Chapter 59:

My Childhood Friend is Worried, Even if She's Trying Not to Show It.

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

7 AM. Bright and early. On the solemn weekend of Obon, when us citizens of this glorious nation are supposed to be paying our respects to our ancestors who went before us, I'm ditching them to go to an otaku hive.

I'm not fully awake yet. Between karate practice and this, I've barely had any time to sleep in this entire month...what's the point of summer vacation if you can't take any breaks?

Yawning and leaning on a wall nearby, I turn my head from the road to get a glimpse of the station. It looks the same as ever- a faded, white overhang, with the paint peeling off from years of rain and snow to reveal the gray concrete underneath, the name of the station in big characters right over the entrance, and the train logo slapped beside the name in green. A row of turnstiles, painted the same bright green, sit just inside the entrance, awaiting our fare cards. Beside them is the ticket counter, and inside you can just barely catch a glimpse of a small convenience store and the stairs to the platforms. It's not as nice as Nishi, but it was the closest station to everyone who's going to Tokyo today. And besides, I'd rather not be in Nishi with brings up a memories.

"Niichan, are you alright?"

My little sister, dressed in a blouse, skirt, jacket, and boots, and with a small black purse hanging from her shoulder, peers at me with a bit of concern on her face. Unlike me, she's fully awake.

"Yeah, just tired." I can't stop myself from yawning again.

"If you say so..." She gives me a puzzled expression, but doesn't say anything else.

I rarely see Kaede in anything other than her uniform or lounging around the house clothes, but I think it looks good on her. I think she did her makeup, too. It's really...cute.

Hold on. I'm gonna stop you right there. I'm not being a siscon or a brocon or an aircon or whatever. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying your younger sibling is cute. Now, if it was someone like Ayame saying that, they probably would mean it in that way. But I'm the one saying it and I'm not a deranged pervert, so I don't. Am I clear?

Moving on. I guess it is a special day for her and all. It's like an interview, so it makes sense that she'd want to look her best. I wish Mom would have told me about it sooner, though. The conversation went something like this:

"Oh, by the way, Haruto, about Comiket..."


"Have you planned everything out with Kaede yet?"

"Huh? Kaede?"

“Didn’t you agree to chaperone her there?”

"Hold on just a minute. Chaperone? Where?"

"Comiket, obviously."

"Absolutely not. I'm not letting her within sixty kilometers of that place."

“I thought your father or I had already told you, or Kaede…my bad, hehe.” At that point, Mom apologetically clapped her hands. " see...the thing is, we already agreed to let her go there with her friends, so long as you were keeping an eye on them. She's got something important to do there, so if you were to refuse I bet she'd be upset...sorry! I'll make it up to you some way!"

I was starting to lose my temper, not just from being left out of the loop, but from Mom winking and doing that stupid "oops, I messed up" pose. It looks stupid when children do it, and it looks even stupider when middle-aged women do it.

"She got scouted to be a voice actress..." Mom's eyes lit up in a frightening way. "I knew our little darling had talent, but I wasn't expecting this...maybe she'll be the next Hana Kanezawa...or Mariko Gotou..."

"A what?! Why did no one tell me about this?! Ugh..."

Obviously, I didn’t want to see my little sister on the credits of one of those awful ecchi anime disgusting old guys (and Ayame) like, and I don't want to now, in the future, or EVER. So I made my feelings clear. "She is not going."

"Aw, you'll hurt her feelings..." Mom started looking away, comically downcast. "You don't want her to tell you she hates you, right?"

"Mom, stop trying to guilt trip me."

"Seriously, though! You need to take her!"

"Why don't you and Dad take her?"

"Because he has to work and I need to go grocery shopping and clean the house!"

Of all the days for her to be responsible...well, who exactly was it that inspired them to be that way? I guess it was my fault after all...

"I'm still not taking her and that's final. I don't want her exposed to that place."

"Listen up, Haruto." Her voice dropped about an octave as she marched toward me. The height difference made it positively comical. "Comiket's a center of creativity. Thousands of people work hard all year, whether that's drawing, writing, cosplaying, buying and selling- just because they love their favorite anime and manga and video games and they want to share their love with others. So I don't want to hear you talking bad about it again. You got me?"

"Oh, for the love of-"

"If you don't take Kaede, I'm wearing the Kore Pink costume every day for the next year."

"Mom, stop it! You're acting like a little kid!"

Unfortunately, every single one of my protests made it worse, so here I am, about to escort my sister into the den of vipers. Every single time I think about it, my heart drops some more.

"Kaede, sorry. I forgot to tell you one thing."

"Huh? What is it?" She turns her head toward me. I wonder what she's feeling about her...I guess it's an audition? Excitement? Fear? Both?

"If the people at your audition ask you to moan, leave right away and tell me."

"What?" Her face suddenly flushes. "It's not an's an info session! Are you okay?!"

"Do I look okay?"

"Niichan, I'll be fine...I promise. Trust me." She looks down at the ground.

I can't do anything but sigh. After everything both of us did to get back on better terms...I don't want to have it ruined by an otaku convention. I don't feel good about it, but I have to trust her. Just like I have to trust her with what happened with Ryou.

The day I told her, she took off and came back an hour later, disheveled, red in the face and panting. I kept asking her what had happened, but she blew me off. No matter what I said, she'd answer "I'm taking care of it" or "It's going to be fine". It was easy enough to guess that she was keeping a secret from me, but the more I tried to get it out of her the more defensive she got.

I wish she'd tell me. I thought we promised each other that we would be more open. Is the situation with Ryou really so serious that she doesn't want me involved?

The truth is, neither Ayame nor myself can do anything...we have to sit back and believe in my little sister.

Man, it's so frustrating.

Since it's early Saturday morning, the train station is a lot more deserted than it would normally be. Every so often, someone will tap his card and go in, but there's not a swarm of salarymen like there are during the week.

7:04. We're still the only ones here. I check the group chat. Nothing.

"Were your friends supposed to be here soon?"

"Yeah." Kaede shakes her head dismissively. "I haven't heard from them yet."

Almost immediately as she finishes that sentence, a sleek black sedan pulls up to the curb in front of the station. That is a nice car. It looks brand new, too.

As I admire it, the side door pops open, and the back of a small female figure wearing a sweater, skirt, and tights hops out. Then, I hear a familiar voice float over to us.

"Dad, I'll be fine!"

The girl shuts the door and starts walking toward us, but keeps her head turned back toward the car. "No, you don't need to call me when I get there!"

"Bye Dad, love you." The girl waves, then turns back around and looks for a second before the car pulls away. Then, she catches sight of us and dashes over to my sister and me.

"Hey, Maid-kun." The small girl with dark, parted hair with a couple barrettes fastened in it grins at me deviously.

Just like that, I'm fully awake.

"I dare you to call me that one more time and see what happens." I'm staring daggers straight at this girl. I've met her twice in my life, and that was two times too many.

"Oh, scary." She giggles, but doesn't break eye contact.

It feels like we stare each other down for an entire millennium until my sister jumps in. "Saya, come on..."

The other girl finally looks away from me, and I breathe a sigh of relief. It might be slightly frowned upon to try and intimidate one of your sister's middle school friends, but she deserves it, so I don't feel bad about it.

"Morning, Kaede!" The other girl cheerfully greets my sister, then flashes another smirk at me.

"Oh, by the way, Niichan, this is my friend Saya." Kaede hesitantly cuts in front of both of us, speaking quickly. "I think you've-" her eyes cloud over and she looks away- "met her before, right?"

Yes, unfortunately.

"I'm Saya Asahi and I'm in the same class as Kaede at school. Nice to meet you, Maid-kun."

"That's Kouga to you."

"Sorry, I was just messing around! I do that a lot." She’s absolutely not sorry. I can tell.

Before I can snap at the small, annoying creature, we're interrupted by the sounds of heavy breathing, and then I turn to see Suzuran, flushed, wearing a flower-pattern dress and gray jacket. Even though she's slumping over and her hands are on her knees, it's doing absolutely nothing to hide her ample bosom.

"M-made it in time...whew...huh? Where is everyone else?"

"Late," I reply without turning my head.

"G-good morning, Kouga-san...who are those two?" She quickly brushes her hair back away from her forehead and fixes her red-framed glasses.

"That's my sister and her...friend." I spit the last word out with more than a little disgust. I love Kaede, but she needs to be more choosy about who she hangs out with.

Normally, this would be the time where you'd introduce yourself, but Suzuran is instead standing by me, fidgeting nervously and looking down at the ground.

"Hey, I'm Saya Asahi, nice to meet you!" The annoying thing quickly bounds up to Suzuran, who yelps out of reflex.

"And this is Kaede! Go on..." Asahi grins as she grabs my little sister.

Kaede, startled, widens her eyes for a second before she regains composure and quickly mutters, "My name's Kaede Kouga. Please continue to take good care of Niichan..."

"I'm F-F-F-Fuuka's a p-p-pleasure to make both of your acquaintances..."

Poor Suzuran. It's bad enough that she has to deal with Ayame all the time, but now we have another troublemaker on our hands.

Off in the distance, Kaede grabs at her chest a couple times, casts a quick glance at Suzuran, then an expression of disgust crosses her face and she quickly looks away.

What's going on with her? I'm gonna have to keep everyone in line, aren't I? I'm not looking forward to it.

Thankfully, less than a minute later, relief arrives.

If Takeno-senpai's surprised by the scene unfolding in front of him, he doesn't show it. "Good morning, Kouga. You too, Suzuran."

"Oh! G-good morning, Takeno-san!" Suzuran quickly rushes over to greet him.

Asahi grabs my sister by the arm and practically drags her over to Takeno-senpai and Suzuran. Takeno-senpai gives them a brief, puzzled look. "Kouga's younger sister, right?"

Kaede nods in reply.

"And who might you be?"

"Oh, my name is Saya Asahi, I'm Maid-kun's girlfriend."


As soon as Asahi smirks at me, I charge straight at her. "You little..."

"Saya!" Evidently, my sister’s thinking the same as me.

I get right up in Asahi's face for the second time today, and she's just smirking. "Sorry, Onii-chan, I couldn't resist..."

And once again, she's not sorry at all.

"Once again, it's Kouga. Got it?"

"If you say so."

"Saya, what am I going to do with you?" Kaede sighs.

I turn around just in time to see Suzuran, beet-red and practically delirious. "Kouga-san, you have a g-g-g-g-"

"No, I don't, and if I did it definitely wouldn't be that…that thing over there!"

"Eep! S-sorry, Kouga-san, I misunderstood..."

The high-pitched giggle from behind me makes me want to tear my eardrums out with a pointed stick. "He's two-timing's making my heart race~"

"Saya, you've got to be kidding me-"


My sister and I speak at the exact same time, but we're interrupted by the sounds of fast footsteps on the concrete and a cheerful female voice. "Kaechan! Sayaya! I'm- Hyaaaaaaaah?!"

A girl in a frilly, cute dress, with her hair pulled out in twintails, is standing on the sidewalk in front of us, looking like her soul has left her body.

"Morning, Miku-chan," Asahi says with a smirk.

My sister immediately rushes over to the girl, who's making a series of strange, flustered noises. "Miku! It's okay!"

Great, just what we need, another weirdo.

"Kaechan, help!"

As I look in the strange girl's direction, she shrinks behind my sister and makes some kind of weird noise.

"...Is your friend okay?" I turn to my sister and she shrugs and shakes her head.

"She's fine."

"She's not sick or anything?"

"Well, sort of...but it's a different kind."

I need to at least be nice to Kaede's friends (that don't enjoy bringing up the Maid Incident), because honestly, it looks like this girl is scared of me, and I don't like it.

Hesitantly, I approach. "I'm Haruto Kouga. I'm Kaede's older brother. Nice to meet you."

She's white as a sheet and she's clinging onto my sister for dear life. I think she's passed out. Oh, no.

Why are you looking so smug over there, Asahi?

"Come on, snap out of it!" Kaede shakes the small girl vigorously, but she's limp like a ragdoll. With a sheepish expression, she turns back around to us. "This is Miku Maebara, my classmate. She's a little scared of...uh...people...sorry about that..." Kaede's eyes shift off to the side as she talks.

"Especially when they're related to Kaede~"

Okay. I've had enough of this little brat. I'm not going to hit her (imagine what Kaede would think of me after that) but I've got a solid half meter on her, which is more than enough to be intimidating.

"Listen here. First off, respect your elders. You are not on a first-name basis with me and never will be. I'm not 'Maid-kun' and I sure ain't your brother. Second off, I am not a scary person and girls my sister's age are not afraid of me. Are we clear?"

Asahi smirks even though I'm glowering at her. "You were way cuter wearing the dress."

"You-" Damn it, she trapped me. What can I actually do? If she were male, I could get her to respect me the old-fashioned way, but that's out of the question. I could walk away, but that would hurt my pride as a man.

But that's exactly what I do.

Over by my sister, Suzuran is nervously trying to tend to Maebara, who's flat on her backside on the concrete. There are a few passersby giving us looks as they enter the station. Man, this is already bad and we're not even close to Otaku Hell yet.

"M-M-Maebara-san, are you alright?" Suzuran nervously dabs the girl's forehead with a handkerchief.

"Do you need some water?" Takeno-senpai pulls a water bottle out of the side of his backpack as he bends down toward my sister's friend.

Kaede is still looking at her friend with concern when I mosey up beside her and mutter, "Keep me away from Asahi. Please."

Without turning around, she nods.

"7:12." Takeno-senpai, straightening back up, peers down at his watch. “Almost everyone here. We're waiting on-"

"Ha, right on time! And I'm here first- Ah."

Speak of the devil.

Ayame, carrying a big canvas bag over her shoulder with several rolled-up sheets poking out of it and with a sign on a wooden pole slung over her back, has stopped right in front of us as she realizes that she's the recipient of several disappointed stares.

"Oh...ehehe..." She quickly looks away, scratching the back of her head nervously. "Everyone got everything?"

"Yes." Takeno-senpai points to his backpack.

"Yup." Of course, I have all the supplies I had to bring in my dad's old backpack, too, because I'm not a scatterbrain and I'm not an idiot, like some people here. Not naming names.

"W-was I supposed to bring something?"

"Nope. Oh, Kaede-chan, looking cute!"

"Hi, Shiritori-san..." My little sister nervously fidgets and looks away. I can't blame her. It's hard to deal with idiots in the morning.

"Time for the Nakamachi Tomodachi to set off!" Ayame peppily hops toward the turnstiles like she wasn't just making us wait on her. We follow behind her, with my sister and Asahi dragging the corpse of Maebara. They even tap her card for her.

As we get on the train and the doors close, the skyline starts to roll by. There's some nervous energy in this group. By that, I mean that some are more nervous (like me) and some are more energetic (like Ayame). It's really starting to seep in that I'm about to experience something that I've never done before. Sure, it might be an otaku convention, and I would never go to one out of my own free will, but Ayame, Suzuran, Takeno-senpai, and I all worked hard on this project, and now we get to see our results. At the very least, I can be proud of that.

"By the way, Kouga, are you doing anything for Obon?" Takeno-senpai asks as we both sit down.

My family’s never done anything for the holiday. It makes sense, now that I think about it. I only recently found out that my mom's parents are buried in California, and she wasn't on good terms with the rest of her family. And as for my dad, his family- whoever they were- disowned him. So for me, Obon is like any other day. Saying you don't participate in ancient cultural traditions is rude, though, so I mutter, "Yeah, tomorrow."

"Same here." Takeno-senpai puts his bag at his feet. "My family's local, so we usually do our grave visits on Sunday."

"Shiritori, what about you- Huh? She was sitting here only a second ago..."

On the other side of me, my sister mutters, "Hey, Niichan. Can I ask you to help me with something?"


"We need to keep Saya and Shiritori-san-"

"This girl is Rexy, she's a member of a clan of demons that uses water magic. But they communicate telepathically and she can't, so she was cast out of their village and now she roams around working as a freelance mage."

Both of us turn around at the same time to see Ayame, sitting down with a copy of the doujin open, narrating away to Asahi, who is perched on the seat next to her, nodding along with everything my childhood friend says.

"...away from each other."

Both of us stare in their direction with the same blank expression. I agree with Kaede. That pairing means trouble.

"I think we're too late..." Kaede sighs.

"Yeah. Seems like a disaster waiting to happen."

Meanwhile, Ayame chatters on and on about Rexy and Filfy and Ariel, completely oblivious to her surroundings and the dozens of other people on this train, while Asahi nods along and occasionally asks another question like "What's that?".

"So how are we supposed to break them up?" Kaede turns to me with a quizzical expression on her face.

"I don't want to be around your friend any more than necessary." Asahi is definitely trying to goad Ayame into saying or doing something stupid. I can tell that already, even though I don’t know Asahi very well. I do know that she likes messing with people. Or maybe it's only me in particular.

"Figures. I don't really want to deal with Shiritori-san, either..."

"You've got a point."

We're stuck at an impasse. To go and get those two away from each other would require interacting with both of them. I don't want to be around Asahi because she's an annoying little brat, and Kaede doesn't want to be around Ayame because she's loud and stupid.

We could play rock-paper-scissors for it or something...but if I won and threw Kaede into the line of danger, what kind of big brother would I be?

Ugh. Fine. I guess I have to do it.

"I'll take care of it."

Gulping, I approach the two of them. Ayame is still chattering away. "This panel is based on the part in the fifth volume where they visit the beast village- Oh, Haru-kun!" She looks up with a friendly smile, still holding the doujin open on her lap. "Saya-chan was interested in our doujin, so I was letting her look through it. One of her older brothers really liked Hero Tensei.” She turns back to the annoying gremlin. “By the way, Haru-kun did all the editing on this doujin and I based the scene on page 24 on him as a thank you."

Do I really need to say it again? That is the page where they put Brody in a DRESS! That's not a tribute, or thanks, or anything that would actually benefit me at all!

Asahi looks at me and smirks, but I cut her off before she can open her mouth. "If you were gonna say something, don't."

Ayame flips the doujin back to the first page and then moves her bag full of stuff off of the seat beside her. "You wanna sit down? Saya-chan wanted to know about your edits. Why don't you show her what you did?"

That smug grin still hasn't been wiped off Asahi's face. "Yeah, I've always wondered what goes into making doujins...especially on the editing side."

A vein on my forehead twitches as I glance at the sprawled-out figure on the seats directly opposite us. "Kaede wanted me to tell you to check on your friend over there. I think she's dead."

Asahi gives me a look in response, but doesn't say anything back, and gets up and brushes her skirt off before crossing the length of the carriage to go poke Maebara in the face a couple times, and Kaede quickly joins her. Neither of them get any response. Jeez, something's wrong with that girl.

As I sit down in the seat beside Ayame, I take a deep breath and huff out of the side of my mouth. "You and Asahi are pretty friendly, huh?"

"Saya-chan's a nice girl," Ayame replies with a smile. "None of the girls at school are interested in Hero Tensei, so I was really excited when she said she knew what it was. She's got good taste."

I take a second to glare at Asahi, who's still trying to wake Maebara up to no avail. "She's not actually interested in that LN, you know. She's a manipulator. She was either trying to get you to say something that she can use against you or get you to trust her so that she could abuse your loyalty."

Ayame's brow furrows. "Really? I didn't get those vibes from her. It seemed to me like she was interested in Hero Tensei and wanted to know more about our doujin."

"Yeah, fat chance that was all it was. I know exactly how much of a manipulative little you-know-what she is. You give people way too much credit."

"Why do you always assume the worst of people? Is it because of the maid-"

"Don't say another word about that."


We sit next to each other in silence for a few seconds. I really hate when Ayame attempts to turn things around on me, especially in situations like this. I am not going out of my way to assume the worst of Asahi. It's called being realistic, and I know how she acts based on Kaede's descriptions of her and my few interactions with her. Ayame just blindly assumes that everyone she interacts with has nothing but good intentions and that no one will ever take advantage of her.

No, I am not holding a grudge against Asahi for embarrassing me at the cultural festival. My assessment of her rotten personality comes from entirely neutral observations. I have every justified reason to despise her.

"Speaking of annoying kids..." Ayame stretches her hands up above her head. "Has anything changed on your end? You know, with the brat."

Shaking my head, I reply, "Kaede hasn't told me anything else about Ryou-kun."

Ayame looks to the side with a worried expression. "We're running out of time...he's already going back to school to take the makeup exams."

I exhale and look down at the beige floor of the train and the large bag sitting between Ayame's feet. The situation with her brother is rough on her, that's for sure. I can tell that much- she isn't hard to read. She acts like he annoys him all the time, but now that he's actually in trouble, she's worried. I understand. If it was Kaede who was in that situation, I'd be pulling my hair out.

Ayame nervously fidgets in her seat. "At this rate, he'll end up being forced to transfer."

"Yeah, but he told me he doesn't like Shinchou and he'd rather be somewhere else. He's still got his entire life ahead of him. If he has to transfer, it doesn't mean his life is means Shinchou wasn't the best place for him. A change of scenery might be good for him."

Ayame looks away for what feels like an entire minute, and then softly says, "I wasn't expecting that from you."

"What do you mean?"

"I thought you were gonna go on a rant about how having to leave Shinchoushi meant that his life was ruined and he had no chance for success in the future and would be forced to become a hikikomori."

"Hey. I'm not heartless."

Ayame sighs deeply, stretching her long legs out with a worried expression. "It's not the transfer that I'm upset about. It's the fact that the twerp got punished for something that he didn't do and none of us could do anything about it."

"That's the way the world works sometimes." I turn my head toward the window to take in the view of the skyline, where the buildings are now taller and the streets busier than they were a few minutes ago, so I don't have to lock eyes with my childhood friend while I'm trying to say something serious and deep. "Bad things happen to you when you don't deserve them and you can't do anything to fix them. You can either mope about how unfair they were, or you can try to find the good sides and focus on them instead."

That's how I dealt with my parents. For all their flaws, they are good people, deep down, but I never saw their good sides. All I could think about was how much they embarrassed me, and that was no way to live my life. I've felt a lot better ever since I changed my outlook, even if I'm still not a hyper sunshine-and-rainbows person like Tatsu or Ayame. I'm trying my best.

Ayame turns back to me, her worried frown replaced by a content half-smile. "That was pretty thoughtful of you. Thanks."

"I did it to cheer you up."

"You're super sweet on the inside. I wish more people could see that side of you like I do." Ayame smiles widely.

"Hey!" Instantly, I feel my face begin to redden. "Don't say stupid stuff like that! You're as dumb on the inside as you are on the outside!"

Ayame giggles, covering her mouth. "Baka-Haru~"

"Shut up!"


Ugh. I regret saying anything uplifting to this moron. Just dig a ditch and bury me headfirst in it already.

"The next stop is Shimbashi...Shimbashi...change here for Yamanote, Tokaido, Keihin-Tohoku, Ginza and Asakusa subway lines, Yurikamome..."

"That's our stop!" Ayame hops to her feet, suddenly filled with pep, grabbing the big bag of everything and throwing it over her shoulder.

"Doors will open on the right...please watch your step..."

When the six of us (and one corpse) leave the train, we're surrounded by the buzz of the city: people, even at 8 AM on a Saturday morning, rushing here and there, wearing every sort of clothing imaginable, buildings that stretch up to the sky with bright-colored signs, all kinds of shops and restaurants, even in just this train terminal, with signs and yelling staff advertising their products, and above all trains rushing in every single direction.

I know I wasn't looking forward to Comiket, but I'm starting to feel excited.

Steward McOy