Chapter 40:

Beyond the Cherry Blossom Trees / 桜木の向こう


January fifteenth. It was cold. It'd been two full hours since we'd been sent to a waiting room. A singular nurse stepped inside and gave us the news neither of us wanted to hear. We were all devastated.

The funeral was held on the following Tuesday due to the entrance exams weekend on the eighteenth and nineteenth. It was an unusually sunny but usually chilly morning, heavily contrasting with the somber atmosphere surrounding the ceremony. Everyone, from her close friends and family to my dear best friend and the couple from Kyoto attended. Not out of obligation, but to pay respects to the special person they had recently and tragically lost.

I had never lost someone I cared for before. The pain I felt on that Wednesday night and still felt days later. Even after all those months of psychological preparation. I was never ready to lose you, Yuki. I just constantly lied to myself and told myself you’d be there the next day I visited you at the hospital. That we’d talk about the most mundane of topics and tease each other as we used to do. Forever. In reality, I never moved on from that day in September when you were discharged from the hospital. Maybe that’ll change in the coming weeks.

February fourteenth. Kimura, Yokoyama, Naoto, and I all passed the exams with impressive grades. Naoto ranked third on our prefecture’s ranking. While the three of them took their exams on the designated weekend, I was allowed to do them on the subsequent weekend. I also got word that your third-year club members both passed with acceptable grades, though I’m not sure if those will be enough to enter the university of their choice.

February twenty-first. Thankfully, the four of us successfully entered Kyoto University. There were others in our class who aimed for it as well, however, among them, only our class rep succeeded. It seems my worries were misplaced. In the end, your fellow third-years from the science club barely got into the university they wanted. In the past few days, I’ve come to suspect Yokoyama likes Kimura. I’m likely wrong, yet I can’t seem to get the idea out of my head. Maybe it’s because I’ve read too many yuri manga at this point.

March eighth. Nearly two months have passed. I can confidently say that, due to the help of my close friends and your parents, I’ve finally moved on. I can, at last, keep the promise we did back then. Our happiness. I’ll treasure it. Solely that and nothing more.

March thirteenth. Our high school life officially comes to a close on this day. Today is the day of our graduation ceremony.

“I’m going!”

I left home as I said that, rushing to the bus stop, hoping to catch the 7:55 bus, so I could still talk to my friends before it began. Therein I found Yokoyama, peeking sideways from behind one of the edges, forming a seventy-one degrees angle with the wall. As soon as she sighted me, she blew her cover and waited until we could greet each other.

“Akira, you’re finally here!”, she remarked, smirking.

“I’ve told you many times to not call me by my first name,” I reminded her, slightly annoyed by her persistence.

“But I’m already on first-name basis with Sakurai-chan.”

“Sakurai… chan?”

“Just kidding,” she whispered in a teasing tone.

I pouted.

“You should’ve seen your face. It was priceless.”

Soon afterward, our transportation arrived.

We entered our high school one last time. An air of a certain expectation that could only be felt on such a special day welcomed us in. We walked together past the student mob outside the entrance, trying to find the other two. Having gotten here before us, they too had been desperately attempting to spot us amidst the crowd.

“I can almost… see them,” she struggled to get through the students.

“All I can see is endless jackets,” he replied.

She found an opening and took the chance.

“Ueno, there!”

Taking advantage of the small space, they broke through the sea of students.

“Wait for me, Kimura!”

Yokoyama, noticing two familiar entities emerging from the horde of graduates, updated me on the situation.

“There they are! Come!”


Away from the confusion and noise, we greeted each other.

“Akira,” the athlete spelled musically, “Do you know what day it is?”

Is today a special Japanese holiday that allows everyone to refer to others on a first-name basis?

“Graduation day, of course!”

“Yes! Yes, it is!”

“Oh,” I took notice of her new hairstyle, “A ponytail?”

“Indeed! I usually style my hair this way when exercising, but I decided to maintain it for this day! Perhaps I’ll make it official from now on,” she stated.

“Anyway, congratulations!”, she continued.

“Hey, Natsuko. Congratulations!”, he joined in.

I returned them the favor.

“Thanks, both of you,” I grinned, “Congratulations to you as well. I wish she was here to see all of this.”

“Yes,” he confirmed.

“Mhm. We'd be here arguing for minutes about the most trivial and futile of topics without ever reaching a proper conclusion,” the athlete acknowledged with a genuine smile.

“I’m certain she’s watching over us right now,” I affirmed, hopeful.

“Oh, I nearly, forgot! Congratulations, Yoko-chan!”

“Thank you, Sakurai! Ah,” she imagined her future, “I can’t wait for our university life in Kyoto! It’ll be so much fun!”

“Right??? Big sis even got a place for us! It’ll be amazing! With you, Ueno, and Akira.”

“Yeah,” Ueno added.

“That’s right,” I added after him.

“Our adult life is just beginning, after all!”, Yokoyama added, finally.

Anxious about the ceremony, Kimura took the initiative.

“Want to head inside? Please?”

“Do we have a choice?”, I questioned her rhetorically.

Entering the gym, we encountered many male students—from different classes and grades—along the way wearing the female uniform in honor of Yuki. It was the talk of the town, or rather of the student body, as if there was some unspoken agreement.

One of my classmates, Tanaka, commented on the situation he’d been put in.

“Why’d we have to wear female uniforms just because of her? It’s humiliating!”

“It’s just for a day, plus I didn’t oblige anyone to do it,” our class rep pointed out.

“Ahhh damn it! I thought it’d be just for a group photo, but now I’m stuck with this until the end of the morning!”

Suzuki, who was next to them, threw in his opinion.

“If it’s just this once, I don’t mind it. What’s more, skirts are far more comfortable than trousers.”

“I guess you’re right… nonetheless, it’s humiliating!”

“Shut up, you two! The ceremony’s starting soon!”, Nishimura angrily retorted, annoyed by their chatter.

The headmaster and principal gave their heartfelt opening speeches and were showered with applause from the hundreds of students inside.

“It was yet another successful year for Fukuoka High School. However, I mustn’t end this message without mentioning the tragedy that hit our school this Winter. Unfortunately, a third-year student prematurely passed away in January. Yuki Ishida, from class 3-1. Everyone, a minute of silence for her, please,” the principal solemnly declared.

A few minutes past midday, with the ceremony having come to a close, we reunited outside.

“These flowers they gave us are so cute!”, Kimura excitedly commented.

“It’s called a corsage, Sakurai-chan,” she clarified, putting extra emphasis on the name to tease me.

I was caught off-guard, not only by her boldness but also by her friend’s indifference.

“Oh, I see… Ah,” she recalled, “We’re going to talk with the teachers over there before having lunch, want to come?”

“Sure,” Ueno replied.

“Ah, sorry, Kimura. I got to find Nishimura. I have something to tell her.”

“Alright! If you don’t take too long we’ll still be here. If not, meet us at the restaurant.”

“Okay, see you in a bit!”, I said my goodbyes as I ran off to the entrance.

“Good luck, Akira!”

I searched time and time again, to no avail. After scouting every corner of the school, I found myself back at the entrance, breathing heavily, checking the area ahead of me one last time.

I entered the road—still part of the school’s majestic entrance—that led to the main gate, delimited by two parallel rows of gorgeous cheery blossom trees that partially shielded me from the sunlight. Flooded countless times in the past, it was now empty, leaving me alone throughout its extension. It was also abnormally quiet, which led me to believe the traffic nearby must’ve been minimal.

While I slowly walked through it, I noticed the trees were already in full bloom, covering each of the pathway’s sides in a vibrant rosy hue.

“Spring is almost here, Yuki. The cherry blossom trees are blooming again. Just like when we first met. Those soothing scarlet eyes of yours. Contrasting with my soulless eyes. They belonged to another world. Yet, in spite of my cold attitude, you reached out an arm to me. At the time, I laughed at your name. I mean, what guy has a name like that? But then, I discovered you and you discovered me. And I realized there wasn’t a more fitting name for an evening princess. You lent your strength to me and I lent mine to you. We performed together at the Summer concert. We kissed. You showed the world who you always were. We had way too much fun trying on all kinds of cute outfits. We performed together once more at the Winter concert, this time just by ourselves. We went on our first date on Christmas night. We saw the New Year’s fireworks together. Just as you filled my world with color, I filled yours with the liveliest shades. On that day, you stated your last wish to me. But I wasn’t able to tell you my own. You left me before I could. My wish… is to meet you again.”

As I was about to reach the end of the road, a singular pink flower gracefully fell from its twig and landed gently on the palm of my hand, prompting me to stop. I stared down at it.

However, a strong breeze brushed past me, which tousled my hair and nearly blew the flower out of my hand. I instinctively jolted and successfully grasped it with enclosed hands.

Once the wind passed, I decided to return to the gym. To my surprise, as I turned around and adjusted my hair, I caught sight of a student mere meters away from me. Her light-blonde hair and soft red eyes stood out. She was dressed up in the school’s female uniform, albeit without the jacket, instead choosing to wear a sky blue vest on top of her white shirt. She also had a corsage on her vest, indicating she was a graduate student. Lastly, but most importantly, she was carrying a cherry blossom flower in her hand, like me.

But I know no description could ever do justice to what I was seeing—the girl I met that day under a fully bloomed cherry blossom tree. This is nothing more than a desperate attempt to put into words what my eyes told me and what my heart saw. Because that girl was beautiful. More beautiful than the most stunning evening.

We stared at each other for a long second.

She lifted it at forehead level and delicately placed it in her hair. I carefully copied her actions.

Glad I followed her lead, her face now sketched a warm smile.

No longer surprised, I smiled back at her.

“I love you.”

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