* 56 *

I lit up a cigarette and prayed the world would end.
A vehement prayer for everyone who knew me and everyone I knew to just vanish.
Then I'd be able to do it all over from the start.

At the time, I was living with absolutely no connections to anyone. I was fed up with the uncertainties of other people.
I knew how difficult it was to live completely and utterly alone. But to live something incredibly close wasn't so difficult in this world.
There are lots of people who die unknown and not knowing anyone themselves.

After I got home, I smoked like a chimney in winter.
My sister fumed amid the fumes. She told me to stop again and again. I just ignored her.
I wanted my apartment and my head to be filled up with smoke. I didn't want to see a thing, I thought.

Me flat-out ignoring my sister's complaints was unprecedented, so she was thrown off. Though a typical braggart, she was a coward at her core.
When she saw how I was acting different than usual, she simply withdrew and said nothing more.

By the time I finished with my twelfth cigarette, my sister asked with hesitation, "Big brother, you always said you hated smoking. Why'd you start?"
After taking a puff from my thirteenth, I answered "Maybe because I lost everyone who cares."

According to my unreliable memories, in my first life I had smoked incessantly up to a certain point.
But then I quit. Because my girlfriend was worried for me.
She didn't mean to blame me, but said something along the lines of "I don't want you to make your life shorter," and that did it for me.
It felt ridiculous to willingly shave away at the time I could spend with her, after all.

And yet now, in my second life, I had no one left who worried about me. Not a single person who cared about my life getting shorter.
In fact, maybe I smoked even more than necessary for that very reason.

My sister didn't seem to understand my statement. Because I made it sound like until recently, I did have someone who noticed and cared about me.
But, well, she didn't press it any further. She seemed to understand that I probably wouldn't answer anyway.
Instead, she slowly approached and gently reached her hand for my mouth.

"...Well, I care. Please stop."
Then she took the cigarette in her fingers and pulled it out.
I took a look at her. She looked at me with her usual sober eyes, but she seemed to be blinking more.

I lit a new cigarette and released a mouthful of smoke.
My sister started hacking and coughing.

I took a piece of paper out of my pocket and gazed at it. It was Tokiwa's schedule.
I put it on the ashtray and held my lighter up to it, but I couldn't bring myself to burn it.
Because though it wasn't much, it did mention things about Tsugumi. Regrettably, even if it was just a scrap of paper, I figured anything to do with her was to be treasured.

I put my cigarette out in the ashtray and took a book from the desk to read. But it wouldn't stay in my head.
Had I really ever thought that I would be able to kill Tokiwa?
And if I had miraculously succeeded, did I honestly believe Tsugumi would come to love me instead?
I really must have been crazy to think that.

Maybe as a defense mechanism to cope with the shock, I soon found myself sound asleep.
As if hoping to induce necrosis in my brain cells, I slept for fourteen hours.

When I woke up the next morning, my sister was gone.
The next day, and the day after, she showed no sign of returning.

Chapter 57

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