A/N: Sorry for the tardiness! I'd thought rewriting was easy, but it turned out that I'm so persnickety. (Lol it rhymes) =.= Finishing this chap made me leap in joy though! Hehe ^^
Susohiki=mostly worn by stage performers of Jap traditional dance. The skirt trails on the floor.
Chirashizushi=a bowl of rice with raw and sliced pieces of fish, wasabi, and so on.
Makizushi=made of rice and strips of vegetables and fish rolled in a sheet of seaweed.
Chashaku=a sort of teaspoon. Its shape is different though, and I don't know how to describe it...
"Tearless grief bleeds inwardly."
~Christian Nevell Bovee~
"Don't put it there! You! Turn that around! Hey! I said don't put it there!"
I sighed as I followed the hustle and bustle on the mossy and grassy garden, which was beyond the shutter-less round window of the dance practice room. Observing the preparations and the sway of the sakura and plum trees, I had propped my elbows on the windowsill to get a better view and hopefully alleviate my boredom. I had just finished my lunch in that room (a very spacious and empty one with shoji doors, ceiling beams, and polished cedar wood floorboards), so I decided to check up on the venue of the party.
Obaa-san was smiling from ear to ear while ordering people here and there along with the rather boisterous event planner, who was still shouting her lungs out to her assistants.
I'd always thought Obaa-san wasn't sociable. She rarely went out of the mansion, and I'd never seen her entertain visitors (or maybe I just didn't see them because they would come during my school time). Also, she'd told me it was the first time she held a party after her husband's death, so I thought it was just a whim to introduce me.
Anyway, Obaa-san was so active that day that I didn't offer her my assistance. Well, I wanted her to have fun by herself. After all, living somehow isolated for a long time made the preparations exciting for her (having no descendants and all).
Having enough of spying, I retreated from the window and leaned my back on the wall beside it with my knees unfolded before me while sitting. I was still wearing the plain lemon chiffon kimono I chose for dance practice that morning and had mindlessly let my sweat dry on my raiment once again.
Closing my eyes, I sighed. The party would begin at five in the afternoon. My performance would precede dinner, and then I would be talking with Obaa-san's guests...
I soughed once more.
I had watched fifteen to twenty dramas and studied fifteen to twenty rich girls prior to this day...
I should be fine, right?
Without answering my dubious mind, I slept my worries away.
I un-shut my eyes and was somewhere, but I didn't know where. Darkness was everywhere that I wondered if I'd even lifted my eyelids or if I had eyelids to lift.
Just then blue-green spheres started appearing from the ground, and I could tell I was dreaming. But unlike the dreams I had recently, I was going to be a bystander...?
I swiveled around in search for the quirk of lips...for the soft dark pools and jet black hair...for the voice calling my name gently...
"Gene!" I shouted.
My heart was pounding. My eyes were skating the darkness. In the shadows, I hoped a figure would form. I hoped his clothes would stick out, and the rest of him would appear like a puzzle piece taken from the lightless background.
However, not even a strand of hair could be seen of Gene, and my heart twinged.
He'd...probably moved on...right?
Although I knew that, my selfishness was still unwavering, for I had wished...that even if Naru wasn't there...at least Gene would still be with me in my dreams...
But greediness was never rewarded with happiness, and I breathed out in defeat.
Just then, the darkness lifted, and the orbs vanished. Blinking, I was then on a hallway that looked familiar.
I stared. Ah, no...The walls weren't cream-colored...if I recalled correctly.
They were beige, and the doors were honeydew. So I knitted my eyebrows.
Where was I?
I heard a piano playing from afar; it was soft at first, and then it became clearer. Intrigued, I followed the sound. Soon, it led me to a room filled with musical instruments. On the middle of the lime-carpeted floor was a black grand piano, and before the instrument was a girl, around my age, with silky dark blonde hair and violet eyes...
I goggled. She's wearing a brown uniform...!
She played a slow tune, but it was as though her hands were heavy on the keys; the notes lingered the air eerily and sorrowfully...and I felt tears fall down my cheeks.
It's so sad...
When she stopped and glanced my way, I was astounded that she could see me.
"You━" I started.
"Kazune..." she interrupted in an affectionate murmur, and I nictated.
Spinning around, I saw a boy━with shoulder-length, side-swept, and shiny black hair━on the doorway. Then, passing right through me, he approached her.
Becoming cognizant, I stared at them.
Wait a minute! My school was an exclusive one for girls! How...? Ah.
This wasn't my school...or was it?
"Have you been practicing?" the-boy-called-Kazune asked the girl with a smile.
She nodded and beamed again. Kazune fumbled with something in his pocket, fished out his clenched hand, and showed what he was grasping to her; it was a miniature grand piano as sable as the life-size version before her.
There appeared a crease between the girl's eyebrows.
"It's a music box," he explained while opening its lid, and a familiar mellow song resonated. "The melody isn't lively, but..."
Kazune hesitated, and I could understand him. After all, it seemed like his mission was to comfort her, but the sound produced by his gift wasn't an uplifting tune. However, the girl closed her hands around the mini piano and took it from his palm.
"Thank you," she uttered and curved her lips upward.
The way their gazes locked...The way they smiled at each other...The way their shoulders sagged and relaxed...I could tell...
The scene faded, and darkness fogged the memory like ink blotting a picture. Before long, I felt myself being pulled from behind.
I roused with an intake of breath and was face-to-face with a short curly-haired plump woman; she was wearing a coral apron over her white t-shirt and skirt, and she towered over me slightly like a Buddha statue. Dazed, I whirled my head around.
"Ojou-sama, are you alright?"
I rubbed my eyes, felt my tears, and blinked at the housekeeper. "Ahh...Y-yes, Chihiru-san..."
It was like I was snatched from my reverie, and my return to consciousness was untimely.
I ran a hand through my hair. What...was that dream all about? Who...were those two...? Where...? Why?
Chihiru harrumphed, and I peered at her with squinting eyes. "Ojou-sama, it's time for you to change. Some guests had already arrived."
I blinked at her and didn't comprehend what she was talking about at first. When I did, I gasped and somehow leapt up.
The party! My dance! Obaa-san!
"Chihiru-san, where━?" I exclaimed, and she ushered me out of there and to the tea ceremony room across.
Reality bombarded me as the make-up artist and costume specialist rushed to me, hurled me, and sat me down before a vanity table full of cosmetics and hair ornaments. Stiffening as they started to work their wonders on me, all I could think of was that I couldn't trip on my susohiki's hem when I would be on stage.
I had thought before that if I resembled a doll like Masako, Naru would be nicer to me. Naturally━with no additives━I appeared boorish and tomboyish, but with external manipulation, I could become beautiful too (or so I thought). After all, beautified girls were also considered pretty although they got magical help via artificial means. Besides, girls who were presentable were most likely treated with kindness, so I assumed Naru would be nice if I was more feminine...
But I now found my logic extremely foolish. If Naru would be nice to me because I had a good-looking face, wouldn't it be plastic of him? So what if I wasn't attractive? It's not like it's the end of the world. Also, I would meet genuine people who could appreciate the real me...
Yet when I ogled at myself on the mirror, my self-praise increased just like a narcissist's. Becoming "beautified" wasn't a bad idea after all; it had its advantages (I honestly felt more confident to dance before a crowd then), but only a little.
If Naru would see me, would he be nice to me? (Gene was always nice, so I scratched him out of the question.)
"I wonder..." I frowned and shook my head.
I made an "X" with my arms, and the dressing attendants gazed at me as though screws fell from my head. Clearing my throat, I asked Chihiru-san if my transformation was complete. She jounced her head and assisted me out of the mansion to the garden. It was already a quarter to five.
The main part of the garden was a nonagon-shaped area. The sides composed of different flowers like peonies and irises while the vertices were sakura and plum trees. Inside the polygon was a pond with a small rainbow bridge over it. Koi swam in it and played hide-and-seek under lily pads and lotus flowers.
For the party, the guests were sitting cross-legged on plenty of cushioned dais around the pond, and it seemed like they'd filled all the spaces already. The people who would play the drums, flute, and koto were already on one end of the bridge. As I ascended the platform on the center of the bridge, dozens of eyes were pricking my skin, but I didn't make any eyeshot.
With face and neck coated with extremely white powder and lips as red as cherries, I picked up two branches of sakura, and the music started. I swayed my props side by side, over my head, and backwards as I bent. I stomped a foot here and there and picked up a pink paper parasol. I spun, tossed, caught, ran, and glided. I didn't smile or laugh. I didn't narrow my eyes or glare. I was as full of emotions as a rock.
As quick as I had started, the conclusion came swiftly. Everyone applauded when I finished with a smooth kowtow. Compliments and false praises were thrown at me like coupon giveaways. The hands that shook mine when I descended the stage felt hollow and senseless.
Were they praising me because my dance was amazing, or was it to make Obaa-san happy that they appreciated my performance?
Whatever their intentions, I brushed the whispers and hurried to change into a simple kimono back in the tea ceremony room, where━unseen━I staggered on the tatami mats, sighed heavily, and stripped my expressionless veneer.
The guests were already eating chirashizushi, makizushi, and whatever sushi when I came back to the garden. Before I could randomly approach a bunch, a hand rested on my shoulder, and I turned to see Obaa-san smiling at me.
"You were wonderful, Maika," she commended. "Now, there are a few I would like you to serve tea with while I see to the others. They're not used to our customs, so assist them kindly."
I nodded and neared the table she indicated.
I did not want to look at the guests properly because they would soon become blurry faces to me. But, eye contact was crucial, so I decided to look at them only after greeting. As much as possible, I didn't want to be remembered by the rich elite, and I didn't want to feel obligated to remember them; rvrn though, someday, I would have to rub shoulders with them as Obaa-san's heiress.
I bowed properly though; Obaa-san would grill me if I wouldn't.
"Please take care of me," I said with a steady and medium-high voice. "Would you let me assist you in making tea?"
I elevated my head and saw, for the first time that year, those deep blue-grey eyes I could never forget.
I had changed from a red susohiki with white and pink wave motifs to a purple kimono with plum blossoms after the dance. My make-up was retouched, and I was probably as pale as the servitors on other daises who wore fancy kimonos like mine.
Despite that the snow had melted completely, a cold breeze still resided. The guests wore thick clothes that day, but I couldn't help but wonder how I―who wore a thin kimono―felt heat instead of cold.
Were those familiar eyes the reason?
Unable to look away, I gulped.
"You'll help us? Why, thank you, dear," a woman said, and my thoughts were disrupted.
I cut my gaze upon those intense and suspicious orbs and looked at emerald eyes instead. I then uneasily cracked a smile.
...Why was he here?
"Yes, if I may…?" I trailed off, restrained myself from staring at him, and preoccupied myself with his companions.
"I'm Luella," the woman introduced and added, "and this is my husband, Martin." She gestured to a man (most likely in his 50s) on her left. "And my son, Oliver." She gestured across her, and I stiffened my neck in order not to look into those eyes ever again; I could feel "Oliver's" eyes still focusing his gimlet gaze on me.
Anyway, his parents didn't change much the last time I saw them. His mother and father's hair were still wavy, and I noticed that they'd dyed it in the same bole tint. And their Japanese still had an unpolished accent, yet they spoke fluently.
"I'm Maika Kagami," I presented myself. "May you hand me your cups please?"
They did what I asked, and I lined up their tea cups horizontally in front of me and dropped a chashaku each of maccha powder. I placed hot water in their cups until each was half-full and whisked the tea mixtures with a chasen. The couple began talking in English, and I pretended I couldn't understand them. (They might have thought I were one of the servants since the latter had the same snow-white make-up too, and I had tied my hair in a ponytail just like them.)
Amidst their foreign exchange, my mind had a great cyclone going on.
Did he recognize me? Could he recognize my face? My voice? From behind the make-up and all the dolling up I'd undergone? From behind all the lady-likeness I had to emit? Could he recognize the wild me despite the fake gracefulness?
"Too bad Lin and Madoka aren't here," Luella-san imparted to her husband as I handed her cup. "I invited them to come with us, but they refused."
"Those two are always busy," Martin-san agreed and inclined his head when I passed him his cup too. "Anyway, Oliver, have you found her? It's been nearly a year that you've been searching."
Luella-san's eyes lit up. "The one who has post-cognitive dreams? Madoka told me she's the reason you returned immediately last year."
I almost dropped the chasen for lost of words, but I was glad it didn't slip out of my grasp. I held it tightly than ever and continued whisking the tea━which had already been blended too much━in their son's cup.
"I wasn't looking for her. Whatever Madoka told you was a lie."
His voice was blunt and dispassionate. Hearing those words made my heart clench.
"Hm...Lin said you needed her, though, that's why you were looking for her," Luella-san pressed.
"I don't, and I wasn't," was his curt response.
The constant rejection was enough, so I halted whisking the already-brewed tea and gave the last one to him without glancing at his direction. Slowly, I excused myself, about-faced, and shambled away from them...out of the garden and back to the mansion. I willed my feet not to desist from walking, for if they did, I would wobble and stumble on the porch.
When I was assured that they could not see me anymore, I ran as fast as I could to my room.
Why? Why was I running on an endless path of damnation? When I thought I had lost him and I had my life settled, why did he have to return and awaken buried feelings I'd wanted to forget?
Just hearing those unconcerned words from him made me feel how truly worthless I was to him.
"I wasn't looking for her..."
I succussed my head, yet the wind taunted me and mockingly whispered those words I didn't want to hear anymore.
I knew already that he never needed me. I knew already that our reunion wouldn't be like those romantic movies, which ended with hugs and kisses and confessions. I knew already...but why did my heart hope for cheesy things...for fake sugar-coated scenes?
Why did I hope...that he went there to see me?
If there could be an alternate world that could free me from indescribable pain, I would have been grateful to be caught in any dimensional chasms.
I didn't get out of my bedroom even until the guests scrammed. I was rude; I knew, but I didn't care anymore. I waited for a sinkhole to open up below the bed I'd been reclining on, but nothing like that appeared.
It's so easy to come back to reality but not to run away from it...
It was about 8 o'clock when there was a knock on my door, and it opened before I could reply.
I sat up swiftly. "Obaa-san..."
She stared at me, and I bowed my head.
She's angry, right? It's okay! She could reproach me, and I wouldn't mind! In the end, it's nothing compared to what he'd said...
"Many people wanted to speak with you, but you suddenly disappeared," she informed. "Are you unwell? You should have told me, so I could have informed them."
I perked up in astonishment. S-she's worried about me?
Obaa-san sighed and raised an eyebrow. "Well? Are you sick?"
"I…I was cold," I lied. I almost croaked as my brain struggled for an excuse.
She didn't see through my lie, hopefully.
Obaa-san bobbed her head after a long moment. "I see."
I cleared my throat loudly. "O-Obaa-san, who are they? I thought you don't have foreign friends…" I said, changing the subject.
But, I guess, I asked the wrong question. So I bit my lip.
"They are mostly families of my father's friends," Obaa-san explicated. "I don't really know all of them."
"Your father even knew the Davises, Obaa-san?" I blurted out loud and, immediately regretting, kicked my mind for it.
"My, my, you knew them too?" Obaa-san said a little suspiciously. "That son of theirs is the famous Oliver Davis, but don't go telling anyone about that. That's why I asked you to make tea for them instead of one of the servants. Gossips are infectious, and media are easily contaminated with them. Anyway, have you eaten?"
I shook my head.
"I'll tell someone to bring you something."
"Y-yeah, Obaa-san, t-thank you," I stuttered. Whew.
I thought she would question me more, but she bid me good night and vanished.
We had leaned our backs on the same tree but faced opposite ways. He didn't seem to understand my previous statement, so I turned to face him behind the tree.
"Umm, I meant that I liked you in a really special way," I elaborated, and he contemplated upon what I'd admitted.
A spark of hope began to burn.
But he just smiled that smile of his.
"Me..." he asked, "or Gene?"
Tears prickled my cheeks in an instant.
And the spark extinguished.
When I finished taking a bath and donning my lilac pajamas, I saw Chihiru-san in my bedroom. She was piling up some glittering and colored boxes...
"Ah, ojou-sama." Chihiru-san noticed me and bowed. She gestured to my dark wood tea table, which had a platter of different kinds of sushi, a teapot and a teacup covering the ship design on its surface. "Obaa-sama said you haven't eaten."
I just blinked at the heap of boxes, and noting where I was peering, she explained, "These are gifts from the guests. They're all tokens of gratitude."
She briefly slipped in my vacated bathroom, and with dirty laundry in tow, she strode off the bedroom with another bow.
I glanced at the gifts once more, but I joggled my head and traversed past them to eat the feast laid out for me. But I couldn't stay focused on my food. My hands were itching to dig into the pile...to open...
I shook my head violently. Really, what was I thinking? How could I possibly hope for something that's…?
I trod across the room anyway and scavenged among the gifts. Excited that I caught what I'd been looking for, I untied the yellow-green ribbon. A white lily hair stick lain on a small sky blue cushion inside the shimmering green box. I plopped down on my bed and stared at it for a few minutes before glancing at the note tucked in:
A cheerful spring.
From Kazuya Shibuya and Luella and Martin Davis
I would never mistake his upright cursive handwriting. The way he connected the letters always appeared artistic to me. His garlanded and ornate strokes were beautiful and neat. On another note, for his hand to scribble the word 'cheerful'...it was a miracle.
He's still secretive about his identity, huh.
I gripped the hairpin to my heart just like how I clasped his and Gene's picture every night.
Somehow, it didn't matter if he weren't looking for me or that he didn't need me. It was enough...that I had a memory of him.
Just like Gene, it was enough that I had a memory of Naru...because at least there's something I could look back to even if he's not there anymore.
The breath I expelled was as white as the road of snow I was speeding through. My teeth were chattering. My nose was running, and my face, legs, and feet were anesthetized by coldness. But I continued hightailing the deserted ivory town with my unfeeling socked feet.
The frigid air I inhaled was piercing my throat like thin ice, but I couldn't stop darting.
I felt like an abomination. I was a member of the track and field club, and I could outrun anyone in the world. But I couldn't go faster that day...that night. Gravity weighed me down like the snow mountains piling up on the rooftops. My stomach grumbled, and my throat grouched. My muscles had been giving me white flags since a moment ago, but I paid no heed.
A railway crossing was up ahead, and since I lost him, I didn't make a detour and halted before the lowering yellow and black striped bar to catch my breath.
My knees were wobbling, and my vision was in and out of focus. My head throbbed, and I discovered what had happened; I was drugged.
Electronic bells rang, and I raked my hair with my trembling bloodied hand; there was a wound on my left arm, and it had bled. The gore trailed to my backhand and fingers.
The incessant sound of the train-crossing signal mimicked the quickening of my heartbeat. The red dot of light kept on blinking, and I wanted it to be over already.
I cast a brief look over my shoulder, but there was no one there. Sighing, I bent down and hugged my freezing knees; they needed the little heat I could offer if I were to overwork them once more.
Faraway, the hum of the train could be heard, and a wan smile crossed my countenance.
Just then, something hard and rough collided my back, and alarmed, I was toppling through the open space under the bar...
And I was on the railway tracks.
I didn't even see the headlights of the train. I couldn't even turn or roll out.
The next thing I know...my body was being crushed like a fruit in a blender.
I woke up not with a scream but with a jolt. Already, I was sitting in front of my oakwood study table━without me knowing how I got there from my four-poster bed. As usual, the ink on my music notebook had dried before I could come to my senses, and the drawing of my new dream had been fleshed out on the pages where music notes should have been...down to the very end━the poor girl's death.
Another girl from my school...Was it the thirtieth? Thirty-first?
No tear escaped me, and I knew...I wasn't normal. Before, I had shed tears after my dreams, but now...I had become numbed to it...I made myself numbed to it...because I couldn't worry my family again with my screams...No matter how many psychologists or therapists were hired...nobody could fix me...Nobody could make me un-see the terrors of one's imminent demise...
"Nobody..." I murmured and stared at the drawn figure of the girl falling on the railway tracks in the second to the last panel.
Just like her...nobody could save me.
"What happened to you, Mai?" Karin Mitsuki inquired when I stepped in the music clubroom. "Your dark circles look horrible!"
I rubbed my eyes. "Sowwy..."
"Quit rubbing your eyes! They're getting red, you know?" she freaked out, and I frowned at the choppy-fringed and spectacled girl with short burgundy hair.
"I can't stop...I don't want to sleep during class later...Obaa-san will fry meeeehaaaaah..." I yawned and smelled peppermint oil in a small bottle, which I snatched from my skirt's pocket. I exhaled the spicy scent. "Ahhh, I'm alive~~"
It was the quickest fix I could think of to prevent myself from nodding off during classes.
"Surely you're not staying up late just to rehearse the song?" Inare Kazuhiko, who had a short wavy bob, put her hands on her hips. "You only have six lines, you know?"
"No...I was making an essay," I lied, returned the bottle in my pocket, slumped on the seat in front of the piano, and weakly let my shoulder bag thud on the floor beside my feet. "Urggghhh."
"Geh. You're like a drunken master," Honami Wakuto commented as I rested the left side of my forehead on the edge of the piano's lid.
"That kung fu drunken master?" I mumbled.
"No, she looks worse than that; she's become a zombie~" Karin trilled.
"Riiiiiiight," I drawled, opened the lid of the keyboard and started pressing random keys.
"Ah, now you're the drunken pianist," Honami pointed out.
"Zombie," Inare corrected, and I chuckled.
"Yes, yes. I will eat your brains~" I wiggled my arms out.
We all laughed at my silliness.
The truth was...It wasn't the essay that made me almost sleepless for two nights...
Nightmare. Wake up. Nightmare. Wake up. Nightmare. The loop of interruptions was maddening, and seeing multiple deaths every night...No, scratch that: dying in my dreams many times every night was more terrifying than seeing Urado a year or so ago.
Until how long...could I keep my sanity? Could I be as emotionless as that person...that artist in my dreams? How many...deaths should I see in order to be numbed to them? In order not to scream and shiver and cry when I came back to reality?
A hand waved in front of me, and I blinked. Her braided ponytail falling on her left shoulder, Honami smiled.
"Have you come to Mars yet?"
"Earth," I supplied.
"We're not on Earth~"
"Right, I forgot we're aliens there." I played along with a smirk.
"Alright, that's enough fooling around. Let's get to practice." Karin clapped her hands bossily, and the three of us shouted our approval.
I sang as Inare fingered the piano, and Honami fiddled the violin. Karin directed the three of us, and the creation of music enlivened me enough not to doze off.
The piece I sang was going to be performed in an nth version of the play Romeo and Juliet, which was going to be the highlight of the Cultural Festival next weekend. Although a third year like me didn't have classroom activities anymore (since time was supposedly spent for college entrance exam preparations), club events were the only ones I could participate in during the festival.
The song was short and had lyrics written in a foreign language. Now that I recalled, it was the same song...the same tune in Kazune's gift to the girl in my dreams...
So far, that scene with the lovers was the only relaxing dream I had━perhaps because being a bystander was better...
Being an observer...with Gene was better.
"Gah! It's 8:29!" Inare exclaimed when we took a break.
"There's still time," Karin informed.
"The Shountoku guys are already dashing though." Honami giggled with a look beyond the window.
There was a squeal from the room beside ours, and I peeked at whom the girls from the other side were getting excited about.
Shountoku University, junior and senior high school campus, was just across us; from skyview, Shountoku and Haitateki appeared like two back-to-back Ks. Actually, Haitateki was Shountoku's sister school (the principals are siblings), although the boys wore crimson jackets and pants instead of navy blue; Shountoku was also exclusive for boys. We shared some facilities with them, though, such as the dojos (for kendo, judo, and karate), archery range, tennis courts, soccer and baseball fields, and the gymnasium (which stood like a divider of the two schools).
"Seen anyone you like?" Karin teased, and I smirked.
"You better not tell, Mai," Honami warned. "She'll make it a great scoop in the school newspaper this month!"
"No, I won't," Karin denied, but she wasn't convincing.
"What's the newspaper club doing for the festival?" I catechized her.
"Same as usual," Karin answered. "Take videos and pictures here and there."
"And look for scandals," Inare added.
Karin leered. "Yes, and look for scandals~"
"Oh yeah, you've never written about the ghost rumors hanging around." Honami tapped a finger on her chin.
"Well, they aren't really news to everyone already." Karin shrugged.
"Hmm, the numbers are increasing though. Was it the 9th or 10th already?"
"Shountoku was haunted too, right?" Inare queried.
"Yeah. A friend of mine said there were boys screaming like girls last Friday. She's in the drama club, so she stayed with everyone else to practice in the gym every night."
"Ah! Oh yeah, are the boys━who are collaborating with us in the play━hot?" Inare diverted, and Honami pouted.
"Mohh, your boy radar is on again."
Inare shrugged. "Well, it's morning, and reserve those rumors for the night, please."
The three of us soughed at her and then boffed at the silliness.
I was wondering, on the contrary, if it were really boys who were shrieking...or if it were somebody who wasn't supposed to be there anymore.
"Omamori-san, I swear! Just give me ten minutes more to write one mammoth of a paragraph!" I begged on the phone.
After dismissal, I had sprinted to the library to write Physics and Chemistry reports assigned that day, and both were due immediately the next day. It would've been alright not to finish it at school if they were to be passed the day after tomorrow, but when I had assignments due the next day, it was Obaa-san's rule that I would finish it at school or at my cram school before going home. But since I had those disturbing dreams, I had been finishing my school work at my cram school. Yet Obaa-san permitted me not to attend cram school that week (to have fun with the festival preparations), so I had to do my homework someplace else.
Thankfully, Omamori-san didn't mind waiting for me at the school entrance, so I could relax.
I concentrated on my legal pad after the call. Hmm...I should put this sentence here, and this idea there...
The only people left in the library were the librarian, an assistant librarian (who's also a student), and me. The former two were returning books to the shelves and reminding me from time to time until how long I could stay there.
The system in Haitateki had always been centered around discipline. Students and teachers were always in time. Opening and closing hours were absolute unless special occasions required alterations. One could not pass a subject or move to the next grade or graduate unless she would get 85% overall. The system was difficult to adapt to when I transferred last autumn because I came from lax schools (and was lax myself), but everything in life could become a habit...perhaps; at least, I'd endured thinking like that for the many months I'd been chastised, because I was always told to stay by my teachers after class for extra learning.
Anyway, been there and done that, so I scribbled and scratched on my legal pad and let my brain bleed ink of scientific terms and concepts.
When I finished and checked my watch, it was already 6:05 pm. The librarian, a middle-aged woman, was going to lock the library too, and she suggested to accompany me on the way down (the school library was on the third floor). Yet due to nature's call, I had to part with her on the second floor.
The sky outside was tinted in indigo and magenta. There were lights on the hallway, so it wasn't scary at all. But if it was just me and my imagination, the fluorescent tube lamps were dimming (as if threatening to black out). I tried to think of joyful things instead, but nothing good invaded my head.
In the washroom, I immediately slipped inside one of the stalls. The uber-white-tiled lavatory was deserted, and somehow, I felt so small and alone. I heard the entrance door squeak open though, and I became relieved as I recalled what Honami had told me.
There were still students here besides me. Good thing.
I heard something clank, but I shrugged it off and hummed. Subsequently I was going to flush the toilet bowl when feet appeared━seen through the small opening at the bottom of the stall's door. I froze and felt my soul taken away from me. I could not speak; I was afraid to. No words could express the fear enveloping me when I saw those cadaverous bare feet. There were chains binding them, but that wasn't all; blood was gushing down on them.
Yet what was more terrifying was that the bloody thing stopped outside the stall I was in.
The feet turned to its side and were then facing me. It trod towards the stall I was in, and my heart thumped with every clank those chains produced.
What should I do?!
My sweat had gone cold, and I shuddered.
Nobody's here to save me. Anyone, someone, please, help me!
I heard the opening click of the lock of my stall, and I decided I could not hold on any longer; I screamed at the top of my lungs before whoever damned bleeding creature would swing the door aside. I was ready to yank off the toilet lid and toss it.
But there was banging on my door, and I screamed louder.
"Hey, you there! Stop screaming!"
I stopped instantly and gawked at the opening below the stall's door again. There was no sight of those feet...
Reluctantly, I came out of the stall and realized that it was the janitress who saved me. I apologized for what I had done, and I hastily exited.
Dashing, I arrived at the intersection of hallways and started to turn right when all the lights on the north wing died out. A frosty breeze swept past me although the windows were shut, and I could feel the hair on my nape stand up. But I glimpsed at the north wing hallway once more and saw that its lights weren't off. I succussed my head and continued to bolt until the lights flickered and went out on the south wing, where I was currently.
A chill permeated my veins.
In the distance, nearing so quickly was a girl in a brown sailor-like uniform. She had many cuts and bruises on her arms and legs. It wouldn't have been scary if I didn't know she's dead; the knives on her chest were enough to figure that out. (Surely, no one could live with all those stabbed in one's body.)
Why were they showing up to me? I could not do anything for them…!
I tried to escape through the southwest wing, but I came to a halt again. Staring at me with her wide red veiny eyes, a girl was hanging by the ceiling, and she was wearing the same brown outfit. She stretched out her hands to me, and I yelped and shrank.
I squeezed my eyes open and close and skittered other hallways, but they were all the same: Dead girls kept springing from everywhere. Hurriedly, I retreated and then stayed on the point of intersection and hoped that as I concealed my face with my hands, the apparitions would disappear when I uncovered my eyes.
But they didn't evanesce.
Why was I seeing all this? Why?
I combed my hair with my quivering hands and oscillated my head rapidly. The whole world was spinning in front of me and swirling in different angles. An inexplicable force was pulling me down, and my breathing was becoming shallow. Without warning, I tilted, collapsed on the floor, and spotted the white lily hair pin━which I'd worn that day━a few inches from me before my eyes were sealed. It must have fallen with all my shaking...
Naru...if only you were here…
I heard incoming running footsteps, and soon I felt my torso brought upright into a sitting position. My back was then leaning and being supported by someone's hands.
Half-conscious, I peeked at whoever...
"Naru...?" I inquired, and without waiting for a reply, the world had gone black.
My fingers clawed the ground as I crawled, but just a slight movement of my legs would cause excruciating pain in my broken ankle.
I could do this!
As quickly as I could, I wiggled and resisted to cry out as twinge after twinge magnified my suffering. I clamped my mouth shut and made a thin line of my lips to refrain my shouts from escaping. My tears rained and blurred my eyes, and I tasted the salty drops of the drops.
Why was this happening to me?
I cursed the gods who wrote what had betided to me.
From above there was a creak, and it didn't take a genius to find out what he was planning. Desperately, I crawled the muddy ground. Even when I'd clutched earthworms or cockroaches, I didn't halt. I didn't screech. I didn't bawl.
The only thing that flitted my mind was that...I must survive.
Yet my willpower was fruitless. My unsightly efforts were pointless.
An iron pole plunged me, and my crimson reflection was the last thing I saw.
I was soon staring at the magnolia ceiling of my bedroom afresh.
My voice was stuck in my throat, and I hadn't screamed for the very first time. The tears that dripped down my cheeks were like water running down a slate━making small ripples yet great tremors in my mind and heart. Quaking, I curled into a ball as usual, and I felt like I was sinking in my bed, as though burrowing. As my habit, I evened my breathing and then reached out to my pillowcase...
But there was none...
Puzzled, I sat up and found myself on my purple-hued papasan.
I'm in my room? Wasn't I in school...?
I nictated and motioned to slap my face...
But warm hands stopped mine and squeezed it from behind. Alarmed, I turned my head and glanced up.
And my eyes bulged.
I didn't gasp. I didn't squeak. I could not even gather my voice to utter any noise. If I was on the floor, my jaw might have dropped on it and began digging underground. Happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, relief...Not one word could generalize the entirety of my current feeling as I ogled at the man I've always loved...or thought I loved.
"Are you alright?" he asked with his crisp voice.
It was like a magic spell. The warmth of his hand made everything I'd felt and seen in my nightmares become pitched to oblivion, and my heart was racing...It was dashing past bases to complete a home run of ultimate bliss.
Dazed, I was staring, and he sighed. It was then that the spell was broken.
"Na-Naru...?" I finally murmured and gasped. My cheeks scalded.
He was somehow unchanged. He still garbed dark clothes. His face was still pale and flawless and deadpan. His blue-grey eyes still sucked and drowned my soul.
And he was still bending over me...
Why was he here? How━? Could I be dreaming?
He narrowed his eyes, released my hand, and straightened.
"You were thrashing," he stated, and biting my lip, I nodded with wet crimson cheeks.
Then, I swished my head around and knitted my eyebrows. "How did I━Why am I━?"
"You fainted in your school," he interrupted calmly and examined a painting of the sunset by the seashore.
My eyelids fluttered. Thousands of questions twirled inside my head, but I didn't know what I should ask first.
I was abso-bloody-lutely torn between crying and laughing in happiness.
"H-how━Why are you here?" I blurted and felt the flush on my cheeks. It was like I was accusing him of trespassing.
He shrugged, and then I didn't know what possessed me, but I just gripped his arm and pinched him hard━to which he jerked it away with a glare.
"What are you━?"
"You're real?" I exclaimed with horror, and then pinched my cheek and my arms (and yelped) before staring at his frowning visage with a broad o-shaped mouth.
Oh Kami-sama! I was not dreaming! He's real! Naru's here with me! He's in my room! He's━
He pinched my left backhand, and I yelped and fumed.
"What was that━?"
"Idiot." He smirked, and my heart was knocked out with the ethereal cocky quirk of his lips.
"You━!" I emitted incoherent sounds with heating cheeks.
He's in my room! Did he carry me here? Did he change me into my blue pajamas? What should I do?
He exhaled at my stupidity (probably), and we were both silent (but my heart was battling the tsunami of thoughts inwardly). I didn't even notice that he'd handed me his black handkerchief and that my tears were flowing.
I'd been anticipating to meet him again...but I'd never planned what I was supposed to say first...I'd never thought about it...I'd just assumed that our conversations would start naturally...
But at that instance, nothing natural happened at all. I was as tongue-tied as the pantomime performers, and I was frustrated...and ashamed at myself.
However, he was the one who penetrated the uneasy quiescence.
"You've become less talkative," he commented, and I hmph-ed briskly, reflexively.
I sniffed and dabbed my wet face with his handkerchief before riposting, "I wasn't that talkative."
Me crying and him shunting his head...It was as though we were back-to-back on a tree trunk a year ago again.
I pouted. "I spoke when needed."
"You spoke whenever you want."
A normal girl like me should have felt self-conscious to have a boy in her room, but I didn't feel jittery at all. Rather, I felt...comfortable...and Naru being there...suddenly popping up in my life again for whatever cause...nothing else mattered.
"You weren't as loud in the party last Saturday," he noted, and I blinked, became aware of what he'd said, and probably reddened from head-to-toe.
"Y-y-y-y-y-you knew it was me?" I flustered.
He jounced his head, yet his face gave nothing away.
I glowered. This jerk! "You knew it was me, and you didn't even say anything!"
He shrugged. "You introduced yourself differently, so I thought you didn't want to be recognized."
I nictated and looked away in thought.
It was my turn to shrug, and then events that transpired before I collapsed...flitted my mind. Gasping, I whipped to him once more.
"You...I fainted in school? Wait. You...You have a case in my school?"
My eyes broadened with bewilderment when he bobbed his head.
Oh my Kami-sama, could this be a gift from you? Was this coincidence, or whatever you call it, a reward for not skipping classes since last autumn?
Oh generous Kami━
I halted my inner celebration and did a double take...
Could...all this be real?
My senses were convinced, so...
If this were a dream or not...If it's an illusion or not...I didn't want it to end...
I averted my eyes and clutched a part of my pajamas. "It's...too bad. I couldn't join you anymore."
He regarded me and raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"
If he's dream Naru...the "real" dream Naru...he's quite convincing.
I loured. "I had quit, remember? Surely, Mori-san told you."
He shook his head.
"Stop teasing." Was he real? Or was I hallucinating? Was I...
"I wasn't." He furrowed his brow.
My eyelids fluttered, and my cheeks burned. Was...it true? Was this...this reunion true? Was I really awake? "Th-then, you━?"
"I didn't fire you, nor did Madoka."
I made a moue with my mouth and mulled over...
"You said you didn't need me." I was upset, and my voice clearly expressed it...
Smoothly, he replied, "Needing someone is degrading a person into a necessity...a tool for survival. You're not an object."
Most likely beet red, I didn't get my hopes up. "H-hah? I was sure I was used as a tool before to get extra hands!"
He shrugged. "If I treated you as a tool, I would have terminated you the instant you slept instead of finished your work. If a tool doesn't work well and you can't fix it, what's the point of keeping it?"
I scowled. So if I were a tool, I would be considered unfixable? He really had a way of speaking that pissed me off!
I shot daggers at him, and he elevated his sly brow.
But then...I soon became cognizant...that he had a point.
Naru always forgave me when I dozed off...He gave me a job...because he identified with an orphan like me. Although I raised my voice against him countless times, he didn't tell me to get lost and find another job. Despite his sarcasm and everything hateful about his personality, he was always...considerate in his own way.
"Hmph. Your persuading skills are really good." This dream had become really believable...
"You think I'm persuading you?"
I arched my brow too. "What else?"
"I'm merely explaining things in simple language."
"Excuse me, but I can understand some complex language too, you know?" I scoffed, and he ogled at me. My tears had slightly dried on my face, thankfully.
"Your English has improved."
My cheeks most likely pinkened, but I batted my eyelids in perplexity. "W-what are you talking about?"
He sat across me and on the edge of my lavender bed. He twined his hands, rested his elbows on his lap, and leaned forward a little. "Your recent letters. Your English grammar has improved."
I gaped at him...and was then probably as red as a strawberry.
Dream Naru knew a lot of real things...
For a year, I'd been writing and sending Naru letters every month. Before he returned to England, I asked him for permission to do so, and he had told me to write in English...
I narrowed my eyes at him. "You never replied, idiot scientist."
"I was saving ink." His poker face never faltered.
"You could have just emailed me."
He shrugged. "I was saving energy."
I laughed out loud at that. "You mean you were lazy, jerrrk."
He fleered. "You've become less obtuse."
I huffed. "Not skipping classes paid off then."
My heart was floating in Nirvana. Shunting my head, I recollected something.
"I...hadn't worked for a year, Naru."
"You will have no vacation leave for the next 26 years."
I gaped and frowned. "That's so accurate."
"That is if you still want to work."
I nictated and shrugged reluctantly. "You know the answer to that already, but...I don't know if Obaa-san will agree."
And if this were all true...or I were in Lala land...
"She just did."
I was stunned. "Really? Wait a moment, how did you become close to her?"
Obaa-san made me quit working at SPR because she wanted me to concentrate on my studies. She'd known I was skipping classes just to go to my jobs, and she didn't like that...
He's not real then. He's really just a dream. He's not even━
"I'm not. She's an acquaintance of my parents, that's all."
"Oh..." Dream? Reality? Ahhh, what could this be?
Something struck me for a moment; I had forgotten what I'd dreamed about before that moment. Conversing with Naru gave me momentary amnesia of what I'd feared...
He...distracted me...from the aftermath of my nightmare...to calm me...?
My cheeks were going to erupt with the heat in them, and I fidgeted. More than the elation that he did something...nice...to me, I was coy...He's in my room, and never in my numerous fantasies did I ever wish our reunion would consist a conversation in the privacy of my chamber. If that weren't real though, at least I could live with the embarrassment in my head, but if it were real...
Dang...I didn't know what to say again...I couldn't just ask him if he's really real...
My body was burning, and it wasn't of fever━that I knew too well. My senses were too heightened, and it's all so surreal to not be a trip in my slumber.
I twiddled my thumbs and looked at my lap. "S-so...how was England?"
With probably rosy cheeks, I perked up. "Elaborate so-so."
I felt wicked and cheeky, but I couldn't care less. After all, that instance seemed too bizarre to not be a dream. I felt like I could have a pillow fight with him right then, and I would just truly wake up with a silly smile on my face.
Naru hesitated, and I screwed my eyes at him. "My letters spanned more than a thousand words each, so you owe me about 10-15,000 words to describe England."
He was tickled by my statement. "So you were counting."
"Just so I can nag you for answers, yes."
He suspired, and I smiled; I dearly loved his resigned look.
"So, tell me━"
My face must have paled as I bowed my head instantly. Was that my freaking stomach?!
Shyly, I gave him a quizzical gander, and he pointed his head to my tea table, which was laden with food...
I bit my lip and tipped my head. "S-sorry for being loud."
He just shrugged. "I'll tell you after you eat."
"Huh? Tell me what?"
He frowned. "About England."
Fireworks boomed in my mind, and I averted my eyes so that he wouldn't see the freakish smile plastered to my face.
Clearing my throat, I skeptically quirked an eyebrow. "I can't wait. Tell me while I eat."
He sighed and bobbed his head, and I hopped out of my bed and drew nigh to the table with a broad upward curve of my lips.
A dream or not...It didn't matter.
As Naru started speaking (after my guide questions) about the weather and the stack of books in his office in the British SPR, dying in my dreams seemed bearable if I would wake up to see his face, to feel his hand squeeze mine, and to smell the scent of mint tea that he might have soaked himself with. Listening to him while I ate did not only fill my stomach...but also my heart.
I didn't have to stare and grip the framed picture of him and Gene that night...After a year...Naru was finally there with me...After a year...his sable-clad self sat across me and on the edge of my bed, and he uttered about superficial things I asserted him to.
For the first time, I was sleepless for an entirely disparate reason.
"Like the swift flowing waters,
Parted by a rock in mid-stream,
We shall be united once again."
A/N: Edited 6/13/14