Maria Sama Ga Miteru:Volume12 Chapter5
Searching in the Mist
"Red pine. Larch."
Sachiko-sama pointed out the different trees in the woods.
Informing Yumi of their names as they slowly walked together.
"Maple … its leaves turn to red in Autumn."
Sachiko-sama had an incredible knowledge of the trees in their vicinity. But her knowledge wasn't just limited to trees – every faint bird cry would cause her to stop and say, "That was a narcissus flycatcher," or, "That was the call of the blue-and-white flycatcher."
It was Thursday.
Sachiko-sama had awoken unusually early and invited Yumi on a pre-breakfast stroll.
"Watch out, there's some broken branches over there."
Fog had rolled in and they were enveloped in a white world.
They should be fine as long as they kept going straight ahead, but the thick milk-colored fog completely cloaked everything around them to the point that Yumi felt her confidence slipping, even though they were actually walking along a path.
That said, even if they did veer slightly off course, they'd feel the cool morning dew on the ferns and other ground cover against their legs.
"I like the fog too."
Her eyes were partly closed not because she was squinting, but because she was smiling. It seemed like the fine spray of water surrounding them had sharpened her senses.
"I wanted to show this to you."
At that moment, Yumi understood that Sachiko-sama didn't simply like everything about this region.
What she loved was the woods surrounding her villa.
Sachiko-sama probably thought of everything in the guidebooks – all the shops, walking tours and art galleries – as being in some distant town, since none of them were here. Basically, it didn't matter to her whether they existed or not.
The delicious pastries that Gensuke-san fetched on his bike for their daily breakfast.
All the locally sourced meat and vegetables that Kyo-san cooked with.
The handmade jam from one of the neighborhood ladies.
The rich honey from an old retiree who had taken up beekeeping as a hobby.
Fresh wasabi from a marsh a short distance away.
Sachiko-sama liked all these things. But that was the extent of it. She didn't go out and buy them herself, nor did she go and visit where they were made.
As a result, spending all day in the villa didn't bother her at all.
To Sachiko-sama, this place must be like a familiar childhood room. She was inviting Yumi in to a space that she'd spent so much time playing in on her own.
Yumi grabbed onto the arm in front of her. She vowed to never let go of her onee-sama again, even if it was painful, or her arm got hot.
"What's the matter? Is the fog scaring you?"
Yumi shook her head at Sachiko-sama's question.
"We'll be fine if we stay like this. The mischievous fairies only come for people traveling alone, you know."
They walked on, arms tightly linked.
On the other side of the fog, Gensuke-san's bike light shone as he made his way home.
Kikuyo Ayanokouji-sama came to visit Sachiko-sama shortly after 10am.
Kikuyo-sama was the same age as Touko-chan, and staying in her parents' villa about 500 meters down the road from the Ogasawara estate.
"Can you help me with my homework?"
With a thump, Kikuyo-sama dropped a stack of books, including an English translation of "The Tale of Genji" plus a couple of Japanese-English dictionaries and some B5 notebooks, on the terrace table.
"We have to translate the chapter "Young Murasaki" back into Japanese. It's tough because the English translation has changed some of the nuances slightly and we have to translate it back into modern Japanese."
A Japanese classic translated into English that they had to translate back into Japanese. Sure, different schools had different homework, but even so, this would surely be a shock to its original author, Murasaki Shikibu.
"… Kikuyo-chan, homework is something you're supposed to do yourself."
Sachiko-sama put a bookmark in the book she had been reading and closed it. She'd already finished Dazai's "Tsugaru" and had moved on to Shakespeare.
"But you've always helped me out in the past. Every year, I look forward to studying with you, Sachiko-onee-sama. It's why I come to the villa. I'm not asking you to do it for me, I just want to do my homework by your side, so I can ask you questions if there's any parts I don't understand. Or, is it that – "
Kikuyo-sama shot a withering glance at Yumi.
"You don't care about me because you've got Yumi-sama this year?"
Yumi was thrown into confusion, since she had considered herself to be completely uninvolved in this matter. After all, the issue of whether or not Sachiko-sama would look over Kikuyo-sama's homework was just between them, and Yumi just happened to be in the same place.
"This has nothing to do with Yumi, though."
Sachiko-sama said, naturally.
However, Kikuyo-sama lost her temper and said, "So that's what you think? You're too greedy, Yumi-sama."
"Day and night, you're monopolizing Sachiko-onee-sama. And yet I can't even get a tiny sliver of her time. It's just unfair."
"But it's true. You've never called me selfish before, or looked at me with such a scary face. You've changed, Sachiko-onee-sama. I just know it's because of Yumi-sama."
Kikuyo-sama flopped down onto the table, sobbing. Confronted by this sort of behavior, even Sachiko-sama had to give in and offer consolation, placing her hand on Kikuyo-sama's back and speaking tenderly, saying, "There there, don't cry." At which point Kikuyo-sama, with tears streaming down her cheeks, turned and pressed her face into Sachiko-sama's chest. Then she kept sobbing, crying, "Onee-sama," "Onee-sama," over and over. She just kept going on and on, like a cicada in a tree.
"I'll go and read upstairs."
Unable to stay there any longer, Yumi closed her book and stood up.
"Yumi … I'm sorry."
Yumi somehow managed to force out a smile in return, then she kept going into the hallway and up the stairs, as though she were running away.
Yumi didn't think she'd done anything wrong.
Even so, she understood that she was probably responsible for Kikuyo-sama's tears – just like Kikuyo-sama had said.
A newcomer had appeared, and become Sachiko-sama's petite soeur.
It was easy to imagine that those who had known Sachiko-sama before wouldn't be particularly pleased by that.
She'd been likened to Cinderella for some time after becoming Sachiko-sama's petite soeur.
Now she was starting to wonder whether the Cinderella in the story had really lived happily ever after.
Wouldn't she feel out of place, leaving her home to go and live in the prince's palace? Wouldn't she long for her old life, that had gone up in a puff of smoke?
Returning to her room, she lay down on the bed. She only had about ten pages left in "Kokoro" but she didn't feel like opening the book.
She liked Sachiko-sama.
But them liking each other, just by itself, wasn't enough for her to be happy.
Just by being next to the person she liked, she was making someone else sad.
They were surrounded by lots of other people – that's what society was made of. Although, that wouldn't be the case if they were shipwrecked on some deserted island together.
Looking up at the ceiling, Yumi gently closed her eyelids.
Still, loving someone was a precious thing.
On the away team, Yumi became her own supporter and cheered herself on with a, "Keep at it."
Kyougoku Kieko-sama came to visit that afternoon.
After crying herself out over Sachiko-sama, Ayanokouji Kikuyo-sama spent about an hour studying then headed home in good spirits.
Given the way Sachiko-sama usually conducted herself like a queen at school, Yumi never would have imagined her soothing and placating someone like that. Internal and external, public and private. The way people interact with each other varies based on their relationship.
Now then, as for Kieko-sama: She invited Sachiko-sama back to her family's holiday house for tea. Kieko-sama said that her mother was under the weather, so she wanted Sachiko-sama to come over and pay her a visit while she was there too.
"That's true, it has been a while since I last saw your mother … I wonder what I should do."
Sachiko-sama seemed to be having trouble making a decision. She probably thought she should go, but she was being reluctant. Yumi thought that Sachiko-sama was probably hesitating because she didn't want to trouble her – although that may just have been conceit on Yumi's part. Probably the after-effects of the incident with Kikuyo-sama.
Therefore, Yumi decided to give her a little nudge in that direction.
"Why don't you go and visit her, onee-sama?"
"What about you, Yumi?"
"I have to read the book for my book report, so I'll stay here."
In truth, she'd already finished reading "Kokoro." But she thought it was okay to lie, if that lie would let her onee-sama feel at ease about leaving.
"Oh? You could come too, Yumi-sama."
"I'd just be in the way, since I don't know her, and I wouldn't want to harm her recovery."
"Really? That's a shame."
Kieko-sama said, but her expression clearly said, "That's a relief." Yumi was certain she wasn't just imagining it.
Taking the pound cake that Kiyo-san had made for their afternoon tea, Sachiko-sama headed out, accompanying Kieko-sama back to her family's summer house.
After seeing them off and returning to the entry, Kiyo-san looked a bit uneasy.
"Yumi-sama, do you have a moment?"
She motioned for Yumi to follow her into the kitchen. Once there, Kiyo-san looked around the area nervously. Although, no matter where she looked, there wasn't any space for a person to hide in the cozy kitchen.
"It's about Miss Kyougoku."
By "Miss Kyougoku," she presumably meant Kieko-sama, who had just departed with Sachiko-sama.
"When she first arrived, I directed her to the terrace, but she followed me to the kitchen and asked me all sorts of questions."
"What sort of questions?"
"She was asking about you, Yumi-sama."
Would anyone in this day and age be happy to find out that someone was asking questions about them behind their back? Naturally, Yumi was not pleased to hear this. Especially since the person that had been asking all those questions hadn't been all that amicable towards Yumi. To put it bluntly, she was displeased. Or, more accurately, spooked.
"At first I thought she was asking those questions because she wanted to know more about you. But then she started asking about your family, and your school grades, and I became more and more concerned."
"She asked about my family and my grades … "
"Of course, I don't know about those things so I didn't answer her. But I did let some things slip accidentally."
Kyo-san bowed her head as she confessed this.
"I'm terribly sorry. I should have been more cautious."
Kyo-san said that she'd talked about Yumi and Sachiko-sama's arrival on Monday, and the three days they'd spent here, and other such matters. It didn't seem like she'd said anything of much significance.
"Thank-you for telling me this, but it's okay, you didn't say anything that would embarrass us."
"Yes, yes, that's right. But."
"How can I put this? Those young ladies that visited the other day are overly preoccupied with things like family pedigree and social standing."
That was a bit troubling. Kyo-san put her hand to the cheek of her face and sighed deeply.
"You should take care around those ladies."
But even with that warning, how on earth should she take care? Yumi had absolutely no idea.
Sachiko-sama was not in a good mood when she returned home from the Kyougoku's villa. As soon as she entered the house, she went straight up the stairs in silence, not bothering to stop by the salon or terrace. Yumi had been writing a rough draft of her book report at the table in the salon, but one look at Sachiko-sama's displeased profile had her chasing after her wondering what had happened.
"Did something happen?"
"Oh did it ever."
Sachiko-sama went into her room and threw the hat she'd been wearing on the bed.
"What do you think I saw when I got there? Kieko-san's brothers and sisters were there, along with her extended family, having a garden party."
"Um, so Kieko-sama's mother was – "
"Her mother? She was fine. She'd hardly be slurping down champagne in the middle of the day and stuffing her face full of barbecued meat if she was sick, would she?"
"I don't know, I was just asking."
Her flare up was quite intense, perhaps because it had been a while since the last one.
"… I'm sorry, I shouldn't have taken it out on you, Yumi."
"Don't worry about it."
Yumi was used to it. She thought it was probably because Sachiko-sama could let her guard down around her.
After all, Sachiko-sama was lenient with strangers but strict to those close to her. And understanding that, it was her petite soeur's job to support her.
"How about we go home? To Tokyo."
Sachiko-sama said, out of nowhere.
"Is something the matter?"
"Not particularly. I'm just fed up with it all. This farce of a friendship between certain people."
Sachiko-sama placed her left hand on the bed railing and covered her right eye with the palm of her right hand.
"All I wanted was to have a relaxing time here with you, Yumi. Just the two of us."
Her voice was shaking.
"Why can't they just leave us alone?"
Could she, perhaps, be crying?
"The Ogasawara name can be such a burden at times."
Yumi didn't dare to look at Sachiko-sama's face as she listened to her words in silence.
"I love my parents, and my grandfather too. And I'm grateful for the extraordinary amount of money and effort they've put into raising me. But sometimes I dream about how nice it would be for the four of us to live together in a house about the size of this villa. So, when I was young, I was always happy when we'd come and stay out here during the O-bon vacation. It was comforting to be in a small enough place that you could know where everyone was, even if you didn't know what they were doing. My father and grandfather would seek out the coolest spots in the house and sit there and read. And at least while they were here, they weren't off seeing their mistresses."
"And that's why you like this place."
Sachiko-sama gave a small nod of her head.
"And that's why I'd like to stay a bit longer."
After Yumi said this, Sachiko-sama spoke in a voice that seemed to fade to nothingness.
"I can't protect you here …"
"They were talking about you at the party."
Yumi wasn't all that surprised, after what Kyo-san had told her about Kieko-sama. While she didn't know the specifics, she was sure they would have been saying something.
"What sort of things were they saying?"
"It was ridiculous."
The memory of it seemed to stir up Sachiko-sama's anger as she became agitated once more.
"Not even the Lillian Kawaraban would publish something that stupid."
There it is, the Lillian Kawaraban.
Still, in this situation, what could they have said to draw a comparison to the school newspaper?
"Then, can you tell me what they said, regardless of how stupid it was?"
Because Yumi wanted to judge that for herself. Deep in her heart she was a bit troubled, but she did her best to be cheerful as she asked. From what Kyo-san had said, there shouldn't have been anything too embarrassing if it got out.
"It was about the rice. That should be enough, right? It's of no value to you to hear anything more than that."
The rice? Ohhhh, so that was it.
They could probably turn that episode into a funny story by expanding and embellishing on it. Yumi's feelings were, "If they want to laugh, let them laugh," but –
"I'm sorry onee-sama, for embarrassing you like this."
"It's not that – I've never once felt embarrassed by you. Don't you understand? I don't want to see you hurt. I hate that you have to suffer through this just because you're my petite soeur."
Sachiko-sama stamped her feet on the ground and waved her arms around in the air, like a young child getting angry because they couldn't properly convey their feelings. With nowhere for her arms to go, her hands eventually closed into fists and she lowered them.
"I just want you to always enjoy our time together."
"I do enjoy it."
Sachiko-sama raised her voice, getting angry. But for some reason, Yumi was able to calmly regard her onee-sama, even as she considered it strange that she could maintain her composure.
"It's true. I enjoy it all, even the tough times and the sad times."
Sachiko-sama's clenched fists loosened just a little.
"Just being with you makes me happy, onee-sama. Why can't you see that?"
"Yumi … "
"So if you want to go back to Tokyo, then of course I'll go back with you, but if you decide to stay then I'll remain here with you until the end."
Yumi smiled cheerfully as she said this, and Sachiko-sama's grim expression finally softened as she took a deep breath.
"Alright. If that's how you feel, then we'll stay here until Monday, like we planned. I really do hate running away, after all."
Hearing that last sentence, Yumi thought that this was just what she expected from Sachiko-sama.
On Friday morning, they received a written invitation to a party from Saionji Yukari-sama.
The invitation said that the party would be held tomorrow evening, ie. Saturday, at Saionji's house, and was addressed to both Sachiko-sama and Yumi.
Yesterday was Ayanokouji-sama followed by Kyougoku-sama, and tomorrow would be Saionji-sama, so it felt like there was one more battle to come.
Now for the conversation about what to do.
"What is there to even talk about? Don't go."
The braided girl spoke forcibly as she picked up a financier cake.
"I agree. I think you'd be better off not going … perhaps."
Said the young girl with the fluffy, cotton-candy-like hair that looked like a western doll.
"It's kind of immature. Like they're grade-school bullies."
This was from the Japanese doll seated beside the western doll. However, none of the other guests had any experience with that so they couldn't judge whether this analogy was right or wrong, so all they could do was go, "Mmm," and ponder it.
The girl with the very short hair, that could be easily mistaken for a boy, silently sipped her tea.
It was Saturday afternoon.
They were in the familiar confines of the room on the second floor of the Rose Mansion … or not. Actually, they were most certainly in the Ogasawara family's holiday house.
The people occupying the salon for the tea-party were Yumi, Rei-sama, Yoshino-san, Shimako-san, and Noriko-chan.
The location was the only thing changed and it felt like a regular Yamayurikai meeting, but this wasn't a delusion brought on by away-team Yumi's despair, it was the real and honest truth.
It was no coincidence that the Yellow and White Rose Soeurs had come to visit on the same day.
The postcards that Yumi had mailed on Wednesday morning arrived safely at the Toudou and Shimazu households in Tokyo on Thursday. The pair then spoke to each other and decided on a time and date to make a trip out to the Ogasawara's villa. Yoshino-san and Rei-sama's ascent of Mt Fuji was on Friday, so by having the visit on Saturday they could just extend their trip.
"Because, the postcard was so tepid, it seemed like you were wasting away from boredom or something. And when I called Shimako-san, she was worried too, so we decided to come and check things out for ourselves."
That was Yoshino-san's story.
"You provided such a detailed address that I thought that was perhaps a sign that you wanted us to come and visit. I'm sorry, it looks like I jumped to a hasty conclusion – you said it was Sachiko-sama that wrote the address, didn't you?"
Shimako-san drew inwards slightly, seemingly out of embarrassment.
"Then maybe Rosa Chinensis wanted you to come – "
Noriko-chan said quietly.
"Sachiko-sama … ?"
Yumi mumbled. Perhaps some part of Sachiko-sama wanted to show this place to the other Yamayurikai members. There could be some truth to that.
"Probably because she noticed you were feeling a little flat too."
"Oh? I suppose, you could be right … "
Sachiko-sama had done it for Yumi's sake. If that was what the neutral observer Noriko-chan thought, then it was probably true.
"So, what did Sachiko say? About the party."
"Not much … there's no RSVP required, so I won't know what she's planning until right before the party. She seemed to be in two minds about it."
Sachiko-sama was away visiting the Matsudaira's holiday house. She'd been reluctant to go because she was concerned about leaving Yumi alone, but she'd gone because her late grandmother's attending physician, Touko-chan's grandfather, was staying there and she couldn't have pretended not to know this.
"She's in two minds? I see, that makes sense."
"What do you see?"
Yoshino-san asked, when she heard Rei-sama's comment.
"Right now, Sachiko's shaken. Fundamentally, if someone's looking to fight her, she'll fight. But in her case, she always wants to know as much about her opponent as she can."
"To avoid fighting a losing battle?"
"It's not that. Even if she knows she's going to lose, she won't back down until she has to. Because she'll fully understand how she's going to lose and how much damage she'll take."
Rei-sama used the examples of Sachiko-sama's contest with Satou Sei-sama over Shimako-san, and her wager with the previous Roses over the role of Cinderella. Indeed, in those situations Sachiko-sama had fought without regards to her chances of success.
"But when she doesn't know who her opponent is, or what they're thinking, then she becomes incredibly timid. Probably because she's afraid of being hurt more than necessary."
As expected of a long-time friend, Rei-sama seemed to understand Sachiko-sama incredibly well.
"I think I get it."
Sachiko-sama boasted that she hated to run away, but had then run from place to place, avoiding her dearly beloved Kashiwagi-san. She'd probably run away because she was scared, not knowing what would happen to her if she met with him.
"That's how she was when you two were quarreling, Yumi-chan. If she'd sat down and talked to you properly, she could have cleared up that misunderstanding, but she was afraid of what might be waiting for her, so she closed herself off."
"What did she think might be waiting for her?"
Shimako-san asked, and Rei-sama answered unequivocally.
"That Yumi-chan would return her rosary."
All present fell silent. Those that had performed the soeur ceremony knew that the rosary held far more weight than just its physical mass. Even the Yellow Rose soeurs, who had temporarily split up then got back together, hadn't treated it lightly.
"She'd probably go if it was just her. Sachiko doesn't hold back when she's angry. It wouldn't necessarily be calculated, but she'd hone in on her opponent's weak point and hit them there hard, then go home."
"But this time she's got Yumi-sama with her."
"Exactly. That's why she's hesitating, since her opponent might target Yumi-chan. For Sachiko, it would be more painful to see Yumi-chan attacked than it would be for her to be attacked herself."
Previously, Yumi would have laughed this off with an, "As if." But having seen how Sachiko-sama had been behaving these last couple of days, she vaguely felt that Rei-sama might be on to something. Sachiko-sama had been nervous and fussy, like a mother hen watching over her chick.
"What do you want to do, Yumi-san?"
"I … "
" … don't really know what I should do … or rather, whichever path I take, I don't think it'll be right."
"How so … ?"
"If I go to the Saionji's party, then I'm sure something unpleasant will happen. But if I don't go, it'll leave things unsettled. It feels like running away will just cause it to come back even stronger at some point in the future. Either way, I intend to go along with whatever Sachiko-sama chooses."
"So you might actually go to the party?"
When Yumi confirmed this, Yoshino-san graced her with one of her favorite phrases:
"You idiot, Yumi-san. Don't willingly walk into their ambush. Come home with us, on the evening bullet train. You can't go to the party if you've gone home. Not even this Saionji girl would be crazy enough to chase after you."
"You're more than welcome to come with us too, although we're taking a regional express train home."
Shimako-san also extended an invitation. But Yumi shook her head.
"Thank-you for the offer, but I'm not leaving today. I've made up my mind that when I go home, it'll be with my onee-sama."
"Yumi-san … "
At that moment, Sachiko-sama arrived home from Touko-chan's villa. Then, her first words when she saw the Yamayurikai members were:
"You made it here. I'm so glad."
"Gokigenyou. When we saw the address on the postcard, we decided to gatecrash."
Yoshino-san greeted her cheerfully.
"This area is like a maze. If we didn't know the exact address, we may never have found this place."
Shimako-san remarked, and Sachiko-sama seemed to swell with pride as she answered:
"It is, isn't it. That's why I don't give it out lightly – if you don't know the address, you can't do anything."
"Like the combination to a safe."
Noriko-chan said with a straight face.
"To Sachiko's secret base."
"That's right. My secret base."
Sachiko-sama seemed to be truly happy. So, it really was Sachiko-sama's magnetism that had drawn them here.
"And yourself? How did you go, climbing Mt Fuji?"
Sachiko-sama prodded as she sat down.
"There's not much to say."
"We were aiming to reach the summit at dawn, so we stayed overnight in a mountain hut – although, it was hard to sleep because we were stuffed in there like sardines. Yoshino slept next to the wall, and I was beside her, but next to me was this incredibly obese old woman that snored like a chainsaw. And to top it all off, she tossed and turned in her sleep. It was such a pain."
"How was the rising sun?"
Yoshino-san made the peace sign. This was the first time Yumi had heard the phrase "rising sun" used to refer to watching the day break from the top of a mountain, or that there were spiritual connotations to it. Lillian's Girls Academy was a Catholic school, but Yoshino-san and Rei-sama didn't seem to be too bothered by that.
"But, still, the size of the blisters on my feet."
"Although we went straight to an onsen when we came down from the mountain, so that popped them."
Rei-sama raised her foot slightly above the table, to show everyone. She said she'd worn two pairs of socks, but the unfamiliar climbing boots and mountain trails had taken their toll on the skin of her feet. But despite all that –
Yoshino-san said, acting as though it was no big deal.
"You cheated, Yoshino. You got on a horse half way down."
"Ahh, Rei-chan. I told you not to tell them that."
Her secret revealed, Yoshino-san hit Rei-sama on the shoulder. But this was a bit of a problem, since Rei-sama still had one foot in the air. As a result, she lost her balance and toppled out of her chair. Even so, it was a testament to Rei-sama's agility that the fall had left her more or less unscathed. The only part of her that was even slightly injured was a scrape on her blistered foot. Although, based on that result, it was hard to say whether that was lucky or unlucky given the circumstances.
"And you, Shimako? What have you been up to today?"
Sachiko-sama moved on to inquiring of the White Rose soeurs.
"We've been out on a day-trip visiting various Buddhist statues and churches. We stopped in on our way home."
They surely would have had to change their route so that they could stop in at the villa. But Shimako-san was probably taking into consideration that Sachiko-sama would likely be upset if she'd said, "We went out of our way to come here."
Even so, their eyes sparkled as they talked for the next twenty minutes about their early morning departure from Tokyo, the famous churches they went to, and the stone statues of Kannon that they saw.
Their fun time together seemed to fly by.
When the clock struck four, their visitors said, "We should get going soon," and started preparing to leave.
"You could stay the night if you liked."
Sachiko-sama seemed reluctant to let them leave, but the four guests had to get home, and already had their train tickets, so they couldn't accept her offer.
"You'd be better off coming back with us."
Yoshino-san retorted, as they stood in front of the white nameplate.
"That would be good too."
But Sachiko-sama simply laughed it off, and did not return inside to pack.
"Well then, see you at school."
"Yes, we'll all meet again soon."
Surrounded by Sachiko-sama's beloved greenery, the friends waved goodbye and parted company.
Yumi and Sachiko-sama watched them leave, until their four visitors seemed to disappear into the grove of trees, then silently turned and started walking back to the villa.
Sachiko-sama said. For some reason, Yumi knew exactly what her onee-sama was trying to say from just this.
"Are you sure?"
If that was what her onee-sama had decided, there was nothing more to say. Yumi was in total agreement.
"I'll accompany you to Saionji-sama's villa."
As an aside:
They may have slipped from mind, but let's turn our attention to hair-part and glasses – Miss Yamaguchi Mami and Miss Takeshima Tsutako.
At this time, they were in the same general area as the Yamayurikai council members. Although, the council members were unaware of this.
"At any rate, I never thought I'd run into you out here."
"Yeah, I got quite the shock when I saw you too."
The standard sort of conversation followed, but that's of no particular importance. The pair were delighted to run into each other at this place that seemed both close and far away.
Larch, red pine, Judas tree.
The tall trees formed a natural curtain. Just one step into the woods was enough to feel the temperature drop, like stepping into a cold storage room.
"By the way, Mami-san, didn't you say you were chasing after the White Rose soeurs?"
"Yeah, I was."
Mami's expression soured as she answered.
"But I lost sight of them."
"How did that happen?"
"At a transfer, I missed the bus they got on."
Tsutako nodded. It was easy to imagine the difficulty of covertly following someone when they got on a bus. She'd be running the risk of getting spotted if she got on the bus, but she couldn't exactly follow them if she didn't. And as a high-school student, she could hardly hail a cab and follow after them that way.
"Based on the bus route, I took a guess at which temple they were going to, but..."
"They weren't there."
"Exactly. Imagine my embarrassment."
Mami didn't know if they'd left before she arrived, or if they hadn't been heading to that temple to begin with. She hadn't caught sight of the White Rose soeurs from that point on.
"How about you, Tsutako-san? From memory, you were full of enthusiasm to film the Yellow Rose soeurs' ascent of Mt Fuji."
Mami asked, defensively. Tsutako looked sullen as she answered.
"Well, I had no interest in climbing Mt Fuji myself, so I decided to wait at the bottom of the mountain and film their descent. I'd found out where they were starting their ascent, and where they were staying overnight."
"That's quite the thorough preparation."
"It wasn't nearly good enough. It all came to naught in the end."
"The ascent and descent took different routes. So in all that time waiting, I didn't see them come down the mountain."
"That is most unfortunate."
"I was just reaping what I'd sowed, since I'd gone there based on my own investigation."
Tsutako let out a dry laugh, which lured Mami into laughing too.
After laughing for a little while, they stopped almost simultaneously and asked the other:
"So what are you doing here?"
The base of Mt Fuji and a suburban temple. They'd both lost their targets at different locations, so why were they now both standing in the same woods? That was quite the strange story.
" – I guess we both had the same thought."
"In the end, neither of us could give up on the Red Rose soeurs."
So they'd taken the opportunity to stretch their legs a little and headed here, to the summer vacation spot where the Ogasawara family's villa was located.
If they got lucky, they might run into the Red Rose soeurs. It was a slim chance, but they could still dream.
Despite their different starting points, they'd both arrived at the same location, so they decided to join forces as they tried to deduce the location of the Ogasawara holiday house.
"It's strange, isn't it? There's none of the mansions I was expecting around here."
The type surrounded by high walls, with flawless security systems. They'd been looking for something like Sleeping Beauty's castle – a thorny mansion that repelled outsiders.
"It's the holiday house for the global head of the Ogasawara Group. I thought it'd be easy to find once we got here."
"At the very least, it'd help if the nameplates were a bit more informative."
Mami flicked the white nameplate, which was pretty much the same as every other villa's. A lot of them just had the street number, with no name, or the writing was faded and impossible to read.
"What do you think SAWA means? Is it just Sawa-san? Or is it for Sawada, or Sawamura? Although it could also be Nakazawa or Shiozawa."
"But when the Sawa kanji comes second, it'd be Zawa, not Sawa, wouldn't it?"
"Ah, you're right, that happens a lot."
They moved on as they continued to chat. Preconceived notions are dreadful indeed.
"Thinking about it, there was that one place with tall walls that we passed on the way here. It seemed kind of out of place."
Most of the buildings were cozy, nestled in among the trees, and with low walls.
"So you think that was the Ogasawara's villa?"
"The nameplate clearly had "Kyogoku" written on it."
"Kyogoku isn't Ogasawara."
The pair said, "Hmm," and pondered for a moment.
If things kept going this way, it felt like they wouldn't find the Red Rose soeurs even if they continued searching until the sun went down. On the other hand, they couldn't exactly knock on every door and say, "Is this the Ogasawara's villa?" either.
"I think we've just about hit our time limit, don't you?"
Tsutako said, looking at her watch.
"Yeah. Such a pity though."
They may have been mature beyond their years, but they were still actually just second-year high-school students. They had curfews, and going out without permission was preposterous.
With great reluctance, they headed towards the train station and encountered a phantom.
"Over there … it's the Yellow Rose soeurs."
"Ah, you're right. There's the White Rose soeurs too."
Two famous fairy-tales immediately sprang to mind.
That happy scene that the "Little Match Girl" saw in the flame she lit with her frozen hands.
The painting by Rubens that Nello from "A Dog of Flanders" got to see in his final moments.
Oddly, they were both sad stories set during midwinter.
"What if it's winter, and we're about to freeze to death, having this happy dream of summer as the snow falls around us?"
As a newspaper reporter, Mami usually stuck to the facts, but from this remark it was clear that she hadn't completely denied fantasy.
"If it's a dream then so be it. I'll keep pressing the shutter in that dream until the end."
The camera-geek Tsutako broke into a run – whether it was a dream or reality, she was happy as long as she was taking good photographs.
"You're right. Even if it is a dream, there's nothing to lose by chasing after them. Indeed, a daring assault could net me an interview."
Mami chased after them too.
Although, thinking that this situation could be expanded into a feature article for Lillian Kawaraban's bumper back-to-school / summer vacation edition was counting her chickens before they'd hatched.
So, would she be able to get some good material for an article?
Now was her chance to showcase her skills.
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