Most coffee shops have a cosy atmosphere, according to my point of view. They are places where you can sit for hours as you have a nice drink and eat a delicious pastry. Nonetheless, in Shirakawa, people came here just to kill time instead of going to the ones in Takayama. Sure, the ones there are bigger, and have a wider selection of drinks and food, as well as many popular brands, but nothing could beat gazing through the windows and falling in love with nature all over again. As the light that will soon fade away shines inside the shop, it reflects off the teapots and coffee mugs that are on the shelf in all different shapes and forms, and with the reflection, it creates swirls of colours on the tables and the floor, which makes the coffee shop seem bigger than it really is.
One thing that charms me about Hina’s is that they honour their name, displaying a wide arrange of Hina Dolls on their endless shelves. Few people were inside, admiring them while sitting on the mahogany bar while waiting for their delightful beverage.
The rich aroma of coffee and coffee beans that wafts in coffee shop Hina pleasantly hits our nose once we entered while I tried to omit the embarrassing scene I caused a few minutes ago. The air was filled with happy murmurs, laughter here, a shriek there, and of course the sound of coffee presses and coffee brewers.
We sat down at one of the tables for four people since we wanted to talk face to face. I could see students from Takayama that lived here intently studying and working on those machines called laptops. I couldn’t wrap the concept of it clearly, since I’m a disaster with technology, so I always found it perplexing how a portable machine could do the same as a big PC. Shinji and Manabu had told me many times that that’s not how it works, but they gave up since according to them I was way too stubborn to even try to understand the main difference.
A waiter comes by, leaving the menu on the table. Yuiko looked like an excited puppy on their first outing, getting distracted by looking at every single detail the café had to offer. I felt a warm sensation blooming in my chest, it was nice, cosy, homely even.
As if flowers could bloom right in the middle of this cold season.
“What do you recommend, Yui?” Her sudden, sweet as honey voice made me come back to reality.
“Oh… All the desserts are good! Depends on what you like. Now that I think about it, what type of sweets do you like, Yuiko?” I replied casually while opening the menu and staring at all the options. “I feel bad for not asking you what kind of sweets you liked beforehand, I know you said you liked them but we all have some we rather eat or not… the sandwiches are great too!”
I raised up my head from the light-blue menu, to see an expression I did not expect at all.
It wasn’t sorrow nor melancholy, it wasn’t sadness nor frustration. Her face was as impeccable as ever, her brilliant, satsuma-coloured eyes were brilliant and her frown wasn’t upside down. Regardless, I could feel inside myself that something was wrong, troubling her.
“I like cheesecake.” Yuiko blinked thrice and went back to the menu. “Oh, toast is written properly here, how curious.”
I can’t explain it properly, but why does her answer sound void and empty?
“Then, let’s get you one! Hmm, although they only have the Japanese type and not the overseas one. Is that fine?”
Her colours are fading.
“Alrighty then,” I called out to the waiter, who happily asked what our orders were. “One cheesecake, one pound cake, a hot milk tea and…”
Oh, no. I forgot to ask her what she wanted to drink!
“One Peruvian coffee please, no sugar.” Yuiko finished off with a gentle smile.
Once the gentleman was away from my view, I was about to profusely apologise like always, but my dear friend extended her right hand, offering me her flip phone.
“You had to make a call, right?”
“Yes, thank you!”
Forgetting everything, I immediately took it and went outside in order to not bother the other customers, nor let any suspicions of me living with someone arise. Once I stepped outside the door, it was freezing. The temperature was slowly becoming lower, and my knees were becoming ice cubes. I had to make the call as quick as possible.
I dialled up.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
Come on, pick-up! That’s so weird, why wouldn’t Nobuyuki answer the phone immediately?
Ring. Ring. Ring.
Maybe he’s having another spa treatment with items from a local store? Like that one time, he was randomly having some pedicure…
“Ah! Nobuyuki, why did it take you so long to—”
Hello, you’ve called the Samidare residence. Yui speaking! Thank you for calling. I can’t answer the phone right now. Please leave a message after the beep.
I was incredibly astounded.
I tried at least five more times, but the same automated message happened. I started to believe that maybe he had gone out, and with no way of letting me know, he probably wrote up a memo pad for me to see once I got home from school. Hopefully, my outing with Yuiko ended before he came back.
“Hi, Nobuyuki. It’s me, Yui. Don’t worry, about me, I’m okay. Wait, no, that sounds as if I were in danger, scratch that. Anyway, I was calling to let you know I went out with a friend today after school, and I will be a tad late. Not too late but yeah. Um, so don’t worry about me and don’t harass nor stalk my friends to see where I am, that would be highly disturbing even if you were to do so transformed as a dog. Well, that’s all. Also, don’t panic if you don’t see my phone number on the receiver, my battery died and I borrowed my friend’s phone. That’s all, bye.”
I spoke as quickly as possible as if I were a machine bullet gun.
“I know he’s a smart cookie, he has already probably deduced how to listen to voicemails.” I tried to convince myself while going back inside the shop.
The tiny chime at the door greeted me, its melody wrenching my heart. Sure, I wanted to speak with Yuiko but what exactly were we even going to talk about? I wanted to ask her a particular question but, how should I do it? Straight-out? Nonchalantly? Casually? Directly?
My head hurts.
“Yui, quick!” Yuiko waved her hand, excited. “The food is already here and your milk tea is getting cold.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” I quickly sat down and noticed that once I gave her her flip phone back, she started taking pictures of both of our plates.
Her cheesecake was simple. Nonetheless, it came in a beautifully adorned plate that accentuated Shirakawa’s beauty with it having lovely mountains, flowers and a river. On top of the dessert, a mint leaf had been carefully placed to make the sweet pop into the eye. It was certainly cute and it sort of made me feel bad of destroying it in order to eat it if that were me. Apparently, Yuiko thought the same since she was carefully arranging the plate and the coffee cup, which came with a little vanilla biscuit. The aroma of the coffee was strong, yet it blended perfectly well with the cheesecake as a mash of two senses: touch and vision.
On the other hand, it seemed like I asked for a lot of food unknowingly. Sure, I do like to come every once in a while with Shinji and Manabu, but I usually only order tea while my two best friends ordered sandwiches and Manabu gets carried away by binging all the deserts from the menu. For them, my order would be what a normal human being would ask for: a cake and a set of tea. However, for me, it was too much.
The pound cake was perfectly served the right amount. It looked fluffy and yet firm. The spoon was calling me to dig in and feel the softness in my mouth, but Yuiko was still taking photographs. Honestly, the decoration on the pound cake was adorable as well. On top of it, they had decorated it with thin slices of orange jelly shaped like a three-leafed clover. Below it, powdered sugar had been carefully sprinkled with the utmost care. It also came with mint, but this time it was a whole twig to make the dessert more vibrant. The plate was the same as Yuiko’s but instead of white it was black, and the mountains were covered in snow.
When it came to my drink though, I had the most adorable cup ever with an antique rose design, accentuated with golden paint. The cup was filled with home-brewed earl grey tea, and I was given a biscuit as well. Regardless, what made my order look bigger was the fact that the milk came inside its own teapot. It was mint coloured, and the handle was perfect to the touch, making sure the customer doesn't get burned. Beside it, was a sugar pot alongside some slices of lime.
“And… done!” Yuiko giggled. “Everything looks so good, it saddens me we will end up destroying it.”
“I know, right?” I followed in her carefree laughter, that same warmth aura when we left school enveloping us once again. “Very well then, let’s dig in.”
“Thank you for the food.”
We both started eating, saying wonderful compliments to the cook and the barista. Everything tasted so good, and the drinks were fantastic. We kept on talking about school life, how classes were going and the upcoming two-day Open House. Yuiko mentioned that her class was going to make a stuffed animal exhibition, and everyone was going to bring the oldest one they had.
“The consensus was that it needs to be the oldest one, the one you’ve spent most of your childhood with.” She said, arranging her bunny-shaped scrunchie and swirling her cup of coffee before taking a sip. Afterwards, she continued, “However, many students of my class have already parted ways with those, so we are trying to see what we can do. The best suggestion was to either buy one or make one.”
“But wouldn’t that ruin the point of the exhibition?” I casually asked.
“Not at all. You see Yui, the point of this stuffed animal exhibition is yes, to show plushies but… remember how I said that it must be the one you’ve spent most of your childhood with?”
“That makes even less sense.”
“Let me finish,” she emphasised, giving a quick breather. “While we were suggesting, I remember Koharuno was inside our class. He mentioned how we should think outside the box, and that he was sure everyone in Shirakawa and Takayama would be delighted with the Open House and we shouldn’t let something like that become a drawback. After that, he went back to monitoring the Open House progress.”
That explains why Koharu collapsed the other day when I was inside the Student Council. He has been overworking himself if he’s going every single day to each class and seeing the progress, as well as attending meetings with the Elementary side of school… I should talk to Shinji and Manabu so we can take him out after the Open House ends, he deserves to spend a nice day without stressing out.
“When he left, that last part he said left a huge impression on me. Everyone in Shirakawa and Takayama. For me, Open Houses and Cultural Festivals were always limited to the school public. I hadn’t even fathomed the idea that the general public could participate. My schools were always the best of the best, so the way these events happened was very different. Only prospective students were allowed to go since these events are made to cater for that specific target. That’s what got me thinking, how about transferring these childhood memories to the rest of the village and beyond?”
“Yes, exactly! The old plushie’s ownership would be transferred to the children that visit our exhibit and form new memories with something they absolutely adore and are passionate about. The same goes with making new ones or buying them for the exhibit. We are giving these new plushies a home where they can make children’s dreams come true with the power of their imagination… and that was my suggestion.”
“That was your suggestion!?” I was incredibly amazed.
“Indeed. At first, everyone was confused but, after explaining it like I just did with you, everyone agreed that it sounded like a lovely idea. I do not have any stuffed animals from my childhood, nor does my brother. However, I think I will make one.”
And just like that, Yuiko removed her bunny scrunchie and stroked its delicate, soft cloth. It seemed a little worn out. Her gaze was distant, yet filled with a tremendous amount of care and fondness.
Clearly, Yuiko is such a nice and sweet girl. She thought about others, trying to make them happy. She seems to be getting along with her class as well, and the fact her suggestion was quickly accepted means she is indeed blessed with the radiance to be loved by all and everyone around her. I feel a bit jealous. Even still, it overjoys me to hear her talk about this. Even if I am the one making an invisible wall between her and me, given her perfect looks and the way it makes me sway about imperfect little old me, I can resonate with her humanitarian nature.
“You must be very skilled then since that bunny plushie on your scrunchie looks superb!” Throwing a compliment, I saw how her cheeks turned slightly red. I thought for a second I had embarrassed her, yet, she kept the same face as if that redness wasn’t in there at all for her. “Ah, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you self-conscious!”
“Silly Yui, I am not feeling like that,” Yuiko replied. Still, those red madder cheeks didn’t fade. It was strange, to see the reflexes of an embarrassed person yet an immutable face. “You see, this scrunchie was made by a person I cherish.”
I stayed quiet, reading the atmosphere.
Melancholy gives away the exit even as it pretends it isn't there, softly calling us away from all that brings real joy. It tells me that I can't ask for a hug, reach for the sunshine, or take a walk among the soft hymn of trees, hearing how the wind plays in the leaves. For me, its a cloak I can't simply let fall to the floor, and though I hold it so tight I can't find the warmth I need, yet it clings. It is the anchor to my feet, the reason I can't find the surface or the sunshine, that feeling of soft joy that lives in memories that can't rise within.
However, for Yuiko it was the complete opposite. Even if in her heartache the sun won't shine, she makes it radiant with her own soul. When I see her staring at that stuffed rabbit, I can feel her sadness melting away into a mirror, and it slowly creates ripples with my reflection. Two souls in dissonance, yet completely attracted to each other like moths to a flame.
“My... best friend made it for me.”
A radiant, brilliant smile that made the cups of porcelain a complete joke.
“That is why, I will do my best and make a plushie that a child, somewhere out there, will enjoy. They will smile, have adventures, and find their passion together.”
“That’s very sweet of you.” I managed to speak, holding my breath. “I am sure your best friend would be proud of you.”
“You think?” She blushed again, yet impeccable. “All in all, I think you’re the one that deserves being called sweet, Yui.”
“Me? W-Why me?” Now I was the one blushing and stuttering.
“Before that event inside the classroom happened, I was tasked to go to the Student Council to pick up some papers for the Open House. While I was inside, I heard Miss Seraphine telling upperclassman Ueno how underclassman Samidare managed to save her class much to my annoyance.”
“She said that…?”
And when I left she sounded super nice about it!!
“When they noticed me, I asked for the papers and suddenly, upperclassman Seraphine vented how you managed to save your class by suggesting something so out of the blue that threw everyone off… passion.”
I feel that Miss Hazawa is retelling the story very differently from how it actually happened.
“That was what gave me the courage to say what I did.”
“Wasn’t it Koharu’s suggestion in the end, though?”
“Well, in a sense it did help, but knowing how you overcame such difficulty with a very important emotion we all have in common was what moved me to act.”
At that moment the embarrassment was immense, and I could have hidden as a child may have. I had no escape and I choked while sipping my already cold milk tea. It should have been her getting all flustered because she was being kind and honest while I wasn’t. I felt Yuiko was honestly praising me, and I found that extremely unpleasant.
Not because I disliked the praise.
I didn’t deserve it.
I am already hiding this huge, huge secret. And here she is, being completely open about herself with me.
I held my chest, feeling the Rosa Crystallum’s cold touch through my school uniform.
“Seeing you blush like that is honey melting and sugar inducing.” Yuiko suddenly said, taking a bite of her biscuit like a small animal.
“H-H-H-How can you say that with such a straight face!?” My heart was pounding and racing a thousand kilometres per hour. I now felt like the small animal I saw Yuiko seconds ago. A hamster running and running on its spinning wheel.
“Hee-hee.” With a closed eyes smile, she ignored my question. “Just something I heard someone say today.”
Did someone say that… about me?
I was at a loss.
“Anyway!” I cleared my throat.
“Do you have any passions you want to share that day, Yui?”
With tranquillity, she placed the scrunchie back into her fluffy lavender hair, her half pigtail moulding with her body.
“You mean… at the Open House?”
I don’t, really. I don’t have any talents, or passions. I’m just dull and grey. Infinitely grey, if I may add. I can stay stagnant in life and blame my lack of talent. I’m not smart, nor pretty. I’m average, or now that I think about it, not even close to below average. My hair is messy and I can never comb it properly. Yuiko’s bright and beautiful. My eyes are always downcast, filled with a sadness I can’t manage, yet hers are brilliant like recently harvested oranges.
I held my urge to cry.
I am envious of how the sight of me reflected in her eyes is.
«Won't you acknowledge me?»
I felt an excruciating pain in my chest. It throbbed and throbbed. The same unknown voice I heard on the bus was back. Still, the pain wasn’t coming from the foreign object in my body but was instead coming from my heart.
«Won't you acknowledge me?»
“Yui? Is everything okay?” Yuiko was concerned.
I slightly nodded, pretending to still be thinking about her question.
Acknowledge what? Me? Someone else? I… I can’t even look at myself in the mirror.
«Now it’s all up to you, Child of Dreams Yui Samidare. You are dreams themselves. What will you do?»
Nobuyuki’s words… Me, the Child of Dreams. I am dreams themselves? What… what a load of rubbish.
I held my urge to cry. My brain triggered a memory.
«I… will fight to protect what I love and cherish the most!»
“What I love and cherish the most…” I muttered under my breath.
Of course, how couldn’t I notice before? You are truly, truly an idiot and a failure of a girl, Yui.
“I want to share how much I love my precious friends.”
I held back the only tear that wanted to escape. I pretended to wipe my nose by faking a sneeze, but I am pretty sure Yuiko didn’t buy it.
“That sounds wonderful. I wonder how you’ll share that with everyone.”
“Honestly, I have no clue yet but… even if Shinji and Manabu feel embarrassed by what I might share, I’ll make sure that everyone understands how friendships should be cherished and shared with passion to the world. You should never be ashamed of what you love… unless it hurts someone, of course.”
Yuiko reached out for my hand once again, just like at the bridge. I reciprocated the feeling, and we both shared our warmth.
“When I was a little girl, I do remember telling Shinji and Manabu constantly how much I loved them. I shared everything with them, we even took baths together, that’s how close we were as kids. Shinji at one point started getting self-conscious, but I kept on insisting to take a bath together, and me and Manabu, both naked, tried to get him inside the bubble bathtub because it wasn’t the same without him.” I laughed a bit from that old memory. “I wonder when everything changed?”
Shinji is more bitter now. Manabu is acting off. I am keeping secrets.
“I see you three as close as ever.” Yuiko calmly eased my doubts.
“Yes.” As if she were a mother, Yuiko continued to erase any lingering feeling of anxiety I had within me. “When I was waiting for you, I managed to talk with Hinaga.”
I remember that. Manabu and I saw.
“At first, I was alone, waiting for you after receiving your text message. While I did so, Hinaga was leaving but when our eyes met, he approached me. Honestly, at first, my body trembled with fear. I couldn’t move, nor think of an excuse to get him away from me. That’s when I remembered how much you cherished your friends, and it would be rude of me to do something like that to someone so important to you.”
“That is why I did my best to conceal my fears and talk with him. At first, we were very clumsy. After all, it was the first time we were all alone. I mentioned we were going to have a date, so I was waiting for you. At that moment, Hinaga told me how you actually ended up in class duty this afternoon. Such pleasant conversation lead to many other wonderful things. How you three have been together for almost a decade, and how much he sees you both as his beloved friends.”
Shinji… so that’s why you were smiling.
“Say, Yuiko…” I suddenly interrupted her. She seemed taken quite aback by my voice. “With this friend of yours, did you feel that way?”
A minute of silence.
The coffee shop of white cups and black coffee, of small jugs filled with cream, became absolutely still. Time stopped, and our beatings ceased.
“I wonder about that.” She closed her eyes, the noise reverberating in my ears.
“I am sure it was that way, if not, you wouldn’t be telling me all this. I am sure you and your friend shared many precious memories together, so I am convinced that stuffed animal will turn out great.”
It was unusual for me to give encouraging words. Yet, Yuiko had given me so much this evening, that I have to repay her somehow.
“Tell me, what is your dream?”
The wintry wind came quiet, yet ever with a chill that brought a crispness inside the store.
“Or your passion!” I corrected myself.
Why did I ask that…?
«You are dreams themselves.»
I’m letting this get into my head too much but… who cares at this point.
“Well…” She separated our hands, taking out a small notebook from her school backpack. It was the same one she was holding the day Miss Hazawa was afflicted by the HeartBit. “You promise you won’t laugh? Or think it is silly?”
“Of course not!” I pressed on. “I mean, I just said something really embarrassing before, and you didn’t laugh!”
“Alright then, I haven’t even told my brother this but… I think my dream is to study investigative journalism.”
“Investigative journalism?” I tilted my head. “What is that? Is it different from doing normal journalism?”
“It is considered a form of journalism. In this case, the reporter deeply investigates a single topic of interest. It can be a big crime, something to do with politics or even corporations. One may spend months or years researching and preparing a report of what they are looking into..” Yuiko kept on talking, me nodding with each word. “In my case, I am attracted to big crimes. I enjoy solving them, that is why I always carry this notebook with me.”
She placed it carefully in the centre of the table. I could see it had many slips of paper sticking out in multiple colours.
“I stay until late hours of the night listening to old audios and videos that recreate cases, and I do my best to solve them. If I do it correctly that means my critical thinking is getting better. In any case, I have been conducting my very own investigation regarding an unusual phenomenon that has been happing for a while now.”
Yuiko already knows what she wants to do in life, and it drives her to keep on getting better. Admirable.
“Really?” I was truly invested in this.
“Have you heard of the JNR's Three Big Mysteries?” She asked while delicately opening her brown, leather notebook. I shook my head in response. “I see. Then this might drag on a bit. Do you mind?”
“Not all, please go ahead!”
“Very well then.”
Yuiko took a deep breath. I could see this was indeed going to take some explaining. Hopefully, I can understand it.
“Alright. So we have the Shiroyama Incident, the Mitaka Incident and the Matsukawa derailment. First, I’ll explain the Shiroyama Incident. It was the disappearance and death of Sadanori Shimoyama, the first president of Japanese National Railways, in Tokyo on 5 July 1949. He disappeared on his way to work and his body was discovered on the Jōban Line in Adachi the next day. The media offered conflicting explanations involving suicide and murder, while the police did not publicly report the results of their investigation, thus it came to a halt.”
“The Mitaka Incident took place in Tokyo as well on July 15, 1949, when an unmanned 63 series train with its operating handle tied down drove into Mitaka Station on the Chūō Line, killing six people and injuring 20. That day, all four officials had abandoned their posts with no prior explanation. The train's conductor was not in the train when it derailed as well. Meanwhile, the Matsukawa derailment on August 17, 1949, when a Tōhoku Main Line passenger train derailed and overturned between Kanayagawa and Matsukawa stations in Fukushima, killing three crew members.”
I supposed that Yuiko’s coffee was already cold at this point, but she took a sip anyway.
“Do you see anything in common?”
“Um… I’m sorry, no. I’m more invested in you telling me the story.”
“Well, in other words, all of these three are grave, unsolved incidents that share particular similarities. Mr Shiroyama disappeared before his body was found dismembered by the train, and the autopsy said he suffered external and internal injuries, yet they couldn’t determine the cause of the murder. The Mitaka incident remains a mystery after a failed court session with the possible perpetrator who died in jail from a brain tumour while always claiming his innocence. Lastly, in the Matsukawa derailment, twenty people were arrested and seventeen convicted. However, the case was closed until very recently in 2009 when the archives were made public and the cause determined.”
“So all of these cases have in common these points?”
“Quite indeed, and it was the first of many to allure me into this unsolved mysteries world. I explained these cases to you because they are very similar to the ones in the news from around… one year ago.”
I barely watch the telly…
“Yui, you don’t know?” Yuiko tilted her head. “About the Oleander Case?”
“Oleander Case?” I tilted my head once again.
“The media calls the Oleander Case to this string of unusual deaths of girls around 13 and 18 years of age.” Yuiko opened her notebook, showing me some newspaper scraps. One dated from last year, and she pointed at it carefully. “One night, Toa Takenouchi—age undisclosed—was found dead on a field of flowers near a local park of Saka Town, Aki District, Hiroshima Prefecture. Her death came out of nowhere, with friend witnesses saying they saw her that day and walked home with her. Her parents also said nothing was wrong, yet she was found with internal and external blood loss and the autopsy cannot reveal what was the actual cause.”
“A few weeks later, a similar case happened, and the media thought it was a bizarre coincidence. However, some journalists dug further and realised that Toa Takenouchi wasn’t the first death in this string of murders, but in fact, the first one to reach out to the media. These unusual murders or as some skepticals may say, suicides, became more often and thus it was given the name Oleander Case in honour of the name of the girl that made it to the news.”
I was astounded.
I remember watching the news once when we came back from the trip. A girl was found dead… was it part of this string of unresolved murders?
“So you see, it caught my attention given it’s near to us yet alien.” She concluded her explanation. “That night during the school trip, I had made a discovery in this string of murders. Of course, I am only a child, and I don’t think this is something other journalists haven’t uncovered already but have decided to keep shut in order to tie everything together before revealing their theory. That is why when I heard about Upperclassman Seraphine’s condition, I thought she might be next.”
“That… is absolutely terrifying.” I shuddered.
She might have ended up dead if I didn’t do something about the HeartBit and Professor Yamada… but before I jump to any wacky conclusions, why did Yuiko think that?
“You see, sometimes friends of the victims decided to step up as witnesses and confessed that the victim felt stressed out, had a small visible injury on their body weeks before or they confessed to feeling that someone was stalking them.”
“But why did you jump the gun so fast with upperclassman Hazawa?” I dared to ask.
“Remember my first day at school? Koharuno gave me a warning. And that warning was about… Mr Yamada.” Yuiko’s gaze lowered.
I was speechless. This didn’t make sense.
Although… wait a minute. Koharu was patrolling classes, and when he came over to mine, Mr Yamada was the teacher. He mentioned unusual behaviour. He had a lingering feeling that something was off with him, and he works with Miss Hazawa every day… he must have noticed something! But being a student with no proof, it would be impossible to incriminate him unless a victim spoke up and thus made more do the same thing…
“So that means Koharu was…?”
“Looking out for me. That is why he said that the student council was there for me. And to tell you the truth, when Mr Yamada went to my class, I could feel his stare every second. The fear in me was instilled, telling me to run away, as far as possible. That is why I was so glad I sat next to you on the bus. And why I was puzzled by upperclassman Seraphine’s behaviour towards him. I thought that maybe I had found a possible victim and the possible perpetrator when I saw what happened in your room. I was mistaken though… when we came back another girl had died in a different prefecture.”
“I know it’s silly, me thinking I had found the culprit. But we all have wild imaginations and delusions. I am glad Upperclassman Seraphine is safe and sound. Even if we don’t know what happened to Mr Yamada, I hope his crimes come out to light.”
Even if the school has stayed silent, Yuiko knows what happened. What Mr Yamada did. All from observing Seraphine’s erratic behaviour. I still don’t know if to 100% blame Mr Yamada or the HeartBit. There are still so many things I don’t know.
“I… am amazed, really. How you could deduce Mr Yamada was a dangerous individual with all of these subtle hints I didn’t even notice…” I felt overwhelmed with all this information dump. My brain couldn’t think straight but, at least, I knew one thing. “I am sure you’ll get to the bottom of this, I can sense your endless passion. While you were talking I could feel you have spent hours coming up with solid theories and compiling all the information in order to not stray far from the truth. If I can help you with anything, I’ll gladly do so!”
Yuiko launched at me, stretching all her body into the table to hug me, instead of standing up and sitting right next to me. Her over-the-top voluptuous features made the teapots and plates fall into the ground—thankfully not breaking—while she kept on tightly hugging me going up and down.
I… can feel an emotion stirring within her.
I could tell with a hundred per cent conviction that at that moment, Yuiko Tsukiame, was truly overjoyed.
I accompanied Yuiko to a certain point of the route when we decided to call it a day. I profusely apologised to the manager of Hina for the accident, yet he wasn’t mad nor upset. In fact, he encouraged us to come again and eat more delicious sweets to compensate, which in turn made me more depressed. I know many townsfolk know about my family situation, and always treat me nicely because of it but, I just feel conflicted when they treat me with such kindness due to it.
We said our respective goodbyes, and wish each other a good night's sleep.
The way back home wasn’t as long as I thought it would be, and instead of getting lost in the scenery like always, Yuiko’s dream keep swirling inside my mind as well as the Oleander Case. How disconnected I was from reality due to the fact I avoid watching the telly, as well as reading newspapers. Those things were never relevant to me since I lived alone until very recently, so everything I did was to do my homework, if any research was needed I took a bus to Takayama’s public library and wrote my essays on my copybook instead of typing them on a PC. However, ever since Nobuyuki came into my life he asks to spend some time together sometimes, and those include watching something on the telly, like movies. We last used it to watch one of Shiiko’s concerts back when she was in an idol group.
I haven’t been brave enough to watch the concert she gifted me as a DVD while we were on the school trip. Every single time I touch the case, I get goosebumps and start spiralling out of control given how much of a diehard fan I am.
Magic boy wasn’t surprised at all at how extravagant the spectacle was, and I was expecting him to ask questions such as what was an idol, an oshi, the chants, the penlights and the very particular public, yet he took it all in in one sitting and didn’t seem unfazed. All I recall from that particular evening was him saying at the end that he had no idea we did those things here too.
“I know he has told me that our world isn’t that different but, what degree of similarity are we talking about?” I questioned myself while opening the door of my house. Somehow, I had made it without noticing. “It’s open. I know I told Nobuyuki to never take the only pair of keys I have if he went outside but… why do I feel so uneasy?”
I never close my door unless I go to sleep, and given I don’t have a copy, I always take it with me. Ever since he started living with me, I told him to he could have them if he went outside, and if he did, to don’t close the door so I could get inside if for some reason our schedules didn’t match. Yet, I remember him being very kneen about security and scolded me for being so careless and insisted we should keep the door closed always unless a visit came, and that if he went out he would do his best to be on time and have the door open for me ever since he kept the keys during the school week.
“He started closing the door recently as well, so that means he must be inside, right?” I sighed. “I’m overthinking this way too much.”
I went inside, my clean apartment greeting me with a scent of fresh pine.
“Nobuyuki? I’m home…” I let my presence be known and turned the lights on. “Strange… Nobuyuki? Nobuyuki Mochizuki, you’re here?”
I went further inside after changing my shoes to slippers, expecting to find a memo pad written but no luck, nothing was on top of the table and, for some reason, knowing that a warm dinner wasn’t waiting for me made me a little sad.
I shook my head violently.
No, Yui. You’ve used to living alone. Nobuyuki has spoiled me rotten these past weeks. Making meals, buying groceries, cleaning… things I should do for myself. This is how things should be. Me coming back to an empty house devoid of life, swallowing me in.
I checked the phone, and my message was there, unheard.
I let out a sigh.
“I’ll start homework first. Before that though, I’ll see if there are leftovers.” My slippers made squeaky noises on the wooden floor. I opened the fridge, and the unexpected greeted me. “It has ingredients but… I don’t see any containers. Did Nobuyuki forget to make lunch? Did he skip a meal?”
No, I highly doubt it. He always prepares food. This is starting to scare me a little bit.
I closed the fridge, defeated.
“Time to look for instant food.” Now I went towards the shelves, opening them and feeling total dismay. “This lad really did keep his promise, he threw out all the instant ramen I had stored up!”
Seafood-curry, cheese-curry, katsu-curry, spiced-curry… all my curry-flavoured ramen is gone!
“I know he said he wanted me to start eating healthier to gain weight but this is going too far!!!” Teary-eyed, I gave up on food and sat down, taking out my school utensils. “Thankfully I had that pound cake at the coffee shop but eventually my tummy will start rumbling… Gods, why did I have to get used to his cooking?! Now I have an actual eating schedule.”
Angry, albeit a little bit sad, I proceeded to check my assignment book and started doing my homework. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything too difficult, just to finish some questions that I couldn’t do during class and write an essay about the importance of paying attention in class as punishment due to Manabu’s exposure.
I wonder if he’ll actually do it. He has the highest grades but I barely see him do homework or turn it in. Does his family threaten the headmaster? Nah… I doubt it. He’s actually super smart, he just doesn’t like to show it.
“That’s how it’s always been,” a small laugh escapes from my lips. “Since kindergarten, Manabu has always helped me and Shinji after school. We used to do homework together too.”
When did it all change? Yuiko said she sees us super close but in reality, we have drifted apart a little bit as the years went by. Growing up also means giving others personal space.
“Guess I should stretch for a bit.” I stood up, homework is almost done. I only had to finish that silly essay which was already halfway done. “Maybe I’ll take a bath…”
After extending my arms high in the air and doing some back exercises, I decided to go upstairs and take that bath. I hadn’t taken a bath since the school trip, just limiting to showers since it’s easier instead for waiting for the water to fill all the way up, yet the fact that I remembered how I used to take baths with Shinji and Manabu triggered a nostalgic feeling, begging me to take one out of pure whim.
Inside the bathroom, I opened up a small cabinet where I had stored some products Miss Hazawa made me buy during our last day at Takayama. Skincare products since she insisted I had potential but my face looked as damaged as a badly dented car. She also added some nice bath bombs and salts. I have never used those, and she explained I only had to drop it into the water and wait for the sizzle to end, and then go inside. I expected the product to just explode with water contact. Shows how much of an uncultured swine I am—her words, not mine.
“Let’s see here… lavender, cherry blossom… matcha… Watermelon Sugar? Exotic Loreto Cacao? What the heck is a Loreto?” I can’t believe she made me buy a weird scent. I decided to go with cherry blossom, given it’s the safest of them all. “Wait, first I need to fill the bathtub, right?”
I proceeded to do just that, and opened the faucet, letting the water flow after covering the bottom in order for it to fill up properly.
“This might take a while… since these… bombs are made to relax, maybe I can grab a book? Although the steam may damage it. Oh well, I’ll just try to enjoy it with no extras. Maybe I do deserve a break.”
That was when I, suddenly, heard a familiar voice reverberating inside my household.
Author's note: Chapter 2 has been divided into 3 or even 4 parts due to it being over 20K. At this point I don't even know how many parts but hopefully 3 or 4.