Chapter 22:

Final Preparations

Cat's Hour ~猫の時間~


“Mom! Look! Sensei praised my painting! She said that I could become an artist someday!” Bookmark here

I gave a wide smile to my mother while holding a canvas of a painting that I did in my art subject back in fourth grade. Bookmark here

My eyes sparkled in confidence from being praised by my teacher, and I also wanted to be praised by Mom for making such a great painting.Bookmark here

“Oh, dear. Let’s see your painting.” With a gentle smile like always, Mom patted my head and held the painting in her hands.Bookmark here

“How was it? Is it good?” Bookmark here

I stared at her in anticipation. Bookmark here

She froze. Her expression faltered for a moment which made me anxious whether she doesn’t like the painting or I did a mistake.Bookmark here

“M-mom…?”Bookmark here

“Ah! Sorry, Hikari-chan! I was out of it.” She chuckled awkwardly. “It’s… a pretty painting.”Bookmark here

There was an unusual pause. But because I’m just a clueless child at that time, I just shrugged it off.Bookmark here

“Really? Then, I’ll make more painting!”Bookmark here

I was a naïve girl at that time. I made paintings innocently. I’m not the kind of person to think about what I’m painting, I just simply dipped the brush and do whatever comes to mind.Bookmark here

Nature, places, scenery, it was mostly like that. Sometimes, I also painted some cats on the picture. Everyone praised the paintings.Bookmark here

However, Mom always have a complicated expression whenever she looked at my paintings.Bookmark here

“Hikari-chan, can I please ask you to stop painting?” she said to me, her voice shaking out of worry.Bookmark here

After seeing my mother like that, I gave up painting. Bookmark here

It’s not like I have a hard feelings towards Mom. I was still young at that time so I forgot about it eventually.Bookmark here

I’m more confused as to why she made me stop painting. Her suspicious actions at that time. I ignored it before, thinking that it was irrelevant.Bookmark here

‘Mom, did you know something…?’Bookmark here

I can’t ask her anymore.Bookmark here

And yet, I somehow got a hint.Bookmark here

The paintings that I made back then…Bookmark here

It was places all over Nekoji Academy.Bookmark here

I stared at the ceiling of my room.Bookmark here

“Did I somehow wander in this school when I was young? Why did I made those paintings? I don’t understand a thing…”Bookmark here

There are too many questions on my mind. Bookmark here

I’m confused…Bookmark here

__Bookmark here

“Fuwaaa~~”Bookmark here

A yawned escaped from my lips early in the morning. Bookmark here

Today is Saturday, and we don’t have classes. However, everyone in the student council will be working today to finalize the preparations for the Sports Festival which will be held on Monday.Bookmark here

The time surely flies by quickly.Bookmark here

It’s been three months since I came here. I got used to living here with everyone and I’m also looking forward to work with them throughout the year.Bookmark here

But I don’t have the time to think of anything right now! I need to finish making the decorations for the festival!Bookmark here

“Are you okay, Senpai-chan? How about a break?” Toujo-kun worriedly asked with a frown.Bookmark here

“I’m okay. I just didn’t sleep well last night. We’re about to finish here so let’s keep going!” I gave him a reassuring smile.Bookmark here

“Sure! Let’s go!”Bookmark here

And with that, we continued working with the decorations. We sorted out colored papers and cut them into different patterns.Bookmark here

“Ah! Senpai! You cut yourself!”Bookmark here

I flinched when I realized that there’s a paper cut on my finger. Bookmark here

“Oh! You’re right!”Bookmark here

“Did I hear someone cut themselves?” Sharp eyes peeked on the creak of the door as it sent shivers down my spine. Bookmark here

I stood quickly out of reflex and gulped out of fear. Bookmark here

Haibara-kun will definitely come for my head again! And he will use that cursed liquid again! No way!Bookmark here

“Toujo-kun, I leave everything to your capable hands.” I saluted at him.Bookmark here

“Wait!! Terushima-senpai!! Don’t run! We need to tend your wound first!” Bookmark here

I heard Haibara-kun calling out to me but I didn’t turn back and just jumped in the window for my escape route.Bookmark here

It was a good thing that we’re on the first floor so I quickly got away from him. Bookmark here

I ran farther from that place in order to hold on my dear life. I don’t want to suffer that horrible experience again! This time, I’m not surrounded so I’m safe!Bookmark here

SLAM!Bookmark here

Or not…Bookmark here

I bumped into someone in the middle of my runaway. The impact was too much for me that I found myself falling.Bookmark here

AAAAAH! Who was that?! Why now of all times?!Bookmark here

I closed my eyes tightly and waited for myself to land on my butt. However, that didn’t happen. I was forcefully pulled on my wrist which somehow prevented me from falling.Bookmark here

“Oh… thank—”Bookmark here

My eyes widened when I met the cold gaze of the person that I bumped into. I started sweating bullets as I desperately looked away from his smiling yet threatening face. It’s the white demon!Bookmark here

“Let’s hear what you have to say, Terushima-san.”Bookmark here

Uuu… I got away from Haibara-kun but I ended up bumping into Mashiro-senpai instead! Did my luck ran out today? Bookmark here

“She escaped from the office,” a voice from above butted in.Bookmark here

I squinted my eyes and tried to look for the person in question. On top of a nearby tree, there was Mikejima-kun lying in one of the branches, playing a game on his handheld console, like a carefree cat without hardships, just stuck on top of the tree and doesn’t have a plan to go down.Bookmark here

“Is that true, Terushima-san?” Mashiro-senpai interrogated.Bookmark here

“Y-yes…”Bookmark here

“See? She’s slacking off.” Bookmark here

“I’m not! I just ran for my dear life! How about you, Mikejima-kun? You’re the one who is slacking!” I retorted back at him.Bookmark here

“Heh. That’s where you’re wrong, Terushima. Aoi and I finished our work earlier, we’re just waiting for kaichou’s signature and we’re good.” He cockily huffed.Bookmark here

Urghh… I really want to wipe off that smug on his face!Bookmark here

“Alright, stop. What do you mean running for your life? Did something happen to the office?” Mashiro-senpai sighed tiredly.Bookmark here

“Yes! Haibara-kun is targeting me again! He will use that ominous substance on the paper cut!” I whined at them and showed the small wound on my finger. “He will make a big deal out of it again!”Bookmark here

The two of them fell silent and stared at me, dumbfounded, as if I said something absurd.Bookmark here

“Mou! It’s a serious thing! Don’t give me that look!”Bookmark here

“It’s alcohol again…” Mikejima yawned, showing his disinterest. Bookmark here

“Haah… fine. Come with me, Terushima-san.”Bookmark here

“W-where are we going? You’re not going to call Haibara-kun, are you?” I shivered in fear as I held my hand tightly and defended it from him.Bookmark here

“Just stop whining,” he simply said and gave me sidelong glance, probably saying that I shouldn’t think of going against him. Bookmark here

I swallowed everything, my saliva, my pride, my freedom out of fear. Please pray for my soul to rest peacefully, if worse comes to worst. Bookmark here

“Rest in peace, Terushima.” Mikejima-kun sent me off.Bookmark here

__Bookmark here

“There. That will do for now.” Bookmark here

“Uwaah! This is amazing, Mashiro-senpai!” I exclaimed with my eyes sparkling in admiration.Bookmark here

“It’s nothing. Stop making a big deal out of it.” He nonchalantly said.Bookmark here

He took me in the dorm and fixed my small cut. Just when I thought that he’s going to use the cursed liquid and I’m preparing myself to take off, he took out a container with ointment. Compared to the ominous substance called alcohol that will make your wound hurt 100x than the wound itself, the ointment doesn’t sting at all.Bookmark here

“What is this, Mashiro-senpai? Is it a magic potion? It doesn’t sting at all and it also has a nice floral fragrance!”.Bookmark here

“Magic potion… huh. It’s just an ointment. Anyone can make it with aloe vera, medicinal plants and add some flowers for fragrance. It’s not that special.”Bookmark here

What does he mean it’s not special? Is this guy for real? Not anyone could make an amazing ointment like this! I’d rather take it than all damned alcohol in the world!Bookmark here

“What are you saying, senpai?! Of course, it’s special! It’s a great innovation! This will change the world!”Bookmark here

“You’re just saying that because you hate alcohol.”Bookmark here

“A-ahaha…”Bookmark here

I won’t deny that. I actually said it because I just want to get rid of that damned thing. I didn’t think that I would be find out right away. Bookmark here

“You’re the second person that said that to me,” he mumbled.Bookmark here

I paused for a moment and glanced at him. He held the ointment container tightly, as if protecting it with his hands dearly.Bookmark here

“Who was the first one?”Bookmark here

His eyes widened after hearing my question. However, he didn’t say anything and just stared at me in bewilderment.Bookmark here

I got confused since he’s not saying anything but when realization hit me, I swiftly covered my mouth.Bookmark here

T-this damned mouth! I spoke without thinking again! Uuu… I’m really digging my own grave because of this habit of mine.Bookmark here

When I thought that he’ll lash out at me, he just sighed in defeat. Bookmark here

Eh? He’s not angry?Bookmark here

“It was kaichou. He wants to raise a plant despite having a black thumb and when I showed him how to properly raise it, he was so amazed and said that it would be nice if I could plant more flowers and fill the world with it.”Bookmark here

“I could imagine…”Bookmark here

“He said that I could change the world as if it was a simple thing to do. It was foolish, right?” Mashiro-senpai stared in a faraway nothingness, a solemn look on his face is noticeable. “In the end, I couldn’t change anything.”Bookmark here

The two of them are really close…Bookmark here

“Terushima-san, are you really going to ask him directly? About what we talked about…”Bookmark here

He faced me, a look of determination painted his face.Bookmark here

“Yes. I’m still going to proceed.” Bookmark here

“Do you have a plan?”Bookmark here

“Of course… not. I’m going to think of one when the opportunity presents itself!” I enthusiastically said to lift up the atmosphere.Bookmark here

He covered his face with his hands and heaved out a long sigh out of frustration. Bookmark here

“I shouldn’t have trusted you.”Bookmark here

“But you don’t have a choice, we need to make him talk and Mashiro-senpai can’t do it because you’re weak to Kurokawa-senpai,” I said in a matter of fact tone.Bookmark here

“Alright, fine. But you should be careful when talking to him, do you understand?”Bookmark here

Ahaha, what is this pressure again? Mashiro-senpai is really intimidating when we’re talking about Kurokawa-senpai. It was as if he was an overprotective brother to him. Bookmark here

It’s not bad, it’s actually lovely when you think about it.Bookmark here

Must be nice to have a brother-like figure.Bookmark here

__Bookmark here

We finished our final preparations for the festival. Apparently, Kurokawa-senpai made it possible for us to wrap up everything quickly so we could have a day-off tomorrow and have some rest before the D-Day. Bookmark here

I spent the rest of the day playing around with cats, practicing dance with Mikejima-kun even for a few moment, having tea break with the others and observing Kurokawa-senpai for monitoring him. He looks stable throughout the day so that was a relief. Bookmark here

What’s more bothering me right now are the paintings that I made when I was young. Bookmark here

I’m thinking of talking to Hanako-san but… I was turned down in the entrance. Bookmark here

She said that she’s protecting the toilet until the Sports Festival is over and asked me to return on a later date. Well, it was understandable because students that want to play hooky on the event will hide in the toilets so they can’t participate. Hanako-san might be executing drastic measures so no one would dare to come close to her territory. Bookmark here

I just decided to go back to the student council building. Bookmark here

I really ran out of luck today. I better put that painting problems on hold right now. I’m going to think of what’s in front of me first. Bookmark here

Alright, Hikari! There is no turning back! Let’s just charge forward!Bookmark here

Pumping up myself, I stared at the sky. Bookmark here

It has been cloudy for the past few days, but there is no rain. Since the spring is also about to end, the sakura flowers are falling from the trees, leaving a barren branch, where they once bloomed.Bookmark here

I sighed to myself.Bookmark here

I’m just making myself depressed with this train of thoughts, I better distract myself!Bookmark here

When I passed by the torii on my way to the building, I noticed someone walking towards to the deeper part of the forest. They are carrying a paper bag, I’m not sure what was the contents of that bag but there’s something that caught my attention anyway.Bookmark here

Black cat ears are sticking up from that person’s head. Bookmark here

It’s Kurokawa-senpai! What is he going to do deep in the woods?Bookmark here

I was contemplating whether I should follow him or not because I may look like a stalker if I did, but… who cares about that?! I’m going to follow him! Bookmark here

Wait!Bookmark here

This is a chance! I could convince him when there are no other people with us. Alright, let’s tail him!Bookmark here

I continued watching his movements while moving to hide from one tree to another.Bookmark here

A while has passed and the sun finally sets. The night came while we’re still on the forest.Bookmark here

Oh! He stopped! Bookmark here

He turned to look behind him so I quickly hid myself on the closest tree.Bookmark here

I could hear footsteps coming closer to my direction. Sounds of dried leaves being stepped on is heard clearly. I swallowed a lump on my throat and prepared myself for the worst.Bookmark here

To think that I will be found out, I’ve been careless. Bookmark here

I waited for him to come and confront me but even after a few minutes, it didn’t came just as I expected. And what’s more, the surrounding turned quiet all of a sudden that I could only hear the hustling of leaves from the wind. There are no more sounds of incoming footsteps.Bookmark here

Did he leave me?Bookmark here

I took a peek from behind the tree and scanned my eyes around.Bookmark here

AAAAAH! I LOST HIM!!Bookmark here

I covered my face in frustration. There is a high chance that he noticed my presence and intentionally did it so I’ll lost my track of him. This is Kurokawa-senpai we are talking about! Bookmark here

“Are you looking for something?” someone asked but I was still in despair so I just plainly answered them. Bookmark here

“I lost Kurokawa-senpai.”Bookmark here

“Hmm? So you’re really following me, Terushima-san?”Bookmark here

Eh?Bookmark here

My eyes widened in surprise as I slowly removed the hands on my face to look behind me. There, Kurokawa-senpai was staring at me, a worried expression on his face tells that he’s not expecting me to follow him here.Bookmark here

Well, I also did it on a whim so I’m guilty since I’m busted anyway.Bookmark here

“What are you doing here, Terushima-san? It’s dangerous to wander off here during the night.”Bookmark here

“About that… I saw Kurokawa-senpai going here so I got curious. How about you, senpai? Why are you here?”Bookmark here

I gave him a serious look, showing my great determination that I won’t back down until I hear a proper answer from him. He stared at me for a moment but soon took a deep sigh of defeat.Bookmark here

“I’m going to give my prayers to the spirits that passed on. I was planning on praying in the deeper part of the forest.” Bookmark here

“Take me with you.”Bookmark here

“B-but…”Bookmark here

“Take. Me. With. You.” I repeated while stressing every word to him.Bookmark here

I can’t possibly let him go alone now that we still don’t have a clue about his situation. Who knows if he will disappear on us without a word? Bookmark here

In the end, he was left with no other choice but to let me tag along.Bookmark here

__Bookmark here

In the middle of the dense forest, there was a solitary stone slab standing there. No other trees are surrounding the five-meter vicinity of the stone which made it possible to see the cloudy night sky.Bookmark here

Kurokawa-senpai lit up some incense and put the offerings in front of the stone, a red rose, a sakura mochi and a game disk. It won’t take a genius what those three things meant. Bookmark here

A red rose that means love, it was for Ai-san. The sakura mochi is for Sakura-chan. And lastly, the game disk for the otaku ghost, Ono-san.Bookmark here

Kurokawa-senpai clasped his hands together and closed his eyes, I also did the same and started praying.Bookmark here

I’m wishing for everyone to be happy in their next life. They may have faced something horrible in this life so I could only wish for them to passed on in peace.Bookmark here

After I finished my prayers, I opened my eyes and glanced over Kurokawa-senpai. He’s still praying intently, he might have too much to pray because of his responsibility as a guardian of the school and the president of the student council that deals with the spirits.Bookmark here

I can’t help but observe his side profile. His black messy hair that almost covered his eyes. The deep eye bags as a proof of sleepless nights and hard work. His pale skin, his thin limbs, he looks so weak yet so strong. I was standing beside him but it was as if he would disappear in the blink of an eye.Bookmark here

Kurokawa-senpai…Bookmark here

It’s alright. He is still here.Bookmark here

He finished praying as well but we didn’t head back yet. The two of us remained there, silently gazing up the sky. No one spoke a word. Bookmark here

Alright, I’ll ask him now!Bookmark here

My mouth opened and was about to speak when he beat me into it.Bookmark here

“Terushima-san, what do you think about the spirits haunting the school?”Bookmark here

He threw such a vague question to me that made me feel silent. They have different reactions when I met them, Ai-san wants to be loved, Sakura-chan wants to find her way back, Ono-san hates someone. Bookmark here

They all have various reasons that it can’t be generalized.Bookmark here

“All these years, spirits wandered the school, only few people could perceive them, not to mention that most of the people are afraid of anything unordinary. They are bound to wander this school because of their grudge, lingering attachments or other circumstances, unable to pass on, forgotten and ignored.”Bookmark here

It was… kind of sad. It makes my heart clench for some reasons that I don’t know.Bookmark here

“But they are still there… watching the living in envy, because for once, there is also a point where they are alive.”Bookmark here

Why… why does that sound like there is something wrong? I feel anxious, the way he said it seems like he was talking as if there is another meaning behind. It’s leaving bad taste in my mouth…Bookmark here

“What do you think, Terushima-san? It’s a sad story, isn’t it?” he asked to me with a smile.Bookmark here

If it was sad, why are you smiling?Bookmark here

No matter how much I want to speak my thoughts right now, it won’t come out. I bit my lip in frustration and just nodded at him in agreement.Bookmark here

Why can’t I speak when it was important?! Damn it! At this rate, I won’t be able to convince Kurokawa-senpai!Bookmark here

“Say, Terushima-san, what do you think about becoming the student council president?” he nonchalantly said as he looked up above the night sky.Bookmark here

I froze in my place when I heard what he said. My eyes widened and my mouth agape. Mixed feelings started stirring up my heart. I don’t know how to respond.Bookmark here

A part of me wants to shout at him, another part wants to slap him, and the strongest one was…Bookmark here

To cry.Bookmark here

Tears rolled down my cheeks continuously, no matter how much I wiped them, there’s no end to it.Bookmark here

“Senpai… hic… don’t go… hic… please…” I said in between my sobs.Bookmark here

I cried like a child. Bookmark here

Maybe because I know how painful it is to lose someone dear to me, I don’t want to have the repeat of the past. Bookmark here

If I got the chance, I would also beg my mother not to leave me. But that was a hopeless wish, she left me so suddenly that I didn’t even have a chance to say anything to her.Bookmark here

However, Kurokawa-senpai is still here. I could beg him to stay. I have a chance, he’s not going to leave us all of a sudden. He’s not like my mother that left suddenly. We could still do something.Bookmark here

“Terushima… san? W-why are you crying? It’s okay if you don’t want to become the president, I understand…” he freaked out when he saw that I was crying.Bookmark here

“THAT’S NOT IT!! HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT EASILY?! ARE YOU LEAVING US?!”Bookmark here

I finally gave up on holding my emotions in. My words burst out naturally. I couldn’t careless if he will act vulnerable now! I just want to take it off my chest!Bookmark here

“B-but… I just want to recommend you for being president next year…”Bookmark here

“Eh? That’s it?”Bookmark here

He nodded.Bookmark here

My mind became blank all of a sudden. Bookmark here

He’s just trying to recommend me to become the president next year? What was all that dramatic monologue for?!Bookmark here

Aaaaaah! I hate myself! Someone, please kill me!Bookmark here

I fell to my knees since the tension finally left my body. Bookmark here

Gaaah! Damn it!Bookmark here

I wiped my tears with my hands. What was all these tears for?!Bookmark here

In the middle of my internal hating, I noticed Kurokawa-senpai squatting in front of me. After a while, he gave me a pat in the head. Bookmark here

“What are you saying, Terushima-san? I won’t leave.”Bookmark here

Instead of making my tears stop, I just bawled my eyes out again.Bookmark here

He said that before… I just hope that he is true to his words.Bookmark here

“I’m not going anywhere, Terushima-san. I’ll stay here. I’ll stay in Nekoji Academy, in the student council. Please don’t cry anymore.”Bookmark here

His words sound so reassuring… it was as if he lifted the uneasiness in my heart all of a sudden.Bookmark here

“Senpai… hic…” Bookmark here

He took out a handkerchief and wiped my face with it. I didn’t say anything, I just behaved myself and let him wipe my tears.Bookmark here

“You’re working with everyone to help me, right? Thank you for that.” He smiled at me. Bookmark here

It was the first time that I saw his genuine smile. It was so blinding. Bookmark here

Is this how he smiles before he became weak-willed? Bookmark here

I understand how Mashiro-senpai feels now. It was so charming as if it was a cheat!Bookmark here

“Can I call you Hikari?”Bookmark here

Eh? My first name?Bookmark here

“Y-yes… it’s okay.”Bookmark here

“Thank you, Hikari-san.”Bookmark here

It was just my first name… but I can’t keep myself from smiling. Bookmark here

It was the first time someone called me by my first name here. It was different from when someone is saying my full name when they are angry. It was different from how my parents addressed me. Bookmark here

I like how Kurokawa-senpai said it. It feels so natural. It made me feel like I have a place where I finally belong. Bookmark here

“Hikari-san, I’ll tell my situation to everyone tomorrow.”Bookmark here

“R-Really?!”Bookmark here

“Un. I think I should tell them now. They might hate me for hiding it so I need to prepare my heart.”Bookmark here

Does that mean he will finally tell us?! Yay! I don’t need to force him anymore!Bookmark here

Well… about my plans… forget it.Bookmark here

“Let’s head back now, Kurokawa-senpai!” I exclaimed in delight.Bookmark here

“Kurokawa…”Bookmark here

“Hmm?”Bookmark here

“Y-you can call me Yu— No, it’s okay…”Bookmark here

Hmm? What was that?Bookmark here

Shrugging that off, the two of us returned to the dorm. We got scolded by everyone for coming home late but we still have our dinner together. After that, I also told Mashiro-senpai that Kurokawa-senpai will finally tell us his situation. He was also glad to know it.Bookmark here

I glanced towards Mom’s picture in my room. Bookmark here

“I hope everything goes well tomorrow. Good night, Mom.”Bookmark here

__Bookmark here

That day, the rain poured heavily, the thunders roared loudly, it was as if the sky was agonizing and grieving with us.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Hades
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kazesenken
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-june-
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Bookmarked
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