Chapter 3:

How I Increased My Debt

Cursed Lines

I was sure Alice had twisted the word and didn't mean something as ridiculous as us being siblings. But she assured us that she was sure of it and it was not a mistake. Daisuke wouldn't give me peace of mind, I couldn't bring myself to talk to my mother because I would have to believe it first. I guess I was still in shock after hearing that confession when I agreed to exchange contact information with her; and when she practically invited herself to my house on Saturday and offered that I should take her for a walk to show her the city.

So that's why I was walking with her, wondering what we can even talk about. We didn't know each other, we had nothing in common except her belief that we were related. I still thought it was ridiculous, but I didn't have the heart to tell her so bluntly. I felt all the time that I should take care of her, but I told myself it was just empathy. The girl found herself in a completely foreign country, and perhaps she chose me as the one person to help her settle in.

Alice had seemed talkative at school, but now she was silent and looked around. I watched her carefully and tried to figure her out, especially remembering how nervous she was when she entered my house. My mother was shocked when I told her that I was going for a walk with a girl on the weekend. She didn't seem to like the idea and greeted Alice in a rather rude and distrustful tone.

"So he sent you," she whispered, though, as she stared at her for a long moment. I guess they forgot I'm around and I can hear everything.

"You can count on me," Alice said confidently. "I'm going to help him go through this."

"Thank you." Mother finally smiled faintly. "Then I leave my son in your care."

It annoyed me that they were talking about me as if they were discussing something important and keeping secrets from me. I felt alienated because they knew something I didn't. For a brief moment, a strange thread of understanding developed between them, the axis of which was me. I wanted to shout in their faces that I was almost an adult and did not need to be looked after.

"How are you doing?" Alice asked later, smiling at me. "I know it's hard for you because you don't know and don't understand much now."

"I won't deny it," I replied, confused. "It's a bloody weird situation. What about you? Moving to another country is not an easy experience, either." I wanted to push the subject aside.

"It's not, but I'm lucky to have such a super brother next to me," she replied, I just rolled my eyes, which did not escape her notice and she made an offended face. "You're my brother, deal with it."

"From which side?"

"We have the same father," she said calmly. "I'll tell you more at the right time, but I don't want to overwhelm you with too much information."

I laughed nervously, feeling a pain in my heart at the same time. I never knew my father, he disappeared right after I was born. Mom never told me about it, all I knew was that she kept the necklace he had given her as a parting gift. More than once I have caught her staring at it with sentiment. The jewellery had a beautiful stone in it, then I checked that it was lapis lazuli. Since I was a child, this colour evoked a special feeling in me. I wondered why I couldn't tell her not to be joking when everything she said weighed on me like the truth.

I suddenly felt the need to get as far away from her as possible, as if it was all too much for me already. My salvation was right there. Initially, to avoid awkwardness, I asked Daisuke if he wanted to accompany us, but that day he was working at a store that happened to be across the street.

"I'll go get a drink," I said suddenly, pointing to the right building. "Wait a minute, okay? Do you want something too? "

"No, thank you," she replied in surprise.

I felt her watching me with sad eyes, I didn't want to make her feel that way. However, I needed to breathe, if only for a short while. I popped into the store and grabbed two bottles of water and sweet snacks. Also, I wanted to get the herb taste out of my mouth, it helped, but it tasted awful. I could only hope I didn't have to drink it for long. Daisuke was behind the counter, so I didn't leave immediately after paying but decided to talk to him for a while. He leaned out a bit in my direction, wondering where I had lost my ‘sister’.

"How's the walk?"

"I have mixed feelings," I answered truthfully. "On the one hand, I don't believe what Alice says; on the other hand, I have an inner need to trust her completely."

"Alice is an interesting girl," Daisuke confirmed. "But I can't figure her out either."

My friend looked at me with a twinkle in his eye as if to say ‘Leave it to me’, I wasn't sure if that was a good idea. He focused on another customer who had just approached the counter. I wanted to make sure that Alice was okay. Through the window, I saw that she was surrounded by several boys, and she was not comfortable with it. I ran out of the store, and some mysterious instinct kicked in. Without thinking, I pushed the one closest to her away and assumed a defensive pose.

"Get lost," I said, with adrenaline and sudden confidence.

"What's wrong with you? Are you her boyfriend?" one of them chuckled.

I assessed my slim chances, and I with no experience in fighting against four students. Taller and probably stronger than me. But I had to protect her.

"No, I'm her brother," I replied firmly, clenching my fists.

"You'd better get out of here. Your sister is lovely, and we just want to invite her for coffee." One of them started walking towards me. "But she's very stubborn, so we'll have to use a little more persuasion."

"She wants nothing to do with you!"

"Brother..." Alice clung to my arm with tears in her eyes. "We can't afford so much negativity. Please, let's just get out of here."

"You don't decide that!"

One of them grabbed her wrist and I lunged at him with my fists, but two grasped me, another held Alice as she struggled, and the last one was beating me. All this was combined with a powerful wave of headaches. I didn't know if I was falling into darkness because of the beating or the other ailment. Suddenly, the hands holding me let go, and I hit the ground, gasping for each breath. Alice was beside me, mumbling something in English, probably reverting to her first language from stress.

I expected the police, Daisuke, any adult, anyone to help us, but not Konya Tatsuo. He stood and looked around. The students disappeared, and I was not sure what happened for the last few minutes, because of being too dazed by pain. I wouldn't be surprised if he scared them with his appearance. Alice looked at him with uncertain eyes from time to time. I was not happy to see him, my debt of gratitude did not have to grow even more.

"You've been making a lot of fuss around you lately," he said shortly and started walking away. "See you at school," he said as he left.

I got up and brushed the dust off my clothes, Alice began to calm down, seeing that at least I was fine at first glance.

"You forgot..." Daisuke stopped mid-sentence, holding a plastic bag with my purchases in his hands. "What happened here?"

"I was accosted by some guys, but my brother stood up for me. And then this one, I think from our school, came in and chased them off," Alice replied, still speaking English. "It's all my fault if I didn't want to go for a walk, no one would beat him up."

"Alice," I murmured. "He's really bad at English, he didn't understand half of what you said."

"I'm sorry, I'm terrible," she suddenly burst into tears. "I was supposed to help you, but I'm only causing you trouble."

"The brothers are there to solve them." I smiled as I adjusted my glasses, which were somehow still in one piece. "Especially older brothers, because I'm older than you, right?"

"Yes, you are," Alice confirmed.

It wasn't like I suddenly believed everything, but I felt it would help her a bit and calm her down. I suggested that we go to a nearby park and talk calmly there, skipping the further walk. I knew there were swings. It was too cold for the kids, so I was relieved to see that they were free. We ate and rocked in silence.

"Thank you," Alice finally said, and I suddenly missed the happy version of her. "And I'm sorry you got hit because of me."

"It wasn't any worse than the headaches of the last few days anyway," I replied. "Besides, I'm fine." I shrugged.

"You know the boy who helped us?"

"Unfortunately," I muttered. "Now I have to thank him even more, which I don't feel like doing."

"He seemed nice, but scary at the same time," she concluded and fell silent for a while.

"Alice, why don't you tell me everything? Just like that?"

"I can't." She shook her head. "It's too much information. They're too overwhelming. You're almost an adult, which is a good and a bad thing at the same time. You still have an aware mother on your side. It all hit me suddenly when I was seven years old. There was no one around who understood what I was going through, I want to spare you that."

"I'm grateful, but I don't like all this mystery," I replied. "How am I supposed to trust you?"

"You'll learn everything in your time, that's all I can promise you."

It all sounded like my whole life was about to turn upside down all of a sudden. The whole plan fell apart the day these headaches appeared. Their reason was obvious to Alice and my mother, and all I could do was wait for them to kindly tell me something themselves. It seemed pointless to extract information from them. I wanted to know the truth, but did I need it to destroy this remnant of apparent control and peace I still have? I noticed Alice starting to shiver from the cold, so I suggested we go home. She willingly agreed, still overwhelmed by the amount of experiences she had gone through in one day.