Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume8 Chapter6
Towards the Light
The sunlight was warm.
Eriko instinctively squinted the moment she stepped out of the gymnasium.
Her eyes had become accustomed to the gymnasium interior and, even with the lights on, it fell far short of the radiance of a sunny day.
Eriko's shoulder was being shaken by her classmate beside her. Wondering what was happening, she opened her eyes fully and the first thing that sprang into view was –
"What are you doing here!?"
Eriko parted from the line of third-year chrysanthemum students when she passed by his location and stood beside him. "Here" was alongside the gymnasium, but quite a distance from the entrance.
Those were the first words out of Yamanobe-san's mouth.
The line of Eriko's classmates continued on, as though nothing had happened. Those she'd told about Yamanobe-san gave her a wink and a thumbs-up.
"That's what I said. That's why I'm here."
Eriko was getting annoyed as she questioned him. At least he'd shown up outside the gymnasium just as the graduating seniors were exiting. It was obvious he hadn't attended the ceremony.
"… Did you just arrive?"
"Then why didn't you go inside?"
"Because I was ashamed."
Yamanobe-san's energetic bowing caught the eye of some students near the gymnasium entrance. They fleetingly glanced her way, but when Eriko caught their eyes they quickly turned their attention back to what was happening inside the hall. They weren't seniors lined up to exit the gymnasium. Since they were wearing armbands, they were probably part of the stage crew helping with the ceremony.
Eriko could see the course of events that had unfolded.
"You were mistaken for a creep."
With his tattered sweater and beard, he didn't look like someone going to attend a graduation ceremony. On top of that, since he would have dropped everything and rushed here straight from Hanadera Academy, he probably didn't have proper ID either. So even if he said he'd been invited, it would have been a tough sell.
"That's why I said you should come with my parents."
The checks were rigorous because Lillian's was a girls school. So even though Yamanobe-san somehow made it onto the premises, getting into the gymnasium had proved to be impossible.
The students at reception weren't at fault. It was disappointing that Yamanobe-san had given up so easily when they asked for a student's name and his relation to her.
"When I thought about it, since I'm not family or anything, I didn't think I was entitled to enter the hall – "
"… Idiot. It's my graduation, and I asked you to come, so that more than entitles you."
Yamanobe-san seemed a bit startled by Eriko's caustic words, but in the end he nodded in assent.
"Ahh, right. That's true."
Eriko sighed, was this man really ten years her senior? But, well, she was in love, so she could let it slide.
"You should probably head off soon."
Yamanobe-san pointed to the line of students exiting the gymnasium. It was only now that he looked like a competent enough teacher.
Eriko meekly agreed, and turned her back on Yamanobe-san. Ahead of her was Youko. The last student of camellia class had just left the gymnasium.
She jogged a few steps, then turned around.
"Thank-you for coming."
"Not at all."
Yamanobe-san looked awkward, but he spoke sincerely.
"Congratulations on your graduation, Eriko-san."
The sunlight was warm.
Youko instinctively squinted the moment she walked she walked through the doorway. There were hardly any clouds to intercept the sun's rays streaming down on her.
The seniors walked from the gymnasium back to their homeroom, where they were given their graduation certificates and report cards. Youko's classmates were all excited, not really paying attention to what their homeroom teacher was saying.
Things like, "You're considered students of Lillian's Girls Academy right up until the end of March, so make sure you behave yourselves."
And, "From April, you'll be graduates of Lillian's, so make sure you live a life that Maria-sama would be proud of."
The teacher droned on and on with these pieces of advice. But she was probably just following standard operating procedure about what to say during the final homeroom period, and the students knew this so they pretended to listen and nodded along, saying "Mm-hmm."
The Yamayurikai members assembled near the entrance to the school building.
Sachiko, Rei, Yoshino-chan. Shimako and Yumi-chan were nowhere to be seen, so it looked like first-year peach class's homeroom hadn't finished yet.
"Youko, have you got your indoor shoes?"
It looked like chrysanthemum class had been let out first. Eriko smiled as she made her way over.
"No mistake there. Unlike a certain someone."
A certain someone? As Youko tilted her head in confusion, a shadow appeared behind her.
"A certain someone? You mean me?"
It was Sei.
"Listen to this, Youko. Sei left her indoor shoes in her shoe box, just like every other day."
Eriko cackled, as though she found it hilarious.
"You're laughing a bit too much."
Sei looked gloomy, her expression one of a little child that had been woken up from their afternoon nap. She had undoubtedly fallen asleep during the graduation ceremony.
"Honestly. You've just graduated, what were you thinking, leaving your indoor shoes behind? That the next person to get your locker would use them?"
Even right up to the end, Eriko wasn't about to go easy.
"Since her university's on the same grounds, she was probably just completely relaxed."
"Thanks for that. But this has nothing to do with university, it's just one of my eccentricities. Surely you know I've got a 50% strike rate for leaving my indoor shoes behind after closing ceremonies."
"No way. I don't believe it."
"I can tell you about it now, but I had to come and get them during summer vacation."
Apparently even Sei wasn't game to leave her indoor shoes in the shoe box for the entirety of the 40 day summer vacation. They probably would have festered, being left in a dark, unventilated place.
"You shouldn't speak too openly. If you say any more, you'll ruin your fans' image of you."
Listening to them talk, Youko was confused. Surely Sei's image was already pretty wobbly.
"Sorry to keep you waiting."
Shimako and Yumi-chan appeared, accompanied by "Camera-chan," Takeshima Tsutako-chan.
They'd arranged for her to take photographs with all the Yamayurikai members, to commemorate their graduation.
Thankfully, they'd been blessed with good weather. While a photo with them all holding umbrellas might be interesting, it would also be a lot of effort.
"Where should we take the photographs?"
Once Tsutako-chan had joined the conversation, Yumi-chan stealthily pulled Sachiko aside.
(I wonder what she's up to.)
Finding this deeply interesting, Youko focused her attention on those two.
Yumi-chan held a pack of tissues out to Sachiko.
Youko watched on in admiration – that must have taken a lot of guts.
Sachiko looked refreshed, probably having washed her face somewhere, but it was hard to miss her red eyes and nose. Everyone had noticed, but no-one had reached out to help the downcast Sachiko.
Sachiko responded with aggression, probably feeling awkward after breaking down in tears in front of the entire school, not to mention the parents and guests.
"You'll feel better if you blow your nose."
"What are you – "
"It even works for dry-eye and allergies. You'll feel better, no matter what. The day before yesterday, I was feeling the same as you, onee-sama, and Shimako-san gave me a tissue, so I thought … "
Sachiko was silent, overwhelmed by Yumi-chan's intensity.
"I'll really feel better?"
As she spoke, Sachiko pulled a tissue from the pack, then blew her nose with all her might.
After putting the tissue in her pocket, Sachiko's face had a wonderful expression when she looked up.
The sunlight was warm.
Sei instinctively squinted into the light shining through the branches of the trees lining the path.
They had decided to take the photographs at the fork in the path, in front of the statue of Maria-sama.
Sei hadn't really cared where they took the photos, but both Youko and Eriko had wanted it done there. It must have been tough saying goodbye to the statue of Maria-sama that had watched over them for so long, now that they were leaving the school.
The eight members of the Rose families plus Camera-chan moved together in small groups. Trailing them, ostensibly just watching, was the president of the newspaper club and her petit soeur, so they must have looked like an odd gathering from the outside.
It wasn't long after the graduation ceremony, so there were still some students and parents lingering around the school campus, reluctant to leave. There were also plenty of groups like Sei's, that had gathered to take commemorative photos.
"So did Yamanobe-san come? Or not?"
Sei asked Eriko, walking alongside her. Youko looked like she knew something, because she suppressed a laugh and walked ahead, joining up with Sachiko's group.
"He did and he didn't."
Eriko seemed bored as she explained what had happened.
"Ho ho. I see."
Sei smiled as she listened politely to a recap of that episode.
She could just picture the scene, right at the end, where Eriko breaks out of line to go and remonstrate with Yamanobe-san by the side of the gymnasium.
"Even though he could have just pretended to be one of your brothers."
"He's not really a cunning person. But that's fine."
Oh boy, she really was fond of him after all. Love truly was terrifying if it could change the big head Eriko this much.
Eriko suddenly stopped, with a faraway look on her face.
"We got into a fight once, eons ago, right?"
"Ahh, that we did. Ten years is ages, so fourteen would indeed be eons ago."
Sei walked slowly. As though savoring the last vestiges of a blissful time.
"What was it that caused it, do you remember?"
Eriko walked alongside her. Like they were an elderly couple.
"No way, you don't remember?"
"I get the feeling we both said something that rubbed the other the wrong way."
It wasn't a joke, Eriko really didn't seem to remember.
"You called me an American, then I called you a big head … but."
"… It's easily forgotten."
Indeed, if it had stuck in her mind, Eriko probably wouldn't have kept her hairstyle with the fringe pulled back, exposing her full forehead, for all this time.
"My grandmother used to tell me that my forehead had a lovely shape. Ah, I see. That must have been why it hurt to be called "big head.""
Eriko spoke as though she were analyzing someone else. Human memories were fuzzy things. Even Sei couldn't really say how much of her recollection was the truth.
"At any rate, it was wrong of me to call you an American when we'd just met."
Eriko apologized for her verbal slip from fourteen years ago. However, Sei shook her head, and said, "No."
"I only found out about it much later, but one of my ancestors on my father's side was Caucasian."
"And you inherited their features?"
"Seems that way. So what you said wasn't necessarily incorrect. So you don't have to apologize."
"Same here. It's true that I have a prominent forehead."
Eriko held out her right hand and Sei grasped it firmly with her own. This time they didn't look away. Finally, after fourteen years, they had both agreed to reconciliation.
They both started laughing, it was too funny. They didn't harbor any ill-will for each other at this stage, so the point of reconciling seemed fairly blurry. Even so, she wanted to face the adults from their time in kindergarten and tell them, "Serves you right."
"By the way, your ancestor, were they American?"
Eriko looked just like the Eriko of fourteen years ago as she bit into the topic. – Or, rather, it was a topic she'd been forced to postpone talking about for fourteen years.
"I don't know their nationality. But I'm told they themselves had mixed blood from a number of countries."
"So that's it."
Eriko stretched. A fair gap had opened up between them and Rei's leading group. Rei smiled and waved at them, apparently misunderstanding something.
"At times it looked like you were going far, far away, but that was just a trick by the genes of your wandering ancestor."
Eriko's theory was preposterous.
She'd thought that the area around the statue of Maria-sama would be busy, but when they got there it was deserted.
"What sort of photos should we start with?"
Tsutako-chan suggested a couple of different styles. The newspaper club members said nothing, since they were only there to watch. Their eyes were sparkling, ready for action, as they waited a short distance away for the photo shoot to begin.
"Over here, Shimako."
Sei called out to her petit soeur, then placed a hand on each of her shoulders. Sei couldn't recall ever having her photo taken with Shimako, and she'd rather leave the group photo with everyone for the end.
But, just as Tsutako-chan was about to take the shot, something caught Shimako's eye and she suddenly dashed off.
Shimako rushed over to Miss Kanina Shizuka. She obviously hadn't noticed them as she was going home and seemed quite surprised when she saw Shimako sprinting over to her. – Or, rather, it was Shimako's eyesight that was surprisingly good.
"Congratulations on your graduation."
Shizuka was practically dragged over to the group by Shimako, and started out by offering her congratulations to the graduating trio.
"We're just having some photos taken now. You can join us, if you'd like, Shizuka-sama."
Shimako said. Being unusually proactive.
Shizuka was also leaving Lillian's at the end of March, although not as a graduate. Shimako probably thought that she'd want to share these memories too.
"Thanks. But I'll have to give it a pass this time."
Shizuka declined the offer with a smile.
"Shimako. Don't try and force her."
Sei grabbed Shimako's arm and pulled her back.
If Shizuka had wanted to be included in their commemorative photos, then there would have been no problems with it. But it didn't look as though her heart wanted that. So there was no need to do anything more.
"I'm happy you were thinking of me, Shimako-san. But I want my normal, everyday life to continue unchanged, today, tomorrow and into the future."
That way she could welcome the closing ceremony like a regular student, and maintain her desire to go to Italy. Sei felt like this wasn't a fake sentiment from Shizuka.
Shizuka turned to face Sei.
"I won't say goodbye. Since I intend for us to meet again."
"Indeed. See you later."
Shizuka then said, "Gokigenyou," and started walking towards the school gate. She certainly didn't look back. Tsutako-chan trained her camera on the retreating figure.
Her head held high.
A photographer wouldn't have hesitated to capture that image.
But the sound of the shutter clicking didn't ring out.
"Now then, how about we resume the photo shoot?"
Tsutako-san turned around and asked cheerfully, once Shizuka had disappeared completely from view.
It can't be explained in words all that well, but that figure looked like it possessed far too much good will.
The happy sound of the shutter whirred.
Just for that moment, they were gathered in the frame. To confirm that, indeed, these friends of mine had existed here.
In truth, there was no need for it, but who could tell what tomorrow would bring.
A confirmation of the present, kept on file.
Besides the one with everyone gathered around Maria-sama, there were a number of other photos taken. Of the three graduating seniors, and of the various Rose families.
Everyone was in high spirits. Like something out of a dream.
"I'll send you copies of the photos."
Hearing Tsutako-chan's words, Eriko looked up. The dream was nearing its end.
"Thank-you. I'll look forward to it."
"Umm, I'll send you a copy of the Lillian Kawaraban graduation edition too."
Ms Tsukiyama Minako barged into the conversation. She'd been restraining herself, but apparently there were limits to how long she could stay on the periphery.
"… We'll look forward to that in a different sense."
Youko smiled genuinely.
"Lady Roses. Um, I'm sorry for all the trouble that I've caused you. But I'm absolutely delighted that I was able to go through high-school at the same time as you."
As she spoke, ragged tears fell from the eyes of Ms Minako.
"Oh? Ah? What am I doing?"
Noticing her tears she started to panic.
"Ahh, I'm sorry."
– The end result being that she ran away.
"What was that?"
Sei watched, head tilted in confusion, as the pony-tailed figure ran off into the distance, skirt in disarray. An unintended see off.
"I'm so very sorry. Right at the end too."
Miss Mami, Minako's petit soeur and up-and-coming writer for the newspaper, apologized for her onee-sama with a composure impossible for most first-years.
"I know you're all worried, with our editor-in-chief like that, but all of us in the newspaper club will work together to create a good farewell edition for you. Please forgive her for today."
Nobody said anything, but they were all surely thinking it.
"Who's going to worry, when there's such a good successor to the newspaper club president?"
With that, their trio split up.
At the fork in the path that Maria-sama watches over.
Youko and Sei headed towards the front gate, Eriko towards the back gate.
They had no plans for their next meeting. But even without them, they knew it would be okay.
Their adorable juniors remained at the fork, watching them leave.
Nobody said, "Good-bye."
There were undoubtedly still many things that were left unsaid. But that's because it's not possible to say everything.
Like the song, "Hotaru no Hikari," they had only one wish.
Of happiness, happiness for all.
They were so very glad that they were able to meet each other through this school.
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