Chapter 1:

Not Exactly Déjà Vu

They Bloom in March


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Lying on my mattress, I roll over to my side and check my smartphone. I had woken up five minutes before the alarm went off.

"It's happened again huh..?" I let out a groan.

Without a moment's hesitation, I hop out of bed and get ready for school. As I brush my teeth I occasionally glance at the calendar opposite the bathroom door.

May 1st, 2015―a date I'm all too familiar with.

Exams are coming up and my first semester as a 2nd-year high schooler is nearing its end. But that's not all that awaits me in the coming weeks.

"Big sis..!" I hear a voice from downstairs. "You're up aren't you? Could you help me out with breakfast?"

As usual, Michiko has a head start over me. Honestly, that girl's way too diligent for a middle schooler. When it comes to taking charge, she has me beat.

"I'll be down in a minute!" I shout back as I finish putting on my sailor uniform.

Tying the worn red ribbon around my neck, I saunter up to my dressing table and inspect my equally worn appearance in the mirror. The dark circles under my eyes have always complimented the frayed black tresses that draped over my shoulders.

Put it plainly, I was never one to properly groom myself.

"Perhaps I should try something different for a change..?" I run my fingers through my unkempt locks of hair.

"Big sis!" Michiko grows audibly impatient. "I'll burn the house down by the time you get here!"

"A-ah! Coming!" I take my bag and hastily make my way downstairs.

On the way to Michiko's aid, I bump into Yuchiko, our youngest sister. The grade-schooler sleepily shuffles out of her room still wearing her pajamas.

"You're being too loud..." she yawns.

"It's already morning Yuchiko. You'll be late for school if you don't get dressed."

"Okaaay~!"

She turns around and shambles back into her room.

"Well, I don't have to worry about her falling asleep again. She definitely stays awake in the end..."

Keeping that in mind, I hurry down the creaky steps of our quaint countryside home and give Michiko a hand with the cooking. She pouts as I strap my apron on.

"What took you so long?" she puffs up her cheeks.

"Sorry, sorry," I begin flattening the hamburger balls Michiko had already prepared. "I was a little distracted by a nightmare I had last night."

"Oh? What kind of nightmare was it?"

"The kind where I relived the same month over and over again."

And that nightmare was a reality that I, Amane Sachiko, was living through. This is the second loop I'm experiencing and, as it did in the previous loop, it starts on May 1st.

"Eh..? Sounds like a sweet dream to me..." my sister brings a cup of water to our grandfather at the dining table. "Ah, here you go, gramps."

The old man weakly looks up at her and inclines his head with a toothless smile. Though he's our legal guardian, we sisters often find ourselves taking care of him.

It isn't easy being the eldest sister.

Not only am I a student at a prestigious private academy, but I'm also the one responsible for the goings-on in this household. I take care of most of the cooking, the cleaning, and the shopping, and I keep track of our finances for the foreseeable future.

Michiko makes an effort to help, but even then I still feel the burden of responsibility weighing down on me. Making matters worse is...

"Watch out!" I swiftly lean over the dining table and grab the cup from toppling over. "Take care when you get up, gramps. It would be a pain to clean up right before school starts."

"Woah Big Sis, nice catch!" Michiko gazes at me in awe.

...This time loop. The days always play out the same.

With this foreknowledge, I possess the ability to tug on the weave of fate. To change the timeline is a responsibility no human should ever have, and so I was reluctant to do anything different in the previous loop.

However, as nothing came from my adherence to my moral obligations and I still find myself replaying this point in time, I've decided to change the future as I see fit.

Starting with the incident that would've resulted in me being late for school had I let it happen.

"I'm not arriving late this time..." I quietly say to myself.

"Hm, what was that?" Michiko tilts her head as she catches some of my words.

"Ah... could you prepare our lunchboxes? The hamburger steaks are nearly done."

"Oh, right! Could you also check the miso I was making? They should also be done."

"Roger that..."

Regardless of which timeline it is, our mornings never fail to be hectic.

Finishing our breakfasts, we three sisters bid our grandfather farewell and go our separate ways. As Michiko and Yuchiko go to the same local school, they depart together, leaving me to mull over my quandary by myself.

"See you, Big Sis!" Michiko waves goodbye to me from afar.

"Mm... catch ya later..." a drowsy Yuchiko strings along behind her.

I wave back at them before clutching my bag. Their utterances were exactly the same as the last two times, verbatim. There is no getting out of this―I have to go through this month again.

Striding down the sequestered old path toward the tall school building in the distance, I take in the environment.

Soaked in a golden bath of sunlight are detached houses and cottages that sparsely line the asphalt road. They seamlessly blend with the greenery and nearby mountains that mark the fringes of Ishimura Village.

While rural and old-fashioned, its charm is not lost on me, as it is a place I call home. Its old and infirmed inhabitants always greet me as I pass by them. And I smile fondly, thinking about how this place has never changed since childhood.

But as I reach the town a steep slope away from this cozy little hamlet, my smile drops.

Realizing I've witnessed this exact string of events before introduces a unique kind of monotony. One that's on a whole other level than thoughtlessly drifting through life.

It's dreadfully boring, knowing what ensues.

As pondering the nature of this predicament only leads to dead ends, I choose to bear with it and see where it takes me.

Arriving at school on time today is undoubtedly a new experience. That's one less tardy mark for me.

With students flooding the entrance, I quickly change into my indoor shoes and hurry to my classroom. So far, this is uncharted territory for me.

Alas, that changes as the bell rings and everyone scrambles to get into their chairs. The view from the front seat grows increasingly familiar. I'm filled with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.

Well, not exactly déjà vu.

"Alright everyone, take your seats." Mr. Kizawa steps into the classroom and pushes his thick-rimmed spectacles up against the bridge of his slender nose.

And the day proceeds as it always has.

Halfway through homeroom is around the time I arrived in the previous loop. Past that point, it's crystal clear what happens next.

First-period math class covers differential equations, second-period English covers compound-complex sentences, third-period Japanese class, taught by Mr. Kizawa, covers the novel we were reading, and so forth. Not a single divergence from the past reality.

And the linoleum floor squeaks as I head over to the chemistry lab for the fourth period. In the middle of my short walk down the hallway, I peer out from the window at the courtyard. There, I spot a classmate of mine digging through the school fountain.

"Oh, she's from my class. Her name was... Katsuragi right..?" I recall as I watch her. "Why is she―"

Then it comes back to me.

The girl pulls out a wet lunchbox, immediately reminding me of something Mr. Katsuragi will bring up in the upcoming homeroom. In an instant, my blood runs cold.

"What a cruel joke..." I hasten my pace and grit my teeth, feigning ignorance.

There's nothing I can do about it.

Or so I think until I stand rooted to the ground, unable to move forward. This strong urge to intervene comes with the perfect justification.

"If it's just going to repeat again," I clench my fists, "what's the harm in ditching class for a bit?"

And I furtively scurry to the courtyard, where a despondent Katsuragi stares at her ruined food.

"H-hey..!" I call out to her without thinking.

The girl turns to me and blurts out, "Eh?"

I'm not the greatest communicator and I awkwardly stumble over my words before settling on a passable excuse.

"I-I..." I stutter. "I-I have this sister, right? And she helps me cook at home..."

What am I talking about? Where am I going with this?

"And, uh, today," I continue, "she decided, on a whim, to make my lunchbox. So... I was wondering..."

"You were wondering..?" Katsuragi wears a puzzled expression.

"C-could you help me rate her lunchbox... or something like that..?"

A lengthy lull follows as the girl deciphers my roundabout invitation to have lunch together. And I sweat buckets as if it's the middle of July. The air stagnates as the academy's students settle into their respective classrooms.

Breaking this immense pressure is an answer that cuts through the silence like a knife through butter.

"Mm... sure!" the girl's face brightens up.

And it is here that my fateful encounter with Katsuragi begins.

An eventual friendship that leads to an inevitable tragedy.

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