Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume9 Chapter6
BGN (Background Noise)
When the Cherry Blossoms Fall
Shimako-san was behaving strangely.
Yumi noticed it not long after the new first-years had entered into high-school. Three or four days after, perhaps.
She had no idea why. Shimako-san liked looking at and eating cherry blossoms, so it seemed unlikely that she'd be allergic to them. There was already one person like that, Yumi's onee-sama Ogasawara Sachiko-sama, and that was more than enough. Besides, her symptoms were a little different.
"Why are you yelping like a little dog?"
Appearing in front of Yumi's desk with her trademark twin ponytails was Shimazu Yoshino. Probably returning from the toilet, the floral handkerchief she was holding was wet in places.
But Yumi was a wordless little dog. She was silent, like a shih tzu or maltese dog.
Yumi felt a momentary sense of cognitive dissonance, wondering why Yoshino-san was there. Noticing this, her sharp-eyed friend got a strange look on her face and grumbled.
"… Yumi-san, can you please stop looking so surprised every time you see me in the classroom."
"Oh, you noticed?"
Yumi tried forcing a smile to hide her embarrassment. But Yoshino-san wasn't even slightly fooled.
"You're too easy to read. Also, I've noticed you looking around for Shimako-san."
"You've got me."
"Get it together, Rosa Chinensis en bouton."
"Hahaha. I'm not used to that name either."
The name Rosa Chinensis en bouton was the only thing magnificent about her, because she just couldn't get it together. And because she herself was aware of this, all she could do was laugh feebly.
Take yesterday as an example, when she'd been guilty of the monumental blunder of heading to the first-year peach group classroom when she arrived at school in the morning.
"Hard to believe, hey."
Yoshino-san muttered, her eyes narrowing. She was Rosa Foetida en bouton. That alone gave her a certain presence, if seen from the right angle.
So that was it.
When April arrived, the first-years naturally became second-years. This hadn't felt even slightly real to Yumi, and she alone had been warped backwards in time.
This was the second-year pine class. The room that Sachiko-sama had been studying in until recently.
It was the first time in the thirteen years since kindergarten that Yoshino-san had been in the same class as her.
Shimako-san, who'd been in Yumi's class in first-year, was in second-year wisteria class. Sadly, they were in different classes this time.
Well, okay. It left the door open to meeting new people.
"Oh ho. Rosa Chinensis en bouton is a springtime fool."
Someone jumped into their conversation, after listening in for who knows how long.
(– Why's she … ?)
Despite being taken aback, the lights soon went on for Yumi and she grabbed hold of the girl's arm.
"Don't put that in an article!"
Shimako-san could get lost in thought and still maintain her dignity, but it would expose Yumi as a natural ditz. Which would not be acceptable for the person known as Rosa Chinensis en bouton. While Yumi knew she hadn't smoothly inherited Sachiko-sama's image, it would be too depressing to Sachiko-sama to have her petit soeur destroy all her past accomplishments.
"I wonder what I should do."
"Please don't print it."
"You owe me one."
Yamaguchi Mami, age 16, left giggling.
Did she part her hair on the side, held in place with a hair-clip, to highlight her lack of vulnerability? Her hair was swept back behind her ears, leaving her news gathering antennae fully open. Her onee-sama, newspaper club president Tsukiyama Minako-sama, had taught her to be ready, because she could run into newsworthy material anytime, anywhere. But, for some reason, Mami-san seemed even more resolute than Minako-sama.
Yumi sighed. She had no luck at all, being put in the same class as the future head of the newspaper club.
On top of that.
"Thanks for that gloomy face."
While Yumi may have become accustomed to it, the photography club's ace, and current vice-president, Takeshima Tsutako-san was also in her class.
"I'll call it, "The Melancholy of Rosa Chinensis en Bouton." Will you let me show it at the school festival if it comes out well?"
"… Give me a break."
There was no such thing as privacy in the second-year pine class.
"We'll talk later."
Yoshino-san whispered into Yumi's ear then walked away. Tsutako-san hid her camera and quickly returned to her seat too.
The teacher for their next subject had been spotted walking down the corridor. She was also in charge of educational guidance, and an incredibly difficult teacher, so everyone reacted quickly.
In this manner, with both annoyance and pleasure, Fukuzawa Yumi's new school year began.
"Shimako-san's changed? In what way?"
Yoshino-san asked. At the bathroom basin, as she scrubbed with a sponge.
"Like she's dejected, or she's got no energy."
Yumi's cleaning duty for today was to polish the rectangular mirror above the basin. That and empty the bathroom bin.
"Dejected. No energy. And?"
Moving her hand, Yoshino-san urged her to continue. There was no reason they had to hold this conversation here, but there was the pseudo-paparazzi in the classroom and they could only have it in the Rose Mansion when Shimako-san herself wasn't there, and since they were in the same cleaning group it just turned out this way.
"During recess yesterday, I called out to Shimako-san when she was looking out the hallway window, but she didn't notice me at all."
"True story. Whenever she has free time, Shimako-san goes to the back of the school building alone to look at cherry blossoms. Katsura-san from wisteria class told me today."
Squeak, squeak. Wielding a wet cloth in one hand and a dry cloth in the other, Yumi polished the mirror. The mirrors in the student toilets at a girls' school were under closer scrutiny than the classroom blackboards. Cloudiness or traces of water were to be avoided as much as possible.
"Cherry blossoms … I see."
Yoshino-san gave an exaggerated nod, showing her understanding.
Yumi frantically asked. Was it comprehension or deduction? Either way, slow people had to desperately run to keep up with their perceptive friends.
"The cherry blossoms played an important role in Shimako-san and Sei-sama's first meeting."
Scrub, scrub. Yoshino-san spoke the name of Shimako-san's onee-sama, who had graduated in spring.
"That's why they went back to the place from their memories, beneath the cherry tree, for the rosary ceremony. Didn't you know?"
Scrub, scrub, scrub.
"I see … "
So that's why Shimako-san was beneath the cherry tree … as Yumi was considering this, a question suddenly bubbled up.
"But they became soeurs in fall, right? Just before myself and Sachiko-sama."
Polish, polish, polish.
"It's just the place from their memories. Whether the cherry tree was blossoming or not wasn't the question."
"Their memories … "
They both stopped working and looked up. There was only the ceiling and fluorescent lights there, but for a moment they felt they could see the cherry blossom tree branches in full bloom that Shimako-san was looking up at.
"Even now, she may be immersed in her memories."
"Maybe you're right. She could be trying to bury the loneliness caused by her onee-sama's absence."
Shimako-san herself had said it in the past. "When my onee-sama graduates, I'll have nothing tying me to the Yamayurikai."
"Because Rosa Giga … no, Satou Sei-sama's left."
Maybe she was spacing out because she'd lost sight of her reason for being in the Yamayurikai. Or maybe she was worried about something.
"The cherry blossoms will fall soon. I wonder what will happen then."
"Who knows. At they very least, your onee-sama, Sachiko-sama, should cheer up."
"… I guess."
"When Sachiko-sama's not feeling well, it seems to throw you out of rhythm. It's no fun being with her, right Yumi-san?"
"No way, it's always fun."
Because they hardly ever spent time together. Nowadays.
There was barely time to take a breath after the successful completion of the graduation ceremony before they were assailed by waves of end-of-year exams. Yumi had expected they'd do something fun during spring break, but, as usual, there had been no such invitation forthcoming. She'd even boldly called Sachiko-sama's house a couple of times, but unluckily they'd been out each time. They may have taken a long trip, because there was no return phone call from Sachiko-sama either.
That was how the short spring break ended, bringing them to the present.
"Huh!? Y– "
Yoshino-san raised her voice and Yumi hastily moved to cover her mouth. – But just as she was about to do this, Yumi remembered she was still holding the two cleaning cloths, so changed her tactic to holding both sides of Yoshino-san's face like tongs picking up bread. The sound that had escaped from Yoshino-san during her momentary indecision echoed oddly around the bathroom.
"You did nothing for White Day?"
Yoshino-san's face, changed into a handball ball, groaned, "Unbelievable." That word had been appearing an awful lot recently. Yoshino-san's common sense and Yumi's common sense were quite different. Particularly with regard to the way soeurs should be.
"It's fine. More or less. We had our date for Valentine's Day."
"Valentine's Day is Valentine's Day, White Day is White Day. Geeze, what is Sachiko-sama thinking?"
"… Probably nothing."
At the very least, nothing about Yumi. Her depression about the cherry blossoms was probably something like hay-fever. The symptoms were flu-like. But it wasn't an allergy, so there wasn't any specific medicine for it.
It affected Sachiko-sama's mood, and she'd become lethargic, irritable, and tired. Exhausted of all physical strength. So all Yumi could do as her petit soeur was pray that the cherry blossom season would end soon.
In truth, Yumi would have been happy with this Sachiko-sama. Even just for a day during spring break, like on their first date, just being together. She would have been happy with that.
"Anyway, Yumi-san, let's just keep a watch on the situation until the cherry blossoms fall."
Yoshino-san used her own strength to escape from Yumi's grasp and breathed a sigh of relief.
"If Shimako-san returns to her usual self when the cherry blossoms fall, then all's good. Otherwise, we'll have a talk with Rei-chan and Sachiko-sama, assuming she's recovered by then."
Yumi thought that that was all they could do too.
Sounds about right.
The first thing to do was get rid of the cherry blossoms.
The face looking back at her in the polished mirror still looked a tad uneasy.
As she was taking the trash bag to the rubbish collection area around the back of the school building, Yumi unexpectedly spotted Shimako-san.
"Shima … "
She started to call out, but stopped.
Just like Katsura-san had said, Shimako-san seemed to be there in body but not in mind, as she staggered along beneath the cherry trees like a sleepwalker.
Cherry blossoms swirled around her, as though Shimako-san herself was scattering them.
Shimako-san caught them in her palms, closing her eyes from time to time, showering her entire body in the petal snow. For just a moment, Yumi saw the face of the previous Rosa Gigantea, Satou Sei-sama, overlaying Shimako-san's. Yumi couldn't help but think that Shimako-san was thinking of her onee-sama.
That was why she couldn't call out to her.
Because Shimako-san was sad, and still too beautiful. Yumi couldn't intrude into her private world.
The cherry blossoms would fall soon.
What would happen to Shimako-san then?
Shimako-san walked towards the auditorium, as though she was chasing cherry trees that hadn't yet lost most of their flowers.
Yumi hurried over to the rubbish collection area, left the trash bag and quickly returned. When she got back to the spot she was earlier, Shimako-san was nowhere to be seen.
Yumi could guess where Shimako-san had gone, but she didn't intend to chase after her. When she reached the front of the auditorium, she kept following the path to the right.
On the far side of the hedge, the vivid colors of street clothes kept drawing her attention.
"You know, Yumi-chan."
She spoke slowly, as though admonishing a three year old.
"I know. You told me I couldn't rely on you after you graduated."
" … So you seem to understand."
Letting out a sigh of amazement, she treated Yumi to a cafe au lait in a takeaway cup, as Yumi sat uncomfortably at a round table in the cafeteria.
"My deepest apologies that canned sweet red-bean soup isn't available during this season."
Was she being serious or sarcastic when she said this? Probably the latter.
Despite her thirst, Yumi blew on the coffee to cool it down before indulging.
She'd blindly run around the university buildings but hadn't found the person she was looking for. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that university students didn't stay in the one classroom for all their subjects, but Yumi was naïve enough to think, "I'll find her straight away."
To begin with, starting a manhunt across the vast campus knowing only her target's name and major was an exercise in futility. She didn't have a car with a bull horn, so going around shouting out her name wouldn't be all that fun, and she couldn't go into any of the classrooms either. For one thing, Yumi wasn't even exactly clear on whether or not she would be on campus.
But still they'd met like this because, luckily, Yumi had run into some recent graduates who had brought her here. If not for that, she probably wouldn't have found the former Rosa Gigantea, Satou Sei-sama, any time today. Sadly, Sei-sama had been laughing it up with her university friends, so it wasn't an emotional reunion.
"And? If you knew how I'd react, why did you come here Yumi-chan?"
"Will you help with a serious situation involving Shimako-san?"
"A serious situation with Shimako-san? Is she talking about leaving school?"
"No, nothing like that."
Yumi mumbled, then took another sip of her cafe au lait. Rosa Gigantea still had it. She'd added enough sugar to perfectly match Yumi's tastes.
"You know, it's pretty common for teenage girls to stare at cherry blossoms, lost in thought. Everyone does it."
"I'm certain that Shimako-san wants to see you, Rosa Gigantea. But she's fighting it."
"She's hardly doing much of that. It's only been a month."
Sei-sama quipped. She'd cut her hair a lot shorter than before. Her white shirt and jeans outfit was simple, but all the more adult. It may seem obvious, but she looked like a regular university student. It didn't feel as though, up until a month ago, she'd been wearing the same uniform as Yumi.
"It's because you're injudiciously close."
The high-school buildings and university buildings were right next to each other. Close enough to see someone at any time, if you wanted to. Like Yumi right now.
"Injudicious, huh. Yumi-chan, you know some difficult words."
"Rosa Gigantea, stop making fun of me."
"I'm not really making fun of you … and could you stop calling me "Rosa Gigantea?""
Indeed, Shimako-san was now Rosa Gigantea, and while Yumi knew this intellectually it was difficult for her to make the switch. Because, for Yumi, there was a long history of using Rosa Gigantea to refer to Satou Sei-sama.
"Then should I call you Sei-sama?"
"Hmm. That's also a bit … "
Sei-sama was still hesitating. Perhaps she wanted to avoid anything that seemed like an extension of high-school.
"Then what would you like me to call you?"
Yumi was in a mood to say, "Just tell me already." But of course she was here to ask a favor, so she made sure her blunt words stayed just as thoughts and weren't spoken.
"Sei-san. Or Satou-san. Actually, I'm on a bit of a Satou-san kick at the moment."
Students who came to Lillian's university from other schools via the entrance exam system probably wouldn't know about Lillian's high-school traditions, so they'd probably call each other by their surname. It seemed somehow fresh and pleasant.
"Satou-sa~n. Biology's next, are you coming?"
The group that Sei-sama had been with earlier were all standing up, cleaning away their empty coffee cups, snacks, candy wrappers and other trash.
"Ah, I'm coming, I'm coming. Save me a seat."
Indeed, it was "Satou-san."
"Sorry, Yumi-chan. It's the first lecture, so I can't skip it."
Sei-sama held up a hand in the pose of apology and winked. Then she downed the rest of her cup of black coffee in one swig, gathered her belongings and stood up.
"You're majoring in English, but you've got a Biology lecture?"
"First-years have to take some general subjects. It's not that different to high-school."
"Oh, I see."
Even if it wasn't that different, Sei-sama was no longer a high-school student – she'd made new friends and was spending her time as a university student well.
It made Yumi feel a bit sorry for Shimako-san. It was unfair. Does the bond between soeurs naturally dissolve upon graduation?
It was fine for the one who left. But what should the one who was left behind do?
When the flowers blossomed or when snow fell, she wanted her to hold in her heart the visions of one year earlier when they'd watched those same scenes together. Well, Sei-sama had probably gone through the same experience herself. But with the start of her new life, she seemed to have forgotten those old feelings.
Watching her go, Yumi felt lonelier and lonelier. She wanted to cry. Shimako-san's current state was nothing more than Yumi's state one year hence, after she'd been abandoned by Sachiko-sama.
"Ah, that's right."
Sei-sama suddenly turned around.
"You don't have to coddle her too much."
"Ah – "
Even though she'd said not to rely on her, Sei-sama was still thinking of Shimako-san.
"So there's no pressure on you to rescue Shimako-san from her crisis. If you're thinking about taking it all on yourself, you're barking up the wrong tree."
"… The wrong tree."
"If there's something only you can do then you should act, but until then you should stay neutral."
Would the time come when she had to act? And what should she do if she couldn't recognize when that time came?
Sei-sama laughed as Yumi thought this through.
"Don't worry about it. Even if you don't act, someone else might. In that case, can you support them? The right person in the right place, and all that."
"Do you understand?"
" … A little."
"Good. That's about as much as me then."
Sei-sama gently stroked Yumi's cheek, then disappeared down the hallway at a jog, shouting out, "Oh no, I'm late."
"Late … ah!"
That's when Yumi remembered.
"– oh dear."
There was supposed to be a meeting in the Rose Mansion once cleaning was over.
Since the error was obviously on her part, Sachiko-sama would naturally be angry. But this was far more dreadful than a furiously raging Sachiko-sama – such were Yumi's thoughts.
"Now where could you have been, I wonder."
Waiting for her on the other side of the biscuit door was a gaze completely lacking in intensity. No imposing stance, just her hands folded in front of her. Yumi would have preferred a scolding, but she could tell that Sachiko-sama didn't have the energy for that.
"I'm terribly sorry."
As usual, Yumi started by apologizing and bowed her head energetically. First comes the apology. Then the excuse. Just like in sports.
"Please don't respond to my question in a way that doesn't answer it."
"So, your whereabouts?"
She'd changed from "where" to "whereabouts." Perhaps she was going to change from "Yumi" to "Yumi-san" in the near future. That would be too terrible. Since she didn't have the energy to descend into hysterics, Sachiko-sama seemed to have changed her modus operandi to pedantic torture.
The atmosphere was such that Yumi wouldn't get forgiveness without offering up some kind of explanation.
"On my way back from dropping off the trash, I ran into some people and we started talking – "
"So you unintentionally overlooked the time we were supposed to meet?"
Hearing that, Sachiko-sama gave a very small nod. But her face still looked like a terrifying Noh mask.
"Who was it?"
"Um, it was a friend from a different grade … "
On the spur of the moment, she lied. Well, it wasn't a lie. Satou-sama was in a different grade after all, and friend had a broad meaning so she was one of them too.
Sachiko-sama sighed in resignation and the conversation ended. It looked like Yumi had been saved by the cherry blossoms.
Sachiko-sama hated cherry blossoms.
She hated their taste and watching them fall.
Buddhist priests and their robes too. – Although there were none of those at the catholic girls' school that was Lillian's Girls Academy.
But, with things how they were, the reaction when she recovered would be frightening. And without a severe scolding, Yumi couldn't get her rhythm back either. Oh dear, familiarity was a terrifying thing.
Suddenly, the mysterious sound of laughter reached Yumi's ears. She became a bit worried, because the laugh contained a trace of malice.
The unpleasant laughter echoed around the second-floor of the Rose Mansion.
Sachiko-sama turned around, challenging the laugh's originator. It was then that Yumi finally noticed the student sitting with her back to her. It wasn't Rei-sama or Shimako-san.
"But Sachiko onee-sama, she's so funny."
Slowly, the girl turned to look at Yumi, revealing her strong-willed brow.
(Wh-what did she … !?)
Blood rushed into Yumi's head. Not due to the cold and provocative way the girl was looking at her, but the words she'd spat out.
(Sa-sa-sachiko onee-sama !?)
It was acceptable to refer to a group of older students as "onee-samas." But only an officially recognized petit soeur, who had accepted their rosary, was allowed to call a specific older student "onee-sama." That is, in Sachiko-sama's case, it was unforgivable for anyone other than Yumi to call her that.
"Touko-chan, you shouldn't be calling me that."
There, told you so. Sachiko-sama's strict and welcome guidance burst forth. But this "Touko-chan" wasn't even slightly discouraged. She played with her hair rolls, looking off into the distance blankly. Annoyingly, her actions were kind of cutesy.
"But you've a~lways been called that, it's hard for Touko to suddenly stop."
(Wh-what? She said she's always called her that? This girl.)
"At least while we're at school, call me "Sachiko-sama" or "Rosa Chinensis." Public and private life have to be kept separate."
(Onee-sama, what are you saying … !)
The impact hit Yumi like a hammer to the head. Was the delineation Sachiko-sama was making that Yumi was "public" and this Touko-chan with her ringlets was "private," or not? No, that was it. Clearly.
Public, formal, official. Public meant out in the open, and that wasn't bad, but it felt like it was no match for private, with its connotations of secrecy and concealment.
Private property, private life, private affairs… see.
(– but, more importantly.)
Sachiko-sama was an only child, so she shouldn't have a little sister in her private life. That someone not in her immediate family could so brazenly call her "onee-sama." What on earth was going on here.
"Let me introduce you, Yumi. This is Matsudaira Touko-chan, a first-year. She said she wanted to see the Rose Mansion, so I invited her."
"… Pleased to meet you."
Since her onee-sama had made the introduction, Yumi had to offer a greeting. But Touko-chan didn't even bother to look at Yumi, instead coiling herself around Sachiko-sama's arm and saying, like a spoiled child:
"Oh my. You weren't going to mention that we're related?"
"Ah, right. Actually, Touko-chan's related on my father's side of the family."
Sachiko-sama added, and Touko-chan looked at Yumi triumphantly.
"Related? I wonder how distantly."
Yoshino-san said, jumping into the conversation. Apparently Touko-chan had been introduced to her earlier, but this was the first time that Yoshino-san had heard she was related to Sachiko-sama.
"I'm Sachiko onee-sama's father's older sister's husband's younger sister's daughter."
"So basically, you're not blood related at all."
Incredible, Yoshino-san. She'd instantly understood Touko-chan's rapid-fire explanation.
"But it doesn't change the fact that we're related."
"Sure, distant relatives."
Touko-chan sparred with Yoshino-san. They glared at each other, sparks flying between them, then both suddenly looked away. Like two cats hissing at each other.
"Well, anyway, onee-sama. About today's meeting … "
Yumi nervously broached the topic, since she was late arriving. She had to defuse the tense atmosphere somehow. Sorry Touko-chan, but the best solution was for you to leave for the justifiable reason of the scheduled meeting.
"Today's meeting's canceled."
"The kendo club's faculty member and club president were both absent today, so Rei had to go and lead the training."
"They've had some new students join and there's not that many club members that could lead them."
Yoshino-san grumbled about her busy onee-sama too.
"So there you have it."
So there she had it.
So where did that leave Yumi, with her onee-sama nitpicking her about being late? However, it would also be foolish not to confirm the members that had been captivated by Touko-chan. When she asked, she found out that Shimako-san had also been there, but had left once she found out the meeting was canceled.
"At any rate, this mansion is sooo comfy. Touko likes it and will have to visit again."
(Hey, hey. Ask if you can come and visit. You're a younger student.)
Perhaps this was how generational change happened. Yumi's heart was filled with a phrase she'd never had cause to use before, "Kids these days …"
However, Sachiko-sama was sweet. Sweeter than a sweet bean jelly.
It was a slight rebuff, but her eyes and mouth were smiling.
"Yumi-san, you'd better watch out for that Touko."
Yoshino-san whispered, leaning in close to Yumi.
"If you're careless, you could have your onee-sama stolen."
"Huh!? Huh!? Huuuh!?"
Despite being surprised by this extreme advice from her friend, a yellow warning light went on somewhere in Yumi's heart.
Touko-chan was innocently assertive.
(To make matters worse.)
"Hey, would it be possible to visit your house today, Sachiko onee-sama? It would be nice to see grandfather and Sayako oba-sama, since it's been so long."
Sachiko-sama was confused, but she didn't clearly decline.
It looked like the jinx of third-years being overly indulgent to first-years applied to Sachiko-sama too.
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