NB: this story contains spoilers regarding the first, 'best' ending of Kana: Little Sister. Please don't proceed unless you've completed this ending to the game.
It was only a half day at the university today. Everyone's excited about the summer festival. I'm just glad to be able to take some time off from lectures.
Summer is definitely here now. I find myself wandering downtown in the rising heat. People hurry past, not wanting to stay out in the sun any longer than they have to. I'm moving aimlessly, however.
I'm surprised and yet not surprised when my feet bring me to a halt in front of the bookstore. The interior is dimly lit and hard to see into, due to the glare outside. But I stand at the window for a moment, looking at the display. Reference books, popular novels, comics... and grass-of-Parnassus growing in a little flowerpot. It mustn't get much sun in there, but it seems to be doing well enough.
The display is neat and orderly, but not antiseptic. It appeals to window shoppers to come inside and look around.
Taking a deep breath, I do just that.
For a moment I can't see anything. Purple blurs from the bright sunlight swim in my vision. The smell of the bookshop is a mixture of the old and the new. The smell of dust and old paper that lingers around second-hand books. And the crisp scent of recently published editions, their text set in laser-sharp clarity.
It's a curious mix, but not one I dwell on. Because beneath and above it all is a very familiar scent. I doubt anyone else walking in here would notice it. But I spent years with this fragrance and its owner on my mind.
Kana is there at the back of the store.
A box is open on the chair next to her, and she's slotting new manga into the proper positions on the shelves. Her back is to me, her black hair falling straight and glossy over the fabric of her light pink blouse. As always, her posture is ramrod straight, slightly uncomfortable looking.
But she's happy. I can tell. I haven't always been able to tell, but it's unmistakable now.
It almost hurts me to realise it. We haven't seen each other in so long. The last time she came home for dinner was almost a month ago. Ever since she moved out, I've deliberately tried to avoid this place. Not always successfully. But to visit her here, in her new life, would just be too real.
The distance hasn't helped, though.
The store is empty apart from the two of us. It's early afternoon and the heat is beginning to rise in here. A ceiling fan whirls listlessly above me.
Kana, why haven't you noticed me yet?
"Hi, Bro," she says, without turning around. Almost as if she'd heard my thought. "Long time no see."
"I've been busy."
She slides one last volume into place before turning around, pushing a lock of hair back behind her ear. And smiles at me. A smile blossoms on my face in return, automatically.
"Me too," she says, abandoning the shelf stacking and coming closer to me. She goes up on tippy toes, bracing her hands on my chest, and kisses my cheek. "Do you want something to drink? I have iced coffee upstairs, or tea if you'd like."
I'm too busy just drinking her in to take much notice of her words. She's still short for her age will she really be twenty-one next year? and slight of frame, despite her improved appetite. But the change in her isn't physical. Her attitude has changed so much these past two years. There's an assurance in her stride that wasn't there before. And her smile, always warm and welcoming, comes much more easily. Her eyes are clear and bright in the dim interior of the shop.
"Bro?" she asks, after a moment.
"Whatever's easiest," I say, freeing myself from the trance. I look at her, to find her violet eyes lingering on me as well. But they quickly dart away when my gaze meets hers. She smiles bashfully, evoking memories of the old Kana.
I hastily push them down.
"Come up, then," she offers, leading the way to the staircase. "You picked a good time to drop in. Business is slow at this time of day."
"I guess people have better things to do than walk around in this heat," I say as I follow her up the stairs. She's wearing a long blue skirt that clings to her narrow hips and the elegant lines of her legs. House slippers are on her small feet. She must keep her outside shoes upstairs. I wonder if she even leaves the store much. It can't be easy for her, living alone like this.
She pauses at the top of the stairs, looking down at me and smiling. "That gives us time to catch up, then." She holds out her hand, and I take it, though I'm more than capable of climbing the remaining steps myself.
Kana's living area isn't much bigger than the store's floor space below. Yet she's done her best to make it feel homey. Flowers grow in planters on the windowsill. The tatami covering the floor is clean and dust-free. She doesn't have a couch, but there's a TV against one wall, and a small table propped up on its side against the opposite wall.
"Please, sit down," Kana invites me. She moves over to the small kitchenette and opens the tiny fridge below the counter. "Hmm. I have one can of coffee and two green teas. Which would you like?"
"Tea is fine," I say, unlacing my shoes and leaving them on the top step.
Holding two cans in her left hand, her delicate fingers splayed out to keep a hold on both, she closes the fridge and ambles over to flip the table down on its legs. She sits down on the floor opposite me and places the can of tea in front of me. Then she sits back, opening her own drink. She chose tea as well, I notice.
I crack open my can and take a long drink from it. The tea is cold and refreshing. I start to feel as if my head has cleared a little.
"How has business been?" I ask, looking at Kana sitting across from me. She cradles her drink in front of her with both hands, almost protectively.
"It's been improving," she says, happily. "I decided to start stocking a wider range of manga and more English language textbooks. They cost more to get into stock, but it turned out to be worthwhile. There are two cram schools close by, and I charge a smaller margin than the major booksellers."
"Doesn't that mean your profits go down?"
"Well, yes." She smiles, blushing slightly. "But they don't just buy textbooks. I've been selling much more manga now, with all the students coming in."
"And what about your non-professional life?" I ask, a bit uncomfortably. She can tell, too. Her eyes lower, and she lifts the tea can to her lips again, though she doesn't seem to drink any of it.
"You mean Shiro-kun, I take it," she says, quietly.
There's no need for me to say anything. She glances at me almost pleadingly, but I decide not to change the subject.
"We ended our relationship two months ago."
"The bastard!" I'm surprised by my own reaction. My hand tightens around the tea can. Kana looks at me, startled. "What reason did he"
"I was the one," she says, quietly, her cheeks turning even more pink. "I was the one who ended it. Bro."
"Kana..." I force myself to relax, feeling like a fool. "Why did you decide to do that?"
Her long fingers play with the tab on her can of tea. Delicately. Nervously. "I liked him. I really did like him. He was so kind to me, and we had a good time whenever we were together. And he even..." She pauses, bending the tab back and forth. From beneath her long eyelashes, her violet eyes dare a quick glance at me. "He confessed to me," she says, in a rush. "A couple of months before we ended it. At the school festival."
I don't understand. "But if he confessed to you, and you liked him, then why did you...?"
"I liked him," she says, again. "More than Shinichi-kun or Hiromi-kun. I liked them all in different ways. But I couldn't confess to him."
For some reason, I don't dare to breathe. For fear of breaking this spell.
"It wasn't... the same." Her voice sounds fuzzy and distant. "It wasn't real. I couldn't imagine always being with him. Not like I didn't return his feelings. He was nice, but he..."
She breaks off. The tea can slams down against the polished tabletop with a hollow clink. She holds it there, both hands wrapped around it, and looks down at the floor.
"Kana?" I ask, quietly.
"Bro..." Her shoulders tremble slightly. Her face is hidden by the long straight fall of her black hair. "I'm happy here. Working here. I'm a stronger person now. I know I can live on my own."
"I know. I've been very proud of you, Kana."
"Then..." Her voice is so soft I can barely hear it. "Then why do I feel this way still?"
My heart stops beating for a second.
She shakes her head, her eyes still shrouded. It seems like she tries to say something a couple of times, but each time she just falls back to her sitting position. Crouched there on her knees, hiding her eyes, her hands clenched in front of her, she is suddenly Kana again. My little sister Kana.
The one I need to protect.
I don't know how I got there, but I'm beside her. I only hesitate for a second before reaching out to her. I draw her head to my chest. My hand comes up to cradle her head against me.
Slowly, almost unwillingly, her arms steal around me. She squeezes me, hard.
How long has it been since we've held each other this way? Months, if not years. There have been awkward moments in the years since she left home. Moments of lapse, where we held each other only to draw apart again, knowing nothing had changed. Kana's reasons for leaving hadn't changed. She didn't want to fall back into the trap of needing me and holding me back. It didn't matter that I actually wanted her to. It was her decision.
And now. What does this mean? Is this just a re-enactment of those scenes?
"Kana." It's comfortable here, holding her again. The fragrance of her hair and her skin. The softness of her hair. The pressure of her arms around me.
I want to kiss her.
"Bro..." Her voice is muffled against me, but I can still hear the sobs fighting to tear free. "Am I evil?"
"Evil for what?"
I have to ask. I have to know for sure.
She nuzzles closer to me. "Why do I still need you, Bro? Why? I don't want to burden you anymore, not after doing it for so long already. And you... You must have found someone by now. I've tried not to love you. I've tried to be a stronger person. But it's so hard..."
"You are a stronger person," I tell her. "Look at you. You live on your own. You took over this business when the Kobayashis retired. You've enhanced its popularity. You are your own person."
"Then..." She sniffles helplessly. "Then why...?"
Do we need to say it? Really? Don't we both already know?
"It's different now, Kana. Different, but the same. You don't need me to protect you anymore. That's true. And I... I've done my best not to depend on you either. It was... hard. But it worked. We don't need each other anymore, Kana."
And now the sobs do tear loose from her. She pulls at the fabric of my shirt, crying against my chest.
"Bro..." she whispers, shakily. "I... I didn't want to hear you say that. But if that's what you..."
"Wait." I take her shoulders and push her back from me. She looks up at me, her eyes clouded with tears. "We don't need each other, I said. I don't need you now, it's true. You were right to move away."
"Please," she says, struggling to escape my hold. "Don't say any more."
I bring a hand up to cup her cheek. She freezes, staring at me. Perhaps remembering other moments like this. Remembering my touch. Not the way a brother touches his little sister.
"But I still want you, Kana."
Her eyes widen. They are so beautiful. I lean closer until I can feel the heat from her flushed wet cheeks, till I can feel her rapid breathing on my skin. Till I can almost hear her heart pounding.
"I. Still. Love. You."
And we kiss. We kiss as if the last few years never happened. She clings to me tight, and I crush her against me in return. My little sister. My Kana.
For a while, it seems, everything is right again. Everything is as it should be.
Kana tries to sort out her tangled feelings, in Eyes of the Heart.