Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume33 Chapter2
The Green Bird and the White Flower
Yumi was standing by the bus doors so when it arrived at the Lillian Girls Academy stop she was the first off, leading the charge across the pedestrian bridge.
There was still some time until they were supposed to meet. Even if she walked to the classroom, she probably wouldn't be late.
If five of the six people were already there, the last person to arrive would give the impression of being late even if they were a few minutes early.
Yoshino-san was one of the members, so Yumi expected some irrational complaints. Ahh, she could just imagine it. Yoshino-san standing there with her hands on her hips, saying, 'You're laaate.'
When she got on the bus, Yumi had checked to see if any of the four people she was going to meet (excluding Yoshino-san, who walked to school) were also on board, but she couldn't see any of them. They had all probably caught an earlier bus. As expected, missing the earlier bus to the station had cost her.
Yumi wanted to run, but she thought of the students that were following behind her and instead decided just to walk quickly. As the next Rosa Chinensis, it would not be proper for her to be seen running around with her skirt in disarray.
Just before the fork in the ginkgo tree lined path, Yumi saw the back of a person that she knew well.
There was no need to wait until she had turned around to confirm this. There were very few students at this school who were as tall as she.
"Ahh. Gokigenyou, Yumi-sama."
"What's the matter?"
Since Kanako had arrived here before Yumi, that meant she must have been on an earlier bus. But if that was the case, then she had taken quite a long time to only get to here. The previous bus would have arrived over five minutes ago, and if it had hit traffic there should have been other students here with her too. Furthermore, Kanako-chan was just standing there.
"It's a bird."
"Just after I'd stepped through the front gates, a tiny bird on a branch caught my attention so I stopped to watch it."
"For five minutes, or ten minutes?"
"It was probably only two or three minutes. I felt like I could stay and watch it forever, but I had to get moving again. When I got here, I saw a student offering another her rosary, so I waited until they were finished."
Looking further down the path, Yumi saw two students walking away hand-in-hand. They had probably waited until the crowd of people had passed through before performing the rosary ceremony. Kanako-chan, who had stopped to watch the bird, had become separated from the crowd of people and happened to arrive at just the wrong time.
Like Yumi had witnessed earlier, there were people that would wait until the day before, or the day of, the graduation ceremony to decide to become soeurs. Don't tell me that the onee-sama is a third year, …, no, there's no way that could be the case.
"Shall we walk together."
Yumi urged Kanako-chan on, and they walked over to the statue of Maria-sama and prayed alongside each other. While they were standing around talking, the next wave of people was bearing down on them.
"You said it was a tiny bird, but what kind of bird was it?"
Yumi asked Kanako-chan, as they walked towards the school building.
"It was a green color, that looked like powdered green tea."
"A Bush Warbler?"
When she heard it described as small and the color of powdered green tea, that was the first bird that came to mind. Yumi looked up. Of course, the small bird that Kanako-chan had seen was nowhere in sight.
"That's what I thought too, so I stopped to have a look at it. I guess it is the time of the year for plum blossoms, after all."
"You don't think so?"
Kanako-chan shrugged her shoulders when asked this.
"I can't really say for certain. I was a fair way away from it, and couldn't see all of it. It could have been a white-eye. It didn't really look like a parrot, but it could probably be identified by its call."
"Did it sound like 'hoohokekyo'?"
"Yeah, that's what it sounded like."
If its call was 'hoohokekyo,' then it was undoubtedly a Bush Warbler. No parrot would be able to imitate that sound.
"Do you know what the call of the white-eye sounds like?"
"Nope. But at the very least, it wouldn't sound like 'hoohokekyo,' right?"
"I suppose so."
Just then, they heard a 'caw-caw' sound coming from somewhere.
"And it's not that either."
The pair looked at each other and laughed.
Just as Yumi had envisaged, when she opened the door to the second year pine group classroom Yoshino-san was standing there looking imposing.
"Umm, Yoshino-san, according to my watch there's still one minute…"
Before Yumi could open her mouth, Mami-san of the newspaper club tried to intervene, but Yoshino-san quickly stamped that out, saying 'You should have been here five minutes early.'
Yumi instinctively nodded her head, but if you think about it, it's a strange rationale. If they really needed that extra five minutes they could just have arranged to meet five minutes earlier.
"Well, now that everyone's here, let's go."
Yoshino-san seized the initiative, stripping Yumi of her coat and bag before heading off, like a bus tour guide. The five other members blinked, shrugged, then followed after her.
"Why is Yoshino-san so pumped up?"
Misa-san whispered to Yumi as they were walking along.
Now that she mentioned it, Yoshino-san definitely looked tense. Having just arrived at school, Yumi didn't really know what was going on. But she really wanted to hear what Yoshino-san had been doing in the classroom before she arrived.
While Yumi-san wracked her brain, Itsue-san slowed down so that she was also walking alongside Yumi-san and joined their conversation, saying 'It's a mystery, that's for sure.'
"It's much better for Yumi-san, since your onee-sama is in the third year pine group."
From her left and right sides, Yumi heard her classmates saying, 'Right?' Yumi's heart was thumping, hoping that Yoshino-san, walking ahead of her, couldn't hear them but it looked like Yoshino-san was talking with Mami-san and Satoe-san, so she was probably okay.
Yoshino-san, Mami-san, Satoe-san, Itsue-san, Misa-san and then Yumi. Such a strange combination of people in the group, but they were the ones appointed from the second year pine group to the task of pinning flowers to the chests of the graduating students.
It was a tradition that the students who would perform this blessing for the graduating seniors were from the same group but the year below. In other words, the ones that would pin the flower to the chest of the third year pine group were from the second year pine group. Which is why they had said that she was much better off, since her onee-sama was in the third year pine group. And it was also why it was such a mystery that Yoshino-san was so pumped up, since her onee-sama was in the third year chrysanthemum group.
"But she's been bursting with enthusiasm ever since we decided who was involved."
When Yumi said this, the girls to her left and right said, 'That's true,' nodded, and folded their arms.
This happened about a week ago.
When they arrived for their afternoon homeroom, the following discussion topic was written in big, bold letters on the blackboard:
Below that was written;
"Are there any volunteers?"
When Kaede-san, who was leading the discussion, asked this most of the students raised their hands. Their homeroom teacher was watching on silently, undoubtedly thinking, 'I wish they'd show this much enthusiasm during class.'
"Should we give preference to those students whose onee-sama is in the third year pine group?"
"But surely the petit soeurs would have been there before? Wouldn't it be better to give this chance to students who haven't had any reason to visit their beloved seniors?"
"It should be based on who wants to go the most … but there's no way to measure that."
Everyone had their own ideas about how it should be decided, but it didn't look like they would come to any sort of agreement.
As the heated discussion raged around her Yumi didn't try to voice her opinion, instead daydreaming about how nice it would be to pin the flower to her onee-sama's chest. Although she made sure she raised her hand when the call for volunteers went out.
"For fairness sake, we'll decide this with scissors-paper-rock."
In the end that was the approach they agreed upon. At first it seemed that no-one objected to it, but someone behind Yumi quickly raised their hand. It was Michiyo-san, who had earlier suggested that the students with an onee-sama in the third year pine group should get priority.
"I just want to check something. If someone wins the privilege through scissors-paper-rock, can they transfer that to someone else?"
At first no-one really understood what she was trying to say.
She explained that because she didn't have an onee-sama in the third year pine group, it wasn't something that she wanted to do no matter what. So if she won, she would turn over her position to someone who did have an onee-sama in the third year pine group, if allowed. Such a kind girl.
"That's okay, I guess."
The transfer wasn't limited just to people who had an onee-sama in that class, it could be given to anyone, so good friends could pitch in and help each other. There were no objections.
"Well then, Katori-sensei, can you do the honors?"
At Kaede-san's insistence, their homeroom teacher took center stage.
For the first round of the contest, the whole class would play against their teacher. Only those who won would advance to the second round. A draw was the same as a loss. This way the whole class could be involved, but it would be sorted out in two or three rounds. This would continue until there were only six people remaining – if there were fewer, then the people that had been eliminated in the previous round would play-off for the remaining places. These were the rules they had decided upon.
"Scissors, paper, "
It was Yoshino-san that was conspicuously shouting this out.
Yumi was wondering what percentage enthusiasm played in whether someone won or lost at scissors-paper-rock.
About thirty students held one of their hands above their head in either the scissors, paper or rock gestures. Amongst the various cries of joy and despair, Yoshino-san's cry of 'yeah' could be heard as she held aloft her right hand in the winning form of scissors. In a seat some distance away, Yumi looked up at her own open hand and sighed.
Their teacher had gone with paper. And a draw was a loss. It felt kind of hollow. Yumi thought she would have felt better if she had put out rock, and been properly defeated.
The winners were decided after the second round.
The six people were Yoshino-san, Satoe-san, Itsue-san, Misa-san, Michiyo-san and Minato-san.
"So is there anyone among you that want to transfer this privilege to someone else – "
Surprisingly, everyone except Yoshino-san raised their hand to this. Yumi probably wasn't the only one to think 'what a shame' when they saw this.
"Well then, let's hear who you want to transfer it to and confirm whether or not they will accept. We'll start with you, Michiyo-san, since you originally proposed this idea."
"I'd like to give this to Fukuzawa Yumi-san."
Not expecting to be named, Yumi's eyes widened in shock. Everyone turned to look at her, but they were all in the same class so it didn't bother Yumi. So, on reflex, Yumi pointed her finger at herself and asked, 'Me?' Michiyo-san nodded in agreement.
"Won't you accept this in place of me?"
"...Is that okay?"
This was something she hadn't asked for. Michiyo-san agreed immediately, without hesitation.
"Wait a minute!"
Satoe-san, Itsue-san and Misa-san all cried out at the same time.
"We also wanted to give our positions to Yumi-san."
Fukuzawa Yumi was hugely popular. Or, more likely, everyone was feeling sorry for Yumi, whose onee-sama was in the third year pine group.
"But Yumi-san is just one person."
Even if she were to accept all their proposals, one person could not fill four chairs.
"If there's anyone else who has an onee-sama in the third year pine group that wants to take part – "
Itsue-san offered, but no-one raised their hand.
"Very well then."
With that, the three others resolved to carry out their duties and took back their declarations to stand down.
Still, Yumi felt incredibly happy.
"My thanks to all of you."
Yumi bowed her head, and thanked them from the bottom of her heart.
"But what about Minato-san?"
That's right, Minato-san also raised her hand when they were asked if anyone wanted to transfer their winnings.
"I'm sorry. I just got caught up in playing scissors-paper-rock, but can I be moved into the second group – to help with putting up decorations around the classroom."
"Sure. There's no limit on how many people can be involved in that."
Kaede-san wrote Minato-san's name down under the second heading.
"Although, if possible you should name someone to take your place."
There were plenty of people who wanted to take part. But another round of scissors-paper-rock would be time consuming.
A few scattered cries of excitement could be heard, from girls thinking about Tsutako-san being there.
"Thank-you. But I'm sorry, I can't accept."
This time around the scattered cries were of dejection. The tone of the voices rose and fell. If you were able to see sound with your eyes, the inside of the second year pine group's classroom would probably look like a gigantic wave.
Don't do it if you don't want to. Kaede-san asked, although normally you wouldn't ask an individual why they refused. Kaede-san probably thought that everyone wanted to hear Tsutako-san's reason. Because it seemed more in keeping with Tsutako-san's character that she would have said, 'I'll do it.'
"If I accepted your offer, I'd want to take pictures of it, right."
Tsutako-san answered immediately, while stroking her small camera.
Yumi thought that was probably what Minato-san expected when she named her. Everyone knew that Tsutako-san was the ace of the photography club. Tsutako-san and her camera had an inseparable relationship.
"But the job isn't about taking photos, it's about pinning the flowers to the seniors, so I wouldn't be able to take my camera."
When put that way, it seemed like quite a natural response.
"Then would you go to the third year pine group's classroom if you weren't responsible for pinning the flowers on the seniors?"
Someone asked, not wanting to let the matter drop. If they weren't able to take part themselves, they at least wanted to see some photos of it.
"I wouldn't, because it's not my class."
"So, I'm sorry."
Even if they were to try and pressure her further, Tsutako-san probably wouldn't agree to it. Minato-san said, 'Well then,' and faced a different direction.
"How about Mami-san? Would you refuse because you wanted to collect information for a newspaper report?"
The Mami-san that had been named was the head of the newspaper club.
"Not at all. I don't need something like a camera to be able to gather information. So I'll gladly accept your offer."
Mami-san happily expanded on that, saying she would burn the information into her memory and write an article about it to appear in the commemorative graduation edition of the Lillian Kawaraban.
And that was the story about how these six people had been chosen for this job.
"I was thinking about giving you my spot, you know."
Yoshino-san had idly remarked to her, much later.
"But since it was Michiyo-san that originally brought up the topic of passing on the privilege, I let her have the honor this time."
"Oh, is that so?"
"Well, of course. It's only natural that I would think about letting my dear friend have the opportunity to pin the flower on her onee-sama."
When it came to games of chance, Yoshino-san didn't seem to care about appearances, only wanting to win.
At any rate, Yumi chose to express her gratitude towards her friend.
"Wouldn't you agree that Yoshino-san just loves an occasion?"
Itsue-san said as they flew down the corridor together, watching their classmates ahead of them.
"Loves an occasion...?"
"Don't you think she gets worked up whenever there's an event? She was in fine form for the athletics festival and the school festival."
Hmm, perhaps she was on to something. Prior to the autumn of her first year of high school, Yoshino-san had been forced to abstain from a lot of activities due to her heart condition. Now that her body was healthy due to the surgery, her excitement made her reluctant to step aside whenever there was an event.
In this way, the spectacle of the graduation ceremony made her rush to accept the opportunity that was offered to her. That was the explanation tentatively put forth.
What that all it was? Yumi felt it was selling Yoshino-san short.
Was Yoshino-san in such an excited state solely because of the spectacle of the graduation ceremony?
Well, it was only reasonable that Yoshino-san should be excited because her most precious onee-sama, Rei-sama, was graduating. But she'd known about Rei-sama's graduation for a long time now, and recently she looked as though she was no longer bothered by it.
More than just excitement, it felt as though Yoshino-san was going to explode at any moment. So you'd see her chatting, or flitting around, as a way of concealing this.
They'd had countless rehearsals for the graduation ceremony, so it would be strange for her to be panicking about that now (although there's a difference in tension for a rehearsal and for the real thing, of course).
On the other hand, the evening get-togethers of the Hasekura and Shimazu families had been dour affairs in the lead up to the graduation ceremony, so perhaps Yoshino-san hadn't been able to get excited until now.
There was probably something in that. Come to think of it, Yoshino-san was all aflutter about something yesterday afternoon.
"What is it?"
In front of the staff room, Yoshino-san turned around and looked at Yumi.
"You look as though you want to say something."
Misa-san and Itsue-san shook their heads. No-one in their class wanted to make the wrong move and risk setting off the Yoshino-bomb. They had learned that from past experience.
Then that was settled, and Yoshino-san put her hand on the doorknob.
"Excuse me, we've come to pick up the flowers. Oh?"
As the door rattled open, they saw that some other visitors had arrived before them.
Shimako-san and Katsura-san were there. Which means they must be the second year wisteria class. Apart from those two, there was another person with them – so three people in total.
"Yoshino-san, are you and the other girls going to pin the flowers to your seniors?"
Shimako-san asked, smiling meekly.
In contrast, Yoshino-san had been visibly knocked off balance.
The general reasons for that could be easily guessed.
Firstly, they weren't the first class to arrive at the staff room (and they hadn't even been aware that the wisteria class was already there).
Secondly, the white corsages for each class were contained within three boxes, so there was no need for all six of them to come and collect them (the boxes weren't large enough that they needed two people to carry them, and because they only contained corsages, they were light).
And those were both things that Yoshino-san had taken the initiative and decided upon (that they would wait until everyone was there, and then go to the staff room to collect the flowers).
Yoshino-san realized all of this in an instant. So she was beside herself with remorse.
"Well then, we'll be off now."
Yoshino-san clenched her fists tightly as she saw the girls from the second year wisteria group file out smartly, each carrying one of the boxes. The five other girls all thought, 'That kind of thing really doesn't matter,' but none of them were brave enough to say it.
The three boxes marked 'third year pine class' were picked up by three of the girls and they were on their way out of the staff room when this time they ran into students from the second year chrysanthemum class. There were five of them from that class. – so it didn't look like there was any reason to worry about the numbers.
"Yoshino-san, are you and the other girls going to pin the flowers to your seniors?"
The exact same words they heard a short while ago, albeit from a different person.
And the exact same response. Yumi sensed Yoshino-san's blood boiling and confiscated the box she had been holding. Yoshino-san seemed really annoyed. If things had continued, she looked like she would crush the box and all the corsages within it.
Let's see, we were the ones who arrived at the staff room before them. And as for the numbers, there's no big difference between five and six people.
So Yumi was wondering what the problem was, when she saw that Yoshino-san was looking only at one person in particular. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say she was scowling at someone.
That's it. That person over there was Tanuma Chisato-san.
Chisato-san, whether she intended to or not, was extremely good at rubbing Yoshino-san the wrong way. They were both in the kendo club, and had been a couple for the Valentine's Day dates. Yumi had seen them together on several occasions, but they never really seemed compatible – .
"… so that means you're also handing out the flowers then, Chisato-san."
Yoshino-san was visibly displeased as she said this.
A grinning Chisato-san answered. Incredible. As though she hadn't noticed Yoshino-san's glare.
The second year chrysanthemum group were in charge of the third year chrysanthemum group. Chisato-san was responsible for Rei-sama's class. It was clear that this was the cause of Yoshino-san's displeasure. There was nothing you could do to influence which class you were put in, but even so, Yoshino-san was undoubtedly asking herself why she couldn't have been in the chrysanthemum group.
Rei-sama's onee-sama, Torii Eriko-sama, had been in the third year chrysanthemum group. And Rei-sama had been in the second year chrysanthemum group at that time. Because of that, they fought alongside each other in the same colored headbands during the athletics festival and, on the day of the graduation ceremony, the petit soeur was able to pin the flower to the chest of her onee-sama.
"Do you want to stand in for me?"
Once more, that Chisato-san said something that could never happen. Whether or not she meant it as a joke, Yoshino-san wasn't laughing.
"I'm fine. Let's go, Yumi-san."
As Yumi was thinking that she didn't really want to get mixed up in all of this, Yoshino-san grabbed her arm with incredible strength and dragged her out into the hallway.
On the way out, Yoshino-san stopped and turned around, perhaps having changed her mind.
"I'm fine with not standing in for you. You're going to the third year chrysanthemum group as a representative of all the students enrolled at this school. In other words, you're already acting as a stand in for me."
It was said with such force and finality that it didn't allow for any comeback. Even so, Yumi was moved by those words.
A representative of all the students enrolled at this school, huh?
Such a nice thing to say, dear friend.
They returned to their classroom, opened the boxes and counted out the number of flowers.
The corsages looked like roses, with many white petals. They glittered and sparkled with such brilliance it was almost painful to look at them.
After confirming there were the correct number of corsages and practicing the ceremony from start to finish, there was nothing more left to do. They were all probably thinking that they could have arranged to meet ten minutes later, but no-one said anything. Anyway, it was good that they weren't rushed.
The morning prayers weren't broadcast over the PA system during homeroom today. The roll call was quickly dispensed with and the six of them promptly left the classroom heading for the third year classrooms.
"A while ago Minato-san told me that the art club's president's class … is it peach? or camellia? … did something incredible."
Itsue-san said as they walked down the hallway.
The other five asked for specifics. They were walking double-file, so they were all bunched together.
"The classroom decorations. Minato-san and the others were worried about theirs, so they had a look at what the other classes had done. Only one of them stood out as being on a different level."
"You say it was on a different level, but there's a limit to how good it could be, right?"
Because there were established traditions about how the decorations of the third year classrooms should be done, to avoid classes trying to outdo each other. The front and rear blackboards, the windows and the surface of the walls could all be decorated. The allowed materials were imitation Japanese vellum, paper streamers, tissue paper (a limited amount) and the chalk that was in the classroom. They could also use cellophane tape, glue or magic markers they had in their own classroom.
"There were pictures drawn on the blackboards in chalk that looked like ink and wash paintings. And they made a dragon out of the imitation vellum."
A revitalized Yoshino-san mumbled, while Yumi just shook her head.
"A flying dragon."
This was all hearsay, so some of the specifics may be wrong, but it seems the blackboard had a picture of carp swimming up a waterfall and the dragon (sculpture?) was above the blackboard. The cheerful sketch showing carp turning into dragons was probably intended to represent the seniors graduating from school. As you would expect from the head of the arts club. Her interest piqued by the conversation, Yumi wanted to have a look at this later, if possible.
The group arrived at the third year classrooms after discussing various things, including an update from Satoe-san about her cat, Mii-tan. The third year pine group's classroom door was closed tight, and they could hear the teacher's voice coming from inside. It seemed as though they were still in the middle of homeroom.
While they were waiting outside, the homeroom finished and the teacher in charge came out to get them.
"Thank-you for your effort."
Looking at Yumi's group, the teacher gave them the okay to enter.
Mami-san bowed before stepping foot inside the classroom. Yoshino-san, who until recently had been exultant, handed over her lead position right before entering the classroom.
This was a solemn occasion for the graduating seniors. They couldn't afford to make a single careless mistake. Whether or not Yoshino-san was reflecting on this, she seemed to be frozen to the spot.
On that point, Mami-san was the type of person who could handle anything flawlessly. She wasn't even slightly perturbed about suddenly being asked to go in first. Her comment to a worried Yoshino-san of, 'I'm just the herald. The king comes afterwards,' was said with irony.
The remaining five girls filed in after Mami-san. Yumi located her onee-sama instantly, but she repeated, 'I'm here as a representative of everyone,' to herself and tried earnestly to restrain her face, hands and feet from moving of their own accord.
The inside of the classroom was beautifully decorated. A group of girls wearing the Lillian's uniform with a speech bubble saying, 'Congratulations on your graduation' were drawn on the blackboard. The illustrated figures were holding a bouquet of flowers made out of tissue paper. The flowers weren't just ordinary folded flowers either, the center of the flowers were all different colors, and the variously colored petals were intricately woven together. And on the windows, they had created constellations of stars out of paper streamers – .
Minato-san may have lost confidence after seeing what Ayane-san's class had done, but Yumi thought it turned out wonderfully. If Minato-san were here, Yumi would congratulate her, saying, 'That's what you'd expect from the manga club,' but unfortunately she wasn't there.
"Congratulations on today."
Mami-san acted as their representative and greeted the third years.
"We will now pin the flowers to your chests. We will try our best to do this properly, but if we make a mistake please don't hesitate to tell us."
The line of six girls all bowed as one, then stood as three pairs beside the three boxes they had brought. The pairs were Satoe-san and Misa-san, Itsue-san and Mami-san, and, finally, Yumi and Yoshino-san.
"Yumi-san and Yoshino-san, please take the center."
Hearing Mami-san's instructions, Yumi was taken aback when she realized their significance. The second year students would be walking around to the graduating students desks to pin the flowers to them, and towards the back of the center area was the desk of none other than her onee-sama, Ogasawara Sachiko-sama.
(So then – )
That wasn't just coincidence, nor would it be arrogant to say that everyone seemed to be looking out for her. Allowing her to pin the flower to the chest of her onee-sama was a huge gesture of kindness from her friends.
Could that be it? Surely it must be. She wasn't given this position just so she could watch her onee-sama. If she were to refuse now, it would be an insult to Michiyo-san, who gave her this position. Therefore, Yumi obediently stood in the center.
At any rate, her onee-sama's seat was still a way off. Yumi resolved to do her best for all the students she would pin a flower to.
Yumi took one of the white corsages from the box that Yoshino-san was carrying, unfastened the safety-pin and attached it to the chest area of the girl's school uniform.
There were students who would just say that, and others who would talk more.
Tall or short, long-haired or short-haired, buxom or slender, the corsage was always put on in the same way, but there were times when it went quickly and easily, and other times when it took longer.
And in the middle of that.
Normally, this was where Yumi would say, 'Excuse me,' and then pin the flower to the girl's chest, but for some reason her hand stopped. Huh? That girl's previous movement had been kind of awkward. What was this feeling?
Yumi withdrew her arm that was holding out the white corsage, and had another look at the person in front of her.
She was the short and cute type. Yumi had the feeling she had seen her somewhere before, but couldn't remember who she was. Yumi had come to this classroom many times asking for her onee-sama, so there were many students who had acted as an agent for her. Could this girl be one of them?
Yumi couldn't remember who this was, but she did know why her hand had faltered. The girl was looking at Yumi as though she wanted to say something. And Yumi had noticed that. What could it be?
It would be strange to ask 'who are you?' but Yumi felt that just standing there like that wasn't helping either of them. Engaging in a staring contest until her memories returned was no good. Yoshino-san, who was standing beside her holding the box, was probably starting to wonder what was going on. Perhaps seeing the commotion in Yumi's heart, that girl let out a soft sigh, smiled, and then moved both her hands behind her neck.
That movement had been a prelude to her changing her hairstyle. She took her hair that reached just below her shoulders, split it between her two hands and pulled one bundle alongside each ear before looking at Yumi.
Yumi had definitely seen someone who looked like that before. Although, at the time, her hair had been shorter – barely long enough to tie in two. And she had said something to Yumi. It was… this:
Yumi-san, have you come here to look for the card?
It was on Valentines Day. During last year's Valentines Day treasure hunt, she and Yumi had both looked for the crimson card inside the greenhouse. Yumi had dug in the ground beside the Rosa Chinensis plant, but found nothing. She was the only one who had seen the entire event, the sole witness.
When Yumi had said 'Valentine,' the girl had initially looked surprised, but then seemed to remember and smiled as she let her hair down.
"I'd been worried about it ever since. That I'd done something wrong by you, Yumi-san. But now that we've reached the end, perhaps it's Maria-sama's blessing that you're the one to pin the flower to my chest."
"Should I tell Sachiko-san about what happened on that day … that's what I was thinking."
She didn't turn around as she spoke of Valentines Day, but there was no doubt that Sachiko-sama, sitting two rows behind her, was on her mind.
Yumi too had spent some time thinking about it.
On that day, if Yumi hadn't met 'that person' in the greenhouse, would she have found the crimson card herself?
On that day, if 'that person' hadn't stayed alone in the greenhouse, would the crimson card have remained missing, and the event finished without anyone knowing who had found the card and spirited it away?
On that day, why hadn't the person that found the crimson card come forth as the winner of the treasure hunt?
Why had the crimson card been dug up and then returned to its original hiding place?
Yumi didn't know. No matter how much she had thought about it, she could never come up with a plausible theory.
Not without solving the riddle of who 'that person' was.
Not without talking to 'that person.'
And now, 'that person' was here in front of her. And was wondering if she should talk about the events of that day.
"It's okay as is."
After all, her onee-sama had believed what Yumi had said back then and they had been able to reconcile after the previous day's quarrel. And even though Yumi hadn't been able to find the crimson card, the two of them had been able to go on a date.
To go over the things that had happened back then wouldn't change a thing. There was nothing that had to be regained.
"But, well… you."
She was about to say something about Valentines Day, but Yumi shook her head. There was no need to force the truth to light. That was why Yumi chose to quote the words that Sachiko-sama had said back then.
"That was Saint Valentine's prank."
And with that, Yumi caused a white flower to bloom in Valentine's chest.
But even so, that person had been a senior. No wonder Yumi hadn't found her when she searched her classmates. It would be impolite to say it, but even now she looked so young that she wouldn't seem out of place amongst the first years.
Yoshino-san looked at her and said 'what was?' but Yumi didn't really have time to explain now, so she let it drop. Yoshino-san seemed to understand this too, but she made a signal with her eyes that said, 'I'll ask you about this later.'
After three more people, it was Sachiko-sama's turn.
She may be her onee-sama, but it would be odd if Yumi were to treat her any differently to everyone else. So Yumi tried her best to act impartially, but despite her efforts something special happened.
Sachiko-sama cleared her throat. At which point the people around her hastily looked away. Yumi hadn't noticed, but it seemed that the Red Rose sisters had become an exhibition. Come to think of it, her onee-sama had been worried about her classmates spying on them when they had exchanged chocolates on Valentines Day too.
So what can we draw from this previous exchange?
- There are a lot of sticky-beaks in the third year pine class.
- Ogasawara Sachiko is highly attuned to when people are looking at her.
- In contrast, Fukuzawa Yumi is completely oblivious to this.
That's probably everything.
"It's okay, please pin the flower to me."
Sachiko-sama said. Yumi glanced around, to see how many people were looking at her. Everyone seemed to be minding their own business, but they would still steal the occasional glance. Despite this, nobody was openly staring at them and Sachiko-sama had apparently decided that was sufficient. If she were to wait until no-one was looking their way, they would probably be there all day, and things were already strained.
"Well then, please excuse me."
Yumi took a white corsage from the box and quickly pierced the chest of her onee-sama's school uniform with the safety pin. After traveling about one centimeter beneath the dark fabric the tip of the pin surfaced.
Ahh, she'd run the pin exactly horizontal. And the length was perfect too. Consequently, the flower wasn't lopsided nor would it sway. Yumi was thinking, 'All I have to do now is catch the pin in the clasp and I'll be done,' but then:
Sachiko-sama hooked something long and black over Yumi's right wrist.
In the interval between returning the safety pin to its original state and adjusting the flower, the long, black object was loosely tied around her wrist.
It was the black ribbon.
The Christmas present that Sachiko-sama had received from Yumi on Christmas Eve two years ago.
The ribbon that Yumi found in the first floor of the Rose Mansion yesterday, causing her to run off in search of her onee-sama, thinking that she had to return it.
The ribbon that had tightly bound their wrists together as they cried and embraced each other.
That ribbon was here, now.
"Look after it."
"Until the ceremony is over."
Yumi understood that Sachiko-sama was saying that this was a charm. That she wanted Yumi to look after the ribbon that originally had been hers, but was now Sachiko-sama's property.
During the graduation ceremony, the graduating students all sat towards the front of the vast gymnasium, clearly separated from the rest of the students who sat towards the back. But the two of them would be tightly bound together by this ribbon. So it will be okay, was undoubtedly what Sachiko-sama wanted to say.
Perhaps thinking that it wouldn't be good to have it in such a conspicuous location, Sachiko-sama gently untied the ribbon and placed it across the palms of Yumi's hands.
"You can just keep it in your pocket."
Yumi snapped both her hands shut around the ribbon like a clam, wrapped it up and then put it in her pocket, as she had been told to. Then she said, 'I'm done,' and moved one row back to pin the flower to the chest of the next student.
For some reason, a round of applause broke out.
Ahh, that must be it.
It seems they had put on quite the show.
Still, no matter how much they applauded, there would be no encore.
At roughly the same time, in the third year chrysanthemum classroom.
The same ceremony, with the second years pinning the white corsages to the chest of the third years, was taking place.
As soon as she had entered the classroom, Tanuma Chisato was assaulted by the unexpected scene that met her eyes. Of all the things in the classroom that vied for her attention, the most obvious was the large space occupied by the blackboard. That was where the students responsible for decorating the classroom had concentrated their congratulatory messages.
"Congratulations on your graduation."
That message was probably written inside every classroom. Some of them may have 'Happy graduation' instead, but both had essentially the same meaning. Around the edges of the blackboard were what appeared to be yellow flowers in the shape of the chrysanthemum that were made out of tissue paper. These too were appropriately congratulatory. The problem lay with what was in the margins of the blackboard.
"Tears of joy when you hear Auld Lang Syne."
"Laughter and groans at the lame jokes in the PTA president's speech."
"Pay no attention to those arguing about not wanting to graduate."
"Kick and punch at your entrance exams."
Etcetera etcetera. Puns on 'chrysanthemum' filled the otherwise empty space. Was this supposed to be the final act in a vaudeville play?
As she was thinking this, Chisato remembered that the leader of the group of girls who decorated the room was quite the joker. She'd heard that one of the other classes had a dragon and an ink painting, so it looked like there was quite a gap between the classes. But even so, how would the seniors react to the puns written on the board?
The six girls were a bit worried, and were trying to ascertain the situation when some voices called out to them.
"Hey, hey, how about Shouting out gokigenyou?"
"Thanks for the kind puns, right?"
Chisato was so glad to see there were students like that in this class. Such a monumental relief.
Having pulled herself together, Chisato looked at the rows of desks all lined up. And then.
(… there she is.)
Having found the person she was looking for, Chisato deftly positioned herself in front of her row of desks. Their positions weren't determined on a first-come first-served basis. This was the natural right of the victor.
Chisato was good at scissors-paper-rock.
After all is said and done, scissors-paper-rock is a game of intuition. Or, you could say, of inspiration. Maybe sense, too.
The first step is to clear your head.
There was absolutely no point in interlinking your fingers then raising that up to your face and peeking out from the small gap between your fingers.
Similarly, there was no point in pinching the back of your left hand to look at the wrinkle that's formed. But when it's a one-on-one match, there were certain things you could do to unnerve your opponent.
When it comes time to decide the battle, make your hand into a fist and raise it powerfully overhead at the words 'scissors-paper'. Then, in the next instant, replay the last thirty seconds or so, looking for the signal. Then when you've found that signal, keep your fingers as they are. The shape will come afterwards. Whether you hold out two fingers, flatten them all, or keep them bunched up, that's all there is to it. So maybe it's not just intuition, but a certain amount of processing throughput that's required. If anything in the chain of events doesn't happen at precisely the right time then the plan is ruined and you'll be accused of waiting to see your opponent's move before responding.
And that was how Chisato won the right to pin the flower to the chest of her beloved senior, Hasekura Rei-sama. Apologies to Yoshino-san, but this was the only possible outcome. She too was a good competitor at scissors-paper-rock, but luck wasn't on her side. The outcome had been decided when she was moved into the pine group.
Even so, when Chisato had blurted out, 'Do you want to stand in for me?' it had been said sincerely, with no malicious intent. Because it was such an implausible thing to say there was only one way that Yoshino-san was likely to interpret the offer, but when Chisato saw the look of regret on Yoshino-san's face the words had just slipped out of her mouth. So if Yoshino-san had said yes, she would have persuaded her classmates to let them trade places, just this once. But in the end, Yoshino-san had refused and nothing had come of it.
And so Chisato reflected upon the fact that she was standing in for Yoshino-san, just like she had been told.
Rei-sama smiled sweetly.
"It's only been one year since you joined the kendo club, but you've worked hard and caught up with everyone. Quite impressive. And I've often seen you helping out the juniors."
Chisato was desperate for Rei-sama to look at her properly as she kept babbling on.
At first she had admired Rei-sama, and Chisato had initially joined the kendo club because she wanted to appeal to her. She had found compatriots within the kendo club and, although she was still a bit raw, could hold her own against club members in the same year level. And now she had the pleasure of being able to pin the flower to Rei-sama's chest. You could think of it as a present from Maria-sama.
"I'm grateful to you Rei-sama."
Rei-sama acted dumb, seemingly saying, 'But I'm the one receiving the flower, right?'
"Because of all the things that I've received from you."
Having finished attaching the flower, Chisato raised a finger as she made each point.
"First of all, for kendo. I knew of it beforehand, but I joined the kendo club because I looked up to you, Rei-sama."
"It makes me happy to hear that."
"And because I joined the kendo club I was able to make some good friends."
She pictured the kendo club members in her mind. For whatever reason, Yoshino-san was in the middle, sulking.
"It's a bit different to socializing with your classmates. Also."
Chisato smiled and said 'yeah.'
"The trademark short hair."
Rei-sama had been smiling gently, but looked surprised when Chisato said this. This was Chisato's punch-line, so not getting a laugh put her in a bit of a bind.
"Chisato-san, did you used to have long hair?"
"I wish I could have seen you like that."
As Rei-sama's gentle smile returned, Chisato realized she wasn't just feigning ignorance. Rei-sama really seemed to want to meet (for the first time) the long haired Chisato.
Her whole body was quivering and shaking. Her voice was shaking too. But there was no way Chisato could leave it at this.
"I'm here as a representative of every student in this school, which means that I'm also a stand-in for Yoshino-san."
" – and therefore I'll borrow her phrase, which is the most appropriate response in this situation."
Chisato looked blankly at Rei-sama and lowered her voice, in acknowledgement that this wasn't the farewell you'd usually give to a graduating student.
" 'Rei-chan you idiot.' "
- The italics are used to represent words that were puns on the class name in the original Japanese. Chrysanthemum doesn't really lend itself to puns in English.
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