Chapter 21 – Handkerchief

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A year has passed since I, who held memories of my past life in Japan, became a gardening apprentice.

“Ojou, what’s wrong?”

The Villainess, Lydia Von Ernst, who I called Ojou, came to me a little iffy as I did my gardening work.
Behind her was Katherine-san, carrying her one year-old little sister.
Her little sister’s tiny hands grabbed a tuft of Ojou’s pale blonde hair.

“Flora isn’t letting go…”

She said with an exhausted face.
This is an Otome Game world, and Ojou is the rival of that game, but right now she’s just a big sister who’s troubled by her little sister latching onto her.
Ah, by the way, I’m not even a mob so I don’t appear in the game.

But it’s strange how seriously Ojou takes her occasional visits to me.
If she isn’t letting go then she could just keep her company.
I don’t know if it’s become a habit or something for her to meet me every now and then, but she’s strangely sincere.

I thought to take Ojou to my practice garden if she was going to come today, but that doesn’t look possible at this rate.
For now I get permission to leave from my Dad and go to where Ojou stays.
Her little sister shakes her hair like she’s having fun.

I approach that little sister.

“You seem fine again today, Flora.
We don’t meet a lot but do you remember me?”

When I pointed a finger to myself and asked, Flora bended her neck.
I only meet her at tea parties that Ojou’s mother, Octavia-sama, who I call Oku-sama, invites me to.
It’s unsure if she remembers me.
I thought for a few seconds.
A voice sounded as pink eyes stared at me.

“Zaa-c?”

“That’s right, it’s Isaac.
Good memory, great job.”

As if she somehow understood that she was being praised, Flora smiled widely.

When I grinned at her, Flora grinned back.
When I tried opening my mouth wider, Flora also opened her mouth wide.
Then when I closed my mouth into a straight line, Flora also closed hers.

“Then can you do this?”

I put my fists in front of Flora and opened them.
Then she clenched her fists and opened her hands, revealing her palms.
The hair she was gripping fell out smoothly.

“Good job.”

I touched her head and praised her.
Flora raised her voice in a kyaa noise, probably in happiness.

“I know that your big sister’s hair is beautiful, but don’t cause too much trouble for her.”

Instead of scolding her harshly I tried patting her roughly, but she just cried happily, not looking like the message got through to her.
It couldn’t be helped.
I gave a forced smile.

“…How skillful.”

Katherine-san said in admiration as she held Flora.
It seemed that she also tried to have her let go.

“At times like this, they imitate anything.
Ojou, are you okay?”

I didn’t know how hard she was being gripped, so I looked to see if she was tired.
Ojou was silent with red cheeks.

“What’s wrong?”

“…Nothing is wrong.”

When I asked, she acted just a little irritated and turned away.
Knowing that it wouldn’t be a good idea to chase the issue any further than that, I made a proposal.

“Do you want to bring Flora today?”

“Eh, is that fine?”

“It’s alright.
Flora seems to want to play with her big sister some more.”

We probably didn’t have to worry about a one year-old baby leaking our secret place.
It was a bit far to just hold her all the way, so I ripped a certain size out of a side of the big cloth that I would use for when Ojou went under the hedge.

Ojou was surprised to see me suddenly tear the cloth.

“What are…”

“I’m just making it so that we can carry her on our backs.”

I gave a straight answer and took Flora from Catherine-san.
From the back, I passed the cloth around both flanks, twisted it at the front and passed it around again.
Then I wrapped it so that the lower half of my body would be stabilized and tied the remainder around my hips.

“Alright, let’s go?”

I asked after checking that Flora was stable at my back.
Ojou’s eyes were wide, and Katherine-san was clapping.

“Bravo.”

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“Huh? The aunties downtown are faster.”

Katherine-san praised me as if she had seen a magic trick or something, but the aunties could fasten this more quickly.
I only help them once in a while, so I’m not as good as them.
And I know how to do it but I don’t know the name.

“Um… if it’s alright, could you please teach me how to do that? It seems that Octavia-sama’s arms have recently been getting tired more often…”

Yet she still tries to spend time with her kid.
Oku-sama is amazing.
It’s more common for nobles to leave the child rearing to their employees, isn’t it.

“Then I’ll teach you how to make it so that you can carry them at the front, too.”

Children don’t like not being able to see their parents’ faces.

“Thank you very much.”

Katherine-san smiled in relief.
Then Ojou resolutely raised her hand.

“I will also memorize it.”

“I know that you want to do things for your little sister, but you can’t take over an employee’s(maid) job.”

Ojou was weaker than Oku-sama so it would be harder for her, and to begin with it wasn’t a skill that a lady needed.
When I warned her with a reason she could agree with, she stopped talking and backed down.
She seemed a little annoyed.

“You’re a big sister, so you could just do what only a big sister can do.”

“A big sister…”

Ojou’s eyes sparkled at that sound.
Yeah, I get it.
It might be a little different, but in my previous world, when my little sister was still small, I felt special and proud for having the role of a big brother.
Hmm, but since I was the big brother, I started sulking since I had to give up many things to my little sister.
I hope Ojou doesn’t turn out like that.
I guess it should be fine with the Duke and Oku-sama.

Since we had finished preparing, I headed to my practice garden with Ojou in tow.
Katherine-san had brought cookies that Flora could also eat.
It’s probably like the egg balls from my previous life.

Maybe she was enjoying the change in scenery.
Flora would occasionally make kya kya noises behind us.
On the way, I hummed a song that came to my mind, and Ojou scolded me.

“Please don’t teach Flora some strange song okay?”

“Ehh, wouldn’t classical music or something like that be okay as a lullaby? Besides, I can’t sing that much.”

“For starters how about not singing?”

“We should have fun on occasions like picnics.
Riiight, Flora?”

“Aaaait.”

Whether or not she understood, Flora happily repeated one of my words.
When taking care of a child who may or may not understand words yet, it’s a good idea to sing.
Then the child can have fun while you’re moving, and just like that, you’d be playing and looking after it.
Looking back on my preschool days in my previous world, there was always singing time.
That’s probably what it was.

“Do you hate this, Ojou?”

“I don’t, hate…”

I only asked her, but for some reason she flinched and replied hesitantly.

“I see.”

Thank goodness.
I was relieved.
Whether or not a certain song worked for you depended on how you felt.
If Ojou was bad with uptempo songs then sure enough she’d have to reserve herself.
Because listening to a song you don’t like is painful.

One of my little sister’s tastes didn’t match up with mine in our previous life.
What was it, character themes? Where the lyrics were made up of consistently pretentious lines.
It seemed that not all of them were like that, but since my little sister was into otome game capture targets, that was how hers were.
It was fine since she only did it in her own room.
I wonder if there were character themes from Your Star, the basis of this world.
If you’d only met them once, it’d make you feel like, uuwa.
Alright, I’ll stop thinking about this now.

My practice garden was a little farther away, but while I was humming we had a light mood going on.
Next thing I knew, we were there.
Flora went along with the flow and brought out her voice behind me, so she probably isn’t bored.
Hers wasn’t as loud as Flora’s, but in the latter half, Ojou started humming quietly, too.
Though I felt like she’d stop if I mentioned it so I kept my mouth shut.

Before we crawled underneath the entrance hedge, I shifted Flora to my front and went through, taking care not to hit any leaves or branches.
Ojou put the cloth on to keep herself clean and crossed.

“Waa.”

Ojou took her cloth and unconsciously raised a voice of admiration.

“Last time it wasn’t time for them to bloom yet, so I did it again.”

White flowers like the fuzz of the white clovers were bathing in the sun over the whole surface.
Around the owl fountain, white flowers and green three-leaf clovers blanketed the ground.
White clovers could only grow in places that were well exposed to sunlight, so this sunny spot made for an ideal location.

I spread out the sheet of cloth and laid Flora down while encouraging Ojou to also take a seat.
After sitting down, she approached a white flower and smiled.

“It’s not just the leaves.
Even the flowers look cute.”

I’m glad she likes them.
I thought she would like a flower bed more, but it wasn’t the right season for it so I wasn’t able to prepare.
That time, I still had to make her step on it, so maybe it was for the best that she didn’t mind them not blooming.
Even then, she hesitated just because I raised those flowers.

It seemed that Ojou was staring at the flowers, so Flora got curious.
She extended her hand towards a nearby white flower and opened her mouth.

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“Heeey, you can’t put just anything into your mouth.”

I embraced Flora and sat cross-legged.
Pinching the white clover that she was trying to get, I held it over her at a height she couldn’t reach.

“Yaa-”

“You can’t eat this!”

Even after I warned her not to eat it, Flora flapped and extended her hands.
It didn’t seem like my message got through.
I sighed, having no choice but to ask Ojou.

“Ojou, do you have a handkerchief?”

“I do…”

“I’ll wash it and give it back, so please lend it.”

Curious about why I assumed it would get dirty, Ojou handed me a white lace handkerchief.
From how it feels in my hands, I know that it’s a high-quality material.
But you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs, so even though I feel guilty, I spreaded the handkerchief and folded it.
Then I took the folded handkerchief before Flora’s eyes while making it bounce around.

“Heey, Flora.
Do you know what this is?”

“Bu.
Bunny.”

“That’s right, it’s a bunny.
Do you want it?”

“Uu.”

Pink eyes sparkled.
Flora nodded dramatically.
I made sure she was waving her hands around and extending them for something else before handing over the handkerchief bunny.
She held its ear in her mouth.

“Flora!? You wouldn’t.”

“It means that she likes it.
Please let it go.”

Ojou panicked at her little sister’s actions, and I told her that it was tolerable since there was no problem with her putting that in her mouth.
Though she was bewildered, she looked at Flora, seemingly agreeing that this was fine for now.

“Zac, you’re quite used to caring for children.”

“It all comes down to helping each other downtown.”

It seemed that I was also looked after by big brothers, big sisters and aunties nearby when I was young.
I’m just returning the favor to those who were born after me.

“On the other hand, I haven’t done anything as an older sister…”

I looked at Ojou acting dejected and tilted my head.

“You have.”

“Eh…”

“You’re letting FLora stay with you because she wants to, worrying about her, scolding her.
You’re already acting like a big sister.”

The reason she could be with me, who she hasn’t met many times before, is because Ojou is also here.
It’s because she’s beside her that Flora can relax and play at a place she doesn’t know.

“Do you think, so…?”

“Yes.
Hmm, Flora, you love your big sister right?”

“Uu.
Luuv-”

When I asked, Flora agreed right away.
Judging from this reaction, it seems that she understands what love means.
Just what you’d expect from a baby adored by the duke.

Ojou’s cheeks reddened from her little sister’s words.
Her pale blue eyes moistened somewhat.

“Flora.”

“Alright, Flora.
Give your big sister a squeeze.”

“Squee?”
(TN: Raws say gyuu, an onomatopoeia for squeezing.
I don’t think there’s such a thing in english.)

“Like this, it means I love you.”

Careful to not hurt her, I embraced Flora.
She shouted happily, and her small arms hugged me back.
Since she knew how to do it, I lifted her up by the armpits and turned her towards Ojou.

“Hoi.”

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“Big sish, squeeee.”

“!”

Feeling the force with which Flora clung to her, Ojou’s eyes widened a little.
At first, she embraced her timidly, and finally, she hugged her back tight.

The fact that her embrace used all the force she could muster meant that she felt that strongly about her.
Ojou seems to have understood that.
Skinship is an important way of communication for when words don’t reach.
She’s her first little sister, so she might not have been confident.
It’d be nice if she could be more confident in being loved by her little sister with this.

As if it felt nice to be in her arms, Flora continued to embrace Ojou.
Ojou probably also enjoyed it.
She held her for a minute.

After some time had passed, Ojou suddenly raised her head.

“…By the way, what have you been doing since a while ago?”

“Hm?”

It looks like she got curious about what the sound from what I’ve been doing with my hands.
Ojou asked me.
I put that thing I had just finished on Ojou’s head.

“Here, Princess.”

“Prinshesh-”

Flora saw the wreath made from white clovers, and her pink eyes sparkled.

“Yes.
If there was a flower spirit, she would probably be like this.”

Today Ojou happened to be wearing a dress that had white as its primary color, so it fit this field of white clovers.
I wasn’t sure if there was any spirits aside from the spirits of the attributes, but if I could see them then they might have given off this feel.
Pale blonde hair in a sunny spot made her features light.
She seemed transparent.

“~~!”

Ojou suddenly pursed her lips into a straight line and flushed.
Her eyes were wide open as if she was about to snap.

“Zaac, Raamo.”

As I was about to ask Ojou what was wrong, Flora coaxed me.

“It’d be nice to be matching.
Wait.”

I immediately started making a wreath one size smaller.
In the end, I didn’t ask about what happened with Ojou, but she didn’t say anything.
She only held Flora and waited for the second flower wreath.

The size was smaller and I had gotten a bit used to it, so I was able to make it faster than before.
Still, Flora seemed to grow tired of waiting.
She was eating the handkerchief bunny’s ears again.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Princess.”

I plopped the flower wreath onto a head of edep blonde hair.
Flora couldn’t see it.
She extended her hands towards the top of her head and felt flowers.
Then she looked up at Ojou to check.

“Big shish.”

“Yes.
We’re matching.”

Ojou showed her flower wreath that was the same as Flora’s and smiled.
Flora answered with a face bursting with joy.

“Prinshee.”

She looked at Flora who was in high spirits and giggled like it was funny.

“You really are a cute princess.”

“Cute-”

“Yes.”

“No, Ojou.”

“Eh?”

I cut in out of the blue denying what she had said.
Ojou tilted her head blankly.

“Flora was calling you cute.
Right?”

“Uu.
Big shish, cute-”

Flora was probably happy to be complimented, so she wanted to say the same to Ojou.
But she misunderstood that she was the one being complimented, so I corrected her.

After comprehending her little sister’s praise, Ojou became bright red as if she was happy or embarrassed.

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“…What is the matter with you two?”

What, me too?

I didn’t understand why she was peevishly muttering about me too.

After that, Flora got hungry and we fed her the cookies we had brought.
Then she became distant.
So we went back to the mansion.

“I would like to carry her too.”

When I was about to make preparations to carry her, Ojou raised her hand and said that.
Did she still not give up?

“No, I mean.”

“Just a little bit…!”

“…Got it.
Then sit at that end.”

I had her sit at the edge of the cloth such that she could get up right away.
Then I put Flora, whose armpits were wrapped with the cloth belt on Ojou’s back.

“Stay still a little bit.
With the cloth belt in hand, I circled over in front of her and tied it around a few times.
Then I wrapped both ends of the cloth belt onto Flora behind Ojou and crossed them over such that the lower half of her body would be stabilized, then I brought it to her front and tied it at her waist.

“Alright.
This should do it, Ojou.
Ojou?”

She didn’t reply.
I raised my head from the knot and saw Ojou tightly shutting her eyes and holding her breath.
Maybe because of oxygen deficiency, her face was red.
Even her fists were clenched so she could endure it.

I wondered what happened for a little bit and thought of one reason her breathing stopped.
Come to think of it, I just came from gardening work so I might be smelly from all the sweat.
Maybe she didn’t like that.
Oh no, what do I do? It was probably hard for her to say, so I should make sure myself.

“Sorry, Ojou.
Am I stinky?”
(TN: Uh oh stinky)

“What?”

I asked feeling guilty.
Ojou widened her eyes.
Anyway, I’m glad she’s breathing.

“No, n-n-n-nothing is wrong!”

Then she shook her head with all her might.
Didn’t it hurt her neck to shake it that hard?

“But…”

“When I say nothing is wrong, nothing’s wrong!”

“I, understand.”

Since she insisted so strongly, I could do nothing but nod.

Ojou came to her senses and made to stand up with Flora on her back.

But no matter how many times she tried, she couldn’t stand with her center of gravity fixed at her back.
That’s what I’ve been saying.
It’s reckless to carry her little sister on her back since she weighs like half of her own weight.

Still, she wobbled around a bit trying to stand up with all her power.
It was somehow cute so I ended up laughing.
Ojou looked up at me with a resentful glare right away, so I apologized with a wry smile.

“Sorry, I said.
Even Oku-sama is having a hard time carrying her, so I told you it would be reckless for you to do it.”

“Uuu.”

I explained that it was normal for her to not be able to do it, but Ojou didn’t seem to be giving up.
She gave a rare groan.
Maybe she got infected with Flora.

Now it was my turn to wobble.

“Why are you laughing…!?”

“No, Ojou.
Too cute.”

When she protested, I told her that I didn’t mean to make fun of her.
But after that, in the end she still got mad at me.

Even while I took her place in carrying Flora, she wordlessly hit my over and over again.
I think she was still angry.
She’s probably silent out of consideration for Flora since she’s sleeping.

When we arrived at the mansion, Katherine-san was there to greet us.
I handed over Flora, who was sleeping soundly, and Ojou, who was completely fuming at me.

Just like this, even after I noticed that this was an Otome game world, nothing changed in my life.

-Just a few days later, I got a surprise hug by the Duke.
He had caught Flora’s hugging virus.

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