169 – Asa Doko?
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Rin opened her eyes and let out a small yawn. For a brief moment, she was confused on where she was. It wasn't her room, and she hadn't been sleeping on her bed. But when she saw the orange sleeping bag that she had nuzzled inside, she remembered.

It was the living room. After Asako agreed to sleep with Rin, the young teen had rearranged the place to put down tatami mats so they could sleep close by each other. And judging from how Asako's sleeping bag was crumpled right next to hers, it looked like she had listened to Rin's selfish request to hug her when they slept.

Rin giggled and then let out a bright smile. "Aneue's so nice..."

It must have been embarrassing and awkward for her, but Asako still did it anyway.

Rin unzipped her sleeping bag and then stood up. She was still in her fuzzy tiger pajamas, so she decided to go change.

And then she heard some pots clattering from the kitchen, along with faint humming.

Rin blinked and then tilted her head. "Mom?"

Rin didn't remember hearing her mom get back last night, but it was possible that her mom had returned while they were sleeping. Then again, Aneue wasn't the type of person to hum songs to herself... Was she?

Curious, Rin grabbed her phone laying on the ground and then carefully walked over to the kitchen, making sure to keep her footsteps light like how John taught her to do when dancing. As she did, the humming grew louder.

[Play: Nothing but Humming by KayJASMR]

A peaceful melody. Gentle and meandering, with a soft voice.

The sound of running water mixed with the humming, but even so it didn't detract from it. Instead, it made the humming seem like the song of a stream or river. Or maybe the sound of a mermaid or water fairy humming at the water's edge.

Rin reached the kitchen and ducked beneath the countertop. As she did, she peered out over the edge to see who was humming. And the identity of that person...

Asako walked around the kitchen, a faint smile on her face. Unlike Rin, she had already changed, wearing a loose white t-shirt and blue jeans. She had also tied her long black hair back into a tidy ponytail.

Even so, her appearance didn't change that much. Yet, watching Asako walk around the kitchen preparing coffee and breakfast so peacefully, Rin couldn't help but think that her older sister was different.

Since meeting Asako, Rin noticed that her older sister was always tense.

Well, Rin didn't know that Asako was her older sister at that time, but the fact that Asako always seemed to be on guard against something didn't change. That was why Rin tried to be as friendly as she could and call out to Asako every time she saw her.

Anyway, Asako was tense. But here and now...

A beautiful young woman, preparing food in the kitchen while humming. A faint smile on her face as she poured out some pancake batter onto a cast-iron pan. A smile that grew wider at the soft sizzle that echoed from the heating batter.

A picture perfect scene. The image of a loving young wife or doting girlfriend getting ready for the morning.

Seeing that, Rin sneakily pulled out her phone and took a picture.

Unfortunately, she forgot that the flash was on.

A soft click. Rin got the picture. But the moment she did-

"Gah!" Asako flinched and quickly spun around. Her eyes were wide and frantic. And then she saw Rin peeking up from the countertop. "S-Sis! When did you get here?!" She blushed and then said, "Y-You should have said something!"

"Heehee... Guess I was caught." Rin rubbed the back of head and got out of her hiding place.

Asako shook her head and went back to cooking. She flipped the pancake over in the pan and then said, "Dammit. If I knew you were there, I wouldn't have done something so embarrassing..."

"There's nothing to be embarrassed about!" Rin let out a bright smile and said, "Aneue has a beautiful singing voice!"

"Y-You can stop flattering me. It's not that good compared to you." Asako frowned and said, "I mean, I still can't sing our setlist for the concert properly."

"That's because Aneue isn't confident!"

Rin could tell. Asako had a lot of talent for singing, just like Alphy did. She just wasn't comfortable with her voice yet.

Asako's frown deepened. She pulled the cooked pancake out with a spatula, placing it on a plate, and then got started on another. "That's because there's nothing to be confident about. I mean, dancing, sure. But singing..." She flipped the pancake and then said, "The most singing I've done is when I was drunk at karaoke bars."

A stubborn belief.

Seeing that, Rin decided to stop pushing her sister. Instead, she said, "Well, I think that Aneue's singing is beautiful anyway." She pulled a chair over to the countertop and then sat down. After that, she placed her elbows on the table and propped her head up with her hands, watching Asako.

Asako coughed, her ears a bit red. "A-Anyway... You hungry, Sis?"

"It's a bit early... but I'll eat whatever Aneue gives me!"

Asako laughed. "Well, it's good that you're not a picky eater then." She drizzled some syrup on the plate of pancakes and then placed it in front of Rin. After that, she poured a cup of coffee for Rin and handed it over, along with a fork and butter knife for the pancakes.

"Mmhm!" Rin pulled the food close and said, "We didn't have very much to eat growing up, so I was just happy eating whatever Mom managed to give me."

Asako flinched. "That's..."

Rin shook her head and said, "It's fine, Aneue! Mom worked really hard to get us where we're at, and now I'm working hard to pay her back. Plus, we're happy and safe now, so that's all that matters, right?"

Asako stared at Rin for a while and then let out a long sigh. "I don't know how you do it, Sis."

"Hm?" Rin tilted her head. "Do what?"

"...Nothing." Asako finished cooking some pancakes for herself and then turned off the stovetop. After cleaning up the dishes, she sat down across from Rin with her own pancakes and coffee. "Anyway... Did you sleep well, Sis?"

Rin took a sip from her coffee and then smiled. "I did! Thanks for sleeping with me, Aneue! It made me really happy."

Asako shook her head. "No wonder Sakura nee-chan calls you Sweetie. I can already feel my cheeks tingling."

"I think that's because you're blushing, Aneue."


Rin smiled, idly swirling her cup of coffee. "Speaking of Mom... I guess she never came home?"

Asako cut a piece of her pancake and then said, "She texted me late last night. Seems like your mom's busy with work since it's crunch time or something and won't be back for a few weeks." She frowned and said, "Still, you'd think she would at least drop by to say that in person..."

"That's great!"

"Hm?" Asako blinked. "...How is your mom being too busy to even show up a good thing?"

Rin shook her head and said, "You don't understand, Aneue. Mom's always been doing whatever jobs she could take to make ends meet, but now since we don't have to do that anymore, that means she found some work she likes doing!" She let out a wide smile and said, "And if she said she'll be that busy, it must mean that she really likes it!"

"...Huh. I guess you're right... Sakura nee-chan definitely wouldn't leave you alone without good reason. She loves you too much to do that."

"Mmhm!" Rin nodded.

Asako munched on a piece of pancake and then paused. After swallowing it, she said, "Wait. But then who's going to stay with you at night? It's dangerous being alone, isn't it?"

Rin tilted her head. "But isn't Aneue going to live with me? You're my big sister, so it's fine if you're here, right?"

"...Are you okay with that? I mean, I can barely take care of myself sometimes, you know?"

"It's fine!" Rin smiled and said, "That just means Aneue is just like those big sisters in manga and anime!"

"I... don't think that's a good thing, Sis."

"Ah." Rin frowned. "That's true... But Aneue can cook, so you're ten times better than them!"

Asako sighed. "I didn't think optimism could be this exhausting..."

Rin giggled. And then her eyes widened, suddenly remembering something. "Wait! Aneue! What time is it?"

"Hm?" Asako took out her phone and said, "It's 11:30 AM. Why?"

"Your stream!"

Asako blinked, tilting her head in confusion. And then she facepalmed. "Dammit. I knew I was forgetting something. Now those bastards are going to definitely roast me when I show up..."