❀ Present Time - June 27th, 2013 ❀
When I opened my eyes, the scenery that surrounded me was so white, it invited to an endless fog made of darkness that would continue for all eternity. Everything that seemed to be apparently full of vividness disappeared promptly just like fragments.
I had been walking on a never-ending path. It did not seem to have a beginning nor an end. Dense fog made the task more difficult, causing me to occasionally put an arm in front of my face and narrow my dark orange eyes a bit so I could see what was ahead, even knowing that, technically, it was impossible for there to be something.
There is nothing but fog and more fog.
It was getting denser and thicker. I shook my head violently, my low lavender pigtails hitting my cheeks. I continued my own path until I noticed a door in front of me. To my surprise, it stood on its own, frame unattached and nothing behind it.
What is a door doing here in the middle of nowhere? I wonder if I'll get somewhere when I open it ... or maybe I'll go to the other side, which is the same as here...
Doing my best to avoid falling into despair and doubt, I took a long breath and stretched out my hand to hold the knob. It was cold, and it turned slowly causing suspense for myself.
Crackles were coming from the wood and more light surrounded this world. It did not seem to be the same kind of place I was in and after placing all of my body in, a flash of light caused me to close my eyes for a few seconds.
Even if the world I was in right now was pure whiteness, it transmitted a lively aura.
A lively aura that was broken into new fragments, this unusual world falling at my feet, just like a puzzle at the mercy of a frustrated child who did their best to place all the pieces just to find out the last ones didn’t fit.
That's why the scene was suddenly becoming familiar.
That's why everything was overwhelming and insipid.
While collecting these fragments, I returned to a reality from which I wanted to escape.
A reality I want to avoid by dreaming that my life is ordinary, without deserving any kind of happiness.
But, undoubtedly, this was reality.
The pieces came back together, building up my location. They even took the time of re-creating the sound effects, making it more unnerving and heart wrenching.
I was in the middle of the rubble, letting myself be covered by the fire around me that little by little was going to be appeased by the rain’s rhythmic fall.
Memories emerged in my mind; memories of that predestined tragic day.
The silhouette of a small child was crying, bloodstains on their face while the rest of their body was covered under two burnt corpses.
That charred place used to be their home. Those two inanimate bodies their parents.
Yet, there was nothing left.
Everything had been destroyed.
Now, I wanted to vomit, revisiting this old memory I had locked in my brain.
However, I gave a step forward, standing next to the child.
Short lavender coloured hair alongside a bunny-shaped hairpin that held half of their fringe. That was undoubtedly me, ten years ago.
I felt that at any moment I was going to disappear, that this body was going to give in to this inviting unknown temptation.
The sound of the waves of fire, resembling an ocean roaring with intensity and ignoring the rain, and the smell of burnt objects mixed with ash that flooded my senses only confirmed my greatest fear.
This isn’t a dream at all.
“It isn’t at all, Yui!”
My blood pressure lowered after hearing that cheerful voice. A cheerful voice I had exchanged a few words with just a couple of days ago.
Turning around, I met face to face with Yuiko Tsukiame.
A deadly version of her with a rotten face, broken bones and a charismatic smile.
I held back a strangled cry. It was a cry full of emptiness. My voice didn’t come out. Nobody would notice my screams of despair. Still, I had to be strong. I had to keep my composure. I should not give in and fall.
I should keep on looking forward, just like I’ve been doing all these years: struggling alone.
There was nothing to do about it.
I had nothing else to do but to swallow the pain.
I took a deep breath, flooding my lungs with dust. It was difficult to step on the remains of what used to be my old house.
It was overwhelming to hold Yuiko’s hands, feeling how cold they were, and being this the way I would see her for the last time.
Yuiko gently caressed them, her fingers slowly travelling towards my throat. Feeling the pressure of her delicate hands depriving me of oxygen was enough to make me know that it was my punishment.
My punishment for being happy these last five months. For forgetting the greatest sin I carry. I allowed someone important to me to be killed again. This is, truly, what I deserve.
Unfortunately, it didn’t go according to plan.
The world froze as if someone had pushed the pause button.
I couldn’t feel Yuiko’s fingers pressure against me anymore, making me capable of breaking free. However, one of them fell in the process and I felt awful. I jumped back as a reaction but, by accident, I stepped on it.
What my shoes' sole had stepped on resembled jelly.
Soft and viscous.
I could imagine the texture of a sponge filled with water, which after squeezing it with all the strength you have, said liquid comes out.
I screamed from the bottom of my heart, wishing for this world to end.
For this realistic dream… For this daydream to end.
«My my, it seems I took this too far. I didn’t mean for it to have such a gore-ish turn.»
An unknown voice echoed, finally breaking my scenery into the fragments I saw previously. The world was again engulfed in white, nothingness invading my personal space.
The way things unfolded was insane but, internally, I was glad everything was over.
However, I still had to find out where exactly was I.
«You’re not even going to ask who I am?»
“I doubt I’ll get any answers, given it seems that you are the one who trapped me inside this white space. What is your purpose? Are you an ally of The Observer? Why did you ambush me and Nobu? What is this place?”
«I can’t believe you’re the one that inherited the Somnia Rosa Crystallum given you have no idea what this place is. You’re not worthy of it. You’re not worthy of being a Veneficae. Even so, seeing how your daydreams are tearing you apart, becoming almost reality in your eyes, I’m surprised this place hasn’t come crumbling down yet.»
“I know I’m not worth it…” lowering my gaze, I did my best to not show any fears. “But I’m trying anyway! I did a promise with Nobu, after all. I made a promise to Shinji too and with all the others… I promised I would fight for everyone’s sake!”
«And yet, you fall down against the death of a close friend. Did you know that the Veneficae of the other day perished as well? How did she go by…? Sweetch, I believe. Yet, here you are, not even shedding a single tear.»
«When you were out of combat during last week’s fight and taken to the hospital, she kept the battle going even if you warned her not to do it. Haven’t you seen the news?»
“I...” falling down to my knees, I held the urge to weep. “It’s… my fault…”
«Now, now. I can’t have you crying for all eternity. Your mind is chaos right now, and knowing that, I’ve made a small “test” for you. Show me your worth. Show me that a mere human can actually accomplish this job suited for divine beings.»
Before I could even say a thing or have my previous questions answered, a door appeared.
Enveloped in sparkles and clouds resembling cotton candy, I slowly stood up, taking the words the mysterious voice had said to heart.
Stumbling with my own feet, I stopped right up against it, feeling the texture of the door.
The roughness made me realize this wasn’t a dream at all after all.
«Neither a Daydream.»
“Why did you create this space just for me? What is this door for? Is it related to the previous door? What kind of test are you talking about? If it isn’t a Daydream...” I babbled.
«Open the Door of Dreams and you shall see.»
Stretching my hand, I reached towards a small nameplate located as a tag. Swiping the dust from it, it revealed a strange combination of kanjis that took me a while to read.
If only Manabu was here…! He’s clever with kanji readings.
“The last one means moon but…”
«Just get in there! I’m usually calm and rational but this guy outside isn’t giving up. I’ll have to push you through in order to get him off me.»
“Are you talking about Nobu…!?”
But before I could say anything else, the door suddenly opened while a gust of wind blew me away, towards an endless white.
Ah, yes… I think that kanji could be read as “Mutsuki”... huh.
All I could hear was the sound of the door closing, while I fell for what felt like an eternity.
❀ January 15th, 2013 ❀
I hear someone calling my name. I want to open my eyes but, I'm afraid. I'm afraid to see who it is. Should I open them? I'm scared.
They keep calling me. Please, stop doing it. Something tells me by the tone of their voice that this person is worried about me. But when I open my eyes, what do I reply? What I will see ...will it be nice? Will it make me feel pain?
Slowly, I open my eyes blinking endlessly. At the same time, I clumsily straighten up and survey my surroundings with a downcast look.
Feeling my bed’s surface and observing the blue sheets with polka dots, I knew I was home. Looking to the left, I come face to face with a boy that carried a worried look. Little by little, my eyes make his silhouette clearer, my mind finally stabilizing and acknowledging what was happening.
“Good morning, Nobuyuki.” A weak smile was formed in my lips.
“I’m so so glad you’re finally awake, my dearest!” hugging me in a tight embrace, the blue-haired boy didn’t let go of me. While I was being violently shaken by his constant energetic movement, I found my mind diverting into another dimension. “I was so so so worried, you were crying while sleeping!”
“I was… crying?” subtly, I could feel how tears were flowing down my cheeks. “You’re right… how strange.”
“Did you have a bad dream?”
“I…” but my voice came to a sudden halt.
It was that dream about my parents and the fire. Maybe that’s the reason why I felt dumbfounded when I heard Nobuyuki’s voice. I dissociated… I guess.
“Hm?” Nobuyuki stopped his hug just to retreat for a bit and tilt his face to the left innocently.
“It’s nothing!” I replied in a haste.
“Y’know, I’m not intruding your thoughts as you asked me to but, if I find out you’re lying…” he gave me a sides-look.
“It’s not a favour you must do for me, it’s called delicacy!”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever…” Nobuyuki shook his hand, uninterested.
I couldn’t believe how fast I had adapted to my current situation. A whole week had gone by since Nobuyuki’s mysterious appearance and for some unknown reason, I had taken things calmly, even as going as far as to make a list of chores and a “Do’s and Don'ts” list.
Even if in the beginning I was hesitant to live with an unknown boy, having his company wasn’t… bad at all.
That’s why I made those rules.
1. When it’s Shower Time, we’ll be doing different things. Example #1: Nobu’s Shower Time is first = Yui is cleaning downstairs. Example #2: Yui takes a bath = Nobu prepares breakfast/lunch/dinner.
2. When it’s School Time, Nobu must stay inside the house. Nobu should never open the door to strangers nor Yui‘s acquaintances. Especially SOMEONE named Shinjirō Hinaga.
3. When it’s Homework Time, Nobu should not interrupt Yui at any cost.
4. When it’s Shopping Time, Nobu should have a list done so Yui can go grocery shopping.
5. When it’s Laundry Time, Yui washes her own clothes. Nobu must NEVER attempt to wash or dry Yui‘s clothes.
6. When it’s Sleeping Time, Yui sleeps upstairs in her own bedroom. Nobu sleeps downstairs on the sofa (for now, until a sofa-bed is bought). THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS TO THIS RULE.
“Now that I think about it, you broke rule number six,” I said while standing up, tidying up my bed.
“The one about Sleeping Time?” he asked, his bed hair bobbing right and left. “Well, it’s morning now so Sleeping Time is over, right? That’s why I can enter your room now!”
I can’t believe he found a loophole.
Clearing my throat, I opened the curtains, the sudden winter sun falling against my dark orange eyes. The scenery blurred for a second, just to fix itself in a couple of seconds. Placing both hands on my hips, I turned around, pretending to be mad.
“Then, Rule #7. Nobuyuki can’t act as an alarm clock or enter my room without me letting him inside after, firstly, asking politely.”
“Ehhh, that sucks.”
“Live with it, magic boy,” I sighed, doing my best to keep my cool. I went straight towards my study desk, grabbing a permanent marker. However, before I could search for the sheet where I wrote the list of do’s and don’ts, Nobu had already manifested it in front of me with magic. “I’ll never get used to things appearing out of the blue.”
“Live with it, my beloved,” he winked with a witty tone, believing he had outsmarted me.
And so, I wrote the following.
7. When it’s Morning Time, Nobu can’t act as an alarm clock of any sorts nor attempt to wake up Yui. Even the “you are late for school” phrase won’t work as an excuse. If Yui is late, it’s Yui‘s own fault. However, if Nobu knocks on the door politely asking if he can enter, then it’s perfectly fine if the answer is “okay”.
“That’s absurd!” Nobuyuki protested. “What if someone is trying to attack you!?”
“I can protect myself perfectly well. Shinji taught me some self-defence! I’m not some silly protagonist from a shoujo manga that is protected all times by a guy. Those kinds of main characters make me angry for some reason...”
Although that was quite a while ago… I should pick up a sport, for now, to train my stamina so I can start practising again what he taught me.
“Shoujo manga…?” he tilted his head, confused.
“A-Anyways, it’s almost Shower Time for me, so I guess you know what that means.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m not some kind of sick pervert…” puffing his cheeks, Nobuyuki turns around. “I don’t know what guys find so amusing about spying on girls, it’s stupid and disgusting.”
“I can’t believe I agree with you for once with something. Still, that rule won’t be scrapped.”
“Okay, mum. Now, leave breakfast and your lunchbox to me! You were super excited about today so I’ll go all out so you can have a nice day at school!”
“Yup! Today we’re having a new transfer student! Actually, it’s not so much of a surprise for me since I met her around a week ago by mere chance… But I’m still super excited to see if we’ll be in the same class! It’s funny because she…”
I shook my head, trying not to say anything unnecessary.
“It’s nothing, really! Now, go go!”
I can’t let him know I find it a bit unnerving that Yuiko looks a lot like me. A “perfect” me.
“Hey, Yui! Stop pushing!” kicking him out of my room, I closed the door, just to see a very clear message hidden in his eyes.
I know you’re lying.
Once I sat at the breakfast table, what seemed like an all you can eat buffet was laying on top of it. Certainly, Nobuyuki had gone all out and used every single thing he bought last time since he slipped a small list of things I should buy the next time I went to the grocery store, even if he insisted it could wait until the weekend so we could go together as a “date”.
White rice was inside a colourful ceramic bowl I had no idea I owned. It seems that during his cleanup sessions, he had uncovered hidden gems throughout my house. On the left, rested another bowl. However, this one was white with some natto which didn’t look yummy at all. I’ve never been a big fan of it.
On the other hand, two soups were carefully served on the right: cold tofu and hot miso.
“That’s… a lot of food…” I sighed, looking at my belly. “Goodbye diet.”
“You’re still a young, growing, cute girl! You need to eat properly. You haven’t even gained weight since I started cooking for you and you dare talk about a diet, being underweight!” he yelled while approaching with a whisk on his right hand. His amber eyes sparkled, just to remember what he had on his left hand. “Here, some fried eggs and boiled fish!”
“Can’t I have the eggs and fish for…?”
“Now now, your lunchbox is already done! So you must eat everything on the table before you leave for school!” winking his eye, he magically popped up my pink lunch box which, today, had two compartments.
Wait a second… two…?
“Nobuyuki… did you… perhaps...?”
“Well, you need to eat so I thought that buying a bigger lunch box would be the best alternative! Here I could stuff everything I’m sending you today without suffering! And please, I’ve told you many times already… just call me Nobu!” he smiled happily, just like a proud mother would do.
“Just what is inside…?”
“Oh, since I know very little about Japanese cuisine I bought a book and…”
“I thought your Land and mine were strikingly similar due to your name and surname… why would you need to learn Japanese cuisine if…?”
“Don’t be so nitpicky, gosh!” he blushed, coughing. “As I said, don’t sweat the small details my dearest! Today, I made you some scrumptious rice with veggies, a few gyozas with a side of cucumber salad and miniature chicken skewers!”
“How am I supposed to explain all that food, Shinji is already suspicious!” I stood up from my seat, scared for my life. “I told you to tone it down with the food!”
“But I did my best to hold back, I didn’t use premium chicken meat nor anything fancy…” a fake tear strolled from his eyes. “How dare you treat me like this after all the effort I put into your food daily, filled with only pure love! Is this domestic violence? The classic the more they hurt you, the more they love you strategy?”
“That’s so messed up!” once again, doing my best to calm down, it was futile to avoid giving him a dead-eyed look. “Please, remember the day you sent me as lunch the leftovers from that wagyu sukiyaki you did and the huge mess it caused with my friends ‘cause I never cook and all I eat during lunch are sandwiches, croquettes or just rice cookies.”
Nobuyuki shivered in fear.
“I’ll… make sure to send you just one main dish and one side serving starting tomorrow, madame.”
“I’m glad you understood!” I gave him a sweet smile, sitting down again and savouring the food he made.
As always, it was delicious, destroying my heart by its bittersweet nostalgia.
“Have a nice day at school!”
After hearing Nobuyuki’s lukewarm words, I stepped outside and ran towards an uncertain day filled with excitement.
Shirakawa’s natural beauty was a delight to see with a wonderful winter breeze against my skin. Through the dirt road, the sea of trees is seen swaying gently in the whispering wind. Rippling reflections of the sun against the morning dew are shown in the peaceful surrounding hills.
The vastest tree from the road comes into view with its narrow finger-like branches reaching skywards and brushing the heavens; its gnarled bark and broad trunk radiating infinite wisdom.
The silent, harmonious noises of the countryside are now amplified. The ticking of the bicycle chains, the rustle of the winter leaves being softly blown down the road by the wind, the high pitched creaking of the temple’s door.
The gloomy grey sky, with its heavy nimbostratus clouds, blocking all of the sun's rays from reaching my small and peaceful village. The fridge-like coldness of the winter air freezing my face.
Nevertheless, I smiled. Overjoyed, today was certainly the start of something new. Yuiko finally transferred to our school. That’s why I barely noticed I made it in time for once the moment I realized I was standing around a handful of students from ages six to fifteen going inside the school building.
It stretched before me like a great quilt of golden, brown and green squares held together by the thick green stitching of the hedgerows that surrounded it. It rose and fell like giant waves on a gentle ocean and was dotted with students.
I could see my whole day mapped out before me and felt at peace with the world even if the crystal rose stuck on my chest told me otherwise.
What could possibly go wrong today?
"Hm?" I looked behind me, just to find the black german shepherd from some days ago. "Oh, hi!"
Wagging their tail with excitement, they looped all around me as if greeting me after a long parting.
"I see you're still hanging around over here... you couldn't find your owner?" Kneeling in order to be on their same height, I pat their head. "It's a shame I can't let you stay at home until they find you, I don't have enough space..."
They whined in disappointment.
"Are you feeling lonely? Do you want to walk to school with me?"
Leaping with happiness, the dog's ears perked alongside their mood.
"I'll take that as a yes!" I proceeded my daily commute, now with them by my side. "Now that I think about it, are you a boy or a girl?"
The black german shepherd tilted their face.
"Hm... I don't want to be rude so I won't look so... Kuro sounds like a nice name, don't you think? I can be either for a boy or girl!"
They barked with glee, apparently pleased they had a name to call their own now.
Now that I think about it, didn't Yuiko mention her dog was called Kuro as well? Ah, as always I'm hopeless with naming just taking the first thing that comes into my memory...
“Oh my God!” A sudden back hug took place, enveloping me in their body warmth. Catching me unaware, I slowly looked to see who was the culprit.
With that sudden outburst, Kuro got frightened and ran away.
I stretched my hand, begging to be freed in order to run and apologize to them.
Oh no, please, please don't hate me...! Why did Manabu show up out of nowhere scaring us like that!?
His blond hair, a bit spiky on the edges and a little below the base of his neck; a half tiny ponytail which leaves two strands on the sides of his face and bangs on the side, held by a pair of green hairpins was looking at me with his reddish eyes.
“Are you the real Yui? Not some kind of illusion or mirage?! It’s so strange to see you at the school gate so early in the morning!”
“You could say I have a new… alarm clock,” I laughed nervously, eyeing sideways. Apparently, he hadn't noticed I had Kuro's company with me so I avoided talking about it. “Wait for a second, we normally meet at one of the intersections with Shinji. I was there for five minutes and neither of you showed up.”
"Well… we kinda… lost faith in you waking up early.”
“Unbelievable!” Stretching my hand, I pinched his cheek.
“Ouchie…! Stop…!” freeing him, the blond boy shakes his head. “At least I usually meet up with Shinji there but for some reason, he said to me don’t wait for him today.”
“He’ll be late?” I asked, amused. “He never skips classes. Didn’t you ask him why? He hasn’t told me a thing!”
“I find it weird too, Yui-Yui,” he sighed. “Given his delinquent-ish looks, most people will start to think otherwise.”
“I think I’ll give him a call…”
“Let’s go to class!” grabbing me by the wrist, Manabu took me inside the school, while I did my best to free myself.
As always, the classroom was tidy, clean, and airy. The windows were open, the winter breeze making its way through the area. Plenty of light came in, the sun trying to fight the clouds that prevented it from shining brightly.
The big blackboard on the front wall had no notices nor anything written, making me curious and anxious at the same time. Everyone knew a transfer student was coming today but, the rumours hadn’t spread enough as to know to which class they would be assigned to.
“Good morning, everyone!” I raised my head from the desk, wondering when Ms Tanaka came inside the room. “How did you all wake up this morning? Even if it wasn’t all that great, remember that the day is just beginning!”
Our tutor tilted her head, pink fluffy hair waving alongside her movements. It was highly unusual for her to be so energetic and talkative.
Some whispering began between my classmates, doing their best to guess what Ms Tanaka was plotting by starting the day with meaningless talk. I still did not understand how they all formed ordinary hypotheses.
“Today, I would like to introduce you to a new person who will join our classroom!” once those words escaped her lips, my surroundings went into complete silence. “Please, I ask you all to be kind and help them with any problem they might have since they come from far away and aren’t used to the countryside lifestyle yet.”
“It has to be a girl! A very beautiful, gorgeous girl!” I hear Manabu whispering to himself, praying towards the nonexistent sky.
Yuiko! Yuiko is finally…!
“Or that’s what I’d love to say but, breaking news, due to last-minute organizing and bad staff management, out new student is on the classroom next door,” with a lowkey monotonous voice, Ms Tanaka’s usual personality came back, bursting my little bubble. “Now, behave yourselves and see you later during the day.”
And that’s how the rest of the day went by in a flash.
Social studies were the first period, which didn’t cause me a problem at all. Afterwards, Science class which was interesting. Since Shinji wasn’t still at school, Manabu and I teamed up with one less member and did a few experiments about learning the levels of pH in tap water.
I’m pretty sure Nobuyuki would find the Bunsen Burner amusing.
English was next, causing me a bit of trouble but nothing I couldn’t manage properly. However, music was the worst since I’m pretty much tone-deaf until, finally, the lunchtime bell rang.
“Ah, half of the day is done for now!” Manabu stretched both of his arms while he looked for some coins inside his bag. “Now, what shall I eat today? Dream☆Star had some omelette rice yesterday… maybe I should have some too...”
“I doubt they sell that in our small cafeteria…” I sighed, cautiously taking out what Nobuyuki had prepared for me.
“But… I need to do it for her… for Dream☆Star…” Manabu shed a fake tear.
“I thought celebrities ate fancier stuff.”
“She’s a high school student during the day and a magical girl during the night! A celebrity we can all feel familiar with! Look! Look! This is the omelette rice she posted yesterday on InstaIdol! Oh, snap, I didn’t save the picture… well, I screenshotted the Chirp she posted!”
My heart stopped after the mention of a certain word.
Magical… Girl… Now that I think about it… could that be true…? Could that Dream Star Girl be a Veneficae...? Would that make her an acquaintance of Nobuyuki? Although… it’s Manabu we’re talking about… he’s the type of people who believe everything. Still, it would be wise to investigate a bit more about this just in case!
That’s why I changed the topic.
“Insta… what? And why is she chirping? Does she like birds?”
“InstaIdol! That’s where people post their photos with fancy filters! You can follow them and stuff. Everyone can become an idol there!” Manabu took out his phone showing me an application that wasn’t loading due to not having mobile data available. The icon was pink with what seemed to be a multicoloured camera. However, he quickly showed me another one that was yellow and seemed to have a tiny chicken inside an egg silhouette. “And this is Chipper! A social media network where you can write stuff up to 170 characters! You can also Re-Chirp stuff you like, kinda like reblogging.”
“...So this is technology…!” my eyes were shining with excitement.
“Yui-Yui… I’m impressed you are so outdated with the world…” with a slight cough, my blond, red-eyed friend began to sparkle instead, “See, see? Here’s the cute little picture of the Chirp she made about the omelette rice!”
Zooming into the picture in question, all I could see from the girl were her cherry coloured nails and hair all over the place, plus a very blurry omelette that seemed to have a cat drawn with ketchup on top. Remembering the last picture Manabu showed us last time, it would seem this girl is awful at taking selfies.
Who am I to judge, I can’t even take one myself!
“I… Um... It’s… adorable!” was all I could manage to say.
“I know, right!? Ah, I’m so glad my 1,000 yens were used for such a wonderful meal…”
“... You donated money to her again?” I crossed my arms, a bit jealous. “Well… now that I think about it, that amount means almost nothing to you, Manabu.”
I wish I could ask for money so I can pay my living expenses! However, I still wonder to this day how my bank account isn’t empty yet… since I’m a minor they don’t want to disclose that information to me. Anyways, I should be grateful nothing bad has happened with that yet!
“It’s not even 0.5% of my allowance, hehe!” he smirked.
“Even if you’re rich, you should be more aware of what you spend your money into…”
“Yeah, yeah, now can we go eat? I see you have a big lunchbox over there and I don’t mind eating a bit of it seeing how last time you brought such premium meat… Geez, and you dare lecture me about wasting my money.”
I blushed due to the embarrassment, not knowing when the topic did a massive 180 turn against me.
“Okay, okay!” I yelled, pouting. “But first, let me go to the classroom next door!”
“Oh? Wanna take a peek at the new transfer student?”
“Kinda!” I nodded with excitement. “Let’s meet at our common spot in around ten minutes!”
Rushing out of the classroom, with lunchbox in hand, I went straight towards my objective, overjoyed. I didn’t know why but, even if Yuiko Tsukiame created discomfort in my heart, it filled it with a happiness I hadn’t known for a long time, even if we had only met twice.
As if she was a missing piece from my broken self.
That’s why I didn’t notice when I bumped into her just when she opened the sliding door.
Her cute innocence was enough to ease my inner demons.
Her fluffy, long lavender hair made a perfect match with the school uniform, alongside her breathtaking appearance and figure. Her pastel orange eyes were splendid, glimmering once she looked straight at me. The light blue sweater and red ribbon moved swiftly with her body, embracing me in a tight hug as if we hadn’t seen each other for months.
Just like two friends who reunite after a long, long time.
However, that embrace was slowly killing me. I couldn’t breathe due to her chest which was against my throat.
“Oh? Do you know Miss Samidare already, Miss Tsukiame? By the bye, I think she’s slowly losing consciousness. It would be best to tone down this emotional reunion.”
“Ah! Yes, you are right, Koharuno!” Yuiko lets go of me, deeply apologizing while I caught my breath again. “Yui, I’m so glad I was able to see you today! Although it is disheartening to know we are not in the same classroom…”
“Me too!” I replied happily. “Still, we can see each other during lunch! Talking about that, would you like to come with me? I can introduce you to my friends! Or well… one of them since the other is absent today.”
“It would be my pleasure,” bowing her head, she then raised it up to smile. “However, could it be in a few minutes? Koharuno is in charge of showing me around the school and we thought it would be fine during lunchtime.”
That’s when my brain processed the first voice I heard while I was on the brink of death. The vice-president of the Student Council was standing behind Yuiko the whole time, his short height making him almost invisible. Koharu Koharuno moved aside to greet me with a smile, not minding my absentmindedness at all.
“Ah, I’m so sorry for just noticing you were there!” I blurted out, just to regret it in seconds.
HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT YUI, THAT’S RUDE. AHHH.
“It’s all right,” he laughed it off, his teal eyes not showing anger at all. “In fact, seeing how both of you are such good friends, would you care to join us? I’m sure Miss Tsukiame would appreciate a familiar face alongside our small tour. Both of you look like long-lost sisters so surely that will make her feel at ease."
“Yup! It's interesting how we look so much alike. Also, sure, give me a second to text the others I'll be a tad late,” taking out my flip phone, I wrote a short message to Manabu saying I would take at least ten more minutes than expected. In a couple of seconds, the reply came, amazing the three of us.
“Hazakura does have impressing typing abilities,” commented Koharu, amused.
“He spends most of his time online so that must be it,” I smiled, just to look at the short, slanged answer.
20 mins + rite? ‘k im still srching 4 some omurice ♪say hi 2 the new student 4 me (。・ω・。)is it a grl? tell me its a grl!! (≧∇≦)/
My eyebrows twitched and I could see Koharu’s amused face turning into one of pure discomfort and sort of an: I can’t believe I keep social interactions with such a happy-go-lucky idiot.
Or at least that’s the aura I’m feeling around him. Shinji and I got used to it over time.
“I take back what I said,” recomposing himself, Koharu turned his back on us at the hallway. "Going back to the lookalike topic, I don't think it's actually something strange."
"Is it not?" This time, Yuiko was the one who did the question.
"Meeting your lookalike is not so unusual, scientifically speaking of course." Koharu fixed his glasses, amused he could share some knowledge towards someone. "There's about a one in 135 chance that a pair of complete doppelgängers exist somewhere in the world. But the likelihood of someone walking around looking identical to you, specifically, in all eight facial features is only one in 1 trillion. Sounds uncanny but certainly possible."
"Well, we are not quite identical..." I stuttered, doing my best to avoid looking at Yuiko's perfect figure.
"That is why, scientifically speaking of course, if we were to run a DNA test on both of you, even if you looked alike, you're not exact copies of each other."
"Well, that is a pretty obvious outcome. We aren't related." Said Yuiko.
"Most certainly. However, why do your exterior resemble each other so much if you are not composed of the same DNA? You see, people's perception of things have a... glitch, putting it in colloquial terms." His teal eyes were twinkling, meaning it was a fascinating topic for him.
Koharu has always been very inclined towards the scientific side of things, time and time again denying the possibility of the supernatural. Whenever spooky rumours came across the halls like the infamous seven mysteries, he debunked them immediately earning him the title of "The harbinger of Destruction of Fun" just because for the other students who found those topics amusing, he barged in uninvited throwing away their wild imagination out the window.
"Here’s what actually happens when your brain recognizes someone. It becomes a small computer programmer and every aspect of a person’s face represents a code. This system of face recognition would be an efficient way of telling one human from another until the glitch happens." Happily, he proceeded. "You might read someone’s face in the following order: eyes, mouth, nose. The size and placement of their eyes dictate the way you see the rest of their face. Another person might interpret these features in a completely different order: nose, mouth, eyes. The brain gets the same signals, but the scrambled order places emphasis on the nose instead and adjusts the perception of the rest of the face. In this way, we all see each other differently, making the credibility of doppelgängers a tad suspect. That is why if they see Miss Tsukiame on the streets, they might think it's Miss Samidare or vice-versa."
"So it all depends on the way we are perceived by others." I crossed my arms, doing my best to grasp what the ash-haired boy was saying.
"Exactly. Others might even be able to tell apart who is who in less than a split second if they have that glitch under control and have an amazing facial memory that is unable to forget faces."
"Those are some fascinating facts..." Yuiko nodded.
“Anyhow, I believe if I keep on talking I might go deeper into this and both of you will find it boring, as well as losing precious time from our small tour. Shall we begin?”
“Let’s go!” excited, Yuiko grabbed me by the arm while we followed the student council vice president. “For being a merged school, time is properly managed. I don’t see any Elementary students around.”
“Oh, that’s because our lunchtimes are different!”
“That makes sense, ehehe.”
Time went by absurdly fast.
Koharu’s tour went swiftly and without a single problem. There were, of course, students who got enchanted by Yuiko's charm and that made our task a little bit more difficult asking questions and that sort of stuff.
Despite the distractions, Koharu successfully managed to introduce Yuiko into our school showing her the third floor first, which had the small science lab alongside the home economics room next door.
This place was commonly used by first-year students since their classes were located here, plus some empty classrooms for club activities such as the light music club, the choir club, the art club and cooking club.
“Are you interested in clubs?” asked Koharu after stopping in front of the stairs. “If that’s the case, you can join one any time.”
“Is it not too much of a bother?” Yuiko tilted her head. “Normally, there are dates for that. I’m positive the ones here might have been during…”
“If Koharu says it, it must be because it’s possible!” I nodded, siding with him. “He’s the vice president of the student council, after all!”
“Oh my, having someone like that escorting me around here…” Yuiko lowered her shoulders, ashamed.
“It’s no problem at all,” he laughed nervously. “We are pretty empty-handed so I do plenty of chores around here. In fact, we don’t even have a student council president right now. Now, back to the club topic, there aren’t regular schedules regarding clubs so joining one at any time of the year is completely okay.”
“Wait, then how does the student council operate if..?”
“Oh! They wanted to make Koharu the president last year, right? I'm surprised you didn’t accept back then!” I added.
“Yes…” the fair-haired boy sighed, “Honestly, there’s already a lot I have to do and being president would be even more exhausting. That’s why that seat is currently available if anyone wants to join. However, I doubt someone will… Right now I’m taking care of those things as we speak so…”
“So you’re kinda like, a president vice president?” placing my index finger under my chin, I sighed.
“You could say that.”
“Then why are you still carrying the vice president charge if that’s the case?” asked Yuiko.
“I don’t like standing out too much. I feel a role like that is fine for me,” and Koharu gave an end to the conversation with a dazzling smile.
The second floor went without a problem since we started from there. Just the second year’s classrooms alongside the faculty office and library.
Lastly, the first floor with the third-year students was densely populated due to the school store’s daily bread and the cafeteria, plus some other rooms like the infirmary, the supply closet and so on.
Making our way through the crowd, since we were going to meet with Manabu in the courtyard, I thought it would be a good idea to tell Koharu too.
“I was planning to buy my food at the cafeteria, though. Is it fine?” he pondered.
“Yeah, no biggie. I’m pretty sure Manabu is still searching for omelette rice somewhere…”
“Very well then, I’ll meet up with you there.” And with that said, he walked slowly towards the place where many students fought to the death for a piece of bread. “Before I forget, though…”
Koharu reached out towards Yuiko, whispering something I was unable to hear.
“I will keep it in mind, Koharuno,” her reply came off as weak, her voice trembling for a bit.
“The Student Council is here to help, as I aforementioned. That is why there is no need to feel hesitant about that.”
“Yes, you are right.”
“For now, I would say to be mindful to avoid any… issues. In any case, I’ll take my leave. See you in a few minutes, Miss Samidare, Miss Tsukiame.”
What is happening…?
“Where are we going?” Yuiko blinked, trying to distract herself from what just took place.
“To the courtyard!” I replied happily, excited to finally chat a bit longer with her.
If she doesn’t want to talk about it, I shouldn’t push it. We’ve only known each other for a very short time, after all. But.. for some reason, her presence is… nostalgic and melancholic.
That’s why I took her hand with mine, feeling her warmth while I guided her towards my sacred, happy place.
Once we arrived, I was dumbfounded.
Shinji's face was bathed in the evening dew. His cheeks were reddish, meaning he had probably rushed towards the school at high speed. Despite that, his uniform was freshly ironed, the dark blue sweater reaching to his knees which he normally avoided wearing.
He was smiling, adjusting a bit of his hair behind his left ear. It glowed, reaching up to the nape of his neck. It was at that moment that I noticed that he seemed to have had a fight with the brush this morning since there were some rebel locks.
It was there when it hit me.
“What are you doing here as if nothing had happened!?” I yelled, scaring Yuiko who was right next to me.
The courtyard’s beauty was mesmerizing. However, what concerned me the most right now was my best friend who casually was having lunch with Manabu who somehow managed to find some omelette rice he was rapidly devouring.
“You were absent the whole morning!” I kept going.
“Blame my dumb sis’,” Shinji sighed. “Man, I couldn’t even change beforehand and almost went out in pyjamas when she called.”
“Oho, my sister complex radar is on fire right now!” Manabu said slyly.
“... That’s disgusting, you freak!” Shinji had to cover his face with his beanie hat. “Whatever, being sixteen she’s a lost cause by being so stupid for forgetting her own lunchbox at home and asking me to deliver it to her. There was a huge traffic jam and it took me around two frigging hours to reach Takayama!”
“Are these two your friends…?” Yuiko whispered to me, while the other two boys kept ranting.
“You could say so,” I tried to laugh it off. “I hope they don’t scare you or anything. Shinji can come off and look like a delinquent but he’s actually really sweet. See? Even if he argues about his amazing sister, he goes all out for her, even if it means arriving late to school! On the other hand, Manabu can be a bit aloof, but he’s the student with the best grades here!”
Yuiko seemed excited, her irises shining when she saw me talking about them. My heart skipped a beat, not knowing where to look.
“You know, to tell you the truth, Yui—”
But she found herself being interrupted.
“Omigosh is she the new student!?” Manabu stood up, almost dropping the omelette rice he was eating. "She looks like Yui-Yui's clone!"
A burst of a nervous laugh escaped my lips. He was right.
Shinji caught it up in midair, clearly annoyed.
“Don’t go wasting the food you pestered me so much to get you!” he grumbled. “Remembering that text message you sent me gives me the creeps.”
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my name is Yuiko Tsukiame. I moved here from Oboronashi, Gifu. In spite of being from the same prefecture, it is still a bit difficult for me to adapt fast to the countryside life, so I hope to don’t be a nuisance from here on out.”
“So… formal…” Manabu placed a hand on his lips.
“It isn’t Mr Student Council Vice President level, though,” Shinji scratched his neck. “I’m Shinjirō Hinaga. These two airheads call me Shinji for some reason. Nice to meetcha."
Shinji hasn't said a thing about how similar we look. Must be to avoid an uncomfortable atmosphere...
“I’m Manabu Hazakura! I… don’t know what else to say! I like talking but when it comes to these things I’m like, too overwhelmed by not knowing what to say about myself! I’m the one who came with nicknames for everybody! Yui is Yui-Yui, Shinji is Shinji... ”
“HEY, THAT’S NOT MY—”
“And since you’re called Yuiko… calling you Yui can be confusing so… Tsukiko!”
“And once again I was ignored. Hey, um, Tsukiame… you don’t have to accept what this idiot says from the get-go. He just pulls everyone into his own rhythm without consideration.”
Yuiko didn’t answer back, just laughing gracefully.
I wonder what Yuiko wanted to say to me during lunch. In the end, she never brought that topic back and when Koharu arrived we all chatted about mundane stuff. She also kept quiet all that time... Maybe we overwhelmed her a lot being her first day and all...
Those were my thoughts once I came back home from school.
“Nobuyuki?” I called his name while taking off my shoes, changing them for slippers. “Did anything happen today?”
“Oh, Yui! I didn’t hear you open the door!”
His dark blue hair was decorated with multicoloured pins, leaving his forehead and skin clearly visible while he sat on the living room’s sofa. With an apron on top of what used to be one of my dad’s old running clothes, he seemed to be reading a small book while he waited for his toenails to be done.
Wait… waiting for what?
That’s when I saw a plastic bucket with hot water and a brand new make-up kit laying on the carpet. When our eyes met, I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be some sort of body skincare lotion on his cheeks. His eyelashes were incredibly long, refined and pretty, making me a tiny bit jealous.
“I’m so sorry, I lost track of time with this and now I’ll start dinner later than usual…” he sighed in dismay, disappointed with himself.
I left my school bag on the dining table, still trying to picture what my mind was seeing.
“Are you… is that… a pedicure kit?” I blurted out, unable to hold it in.
“Yup! I went out for a walk today to make myself a bit more familiar with the area and stumbled around a shop that had all these little things. Ah, my feet feel rejuvenated… Wanna do it too?”
“Uh… I’ll pass…” I was unable to say we couldn’t share the same items he used to clean his nails.
“Aw, but I can at least share the skin lotion with you! Here, here! My cheeks are super soft!” he squeezed them, playing like a small child.
“I don’t think I…”
But he still did it, grabbing my fingers right down to his face.
Caressing his tender skin, I could indeed confirm the product did deliver what it offered.
“You’re right… They’re…”
However, in just a couple of seconds, things took a dramatic turn of events.
The book he was reading fell to the floor. The water poured over the carpet. The cushions were soft and warm. Nobuyuki’s gaze was fixed at me, cornering me inside a limited space while holding my wrists.
“I missed you…” I could feel his lukewarm breath next to my ear, my body shivering by instinct. “I missed you so, so much…”
“Ah…” speechless, I couldn’t think of a proper comeback.
A couple of minutes passed, the tension between us two growing more and more, my heart beating as fast as it had never done so before. However, a small part of my brain screamed. Screamed that this wasn’t right. That something was wrong. I had no idea why, but my heart now ached in pain.
“So? Do you feel some love towards me now?!” Nobuyuki released me, sitting proudly and hitting his chest as if he had done an incredible thing.
“I… what?” dazed, I stood up.
“Aw, it didn’t go by like in the manga,” he pouted, crossing both of his arms.
“Manga? What else did you buy at that store…?” I reached out to it, observing how the water dripped from the pages.
“I saw a section of that thing you mentioned early in the morning. Shoujo manga! I got the one that was the most popular and if it’s the same one you were talking about I do agree the protagonist is… not very intelligent when it comes to her decision with guys… Anyways, what I was trying to say is that I tried to drive you into a heart-pounding situation!”
“You tried to WHAT?”
“But that showed me you're not as gullible as a common protagonist so that means you’ll do an excellent job as a Veneficae!” he kept on going as if nothing wrong had happened.
“You shouldn’t play with a girl’s heart like that!”
“Who says I was playing?” he winked at me but, for some reason, it just made me doubt him more. “Well, whatever… Now go do your stuff and I’ll make dinner in a jiffy!”
“Oh right! Before that though… are there any other… Veneficae you know around here?”
“Hmm? Why do you ask?”
“Nothing in particular, just curious…”
However, his response came as off and cold distant.
Even if the day goes like any other. Even if my life keeps its daily pace. There are things I need to know in order to keep that in order. That small happiness I’m so afraid to grasp… and I’m sure… that it won’t be easy.