Blowing her nose into a handkerchief and wiping away her tears until her parka’s sleeve was dripping wet, Yuki headed back to where Inaho was.
The last thing she wanted to do was embrace him with her tearstained face. She didn’t want Inaho’s lasting memory of his first beach visit to be his sister’s tears.
Her little brother was quick as a flash to present the day’s harvest to his approaching sister: a grey rock the size of his palm, with a bunch of holes the size of his little finger.
“What is this?”
“This is a shellfish den. They’re called angel wings.”
“They might be called angel wings, but they’re shellfish, not birds. I saw in a book how they sometimes fall into the sand like this. When I looked, they were over there.”
“They’re like fossils…”
“They might look like fossils, but they’re not. They’re a rare find, but I don’t think they’re worth as much as fossils.”
“Is that so…”
Not worth much—those words weighed down on Yuki.
What the hell? If he thought this trip was worth that little, then they shouldn’t have gone in the first place. Of course, she knew that Inaho didn’t intend anything along those lines.
“What’s wrong, Yuki-nee?” Her tiny little brother peered at her, for she had suddenly grown silent.
“No, it’s nothing…!” Yuki nonchalantly turned her back to escape from those dark brown eyes, and then she said, in a slightly more cheerful tone, “Nao-kun, shall we have lunch?”
When they returned to the place where their sheet was laid out, the man in the cast was already nowhere to be seen. In his place were two juice cans, as if in apology.
“Did you buy these, Yuki-nee?”
“No, but it’s okay to drink.”
“Really? It’s not a prank?”
“Ah, the vending machine in front of the station sells these.”
“You remembered that, Nao-kun?”
“Mhmm. These are fine. Even if something happened, the vending machine’s crime prevention camera would probably take a shot of the culprit’s face.”
Yuki was the one who had bought the corn soup. Had there been enough time for Inaho to assess the vending machine’s make? she wondered. Then again, this was Inaho she was thinking about.
“Still, melon soda doesn’t go with rice.” When Yuki pictured that hopeless man buying melon soda for her and Inaho, she couldn’t help but smile. She desperately stifled her laughter so that Inaho, who knew nothing about the context, wouldn’t think she was strange. “Shall we drink it at home?”
Unanimously (well, as unanimously as it could be when there were only two people), they decided to put the melon soda in the backpack.
In its place, Yuki meekly brought out the packed lunch she had prepared that morning.
She knew how it had turned out—it was a sloppy effort.
“The rice ball is a bit hard,” Yuki sighed as she nibbled at the grains stuck to her fingers.
“Mm, there might not have been enough water.”
The moment she unwrapped the handkerchief around the packed lunch, she got a bad feeling about it.
It lacked the appetising scent of the lunches her mother had made back when Yuki was a child. Perhaps it was only inevitable given that she had made the omelettes as a side dish, but—
Even so, she would have liked to at least make a proper rice ball.
On top of being hard as steel, it was rather cold. If it hadn’t been for the tea she’d put into the water bottle, it would probably have been hard to swallow.
“Too much salt…” Yuki muttered after taking a bite of the omelette.
“It’s fine if you eat it with the rice ball.” After Inaho choked down egg after egg, he stuffed his cheeks with rice.
Yuki watched her little brother eat out of pure concern for her. He seemed extremely pitiable for some reason; his nose wrinkled from the sourness even though there weren’t any salt plums in it.
“It’s hopeless… It tastes awful.” The more she willed herself not to cry, the more her vision blurred and threatened to fall apart. If she were to wipe her eyes, though, Inaho would find out she was crying.
As Yuki hung her head, she pretended to stuff her cheeks with rice.
“It’s fine, just salty. It’ll replenish the salt levels you lose from crying.”
Yuki looked up in alarm. “Geez, Nao-kun, you idiot… You should act like you don’t know…”
“All right, I’ll do that next time.”
“That’s not what I meant…”
Inaho took a tissue out from his pocket and gave it to Yuki. People from the gambling parlour had been handing them out in front of the station.
In an attempt to dispel her embarrassment, Yuki took the tissue and blew her heart out.
“I’m sorry. I’m not giving you anything worthwhile, Nao-kun. Even though I’m your only family…” Yuki said in a murmur, not meeting Inaho’s eyes as she stacked the packed lunches.
In the end, Inaho finished off Yuki’s lunch, leaving not a single scrap. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he said all the while.
“Next time, I’ll make omelettes for you, Yuki-nee,” he declared.
“You’re really fond of omelettes.”
How did he know that? She had never once mentioned her memories about the omelette to Inaho. “Nao-kun, how did you know…?”
“Because the fried eggs at the Home were sweet… Sometimes, you made it seem like you really wanted to eat omelettes, Yuki-nee.”
“You could tell just from that…? That I like omelettes?”
“I mean”—his dark brown eyes peered straight at Yuki—“you are my sister, Yuki-nee.”
Just hearing those words felt like enough.
Yuki could sense the churning feeling in her stomach lightening.
I see—I was anxious. Just how does my little brother think of me? Does he acknowledge me as his older sister—always and forever?
“Yuki-nee, I’m your family.”
“I looked up how to make omelettes on the internet. The easiest way to make omelettes is with mentsuyu.”
“Mentsuyu…? As in noodle soup?”
“Yeah. It’s made of soup stock and soy sauce, so you can use it as flavouring.”
“Mentsuyu, huh… It never crossed my mind.”
“You can use mentsuyu for all kinds of fried food besides omelettes. It’s really easy to use, so… I think I can make things straight away.”
“Eventually, when I get better at cooking, I’ll make you a proper omelette with noodle soup.”
“Okay… thank you. Nao-kun, thank you…”