns and says ‘gross’ a few times, looking creeped out. Um, this is also her way to hide her embarrassment… right?
In the end, I’m not sure anymore.