Chapter 1:

The first light on the way

The Fox's Wedding - Part 1 - The stage of a dream

The lights danced around freely in the clearing. The trees surrounding were of a bright, lively green, that seemed to lack any kind of shadows. It was peaceful, calm, and tranquil. Sitting here, next to a small pond, life seemed good. No harsh sounds, just the chirping of birds and the occasional rustling of leaves blown by the wind. Next to me, someone else sat. A cheerful smile was the only thing I could make out on their face. It, like most of the rest of their body, was hazy. I didn’t know who it was, just that having them around made me feel at ease, and content. We both stared out onto the pond, enjoying the sun gazing at us with its warming rays.
But it was not the only source providing light. Many more flew around us, as if a swarm of fireflies decided to dance during daytime. The person next to me said something. I turned to them. They held their hand forward. Were they holding something? They kept talking. I reached my hand out, stretching it, trying to take a hold of the other.
Then, everything faded to white.


There was more chirping of birds. I opened my eyes, and looked out the window. Light was streaming in from the rising sun. Looked like I had forgotten to close the window and curtains last night when I went to bed. I got up and made a few stretches. Then, as if on autopilot, I competed my morning routine. All the while thinking back on my dream. It wasn’t the first time I had it. In fact, it accompanied me for a long time since my childhood. But, whenever I was close to remembering anything resembling a fact, it slipped through my grasp, and I woke up.

This naturally left me feeling dissatisfied. So, in hopes of it turning my mood around, I went downstairs to eat breakfast. From the smell wafting up the stairs, I could tell it was mostly done. After walking down and turning right, I headed into the kitchen.

“Good morning.” A cheerful voice greeted. Mom was standing at the stove, preparing something in the pan while talking to me. She wore an apron, her her tied back into a ponytail. She was smiling all the while.
“Good morning.” But I couldn’t muster any cheer in response.
“Oh, got up on the wrong side of the bed?”
“…Kinda.” It was only partially true. I had stayed up late, reading some manga a classmate gave me and forgotten the time. So, a bit sleep deprived. But admitting to it out loud isn't something I should do.

“…” Dad had stayed quiet throughout our exchange. He was sitting in his chair, reading the newspaper, not even raising his gaze to take a look at me. He might seem disinterested in the mundane going-ons, especially in his business attire. Combine with his rather stern facial expression, it made him look like the serious head of a large company. But that was not the case. He just had a tendency to get transfixed on whatever he was doing. And, when we was reading something, he forgot about the things around him, and got absorbed into the text. He likely hadn’t noticed me coming in.
And, not that I could blame him. I had inherited his same stubborn fixation, which brought me to my current tired state. With a sigh, he put down the newspaper. Then, upon realizing I was at the table, he greeted me.

“Good morning Minoru.” Apologies weren’t needed, as this has been a constant for most of my life.
“Good morning.”
“You seem a bit down.”
“Let the boy be, dear. He has his head full with trouble about school probably.”
“Well, you know that if you ever need any help, feel free to ask me.”
“Will do. …thanks.”
“You are welcome.” He smiled warmly at me. It might seem out of place after observing him just a few minutes ago, but this was his true persona. Just like my mother, both were cheerful, good natured people. And I was happy to be their son.
“Now, put the newspaper aside dear. Minoru, set the table please.”
“Yes.” I did the usual task. From here, we had a normal but pleasant breakfast meal. With nonchalant discussions as well.

Sigh.” During it, mom heaved dramatically. I knew she wanted to be asked. But, I let my father take the stage.
“Is something on your mind?”
“Well, not really, but… Thinking about our son having trouble in school reminded me of our time in high-school.” Not that I had any, just her assumption speaking.
“No need to be so dramatic. It hasn’t been that long yet.”
“Excuse me? I already have a son going to high-school. My age might just be catching up to me.”
“Are you sure about that? I do not see any sign of that. In fact, to me, it looks like you are becoming more beautiful by the day.”
“Oh, you smooth-talking charmer.” Mom leaned in to dad to give him a kiss on the lips. From my friends I had heard that other families usually didn’t behave this closely in front of their children. However, my parents always displayed their love for each-other openly. So, I grew up used to this display, and didn’t particularly mind it. Nonetheless, when they started gazing into each-other’s eyes for a long time, I chose to interrupt them.
“Please wait for dinner with that. Otherwise dad will get late to work again.”
My voice must have startled them, as they shirked slightly, and then hastily removed themselves from each-other, with a hint of redness to their cheeks.
“Ohom. Our son may be right.”
“Yes. It would look bad if I were to arrive late on more than one occasion per month.”
He was right. At times, they were off so far into their own world, I couldn’t call them back. At those times, I gave up, and left the house on my own.

But not this time. We finished our meal together. Mom took it upon herself to clean the dishes. Dad checked through his bag a final time, and did a last mirror check in the bath. In that time, I went up, grabbed my school bag, and came down. We passed each other in the bath, and it was my turn to brush the teeth.
During this he gave mom a last goodbye kiss. Then, both of us stood in the entrance area, putting on our shoes.
““We are off.””
“Have a safe trip.”
With mom seeing us off, waving, Dad and I left the house. He walk to the side, heading to the car parked in the driveway, and waved me too. I walked through the small front yard, through the garden door, and went on my way to school. A minute later, dad would pass me by, on his way to his workplace.

At times, he would drive me part of the way, especially on rainy days. But, most of the time, I chose to walk, because I enjoyed it.
We were in the countryside, so to say. Not the far-off remote villages, but still a more rural setting compared to the large cities. Especially compared to our former place. There, I used to take the train to school every morning. Here, there were no trains nor subways going around town. We still had one train station, where the local line passed through. Buses drove through town at regular intervals too. As I had said, a bit rural, but not the last boonies.
But, as one could guess from the setting, it was a nice town. Mountains and forests sprawled around us, most houses had some greenery to them, and the air was fresh and clean. This was not the only contrast to the city, as it was also a lot quieter. Nature played its part, and provided background music with the birds singing their songs. Soon, the heat would rise, and the chirping of cicadas would play their summer tunes.
Therefore, I wished to enjoy the last spring weeks as much as possible.

Occasionally, people from school would pass me by on bicycles. We greeted each-other, and that was it. Our family had moved here two months ago during spring vacation. My father had gotten a job change, and we returned to the rural area. Yes, we returned. Most of my childhood had been spent in this area in fact. But, when I was seven years old, my father had gotten a job offer, and we moved to the city. It had been the same company, but a more luxurious position. He had wanted to get money when he could, for times when we might need the extra money. So, we went.
Now, the position wasn’t needed anymore, and we returned. And to be honest, I slightly missed the rural life. Sure, the city had its advantages, but those came with many annoyances as well. This was a debate I had with many new acquaintances in school. Most of them were from the area, and they were envious of their friends that had managed to get into more prestigious city schools. The ensuing discourse gave me plenty opportunities to get to know my new classmates. And so, the start of school life here didn’t go badly. Three weeks had passed by now, and talk had shifted from the new school year to how to spend the upcoming golden week. My impression must have been alright, as a few people invited me for trips. We still had to settle the details…

And, the school gates were in front of me. While I was lost in my mind reflecting on the time I had spent here, my body must have moved on its own. Naturally, it had been dangerous, as I must have crossed roads in this state. And so, once more, I promised myself to remain more cautious out on the streets. …Not that it would really work out, but it was the will that counted, right?
I entered the building, and made my way into the classroom. After offering a greeting while entering, I went to my seat, and sat down. Almost immediately, a classmate spoke to me.
“Dude, are you okay? I passed you by this morning, and you didn’t react. Walking forward with glassy eyes, you had me worried.”
This was the person sitting next to me, Sugimoto Hiroshi. He was the cheerful, noisy type. His face was ever full of lively expressions, and he moved with great vigor. His open attitude was a godsend for me, as it had prevented awkward moments with my seat neighbor.
“If you saw him, why didn’t you stop?” Another classmate came up, picking up on the conversation. Ono Rentarou, who was seated in front of Sugimoto. Unlike his friend, he was noisy and sly, albeit good spirited. A relaxed person, which was reflected in his body posture. Whereas Sugimoto took direct confrontation, Ono chose to pull the strings behind the scenes. These two could create quite a lot of mischievous togehter. So it was good that the third person of the trio, Tanaka Kiyoshi, was a straight laced guy that had the will and power to rain them in when needed. Sadly, he was in the parallel class, and therefore unable to interject during lessons. After meeting him for the first time, he told me: “You seem trustworthy and capable. Please, take over my post during school.”. Quite the way to introduce yourself to someone, meeting them for the first time.
Overall, those three had been friends for years, despite their different attitudes. Not only that, they had welcomed me into their group warmly. I was thankful for that.

Leaving my reminiscence behind, the conversation continued
“Well, it wasn’t the first time I saw it, and he had been fine until now. So, you good?” The last part was turned to me.
“Yes, I am good. Just a bit lost in thoughts, that is all. Sorry to worry you.”
“No need to be sorry, but you have to be careful. We don’t have as many cars going around as in the city, but an accident could still happen.”
“Yeah, how did you survive the city? Did you ever take a train too far stations?”
“Well, you know how most people read something or play with their phones while on the train. I couldn’t do that. I knew I would not notice when to get off. So, either I really focused on the announcements, or asked a classmate to drag me out when we reached the station.”
“And if there was none?”
“I had to get lucky.” It wasn't as bad as it was made out to be right now. Only rarely did I not get to school on time.
“Damn, your concentration is awesome. I wish I had it. Would make studying a breeze.”
“I might not get distracted while learning, but it is still work for me too.”
We horsed around a bit more, and talked to each other. During this, I looked to my left. The seat had been empty for the last few days. An absentee due to illness. I tried to remember his name, but came up blank. He was rather shy, and barely interacted with others. Even despite being next to him, we hadn’t really talked much. WE tried to rope him into the group, but it must have been too overwhelming, as he had taken off into the hallway. So, I had opted to try a tamer approach over a long time. Not that I could work on it now.

From the corner of my eyes, I glanced to a group of girls near the entrance. Then, the person I had been looking for entered the room. Another first year student of our class, one of the girls, Fujiwara Ayame. A rather popular girl in our class. Despite wearing a uniform like everyone else, she still stood out. Her long brown wavy her cascaded down her back. Her gentle face held hazelnut colored eyes, that rested above her slender nose, and the mouth that always curved into a gentle smile.
As she entered, the group greeted her, and she returned the gesture. Then, I caught it. Her gaze had wandered over to me. As our eyes met, she realized I was watching her. Then, acting as if nothing had happened, she entered the girls’ discussion.
“So, you are smitten with her too?” Sugimoto asked next to me.
“What?” I had no idea where that came form.
“There’s no need to be embarrassed and deny it. After all, a lot of people pine after her. Good looking, friendly, athletic and good grades. She is the whole package.”
“First time I heard about that.”
Ono chipped in. “Come on, no need to pretend. Everyone heard the rumors about her. Three guys have already confessed until now, and she shot them all down.” If you needed someone for information, he was the guy.
“…Hasn't school been only three weeks yet?”
“Yes, and that is why it is important!” Sugimoto let his emotions come out. “You could ask her out on a date to golden week, maybe visit her home, and then, then, …hehehehe.” I knocked him on the head to return him from his fantasies to reality. “Anyway, many people want to go out with her, so they want to take their chance before she is taken.”
“Is that so.”
“…Could it be you are really not interested in her?”
“I told you form the beginning.” Yes, I didn’t want to confess to her, or harbored secret desires for her. It was something else. From the beginning of this school year, I had always felt as if she looked at me. In the first week, I wrote it up to my imagination. But then, during the second week, I still felt it. So, I watched out, and noticed her stealing a glance from time to time.
It would have been no big deal, if it weren’t for the second fact: Looking at her gave me a feeling similar to the one I had when I just woke up from that recurring dream. Was she somehow connected? I couldn’t really go up to her and just ask, so I planned to observe for now.
“Still, for you to-”
Luckily, at this moment, our homeroom teacher entered, and signaled the beginning of class. For me it was good, as it meant the discussion would be stopped. And so, school carried on, like any other day…