Chapter 10:

Volume 1 ❀ Chapter 7: Month of Love & Affection ~ Where It Began


❀ When the characters are talking in "English" I used "italics" to make a difference hope that doesn't confuse anyone! ❀ Bookmark here

❀ Past - January 24th - Midnight Bookmark here

An ominous boom startled me out of my abysmal nightmare. My cheeks were wet and my body was bathed in a cold sweat. The sheets were twisted around my limbs, probably because I was thrashing in my sleep. My heart pounded against my chest.Bookmark here

I trembled.Bookmark here

The room was entirely dark. No light anywhere. The remnants of the dream still clung to my mind, haunting me. I let out a frightened cry and buried my face into the hotel's low-quality pillow. Even my breaths trembled. I swallowed and once again turned to see the endless darkness of the room.Bookmark here

I couldn’t see anything.Bookmark here

Except for Miss Hazawa, sleeping peacefully. She seemed to be having a pleasant dream.Bookmark here

"I wonder what that dream was...?" I whispered into nothingness, looking into the white ceiling, stretching my hand. "An endless stair and to strive for a light... a little girl... Truly strange..."Bookmark here

For now, the best was to try to sleep again.Bookmark here

After all, tomorrow is our first experience at an actual workplace!Bookmark here

❀ Past - January 24th - Morning Bookmark here

Takayama Postal OfficeBookmark here

Bookmark here

The office was painted grey, and it had only one floor-to-ceiling window, which faced the main road. On the grey desk sat a desktop computer, a notebook lying open, and a stack of papers sitting under a turtle-shaped paperweight. In a corner, the air conditioner was blasting at medium, and there was a swivel chair in the middle of the office. A bookshelf, bursting with books was in a corner, with yet another stack of papers under a paperweight that was shaped to look like a tuft of grass. A few pens were lying on the papers, but some had fallen onto the top of the bookshelf.Bookmark here

Shinji and I looked face to face, being the only ones who applied here. Everyone else had gone to the supermarket to get free food or either to easier places like the local shrine or pick-up trash. Shinji applied because the place is just in front of his sister’s school and, even if she is on vacations right now, she is willing to come to see us and I applied because of that exact same reason.Bookmark here

In a state of half-organized clutter, mahogany desk with three drawers on the right-hand side, swivel chair, several stacks of paperwork, pens in a tin, floor to ceiling bookshelf, books leaning against one another different directions, filing cabinet with paperwork stacked on top, water dispenser with no cups, we got placed and learned the ropes.Bookmark here

"Okay so you, girly. What was your name again?" said a bald man who I couldn't remember his name at all.Bookmark here

"S-Samidare, sir. Yui Samidare." I blurted nervously.Bookmark here

"And you big guy?"Bookmark here

"Hinaga," Shinji said flatly.Bookmark here

"Alright, so ya see... Postal Service workers receive and process mail for delivery to homes, businesses, and post office boxes. Workers are classified based on the type of work they perform. You girly there, are going to be a Postal Service clerk. What do they do? They sell stamps, money orders, postal stationery, mailing envelopes, and boxes in post offices throughout the country. These workers register, certify and insure mail, calculate and collect postage, and answer questions about other postal matters. You can read the manuals over there."Bookmark here

He pointed toward a storage room. I saw huge stacks of books, leaning against shelves stretching even higher towards the ceiling. The leather spines lined up perfectly, a whole room filled with valuable editions. However, I hadn't expected all the dust. It looked like the whole place hadn't been touched for a decade, maybe more.Bookmark here

"Perhaps that's why no one works here..." I whispered to Shinji.Bookmark here

"Nah, we just got the early morning shift for this." He replied dryly. "Man, can't wait to get this over with."Bookmark here

"Now you, boy, you'll be a Postal Service mail sorter, processor, and processing machine operator. You prepare for incoming and outgoing mail for distribution at post offices and mail processing centres. You load and unload postal trucks and move mail around mail processing centres. You also operate and adjust mail processing and sorting machinery."Bookmark here

"Hey, I'm underage, I cannot be in charge of heavy machinery!" Shinji protested.Bookmark here

"Calm down! You'll be under supervision."Bookmark here

"Easy there, Shinji..." I sighed while the man went away, "Let's do our best, perhaps Shiiko will visit! I'll go and read the manuals so I can learn how to deal with the clients!"Bookmark here

"Good luck over there... Be careful!" I could tell he was worried about the books falling all over me.Bookmark here

Frankly, I was as well.Bookmark here

Once I a made it in, for a moment, I just stared at the shelves and shelves of manuals before me. From far away, the shelves are a collage of narratives, each textbook taking the physical form of a book with its own unique size and colour. The shelves are quilts of writing, they are stages of art unique from any other. As an avid reader, I can appreciate that, I can love that.Bookmark here

I should find them quickly and be done in less than an hour!Bookmark here

I took out some and sat around in a circle while I pondered how Manabu and Yuiko were doing. I never found out where Miss Hazawa was going to patrol today since when I woke up, she was gone. I wanted to ask her if she was feeling better, her injury last night looked badly. I even had a medical kit with me but I couldn't think straight and sent in a panic Shinji and Koharu to buy something for her fever... However, according to Manabu, it could be something else entirely.Bookmark here

I shook my head.Bookmark here

I could text Manabu and ask, they should be done with their induction as well and Manabu is pretty sly with his phone.Bookmark here

And that’s when I saw the thousands of text messages he sent me yesterday during my encounter with Seraphine Hazawa inside the bus, while he and Shinji saw from the sidelines.Bookmark here

I got paralyzed. Bookmark here

First of all, we have a chatroom. A chatroom we mostly avoid using unless it is an extremely important emergency and it seems yesterday's incident it was according to their eyes because it started with them asking me to answer if I was okay—to start with how on Earth I could be, being intimidated by such a girl?—to then a conversation between them.Bookmark here

❀ Chatroom: 23rd of January Bookmark here

Manabu: Yui-Yui isnt replying maybe shes mad? (。•́︿•̀。)Bookmark here

Shinji: Well, given you are annoying...Bookmark here

Manabu: ISBookmark here

Manabu: SHEBookmark here

Manabu: MADBookmark here

Manabu: ?Bookmark here

Manabu: ┏༼ ◉ ╭╮ ◉༽┓Bookmark here

Shinji: Please write in a single message remember her phone is old and will explodeBookmark here

Manabu: IBookmark here

Manabu: DONTBookmark here

Manabu: CAREBookmark here

Manabu: (((( ;°Д°))))Bookmark here

Shinji: Anyways, shouldn't we be helping her out? She seems in trouble...Bookmark here


Shinji: Have it your way.Bookmark here

Manabu: WAIT IS SERAPHINE GONNA HIT HER? =͟͟͞͞( •̀д•́)))Bookmark here

Shinji: I thought you weren't worried?Bookmark here

Manabu: WHAT R THEY TALKING ABT?! (☄ฺ◣д◢)☄ฺBookmark here

Shinji: If we go and help her out...Bookmark here

Manabu: NO WE ARE NOT... OH NO YUI ε=ε=ε=(ノTдT)ノBookmark here

Shinji: Do not underestimate her.Bookmark here

Manabu: SHE IS GONNA HIT HER!Bookmark here

Shinji: DUDE CHILL.Bookmark here

Manabu: I could GLADLY take her place (♥ω♥ ) ~♪Bookmark here

Shinji: ... what?Bookmark here

Manabu: If she were a 2D girl ofc. And Yui isnt my friend anymore bUT OH MY LORD IS SHE GONNA BE OKAY? Bookmark here

Shinji: She will, now CHILL.Bookmark here

Manabu: I will SHILL ¯\_(⌣̯̀⌣́)_/¯Bookmark here

Shinji: That wasn't funny.Bookmark here

Manabu: I only want 2D girls to step on me Shinji no worries!Bookmark here

Shinji: You play 3D idol Mobages though.Bookmark here

Manabu: Yeah but they stay inside another world and come from PNGs cards so 2D!Bookmark here

Manabu: ❤⃛ヾ(❛ ▿ ◠)Bookmark here

Shinji: I don't even...Bookmark here

End of chatlog: 23rd of January Bookmark here

That was the end of it.Bookmark here

Even after reading all of this, and understanding why Manabu called me a traitor yesterday evening, I felt like there was prodigious courage pushing inside me, demanding me to be brave and strong. I never had this kind of bravery before, yeah, I felt proud of myself. I had to write even after these circumstances. They were silly and very Manabu-ish, to say the least.Bookmark here

Courage washed through me like a perfect surfer's wave.Bookmark here

My phone chimes in my skirt’s pocket, alerting me to have received a text message. I stare at it, sitting on the floor, then rush to grab it hoping it’s Manabu. Digging it out of it, I tap the button and check my chat messages—holding my breath when I see Yuiko’s name in bold at the top of the list. Did she add my number to my cell? My finger shakes as I tap her name.Bookmark here

When did she get it? I had hers when I asked in one of our outings a while ago but I do not remember giving mine to… Oh, wait! She's working at the supermarket with Manabu so...!Bookmark here

Yet, before I could open it, Shinji's voice came out of nowhere waking me up from reality.Bookmark here

"Hey, Yui, are you done with the books we have our first customer!"Bookmark here

"Y-Yeah, coming!" I lied, trying to tidy them up.Bookmark here

Rushing to the counter, I positioned myself next to Shinji and said good morning to the client just to notice it was a woman around twenty-four or twenty-six years old.Bookmark here

"Good morning ma'am," said Shinji, bowing.Bookmark here

"Good morning, miss," I said as well, mimicking him.Bookmark here

She appeared in the room with the winter snow billowing around her black dress. I never thought that middle length orange hair could look so good on someone alongside crystal clear eyes. With her head held high, she waltzed on with an effortless saunter. The clicking of her heels added rhythm to the soft classical music that played onward without pause. Her eyes scanned the room with determination in search of someone and when her eyes met mine she smiled. So beautiful it was like the stars themselves decided to rest behind the soft cushion of her cheeks.Bookmark here

"Good morning. I just wanted to buy some stamps to send some letters with tracking on them. You two look young, are you part-time working? Although you seem to be in junior high..." she crossed her arms, suspiciously.Bookmark here

"Oh, of course, it is not what you think, we are here from Shirokawa for our job experience project." Explained Shinji politely. "Let me check your envelopes while my coworker here Miss Samidare helps you choose the stamps of your liking."Bookmark here

Woah, Shinji appears to be such a different person...Bookmark here

"Alrighty!" She replies, approaching me. "See, I want to send to these prefectures... Hokkaido, Saga, Ehime, Mie and Tokyo. How much would it be?"Bookmark here

"Um, give me a second...!" nervously, I opened a folder where all the prices were in plus the designs. "Please while I check choose a design for the prefecture of your choice!"Bookmark here

I could feel my heartbeat… every single pound in my chest. But I couldn't lay there. I had to but I couldn't. This great pounding, this great pressure; every beat. I couldn't hear it, but I could feel it. This pressure urges the words, this horrible pressure.Bookmark here

Shiji looked at me, his deep eyes tranquillizing me. Telling me it was going to be alright.Bookmark here

"It's 5 yen per piece, so it will be a total of 25 yen for five stamps, please," I said, my beats rhythmically falling into place. "I hope you got the stamps you like the most."Bookmark here

"Oh, most definitely." The woman said amused.Bookmark here

"Now my friend here, I mean my coworker Mr Hinaga can help you! It was a pleasure doing business with you. He will take the final charge."Bookmark here

But before I could say something else, the pounding came again. So suddenly, my chest hurt wildly, the rose affecting my panic attack not being capable of acting like a normal human being. I went slowly towards the storage room with an excuse saying I had to bring some stuff from there. However, I was sure Shinji didn't believe an inch of it.Bookmark here

I let myself fall once the door closed.Bookmark here

I felt the panic begin like a cluster of spark plugs in my abdomen. Tension grew in my face and limbs, my mind replaying the last attack I had back in my home a few weeks ago before I found the crystal rose. My breathing became more rapid, more shallow. In these moments before my personal hurricane... anything to stop the primal urge to flee.Bookmark here

I hit speed-dial for Nobuyuki at home, no answer. I called again, my heart racing faster—no answer. Again—no answer. Again—no answer. No Nobuyuki.Bookmark here

My eyes scanned my other contacts and the panic grew.Bookmark here

In seconds I was curled tight in between the manuals I didn't manage to order properly, my only movement the trembling of my limbs and salty tears darkening her my uniform. There I stayed, unaware of the passing of time until I found the feelings had passed. Though I could still hear each of my breaths, rasping just the same as when I had the flu—I'd made it.Bookmark here

No Nobuyuki, just like before he entered my life.Bookmark here

No help.Bookmark here

Just me.Bookmark here

With the slightest of smiles and pink puffed eyes, I rose. Next time would be easier, and the time after and the time after, until it all went away. For the first time in forever, I had the hope of being free, able to just be myself.Bookmark here

Knock. Knock.Bookmark here

The door slightly opened.Bookmark here

“Yui...?" Shinji almost had one of those attacks when he saw me lying there.Bookmark here

"What is wrong underclassman Hinaga...?" Miss Hazawa's voice pushed him aside. "Omigosh, you look dead."Bookmark here

"You were inside here for like three hours I was worried! I thought you fell asleep but..."Bookmark here

Three… hours…?Bookmark here

"You didn't even dare to open the door until I arrived? Yui dearie what kind of friends you have?" Miss Hazawa seemed like an illusion while inspecting her polished nails.Bookmark here

"I could say the same to you! Yui was worried for you and you disappeared from the room not even leaving a note and now this!" Shinji sounded angry.Bookmark here

"I am in charge of this area of Morishitamachi and unfortunately that means you, underclassman Samidare, underclassman Tsukiame and underclassman Hazakura will be with me and it's almost lunchtime. So we'll take a brief recess...! But first, we’ll get them!"Bookmark here

"You are evading my question!" suddenly I could see him go pale even by me lying on the floor. "Wait did you say lunchtime...?"Bookmark here

And the door to the post office opened.Bookmark here

"Yahoo!! Shin-Shin I came to have lunch!!"Bookmark here

Shiiko's appearance was untimely that her scream when she saw me lying on the floor almost lifeless even brought the Postal Office owner downstairs.Bookmark here

“Um, can my sister come with us…?” Was all Shinji said, getting Miss Hazawa’s white-washed blonde hair nod of approval.Bookmark here

 Past - January 24th - Midday Bookmark here

Supermarket “Toku Toku Satou”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Sleek, automatic, glass doors slid smoothly open, only to divulge a cacophony of noise. Accompanying the noise, flamboyant red signs stood tall and proud, enticing a sea of innocent shoppers towards them with insidious promises. Aisles braced themselves against the pulsating throng of vibrant colours. Customers pushed and shoved as they tried to squeeze past one another trying to gain access to the many bargains, the statue-like security guards being the only still people insight.Bookmark here

Inside, each trolley collision resonated like a thousand crashing cymbals. Shelf stackers dissolved into the chaos. A boa constrictor’s victim, trapped inside the reptile’s stomach would have had more room to breathe than here; it truly was as busy as a hive full of bees.Bookmark here

“Now, where could these two be?” Miss Hazawa tilted her head while we made our way inside the crowd. “As far as I know they got easy jobs like sales assistants.”Bookmark here

Following her back, I turned to face Shinji who didn’t look at all happy about this, especially since Shiiko distracted herself every second she could.Bookmark here

“Shinji, is it true that I passed out for three hours straight? It felt like only minutes for me…” I whispered. "And now we have upperclassman Hazawa all healthy and her neck is all fine... and there is no sign of her being sick. In fact, I see her even healthier than yesterday!"Bookmark here

"That's what I want to know too... answering your first question I mean," he replied, coughing. "It felt like minutes for me as well but I had to lie to don't make Hazawa panic and keep her 'you should get better friends'' line. However, I do remember feeling extremely sleepy. Suddenly she knocked on the door and it was midday. I remember the customer left, a couple of more came and then it happened."Bookmark here

Deep within the supermarket, a small child dragged his feet along the polished marble as he was pulled along; shiny, smart trainers screeched piercingly against the flooring. The boy whined noisily. Prying heads snapped to the source of the noise, either sighing disdainfully or smiling knowingly. Unruly, ebony black hair exploded from the boy's head like a jungle, illuminating a sharp nose and bright, azure blue eyes that glowed with resolve. Whining as loud as a banshee he struggled to let go of his mother's grip.Bookmark here

"Shiiko used to be like that," said Shinji out of nowhere. "A crybaby. Now, look at her."Bookmark here

The shop was gleaming inside and out, but it had the sterile, over-air-conditioned feel of a big boxed store. The uniforms of the assistants were immaculate and bright, but their smiles were pasted on and shallow. Their eyes had no warmth and they stood like well-rehearsed would-be actors for an audition.Bookmark here

Yet, Shiiko was dazzled by them and explored every and each corridor, especially the music section and let out a cry of over-excitement whenever she saw a pre-order of her debut single even if the image cover said: "Printing".Bookmark here

Soon, for me, she became another noise in yet another one of the different sections of the aisles; the food department was each reaching out with alluring aromas, mesmerising customers so they could almost taste the food. The scurrying customers were completely oblivious to the booming speakers, who despite at full volume, could not delve into the cascade of noise.Bookmark here

"Oh, there they are!" Miss Hazawa pointed at them and, in fact, there were my two friends interacting with customers. "You two wait here, I'll go fetch them."Bookmark here

"That'll save us some time then," Shinji said casually while she left, taking me where his sister was, "We need to take her out of the music section before she starts performing or something..."Bookmark here

"I want to see her performing!" I protested. "You practically kicked me home last time!"Bookmark here

"You had no idea what I experienced!" he covered his ears, as if it were some sort of trauma, his face turning pale. "Remember my sister used to be in this idol group of five?"Bookmark here

"Yeah! They sang really cute songs! They were so bopping! I have all the merchandise of your sis!"Bookmark here

"Well... let's say..." but suddenly, that tanned pale went to purple. "Bloody hell, she's..."Bookmark here

And he ran.Bookmark here

"Hey, Shinji!"Bookmark here

Until I saw what made him panic.Bookmark here

Without warning, the lights from the music area went dark. My adrenaline went through the roof. The time had finally come that I would get to see and hear my first live concert. I had this big hunch. This increasing premonition Shiiko was about to sing.Bookmark here

I had never really been to a big concert that had a well-known band. Little did I know what an absolutely spectacular time I would have. Bookmark here

The improvised stage lit up unbeknownst to the safety staff who tried to stop her while some people recognized her instantly when she tied her hair in low ponytails. However, she was still with her normal clothes on, which was a pair of jeans and a checkered white blouse with purple patterns and a long pink jacket. Bookmark here

Once her lips were open, Shinji, closed his ears and eyes, froze and braced for impact.Bookmark here

Yet, I was dazzled and excited. The music began in the background, her voice captivating the audience.Bookmark here

"♫ Even despite such important issues, why... The secrets of those who aren't spoken of in textbooks... My psychological distance from you cannot be measured. The circumstances are just too unintelligible! Surely, with this our love’s distance is squarely within range. But unexpectedly, it was only a pretence! ♫"Bookmark here

The sweat travelled on her neck, drops flying in the air.Bookmark here

"♫ The more I know, the more painful it is. Yet for some reason, I still want to know. A hidden prayer, it’s a miserable pattern far, far off from zero distance. In this unbalanced situation where everything scatters if I speak, I cannot say it to you one way or another. I want to remain with you as we are now! ♫"Bookmark here

The sweat trickled down her back, free-flowing like condensation on a windowpane, it beaded on Shiiko's forehead and dripped from her chin. I always knew a Shiiko was doing well when the sweat droplets on her skin began to run down her face and limbs and splash onto the floor of the scenario floor. Beads as salty as tears would run into her lips. Bookmark here

By the time she was done her idol outfit was so wet it needed wringing out and her hair was plastered to her scalp. Moving as she did in those days sure didn't make her look pretty while she was doing it, red-cheeked and soaked in her own perspiration, but after all these months of hard work, she was getting a few double-takes in when she was just beginning and made me want to root for her. Because even if she didn't look pretty at first, it was that not-prettiness that made her shine even more in my eyes.Bookmark here

She took out her jacket, ready to sing another one.Bookmark here

"My name is Shiiko Tottori! As you can see," she screamed on the microphone, pointing out the CDs section to the small audience. "My solo debut will be out soon! You can pre-order a copy now! So now one last song seeing that my brother is here! Oh and Yui! Hey, guys! I'll sing my bro's favourite song!"Bookmark here

"She sang a decent one..." Shinji had uncovered his ears and nodded while my eyes shined until he processed the last bit. "Oh bloody fucking hell, no..."Bookmark here

"It is called..."Bookmark here

"No... not that one..."Bookmark here

"Why?" I suddenly asked him. "Is it really that bad?"Bookmark here

"You see, my sister's concert yesterday was amazing okay? It's just... don't even know how to explain it."Bookmark here

"Aw, you are ignoring me, I don't want to sing anymore!" pouting, she put on her jacket again and the security staff was relieved to settle down things and were so confused how they couldn't single-handedly outmatch that sixteen-year-old girl. "I got an early copy for you, Yui! Hope Shinji doesn't ruin the surprise for you!"Bookmark here

"Oh my gosh, Shii you are the best!!!!" I restrained my urge to hug her.Bookmark here

"It even comes with a DVD of the concert so consider it a special edition from my part," she winked her eye, to then look menacingly to her younger brother. "Don't you even dare."Bookmark here

"I won't interfere anymore..." He sighed.Bookmark here

"Ah yes, here they are, should've guessed that noise belongs to Shii's beautiful voice!" that was definitely Manabu, who came alongside Miss Hazawa and Yuiko.Bookmark here

"This girl sure knows how to make a spectacle..." Miss Hazawa sighed, arms crossed.Bookmark here

"We could hear your voice all over the supermarket speakers, Shiiko," added Yuiko, smiling.Bookmark here

That’s when I see that they were using their school uniforms just with some red aprons on top of them, nothing fancy at all.Bookmark here

“What were your jobs? My bro’s one was boring…” Shiiko crossed her arms in a mischievous way, sticking out her tongue.Bookmark here

“It was incredible!” Manabu spoke.Bookmark here

“Well, you will see…” however, Yuiko was interrupted by Miss Hazawa.Bookmark here

“We can speak after lunch, I found a place nearby which is cheap and seems like a nice little café.”Bookmark here

We all looked at each other not knowing where we were going.Bookmark here

❀ Past - January 24th - Midday Bookmark here

Café “Sabou Kuramo”Bookmark here

Bookmark here

The cafe lies ahead, its royal blue paint glistening in the first golden rays of the day. I can see the raindrops that cling, jewel-like to the name. Outside the sidewalk that will bustle in a few short hours is quiet, the concrete oblivious to whether it is midday or midnight. My face smirks upward at the sight of the flower planter to the right, the town has put in new blooms that will give us flashes of sunny yellows and hot pinks through when the springtime arrives. If I stop walking right now I can almost hear the heartbeat of the town, quiet, like the ticking of an old grandfather’s clock.Bookmark here

Once Miss Hazawa opened the sliding door, a new world descended upon us five.Bookmark here

What first received us was a four-layered wall hanger with tiny classic Japanese decorations while towards our left there was a red fake door with a bushido mask. Turning left, we could appreciate three long black glossy tables approximately for eight people or four people. However, there was also a small lounge bar with four seats which had teapots and espresso machines. Yet, to my surprise, there seemed to be a drum set, an acoustic guitar, and a piano. I wondered if they played music at a certain time of the day. The place was luckily empty, just some three people on the bar drinking some espressos.Bookmark here

"Welcome, how may I help you?" a young man approached us, who seemed to be a barista.Bookmark here

"A table for..." Miss Hazawa did some headcount. "Six. Yes, six people, please."Bookmark here

"Right this way, please."Bookmark here

And so, we were seated while Miss Hazawa ordered six hand-side soba lunches and everyone said their side dishes. When everything was in order, and conversations went on their own sides, I could finally ask Yuiko about her work.Bookmark here

"Oh yes, I wanna know as well!" Shiiko added, "I remember I did something similar in my junior high! But it was in a convenience store."Bookmark here

"Well, Hazakura and I were grocery store clerks. It entails ensuring that transaction prices. We also performed functions with all departments to ensure payments are made correctly and all invoices are well handled." she replied politely.Bookmark here

"The importance of making sure that cash payments made on the merchandise are well monitored is very important to the development of the grocery since it is profit-oriented!" added Manabu.Bookmark here

"This responsibility is to ensure that the merchandise is well stocked, stored, and filled so that they will be well accounted for. We also help customers locate products on the shelves, although Hazakura handled that the most..."Bookmark here

"Yeah, you stole all the cute girls from me..." pouting, Manabu then smiled and drank a bit of some tea Miss Hazawa ordered previously while we waited. "Yet, I dare say she was really efficient, Tsukiko."Bookmark here

"Talking about efficiency, Yui was pretty concerned about you, Hazawa. How come your wound on the neck healed so quickly?" Shinji went straight to the point. "Or either something is up or you have some pretty efficient makeup to cover that shit."Bookmark here

"Shinji!!" I whispered.Bookmark here

"Bro... what did I tell you about language?" Shiiko added.Bookmark here

"Shut up, you do the same."Bookmark here

It's such a cliche, right? Bookmark here

"You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife?"
Bookmark here

Well, that just happened.Bookmark here

When anxiety and fear grab me by the tongue and dry my mouth, I don't panic anymore. I've been there before, I know the feeling, and knowing it makes it less scary - I am all the stronger for my battle scars. So instead of letting it take me down, I tell myself everything will be alright. I remind myself that I am a good person, I do good things, I have a heart full of love and there is the world is full of good people out there. Fear can only hold me back, stop me from reaching my dreams. I can't say it never comes again, but each victory gets a little easier.Bookmark here

I just had a panic attack a while ago so I need to think positive!Bookmark here

However, it was starting again, yet... It wasn't as fearsome as it was during the morning.Bookmark here

The thoughts were accelerating inside my head. I want them to slow so I can breathe but they won't. My breaths come in gasps and I feel like I will blackout. My heart is hammering inside my chest as it belongs to a rabbit running for its skin. The room spins and I do my best to make everything slow to something my brain and body can cope with... Until I found it... A strap.Bookmark here

Seraphine Hazawa had a strap coming out of her skirt's pocket.Bookmark here

"Did you buy a strap somewhere? It looks adorable!" I blurted out.Bookmark here

The silence caressed her skin like a cool summer breeze, smoothing her soul, taking away her jagged edges. It had been one hell of a rough day for all of us. In seconds, Miss Hazawa took a sip of tea to avoid the uncomfortable stillness that had taken over.Bookmark here

The silence of the café made my blood as cold as the winter air that crept through an open window. Bereft of any wind the leaves outside hung limply until they fell of their own accord, there was no whispering noise or rustling. It was as if nature conspired to keep ourselves in the dark, not daring to whisper the reassurance I craved. Her head snapped in an instant from gazing out of a window with unfocused eyes to mine.Bookmark here

"Underclassman Samidare, do you have a few minutes to spare. I need to talk to you," was all she said.Bookmark here

Suddenly, I met with Yuiko's silence as well once my roommate stood up and left outside and Shinji cursed under his breath.Bookmark here

Her quietness was somehow comforting and spoke for itself, it was peaceful in a way where you could feel at home and know that no matter what was happening, she was forever there for you. She nodded as if telling me everything was going to be okay.Bookmark here

I did the same and rushed towards Miss Hazawa, who was hugging herself outside. From the inside, I could hear Shiiko and Manabu pout about the food recently arriving when we just left.Bookmark here

"Your friend doesn't miss a single detail, doesn't he?" Miss Hazawa walked through a small alleyway on the back and rested on a wall. "It disappeared overnight. I really don't know what it was, to be honest. When I woke up... it wasn't there anymore."Bookmark here

"Why are you telling me this...?" I whispered quietly.Bookmark here

"I really have no clue" she confessed. "Perhaps because we aren't a hundred per cent friends? There are things you can tell certain people and... you noticed this."Bookmark here

She took out the smartphone she had yesterday, tightly clasped on her hands. The fake plastic heart-shaped strap hanged on it, shining brightly like a ruby. It was pretty and glimmered like a thousand suns.Bookmark here

"Yesterday's smartphone..."Bookmark here

"You see... I have two phones. This one is my personal one where... Nevermind that. This strap means a lot to me, just like yours. That's why I believe I can trust you, even if you aren't the sort of person that I would share my spare time with. The phone I had with me yesterday... It's linked to another number. Let's say no one can get the contact info of my smartphone but they can contact me on the other one."Bookmark here

"Um, thanks?" I said partially confused. "Although you did spend your spare time with me yesterday."Bookmark here

"Makeup time is makeup time."Bookmark here

"Okay...?"Bookmark here

"Anyways... that... purple thing... Isn't what your friend thought..."Bookmark here

"So you were conscious!?" I shouted, to what she came and covered my mouth with both hands.Bookmark here

"Gosh, stop being so dramatic and yes! I was just with a really high fever! I have been covering that thing up with base!" Miss Hazawa sighed, fixing her winter school hat. "I had a really strange dream yesterday and now it's gone completely."Bookmark here

I had a dream too... how curious.Bookmark here

"What was it about?" I asked.Bookmark here

"Stuff from the past, painful stuff... I suppose." She started to play with her only reddish-butterscotch curl.Bookmark here

"Oh, I have those dreams too... Where my parent's die and stuff," I added a small laugh at the end.Bookmark here

"... You shouldn't laugh about that..." my upperclassman looked at me sceptically. "I dunno if you did it in order for me to tell you or not, but given how you are I guess you have no bad intentions and I really need to take this... unpleasant thing of my chest..."Bookmark here

"So why do you have two phones?"Bookmark here

"I already told you!"Bookmark here

"Ah, you're right!!"Bookmark here

Ah, I didn't want to make her tell me something uncomfortable so I wanted to change the topic but I guess I did the wrong thing again! Why Yui, why!Bookmark here

"This happened when I was in France, a few years ago..." Miss Hazawa began her tale, transporting me to another world.Bookmark here

❀ Past - Seraphine Hazawa Year: 2010 Bookmark here

Chamonix, FranceBookmark here

Bookmark here

Seraphine's grandparent's home was a living museum.Bookmark here

They had never bought anything more modern than the 1960s. Everything was original or refurbished retro, like the house itself. Although the tangerine and fuchsia walls were right out of her favourite era the paint was barely a year old. The floral prints were bold and the furniture sparse and simple. In the lobby sat an orange telephone with its large dialling disk and curled cable dangling from the receiver.Bookmark here

It struck Seraphine that this was the first time the little house had looked dusty and the first time she had walked into no classical music. It was as if the spirit of the house had gone with her and these objects left behind were only empty shells of their former selves.Bookmark here

"Nous regrettons que notre petite nièce ne parlent pas le français." Said Seraphine's grandmother to the girl who had found her outside covered in snow. "Now tell her that you appreciate her help just like I told you!"Bookmark here

The impression left upon her mind by Seraphine's grandmother's appearance will never be effaced; her whole presence was peculiarly striking, with full dark eyes, high nose, a mouth of great beauty and firmness of expression, and teeth whose splendour both girls have never seen equalled--although she was then past her fiftieth year. Add to this a tall, well-proportioned figure, and a certain air of authority.Bookmark here

"Um, yes...!" Seraphine fidgeted with her luggage and then got lost on the other girl's freckles, just like hers. "Je vous remercie de m'avoir aidée..."Bookmark here

"Votre prononciation c'est amusant!" the unknown girl giggled.Bookmark here

"Um, what did she...?" Seraphine tried to hide under a cushion.Bookmark here

"She said that your pronunciation is amusing, in a very polite way may I add," laughed her grandfather this time.Bookmark here

Her grandfather was robust only a year ago. He would walk his dog come rain or shine over the hill and around the neighbourhood patch of forest. He was never still, either baking, socializing or volunteering. Sometimes he would gripe about the gossiping instead of joining in, but everyone could tell he loved it. Just being around everyone gave him such energy. Now the Alzheimer's is claiming him bit by bit. Sometimes he is there and sometimes not.Bookmark here

Seraphine knew the road that lies ahead of him and it's almost impossible to be stoic. She looked into his deep green eyes and wizened face and stroke back the wild grey hair that used to be so neat.Bookmark here

"Elle est japonaise." He finished.Bookmark here

"Oh, do you understand English?" the ruby hair coloured girl said excitedly.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

"I… I do!"Bookmark here

“Well dear, looks like she made herself a new friend already.” Mentioned her grandfather, and her grandmother just smiled underneath her stern look. “And what a great way to practise her English as well!”Bookmark here

"My name is Seraphine! What is your name?"Bookmark here

My name is Garnet!” And with a charming smile, Seraphine felt something unusual take ahold of her inner-self.Bookmark here

This feeling is so strange; it stretches throughout my whole body. It’s overwhelming, yet makes me feel complete. It has no bound nor length nor depth; it’s just absolute. It feels as though I’m in a dangerous fire, yet I’m completely safe at the same time. It feels as though someone has given me peace. It feels as though my heart is dancing around my chest; and a hole, I was never aware was there, has been filled. I feel so light like I’m on top of the world yet my heart is constricting and it feels as if there’s no oxygen in my lungs.Bookmark here

That was the moment Seraphine realized she fell in love at first sight.Bookmark here

Her hair was like swirls of buttermilk for Seraphine even if it was light reddish and she supposes and Garnet would braid it for hours in front of the mirror. With eyes as clear as two emeralds, the lovely girl extended her hand towards her new friend.Bookmark here

"Let's play!" she said.Bookmark here

"Yep!" enthusiastically, Seraphine left everything and ran outside, their grandparents watching both twelve-year-old girls having a snowball fight outside the window.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

A year had passed by now.Bookmark here

Seasons fade in and out like soft lullabies, their transitions slow but never faltering. Like mother earth herself they only turn in one direction, always onward, never back. As they wax and wane the pace of village life changes.Bookmark here

In summer everyone is high energy, all systems go. With the first wash of autumn air, moving over the high-rises and suburbia like a shallow wave, the people slow down to a quieter place. The winter is flatter still, but never falling into a negative spin, the folk of this village love the snow too much for that. Then spring comes to wake the metropolis: people, trees and blooms. Folks walk under newly unfurled leaves, smile at the fresh new flowers and tilt their faces upward to the new warmth in the sun's rays. Soon summer is back and the seasonal carousel is complete for another year.Bookmark here

That is why, for Seraphine, seasons are said to "turn" as if they were a wheel or a never-ending carousel, but nothing could be less true. Time stretches out, linear, leading onward to our own personal event horizon; unless we are wrong about time itself and our primate brains are stuck in this mode of thought, like cats being asked to ponder algebra. Perhaps we are to time what flat-earthers were to the world. In that case, the seasons may indeed turn, but never in neat circles. Maybe the seasons are more like the skin of a well-peeled apple cascading in crazy erratic turns.Bookmark here

The summer season in Chamonix wasn't fun and games for her anymore.Bookmark here

Garnet had started school again so she spent less time with her.Bookmark here

In late summer the Earth is ready for the rains, for sweet drops to quench the soils. It is then that the pitter-patter returns to the woodlands, simple water to bring nature's magic. The pathways strengthen from a dusty brown to deep mahogany, reviving a healthy glow she'd longed to see return. Summer foliage has it's time, the green canopy to give shelter when it's needed, yet this is beautiful also, the heaven-given promise seasonal changes fulfilled.Bookmark here

Many of the lifts which operate in Chamonix’s ski areas in the winter are also open in the summer, giving access to some beautiful walks and hikes, exhilarating parapente flights and adrenaline-pumping mountain biking – Seraphine could read about the summer lift areas to see what’s available on her Mont Blanc Multipass. However, she was waiting for Garnet to come out of school and go out to play.Bookmark here

What shall we play today? We are teenagers already but playing with dolls is such fun with her.Bookmark here

Her green mint dress received her with joy once she was done.Bookmark here

Since there was a festival in a nearby park, they decided to check it out.Bookmark here

The park was nothing like those of the smaller towns even if Chamonix was one. Theirs were miniature formal gardens for the elderly that had retired there for the quiet life. They had benches, ornamental trees, flowers year-round and water fountains in clear lakes that were stocked with Koi Carp. But not here. Here a park meant acres of concrete interspersed with neat grass verges. There were rollerblading tracks, tennis courts, basketball courts, water parks and skateboarder basins.Bookmark here

There were vendors with hot dogs and burgers, vendors with curry and rice, vendors with tacos and sour cream. There's always music, sometimes clashing from various sources, none of them official.Bookmark here

"This is a beautiful charm!" Garnet tried to say in Japanese while walking through a stand.Bookmark here

"We can talk in English..." Seraphine blushed slightly.Bookmark here

"I want to learn more about you, Seira!" the red-haired said, smiling.Bookmark here

There it was again, that charming smile.Bookmark here

It’s strange—frightening even —how you can go from someone being a complete stranger to then being completely infatuated by them and wondering how it ever was that you were able to live without them because you are sure as hell couldn’t imagine being without them now. I know we’re only young, and most people would consider me to be foolish and naïve, but it’s true when I say that I love her more than I could ever love myself. She’s my best friend and, as cheesy as it sounds, she’s my security.Bookmark here

And that’s when they bought the matching ruby coloured, heart-shaped straps.Bookmark here

However, the clock was ticking for Seraphine.Bookmark here

Time was running out.Bookmark here

Garnet started modelling.Bookmark here

She spent less and less time with her.Bookmark here

Ah the sorrow, ah, the pain.Bookmark here

The queen, in person, is much like the king. Bookmark here

In this case, Garnet was Seraphine's queen. However, a boy had recently become Garnet's King which only meant one thing: "Garnet will never know how I feel."Bookmark here

So, she had to be a better role model she supposed. Become more athletic, all capable of taking command. Call for strength bringing cognitive dissonance. With healthy role models, children learn easily what a lifetime of school cannot teach. Thus, we know the importance of having the right queen, not by blood or birth, but by who her spirit shows her to be, by her authentic self. Bookmark here

Seraphine had to become Garnet's Queen.Bookmark here

A queen is loving, empathic, clever, artistic, spiritual, practical, athletic, motherly and devoted to the service of others. She is honest, forgiving, compassionate, joyful and grateful. She is a humanitarian, an environmentalist and full of life. A queen is a scientist, a writer, a philosopher and athlete. She is brave, giving and nurturing. She is all these things naturally. Bookmark here

Until it happened.Bookmark here

Seraphine was giving it her all in every single way. Even if she didn't attend school back in Chamonix. Even if she didn't have a purpose to study for, or exercise for, everything was in order to be Garnet's Queen. However, while doing so, she was avoiding her best friend. It hurt to see them together. It crushed her soul when they held hands or smiled at each other.Bookmark here

She wanted Garnet to be hers.Bookmark here

That is why the ruby coloured haired girl confronted her alone one day.Bookmark here

"Seira, you are pushing yourself too much, why?" asked Garnet, worried for her.Bookmark here

Seraphine couldn't say a word.Bookmark here

That was why she ran.Bookmark here

Ran without saying a word.Bookmark here

Yet, Garnet caught her wrist.Bookmark here

"Tell me, please! I can't handle this anymore! I feel you are avoiding me since I'm dating him! Don't you like him? Did he do something to you?Bookmark here

He took you away from me.Bookmark here

"Please... tell... me..."Bookmark here

Seraphine kisses her on the cheek.Bookmark here

All it leaves is a little-wet mark; a shallow pool of saliva on Garnet's cheek. But when she plants the kiss there Garnet feels the warmth spread through her limbs and her mind feels a pleasant buzz. Every good thing seems possible, likely even. And then Seraphine knows that she found what she'd been looking for, someone to show her what it means to be happy from the inside out, so Seraphine's smile can be real and not a mask.Bookmark here

"I love you."Bookmark here

The last thing she felt was Garnet's slap on her left cheek.Bookmark here

❀ Past - Yui Samidare Year: 2013 ❀ Bookmark here

Takayama, JapanBookmark here

Bookmark here

Words left me. I stared into those bright green eyes burning with sadness, and my heart fell silent.Bookmark here

“So? Pretty pathetic, huh?” Miss Hazawa commented. "After that, I cut ties with her and came back to Japan to continue school. Haven't heard from her ever since."Bookmark here

But I couldn’t will my lips to move.Bookmark here

As if stuck underwater, everything was slow and warbled as he pointed a shaky finger in my face.Bookmark here

“Do you have nothing to say? I have poured my heart out to you, now tell me what you’re thinking!” she demanded.Bookmark here

But my mind was blank and my eyes wide as I stared at her.Bookmark here

Miss Hazawa's eyes desperately searched mine… waiting. I had to say something! I searched my mind for something reasonable to say, but to my surprise, my heart answered for me.Bookmark here

"Do you know about InstaIdol?"Bookmark here

"Hah?" she grunted. "Of course I do you, idiot!"Bookmark here

"Well, do you follow her there on your smartphone? I can deduce you have it exclusively for her... I mean, it has her strap and all..." I said.Bookmark here

"She only uses it for modelling!" She yelled. "And... as much as I hate to admit it, your deduction is on point. This Smartphone... has every single memory I have from her."Bookmark here

"Well doesn't she has a personal account?"Bookmark here

Yet, it seemed like an idea that hadn't popped up into Miss Hazawa's mind at all.Bookmark here

She opened up the app and searched. Searched and searched desperately until she found it. There was the girl she described to me, in her daily life account a photo of her and her boyfriend smiling towards the camera and you could see that a heart-shaped ruby coloured strap.Bookmark here

"Garnet...." The blonde girl covered her mouth with her free hand, not knowing what to say.Bookmark here

"See? She still thinks about you until this day! That's enough proof, right? You should try to get in contact with her again! Patch things up!"Bookmark here

Miss Hazawa had always been so self-conscious when she cried but now she just gave way to the enormity of her grief. She sobbed into her hands and the tears dripped between her fingers, raining down onto the parched soil. Her breathing was ragged, gasping and the strength left her legs. She sank to her knees not caring about the grit that dug into her knees. She was noisy, her skin was blotched but there was no-one there to witness except me, let alone come to comfort her. She could run a mile in any direction and not find another soul. She cried until no more tears came, but still, the emptiness and sorrow remained.Bookmark here

"She still has it..." she murmured between her sobbing.Bookmark here

“She doesn’t hate you, upperclassman Hazawa. If not, she would have tossed it away.”Bookmark here

“Underclassman Samidare...”Bookmark here

Yet, before I could think of something to reply, a black german shepherd came running towards us, growling and turned around as if protecting us of something who only turned out to be Mr Yamada.Bookmark here

"Oh, so here you were Miss Hazawa, oh and Miss Samidare, pleasant surprise." He looked around, unconcerned.Bookmark here

What is going on?Bookmark here

"Mr Yamada?"Bookmark here

With the sole mention of that name and that voice, I could hear a shriek behind me and how my wrist was grabbed forcefully by Seraphine Hazawa, the black dog following us, my mind wondering if it was either my Kuro or Yuiko's Kuro, and of all reasons...Bookmark here

Why is Mr Yamada following us so desperately and Miss Hazawa running as if our lives depended on it?
Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.