Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume3 Chapter4
If I could meet Eve
I'm always sleeping in my forest of thorns.
Because I left my soul with Kahori's white body, unchanged since we were sixteen.
Along with being Christmas Eve, today also happened to be the closing ceremonies for the second semester for the Lillian Girls' Academy high school.
While the world is lively for it being a merry Christmas day, she didn't have any plans other than eating cake with her family at night, so she wasn't particularly excited. And while winter break began tomorrow, they'd be on break since the end of exams, anyways, so that wasn't anything special.
More importantly, report cards come back on the day of the closing ceremony. While some seem not to care for the grades they got, others, who lived a more normal life, definitely did. Yumi didn't really fit into the second category, but her New Year's Gift and her allowance hinged on her grades, so it was like a life-threatening matter, anyways.
"Yumi-san, you've been sighing all morning."
Tsutako-san presented the camera she just took a photo with, bragging, "Look, it's a new one!" and appeared in front of Yumi's desk, like an old man holding a medicine box over his head. But it wouldn't look like the Edo-period group without at least an aid with her.
"Fufufu, Tsutako-san knows. The reason you're sighing like that."
Tsutako-san looked happy, having found the perfect remedy to boredom.
They'd arrived at school far earlier than usual today. The schedule today was a quick, simple home room session, and then a Christmas Eve Mass at the sanctuary.
"Yumi-san's concerns number one. Report card."
They hadn't been returned their marked tests, but she could estimate her marks based on how difficult she found it. Tests were simply to measure how well you understood the lessons, the teachers always said, but she wasn't naïve enough to believe that entirely.
"Number two. The year's end cards you haven't mailed out yet."
She accidentally shouted. Forget mailing them, they've completely slipped her mind. She'd put aside a lot of things in favor of Rosa Gigantea's incident. Year's end cards after exams, was how things were supposed to be, as her mother gave her about thirty cards, and she stuffed them into her desk. It was amazing she'd managed to forget about them. They keep running commercials on TV about making sure to send the cards early.
"Yumi-san, you're finally getting dementia."
How worrisome, she said, but she was snapping away with her camera. Hey, hey, is it fun taking pictures of the elderly?
"But the biggest reason for sighing would obviously be Rosa Chinensis en bouton."
"---" That was the truth.
They hadn't seen each other for a week, so she even woke up earlier than normal. But she felt it was too persistent and audacious to wait for Sachiko-sama to show up at the gate, so she simply stumbled into her classroom.
What a fool, at least if she wandered the halls she might run into Sachiko-sama. Well, she could regret plenty of things, but if she were strong-willed enough to move herself to action by thinking "Well I might still make it," she wouldn't be having all these problems to begin with.
Because the closing ceremonies were today, they wouldn't be able to meet for quite some time again, starting tomorrow. And if she saw Sachiko-sama once, her mind would be overwhelmed by thoughts of saying farewell.
Given Sachiko-sama's attitude prior to the exam break, there was a large probability that they wouldn't be able to meet until school opened again next semester. Actually, it's not even just a probability, it's almost guaranteed.
How lonely, she thought. They didn't live a few steps from each other like Yoshino-san. And they weren't separate like Rosa Gigantea and Shimako-san, so she didn't feel fine if they never met.
This might be the first time in her life she felt lonely while school was on break. She wondered if Sachiko-sama ever felt like this.
It felt unfair.
Her second semester grades weren't as bad as she feared.
But she still didn't feel like her day was any brighter, so the reason for her gloominess was Sachiko-sama, after all.
There's a Mass for students on Christmas Eve. Fundamentally, you're free to participate if you wish, but most people attend, anyways.
This day makes even atheists believers, so it wasn't surprising many students in a Catholic school prayed. Even students who intended to go on a date with their boyfriends later on attended Mass. Most non-attendees' reasons were like, going out to a different Mass with their families, or needing to be away because they volunteered to help with a Christmas party. Basically, most Lillian students ended up being pretty serious about it.
"Hey, over here."
At the front of the sanctuary, Rosa Gigantea waved her hand.
They'd come from the same class, so Yumi and Shimako-san, who'd come together, both went to "here." Even though many people were coming in and out of the sanctuary, it was a pretty bombastic action to take in a sacred place. She wanted her to stop, because she became embarrassed just being the target of it.
"We've got plenty of seats, so sit down, sit down, oh, Yumi-chan, you sit here."
She froze when she saw where Rosa Gigantea pointed. Right next to the empty seat was Sachiko-sama.
"What are you surprised about? How rude."
Of course she'd be surprised.
Because she'd assumed on her own they'd first see each other at the Rose Mansion after Mass, it felt like she'd been hit by a surprise attack. She didn't think Rosa Gigantea would secure seats for everyone, so she thought she would sit in the back or somewhere discrete like that, and secretly admire Sachiko-sama from behind, however impure and disrespectful to Jesus that thought may have been.
"Onee-sama, long time no see. Ah, I'm sorry for being late, go, gokigenyou."
"Oh hush, just sit down."
Sachiko-sama coldly said.
Like a pet dog who'd leapt with joy at its owner returning home, only to be scolded for being overexcited. Ahh, but even if she was scolded, she felt at peace just being by her side.
When Yumi sat down with good manners, she noticed Shimako-san had already sat down next to Rosa Gigantea, naturally. A soft distance between them, like their arms may or may not touch, but it felt like that was where Shimako-san belonged.
It was a "White Rose Incident," to quote Minako-sama, but the matter was surprisingly suppressed, despite it being the last day before vacation. Maybe it was because Rosa Gigantea flat-out refuted everything in front of the first-years, or maybe they were placated by Cosmos books' countermeasures. Or maybe they simply lost interest. Anyways, you didn't hear anything about Rosa Gigantea in class anymore. At worst, it would simply be by the classmates who just now began reading "Forest of Thorns," being behind the times.
The newspaper club didn't manage to turn it into an article, either.
"During the break, did you fare well?" Sachiko-sama asked, still staring forward.
"I did wonder what you were up to, but I hope you didn't do anything absurd."
Like she saw through everything. Well, it was true, so she couldn't say anything back.
"It's not that I don't trust you."
She wasn't even looking at her, but Sachiko-sama today seemed to be able to read Yumi's mind. She giggled, and re-worded herself.
"Even if I trust you, I can't help but be concerned about my little sister when I can't see you. Especially because I was out of the country because of circumstances involving my father's work."
"I was in France."
She said it so matter-of-factly, like she said she was in Shinjuku. Yumi was so stunned all she could say was, "Oh, is that what happened."
Oh, Sachiko-sama was out of the country.
Then it was obviously they couldn't see each other during the break. It began feeling foolish, how she felt lonesome on her own.
The choir entered, so she had to stay silent, but she resolved to tell Sachiko-sama everything that happened during the break after Mass ended.
Even if Sachiko-sama didn't show that much interest. She would just speak quickly.
She had to become proactive.
They were such similar sisters, in that they were both just a hair off of communicating well.
"What is this?"
After one step into the Rose Mansion, Yumi became wide-eyed at the scene in front of her.
"What? It's a Christmas party."
Rosa Foetida said, with a "what are you talking about?" face.
"Oh, Yumi-chan's still a child, so you might not know about these things. You know, since ancient times in Japan, there's been a tradition of holding a party on the day before Jesus' birthday. But the only rule is, you're not supposed to ask why. Because that's just how it is."
Whispered Rosa Gigantea into Yumi's ear, having entered after her. –Gosh, they're completely toying with her. No one asked what Christmas party meant, and the explanation was absurd, too.
Absurd, could also work for this room.
She could understand why they'd want to decorate the room for a party. But the room was filled with little trinkets to the point where you wouldn't see this even at a kindergarten party.
(It's like the July 7th festival instead of Christmas.)
Links made out of cut origami, cookie-shaped stars made out of rolled-up paper tape, among other things. Rosa Chinensis even happily pasted aluminum foil on drawing paper to create and wear a king's crown, then made flowers out of tissue paper.
(I guess this is called going full circle?)
When you become so used to being amazed, this sort of thing, in turn, becomes surprising and fresh, too.
They were marvelous people, so she did everything she could to try not to be surprised by everything. But she still felt like they surprised her on a daily basis.
"Yumi-chan was out of it while we were talking about party preparations."
Rei-sama painted a roll of castella with cocoa-colored whipped cream to make instant cake.
"Bûche de Noël!"
"Pretty extravagant for being made out of marketplace goods, right?"
Rei-sama laughed, proud, and let Yumi lick the cream off of the fork. The sweet, but slightly bitter taste melted in her mouth.
"Shall I help out somewhere?"
Yoshino-san and Shimako-san had conquered the sink, and taking joy away from Rosa Chinensis, who was still joyfully making decorations like a kindergarten girl, would make her feel guilty, and she certainly couldn't assist in making cake, and if she tried to help out with setting the table, Rosa Foetida might lash out at her.
Sachiko-sama went to retrieve something she forgot at Mass, and wasn't back yet.
"Do you want a job?"
She'd completely forgotten, but Rosa Gigantea was still right behind her, and so she asked, wrapping her arms around Yumi's neck.
"I've got a good job fer ye righty ho, let's be making our way yarr."
Who was she supposed to be?
"Umm, what do you want-"
"Oh just come on, follow big sis to a nice place, okay?"
"A nice place!?"
Not allowing any complaints, Rosa Gigantea began dragging Yumi off, arms still wrapped around her. The other members, seeing this happening, simply waved their hands instead of stopping it, saying, "Have fun, just make sure to not be late." This was why Rosa Gigantea could do whatever she pleased.
(Shimako-san~ keep a leash on your onee-sama~)
But Shimako-san didn't hear Yumi's silent plea, instead laughing heartily with Yoshino-san at the sink.
When they left the Rose Mansion, Rosa Gigantea finally let her go.
"First, the shoebox."
"Your mission is to quickly find camera-chan."
She felt her strength drain out of her. If she was drinking milk, she definitely would have coughed it up.
"… Camera-chan, do you mean Takeshima Tsutako-san?"
She hesitantly asked for confirmation: it was right.
"In her case, I think camera-chan fits better than Tsutako-chan, don't you think?"
But Yumi didn't have the courage to ever call her camera-chan.
"What do you want to do, after finding Tsutako-san?"
"There's only one reason to ever look for camera-chan."
"… to ask her to be a cameraman for the party."
"What a rude way of putting it. We're just going to invite her to the party, right? And she can bring her camera with her. She'll be so happy she'd be in tears."
But they had to find her quickly or she'd go home, Rosa Gigantea insisted, but well, it would be nice to be able to contribute to Tsutako-san's hobby, anyways, so she decided to listen to Rosa Gigantea this time and look for Tsutako-san.
Tsutako-san's outdoor shoes were still in the small shoe locker. Which meant she was still around, taking pictures of girls before winter vacation.
"I wonder if she's in front of Maria-sama."
Rosa Gigantea said.
"Summer vacation and winter vacation, it's popular to do sisterly vows right before those breaks."
And today was Christmas Eve. It was the perfect situation for presenting rosaries.
Of course, in Tsutako-san's case, the problem lie in the fact that she wasn't the one participating in the ceremonies, instead being the one taking secret photos.
"What should we do?"
They could try finding her by the statue, but there was a possibility of walking past each other, and she might still be at the sanctuary instead, too.
"Let's take a walk."
They stepped back out of the entrance, and Rosa Gigantea licked her index finger and put it up in the air. It's not like she could find Tsutako-san based on wind direction, though…
"Hmm, hmm, someone is coming from that direction!"
Rosa Gigantea's sharp ears spoke true, as a person appeared from the around the library. Unfortunately, it wasn't Tsutako-san, but it was someone Yumi knew.
When she ran closer, the person, wearing an ivory coat and a dark, brown hat smiled nostalgically.
"My, I wondered who it was. … Fukuzawa Yumi-san?"
"Yes. Thank you for your assistance then."
"Yumi-chan, do you know her?"
Rosa Gigantea slowly caught up and was in full "elder statesman" mode, greeting her politely with a, "Welcome."
Kasuga-san responded, uttering words that she most likely used many years ago with her friends every day.
"Umm. She's Kasuga-san, and she's a Lillian graduate, and-"
She wondered how much she should explain, but Rosa Gigantea, rather than inquire, simply bowed her head, "Thank you for looking after my kouhai."
"My name is Satou Sei."
Kasuga-san looked surprised for a moment after Rosa Gigantea introduced herself, and then smiled, "So it's you."
"Oh, yes, would you like to come to the Rose Mansion? We're about to have a Christmas party."
Rosa Gigantea kindly invited the grandmother she'd met for the first time. Even though she didn't know who she was.
"Thank you. But I need to see someone."
Kasuga-san turned down the offer, and asked if they could guide her, so she wouldn't get lost.
"Of course, if you wish. Right, Yumi-chan?"
Maybe Kasuga-san wanted to speak to Rosa Gigantea a bit more.
So Yumi accompanied them to the visitor's entrance, then left Kasuga-san to Rosa Gigantea and went to search for Tsutako-san on her own. "Where are you headed?"
"To the principal's office, please."
After watching them leave, for whatever reason, Yumi became excited. Kasuga-san and Rosa Gigantea were walking through the school together.
The invisible time machine was right there.
It was fascinating.
If the Rosa Gigantea being Suga Sei rumors hadn't been spread, Saori-san may have never read "Forest of Thorns."
And if she hadn't read "Forest of Thorns," she would have never called Kyuuteisha, so they would both have lived out their lives not knowing the other had been alive.
While walking down the hallway inside the school building, she froze.
Kasuga-san said she had business at the principal's office.
The principal's office, of course, was where the principal could be found. So she was going to see the principal.
(Wait, Kasuga-san said she was going to see Saori-san during Christmas Eve… And the principal's name, was-)
Sister Uemura. Uemura Saori.
Yumi spun around and looked down the hallway from the visitor's entrance.
She couldn't see Kasuga-san anymore. –Like she was an illusion.
Yumi stood there, dumbfounded.
When she turned around after someone tapped her shoulder, she saw Sachiko-sama.
"Ah!? Eh, onee-sama!"
"Oh, brilliant, shall we go to the Rose Mansion together?"
"Eh, umm, but…"
When she explained, Sachiko-sama said it was no problem.
"Takeshima Tsutako-san just skipped her way to the Rose Mansion."
Where did Tsutako-san sniff this one out? How fearsome. As expected of "camera-chan."
"Oh, yes, before I forget."
Sachiko-sama held out a small, wrapped box. "Here."
"A present for you."
"… A souvenir from France?"
Sachiko-sama smiled bitterly at Yumi's absurd question and corrected her.
"A Christmas present, of course."
Her mind went blank, like she hit the reset button.
Because she didn't even think about trading presents here and now. She'd only received gifts from her parents for the sixteen years she'd lived.
"Go ahead, open it."
She hesitantly opened the wrapping, and a white handkerchief appeared from the box. It was fringed by gorgeous lacing, and the letter S was embroidered with white thread in one corner.
"The same one onee-sama always uses…?"
Probably one of many that Sachiko-sama ordered in bulk.
"Will you use it?"
"Th, thank you very much. … But, I-"
"No worry. I wanted to give you a gift. … I know."
Sachiko-sama reached past Yumi's cheeks and loosened the black ribbon tying Yumi's hair.
"If you are bothered, may I receive this?"
Sachiko-sama gathered her own black hair and tied it with Yumi's ribbon. That spectacle was so natural, and so beautiful, that Yumi felt her heart about to burst.
Sachiko-sama held both of Yumi's hands and whispered.
-So that the world's people could greet this day with good fortune.
"… Merry Christmas."
As they walked back, holding hands, she felt like crying.
If only it would snow, she pleaded to the heavens.
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