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!”

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.

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.

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

“How was it? Is it good?”

I stared at her in anticipation.

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

“M-mom…?”

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

‘Mom, did you know something…?’

I can’t ask her anymore.

And yet, I somehow got a hint.

The paintings that I made back then…

It was places all over Nekoji Academy.

I stared at the ceiling of my room.

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

There are too many questions on my mind.

I’m confused…

__

“Fuwaaa~~”

A yawned escaped from my lips early in the morning.

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.

The time surely flies by quickly.

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.

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

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

“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.

“Sure! Let’s go!”

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

“Ah! Senpai! You cut yourself!”

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

“Oh! You’re right!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

SLAM!

Or not…

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

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

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.

“Oh… thank—”

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!

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

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

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

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.

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

“Y-yes…”

“See? She’s slacking off.”

“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.

“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.

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

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

“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!”

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

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

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

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

“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.

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

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.

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

__

“There. That will do for now.”

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

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

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.

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

“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.”

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!

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

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

“A-ahaha…”

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.

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

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

“Who was the first one?”

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

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

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

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

Eh? He’s not angry?

“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.”

“I could imagine…”

“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.”

The two of them are really close…

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

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

“Yes. I’m still going to proceed.”

“Do you have a plan?”

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

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

“I shouldn’t have trusted you.”

“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.

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

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.

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

Must be nice to have a brother-like figure.

__

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

Pumping up myself, I stared at the sky.

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.

I sighed to myself.

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

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.

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

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

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!

Wait!

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

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

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

Oh! He stopped!

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

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.

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

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.

Did he leave me?

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

AAAAAH! I LOST HIM!!

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!

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

“I lost Kurokawa-senpai.”

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

Eh?

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.

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

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

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

“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.”

“Take me with you.”

“B-but…”

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

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?

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

__

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Kurokawa-senpai…

It’s alright. He is still 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.

Alright, I’ll ask him now!

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

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

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.

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

“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.”

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

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

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…

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

If it was sad, why are you smiling?

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.

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

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

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.

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

To cry.

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

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

I cried like a child.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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

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!

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

“Eh? That’s it?”

He nodded.

My mind became blank all of a sudden.

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

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

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

Gaaah! Damn it!

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

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.

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

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

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

“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.”

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

“Senpai… hic…”

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.

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

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

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

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

“Can I call you Hikari?”

Eh? My first name?

“Y-yes… it’s okay.”

“Thank you, Hikari-san.”

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

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.

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

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

“R-Really?!”

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

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

Well… about my plans… forget it.

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

“Kurokawa…”

“Hmm?”

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

Hmm? What was that?

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.

I glanced towards Mom’s picture in my room.

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

__

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

Hades
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kazesenken
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