Youko panicked and covered her mouth, but it was too late, and when Tomoe saw her petrified, she knew that she hadn’t misheard. She also knew that Youko was trying to hide the matter about her third sibling.
“Well, that sure showed itself quick, didn’t it? Your carelessness,” Tomoe said.
“Auuu… It’s because I saw a dream like that,” Youko said.
Tomoe teased her out of consideration, so despite letting the cat out of the bag, things didn’t become awkward, and Youko just blushed.
‘What a cute face,’ Tomoe thought as she looked at her troubled best friend.
When she thought how this could become habit, she fervently denied it internally.
“I’m being corrupted… So, can I ask about that other sibling of yours?” Tomoe asked quietly.
Everyone had secrets, and there were some that a person wouldn’t reveal even to her best friend.
As someone who held such secrets herself, Tomoe wanted to respect Youko’s decision.
Youko made a difficult face and worried over it for a while, but it didn’t take her long to relax.
“…It should be fine if it’s you. Yeah, we have another older brother. But that’s all… A lot of things happened, and we’re not together anymore.”
Without mentioning what those circumstances were, Youko acknowledged her third sibling’s existence with an unhappy expression.
But her eyes seemed to be wavering, and there seemed to be both hate and gratitude in those eyes.
“What kind of person was he? Was he the careless type too?” Tomoe said.
But Tomoe felt that she shouldn’t ask about the emotions behind those eyes, so she asked something else.
Youko would probably hate it if she forcefully changed the topic or pursued the matter too deeply.
The former would give the impression that she was being overly considerate, while the latter would be poking at something she clearly didn’t want to talk about.
If so, then it would be best to just ask about that older brother.
As soon as she asked about him, however, Tomoe realized that that choice too was a poor one, as Youko’s expression immediately grew grim.
“Careless, huh? …Yeah, I suppose, he was the most careless one. It was enough to make you wonder if he’d left something in mom’s womb before being born.”
Her words were sharp, but the tone in her voice was tinged with sorrow.
Youko shook her head and got rid of that gloomy countenance.
“I remembered something terrible again. No wonder I dreamt that dream.”
“…I’m not following.”
“That masked black mist. That was a curse back there at the end, right? Remember how he hit that monster and thrust his arm into its mouth without any hesitation?”
Tomoe thought back to the monster that attacked them, but she couldn’t figure out how that connected to Youko’s older brother, so she just nodded and waited for Youko to continue.
“That person said that he was immune to curses, but… For some reason, it felt like he would do the same thing even if he weren’t immune. just like
Goosebumps broke out.
It was curious whether that was Youko’s own conjecture or if that was really the kind of person her older brother was, but regardless, she continued before she could show her agitation on her face.
“Our older brother… He was a cry baby, a coward, and a clumsy dolt. He was bad at school, bad at sports, bad with his hands, and sucked at talking.”
The conversation changed so suddely that Tomoe found herself knitting her brows.
One moment she was imagining a serious older brother, and in the next, she was imagining a carefree older brother that did things at his own pace.
Tomoe herself had no siblings, but she knew that the younger children learned from the older ones, so she figured their older brother must’ve been the serious type, but for some reason, a certain mischievous face that was serious in weird parts and did things at his own face flashed through her mind, but of course… He was unrelated to this, so she quickly banished the thought.
“…So there’s nothing good about him?”
“From a spectator’s perspective that might be the case, but… We probably… Really admired him.”
Was that true?
Youko smiled since she herself didn’t seem to know, but Tomoe could see the complicated emotions hidden behind her ambiguous wordings, so she didn’t touch on that and just listened.
“Our parents were both working, so we siblings were together a lot. Our older brother always prioritized us, and would notice whenever we were troubled. He didn’t put on airs, and he rarely got mad. I’m sure that was his nature. He’s been with us ever since, so of course, we’d admire him…” Youko said as though she was convincing herself that it was only natural for her to admire him.
Tomoe found it adorable how she seemed embarrassed by that.
Clearly, Youko admired her older brother a lot more than she was letting on.
It was to the point that she suspected of her being a brocon, but she didn’t say it to protect her dignity.
Especially since Youko continued to the main point.
“So, when we were around five, and he was 10. Yousuke and I were attacked by a big dog. In order to protect us, he… Stuck his arm into the dog’s mouth. Yeah, the dog didn’t bite him, he stuck his arm into it.”
Just like the mask, she implied.
Of course, the situation was different, and the age and people concerned were also different, but when Tomoe thought back to that moment and replaced the characters with children, she realized what a chilling story it was.
In fact, the actual thing was much more terrifying than she could imagine.
“Of course, the big dog was really strong, and our older brother was easily swung around. He bled a lot, and we were so scared we kept crying, but he didn’t say anything and just hit the dog in the head. By the end, I didn’t know anymore if we were scared of the dog or of our older brother who was beating up the dog.”
The first one to let up was the dog.
Youko was young and afraid, so she didn’t understand exactly what happened, but the dog ran away, and was secured by the police after they were informed.
Later, the adults said that our older brother had hit the weak point of the dog, so it calmed down.
“What do you think he said when someone asked why he did something like that? He said that as long as the dog bit something else first, we wouldn’t get bitten, but he didn’t have anything on hand, so he figured his non-dominant hand would do. He puffed his chest up and with a laugh, said, ‘Clever, right?'”
Youko made an unhappy face as though to say, ‘See? Clumsy and careless.’
Although Youko didn’t go as far as to go into the details of her older brother’s carelessness, a chill crawled up Tomoe’s back at the fearsomeness of that incident.
The Senba older brother had a terrifyingly twisted way of thinking.
Perhaps, he was merely putting on a brave front at the time, but Youko did not think so.
Regardless, this was not something that could simply be described as ‘careless’.
“…Youko, give it to me straight, will you? The reason that mask reminded you of your older brother wasn’t because he’s thrust his arm into that monster, but because of that ridiculous reply, right?”
That’s why Tomoe felt that that was the case.
True enough, Youko nodded. When Youko had voiced out her concern for the mask, the mask took that concern to mean in a completely different direction.
That was the kind of reply a person who gave little priority to himself would give.
“…When I was still young, I believed he shouldn’t be left alone. That it would be dangerous to leave him by himself. So, as his younger sister, I had to be the one to help him. But before I could become strong enough to… He vanished. And then mom and dad lost their minds.”
Youko seemed to be remembering or enduring something as she looked out the window and held her hands tight.
“And yet, I… Why did I do something like… No. It couldn’t be helped, right? Otherwise, no one would—!”
And then she started incoherently muttering stuff that could be taken for self-reflection or excuses.
When Tomoe called out to her, Youko remembered where she was, and she feebly shook her head.
“Ah, sorry… That took a weird direction, didn’t it? I haven’t pieced it together all that well myself yet. It’s really troubling, but… No, I don’t know even know how I’m supposed to piece it together… Sorry.”
Youko looked gloomier than ever now, and Tomoe, confused, couldn’t find it in her to act as though everything was fine.
Seeing the way she was now, she felt she should’ve forcefully stirred the conversation away from this topic even if doing so put her in a bad mood.