Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume8 Chapter3
As the Years Pass By
Just Before Graduation
Like Maria-sama's soul, the blue sky stretched on forever. They couldn't say that there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but the desire to do so was limitless.
As befitting the graduation ceremony, it truly was a "fine day."
"But even so," Youko thought, "why the heck doesn't it feel real to me?"
Even as she looked at the words, "Congratulations on Graduation," written out in large lettering on the blackboard, she couldn't help but feel like it was happening to someone else.
Sure, there were nerves. But despite being one of the main players in this fine day, it seemed like the deep emotions just couldn't soak into her.
Feelings of solemnity and excitement welled up in her from time to time, but they never seemed quite enough.
Indeed, if pressed to say, the feeling was most similar to just before some task she had to perform. A desire to see things go smoothly, right through to the end of the ceremony.
It was a bad habit, or so she thought. No matter how much time passed, she'd never lose the mantle of "Rosa Chinensis." Even though she hadn't hesitated to slide into comfortable retirement after the election for the following year's school council. But, after all, it looked as though she herself had been the one dragging it out all the way to the end.
"Best wishes for today."
As their homeroom was drawing to a close, a few second-year students arrived carrying the white floral corsages that were the mark of the graduating seniors.
This was an annual tradition. Students from the class of the same name in the grade below would pin one to the chest of each graduating student. So these girls were from the second-year camellia group.
Youko wistfully thought back to last year when she'd been part of the group to visit the third-years. The happy job of pinning the flowers to the graduating students was a really popular one. Because of that, the six positions were decided by scissors-paper-rock between all those who wanted to take part.
Youko tilted her head to the side, reconsidering that story.
For some reason, she had no recollection of winning a place through scissors-paper-rock. Even more than that, she didn't even remember participating with the other applicants.
( – Ahh, that's it.)
Youko suddenly remembered. That memory shouldn't be there. She hadn't played scissors-paper-rock. Youko alone was an exception, her place reserved from the beginning. As the class representative, she went straight to the head of the line.
The vast majority of her classmates had wanted to pin flowers to the seniors, but hadn't wanted to be the one to lead the way. For those shy students, Youko's existence was a godsend.
– Please, Youko-san.
How many times had she been asked in that manner? Countless times, impossible to remember each and every instance.
But she didn't think she was just being used. Thanks to that, she'd been able to pin the corsage to the chest of her graduating onee-sama. Her onee-sama just happened to be in the same class as her, but in a different year. Just like Eriko and Rei now.
That reminded her of an interesting story she'd heard about Rei.
Apparently she was going to be one of the girls pinning flowers this year. Rei wasn't the type to nominate herself, nor was she prevailed upon by her classmates – but there were no objections when she was chosen without playing scissors-paper-rock.
Why was that?
Apparently a fervent request came through from the third-year chrysanthemum class. All the third-years wanted Mr Lillian to pin the corsage to their chest.
As Rei's onee-sama, Eriko was bound to have mixed feelings. Then again, knowing her, she was probably ecstatic about it.
"We'll now begin pinning the corsages. We'll do our very best, but we're not very practiced in this, so please forgive any clumsiness on our part."
The apparent leader announced. Youko saw it overlaid with her memory of last year.
She was sidetracked for a moment by the word clumsiness. In other words, sorry if we stab you with the safety pin attached to the corsage. In that case, all she could do was pray for a lack of clumsiness.
"Congratulations on graduation."
The basic formation was a group of two, one to carry the basket of corsages, the other to pin them to the graduating students. These three basic formations moved from desk to desk, and it wasn't long before one such group was facing Youko.
"Congratulations, Rosa Chinensis."
They started by bowing deeply. Then, the moment she raised her head, large teardrops started falling from the eyes of the one holding the basket.
"Wh-what's the matter?"
Youko was frankly astonished. She couldn't understand what had happened in those few seconds.
"I'm so sorry."
As she spoke, the girl hastily wiped away her tears with the back of her hand.
"I'm just overcome with emotion … ah."
Since she'd taken both her hands off it, it looked like it wouldn't be long until the small basket of corsages tipped over.
"She's been a fan of yours for a long time now, Rosa Chinensis."
The girl with the task of pinning the corsages explained. Then she unfastened the safety pin, gathered a loose piece of Youko's school uniform and pierced it with the safety pin. But her hands were shaking too, so she wasn't that nimble.
"Pardon me … oww."
Pricking her finger on the safety pin, it took the girl about twice as long as normal, but finally a white flower bloomed on Youko's chest.
"I'm so sorry. It looks like it's a bit crooked."
"Thanks. It's fine."
As she smiled, Youko felt like she should be the one apologizing. Because these anonymous second-years were feeling the emotions so much more keenly than Youko herself.
Even after pinning flowers to all the graduating seniors in the room, the second-years chrysanthemum students seemed reluctant to leave. For some reason, they'd gathered in a corner and were whispering to each other. Had there been some kind of accident? They were occasionally peeking into the baskets, and looked like they were counting on their fingers. This continued for a little while.
(I wonder what it is.)
Seeing that kind of a scene, even though it had nothing to do with her whatsoever, Youko couldn't help but take note of it.
(The numbers don't match … ?)
The second-years were still looking puzzled, but perhaps deciding that they were overstaying their welcome, they gave their farewell message and started to leave the classroom.
"Ah, hold on."
Youko instinctively called out.
"What is it?"
By the door, the representative who had given the speeches turned around.
"I just remembered. One of our students is out sick today with the flu. If you happen to have a corsage left over, would it be okay if I took care of it? I could give it to her along with her diploma."
Voices of agreement, saying things like, "Oh yeah," and, "That's right," came from her classmates. Everyone had been on such a high that they had completely forgotten about the absent girl.
"… So that's what it was. That's a relief – when we had one left over, we were worried that we must have mistakenly picked up another class's flowers."
The second-years' confusion was immediately resolved.
"Thank-you Rosa Chinensis, you've been a great help."
"Really, Youko-san, we can always count on you."
Youko shrugged in exasperation. Truly stunned by how, even up to the very end, she was still in full-blown meddling mode.
The formal name of the Graduation Ceremony is the Graduation Diploma Awarding Ceremony.
As the name suggests, the purpose of the ceremony is to award graduation diplomas. And since this is for high-school, the diplomas are awarded to people who have completed the accredited high-school curriculum.
"But even so," Sei thought, "why do they have to make such a big deal out of it?"
She wasn't saying that they shouldn't have the ceremony. But all the singing practices and rehearsals took their toll, leaving her feeling apathetic about the actual event.
While standing in line in the corridor that led to the auditorium, Sei stretched her arms. She was a bit fed up with it all, feeling exhausted before it had even begun. But apparently that wasn't how she looked to those around her.
"Are the nerves getting to even you, Sei-san?"
The person ahead of her in line, Sasaki Katsumi-san, asked, turning to face her.
"Do I look nervous?"
"You're not the type to show much, so I thought I'd ask."
Sei nodded, smiling. As she did, she thought, "Oh wow." She felt like she'd changed quite a lot. In the past, she wouldn't have been able to have this sort of frivolous conversation with a classmate. She remembered how she would interpret the other girls' innocent, well-intentioned words as sarcasm, and shut them out completely.
"We've done it before, so there's nothing to be nervous about."
This sort of meaningless conversation was fine, wasn't it? When had she first started to think like that?
She didn't know whether it was because she'd softened, her hard edges removed, or if she'd been unknowingly polluted by the adult world. It was probably more complex than that, not something that could be boiled down to just one cause.
"But the real thing's bound to be different."
The innocently giggling Katsumi-san was more the Yumi-chan-type. For the past year, they'd been next to each other whenever the class was arranged in alphabetical order, but they'd never talked like this. Due to her Yamayurikai work, Sei had spent most of her free time in the Rose Mansion rather than her classroom, so she had this superficial sort of relationship not just with Katsumi-san, but with the rest of her class too.
"What's the matter?"
"Hm? Nothing. I was just thinking I didn't contribute much to our class."
"That's not your fault. You were the entire school's onee-sama."
Katsumi-san said something darling. Instinctively, Sei felt like kissing her, but then she remembered Yumi-chan's angry face and restrained herself. Why was it that at times like this, when she had to put the brakes on, that it wasn't Shimako-san's face she saw?
One of the Seven Wonders of Satou Sei. Who knew what the other six were.
"Katsumi-san, Sei-san, there's a gap ahead of you."
From behind Sei, another Satou-san – this one Nobuko-san – quietly pointed out. The line had moved on while they'd been talking, so there was a five metre gap in front of them. It looked like plum class, the one ahead of wisteria class, had already started to enter the hall.
Sei called behind her, then jogged forwards.
(The real thing?)
To start with, was there even a need to rehearse the graduation ceremony?
It was probably out of concern that they might embarrass themselves by making a mistake in front of their parents, siblings, and other guests, but surely by high-school everyone should be able to follow a program correctly.
The vice-principal was the host, or, rather, master of ceremonies, so there shouldn't be any concern about the actual event going off in a strange direction, even without a rehearsal. Even if the students got bored, they weren't about to act up – that sort of behavior didn't persist beyond kindergarten.
The school entrance ceremony didn't have a rehearsal, and it went smoothly. Wedding ceremonies and funerals didn't have full rehearsals with everyone present, yet somehow they managed.
"Wisteria class, please enter."
Following the directions of the student acting as usher, they filed into the auditorium.
Her feet trudged forwards in something resembling resignation, now that it had finally started.
The background music of the choir flowed over her. They weren't the marching band, they didn't all have to walk in step with each other.
When she got to her seat, the first thing that caught her eye was the program displayed to the right of the stage.
The big, black lettering of the calligraphy teacher jumped off the imitation vellum. It was marvelous. The letters were all gracefully flowing, with no hint of formality.
After glancing at the day's events, Sei quietly sighed. From the opening remarks right through to the closing remarks, it was a full course banquet. The main dish, awarding the graduation certificates, was squeezed in between various speeches and hymns.
Couldn't it be more businesslike, like the handing over of a driver's license? – That's what Sei was thinking, but it wasn't a criticism of the graduation ceremony specifically. It's just that she knew better than anyone how her body reacted to boredom by getting tired.
She'd been guilty of dozing off during last year's graduation ceremony, even though her onee-sama was graduating.
This time around she had more of a central role. Sei consoled herself with the thought that she'd be less likely to nod off since there was something she had to do during the middle of the ceremony, unlike other years.
Even after entering the auditorium she still felt as unconcerned as before. There was a part of her that was uneasy about leaving behind the people dear to her, but she seemed to remember feeling the strain a lot more last year.
The graduating students continued to enter.
In her mind, Sei muttered, "This isn't good."
She was already feeling sleepy.
The school entrance ceremony and graduation ceremony were a given, but they even showed up for parents day, the arts festival, as well as the sports carnival and singing competition.
Whenever someone showed up to see her at one of these school events, she became determined that she wouldn't look their way. She knew the reason for that was her first painful memory.
At the time of her spring kindergarten sports carnival, even though it was just a kids sports carnival, her father and older brothers had all worn traditional hakama skirts with the family crest on them, drawing attention to themselves.
Since these these people came even when she told them not to, she didn't think twice about searching the auditorium for her family.
"But even so," Eriko thought, "today's a little bit different."
As she entered the auditorium, she glanced at the family seating area. Having spotted the most conspicuous member (the old raccoon), she surveyed the area around him. She very rarely had to look all that hard. All of it was because of love. It was often said that love was thinking of people.
(Not yet, huh.)
As she walked, Eriko slumped her shoulders. She'd spotted her mother and brothers lined up next to her father, in the front row. The only one missing was the bear of a man, Mr Yamanobe.
(Even though he told me he'd come.)
He'd said that he might be late due to work, but she believed he'd make it there on time. After all, it was a measure of his feelings. Although his affection was on a different scale to her brothers, who had cleared their schedules six months in advance and feverishly scrambled here.
(Well, Hanadera Academy is next door.)
She cleared her head and took her seat. The person Eriko was thinking of was a lecturer at the neighboring Hanadera Academy.
(He doesn't have a homeroom class, so he should be able to come as soon as lessons are over.)
Since he'd said he might be late, she'd asked her mother to reserve a seat for Yamanobe-san. Her father and brothers hadn't been too happy about that, but it was none of their business.
It would probably take a fair bit of courage to show up late, then take a seat in the front row of the family seating area. But in that case, it would be Yamanobe-san's fault for showing up late.
(At any rate, he'll be here soon.)
Hanadera Academy's graduation ceremony was tomorrow. It seemed unlikely that there would be much for a part-time teacher to do on the day before the graduation ceremony.
It was a tradition that the Hanadera Academy's high-school graduation ceremony took place on the day following the Lillian's Girls Academy's high-school graduation ceremony.
They differed in that one was a boys school and the other a girls school, as well as one being Buddhist and the other Christian, but the two schools had long enjoyed a close relationship. They coordinated with each other so that entrance ceremonies, graduation ceremonies, and other significant events like school festivals didn't overlap.
There were lots of families that sent boys to Hanadera and girls to Lillian's. It was no problem when there was an age gap, like between Eriko and her brothers, but families with children at both Hanadera and Lillian's concurrently were surely grateful for the coordination.
(Yumi-chan's family must benefit from that staggering of events.)
She remembered hearing that Yumi-chan's younger brother had been born the same year as her, and was attending Hanadera Academy.
(Ah, that's right. Kashiwagi-san's graduating too…)
When she thought about Sachiko's fiance, Eriko realized that she'd already forgotten his face.
Until just before the school festival, she'd been under the perfectly normal impression that charming princes didn't really exist.
But instead she'd fallen in love with a bear-man that didn't resemble a prince in any way whatsoever. That's what made life interesting.
(But even so.)
As she sat on the folding chair, Eriko was amazed at herself. The ceremony was about to begin – why on earth was she thinking about that?
But really, it seemed unavoidable given her complete lack of nerves.
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