Chapter 6:

Episode Six

But I Love Her

Soon, it was a Monday. She had gone home and apologized to her mother for making her worried - but she really was at a friend’s place. Even though her mother could see through her lies, she could tell that she wasn’t lying about friends. And at least she was relieved a little bit but it didn’t quell her guilt. In fact, when she saw her mother that previous Sunday afternoon, it swelled up so much she felt she almost drowned in it. She couldn’t face her mother even in the good news that she made a friend in Yukari.Bookmark here

There was no real reason to feel guilty but the scene of Okamoto in her apartment wouldn’t leave her mind. Yukari said it was okay to depend on her but Mariko felt guilty. She hated this guilt that never left her! Was it over Nakashima-san’s words still? Was it because she let Yukari fight her battles? Was it because she revealed her troubled high school past to her? Perhaps to most people, it’s not as troubled but she got to live while Nakashima-san didn’t.Bookmark here

And, to Mariko, that was enough trouble.Bookmark here

When she went to work that Monday morning, she had to admit to herself before she got there that it wouldn’t be safe to stay late anymore. In fact, if she could, she would take upon Yukari’s suggestion and even offer to just ditch their jobs for Nagakita that night.Bookmark here

But that was enough trouble.Bookmark here

When she saw Yukari at her desk, with her usual expression, she wanted to believe things were normal again. She allowed a smile to come through but a thought struck her as she got adjusted at her desk. It was then she realized she didn’t finish grading her students’ papers that Saturday night, however, she remembered the papers were strewn about but she noticed that they were stacked quite neatly. She went through the papers only to find that they were all graded but not even just that, the handwriting wasn’t even hers.Bookmark here

Who went through all this trouble?Bookmark here

“Good morning, Inai-san. I hope you didn’t mind me finishing your papers the other night.” A kind, but still somehow sinister voice, made Mariko jump in her seat. She turned and saw much that she slowly nodded his head. He then turned to Yukari.Bookmark here

“Good morning, Tsukada-san.”Bookmark here

Yukari didn’t answer him. In fact, she glared at him and mumbled something under her breath. It seemed very much that she did not want to interact with him at all but she was stuck in this position. Mariko wanted to avoid eye contact with him but he seemed to have picked this up somehow and touched her arm gently. She wanted to flinch away so badly…Bookmark here

How troublesome.Bookmark here

“Inai-san, can you meet me here after school? I need to discuss something with you.”Bookmark here

Okamoto was suddenly sitting in his own desk. Again, he had a regular smile that would trip her heart but now it froze it. He didn’t seem to think anything of it. She was taken aback so she didn’t say anything in return. Bookmark here

Yukari heard this, somehow, and stood up before Mariko could react. “If you got something to say to her, I’ll be here too!” She yelled in her usual morning grumpy way. The other teachers verbally reprimanded her for her ‘unladylike’ behavior that morning and for her to stop but she ignored them. “You hear me!”Bookmark here

“Tsukada-san. This isn’t your business. Please stay out of this private conversation between Inai-san and me.”Bookmark here

She slammed her hands on her desk which got the ire of other teachers. “I refuse!”Bookmark here

Mariko then realized that he still held her arm ever so gently. She wanted to shake him off - the past was forever in the past. The boy she knew as Okamoto is a man who lingered on the past too much and visited his dead high school girlfriend’s ghost on campus under the guise of being a wonderful teacher but Yukari made such a scene.Bookmark here

“T-Tsukada-san! P-please… it’s okay…” Mariko had to look away as she had to call off her friend. She didn’t want to be so formal to her, but they were in a professional setting and she certainly didn’t want to be the focus of her fellow teachers once again. “I-it really is… We’ll work something out, okay?”Bookmark here

“There she goes again. She’s causing trouble for others. How pathetic! A witch that always needs help!”Bookmark here

It sounded like it would’ve been a teacher but… now Mariko knew whose voice that was. As the voice spoke, she felt a shiver go through her spine like a strong ripple effect and it hit especially hard because of who that voice actually belonged to.Bookmark here

Yukari glared at all the teachers around them who complained about the early morning ruckus and glared harder at Okamoto. But when Mariko said it was okay, she growled and mumbled something to the effect of, “I’m only doing this for you.”Bookmark here

The teachers seemed to lecture Yukari, even though she didn’t fully listen, Mariko took that chance to turn to Okamoto, even though she was terrified of him, and nodded.Bookmark here

Okamoto let go of her arm and seemed to be relieved. “I was worried that you’re going to reject me. I’m glad you’re willing to talk to me.”Bookmark here

Why did he act like it’s no trouble at all?Bookmark here

Why was Okamoto acting like nothing was the matter? Did he forget that Mariko found out about his secret? Did he forget how cruelly Nakashima-san’s ghost talked to her in such a manner? Did he forget what happened yesterday morning? Had Okamoto ever left his world of fantasy where Nakashima-san could interact with him?Bookmark here

This troubled Mariko greatly.Bookmark here

However, she had to get through the day. As the day went through, as she went through the papers that were mysteriously graded, she realized the mysterious person had finished it for her. Not only that, they had seemed to properly use her answer key and seemed to even pick up the intricacies of the English language. In fact, Mariko was sure that maybe they were better than her in this aspect.Bookmark here

Whoever it was, she would have to find them and thank them. Because of this mysterious good deed, Mariko did feel a little happy about it. Even though she was still incredibly terrified, she knew she had students who depended on her. That’s what started to push her to keep going. She had to do it for her students, at the very least. They can’t know about her terror or her horror. She had an image to keep up with.Bookmark here

Before and after the morning teacher meeting, she tried to soothe Yukari but it wasn’t that Yukari was mad at her. Her anger was more directed towards Okamoto so it didn’t take much to soothe her.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, they couldn’t have a conversation for much longer as they had to attend their classes. She didn’t feel comfortable walking to her homeroom by herself but once she heard footsteps and chatter of the teenagers of Okutari, she felt relieved. The ghost followed her, to be sure, but she wouldn’t show up in front of the kids, would she?Bookmark here

The rest of the day until lunchtime, things had gone about their day. Mariko had a hard time, at first, but she continued to teach with a smile on her face. She looked around for any unusual faces - she always had to make sure that there wasn’t a different face out of place. The school was still very much co-ed, although she started to notice that the number of teenagers per class had started to decline. However, she did her best to keep her attitude the same - or what she thought was the same. She could tell some students were a bit surprised at her sudden cheerfulness and could tell she was troubled.Bookmark here

Thankfully, lunch came about and she was eating in the teacher’s lounge. As usual, Yukari was there and Yukari was found stabbing her lunch with her chopsticks. It was hard to tell what her lunch was as she mashed it down. She pouted and seemed to lighten up a little bit when she saw the other woman sitting next to her.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry about this morning, Mariko. I just get mad when I see Okamoto now.” She continued to mash her food. “Are you meeting him for real today?”Bookmark here

“Yeah… but I wanted to ask you if you could stay with me. I’m deathly afraid of Nakashima-san. I’m so sorry to trouble you once again but I don’t know if I can face him on my own. I don’t know if I could face her again…”Bookmark here

“Of course I can.”Bookmark here

“A-are you sure? It’s going to be scary… I don’t know what he wants to talk to me about.”Bookmark here

Yukari clicked her tongue and finally started to eat her food. She probably wanted to see what happened between her and Okamoto but in truth, it was just him trying to meet her in the lounge. It was strange since Yukari seemed to have expected something more than that but she, and definitely Mariko, was still on edge.Bookmark here

“Do you want me to meet you inside the lounge then? It might be dangerous to meet him in here all by yourself.” She said in between chewing.Bookmark here

“It… will be okay. You can stay in my homeroom. I’ll leave it unlocked for you so you can hide in there. After the final class, make up an excuse to come to my homeroom.” Mariko gave out a bitter laugh and gave her a half-smile. “I’ll protect you with my magic, Yukari-chan.”Bookmark here

Yukari couldn’t help but give her a smile back.Bookmark here

For the rest of the day, Mariko felt better about the meeting between her and Okamoto. The two had planned to stay later again - Mariko made up an excuse to stay later that night. She forgot what it was but it was enough for the other teachers to let her. As far as they knew, she could gain to learn some things from Okamoto-sensei.Bookmark here

Very soon, Mariko was once again the last one in the lounge. Instead of her ignorant unsteadiness, she tried to prostrate herself as someone brave even when her heart beat rapidly against her chest and her palms lathered itself with her sweat. She wished Yukari would show up quicker but Okamoto specifically said for her to be there alone.Bookmark here

The thought terrified her.Bookmark here

Then, suddenly, all the power in the room went blank.Bookmark here

A cruel laugh echoed in the room and Mariko shut her eyes. At least there, she was familiar with that darkness. She didn’t want to face a distorted Nakashima-san. She couldn’t do it.Bookmark here

“Look at me, Inai. Look at what you’ve done to me.”Bookmark here

“I didn’t do anything! Nakashima-san, please leave me alone!” Hot tears streamed down her face as she crossed her arms over her eyes as though Nakashima was going to pry her eyes open. “You should’ve just left me alone. It wouldn’t have mattered what happened!”Bookmark here

“Inai-san? Why are you sitting in the dark?” With a flick of the switch, suddenly, the terrifying darkness was gone and all that remained was a crying Mariko and a confused Okamoto. She heard him come closer to him and she could feel his warmth attempt to comfort her. However, if Nakashima-san was in close proximity, then there’s a chance she would have retaliated. Was he actually torn between his dead girlfriend and a woman who feared his touch? If Mariko wasn’t so terrified, she would’ve been disgusted and took herself out of the equation immediately.Bookmark here

Familiar stings came with those thoughts as she continued to cry and ignore his questions. Then she realized that she was starting to act like her old high school self again - the few precious moments she had before realizing the death of Nakashima - she wanted to curse her again. She wanted to say all kinds of things. She had thought she let go of her past as soon as they moved to Yamakoshi but she had to face the fact that she actually hadn’t. She didn’t.Bookmark here

She was still the same gloomy Mariko Inai from Keisetsuin High School; always and forever.Bookmark here

“N-n-Nakashima-san was just here…” Mariko managed to mumble out through her tears and fears. She wanted to be different. She had a choice to be different but this situation made her a high school student again. It made her gloomy. She had finally made her first friend in Okutari but she had to face a demon - someone she once knew as a precious classmate. And someone who used to be her first love.Bookmark here

“Are you sure? I didn’t see her here.”Bookmark here

He sounded genuinely confused. She was just as confused as she slowly pried her arms away and as she opened her wet eyes. All she saw was a confused Okamoto. He seemed torn at the idea of comforting her and Mariko allowed herself to fantasize once again. She wanted to believe that behind her tear-stained vision, Nakashima-san was the one who kept him away from her.Bookmark here

Before her mind delved deeper, Mariko shook the old thoughts from her mind. Okamoto is the one who wouldn’t let go of the past - after all, he makes up excuses to see the ghost of a dead high school girl. She only came back for her mother…Bookmark here

“I-I… thought I heard her voice…” She mumbled that last statement under her breath. As odd as it sounded to her, she felt embarrassed to mention that to him so she quickly changed the subject. She then realized that she had huddled in the corner by a familiar teacher’s desk, Nurse Iyona Anno. As Okamoto helped her up from the corner, Mariko remembered her as the only one who helped her from her situation - the only one who noticed she bled and the only one who realized what went on in the school.Bookmark here

Keisetsuin High School was a small school - everyone knew who the gloomy first year Mariko Inai was. She was the only one who found fault in the great Nakashima-san but this nurse was the only one who still protected her. As far as she knew, this nurse was her savior and she owed it to her to pay her a visit.Bookmark here

When she made it to her feet, she wanted to avoid Okamoto’s gaze but she felt oddly sheepish. She hadn’t sensed Nakashima-san’s presence and it was just them alone. Mariko felt the familiar burning on her cheeks as she slowly faced Okamoto. Maybe he was under Nakashima-san’s spell. Maybe her original assessment back then was correct! Maybe Nakashima-san was the real--Bookmark here

“Inai-san, you’re the only one I wanted to tell. It’s something that only you can understand. None of the teachers here understand any of it but were there the whole time. You saw how much I loved her. You’re the only one who understands me. And that’s why I wanted to tell you.”Bookmark here

“I’m going to commit suicide when I turn 30 years old.”Bookmark here

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To Be Continued…Bookmark here

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