Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume24 Chapter3

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Masked Actress[edit]

The Opening Ceremony's Spoiled Child[edit]

Part 1[edit]

The auditorium was probably cold and silent first thing in the morning, but it had warmed up by the time the first-years and half of the second-year classes had filed in. The girls' whispered voices and occasional laughs probably helped to soften the atmosphere.

Sitting with the rest of her class, Yumi relaxed just a little bit.

Winter vacation was over.

It was a new school term.

Even when something earth-shattering happens on the last day of the second term, there are very few students for whom the first day of the third term does not eventually arrive.

The reason for that was because time kept on flowing impartially. Well, there were some exceptions, though.

But Yumi hadn't suffered some massive injury that required long-term hospitalization. Nor had her family circumstances required her to change schools, and obviously she hadn't done something wrong and been expelled. So of course the day of the third term opening ceremony would eventually come. Although, on reflection, while she thought of it as "earth-shattering," perhaps it wasn't actually all that big a deal.

That's right. It was just a rejection by a first-year she wanted to make her petit soeur. Looking at in totality, it was probably a minor event. Yumi breathed a little sigh.

The third-years were making their entrance.

As always, when she turned her gaze to the line of third-year pine class students, she quickly found her onee-sama.

It may just have been habit, but Sachiko-sama noticed her petit soeur's gaze and looked at her. At times like this it was typically with a scolding expression, as though to say, "Stop looking around," or, "Hey, don't do that." But even so, Yumi couldn't bring herself to stop.

Yumi wondered how many more opportunities she'd have to do that.

Because once her onee-sama graduated, she wouldn't be able to do it no matter how much she may want to. Her cautioning look when Yumi couldn't calm down, her astonished look when Yumi was being obtuse – Yumi wanted to savor all of these expressions as much as she could.

Perhaps Yumi's intentions had been conveyed, because this time Sachiko-sama favored her with a smile, saying, "You irrepressible child."

(Hehehe.)

This alone was enough to make Yumi feel satisfied, like a baby given its bottle. And, as usual, she thought, "How simple am I, if my onee-sama can change my mood with just one look?"

"…"

Next Yumi twisted her body towards the first-year camellia class. She couldn't stop herself from looking, even if it meant her good mood would wither like a deflating balloon.

Touko-chan was there.

As usual, she had ringlets hanging past both her ears. Her gaze was fixed to the front, her mouth a straight line. All around her, her classmates were chatting but she didn't join in at all, she just sat in silence.

Despite the long distance separating them, Yumi could see Touko-chan clearly.

Yumi's mood didn't wither. Quite the opposite, it swelled. Yumi didn't know why, but seeing Touko-chan moved her in a way she couldn't put into words.

Just what was it?

Still unable to come up with an answer, she returned her gaze to the front. The opening ceremony was beginning.

The change in the lineup of the choir, the lower percentage of third-years in attendance, all of these little things were mixed in with graduation, leaving a lonely feeling.

She'd already experienced a high-school graduation ceremony last year.

It was something she'd just have to get used to.

Part 2[edit]

After the opening ceremony they returned to their class for homeroom, which had just finished.

"Yumi-san, are you going to the Rose Mansion?"

"Yes. Gokigenyou."

Yumi cheerfully responded to her classmate, picked up her bag, and left the classroom.

"Happy new year, Rosa Chinensis en bouton."

"Make this year another good one, Yumi-sama."

The words people spoke to her as she walked through the corridor were a bit different to normal, but that was typical for the day of the third-term opening ceremony.

It was the first school day of the calendar year, so throughout the school grounds there were groups of students hanging around, chatting about what they got up to over the winter break, and so on.

Amidst all that.

"Yumi-san."

A voice called to her from behind. Shimako-san had noticed Yumi walking down the corridor and trotted over to her.

"Ah, Gokigenyou Shimako-san."

"Gokigenyou."

This wasn't their first time meeting this year, so they greeted each other normally. They'd said, "Happy new year," on the second of January, at the new year's party at the Ogasawara estate.

"Oh, you're by yourself, Yumi-san?"

Shimako-san looked puzzled, noticing Yoshino-san wasn't with her, even though they were both in the same class.

"Yeah. There's a kendo club meeting. She said it wouldn't take long, so I should go to the Rose Mansion without her."

"A kendo club meeting?"

"Yeah. It's not an official club practice, so they won't be using their shinai. From what I'm told, they're just meeting in the martial arts building to say, "Happy new year.""

"I see."

They chatted about their absent friend as they walked, saying things like, "It must be tough for Yoshino-san to balance everything," and, "But Rei-sama managed it, so it's just something she'll have to do."

"That reminds me."

Shimako-san said.

"What?"

Yumi asked, as a chuckle escaped from Shimako-san while she reminisced.

"A year ago, I think it was after the opening ceremony. It was right around here that I heard some gossip from the second-years."

"A year ago, after the opening ceremony … ?"

Hearing this, Yumi felt like she remembered something. On that day, Shimako-san had been delayed by some committee work, so she'd been late to arrive at the Rose Mansion and, unusually for her, she'd run up the flight of stairs, opened the door and then said something before even greeting them.

(Has anyone heard of – )

"Rosa Canina!"

"Exactly."

At that time, the people in the Rose Mansion had no idea whatsoever, but when Rei-sama showed up a bit later they learned that "Rosa Canina" was a person and then it didn't take long to tie her to the second-year student that nominated herself in the student council elections.

"Although a year ago I was so anxious, I couldn't imagine I'd be able to look back on it and laugh like this."

Shimako-san said, smiling. It seemed like she'd warped back to a year ago, just for a little while.

Yumi's memories came flooding back too. About how she got depressed because she wanted to help with her onee-sama's election campaign but wasn't able to do anything.

"Who would have thought that we'd become friends with Rosa Canina, Kanina Shizuka-sama."

"That's for sure."

Shizuka-sama had gone to Italy, but she came to see them when Yumi's grade went over there for their school trip. It turned out Shimako-san had become pen-friends with her at some point.

"I wonder what I'll do this year."

Shimako-san mumbled.

"For the student council election?"

Yumi asked and Shimako-san nodded in response.

"What are you talking about? It's your second time so it should be easier for you, right?"

Shimako-san was in the same grade as Yumi but had taken part in last year's election. Shimako-san's onee-sama, the previous Rosa Gigantea, was two years older than her, so after her graduation Shimako-san was expected to step up and continue her legacy. With the result being that Shimako-san was elected comfortably and, as such, was presently called Rosa Gigantea.

"Oh, I don't think it's going to be easy."

Shimako-san laughed. She was being modest, but the laugh itself showed how relaxed she was. Veterans were strong.

"But, you'll run, right? In the election."

"I plan to, but – "

"But? That sort of feels like a halfhearted response."

The way she'd said it, it felt like there should have been more to that sentence. Yumi put herself on guard.

"Let's see."

Shimako-san said.

"Hypothetically speaking, if there was a student who desperately wanted to be on the student council, I'd have to think about it."

"Huh!?"

"I've already experienced it once."

The elections were held every year, but traditionally the boutons became the next Roses, so maybe this was posing a problem to Shimako-san. So if some student nominated themselves, like Shizuka-sama had last year, she was resolved to hand over her seat. That sort of thing.

Come to think of it, it had been like this last year as well. She'd delayed lodging her candidacy application until right before the deadline. It was a single careless remark from Shizuka-sama that firmed her resolve.

"I plan on accepting you as my petit soeur."

That had lit a fire in Shimako-san. She'd fought to protect her and her onee-sama's pride.

Shimako-san was not attached to the position of Rosa Gigantea. Not before, not now – that much had remained consistent.

"Wha, no way. I want to be a Rose with you, Shimako-san. I don't want you to leave the Rose Mansion."

"Oh, I'll have to stop going to the Rose Mansion if I'm not a Rose?"

Shimako-san asked, as though she'd only just realized this.

"That's right. Are you okay with that?"

Yumi answered, taking Shimako-san by the hand.

"Maybe you're right. I want to be with you and the others, Yumi-san. That's why it was a hypothetical. I'm sure I said that. Don't worry. If someone else runs in the election, I'm sure it'll be as turbulent as last year."

Indeed. If there was someone planning that, news about it would probably start trickling in sooner or later.

There was no way to put a lock on people's mouths. Indeed, prefacing it with, "This is a secret, but," would only make the rumors spread faster, as long as it wasn't just badmouthing someone or related to some tragedy.

"I'd hate it if you weren't there."

Yumi said, entwining their fingers.

"Alright, alright. I understand."

While they playfully flirted as they walked, Touko-chan appeared from the other direction.

Touko-chan was by herself.

She might have been on her way home, as she was wearing her school coat, and when she noticed them she stopped just for a moment before continuing on and eventually arriving in front of them.

"Gokigenyou, Rosa Gigantea."

Touko-chan started by greeting Shimako-san.

"Gokigenyou."

Shimako-san replied, smiling as tenderly as ever. Yumi's heart pounded as she watched them.

What would Touko-chan do next? Would she greet Yumi as she had Shimako-san, or would she ignore her and leave?

Either way, Yumi had no faith in her own ability to respond appropriately. In truth, she wanted to run away. But since she'd done nothing wrong, it would be odd for her to flee. Reflecting on this, Yumi somehow managed to resist the temptation.

Wouldn't it have been better if, a few minutes earlier, Touko-chan had noticed them coming up the corridor and changed course? But she couldn't turn back time, nor could she freely change other people's actions.

"Gokigenyou, Rosa Chinensis en bouton."

Touko-chan didn't run away either. Her big eyes looked straight at Yumi and she smiled cutely.

Was this a brave front she was putting up? Or was that incident truly of no importance to Touko-chan, and she'd forgotten it already?

Yumi didn't know. There was no answer she could derive from Touko-chan's expression.

"Gokigenyou, Touko-chan."

Yumi just barely managed to get that out. But if that was all she could say, it didn't seem commensurate with the effort it took.

"We're heading to the Rose Mansion so we'll see you later."

She was saved by Shimako-san saying this and walking off. Using Shimako-san's entwined fingers as a support she was somehow able to make it through, but if she'd stayed there a minute longer she might have had to crouch down into a ball. That's how much her legs were shaking.

Yumi had been beaten by Touko-chan. She hadn't done anything wrong, but her position was entirely weak.

"I've thought this before, but."

When they arrived at the Rose Mansion, Shimako-san gently slipped her hand from Yumi's and faced her.

"It feels like Touko-chan is hiding her emotions more and more."

"Uh … "

"It would be good if she could open her heart a little more."

Shimako-san's words penetrated deeply.

The short span of open air between the school building and the Rose Mansion provided a preview of the cold days to come.

Part 3[edit]

Even in the new year, the Rose Mansion staircase was as creaky as ever as it ushered students in. It couldn't be oiled, like a gear chain, so there wasn't much maintenance that could be done to it.

"I wonder if it'll fall down one day."

Yumi muttered and Shimako-san smiled.

"My onee-sama said it was like this when she was a first-year."

"Really?"

"Although it may have changed a little bit. But over time you get used to it, and the feeling of unease goes away."

So that was it. She'd been going up and down it every day without giving it a second thought, but after a two week break she was thinking about the sound and the swaying. So if they brought Shimako-san's onee-sama, Satou Sei-sama, here to confirm it right now, she might say, "It's swaying a lot more than when I was a first-year."

"Gokigenyou, Yumi-sama. Gokigenyou, onee-sama."

Nijou Noriko-chan had arrived at the Rose Manion ahead of them, already completed a brief tidy up and was currently preparing tea.

"Ah, sorry. I'll help."

Yumi rolled up her sleeves and went over to assist, but all the preparations were done. She was just waiting for the water in the electric kettle to boil.

"Would you two please take a seat. It's almost done."

Yumi whispered to Shimako-san:

"Your petit soeur is as admirable as ever."

"Why thank-you."

Just as they were exchanging smiles, the water boiled.

"Touko."

Noriko-chan said, abruptly.

"Came to school today. Looking as though nothing happened at the Christmas party."

It had seemed abrupt, but Noriko-chan may have planned on saying it at this point. Standing by the sink as she poured the tea, from Yumi's vantage point all she could see was her back.

"Yeah. That's how she appeared."

Noriko-chan turned around in surprise when Yumi agreed with her.

"You knew?"

"We ran into her a little while ago in the hallway … right?"

Yumi responded, looking straight at Shimako-san.

"And … then what?"

"That's all. We just exchanged greetings then went our separate ways."

"Is that so?"

Noriko-chan's expression showed a mixture of disappointment and relief. Given the choice, she wouldn't want to be caught between her friend and her seniors. But that was how it had to be, probably.

"Well, let's end this conversation here. Noriko-chan, the tea will go bitter."

"Ah, oh no."

It was only then that Noriko-chan finally remembered the tea. There was currently only the three of them present, but Noriko-chan poured four cups and, perhaps worried about the taste after all, took a sip of hers before saying, "Okay." With that, Sachiko-sama finally arrived.

"Gokigenyou, onee-sama."

Yumi hurried over to greet her onee-sama, who frowned and said:

"You're just as excitable this year too, aren't you?"

"Ah … I'm sorry."

It looked as though her onee-sama's fault-finding was in good health this year too.

"Where's Rei and Yoshino-chan? Haven't they arrived yet?"

"No. Um, the kendo club's – "

"I know that. But I thought they would be here by now."

The way she said it made it sound like she'd come here to see Rei-sama and Yoshino-san.

"Um, onee-sama?"

It did neither of them any good to remain gloomy like this, so Yumi boldly asked her about it. Thereupon:

"That's right."

Sachiko-sama answered calmly.

"I knew Rei and Yoshino-chan would be late, so I took my time getting here. Since today's meeting won't start until we're all here. It would be a waste of time to hurry here, just to drink tea and wait. So I tidied something up."

"What did you tidy up?"

"I returned a book I borrowed over the winter vacation, why do you ask?"

"But the library isn't open today … "

"That's why I put it in the book return slot."

"The book return … "

It might have been better if Yumi dropped the subject politely at this point, but she couldn't do that. Because if she dropped it now, she'd have to accept that earlier "waste of time" remark. That was why she deliberately said one thing too many.

"If you were just using the book return, couldn't you have stopped in on your way home?"

"Huh?"

It wasn't just Sachiko-sama that looked at Yumi with a startled expression – Shimako-san and Noriko-chan did so too. But since she'd started, she couldn't stop now.

"Waste of time though it may be, I'd be happy just to drink tea and chat with my friends. Do you disagree, onee-sama?"

"That's not what I said, though?"

Sachiko-sama's voice was a little tight, apparently not amused at being criticized.

"Why are you trying to start an argument today?"

Even if she was asked this.

"I don't know myself."

The White Rose soeurs had tried to intervene a couple of times so eventually they turned their backs on them. As though to declare, "Don't worry about us."

"Come with me."

Sachiko-sama took Yumi by the hand and left the room. In the hallway, she closed the door and asked once more:

"What's the matter?"

This time in a soft voice.

"I don't know."

Why was she acting rebellious towards her onee-sama? What had started it, was there a problem with her state of mind? Even if she had been able to think about it calmly, she was currently too strung-out for it to work well.

"You should know that there's days like this."

Suddenly, a voice came from the stairway. Rei-sama had just climbed up to the second floor.

"Way back when, Sachiko would get hysterical and lash out at Youko-sama. When your emotions are unstable, you can be set off by the slightest thing. Right, Yumi-chan?"

"Is that it, Yumi?"

Yumi nodded slightly.

"It's cold, isn't it? Let's go inside."

Rei-sama smiled and put her arm around Yumi's shoulder.

"I suppose."

Behind Sachiko-sama, Yoshino-san entered the scene, rattling the staircase.

"Ooh, it's cold. Geez, you just kept getting further ahead of me Rei-chan … hey, why are we stopped here?"

"I just ran into Sachiko doting on Yumi-chan. Had to butt in."

"Oh."

"I told them to continue it when it was just the two of them. Now, let's go inside already."

She was unstable, got set off, and was doted on. Rei-sama's analysis was probably on the right track. What had started it was a trivial matter.

But if her state of mind was such that a trivial matter could affect her like this, wasn't there a bit of a problem? She felt like she shouldn't just dismiss it as "there's days like this."

When they opened the door, the White Rose soeurs greeted them with relieved expressions.

Part 4[edit]

The Yamayurikai executive's first meeting of the new year was a simple matter, with an exchange of, "Let's make this year another good one," followed by a review of their schedule for the first three months of the year.

All six members had been at the Ogasawara's women-only new year's party, so they'd already exchanged their personal new year's greetings, but that was that and this was this. The student council leaders and their petit soeurs all gathered in the Rose Mansion on the first school day of the new year and officially exchanged new year's greetings.

"On to the plans for the next few months. First, during January, the election for the next student council leaders will be held."

Shimako-san said, looking at the schedule.

"Traditionally, the elections are held on the last Saturday of January with the candidate speeches taking place three days earlier on Wednesday, and I think it should follow that format again this year. The Electoral Committee are holding an information session tomorrow after school where they will announce the details."

"The second-years should attend this meeting, regardless of whether or not they intend to run in the election."

Sachiko-sama said, looking around the room from person to person.

The second-years should attend whether or not they were going to run. – It echoed in Yumi's heart more than if she'd been told she had to become one of the next Roses.

A year ago, she'd seen the previous Rosa Gigantea, Satou Sei-sama, say to Shimako-san, "This is your decision," after she'd chosen to run in the election, so she thought she understood the departing senior's position. But still, it echoed in her heart.

In the next school year, if the day did come when she was called a Rose, she wouldn't have her onee-sama with her then. Yumi wouldn't be able to rely on her or pass responsibility onto her, so for the sake of her future self, she knew she had to build her own independence.

Even so, it was hard because it felt like she was letting go of the hand that joined her to her onee-sama. Maybe she really was unstable today.

"Ah, you can attend too, Noriko-chan. You don't have to nominate just because you're there."

Sachiko-sama was saying that it was only an information session. They could decide whether or not they'd nominate after hearing the details. And they could nominate even if they missed the information session.

"Ah, no."

Noriko-chan declined immediately.

"Oh, are first-years allowed to nominate?"

"Absolutely. Like Shimako-san last year."

As neither candidates nor voters, the third-years were quite relaxed.

"Are we going to have a White Rose soeur battle? That would be kind of incredible."

Yoshino-san was also engaging in this frivolous chatter, even though she should have been in the same spot as Yumi.

"Well then, Yoshino-san, Yumi-san and I shall meet tomorrow after school at the Electoral Committee's office, next to the staff room."

Since the off-topic chatter seemed to be increasing, Shimako-san softly cleared her throat and concluded the discussion.

"Onto February … last year there was the treasure hunt on the 14th to coincide with Valentine's Day. This year – "

"Ah, the newspaper club were sounding me out about that."

Sachiko-sama said.

"They were … sounding you out?"

"Yes. It was at the second-term closing ceremony, no, maybe it was on the last day of exams. The club president, Yamaguchi Mami-san, called out to me saying they were counting on us again this year. I'm sorry, I forgot to inform you because of the holidays."

"So how did you answer her, onee-sama?"

Yumi asked.

"I told her I'd respond after discussing it with the boutons in the Rose Mansion."

Discussing it with the boutons. She'd already promoted her juniors into the leading role. But even as she was saying they'd discuss it, her face showed she agreed with the plan.

And that Mami-san. They were in the same class, so there would have been plenty of opportunities for her to discuss it with Yumi or Yoshino-san. She was using the same ploy as last year, when the previous head of the newspaper club, Tsukiyama Minako-sama, had won over the previous Roses in order to make the event happen.

"Let's leave this discussion until after the election. Depending on the outcome, there's a chance the newspaper club may cancel their plans."

Was that remark made out of concern that one, or all, of the second-years might fail to be elected?

Indeed, while they were called boutons now, if they didn't become the next student council leaders then they'd go back to being normal students. While Noriko-chan wasn't planning on contending the election, in the one-in-a-million chance that Shimako-san lost the election, she wouldn't be called a bouton.

"Well then, we'll put the Valentine's Day event on hold for now. In March, the Yamayurikai will be organizing the "Third-Years' Farewell Party.""

When it came to this topic, Sachiko-sama and Rei-sama didn't have anything to say. When all was said and done, they were part of the group being farewelled.

No matter what, they wouldn't be on the side organizing it.

Yumi could feel that message contained in their silence.

"Ah. Since I'm taking entrance exams, I probably won't be able to make it to many meetings from here on, so take care everyone."

Rei-sama's remark, added in at the end of the meeting, felt like a death blow.

Part 5[edit]

On the way home.

Sachiko-sama was the same as ever.

When Yumi had been washing the cups, when she'd been idly chatting with Rei-sama, when they'd left the Rose Mansion and were walking through the school corridor, when they temporarily split up to change their shoes and then when they reunited at the entrance, when they all walked together along the tree lined path, she neither forced herself to be near Yumi nor avoided her, but with exquisite positioning she was able to chat about the weather and interject into the second-years' conversation.

Usually, after a souring of someone's relationship with their petit soeur, they'd be conscious of it and unable to act normally, wouldn't they?

At the very least, that's what Yumi thought. Even as she listened along to Yoshino-san's chattering, she occasionally glanced over at Sachiko-sama.

What was her onee-sama thinking? That's what Yumi was wondering.

But Sachiko-sama wasn't acting like that at all. So their eyes didn't meet. That said, Sachiko-sama wasn't ignoring her, so she looked at Yumi a couple of times and their eyes met then. When that happened, Sachiko-sama smiled at her with an expression that said, "Hmm?" But it wasn't like Yumi had anything specific for her, so Yumi was the first to look away and Sachiko-sama didn't ask anything more.

Sachiko-sama didn't glance at the book return slot when they passed the library, so perhaps she'd already forgotten that incident.

Her onee-sama was an adult, who wouldn't be disturbed by that sort of thing.

In front of the statue of Maria-sama, at the fork in the road, Yumi prayed.

(That I may grow stronger.)

That she may become a strong person who could stand tall and walk on even when her onee-sama wasn't with her.

But, in direct opposition to her prayer, she didn't really want to become the sort of person who was totally fine without her onee-sama.

She had to grow stronger.

But she felt it would be nice to remain the spoiled baby she was forever, always smiling beside her onee-sama.


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