Chapter 31:

My Little Brother is Acting Weird.

My Dad is an Otaku, My Mom is a Fujoshi, and I Wish I Was Dead

When Ryou came home Tuesday night, he had a bit of a different aura around him, and a large black bag slung over his shoulder that I didn't recognize.

Once again, neither Mom or Dad were home. What happened to my mom promising to take more time off? I guess work does come first, but I'm tired of having to babysit my good-for-nothing little brother. When I asked him what was inside the bag and where he got it from, he said "None of your business, Nee-san, screw off" and went up to his room. I should have stretched him like mochi right then and there (what kind of jerk kanchos his own sister?!), but I had a doujin to touch up...and a Shonen Star one-shot to keep working on...and a Super Expert high score to get, so I decided to let bygones be bygones.

Still, I ought to get him back for messing with Haru-kun. What did that little brat think he was doing, picking a fight or something? If I ever catch him around Haru-kun again, he's gonna be in a world of pain. Haru-kun was so confused yesterday. He asked me about Ryou and then when I mentioned he was twelve, Haru went "TWELVE?!" and then spent the whole day walking around like he was in a trance, muttering "he was taller than me..."

All last night, I heard what sounded like a guitar...or a shamisen...or some kind of instrument coming from Ryou's room, but it was so out of tune I couldn't tell what it was. Maybe it was a banjo. Whatever it was, it was messing with my concentration all night. I couldn't even make it to Stage 8 and I went and pounded on his door and told him to shut up but I got ignored.

But I guess that explains why Ryou was so high-strung last night...pfffffffffft...ahahahahahahaha!

Sorry. Sorry. I know I keep promising to stop, but that one just kinda slipped out. It's like I couldn't even control it.

Well, now that I have a good idea of what's in the bag, my next question is how my wannabe delinquent brother got it. I know he doesn't have enough money to afford a stringed instrument...he's just a kid and gets maybe 5000 yen a month from my parents if he's lucky. It might be nosy to mess around with your siblings' stuff, but considering that it's Ryou I have every right to investigate.

So I thought of something. Teenage boys think with two things, their stomachs and their...uhh...second heads- never mind, they think with one thing, their stomachs. Ryou's favorite food is gyoza, he's liked it since he was a little kid. He usually gets home later than me on weeknights even though I have either MRC or track team practice and he doesn't do any club activities because he's a deadbeat. I need to figure out how to get him away from those trashy delinquents who loiter in the Lowson parking lot near school, but that's something for another time.

Anyways, I stopped by the convenience store on the way home and got a big bunch of gyoza, and all I need to do is heat them up and sit them out on a plate and make a note acting like they're from my mom, and then tell my little brother she left him something. He'll probably see through it pretty quickly, but all I need is a distraction so I can have a few seconds to investigate. It's perfect.

So the first thing that I need for my plan to work is my parents not being home.

"I'm back~"

The house is silent.


I'm actually glad my parents aren't home today, for the first time in quite a while. Laying out the dumplings on the plate, heating them up in the microwave, and writing a quick note that looks like it's from Mom doesn't take very long at all. What do I make it about, though? Uhh...congratulations on your...growth spurt. Love, Mom. Yeah, that'll do it.

Now all I have to do is wait until the awful noises start coming from his room and this plan is a go.

It's still probably gonna be a couple hours until he gets back, though. Sigh. I guess it's homework time. I don't get why they call it homework. Homework should be physical work you do on your home, like home improvement…not papers you write in your home. They should call it "Crappy Busywork that Everybody Hates" instead.

Even though it takes all the energy I have left to trudge up to my room and turn on the lights, seeing the figures on my desk by my PC instantly raises my spirits. If there's one thing I can count on, it's that Rum-chan and Nagisa-chan are still the cutest things ever! If I have Nagisa-chan rooting for me, I can get through any amount of Modern Literature, English, and Japanese History!

Ugh. 30 minutes and I'm stuck. English doesn't make any sense, and every time I look to Nagisa-chan for encouragement I keep thinking about how she didn't win and Sachi won even though Nagisa was so much better than Sachi and deserved Kotarou's heart and...ugh. I'm sorry if I'm ranting, but it was so STUPID!

And then I look at Rum-chan for more encouragement and all I can think about is how cute she is in that dress and how much she loved Futaba and how much she sacrificed for him and what does Futaba do? He says to her face "I like Aemili" like a total idiot.

You know, I saw on the internet that when you get stuck on homework (and bad writing decisions), you should take a break. That's what I'm gonna do. I have a few things to get done. Number one is being the respected leader of the doujin circle that's gonna conquer Comiket, the Nakamachi Tomodachi (founded last week).

The last message in the LIME chat is from me, last night. No responses. I need to keep Haru-kun and Suzucchi in the loop (and Tora-senpai- he doesn't have a cell phone, but I email him chat screenshots). Constant communication is what makes great teamwork, or that's what I heard online. I don't really understand what that means, but I think it means that if you're in charge, the more you pester people to get their work done, the better.

Haru-kun, are you done editing?

A few minutes pass, then the message flips to "read by 1", then "read by 2", and then another message pops up in the chat.

@Haru10kou: You asked me that last night

@Ayamonogatari: so r u done?

@Haru10kou: No I have homework and practice

@Ayamonogatari: Your priorities are so messed up lol

[Sticker of a pouting Epee from Wish/Stay Dawn]

@Haru10kou: No, yours are messed up

@Haru10kou I have till Saturday

@Ayamonogatari: R-E-N-T

@Haru10kou: Shut up about that!

@Haru10kou: I'll get done when I get done!

@Haru10kou is offline.

Ping. The email icon appears at the top of my screen.



We regret to inform you-

I don’t need to read anything else. I kinda knew I didn’t have any chance, but it still hurts. I worked so hard on my one-shot and it got thrown out at the first checkpoint.

There’s no way I can get back to my homework after this. I just want to bury my head in my pillow and go to sleep.

Maybe I’ll play Nanhou to cheer up. Only one'll be five minutes or so. I'll finish my homework after that...

The awful twanging from the next room over snaps me back to reality. Ryou's already home? That was quick. The clock in the bottom right corner of my monitor screen reads...8:15 PM. I just wasted an hour and a half! Crap, I hope he didn't already find the gyoza and eat them!

The sound of the twanging and plucking gets louder as I approach his room. It is torture to listen to. It sounds like a cat being strangled.

"Oi! Brat!" When it comes to my annoying little brother, kicking in the door is the best way to get his attention.

Ryou is sitting on his bed, holding a pretty nice-looking, yellow-and-amber stained acoustic guitar. Well, now I know for certain what was in the bag.

"Nee-san, don't barge in here without knocking!" Ryou turns bright red as he yells. He's acting like I walked in on know, I'd rather not think about that.

"Where'd you get that?" If I can get him to fess up here, I’ll get to eat the gyoza myself. They're better served being in my stomach instead of his.

"Why do you care?”

"Do you want me to tell Mom?"

"Fine. I borrowed it.”

"Borrowed. From who?"

"None of your business! I can't borrow something? If you just came here to fuck with me, go piss off and watch those idol anime you like or something."

"I'm not here to grill you. Mom left you some food downstairs. Oh, and she also told me to make sure you were doing your homework." Sure, I'm not doing my homework, but who cares about the small details?

I can tell from the confused look on my brother's face that he's not quite sure what to think about what I just said, but he finally shrugs his shoulders and gets off the bed, his spiky bleached hair shaking slightly. He really has gotten super tall and skinny. He's got about 15 cm on me and he's not even 13.

He leaves and heads down the stairs, slouching, giving me a suspicious glance. Well, one look at those delicious dumplings and he'll be scarfing them down. I have maybe a couple minutes to search before he catches on.

His room still looks like a kid's. I guess he is a kid, though. He's still got his Zeroranger figures and toy cars on a shelf. My parents won't let him get a smartphone, so he has a flip phone lying on his desk. His bed's sloppy and the guitar is laying down on it. I don't know much about musical instruments (except what I learned from C-On and Trombone Sound), but this doesn't seem like something cheap that you would get at the 100-yen store. He "borrowed" it, apparently...something's fishy. Is there any maker's mark on it? Nope. Nothing on the front or back.

What about the bag? The black guitar bag is in the corner of the room, thrown down with his school stuff. I have to be quick about this...he's probably about done with the dumplings by now.

There's a sticker on the outside of the bag. Property of Mitsukoshi Music, 047-XXX-XXXX. Got it. That's what I needed. Snapping a picture on my phone is easy enough, but almost immediately the sound of Ryou’s footsteps on the stairs fill my ears. Oh, crap. I can't leave in enough time. I have to make it seem like I was doing something else...

"Nee-san, what are you still doing in my room?" As soon as I hear Ryou grumble from behind me, a nervous chill runs up my spine.

"Oh...uhh...checking out your manga, hehe. Tokyo Avengers? I'm not surprised."

When I turn around, Ryou stares at me, confused, but all he says is "What do you mean you're 'not surprised'?"

"Uhh, you want to be tough, and that manga's full of gangsters and stuff...heh..."

"Nee-san, if you're just here to insult my taste in manga, leave."

"Fine. But you better finish your homework by the time Mom gets home."

"Whatever." He slams the door as soon as I’m out in the hallway and the awful guitar string twanging starts up again. If I have to listen to that all night, I'm gonna strangle him!

Wait. I do need to figure out how Ryou got that guitar…I guess I can start by calling the store. I know it's late and they're probably closed, but I can at least leave a message. With how loud his playing is, he won’t even hear me on the phone in the guest room.

I'm expecting the beep of an answering machine with how late it is, but the phone rings twice and I hear a shaky old man's voice coming through. "Mitsukoshi Music, Mitsukoshi speaking..."

"Uh...hi!" I didn't expect to actually be speaking to someone. "Are you...uhh...missing a guitar?"

"Missing?" comes the old man's slow voice on the other end of the line. "I can't say I am...I did loan out a mid-range acoustic the other day, but that's about it...are you interested in purchasing or loaning as well?"

"Who did you loan it to?"

There's silence on the other side of the line for a couple seconds, until the old man says hesitantly, "Can I ask why you're so interested, ma'am?"

"Uhh..." Any way I put this, it'll sound weird and suspicious, but it's for a good cause, I swear.

"My good-for-nothing brother came home with one of your guitars and I thought he stole it."

"Oh! You don't mean Ryou-kun, do you?"

"Yup, I'm his sister. He hasn't been causing you any trouble, has he?"

"No, not at all! He's very well-behaved. He's been coming by the shop after school lately the past few days." The old man’s voice is creaky, slow, and worn. "He was interested in learning how to play guitar, so I've been giving him lessons. Yesterday I let him borrow one of my guitars I made, since he mentioned he wanted to practice on his own time."

"Lessons?" I know for a fact he doesn't have enough money to pay for that. "Is he paying you? I'll make sure that little brat does!"

"No, no, don't worry about payment. It's nice enough to see a young person who's interested in string instruments. I haven't met one in a while. To be honest, I'm thinking of closing down the shop soon...I'm getting old and business has been tough lately. No one’s interested in custom-made instruments these days…but I wanted to pass on as much as I can before I retire."

There's silence on the line for a couple more seconds, and then he continues. "Ryou-kun reminds me a lot of my grandson. I don't see him very much anymore. When he was younger, I wanted to show my grandson how fun playing guitar was...but I feel like I may have pushed him too hard. Ah, forgive this old man for rambling. I'm sure you don't care."

"No, I understand...if my brother's behaving, that's okay. Just let me know if he causes you any trouble."

"Sure. I am a bit worried he's spending so much time learning music that he’s neglecting his studies, but that's not any of my business. What's your name again, miss?"

"Ayame Shiritori."

"Youzan Mitsukoshi, proprietor of Mitsukoshi Instruments.”

"I'll be here if Ryou gives you any problems, Mitsukoshi-san."

"I don't expect it, but thank you for your kind offer. Oh, excuse me, I need to get going. Good night, Shiritori-san."

"You too, Mitsukoshi-san." With that, the phone goes dead.

That was unexpected. Ryou? Devoting himself to a hobby? I'm still not convinced that I'm not being messed with...I mean, my brother is a slacker and a delinquent. But still, Mitsukoshi-san would have no reason to lie to me.

He's still twanging away in his bedroom. Maybe Mitsukoshi-san is right? Maybe my worthless brother is actually applying himself to something for once?

But if he can put so much effort into learning guitar, why doesn't he put that effort into studying and staying out of trouble? I just don't get it.

Ugh, I've wasted so much time bothering with Ryou's stuff. I still need to finish my homework. Time to go back.

As I open the door and turn to leave the guest room, the light coming into the room from the hallway makes something under the closet glint. I know I shouldn't be browsing around in there, but...the last time I did, I found a priceless Mikono-sensei artifact! Maybe there's something else good in there! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

When I open the closet, the boxes of papers are stacked up the same way that they were when we organized them. Nothing out of the ordinary- except for a plastic object on the floor. Is that...a floppy disk?

Yup. It’s a real-life, honest-to-God 3.5. This is like an artifact from a forgotten civilization. People haven't used floppy disks for years. I don't think my PC can run one.

It's purple with a piece of masking tape on it, and written on the tape in my dad's sloppy handwriting is "EDGE OF THE WORLD V0.6 PRE-ALPHA 50% ROUTE".

What is this? Dad's not a computer person. Neither is Mom.

Things just got a whole lot more complicated.

Pope Evaristus
Steward McOy