Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume1 Chapter5
It was the next Wednesday that Tsutako-san told Yumi that Sachiko-sama was strange.
"Well, maybe strange is a faulty expression. Not her usual self."
"They're both basically the same thing."
The school festival was only three days away, so most students were running around wild. Most classes were moved to the mornings this week, so that the afternoon would be freed for individual activities, such as club work, committees, and groups. The last spurt.
On the path to the different club houses, Yumi was told this.
"So, strange in what way?"
"She's like a fish-paste cake."
Tsutako-seemed to want to say that Sachiko-sama's attraction was as a proud and haughty princess, an al dente that still had a wick. Yet, right now, Sachiko-sama was simply a hollow fish-paste cake, without that tough wick. She stared off into space, sighed, and at the end of that-
"She even came to the photography club looking for me."
Tsutako-san bit into her handkerchief, frustrated, "That's not Sachiko-sama."
"Even if it involves her, she's more the type to call people to her."
"I don't think it's about type or suitability?"
Tsutako-san's aesthetic sense was peculiar. But anyways, that meant Sachiko-sama had gone to Tsutako-san's photography club house to settle something.
"And guess what she said? 'If you want to use the photo of Yumi and I for the school festival, you may go right on ahead.'!"
That, was definitely strange. The usual Sachiko-sama would not allow such a thing if the person desiring something did not bring the topic up in person. Even if she heard about it from other sources, if the person did not come directly, she was strict, in that she would utterly ignore it.
"Anyways, this is, happily, yours. Congratulations."
Tsutako-san lowered her shoulders and handed Yumi something.
It was the two-shot photo from last Monday, of Sachiko-sama fixing Yumi's scarf. Come to think of it, this was how it all started.
"She looks different now than she used to. I wonder what happened to Sachiko-sama."
Tsutako-san said, as she stepped over the newspaper sheets for a class that had spilled working on their sign board to the hallway. Yumi did not have such confidence in leaping over things, so she walked around everything.
Yumi felt she knew "what happened" to Sachiko-sama.
That Sachiko-sama had become fish-paste cake or a wick-less pasta was because she met Kashiwagi-san on Saturday.
"Also, Yumi-san. About the newspaper club, I heard."
"The newspaper club? That they stopped asking about an interview?"
"Yes. Apparently that was because of Sachiko-sama, too."
Because of Sachiko-sama, sounded ominous. It seemed certain that Sachiko-sama had pulled strings.
"Last week, Yumi-san was in dire straits, because you were being chased around, right? Maybe because she felt a bit responsible when she found out, Sachiko-sama spoke directly to the newspaper club captain. Because they're both second-years, it was probably easier for her to negotiate things."
"But I don't think they would pull back just because Sachiko-sama asked."
"Exactly. I heard Sachiko-sama took the interview in Yumi-san's stead. For the promise that they wouldn't chase Yumi-san around."
She had no idea. That Sachiko-sama had unbeknownst to her, shielded her. Even though they met every day, she never noticed.
Tsutako-san said the newspaper club had become silent, because they had received the full story.
"Half of the article is already complete. Whether Sachiko-sama can make Yumi accept the rosary before the school festival, or not. And, whether she becomes Cinderella, or not. They're just waiting for the aftermath."
"The newspaper club is in the neighboring room. When I'm developing photos by myself, I hear them talking, whether I want to or not."
"Whether you want to or not."
"Indeed, even if I don't."
When they finished descending the stairs and reached the first floor, they split left and right to head to their respective ways.
"Don't you, somehow, feel of an uneasiness looming?"
Tsutako-san spun around and asked.
"You know. You hear about it all the time. A strict person becomes nice all of a sudden, and then they vanish. When you suddenly receive something, it turns out it was as a memento. Or something."
"Oh come on, it's not an omen."
Yumi chuckled. The newspaper club had drawn back in the middle of last week. Sachiko-sama became strange on Saturday, so they were unrelated.
Sachiko-sama would not run away. –Yumi believed her.
Sachiko-sama would never run away. Because, she promised.
On the second floor of the Rose Mansion, Sachiko-sama had drawn up a chair next to a window and was staring outside.
The cotton curtains were swaying, a telling tale of the visitations of the soft wind. Sachiko-sama's straight hair also swayed a bit around her ears.
Sachiko-sama didn't notice Yumi entering the room. She remained staring out, like an imprisoned princess.
"When did you come?"
Eventually, the princess noticed Yumi.
"About ten minutes ago."
"Has no one else arrived?"
"They're probably busy with their class business, I think? How about Shimako?"
"… Environmental Care Committee."
Even the residents of the Rose Mansion did not spend their entire non-class lives devoted to the student council. They all took part in other clubs or committees, so when they were inquired upon, they would appear there.
"Sachiko-sama, are you in any clubs…?"
Her answer came back matter-of-factly. Since she was stuffed with obligatory lessons her entire life, it might have been a result of that. As a result, the two people with no class or club or committee activities milled about in the Rose Mansion.
Sachiko-sama quietly sighed out the window.
She was probably thinking of Kashiwagi-san. –She intuitively thought.
Such a gloomy sigh was not befitting of Sachiko-sama. Yumi gathered her wits and asked.
"What is the matter?"
Maybe she had been intending to be acting as usual. Sachiko-sama replied, her face expressing, "What is she talking about?"
"Umm, you seem to be distressing over something."
"If I were, would you save me?"
As she was asked with a straight face, Yumi timidly responded, "If it's within my power."
"Then, accept my rosary."
"You would help, if it were in your power, correct?"
Sachiko-sama stuck out her rosary, as if saying, "Here." Looking over it again, it was sparkling and beautiful. But, it came with heavy baggage, and she couldn't simply say, "okay," and accept it.
"If there is anything else-."
"This is all I request of Yumi." Without any further ado, the rosary was stashed back into her pocket. She had simply tried saying it, it seemed.
"Do you dislike it that much?"
Her desire to have Yumi accept the rosary was not based on the pure intent of making Yumi her little sister, that much was certain. As long as she could seduce Yumi by the fixed date, Sachiko-sama could extricate herself from the Cinderella role.
She had not specified about Kashiwagi-san, but Sachiko-sama had understood the meaning behind the question and answered in kind.
"But you have practiced with him a number of times…"
"It is not a matter of getting used to it"
Sachiko-sama spoke, as if spitting venom.
But that was opening a whole new set of problems. After all, Rosa Gigantea's plan was to have Sachiko become used to men.
"I hoped, maybe it would be alright, if I met him. … But that was not the case."
Sachiko-sama sighed, again.
Was it not the case because Kashiwagi-san was a man. Or was it because it was Kashiwagi-san.
It seemed the same, at first, but she felt it made a difference.
Sachiko-sama seemed to feel that there was, in fact, a difference.
Time passed, pressed onward by the sighs.
There were many things that needed to be done and still more than people wanted to do, so there was no choice but to flutter around wildly in the last three days. Even after receiving entire afternoons from the school, people were too greedy, so they were unable to use their time as wisely as possible.
Last spurt, Yumi memorized Cinderella's lines at home, rather than watch television. During recess, she practiced the dance steps with Shimako-san on the courtyard grass.
She didn't know herself why she worked this hard, but Yumi was the backup for the Cinderella part, so she felt obligated to do her best, for emergency's sake.
But what was that emergency? But because emergencies were extremely rare, she decided not to think about it.
And the day of the time limit crept ever closer.
"Okay, we'll finish with testing Yumi-chan's transformation scene one last time."
Rosa Chinensis shouted, using her rolled-up script as a megaphone.
"I mean, I've said it a number of times, but this is a point of showing off our skill."
Yumi put on the dress that was a collaborative effort between the handicraft club and the invention club. At first glance, it was a servant-work dress made of ragged material and covered with soot, but it had a trick, where pulling a number of cords turned into a dress using the same material as the gorgeous ivory dress. But this was just a temporary dress designed for this transformation. For the ballroom scene, they would switch to their petticoat and skirt dress.
Even Lillian, on the day before the school festival, was savage. Had the ordered goods not arrived yet, or they'd found a misprint on the fliers, or seats borrowed from the school had been double-booked, et cetera. The pleats for the angels' skirts were always completely disordered, and their sailor scarves tossed and turned. Today, even the Sisters consciously tried to remain out of sight as much as possible. They did not want to see their students act like this.
Even Yumi and the Yamayurikai were like this.
They could only borrow the gymnasium from two to four, so they quickly had Kashiwagi-san, who slid in just at two, put on the prince costume, and they had just finished the 45-minute run-through of the play twice. A Sachiko-version and a Yumi-version.
"When the smoke's ready, I'll signal, so pull the string then, okay?"
They made a screen of dry-ice smoke, just like they would in the actual performance.
Sachiko-sama only took one try, but it took five tries for Yumi to get the hang of the transformation.
"Bippity boppity boo!"
Rei-sama chanted the words to the charm, waving her conductor's stick. She, too, wore a young nobleman's costume under her cloak, and would join the next scene as a noble dancer, as if that was all she was.
Rosa Chinensis lowered her rolled-up script. Yumi pulled on the thin cords. Yoshino-san crawled over, hidden by the smoke, and pulled down the cords on her waist.
Yumi tilted her head. It was actually the job of Sister B, so when Yumi was Cinderella, Sachiko-sama's job. Even though she had complained, "Why must I crawl along the ground," she had performed her duty the last five times.
There was applause, and the illumination that was covered by smoke became more clear.
The transformation scene had ended as she was thinking. Oh yeah, and she noticed the ivory dress was in full view.
Rei-sama patted her shoulder, as she was closest.
"If you pull this off this well during the actual performance, even if you screw up a few lines, we'll forgive you."
Rosa Chinensis laughed as she said those carefree words.
"But. I'm surprised Yumi-chan would work this hard. She's remembered the lines well, too. I look forward to the real deal tomorrow."
As Rosa Foetida commented thus, Yumi quickly interceded.
"I appreciate the praise, but Sachiko-sama is the real Cinderella."
Everyone looked at each other, as if they had just remembered.
"Sachiko's orthodox Cinderella, or Yumi-chan's comedy. Unfortunately we can only run one of them tomorrow."
The word "shock" slammed into Yumi's forehead, like a comic panel. Her efforts in trying to get even a bit closer to Sachiko-sama resulted in a comedy.
"Ah, Yumi-chan's depressed."
"No, no. All I'm saying is, both of you have your own distinct flavors."
"It's so effort-filled and cute, like a home-drama, Yumi-chan's Cinderella."
"Exactly. Just as Yumi-chan can't imitate Sachiko's Cinderella, Sachiko can't imitate Yumi-chan's Cinderella. That's what individuality is, right?"
Hearing the rather relentless words that could be taken as consolation as well as encouragement cheered Yumi up.
Ahh, so that's how it is. She felt she understood things better.
The Roses were not expecting perfection out of Yumi. Even if Yumi were a comedy, they loved the comedy for what it was.
When she thought about it, that was always the case. Even when Sachiko-sama declared Yumi to be her sœur, while they worried about the circumstances regarding it, they never had any dissatisfaction with Yumi herself.
Yumi was the only one fixated on whether she was "worthy" of being Sachiko-sama's little sister.
"Speaking of which, where's the prince?"
"Isn't he changing out of his costume?"
Rosa Gigantea looked around.
"Sachiko's gone, too."
"Ah, Sachiko stepped out, saying she felt ill. I offered to accompany her to the health room, but she said she was alright, and requested that I take over for Yumi's strings."
"Oh. Then we shall have to check on her later."
They began cleaning up, as the time to vacate the gymnasium was approaching. About five minutes before four, the story-telling club members began arriving, so Yumi and others vacated the gymnasium as if they were being chased out.
Sachiko-sama was not at the health room. Yumi returned to the gymnasium just to make sure, but there was no sight of Sachiko-sama.
When she reported back to the Rose Mansion with that truth, everyone's faces turned pale. Apparently the first-floor room that had been used as Kashiwagi-san's temporary changing room still had his school uniform cleanly hung, with no trace of him having arrived.
"Maybe they're together…"
Someone anxiously mentioned.
"But they went out separately, did they not?"
"Yes, Sachiko-sama left earlier."
"I don't think anything would happen between the two of them…" As they spoke, their tones became more and more distressed.
"Umm, let's go look for them."
Yumi stood up.
"Sachiko-sama may have collapsed from illness, and Kashiwagi-san may have become lost."
"Y, yes, that's true, what Yumi-chan says is correct."
The Roses acted quickly, having regained their composure. Yoshino-san was told to stay behind, and they would split the search party into three pairs, each scouring a different section. The three pairs would go around the high school site in a surrounding path, so that they would meet together by Maria-sama's statue. The reason for the pairing is so that if something were to happen, one could run off to find help.
Yumi paired with Rosa Gigantea, and was to search the primary gymnasium, the grounds, the tennis court, and other such athletics locales, before taking the path by the library and appearing at Maria-sama's intersection.
"Thanks for saving us back there."
Rosa Gigantea said, as they quickly shuffled down the hallway.
"Yumi-chan cut through the moment. Everyone was lost in their depressing thoughts, you know."
"Even though we might look extremely reliable, we're still just high school students, so we get scared, sometimes. It was scary to think about what might have happened. There's a feeling that we shouldn't probe any further."
She understood exactly.
She would prefer to skirt away from the dealings of men and women. Who do you like from an idol group, or who do you think looks good from the neighboring school, that kind of talk is enough to rouse the interests of a classroom. But you also hear many stories of people turning down relationships because they were afraid of being in one.
The world of imagination was beautiful, but reality was very raw and scary.
Kissing, and further. She preferred not to think of that sort of thing as being close to her.
They requested permission from the story-telling club to check the back and storage of the stage, as well as the changing room, but Sachiko-sama and Kashiwagi-san were nowhere to be found. Rosa Gigantea looked relieved after scouring the darkness.
"If they're not here, they must have moved somewhere. That would mean they've moved to a place where there would be witnesses. Luckily, there're tons of students milling about, today."
There was no high school student who didn't know Sachiko-sama's face. Kashiwagi-san would also be quickly spotted in a girls' school. Plus, he was currently a flamboyant prince.
"Sachiko-sama and the prince? Yes, we saw them. We just passed by them, in the passage."
The story-telling club captain said, "right?" to the girl on the stage.
"Were they together!?"
Rosa Gigantea and Yumi both shook the story-telling club captain's shoulder.
"H, hold on, you two, calm down."
The captain looked uncomfortable, so they quickly retracted their arms. She rolled her neck around and sighed.
"They didn't seem to be together, so to speak. The prince was walking quite a distance behind. But where they went, … well, we passed by them, so they must have gone to the other school building for the passage?"
The two of them thanked her profusely and rushed out of the gymnasium.
When they started backtracking from the passage, Rosa Gigantea stopped them.
"We just came from that way. If we didn't see them there, they didn't go there."
"Then, where should we look!"
"Let's just take the planned route. Even if we don't find them, someone else should."
She agreed with Rosa Gigantea, but she still wanted to find Sachiko-sama first. She felt, since they had grasped the first clue, they had the right to find her first.
Rosa Gigantea leaned into Yumi's face.
"Do you like Sachiko?"
When she nodded, Rosa Gigantea patted her head and said "thanks."
"I like Sachiko, too. So does Rosa Chinensis, Rosa Foetida, Rei, Shimako, Yoshino, everyone likes Sachiko."
So leave it us. Is what Rosa Gigantea said. Because that was the best way.
Yumi silently nodded.
Yumi, too, starting with the Roses, loved everyone that gathered at the Rose Mansion. There was no way she couldn't trust them.
They glanced across the grounds as they hurried to the tennis court.
"However, why was Kashiwagi walking after Sachiko?"
Rosa Gigantea was already calling Kashiwagi-san purely by name.
"Is he a stalker?"
"But, Rosa Gigantea. You said you trusted Kashiwagi-san, right? I forget when, but you did say that?"
"Yes. I said that."
There was no one in the tennis court. They checked the parking lot through the wire fencing, too, but only Matsuyama-sensei from the social department's beloved car was there.
"Well, not so much trust, but I had confidence that he would not touch even the super beautiful Sachiko."
Rosa Gigantea said, as they went back.
"On what grounds?"
"Intuition, I think. We're the same kind of people."
Again, she was confusing things by talking about something she didn't understand. There were so many question marks jumping around Yumi's head that Rosa Gigantea turned, smiled, and said, "If you don't understand, it's alright."
"Then you were wrong?"
"I'm not sure. I'm pretty sure I wasn't wrong, but I can't read Sachiko, at all."
They took a turn on the road and walked along the library.
"That girl, might like Kashiwagi."
"Eh!? … but, you said."
On the other side of her surprise, a part of her said, "I knew it."
"I see. Yumi-chan thought so, too."
Rosa Gigantea was very perceptive, so even though Yumi didn't say it outloud, she knew.
"Lately Sachiko-sama's been staring blankly. And sighing. And that seemed to fit into the symptoms of "Love-sickness" that I hear about all the time-."
"Love-sick… But, I think it's not quite that."
Usually in the case of being love-sick, you would be a bit happy. But in the case of Sachiko-sama, it was pure melancholy, so she didn't look at all like a "maiden in love." Because Yumi was inexperienced in love matters, all she could do was listen to and accept Rosa Gigantea's explanation.
The two of them arrived at Maria-sama's intersection. The other two groups were supposed to meet by that little garden.
In the end, Yumi and Rosa Gigantea had not been able to find Sachiko-sama nor Kashiwagi-san. Just as she thought that-.
"I said stop, let go of me!"
They heard a scream from ahead.
Yumi and Rosa Gigantea scrambled forward.
Yumi and Rosa Gigantea were both so absorbed into the task at hand that they forgot all about the fact that they were running through the gingko tree walkway, so they stepped on a ton of them. Plus, as they had gone from the school building to the gymnasium, and then stepped out directly, they were still in their indoor shoes.
When they arrived at the goal, they saw the prince holding onto Sachiko-sama's wrist.
"You bastard, Kashiwagi, you were a double-blade…!"
Even Yumi understood the meaning behind that word. It meant he was very self-centered, in that he was fine with the opponent being a man or woman. Or maybe it was simply convenient, rather than self-centered.
"Rosa Gigantea, I would prefer if you did not make such a statement that could breed misunderstanding."
Kashiwagi Suguru-sama could act smoothly and calmly even in such a situation.
"Then, that hand, what's with it! Let go of Sachiko!"
Her words were tumbled. Rosa Gigantea was so angry she struggled to be coherent.
"I can let go, but then she would run away."
"You're the one that needs to run away. Even if we're girls, with this many, you'd have trouble breaking free."
On cue, Rosa Chinensis, Rei-sama, Rosa Foetida, and Shimako-san all arrived. Sachiko-sama swung her arm out of Kashiwagi-san and escaped.
"Sachiko, are you alright?"
Sachiko-sama nodded softly.
"Let's have you explain this to us, Kashiwagi-san."
Rosa Chinensis stepped forward. Almost as if that were a signal, the ring around Kashiwagi-san constricted.
"I am stunned you could behave in such a shameful manner in front of Maria-sama."
"There's no need to ask for an explanation, we should stick him out to the police for molestation."
"I agree. If he has any excuses, he can make them to the police."
Even Kashiwagi-san, who always seemed to have composure, had to feel a bit rushed, surrounded by angry high school girls.
"Wait a second. Hear me out!"
He stuck out both hands, in a "calm down" pose.
"There's nothing to debate. Yumi-chan, go call the police." Rosa Gigantea said.
But right before she turned around, Yumi noticed, and froze.
"What's wrong, quickly."
"I can't go, I… Sachiko-sama would be in distress."
All the stares at Kashiwagi-san switched instantaneously to Sachiko-sama. Yumi walked to the downcast Sachiko-sama and asked.
"You would prefer not to have Kashiwagi-san brought to the police, right?"
"Why, do you think so?"
Sachiko-sama lifted her face slowly and looked at Yumi's eyes with curiosity.
"It's, written on your face."
"You understand me well."
"… Yes. I don't know why, but very."
She nodded once, then turned toward everyone else.
"Everyone, I apologize for causing a problem. Kashiwagi-san being a molester is a misunderstanding. Please forgive us."
Then, she bowed her head deeply.
They did not expect that Sachiko-sama, who was fervently shaking Kashiwagi-san off, would then move to defend him. Aside from Kashiwagi-san and Yumi, everyone shouted in surprise.
"But, we saw you try to get away from him when he grabbed your wrist!"
Of course, now Sachiko-sama was being probed for an explanation. Kashiwagi-san fixed his pompous collar, with golden ornamentation.
"We were speaking in a civil manner at the start. But along the way we began arguing, and that was when everyone arrived."
Sachiko-sama explained. But no one would be appeased by that. Yumi raised her hand.
"What were you talking about? Or rather, more importantly, why did you two have to come this far, to escape peoples' sight? What's going on between you two-." Rosa Chinensis looked a bit angry.
Kashiwagi-san said, just then. Of course, he was speaking to Sachiko-sama.
"Even if our talks had broken down, the reality is that I did grab your wrist. If that were to be called molestation, that might be the case. However, I'm sure both of us would rather this not be dragged to the police. I would prefer this to be settled quickly and efficiently. To do this, we would have to explain well enough to appease everyone here. Don't you agree?"
What, is he trying to say? -Yumi thought.
"If you would be willing to fix this mess, I would not be sent to the police, and we would be able to cleanly finish tomorrow's play."
What he said was full of holes, but his confidence and his excessive smoothness was a bit irritating.
(Sachiko-sama, if you don't want to say anything, you don't have to. Sachiko-sama is far more important to us than Kashiwagi-san.)
She didn't know what "tell them" meant, but Kashiwagi-san should say it himself if he so desired. If him saying it would hurt Sachiko-sama, then it would be the same, making Sachiko-sama say it.
"… You're right."
Sachiko-sama glanced at Kashiwagi-san.
"That might be better for both of us."
She had the eyes of a dead person. Or perhaps the eyes of a doll. Her eyes did not reflect Kashiwagi-san, who was in front of her, but rather something far, far in the distance.
"He, -Kashiwagi Suguru-san, is my cousin."
Everyone did a double-take at hearing this unexpected relationship. Because they had not given away any hint whatsoever.
Sachiko-sama's father's elder sister's son was Kashiwagi-san, Sachiko-sama explained. Then, why would they have hidden their relationship all this time? Those sighs were unsuitable if they were just relatives.
"Not only that."
"He is also my fiancée."
"-!?" Everyone was speechless. Holy woman or lady aside, when surprised this much, they would stand speechless, jaws agape.
In the case of Yumi.
She was trying to remember the meaning of the word fiancée. It was written, those promised to marry, but maybe there was more.
(I mean, they can't be bringers of misery and ruin, or something, so they must be fiancés? Then, Sachiko-sama and Kashiwagi-san are to marry in the future. … So that means, they love each other!?)
And thus, she was flipping through life's phases, again.
"That's why it would be a bit awkward bringing the police into this. We're already intended to marry, so grasping her wrist is no big deal."
Kashiwagi-san held Sachiko-sama's hand.
"I can embrace her shoulder."
And as he spoke, he placed a hand on her shoulder. The refreshing hand of Kashiwagi-san looked extremely impure this time, to Yumi.
"And kiss." (Stop…!!)
Don't touch Sachiko-sama any more. –Yumi thought.
If they touched, Sachiko-sama would become dirtied.
Now, she understood. Sachiko-sama's feelings.
She didn't dislike men. She disliked Kashiwagi-san. –As she thought that, Kashiwagi-san drew his face closer to Sachiko-sama.
Just as Yumi covered her eyes with both hands.
The violent sound of the slap echoed around the gingko trees.
"Stop being caught up in the moment!" It was probably not a very long period of time, but it felt like everything went in slow motion after the slap.
Kashiwagi-san recoiled, holding his cheek. Sachiko-sama held her right wrist with her left hand.
Then, Sachiko-sama was the one who hit him, after all, Yumi dimly thought.
And then Sachiko-sama-.
Kashiwagi-san's voice brought Yumi back to her senses. Sachiko-sama was already far away into the distance, running toward the auditorium.
Yumi jumped out to follow. Kashiwagi-san took a flying start, but Yumi caught up when he slid on a gingko nut, and while she felt a bit apologetic, she pushed his shoulder and made him completely trip.
"I'm sorry, but Kashiwagi-san won't cut it!"
It was her best parting remark, ever, in her entire life. It was probably because she thought it from the bottom of her heart, rather than acting it out.
When Yumi had also vanished into the distance, chasing Sachiko-sama, Rosa Chinensis held Kashiwagi-san's shoulder, as he tried to get back up.
"I apologize for my junior's conduct. However, the gingko sap on your costume, you are aware, I think, that it smells? I would like to remove its stains immediately, so I would appreciate it if you would accompany us back to the Rose Mansion. Plus, we have to discuss what we shall do tomorrow."
Apparently, Kashiwagi-san lost the will to pursue after that.
Would it be a bit diagonally to the side of the auditorium, or would it be on the way to the secondary gymnasium. Regardless of how you would describe its location, an old greenhouse stood in an obscure place.
Because there was no gardening club at the moment, it was a mystery as to who tended to it, but someone was taking care of the plants inside. There was a separate, new greenhouse that was purchased two years ago for teaching purposes, so teachers took care of that one, and rarely popped in here. It was old and slightly broken down, so most students also didn't come here. However, it was not taken down, because there were some die-hard fans every year that took care of the greenhouse, and because there was no particular shortage of space, so there was no need to quickly tear down the greenhouse.
Sachiko-sama was in this greenhouse.
"Who is it?"
A voice asked, when she opened the door.
Yumi interpreted that answer as allowing her to come in, and so she stepped in.
It had been her first time taking a step in, and she marveled at how, despite being smaller than she expected, it was very tidy and packed. Even though it was a whole size smaller than a classroom, planters and pots were stacked on tables and shelves.
The western sun made the room very warm.
She avoided the hanging pots and walked down the path. A chunk of the floor here and there was cut out by squares, and from the ground there directly grew trees.
Sachiko-sama was sitting at the farthest ledge.
"Sorry for taking your spot."
Yumi moved the potted plant that was stationed next to Sachiko-sama and sat down. Sachiko-sama said nothing, and did not move to stop her, and instead, simply watched.
Perhaps Sachiko-sama came here often. Or maybe she had come here by chance. Either way, because every student was crowded around the school, a silent place like this was a precious commodity.
Now that hide-and-seek was over, now that she had found Sachiko-sama, Yumi did not know what to do next. Although she said Kashiwagi-san wouldn't cut it, she didn't think she could do anything, either.
Just being by Sachiko-sama's side. Just as she was wondering if that was enough.
Then, a soft weight landed on Yumi's right shoulder. It took her a while to realize Sachiko-sama had laid her forehead on her shoulder and was crying.
At first, she thought Sachiko-sama was simply trembling. But eventually she began hiccoughing, and unable to restrain herself, Yumi embraced Sachiko-sama, who then grabbed Yumi and kept crying. Yumi stayed silently, simply patting Sachiko-sama's back like she would a baby. She didn't know why Sachiko-sama was crying, but she was sure crying was the most important thing for her to finish doing, right now.
Eventually Sachiko-sama's breathing calmed down, an indication that she had finished crying, but they remained grasping each other for the time being.
"Please, give me your rosary."
After a period of silence, Sachiko-sama answered, "No."
Yumi let go and asked.
"No matter what. I've changed my mind."
Sachiko-sama's eyes were like that of a bunny, but she smiled. Perhaps crying had made her feel better, as she had returned to her usual, proud self.
"Even if he's my fiancée, it's one of those things our parents decided upon. Sheesh, what do they plan to do making our bloodline even more dense."
Sachiko-sama hopped off of the ledge and walked a short distance to the water supply. Then, she twisted the only knob and washed her face with both hands using the forcefully falling water.
"But, Sachiko-sama. You do like Kashiwagi-san, don't you?"
Then Sachiko-sama looked up. "A long time ago."
Instead of returning the handkerchief she used to dry her hands and head to her pocket, she stuck it on a comparatively clean window, then returned to sit next to Yumi.
"He… Suguru-san, is not a bad person. But he acts only for himself, but he doesn't seem to realize it. He can't understand how other people feel, nor does he bother to even think about it. That's why if he hurts someone, he doesn't understand why, and he doesn't even think about whether he was the cause. Every male in my family is like that."
Sachiko-sama muttered, the fact that they have no ill-will is the most bothersome part.
I see, there are no perfect people in the world, Yumi thought.
"So you began to dislike him after seeing his selfish personality?"
"Hmm. Not exactly, but something like that. He can only love men. Even so, he plans to marry me."
Sachiko-sama was an only child, so she would be used for arranged marriages, preferably to a man who could continue to manage the Ogasawara group. On that note, her cousin Kashiwagi-san seemed to be the perfect fit, so their parents agreed to the marriage.
"They're both public companies, though, so there was no need to forcibly pull someone from the Ogasawara group."
Apparently her grandfather was a stubborn, Meiji-born person obsessed with the welfare of his company. In that case, there was the option of simply adopting Kashiwagi-san and allowing him to inherit the company, but apparently he loved his only grand-daughter, and wished to have Sachiko-sama inherit everything.
"What do you think Suguru-san said, when he came to celebrate my high school entry? We're similar people, so our marriage will certainly succeed. That we should both live freely, without interfering with one another. When I asked, 'What do you mean?' he confessed, 'I hate to tell you this, but I can only love other men.' So he said I should fall in love with someone else, and have their child. He wanted to give everything to my child, as the future heir to the Ogasawara group. They would be related by blood anyways, so he would be able to love him like his own child. … What was he thinking? Making a mockery of people like that."
"A 16-year old high school student, to a girl one year younger."
"Too much cuteness results in a hundred times the hatred. Because of him, my hatred of men grew even stronger."
She tried to crack a joke, but it couldn't have been that simple.
Because Sachiko-sama truly did like Kashiwagi-san.
Before she could tell the person she liked, "I like you," they ended up becoming intended consorts. Even that was hard to digest, but then her hopes of a possible loving relationship was obliterated. –At the age of 15.
That would pervert your thoughts. Who cares about men!
"Then, why don't you have the engagement cancelled?"
"We avoided each other for a year and a half, so there was no chance to bring it up. But it was a good opportunity, so when I brought it up, he got angry."
"In front of Maria-sama!"
It all came together.
Everything else was as she knew.
Kashiwagi-san was misunderstood to be molesting, Sachiko-sama announced that they were engaged, Kashiwagi-san went too far and got hit, Sachiko-sama fled after hitting, and Yumi chased her here.
"He doesn't know I used to like him. So he went too far."
Because Rosa Gigantea seemed to have realized he was a homosexual, he tried to destroy any suspicion. Kashiwagi-san probably thought Sachiko-sama would help him by accepting a kiss. But, that calculation was wrong. He underestimated Sachiko-sama.
Sachiko-sama was right. There was no way she should be able to happily dance with such a partner. Yumi thought it was no surprise that Sachiko-sama would try to get out of dancing the entire time.
Thank you, for listening. –Saying that, Sachiko-sama jumped down from the ledge.
"It was like a confession. It was hard because I couldn't tell anyone. But now I'm alright."
She said she felt so much better now.
But the situation was no different from before. Even home-drama-Yumi couldn't simply laugh off the matter like this.
But what could she do? What could she do to help Sachiko-sama?
"Please, give me your rosary."
Yumi asked once more. There was still time. If Sachiko-sama shook her head vertically, the Roses would accept it. It was still Saturday.
But Sachiko-sama smiled and shook her head.
"Yumi, you seem to want to switch into Cinderella for me because of what I'm going through. But I refuse. I want to do Cinderella, now."
Sachiko-sama leaned into Yumi's face and stroked her cheek.
"Right now, I just ran from him. The only way for me to make this up is to perform, tomorrow. If I can perform on the stage with him by my side, it would lay everything to rest. Let me fight. I don't want to run away anymore."
"So, shall we return?"
Yumi could not say anything more. She simply nodded, and jumped off the ledge.
Sachiko-sama neatly folded the handkerchief that was dried by the western sun, and put it back in her pocket. The tears and the moisture in the handkerchief flew off somewhere. They were certainly still in the greenhouse, but they could no longer be seen.
Along the way out, Sachiko-sama stopped in the middle of the pathway.
"Had you noticed? Over half of the plants in this greenhouse are roses."
Because there were many that hadn't yet bloomed, she didn't notice. However, when she stopped to look, many of leaves were indeed of the rose family, and most of the flowers were roses. Roses bloomed even in the autumn.
"There are many types."
When she looked again, it was breath-taking.
From field roses, to vine roses, to even roses that looked like they came from horticultural brands. The shape and color of roses differed, too.
"This is Rosa Chinensis."
Sachiko-sama's index finger pointed at a tree right in front of them.
The tree itself was thin, but it was a strong tree that grew straight from the ground. Several crimson flowers to blooming, and a reinforcing army of blossoms were in wait.
"It blooms during every season."
Sachiko-sama said, proudly.
"Please remember about this flower."
They walked together through the darkening school. They walked behind the school facilities for a shortcut and returned to the Rose Mansion, where a bright light from the second floor awaited them.
A message was stuck on the door for them.
"The visitor has returned home. Make sure to clean the bottom of our indoor shoes well before entering. Bringing in the gingko smell is forbidden. →"
Under the arrow were two wet rags, wrung and hung over the side of a bucket. The two looked at each other, then carefully wiped away the gingko sap that had stuck to the bottoms of their shoes, and then entered.
For some reason, that whole cycle felt very warm.
I'm home, she wanted to say.
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