Between Life and Death
Morning classes had ended and everyone was getting ready for lunch. Whether I bought lunch at the school cafeteria or brought some from home didn’t matter today since I wasn't feeling hungry. I'm sure I'll regret not eating during afternoon classes when the hunger kicks in and I can no longer concentrate. But I'll deal with that later.
On most occasions, I would eat lunch with Shizuka. And when she was busy with student council matters, I sat with some other friends. Today was one of those days. But instead of visiting my friends, I headed for the library.
"How's it going, Rikka-chan?𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮"
"Could you stop singing my name with that stupid melody."
The moment I slid closed the library door, the all too familiar sound of a book being slammed shut reverberated through the air.
"You know, Yuuta, if that disease of yours doesn't kill you, I will," she threatened with an icy glare.
"I see you're as compassionate as ever," I teased with a jovial smile.
Let me pause to make some clarifications. Rikka is by no means a bad person. Nor is she an apathetic person. She definitely is a sadistic person that finds joy in my suffering, though. Heh heh…
In fact, she was the first person I told about my disease. I would have told Shizuka first but that day she had student council business, so I wandered over to the library. When I slid open the library door and didn’t acknowledge Rikka with the same jovial routine, she knew that something was wrong. It's because we're good friends that she was able to tell when I had something on my mind.
In conclusion, Rikka isn't a bad person. She just gets...aggressive? at times. Don't they have a word for that. Tsundere maybe? Wait!! But that would mean she has feelings for me!!!
"So, what brings you here, you sorry excuse for a human?" she asked with an irritated look as she set her book down.
She really does have feelings for me!! She's more of a tsundere than I thought. What was I going to do?!
"I'm doing some research, and I was hoping that you would know where the yearbooks are kept since you're the librarian."
I don't know what it was that I said but whatever it was made her face contort with such an expression of disgust, that it seemed as if she was looking down on a pile of trash. No. Worse than that. As if she were inspecting a dog poop she had stepped on.
"I bet you already stare at your crush's yearbook photo enough at home. But now you can’t even wait until you get home, and so you come to the library in search of a mere glimpse of her photo. Disgusting."
"Preposterous!!!" How could she get such an idea?!
"I can't in good faith give you the location of yearbooks for fear of what you might do when you find your crush's photo."
"Come on, Rikka-chan," I pleaded. "You know I only have eyes for you."
Another glare of pure disgust.
Followed by a dejected sigh. “You know, if you put less effort into your jokes and more effort into your relationships, you might eventually get a girlfriend. Then you wouldn’t need to fantasize over a photo.”
“‘Might?!’” So she thinks that there's still a chance for me.
See. Rikka really is a nice girl.
Or maybe this was just her way of confessing her feelings.
"Regardless," Rikka changed the subject as she stood from her chair. "Why do you want to look at the yearbooks."
"I'm looking for a name," I answered truthfully.
"So you really are trying to find your crush's photo. How disgusting."
"Please don't look at me as if I'm trash "
If one person starts doing, then eventually everyone will start doing it. I don't want to live the rest of my life being treated as a pervert.
"Anyway, as long as it's nothing too problematic, I'm willing to show you the yearbooks."
Without another word, Rikka came out from behind the front desk with her book still in hand and guided me toward the back. Though I often come to the library, it's usually to do things like study or read. During those times I already have with me my textbooks or a paperback. Because of that, I don't have a clue as to how the library was arranged. I would probably spend most of the lunch period just trying to find the yearbooks. In fact, I had never visited the part of the library we were standing in at the moment.
"Here they are." She motioned at the books at the bottom shelf. "There are thirty five annual volumes here meaning that the school started printing yearbooks thirty five years ago."
"Woah. I didn’t know the school was that old. The building looks pretty new. I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that it was only ten years old."
"You'll eventually see it in the yearbooks, too, but the school was remodeled fifteen years ago and was refurbished seven years ago."
Oh?! "What's with all this knowledge about the school? Have you been going through the yearbooks looking for your crush's photo?" I teased with a hit of smugness as I grabbed one of the books.
I glanced up at her as I crouching beside her, reaching for one of the yearbooks. I don’t know what I expected to see, but I definitely didn’t expect a glare on par with that of the lord of hell. And then—
She rained down hell on my head using her book.
One. Two. Three.
A forth hit would have done me in.
"If you wanna die an early death, just ask."
I was fairly lucky I didn't die immediately.
Whilst I caressed my head, I grabbed the newest five editions of the school yearbooks and brought them to the nearest table. Rikka came along and sat with me to make sure I wouldn't do anything "inappropriate" as she put it.
Maybe she had some faith in me because she just sat there reading her book as I sifted through the photos. But I guess she was paying some attention—or maybe anticipating a certain moment—because when I turned to one of the pages, I could feel a distinctive glare coming from her direction.
"There's no need to stare at that, so move on or I'll break your fingers."
A shiver ran down my spine.
Seriously. It felt like she couldn't decide between an ice cold stare and a searing glare.
Time flew by, and eventually I had carefully looked through all the yearbooks going as far back as eleven years ago. But sadly, there was no mention of a girl named "Yukko" who's picture matched the girl we had befriended. Though she was wearing a first year's uniform, I also checked the other grades just in case but nothing fit her description.
I thought about continuing my search by checking the rest of the yearbooks but when I opened the twelfth book, I noticed that the uniforms had changed. It wasn’t a dramatic change but it was something that was instantly noticeable to a student who has worn one for the last two years. I didn’t see much point in continuing since Yuuko clearly wasn't wearing the old uniform. Plus, lunch was almost over.
I closed the last of the yearbooks, sighed and leaned back in my chair.
"What's with the sigh?" Rikka asked without lifting her eyes from her book.
I didn’t want to explain my reason for searching through the yearbooks. And I doubt that Rikka would even believe me if I said I was helping a ghost. But to answer her question, I asked her one of my own, just in case. "Say, do you happen to know anyone by the name of 'Yuuko' who attends this school?"
This made her gaze break away from her book "So you were looking for your crush's photo."
Please stop treating me like a delinquent.
"Well, I can't say I do. I don't think I have ever met someone named 'Yuuko' in this school. But..." she continued, setting her book down, her curiosity piqued. "It's strange how you asked me as if you were almost certain she had attended this school. Yet, you searched through eleven years worth of school records and didn’t seem to find her."
How interesting, she amended.
"You could say I'm looking for a ghost." Though I presented it in a metaphorical sense, it was technically true. Though, Rikka probably saw it as a joke.
"Welp," she sighed as she stood from the table, "as long as you're not doing anything weird." She looked at her watch and, realizing the time, she made sure to bookmark where she stopped reading. "Lunch is almost over. Make sure to put the books back the way you found them."
And without looking back, Rikka disappeared behind the bookshelves.
The bell signaling afternoon classes rang and I made my way back to class. We had English class next. I wouldn’t say I was good at it but I knew how to ask for directions to the library. Shizuka and I were in the same class, so we naturally greeted each other once we were in class.
Oh?! I should have probably mentioned this at the beginning but Yuuko came to school with us. I met up with Shizuka at the school entrance and, surprise, surprise, there was Yuuko.
I guess it made sense since Yuuko was currently living with Shizuka. I'm assuming it would get pretty boring being all alone in an unknown house with almost no ability to interact with objects and with no one to speak to.
Not only that but Shizuka brought up the point that—just like with human amnesia patients—visiting familiar places could help Yuuko remember her past. So in the end, bringing Yuuko along with us made sense. It wasn’t like anyone would see her.
Sadly, in the morning, Shizuka also informed me that she couldn't find mentions of a person passing away by the name of "Yuuko" in any obituaries. Granted, since she arrived late last night, she couldn’t look through many of them, so the verdict was still out on that. Regardless, seeing Yuuko's dispirited face made me not want to speak about my own findings. Though I still had a few more yearbooks to go through, it didn't look promising.
The only good news to come out of today regarding Yuuko was that she has started to gain more permanece as a ghost.
Though Yuuko had spent most of the day with Shizuka, she was currently hovering by my desk. She was flipping through the pages of a book I had on my desk—one that I had checked out from the library earlier. The subject of that book: ghost stories.
Although the thought that a classmate might see the pages move on their own did keep me wary, I was paying more attention to the way she effortlessly turned the pages. As Yuuko read the stories, each turn of the page was without pause of struggle. Her fingers still slipped through the pages but her grip was more firm, allowing her to peruse through the book without my help.
Maybe bringing Yuuko along had been a good idea after all. She had told us that she didn't remember the school, though. But just maybe, our school had something to do with her past. It at least seemed to have a small impact on her ability to interact with objects. But who knows.
I gave Yuuko a sidelong glance. She quietly and attentively continued reading the ghost stories. I was hoping the book could help us understand her situation. But at this point we could only hope.
And so the day ended without much progress.