Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume6 Chapter2
Sunday. 10:40 am.
Outside the second floor ticket gate in the station building of the JR line's K station stood Yumi. But why was there a figure beside her of a young girl with a tiny camera that seemed like it was a part of her hand? – If anyone doesn't already know, 'Camera-chan' is Miss Takeshima Tsutako.
Even though it was the weekend the station was still crowded with people. K station had many ticket gates, but Yumi had chosen this one because it looked the least cold. And because it was so narrow, it should be easy to find her partner. She had not anticipated that it would be this congested.
"You know, it's pointless waiting here with me. Sachiko-sama won't come for another 20 minutes."
The agreed upon time was 11am. Sachiko-sama wasn't the type of person to be late, but neither was she the type of person to get excited and leave home early. Like Yumi had today.
"Don't you worry about me. As soon as we find Sachiko-sama, I'll leave your side."
And then take pictures from the shadows. That was Yumi's perspective on what Tsutako-san was thinking.
"Anyway, how did you know that it would be here?"
Yumi hadn't told anybody. And Sachiko-sama wasn't the type to talk about it.
"To tell you the truth, it was only a co-incidence that I found you, Yumi-san. Actually, I'm here to watch the white and yellow dates."
"Although this is a secret"
Tsutako-san lowered her voice. But is it okay to let others in on a secret conversation?
"I was commissioned by Minako-sama from the newspaper club. 'Would you be able to get me at least a two-shot of each of them,' she asked. Ahh, you have heard that each of the winners will submit a report on how the date went, right?"
Yumi nodded. She had caught that from talking with Shimako-san.
"The report will be published in the date special edition of the Lillian Kawaraban. So it would be better to have some photographs as evidence, to make it more real. The newspaper club's president is definitely wandering somewhere around here clutching a disposable camera too."
They hadn't been able to get any information about the date's course in advance, so it seems a number of the newspaper club's members were taking the trip. "We can't pay you anything, but we'd be glad to have you along," was apparently how they invited Tsutako-san. Well, she was elated by that anyway.
"So this is a secret from Rei-sama and Shimako-san?"
"It would be rude to bother them. Before they're put in the paper, I'll make sure to get their full consent."
Is that okay? It feels a bit wrong. She wanted to protest, but her opponent was Tsutako-san, who had been invited to join the debating club. She could eloquently and skillfully win you around.
So, she changed the conversation.
"Why K station?"
"The location has to clear the requirements that you can get there using your commuter pass, and there's enough to do to keep you interested for half a day. The first place that comes to mind is here, right?"
Although Rei-sama, who walks to school, doesn't have a commuter pass, she can get here by a single bus. Above all, because everything has to be done for 3000 yen, going somewhere nearby was important.
"In other words, Yumi-san racked her brain and squeezed out a location that everyone would think of."
"... Damn it."
In that case, if they met a lot of people they knew while walking around, there was a possibility that they could encounter something a little bit embarrassing. Like another pair on a date... or, worst of all, a group secretly taking photographs.
"– Not only that. K station is like a garden to students from our school. They could just be here shopping on their day off. Or they could be people-watching."
"Cut it out."
"Of course, nobody would have heard a rumor about Yumi-san and Sachiko-sama having a date today in the vicinity of K station. But it's common knowledge that Rosa Foetida en Bouton and Rosa Gigantea en Bouton will be having their dates today. It was bad timing to have it on the same day."
"Are you getting involved in the show?"
"I'm bleeding for my audience, the whole of Lillian's Girls Academy."
Yumi hid her face behind her hands. Without thinking, she tried to squat but barely managed to survey her surroundings.
She wanted to leap over to that pay telephone and call Sachiko-sama's house right away. To change the location. But looking at the clock, it was already 10:50am. However much she may have liked to do that, Sachiko-sama probably wasn't in her house now.
"Well, it'll be alright. The sightseers won't be looking to make direct contact with you either."
Tsutako-san softly patted the crestfallen Yumi on the shoulder. It's okay. The words of consolation didn't really console her.
"Ooooh. Nice photo opportunity!"
Tsutako-san seemed to scream the words, then turned towards the first floor plaza in the station building and clicked the shutter. This area was an atrium, so if you lent over the edge you could see the entire first floor.
When Yumi asked, Tsutako-san seemed to be quite busy, as she answered while pressing the shutter.
"Rosa Foetida en Bouton has made her entrance. A while ago Miss Tanuma Chisato was in the plaza, so I've been scoping it out."
It seems that Tsutako-san had taken up position here, using the ticket gate as a pretext, while her real goal had been to watch over the plaza. She must have been thinking that if there was somewhere that had a complete view of Tanuma Chisato-san, she could keep lookout from there.
"Now to get closer for one more."
Tsutako-san waved bye-bye, then descended the staircase.
Watching on from above, she saw Rei-sama, who had entered the plaza draw close to Chisato-san. They greeted each other a little nervously.
Thank you for taking the time today.
No, no, thank you. Let's enjoy ourselves.
– Like that. She felt like she could almost hear the words just from the mood.
Despite the cold, Chisato-san had taken off her coat and had been waiting in an incredibly cute red, white and pink frilly dress. She was going all out for this date, based on her clothes.
And, in comparison, I'm – Yumi thought. Last night she had done a fashion show, alternating between different clothes before eventually settling on a sweater and jeans with her usual duffel coat. When her mother learned that she was going out with her onee-sama, she offered to lend her a suit, or a dress, or a kimono, or anything else but Yumi thought it wouldn't be fitting to wear something that she wasn't accustomed to wearing.
Besides, meeting the extremely stylish Sachiko-sama like that would be, to put it bluntly, really embarrassing. To have it be completely obvious that she had poured all her energy into this would be a bit unsightly.
Watching Chisato-san, her thoughts changed. Going all out in her effort to select her clothing would also have been sweet, after all.
Like a gentleman, Rei-sama put Chisato-san's coat on her, and they exited the station building via the escalator. Some distance away, Tsutako-san was also visible as she tailed after them.
The voice greeted her from behind, and when she hurriedly turned around there was Sachiko-sama.
"What ever is the matter?"
Imitating Yumi, Sachiko-sama peeked down on the first floor. For some reason or another, she smelled nice.
"Umm, ahh, just now"
"I thought I saw an acquaintance."
Yumi prevaricated. Because she didn't want Sachiko-sama to hear about what she had learned from Tsutako-san. She wouldn't enjoy the date at all if she knew that somewhere, someone was probably watching.
"An acquaintance? Is it okay to leave without saying hello to them?"
"Yeah, it was probably a case of mistaken identity."
Without a trace of doubt, Sachiko-sama smiled gently. Like this, she really does resemble Maria-sama, Yumi thought. But Yumi didn't hate the hysterical, screaming Sachiko-sama either.
Belatedly, the pair exchanged morning greetings.
Yumi had wondered what she would do if Sachiko-sama had arrived wearing a gorgeous dress, but instead she had a simple outfit made up of a cream colored turtle-neck sweater and a gray, tight skirt that reached to below her knees. But it was by no means plain, you could tell everything was well done just from a single glance. Even the black long-coat that she wore lightly, and the gold, green and white scarf that hung nonchalantly around her neck, and the black leather pumps – . To top it all off, what was inside the clothes was wonderful so it just made her outward appearance look even better.
"Right, right, before I forget"
Sachiko-sama unfastened her leather gloves and took a delicate white envelope out of her black handbag.
"Is it really alright, like this?"
Yumi also took a manila envelope out of her shoulder bag, and put the contents of the two envelopes together.
1500 yen plus 1500 yen equaled 3000 yen. This was the expenses for their date today.
"Really, Yumi, you're so stubborn."
"Onee-sama's the same."
The two of them started walking away from the ticket gates.
They split the cost at 1500 yen each. Arriving at this decision had been quite an ordeal.
Yumi had worried about various things, but in the end concluded that since she was the one who asked Sachiko-sama out, it was only natural that she should be the one who would cover the date's expenses.
However, Sachiko-sama said that since she was the onee-sama, she should be the one to pay.
When Yumi insisted that, as the winner of the hit-or-miss game with the chocolates, it would be wrong to make Sachiko-sama pay, Sachiko-sama countered that this was a way of showing appreciation for the chocolates.
So, in the end, they agreed to split the cost down the middle. Sachiko-sama's appreciation for the chocolates would be shown on White Day, and, for now, they were back where they started.
"Ahh, is it okay if I look in here for a little bit?"
Sachiko-sama stepped inside a bookstore.
"I want to buy a dictionary, you see."
"What's with that look? Personal purchases are unrelated to the 3000 yen, right?"
"That's true, but"
"If you buy it now, it will just be extra weight. The bookstore has plenty of them, so how about you buy it just before going home?"
Truthfully, Yumi had also been asked to buy some things by her mother. But they were not the sort of things you would walk around with on a date, so she planned to buy them on the way home after she had parted with Sachiko-sama.
"That's true. Yumi, you're so smart."
That was something that anyone would normally think of. Perhaps Sachiko-sama isn't used to shopping. Perhaps at the shops the Ogasawara family goes to, the goods are delivered to the household. Or maybe, whenever they go shopping outside, they're accompanied by a porter who carries their bags for them.
"Okay then, I'll get it on the way home."
And like that, the pair returned to the walkway from a single step inside the bookstore.
When she turned on her heels, Yumi felt like she saw the reflection of someone she knew out of the corner of her eye.
"What's the matter?"
Sachiko-sama had started walking and, after a few steps, turned and inquired.
Yumi shook her head and caught up. When she had turned and looked again, that person was no longer there.
I wonder who that was.
She had only caught a glance, but she felt it was definitely someone she knew well.
But it wasn't either Rei-sama, Chisato-san or Tsutako-san.
I wonder who that was.
"Why is Yumi-san here with Sachiko-sama?"
Behind the shelf of reference books, Yoshino murmured to herself.
The K station building's bookstore.
I wonder if she saw me. No, I quickly hid so I should be fine. Nobody can observe the face of each and every shopper they pass as they walk along. If they could, bounty hunters would have a lot more free time.
(… either way, it's not me)
Yoshino shrugged her shoulders and smiled bitterly. Really, she was starting to hate herself. Why on earth did I come to this place?
She could probably loiter around here for a while longer, so she didn't have to leave the bookstore right away. To kill some time, she took a thin book on chemistry from the bookshelf and flipped through it. It was one of her poorer subjects – she had absolutely no idea what was written in it.
The near miss with Yumi-san had somehow been avoided, so then, what should she do next?
She had already bought the paperback that she had used as a pretext for going out. If she hadn't, she could go to several places and search for the best looking copy.
It wasn't a well thought out idea. It was a new release book from a popular writer, so no matter which bookstore she went to she would surely find a stack of mint-condition copies in the New Books corner, just like the one she had now.
Thinking only about Rei-chan being on a date with somebody, she couldn't just stand idly about and went out. Wanting to show that she was composed, and not burning with jealousy, Yoshino had left the house before Rei-chan and got on the bus to K station. Thanks to that, she had arrived at the station building before it opened.
(Am I a masochist?)
Her usual aggressive self had, for today only, turned timid. Rei-chan hadn't told her where she was going (and she didn't want to hear either). She had, however, anticipated that it would be somewhere near K station so she went to the effort of getting on the bus and coming here to buy her book.
What would she do if she saw Rei-chan and that girl – was it Chisato-san? – walking closely together, chatting?
(But, look, Rei-chan would get engrossed in talking about a subject like kendo and end up talking to herself. When that happens, poor Chisato-san might leave her, so therefore)
She asked herself. Therefore, I came to watch because I'm worried, right?
That was still nothing but a pretext.
Yoshino frankly admitted this. This was jealousy. Nothing other than that.
Before she knew it, they had become too familiar. Rei-chan was always her onee-sama and no-one else's, and the only one who belonged by Rei-chan's side was her. Like during the 'Yellow Rose Revolution.' Although returning the rosary had been a catastrophe, she hadn't believed that it would be the end. It may have been contradictory, but she had believed that it would be a temporary cancellation.
(Jealousy. Being jealous.... What's wrong with that?)
However, while she may have accepted that, it did not in any way change the situation. While she was filling in time looking out for them, she couldn't intrude.
Unfortunately, she could only watch them without being spotted. How would it reflect on her if she was caught unawares and suddenly surprised. It would obviously look like she was driven by jealousy to tail them.
That would be a problem. If that happened it would easily tear down her ragged pride, which wasn't set that high to begin with.
(I'll go home. I'll go home and read the book I've bought)
Yes, she nodded to herself and walked off. When she had taken five steps, she realized she was still holding the chemistry book, and returned to the bookshelf.
Those few steps back proved fatal.
".... Yoshino … san ?"
Whoa, the sudden surprise had turned into reality, so she took up guard. However, it wasn't Rei-chan and Chisato-san in front of her. And it wasn't Yumi-san and Sachiko-sama again, either.
"Hey, what are you doing here? I knew it, you were worried about Rei-san and Chisato-san being together and came to spy on them, right Yoshino-san?"
Because she was in plain clothes, Yoshino didn't recognize her immediately, but when she took a notebook out of her pocket and started taking notes, Yoshino realized it was the head of the newspaper club.
But, what. It must have been intended as a disguise, for she was wearing a beanie with a pompom that you wouldn't usually see unless skiing, and black-rimmed fake glasses that gave the same impression. Yoshino wanted to inform her that it actually made her even more conspicuous, but … she didn't.
For a start, this person was the one who planned the Valentine's card hunt that caused Rei-chan to have to go on a date with a girl she didn't love.
"Unfortunately for you, I have no interest in that."
Having first replaced the chemistry book on the shelf, Yoshino replied with a composed smile.
"Oh come now, that's just false bravado. Come to think of it, Yoshino-san was vehemently opposed to this from the start. Naturally, you're jealous."
Minako-sama nodded to herself as she reached her conclusion.
"Jealousy, you say –"
Yoshino clenched her fist. Earlier she had realized this herself, but she didn't want it pointed out by someone else once more. Besides, what was up with her sympathetic looking facial expression? That Minako-sama, she really was good at angering people.
But she couldn't let herself be provoked here. If she cried out or acted out even a little, an exaggerated version would undoubtedly be printed in the 'Lillian Kawaraban.'
"Scoop! Yellow Rose Revolution Part Two. Rosa Foetida en Bouton's petit soeur lashes out due to jealousy" – just picturing the title made her sick.
"You've misunderstood, Minako-sama."
She started off with a smile.
"I don't know where, or how, my onee-sama is going to be spending today... Well, you say she's here?"
"Oh please, Yoshino-san, your joke's not funny."
"No, it's true."
The fox and the racoon's enchantment. Using refined phrases as armor while probing for your opponent's true motive.
"Then why did you come to K station today? If you wanted to go to a bookstore, there's one nearer your house, right?"
Damn it. "I came to buy a book" had been her trump card, but Minako-sama had anticipated this and she couldn't use it now.
"I was invited by Yumi-san."
The confusing explanation had flown out of her mouth and couldn't be taken back.
"Yeah. Yumi-san was going out with Sachiko-sama and invited me along, saying if I was free, why don't I join them."
"Yumi-san and Sachiko-sama!?"
The color of Minako-sama's eyes changed.
Once again, 'damn it.' This time it was a fairly big verbal slip. She went to cover her mouth, but it was too late.
Like a dog that had heard his master's voice, Minako-sama's invisible antenna was standing up.
Yumi-san and Sachiko-sama's date was unrelated to the half-day dates organized by the newspaper club, so Minako-sama hadn't yet caught wind of it.
"So, where are the two of them now?"
It's just one thing after another.
"They wandered off for a bit. I'm sure they're around here somewhere."
It was a pretty poor excuse. However, Minako-sama didn't doubt it.
"Yumi-san and Sachiko-sama..."
She murmured, as though digesting it. She had completely shifted her focus to this new information. When you tell a lie, it's best to mix it with a bit of the truth. Somebody on TV said this, so it must be true.
(Forgive me, Yumi-san)
She implored in her mind. She felt like she had blurted out something unforgivable while acting coy.
What's done is done.
The words she had spoken could not be returned to her mouth. Having said that, she couldn't leave the topic of Yumi-san and Sachiko-sama as it stood now.
"By the way, what business did you have here today, Minako-sama?"
Lacking anything else to try, Yoshino started by changing the topic of conversation.
"Prior to our conversation, you came here to spy on … or, rather … spectate on Shimako-san and my onee-sama's dates, right?"
It was difficult to choose the right words. Because she was acting just like a peeping tom.
Minako-sama agreed vaguely. It seems like it was a small slip of the tongue.
"And so? Which of them were you able to see?"
"It's unfortunate, but so far neither."
"I wonder if they even came here to begin with."
"On that matter, I have self-confidence."
Ohh, you're very trusting in your intuition. – Yoshino thought to herself. Even though her intuition was correct in this case, it would still be a Herculean task to find those two groups of girls unaided in this mall crowded with young people.
"I pray for your success. However, unlike searching for the cards in your treasure hunt it will be much harder for you because they move around."
On the verge of leaving, Yoshino put all the sarcasm she could muster into her line.
"Yoshino-san too. You'll be lucky to meet up with the stray Yumi-san and Sachiko-sama."
Whether or not Minako-sama intended it when she made her reply, a thorn that was stuck deep within Yoshino's chest seemed to loosen.
Now that Valentine's Day had passed the shops had already changed to match the mood of the next event, the Doll's Festival.
"Err, is this route really okay?"
As she looked at her note, Yumi asked for confirmation. What was written was the previously discussed and agreed upon course for their date.
Sachiko-sama agreed, looking slightly doubtful.
"You said you sometimes come to K station to do some shopping, didn't you Yumi? I don't really know this area, so I want to see some of the places that you usually visit."
First off was window shopping.
This activity was a mismatch for the daughter of the Ogasawara family. Although it may have been fitting if they were in Ginza. Like taking a stroll through the Ginza shopping district. Although that phrase seemed like something from her grandfather's time.
"Is there anything you would like to change?"
"Let's see. I'd prefer not to go to the department store."
So, with that, they left the station building, and entered into the fashion building that rose up in front of their eyes.
"Ah, onee-sama. Shall we take the elevator to the top floor and gradually make our way down. It was written in a Feng Shui book that that way was better."
"... You have such strange concerns."
Sachiko-sama grumbled, but let Yumi have her way. For Yumi, it wasn't really a huge concern. However, having no real preference either way, it was better to follow what she had heard would make a better mood. Similarly, she was wearing a sweater in today's lucky color so that she could happen upon some good fortune. Incidentally, she didn't have anything in lavender so it was pink, which was close.
They had to wait about a minute before finally getting on the elevator. It was Sunday after all, so the crowding was to be expected.
"Which floor would you like?"
Situated closest to the control buttons, Sachiko-sama asked the shoppers who were crowded inside and pressed the buttons for them. It may have been the natural thing to do, but Yumi watched her onee-sama's actions proudly. Well, she wasn't dealing with her first pushy salesman, but she handled it very smoothly. From time to time she could shout hysterically, or get on her high horse but in spite of this Sachiko-sama was wonderful. Stylish in everything she does.
(Hey, guy near the buttons on the other side with the facial piercings, follow Sachiko-sama's example. Stop trying to clear your nose without a handkerchief)
Because of the overcrowding, she was pressed into Sachiko-sama's back, although that slight good fortune didn't last long.
At the first floor the elevator stopped at Yumi and the others near the door temporarily got out so that those further in the elevator could also leave. But since this was the ladies fashion floor Yumi decided they should get off here without riding the elevator to the top.
"We're not going higher up?"
"Above here is men's fashion."
"Is that so?"
Although the idea of window shopping was that you didn't buy anything, there was no need for two women to visit the men's section, right? Unless Sachiko-sama was intending to look for presents for someone, or something similar. For some reason, she looked a bit let down.
Who, I wonder, who? – Soon enough, a face she didn't want to remember popped into her mind. Him. Gradually the pieces seemed to fit together, but before that she stopped thinking about it.
"Nothing. If you want to have a look at it, shall we go to the highest level?"
Yumi sounded her out, indirectly. So I'm this jealous type of person, am I? Yumi thought.
"Ahh, no, I was just thinking about my father's birthday present. But the stores in this building are mainly targeting young people, so some other opportunity will come up."
"Ah, Sachiko-sama's father."
With that said, Yumi turned towards the ascending escalator when Sachiko-sama grabbed her wrist.
"You can't. If you do that, all the effort you went to with the Feng Shui will – "
Perhaps as a result of entrusting her with the lead, Sachiko-sama had been completely contaminated with Yumi's way of thinking.
Folding her arms and muttering to herself in front of the movie theater was Takeshima Tsutako.
"They have to get by with only 3000 yen for the date, and they're using it to see a movie?"
That the pair which had entered the movie theater weren't going to see movie was unimaginable. It had been about three minutes since Hasekura Rei-sama and her half-day partner for today, Miss Tanuma Chisato, had bought tickets at the counter and disappeared inside the movie theater. A look at what was printed on the gargantuan session listing confirmed her suspicion that they were going to see a sickly-sweet adolescent love story.
"Buying two tickets with a student discount won't leave them any change."
There's no way they'd go without lunch, right? As she thought that, her own stomach rumbled. She checked the running time of the movie. It went for over two hours, so she could get something to eat now. She didn't plan on joining them in watching a movie she had no interest in, instead she might be able to find Shimako-san and Shizuka-sama during that time, if she got lucky.
"Hamburgers are safe, but ..."
For some reason, she wasn't in the mood for one.
"I want to eat rice."
And not something like curry, or a pilaf either, it tasted best when eaten in something simple and Japanese, like onigiri rice balls, or norimaki rice rolls.
This was because she had eaten a western breakfast of a muffin, potato salad and cup soup before coming. No matter what, she wanted a Japanese lunch. A western lunch would be wrong.
"I guess I could buy a boxed lunch on the first floor, and eat it at a park."
Entering a Japanese restaurant and dining alone probably has too high a degree-of-difficulty for a girl in her first year of high school. Reluctantly Tsutako came to this decision, simply because her bank balance was lonely, and bid farewell.
The food stores were all crowded together in a narrow alley, so she forced her way through the crowd to arrive in front of her goal, the boxed lunch store. She ordered two different types of onigiri rice balls, kelp and plum. She planned to acquire some side dishes at a different store that specialized in that. Sautéed thistle root, or boiled fish and vegetables, or perhaps sliced and dried radish strips would be good.
While waiting to pay at the register, her gaze was idly drifting around the various stores when it passed across a face at a shop no more than 10 metres in front of her.
Tsutako handed over a 1000 yen note and received her change then hurried off in pursuit, but Shimako-san had already disappeared from sight. There were so many people here that, having lost her in the crowd, finding her again would be quite difficult.
But now she was wondering if that actually had been Shimako-san. Tsutako was starting to doubt herself because, when she saw her, she didn't have Kanina Shizuka-sama by her side.
"Oh well. I guess I'll finish my shopping."
Following her plan, Tsutako ordered 100 grams of sautéed thistle root and, because it looked so tasty, 100 grams of boiled kelp and soybeans. She thought it was a bit too much for one person to eat, but being a cameraman was a test of strength so she should be fine.
This time as she was paying with coins, she again saw a face she recognized out of the corner of her eye.
Tsutako saw her standing in front of a shop diagonally opposite the one she was currently in. So the distance wasn't a problem, but if she didn't turn around she wouldn't pass by Tsutako's current location.
It was like deja vu. A bad premonition coming to pass. Just as she thought, when she finally made it out of the store, Shizuka-sama had disappeared.
But there was no doubting that it had been Shizuka-sama. That they had both been on this floor was the final proof.
"But why were they both on the same floor, yet acting independently?"
The store that Shizuka-sama had been in was a delicatessen that a high class hotel had set up in the station building.
"I'm planning an ambush. Do you have any objections?"
Tsutako was looking straight at Minako-sama, who spat out her words somewhat sullenly.
"But you're not going to elaborate further?"
"Ahh, yeah. Although I appreciate all the effort you've gone to so far."
Despite the cold, they were underneath the enormous "K-station" sign at the station's north exit. In other words they were standing outside the station, shivering.
A matching set of young women, they were. – Without a guardian, looking to cause mayhem. Well, Tsutako was looking to cause unsupervised mayhem – but her parter was Minako-sama so she should exercise some discretion.
– And so, toning down her behavior, first came the greeting. Actually, this was the first time today she had met Minako-sama.
But, despite the words, Minako-sama didn't seem to be in good spirits. Well, standing around in the cold for so long while watching the people passing by would put her in a bad mood too.
"Earlier I ran into Shimazu Yoshino, and she'd hit upon something."
"Yoshino-san? What did she say?"
"It'll be difficult because I'm looking for something that moves around, she said."
"So if I don't move, sooner or later I'll see Rei-san or Shimako-san as they go past here."
For argument's sake, even if you did assume that the targets did come to the north exit, Tsutako thought it would only happen when the date was almost over. It was the front of the station.
There were certainly a lot of people around, but they were all heading towards the station, or the station building, or the building next door. You'd have a higher chance finding them miles away from the station before the date was about to begin, she thought.
Firstly, even if they used this station, there were exits open in all four directions so if they didn't come this way it was all over.
It's a long shot. – In her mind, Tsutako let out a sigh.
What's the matter with you, Minako-sama. If you keep up like this, you won't get to see Rei-sama or Shimako-san.
"Umm, why don't we take a break somewhere."
She offered, hoisting her plastic shopping bag.
"If you'd like, I've brought some things we could eat."
Somebody had to make a move, otherwise she'd be here forever.
Minako-sama abruptly asked, with an 'in a situation like this?' look on her face.
"If you're not free to take a break, so to speak, I don't mind if we call it a strategy meeting."
This time it was a suspicious look that seemed to say 'what's your motive?' Probably because she was used to bossing around first years.
"You'll treat me to a nice, warm, canned tea, Minako-sama. And then we'll call it even. Come, come."
Pulling her by the hand, they entered the station building. As long as they were out of the wind, anywhere was fine. She was only this frozen because she'd met up with Minako-sama.
"Wait, Tsutako-san. I'm still – "
Tsutako whispered into Minako-sama's ear something that silenced her grumbling.
"It's okay. I have a better idea."
If they had looked back over their shoulder they would have seen the outline of a familiar bus departing amidst the wintry scenery.
"Can you tell me just what you are thinking?"
Shimako finally blurted out. Until now she had refrained from asking this, time and again.
"What am I thinking, you say. Well, I'm alive. So I think all sorts of things. That's all."
With her face still pointed towards the window, Shizuka-sama gave a thin smile. Whether intentionally or subconsciously, she didn't turn to face Shimako.
– is what Shimako was thinking when she suddenly turned to her and said.
"More importantly, is there a kitchen knife in the Rose Mansion?"
"A kitchen knife. Or a regular knife would probably do."
As she said this, she held up the box from the cake store. It had a whole, but incredibly small, cheesecake inside it.
"Ahh, yes, we do. A kitchen knife, and knives and forks."
And with that, it looked like Shizuka-sama really was planning on taking her to their school. She knew that if they stayed on this bus they would eventually arrive at the 'Lillian's Girls Academy' bus stop, but why would Shizuka-sama take her to school on their date? Shimako didn't have a clue.
The two of them were jolted along in the bus.
The bus departed from the north entrance of K station and looped past Lillian's Girls Academy. For lunch time on a Sunday, it was surprisingly empty. Originally intended for student's use, the route only ran for half of the time on weekdays. In contrast, the government operated bus that went to her house was incredibly crowded.
"But we couldn't really get a lot with our 3000 yen."
At their feet the plastic bags containing the food they had bought from the station building's food court were scattered around. A slice of spinach quiche, 100 grams of noodle salad, 100 grams of marinated mushrooms, things like that. The smallest amount possible of a wide variety of things.
But Shizuka-sama didn't seem to be satisfied with what they had bought.
"If we weren't going to school, we could have had lunch somewhere else …"
Soup, salad, a main dish.... With desert and a coffee, they could have done that within the 1500 yen.
"That's putting the cart before the horse."
"We didn't leave K station because I wanted to come to school, I chose the school because I wanted to leave K station."
"The peanut gallery's annoying, right? You can't have a leisurely conversation."
At first Shimako thought she was using the term 'peanut gallery' to refer to the overflowing crowds at the center, but as she listened further it seemed that this wasn't the case.
"It took about 3 minutes for the bus to arrive, right? During that time, the newspaper club's Minako-san and the photography club's … umm .. "
Thinking quicker, Shimako answered. When speaking of the photography club, the only person that came to mind was her classmate.
"Right, Tsutako-san. They were standing in front of the station."
"Those two were in front of the station?"
"I thought, 'I knew it.'"
Shizuka-sama seemed to smile triumphantly as she said this. But, unfortunately Shimako didn't understand what she was trying to say, or why she looked the way she did.
The bus stopped at a place that wasn't a bus stop. 50 metres ahead the light was green. And yet they weren't moving, I suppose it must be congestion.
The light went yellow, then red, then green again. Shimako spent the entire time thinking, but in the end couldn't compose just the right question.
"What did you mean by 'I knew it.'?"
As the bus started to lurch slowly forwards, she boldly inquired.
It seems Shizuka-sama had considered that conversation finished, as she didn't seem to understand the question at first.
"You said you saw Minako-sama and Tsutako-san standing in front of the station."
As Shimako explained, Shizuka-sama said 'ahh' and responded.
"Right, the newspaper club and the photography club were getting ready."
The bus stopped at a bus stop where three people got off and two more got on. The inside of the bus wasn't changing much but the scenery outside was changing noticeably with each stop. Slipping away from the hustle and bustle of the shopping district, they were going to an area of increasing greenery. Around here were a lot of temples, shrines, parks and, of course, schools. The shops were small, neighborhood stores and, despite being a residential area, there weren't many apartment complexes, which gave the area a tranquil atmosphere.
"If you think about why those two were at K station, you'll understand, right?"
Shizuka-sama clearly and slowly said this, as though trying to contain her excitement.
"Why they were at K station...?"
As she repeated Shizuka-sama's words, Shimako thought about it. Why those two were at K station, and why Shizuka-sama was acting as though she was avoiding them.
Before she could reach a conclusion, Shizuka-sama opened her mouth in irritation.
"… You aren't suspicious of people? Or is this an act?"
Shimako didn't immediately understand what she was talking about. She only felt that lurking somewhere within those words was a barb.
"The Toudou Shimako that Yumi-san spoke about is different to my impression of you."
"But I don't know what Yumi-san has said – "
"That Shimako-san's pretty, kind, smart, popular and so level headed that it's hard to imagine she's the same age."
"That's quite an overestimation"
"I think so too."
The bus continued on smoothly. Bypassing stops where no-one was getting on or off, and not getting stuck at traffic lights.
"But I think I've understood something. You yourself are the source of most of that overestimation."
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is what I said. You've gone to great effort to build this image of Toudou Shimako."
"… I won't respond to that."
"That's the honor student's response, yeah."
"It's okay. I'll stop."
Shizuka-sama shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
"I'm sorry, I said too much... I thought I'd be able to draw you out with this sort of conversation."
Shimako herself didn't know whether she didn't respond because she didn't know how to accurately express herself in words, or because she lacked the energy and conviction to refute it.
It seemed strange to her that it hadn't come as more of a shock.
It's just that, until now, no-one had managed to fully comprehend her heart.
For the wild and free Shimako, alone in her heart, the existence of someone who had the power to reach into and intervene in someone else's domain was much more surprising.
What should I do, if this is that person?
Huddling inside her heart, she wondered if the rapidly approaching person was coming to rescue her.
Looking outside at the tree lined avenue, she was thinking. Before she knew it, the bus was passing through familiar scenery. It had linked up with the route she took every day from M station.
Suddenly, Shimako hit upon something and asked.
"Perhaps Minako-sama and Tsutako-san were pursuing us for a story about our date. Is that what you meant?"
"Yes, that was more or less what I was expecting."
Was Shizuka-sama's response.
Their conversation resumed, as though nothing had happened.
"So K station was risky, then."
"Right. So meeting at K station was also a bit of a thrill."
"… Ahh, that's why it was the west exit."
Shizuka-sama's designated meeting point was the station building's westernmost exit, which was also the one furthest from the ticket gate. It was a meeting place that people coming by train wouldn't usually choose. Until then, she had supposed it was chosen simply because it was close to the food court.
"You were just thinking, 'in that case, we should have met at school,' weren't you, Shimako-san?"
"Huh? How did you know that?"
She'd been spot on. But then she suddenly remembered her friend's face. The oft-teased Yumi would also get agitated like this.
"You made the same face earlier. If you're watching closely, you can understand."
Appearing satisfied, Shizuka-sama smiled.
The bus slid past a shrine.
"When you were talking lunch, and so on. But, again, this time I threw you off balance. Cart before the horse, yeah?"
"Well, we have to have a date right? I wanted to spend time shopping, riding the bus, and all the rest with you."
Shizuka-sama pressed the push-button. By the time she had gently stood up, they were almost at Lillian's Girls Academy.
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