Chapter 6:

Volume 1 ❀ Chapter 4: Open the Door of Dreams ~ Cute Innocence


❀ Present Time - June 27th, 2013 ❀
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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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

There is nothing but fog and more fog.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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...
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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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Even if the world I was in right now was pure whiteness, it transmitted a lively aura.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

That's why the scene was suddenly becoming familiar.Bookmark here

That's why everything was overwhelming and insipid.Bookmark here

While collecting these fragments, I returned to a reality from which I wanted to escape.Bookmark here

A reality I want to avoid by dreaming that my life is ordinary, without deserving any kind of happiness.Bookmark here

But, undoubtedly, this was reality.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

Memories emerged in my mind; memories of that predestined tragic day.Bookmark here

The silhouette of a small child was crying, bloodstains on their face while the rest of their body was covered under two burnt corpses.Bookmark here

That charred place used to be their home. Those two inanimate bodies their parents.Bookmark here

Yet, there was nothing left.Bookmark here

Everything had been destroyed.Bookmark here

Now, I wanted to vomit, revisiting this old memory I had locked in my brain.Bookmark here

However, I gave a step forward, standing next to the child.Bookmark here

Short lavender coloured hair alongside a bunny-shaped hairpin that held half of their fringe. That was undoubtedly me, ten years ago.Bookmark here

I felt that at any moment I was going to disappear, that this body was going to give in to this inviting unknown temptation. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

This isn’t a dream at all.
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“It isn’t at all, Yui!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Turning around, I met face to face with Yuiko Tsukiame.Bookmark here

A deadly version of her with a rotten face, broken bones and a charismatic smile.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

I should keep on looking forward, just like I’ve been doing all these years: struggling alone.Bookmark here

There was nothing to do about it.Bookmark here

I had nothing else to do but to swallow the pain.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, it didn’t go according to plan.Bookmark here

The world froze as if someone had pushed the pause button.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

What my shoes' sole had stepped on resembled jelly.Bookmark here

Soft and viscous.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I screamed from the bottom of my heart, wishing for this world to end.Bookmark here

For this realistic dream… For this daydream to end.
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«My my, it seems I took this too far. I didn’t mean for it to have such a gore-ish turn.»
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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. Bookmark here

The way things unfolded was insane but, internally, I was glad everything was over. Bookmark here

However, I still had to find out where exactly was I.Bookmark here

«You’re not even going to ask who I am?»
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“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?”Bookmark here

«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.»
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“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!”Bookmark here

«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.»
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“She… what…?”Bookmark here

«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?»
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“I...” falling down to my knees, I held the urge to weep. “It’s… my fault…”Bookmark here

«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.»
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Before I could even say a thing or have my previous questions answered, a door appeared. Bookmark here

Enveloped in sparkles and clouds resembling cotton candy, I slowly stood up, taking the words the mysterious voice had said to heart. Bookmark here

Stumbling with my own feet, I stopped right up against it, feeling the texture of the door.Bookmark here

The roughness made me realize this wasn’t a dream at all after all.Bookmark here

«Neither a Daydream.»
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“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.Bookmark here

«Open the Door of Dreams and you shall see.»
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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.Bookmark here

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If only Manabu was here…! He’s clever with kanji readings.
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“The last one means moon but…”Bookmark here

«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.»
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“Are you talking about Nobu…!?”Bookmark here

But before I could say anything else, the door suddenly opened while a gust of wind blew me away, towards an endless white.Bookmark here

Ah, yes… I think that kanji could be read as Mutsuki”... huh.
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All I could hear was the sound of the door closing, while I fell for what felt like an eternity.Bookmark here

❀ January 15th, 2013 ❀
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"Yui?"Bookmark here

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.
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"Yui?"Bookmark here

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?
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Slowly, I open my eyes blinking endlessly. At the same time, I clumsily straighten up and survey my surroundings with a downcast look.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Good morning, Nobuyuki.” A weak smile was formed in my lips.Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“I was… crying?” subtly, I could feel how tears were flowing down my cheeks. “You’re right… how strange.”Bookmark here

“Did you have a bad dream?”Bookmark here

“I…” but my voice came to a sudden halt.Bookmark here

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.
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“Hm?” Nobuyuki stopped his hug just to retreat for a bit and tilt his face to the left innocently.Bookmark here

“It’s nothing!” I replied in a haste.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“It’s not a favour you must do for me, it’s called delicacy!”Bookmark here

“Yeah, yeah, whatever…” Nobuyuki shook his hand, uninterested.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

Even if in the beginning I was hesitant to live with an unknown boy, having his company wasn’t… bad at all. 
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That’s why I made those rules.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

3. When it’s Homework Time, Nobu should not interrupt Yui at any cost.Bookmark here

4. When it’s Shopping Time, Nobu should have a list done so Yui can go grocery shopping.Bookmark here

5. When it’s Laundry Time, Yui washes her own clothes. Nobu must NEVER attempt to wash or dry Yui‘s clothes.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Now that I think about it, you broke rule number six,” I said while standing up, tidying up my bed.Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

I can’t believe he found a loophole.
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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.Bookmark here

“Then, Rule #7. Nobuyuki can’t act as an alarm clock or enter my room without me letting him inside after, firstly, asking politely.”Bookmark here

“Ehhh, that sucks.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Live with it, my beloved,” he winked with a witty tone, believing he had outsmarted me.Bookmark here

And so, I wrote the following.Bookmark here

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”.Bookmark here

“That’s absurd!” Nobuyuki protested. “What if someone is trying to attack you!?”Bookmark here

“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...”Bookmark here

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.
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Shoujo manga…?” he tilted his head, confused.Bookmark here

“A-Anyways, it’s almost Shower Time for me, so I guess you know what that means.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“I can’t believe I agree with you for once with something. Still, that rule won’t be scrapped.”Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“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…”Bookmark here

“She…?”Bookmark here

I shook my head, trying not to say anything unnecessary.Bookmark here

“It’s nothing, really! Now, go go!”Bookmark here

I can’t let him know I find it a bit unnerving that Yuiko looks a lot like me. A “perfect” me.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

I know you’re lying.
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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”.Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

On the other hand, two soups were carefully served on the right: cold tofu and hot miso.Bookmark here

“That’s… a lot of food…” I sighed, looking at my belly. “Goodbye diet.”Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“Can’t I have the eggs and fish for…?”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

Wait a second… two…?
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“Nobuyuki… did you… perhaps...?”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“Just what is inside…?”Bookmark here

“Oh, since I know very little about Japanese cuisine I bought a book and…”Bookmark here

“I thought your Land and mine were strikingly similar due to your name and surname… why would you need to learn Japanese cuisine if…?”Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

Nobuyuki shivered in fear.Bookmark here

“I’ll… make sure to send you just one main dish and one side serving starting tomorrow, madame.”Bookmark here

“I’m glad you understood!” I gave him a sweet smile, sitting down again and savouring the food he made.Bookmark here

As always, it was delicious, destroying my heart by its bittersweet nostalgia.Bookmark here

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“Have a nice day at school!”Bookmark here

After hearing Nobuyuki’s lukewarm words, I stepped outside and ran towards an uncertain day filled with excitement.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

What could possibly go wrong today?
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Bark! Bark!Bookmark here

"Hm?" I looked behind me, just to find the black german shepherd from some days ago. "Oh, hi!"Bookmark here

Wagging their tail with excitement, they looped all around me as if greeting me after a long parting.Bookmark here

"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..."Bookmark here

They whined in disappointment.Bookmark here

"Are you feeling lonely? Do you want to walk to school with me?"Bookmark here

Leaping with happiness, the dog's ears perked alongside their mood.Bookmark here

"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?"Bookmark here

The black german shepherd tilted their face.Bookmark here

"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!"Bookmark here

They barked with glee, apparently pleased they had a name to call their own now.Bookmark here

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...
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“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.Bookmark here

With that sudden outburst, Kuro got frightened and ran away.Bookmark here

I stretched my hand, begging to be freed in order to run and apologize to them.Bookmark here

Oh no, please, please don't hate me...! Why did Manabu show up out of nowhere scaring us like that!?
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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.Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

"Well… we kinda… lost faith in you waking up early.”Bookmark here

“Unbelievable!” Stretching my hand, I pinched his cheek.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“He’ll be late?” I asked, amused. “He never skips classes. Didn’t you ask him why? He hasn’t told me a thing!”Bookmark here

“I find it weird too, Yui-Yui,” he sighed. “Given his delinquent-ish looks, most people will start to think otherwise.”Bookmark here

“I think I’ll give him a call…”Bookmark here

“Let’s go to class!” grabbing me by the wrist, Manabu took me inside the school, while I did my best to free myself.Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

Our tutor tilted her head, pink fluffy hair waving alongside her movements. It was highly unusual for her to be so energetic and talkative.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“It has to be a girl! A very beautiful, gorgeous girl!” I hear Manabu whispering to himself, praying towards the nonexistent sky.Bookmark here

Yuiko! Yuiko is finally…!
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“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.”Bookmark here

And that’s how the rest of the day went by in a flash.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I’m pretty sure Nobuyuki would find the Bunsen Burner amusing.
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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.Bookmark here

“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...”Bookmark here

“I doubt they sell that in our small cafeteria…” I sighed, cautiously taking out what Nobuyuki had prepared for me.Bookmark here

“But… I need to do it for her… for Dream☆Star…” Manabu shed a fake tear.Bookmark here

“I thought celebrities ate fancier stuff.”Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

My heart stopped after the mention of a certain word.Bookmark here

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!
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That’s why I changed the topic.Bookmark here

“Insta… what? And why is she chirping? Does she like birds?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“...So this is technology…!” my eyes were shining with excitement.Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Who am I to judge, I can’t even take one myself!
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“I… Um... It’s… adorable!” was all I could manage to say.Bookmark here

“I know, right!? Ah, I’m so glad my 1,000 yens were used for such a wonderful meal…”Bookmark here

“... 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.”Bookmark here

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!
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“It’s not even 0.5% of my allowance, hehe!” he smirked.Bookmark here

“Even if you’re rich, you should be more aware of what you spend your money into…”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

I blushed due to the embarrassment, not knowing when the topic did a massive 180 turn against me.Bookmark here

“Okay, okay!” I yelled, pouting. “But first, let me go to the classroom next door!”Bookmark here

“Oh? Wanna take a peek at the new transfer student?”Bookmark here

“Kinda!” I nodded with excitement. “Let’s meet at our common spot in around ten minutes!”Bookmark here

“Alrighty, Yui-Yui!”Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

As if she was a missing piece from my broken self.
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That’s why I didn’t notice when I bumped into her just when she opened the sliding door.Bookmark here

Her cute innocence was enough to ease my inner demons.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Just like two friends who reunite after a long, long time.
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However, that embrace was slowly killing me. I couldn’t breathe due to her chest which was against my throat.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“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…”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Ah, I’m so sorry for just noticing you were there!” I blurted out, just to regret it in seconds.Bookmark here

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“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."Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“Hazakura does have impressing typing abilities,” commented Koharu, amused.Bookmark here

“He spends most of his time online so that must be it,” I smiled, just to look at the short, slanged answer.Bookmark here

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!! (≧∇≦)/
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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.Bookmark here

Or at least that’s the aura I’m feeling around him. Shinji and I got used to it over time.
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“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."Bookmark here

"Is it not?" This time, Yuiko was the one who did the question.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"Well, we are not quite identical..." I stuttered, doing my best to avoid looking at Yuiko's perfect figure.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"Well, that is a pretty obvious outcome. We aren't related." Said Yuiko.Bookmark here

"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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"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.Bookmark here

"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."Bookmark here

"Those are some fascinating facts..." Yuiko nodded.Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s because our lunchtimes are different!”Bookmark here

“That makes sense, ehehe.”Bookmark here

Time went by absurdly fast. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“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…”Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“Oh my, having someone like that escorting me around here…” Yuiko lowered her shoulders, ashamed.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“Wait, then how does the student council operate if..?”Bookmark here

“Oh! They wanted to make Koharu the president last year, right? I'm surprised you didn’t accept back then!” I added.Bookmark here

“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…”Bookmark here

“So you’re kinda like, a president vice president?” placing my index finger under my chin, I sighed.Bookmark here

“You could say that.”Bookmark here

“Then why are you still carrying the vice president charge if that’s the case?” asked Yuiko.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

The second floor went without a problem since we started from there. Just the second year’s classrooms alongside the faculty office and library.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“I was planning to buy my food at the cafeteria, though. Is it fine?” he pondered.Bookmark here

“Yeah, no biggie. I’m pretty sure Manabu is still searching for omelette rice somewhere…”Bookmark here

“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…”Bookmark here

Koharu reached out towards Yuiko, whispering something I was unable to hear.Bookmark here

“I will keep it in mind, Koharuno,” her reply came off as weak, her voice trembling for a bit.Bookmark here

“The Student Council is here to help, as I aforementioned. That is why there is no need to feel hesitant about that.”Bookmark here

“Yes, you are right.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

What is happening…?Bookmark here

“Where are we going?” Yuiko blinked, trying to distract herself from what just took place.Bookmark here

“To the courtyard!” I replied happily, excited to finally chat a bit longer with her.Bookmark here

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.
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That’s why I took her hand with mine, feeling her warmth while I guided her towards my sacred, happy place.Bookmark here

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Once we arrived, I was dumbfounded.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

It was there when it hit me.Bookmark here

“What are you doing here as if nothing had happened!?” I yelled, scaring Yuiko who was right next to me.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“You were absent the whole morning!” I kept going.Bookmark here

“Blame my dumb sis’,” Shinji sighed. “Man, I couldn’t even change beforehand and almost went out in pyjamas when she called.”Bookmark here

“Oho, my sister complex radar is on fire right now!” Manabu said slyly.Bookmark here

“... 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!”Bookmark here

“Are these two your friends…?” Yuiko whispered to me, while the other two boys kept ranting.Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

Yuiko seemed excited, her irises shining when she saw me talking about them. My heart skipped a beat, not knowing where to look.Bookmark here

“You know, to tell you the truth, Yui—”Bookmark here

But she found herself being interrupted.Bookmark here

“Omigosh is she the new student!?” Manabu stood up, almost dropping the omelette rice he was eating. "She looks like Yui-Yui's clone!"Bookmark here

A burst of a nervous laugh escaped my lips. He was right.Bookmark here

Shinji caught it up in midair, clearly annoyed.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“So… formal…” Manabu placed a hand on his lips.Bookmark here

“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."Bookmark here

Shinji hasn't said a thing about how similar we look. Must be to avoid an uncomfortable atmosphere...
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“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... ”Bookmark here

“HEY, THAT’S NOT MY—”Bookmark here

“And since you’re called Yuiko… calling you Yui can be confusing so… Tsukiko!”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

Yuiko didn’t answer back, just laughing gracefully.Bookmark here

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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...
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Those were my thoughts once I came back home from school.Bookmark here

“Nobuyuki?” I called his name while taking off my shoes, changing them for slippers. “Did anything happen today?”Bookmark here

“Oh, Yui! I didn’t hear you open the door!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Wait… waiting for what?
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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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

I left my school bag on the dining table, still trying to picture what my mind was seeing.Bookmark here

“Are you… is that… a pedicure kit?” I blurted out, unable to hold it in.Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

“Uh… I’ll pass…” I was unable to say we couldn’t share the same items he used to clean his nails.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“I don’t think I…”Bookmark here

But he still did it, grabbing my fingers right down to his face.Bookmark here

Caressing his tender skin, I could indeed confirm the product did deliver what it offered.Bookmark here

“You’re right… They’re…”Bookmark here

However, in just a couple of seconds, things took a dramatic turn of events.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“I missed you…” I could feel his lukewarm breath next to my ear, my body shivering by instinct. “I missed you so, so much…”Bookmark here

“Ah…” speechless, I couldn’t think of a proper comeback.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“I… what?” dazed, I stood up.Bookmark here

“Aw, it didn’t go by like in the manga,” he pouted, crossing both of his arms.Bookmark here

“Manga? What else did you buy at that store…?” I reached out to it, observing how the water dripped from the pages.Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“You tried to WHAT?”Bookmark here

I snapped.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“You shouldn’t play with a girl’s heart like that!”Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

“Oh right! Before that though… are there any other… Veneficae you know around here?”Bookmark here

“Hmm? Why do you ask?”Bookmark here

“Nothing in particular, just curious…”Bookmark here

“I see.”Bookmark here

However, his response came as off and cold distant.Bookmark here

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.
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You can resume reading from this paragraph.