Chapter 2:

Revealing a path

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

Half of the day was over, and people went to either take out their food, or run into the cafeteria, in hopes of gathering rare and popular items. I had my food with me. Mom was always kind and prepared some for me and dad. From time to time I helped her out, and instead took over morning duties. At some point, I would be living on my own, and it would be good to practice when I had time. As a bonus, right now I had a tutor watching over me, and a critique that wasn't me.

And so, I did not think much at all, and wanted to take a look outside, into the courtyard. There, I saw something bizarre. A girl was walking through the garden we had there. She was on the smaller side, with a thin build. Straight, long black her fell down and parted at her shoulders. Nothing out of place there. However, she wore a shrine priestess uniform. That itself was unusual. But, perhaps she was a member of the theater club, and advertised for it. Well, maybe she hoped to garner attention with her cosplay with cat ears and tail. Yes, it was cosplay, there was no other word I could put to her. But, what really made her stand out to me: Other people paid her no attention. Like, none at all. She walked right past them, and they didn’t so much as turn to look. As if she wasn't there in the first place.

Seeing her walk about gave me the same feeling like watching Fujiwara gave me, and felt like a scene form my dream was playing out right in front of me. I didn’t know how or why, but it happened. Now, if this wasn't a clue connected to it, I didn't know what was.
So, I said screw it to my meal plans, and bolted out the classroom door. It was time to get answers. Dodging people in the hallway was easy, as most were either still in the cafeteria, or had already found a place to eat. The hallways flashed past me, and I was outside. After orienting myself for a quick moment, I turned left, and followed the way where I had seen the girl before. I turned the next corner. There was no sight of her. Sure, it had been a minute, but for her to have gotten that far? Well, nothing to do about, it, I kept going forward.

At the beginning of school, I had familiarized myself with the layout of the building and grounds, to make sure I would not get lost. And, in this direction, was a dead end. A small green area with shrubs and flowers planted by the gardening committee. Benches there allowed for comfortably taking in the scene. But, as I said, it was a dead end. If she had kept going that way, she was stuck there, or I would have seen her move elsewhere.
Now, with confidence, I calmed my breathing, and walked the last few steps more slowly. And, as expected, there was someone: Sitting on the bench, relaxed and nonchalant, was a female student. Not the priestess I had seen, but Fujiwara. And, on her lap, laid a cat. It yawned lazily, and didn’t bother raising its head in my direction to check who came. Strangely enough, its fur was the same color as the vanished girl’s hair.

…No way this was a coincidence. I was sure of it. But, what could I do? What could I say? Ask if this cat was a human person just a minute ago? No. That would make me look like a madman. There had to be another way.
Of course, me just standing there didn't go by unnoticed. Fujiwara’s hand, that had been petting the cat until now, came to a stop as she turned to me, and asked “May I help you?”
Her voice threw me out of my thoughts. “Ehm, no.” Come on, you can’t just leave it at that. “Well, actually… did someone just come by? Like, before I got here?”
“No, I haven’t seen anyone. It was just me and Suzu, right?” For the last part, she had turned her face down, looking at the cat. “Meow.” It gave a satisfied answer, and cuddled further into the lap, serving as its pillow.
“Is that so. Then, please excuse me from disturbing you.” I bowed in apology.
“Don’t worry about it. I hope you can find the person you are looking for soon.”
“Yes…” Her statement felt ominous, as if she had control over it. With nothing left to do, I turned around, and walked back. And, as I walked, could swear I felt two pairs of eyes starring into my back. I didn’t turn around, but I imagined the two of them, smiling menacingly while watching me leave.

The event had passed, and as I returned, I gave a vague excuse as to why I suddenly ran out of the room. Then, joined by my friends at a table, we ate lunch. We had some talk, with decisions of which club to join for the undecided, and what to do over our free week. As for clubs, I hadn’t joined one yet. In our school, it wasn’t mandatory. Many students helped their parents with local businesses, so it would disturb them. I took advantage of that fact, and hadn't signed up yet. I didn’t have to do anything like that, but I didn’t feel like joining any of the clubs. I might wait a little, watch how things go, and then join one. But, for now, none was good.
Lunch passed all too quickly, and lessons resumed.
And, almost as quickly, they passed too. My mind kept going back to what had happened at the beginning of lunch, but I managed to retain enough focus during lesson to follow what played out on the blackboard. Now, with school over, the class split into groups. I shot a glance over at Fujiwara, if she behaved any differently from before. But, she acted as usual, and left the room. ‘Maybe I am just reading too much into the situation.’

Letting the matter go for now, I turned to my neighbor, who hang over his desk defeated. “You alright?”
“How do they expect us to know all of this?” Smoke was coming out of Sugimoto’s ears, his brain overheated. …That was an overstatement, but it would fit the scene.
“This is stuff some middle schools teach in the last year. Might you be bad with math?”
“Abysmal might be a better description.” We were joined by Ono.
“Hmm… Want me to explain it to you. I am good with numbers and such.” It was correct. Math, science, IT, everything that had to do with numbers and logic came to me easily. But, when I had to turn to literature and history, I had to put in more effort.
“Thank you for the offer.” Having revived halfway, Sugimoto rose from the desk. “But I want to give it another try myself. If I do not get it while learning today, I will come back to you.”
A smile moved onto my face. Instead of directly giving up and relying on others, he wanted to tackle the problem himself first. An admirable attitude. “Alright. Do your best.”
“You are right I will!” Pumping himself up, Sugimoto left in high spirits, dashing out the classroom.
“Hey! You wanted to head to the store with me after school!” Ono shouted after him. He turned to me, mumbled a quick “Sorry.”, and headed after his friend. Those two had been friends for several years now. They didn't exclude me during anything, but moments like these still happened.
At times, I would chase after them, and join them. But, as was just established, Sugimoto wanted to try his best without my help for today. So, I took it easy, and slowly walked out the building.

Outside, a breeze was going, carry the late spring scent heavy with flowers. Enjoying the was a good option, but how? This was what I thought about as I walked to the gates. I didn’t have any plans yet for today. However, I still had something on my to-do list: researching regional spots. I wanted to offer at least one place we could meet and go to during the short vacation, but didn't have any deep insight on the region. So, research was needed. I had asked a few locals and done some light reading on the internet. So, I decided today would be the day I checked for more info, and would narrow down the list.
I walked out the gate, and kept trying to organize the entries in my head. But, something stopped me. I felt something pulling on the sleeve of my jacket. Or rather, someone, as it turned out when I looked behind me. Only then could I hear the voice calling out to me.
“Are you ignoring me?” Fujiwara was asking me. There was no obvious upset in her voice. But, I could tell she was miffed, as her voice carried a sharp undertone.
“N-No. Sorry, I had been lost in my thoughts.” Why was she suddenly talking to me, one on one? And why here, and not in the classroom. People passed us by, and threw glances at us. A few even pretended to be on their phones, but were obviously intently listening in.

Now, with a clearer head, I asked her. “Is there something you need of me?”
She let go of me, and the usual smiling expression returned to her face. “Not really. More, the other way around.”
“Huh?” I didn’t understand.
“Well, you had been looking for someone during lunch break, right?”
“Yes.” Where was she going with this?
“Well, I now know who you meant.” ‘What?’ “Sorry, it kind of skipped my mind. You see… she is not a student here.” The second half was whispered, as to make sure others didn’t hear it. Trespassing was never a good thing. “She had come to visit me. But, as she wasn’t officially here, I didn’t think you had been looking for her. Probably. By the way, how did the person look you saw?”
I gave a concise description. “She had long, straight back hair, a small and slim build. About this height. And… well…” but was unsure as to whether mention her outfit. Not to speak of the animal accessories. So, I opted for a more covert way of expression. “She wore a white top with red bottoms.” If Fujiwara knew who I was talking about, it would be a match.
And she nodded, so it must have been relayed. Not only that. While describing her, it felt as if her eyes had taken on a shine, regarding me somewhat differently. “Yes, that is her. She is a friend of mine. May I ask why you have been looking for her?”
“… I wanted to ask her a few questions.” Not much more I could say in for now.
“Is that so? Then, how about this?” She pulled out her phone, and after a few tips with finger, handed it to me. “Here, a new contact. Please write your number in.”

“Sure…” I did as I was asked, and handed her the phone back. She grabbed it, and quickly wrote a message. A second later, my phone vibrated, and I took it out. A number I didn’t know.
“That was me, just making sure there were no typos. I will ask her when she has time, and arrange a meeting between the two of you. Would that be alright?”
“Yes…” It happened so quickly. After years of nothing, now, I had finally a lead on what was up with me and that dream. However, for some reason I felt no joy about it. I was… calm. Was it perhaps that reality hadn’t set in yet?
I shook my head, discarding that thought. Whatever it was, it could wait a few days, and I would know more. Mind clear once more, I looked at Fujiwara, still standing in front of me, almost expectantly. ‘…Oh.’ “Thank you.”
“You are welcome.” She flashed me a smile. Then, twirling around, she joined a group of girls. Seeing them made me remember we were surrounded by other people. Now, aware of them once more, I also became aware of their mumbling and rumbling, as many comments flew about. “Who is he?” “How did he get her number?” “What is the relationship between he two of them?” And so on.
Surely, I would have to endure some gossip and questioning the next morning…