A/N: I'm very sorry for the very late update. T.T Although I know there are better stories out there than mine, I still wanted to do my best with my fanfics, so I'm really sorry if I'm taking so much time. *bows*
Sukiyaki=a kind of stew
Senpai=a honorific for someone belonging to a higher grade level than you
Onmyouji=diviner; sorcerer; exorcist; medium
Shu-mai=dumplings, usually with pork filling
Kami-sama=god (-sama=honorific for anyone held in high regard)
"Go to sleep."
Sitting on the floor and with our backs on a side of my bed, Naru and I cast a glance at the bleak horizon. The rising sun was trying to peek in between dark clouds─and failing.
"No..." I don't want to. My eyes were squinting (ready to close completely), but I shook my head and slapped my face.
Naru was in my room...He was sitting so near me...a few inches from my right...
It was surreal.
I couldn't believe it was real.
Naru stopped my free hand as I went on harder to myself and frowned. "Sleep, Mai. You still have school."
It sounded like an order, and it was very like him.
"No...What about you? If you're real, you also need to sleep!"
Compared to me, Naru was quite wide awake.
He sighed. "Don't be preposterous. The sun is already rising, and you still think I'm unreal? We'd been sitting and talking for hours."
I blushed. "I...sorry."
Yet I soon pouted and added, "But I'm not entirely faultless, you know? You should've been complaining earlier."
He's still the same...He wouldn't say no...even when he was being blackmailed by Masako before...
He shrugged. "You won't stop asking."
That's right...Naru...You're just so nice...So nice...that it hurts...
Because before and even now...your kindness towards me...doesn't mean anything...
There are no romantic feelings involved.
Shoving my thoughts somewhere else, I just loured. "Because the quota of your words wasn't met yet. You need to compensate for the labor of my hands as I wrote beautifully cursive English words as per your request."
Somehow, I was having fun punishing him a little. Obaa-san's sly tactics had indeed rubbed off on me.
I smirked. How's that, hm, narcissist?
Naru didn't reply as he turned his head away and covered his mouth, and my heartstrings were tugged.
I bit my lip.
I'd noticed alright...that he's real. I mean, if I was dreaming, he should have been gone by then, and after pinching myself gazillion times in different parts of my body the whole night, I'd proven my sanity already...and that he's really there. In my room.
Warm and close and very alive.
I was selfish. I knew...I was keeping him from leaving although he should be sleeping...I was gripping his wrist...afraid that he'd vanish...
What was I doing?
I didn't even notice...that I'd been holding him for a long time...! My drowsiness was fogging my mind...
Immediately, I let go of his wrist, and he gazed at me questioningly.
"I'm sorry..." I smiled coyly and laughed slightly. "Haha...I'm so weird, right? I-It's just that it's been a long time since I saw you...since I saw someone who looks like─"
I halted and looked away. I was about to say Gene's name but decided against it.
'Someone who looks like Gene...'
How can I say such an insensitive thing?!
When Gene vanished in my dreams...I felt lonely...sad...confused...When Naru left for England, I felt distraught, fragmented...
Who...do I really love?
Naru said it was Gene...He implied it was Gene because Gene was kind...and I fell for such kindness Gene showed me all those times in my slumber. But after a year or so of Naru's absence, something...inside me was craving for Naru instead of Gene.
The feelings for Naru...What are they?
How...are they different from my feelings for Gene?
A recurring question had been popping in my mind ever since Naru's departure: Do I really love Gene as Naru had pointed out?
Who do I love the most?
"Sorry..." I muttered, quite late.
"There's nothing to apologize about," Naru spoke while he massaged his wrist.
Silly me! What if there's a mark on his wrist?
Making sure I kept my hands to myself, I placed them on my lap and fixed my gaze upon them. "You're really back..."
He shrugged. "I didn't say I wouldn't."
I flushed into crimson. "You're here...Why?"
I'd been hesitating to ask him before, and I'd been caught up with his answers about England that I somehow forgot.
Expressionlessly, he squinted his eyes. They were a little red─probably like mine─and I felt a jab in my conscience.
"We'll be staying here for a while."
We? I blinked, and then realization struck.
Eyes widening, I asked, "Bo-Bou-san and the rest are here? How─Why?"
He shrugged and sighed recurrently. "Your grandmother and my parents had an agreement."
I was intrigued. "What agreement?"
He frowned. "I don't know. They didn't tell me."
"Really?" I raised an eyebrow.
He loured, and I knew I'd stretched his patience long enough.
I'm so selfish...just when he has a case in my school too!
"Yo-You should go to sleep," I suggested and bowed. "Tha-thank you for telling me about England."
He paused to look at me─making me redden─before he nodded and straightened and repeated, "Go to sleep."
"I'll just sniff some peppermint oil to stay awake."
He stared at me and hesitated. It seemed like he was about to say something but decided against it. Shortly, he approached the door and left me with an, "I'll see you later."
I just jounced my head and beamed. "Yes...Naru!"
Halfway to the doorway, he raised an eyebrow.
Blushing, I greeted, "Welcome back."
He gazed at me quietly and then inclined his head before exiting completely and closing my door. I listened to his footsteps until they poofed, and I plopped on my bed, wagged my legs from behind, and rolled left and right while giggling as softly as I could.
He's back! He's really back!
Thank you, Kami-sama!
The elation was creating a warm implosion in my heart.
As expected, his eyes widened, and his still handsome face regarded me with astonishment.
It was a lie...It was a lie, but I wanted him to leave that third wheel so much. I wanted him to be with me.
I needed him so much.
"My...child?" His voice was hoarse. I probably bewildered him so much.
Looking down on the floor, I feigned an almost sobbing sound. "Ye-yeah...I-I was about to tell you, bu-but I was afraid...! Wha-what if you'll leave me...?"
I peered at him with almost teary eyes, and he stared at me before closing his eyes and breathing out.
Ahh...I know this pattern.
He smiled, and my act halted as I was genuinely swept away by his radiance. He held out his arms, and I neared and kissed him.
Everything, especially blissful ones, happened so fast as usual. Before I knew it, I was lying down on his desk, and he was straightening up and going around so that where my head hung was where he stood.
I giggled. "What's up? Why did you stoooop?"
I pouted, and he just beamed as he opened a drawer in his desk. He bent his knees and bowed his head, so I couldn't see the contents of the drawer and just waited.
That was when I saw her: a pale blonde girl peeking from outside through the slit made by the curtains.
A face I recognized so well...
I let out a gasp.
We-we were seen...!
I was about to sit upright and hide when my boyfriend pushed me back down the desk's surface and held me there by the shoulders.
Then a sharp pang coursed throughout my body, and I gaped at the person I love hovering over me...with an emotionless expression.
While thrusting a knife to my heart.
I jolted awake and dashed to my bathroom. Whatever I had from supper was thrown out to the sink. Trembling hands turned on the faucet, and I gazed at my ashen face.
I raked my blonde hair, and my body shuddered incessantly.
I was there! I was there!
My eyes bulged at my reflection.
I was there!
I gasped and felt more bile piling up in my throat.
I woke up feeling cold. My blanket was under me, and I was sprawled like a turtle. I groaned and sat up.
Just when I thought I wouldn't dream anymore...
When did I get used to it? It wasn't even until recently that my nightmares became intense and merciless, but...I guess I'd become habituated...
Or maybe I was just too out of it that the impact of my current nightmare/dream was less than before.
My alarm clock finally rang, and reality made me groan afresh. I examined the overcast sky outside through my round window and inwardly sighed at the thought of another school day.
Honestly, I would like to roll on my bed all day if I had the chance.
When I finally gathered energy, I stretched out my right hand to bonk the snooze button and slowly sat up.
I froze at the remembered inner voice in my dream.
Memories...that weren't mine came flooding back like a hurricane.
A teacher...A teacher killed someone...!
I glanced at my hands on my lap and shivered and crept underneath my covers. The memory came rushing back...
Was he the one who killed the girls?
Was that why I saw that?!
How could he kill someone without hesitation?!
Also...more than that...the blonde-haired girl...that one with Kazune-san...
Was that the reason?
Why she was so sad?
She saw someone die...No, scratch that.
She's the one who sees girls' deaths every night.
Why? Why...am I dreaming of her memories? Why?
Ho-how can a teacher─?!
I flinched when there came a rapping on my shoji door, and recalling that I wasn't dreaming anymore, I ushered whoever it was to enter.
"Good morning. Did you sleep well, ojou-sama?" Chihiru-san bowed while holding my freshly ironed school uniform.
Nope, not all.
It was disturbing.
But of course I couldn't say that, so I faked a smile and replied, "It was comfortable."
After hanging my uniform on my closet door, Chihiru-san pulled a two-tiered trolley cart inside with her other hand, and I brightened with the smell of my breakfast. She put down a tray laden with egg rolls, miso soup, broiled salmon, and rice on my bedside table, and I thanked her. Straightening, she coughed with a 'hem-hem' sound, so I gazed at her with a tilt of my head.
"Obaa-sama said she wants to speak to you after you consume your breakfast," she forwarded. "She'll be waiting in the living room when they also finish eating breakfast."
I perked up my head instantaneously.
"Who do you mean by they, Chihiru-san? Who are─?"
She coughed that sound again. " 'You will find out later,' was what Obaa-sama said for me to tell you."
She then left immediately, so I blinked.
Who does she mean─?
"We'll be staying here for a while..." Naru's voice echoed...
I gasped. Ah! That's right!
As though I slept for centuries and had attained so much energy, I leapt out of my bed and headed to my bathroom.
I was going to meet them again! I was going to meet the people I had thought of as my family again.
And they would meet me too...a different me...! A me probably more mature than a year ago...
For the first time, I was recalling my etiquette lessons. For the first time, I found a way to use what I have learned from those freaking lady-becoming lessons...
For the first time in a long time, I wanted to be beautiful...to be seen as a lady.
What would Bou-san say? What would Ayako say?
I wanted to see their shocked faces. I wanted them to see how much I've changed. I wanted to make our reunion a special one.
If Obaa-san is there...I would have to behave like a lady too anyway...
As I filled my wooden bucket with water, I wished that whatever Obaa-san wanted to talk to me about would be delicate matters for a change.
I showered and refreshed myself with a warm orange-scented bath, but it was like that recent dream was a trigger; every time I closed my eyes, I would see those girls come nigh towards me, and I would flip about in the bathtub (and slosh foamy water on the tiled floor in the process).
A teacher...A teacher killed them...!
Maybe I was overgeneralizing things...Maybe it wasn't that teacher who killed those students...or he didn't kill all those students...
Because not all the girls I had seen wore brown uniforms...There were those with other-colored uniforms too...There were others...
The memory of dozens of ghost girls hurtling towards me...
Their lives were torn apart by confusion and indescribable pain. Coming to me last night...
Are their own souls mourning for their death?
I could not relinquish the thought.
If I was in their position...If I was as helpless as them...
I wouldn't know...how to save myself too.
I slipped out of the tub and dried myself before dressing up in my school uniform. For a moment, I inhaled the zesty aroma hanging in the air, but it did nothing to make me forget.
I knew now who might have killed those girls...but there was no relief. Even if I found out who it is...nothing would change...
Those girls were already dead...and I...could not save them anymore...
Knowing who their killer might be...would it be enough? After years and years...would the revelation of their killer be enough?
"What can I do for them?" I murmured as I rubbed the fog out of the mirror. I somehow felt like the evil queen in Snow White─asking the mirror and all. Unlike her mirror though, mine could not answer back.
My excitement for my reunion with the SPR gang had waned somehow as a greater reality pierced me, but I slapped myself from gloominess and pumped my fists.
I wouldn't want to be depressed all day long.
That's not me at all! Forget for now!
I shook my head and then, fully dressed, forged ahead to the living room.
It really amazed me how Obaa-san's traditional manor seems so dynamic. You see, there was still the preservation of her Japanese ancestry and arts which you can tell through the garden outside and the architecture of the manor itself. But when you come inside, it's a mix of modernization. Of course there were some rooms that are kept for its history—for instance, the room where I'm tutored of 'daintiness,' Obaa-san's room, tea ceremony room, her study, and perhaps a lot more that I never got the chance to explore.
The living room was one of the modernized or—should I say—Westernized rooms in sometime around the end of (what I heard) the 18th century of some European country. There were those rich horse tapestries, vibrant floral wallpapers, and glimmering glass windows.
Long ago, it would be somewhat disturbing to see an old Japanese woman wearing a kimono while sipping tea and sitting on the sofa like Obaa-san was then doing in the middle of the room. Guests would have thought that she's tired of her customs that she decided to cling unto a new one.
"Who cares?" I could just hear Obaa-san say that if I shared my thoughts.
The living room was divided from the other areas by shoji doors. That is, there were four shoji doors all in all—one in each side of the room. At Obaa-san's back, the shoji door led to the garden outside. On my left side view, the shoji door led to the dining room while the opposite door led to a hallway. From the shoji door I came into also showed another hallway.
"Good morning, Obaa-san," I greeted jovially. She glanced up for a few seconds and then continued to sip her tea. It was her usual indication of having a seat while she's drinking and offering me some tea after she's finished.
Nothing unusual at all...
Obaa-san gave me the tea and refilled her cup before taking it again. It's quite a long process than ordinary...
"I want to speak to you about something highly relevant to your future," she began austerely while in a pose of sipping her tea. (If she was sipping while talking, she's done another multi-tasking feat.)
Anyway, she put down her cup, and I waited for her to continue. Furtively, I wished I'd combed my hair very well and sat with excellent posture; she was quite nitpicky with little lady-must-do's.
"Before we met, you lived alone in an apartment, am I correct?" she asked.
My eyes fluttered. What's this all about?
"A teacher took you in before that?"
Somehow, I feel that I'm being interrogated by the police in those crime shows.
"You worked in a place called Shibuya Psychic Research under a strange young man?"
Now, that really displaced something inside of me!
"Yes, I—how do you know about that Obaa-san?" I quickly and suspiciously added.
She only raised her eyebrow. "I studied your background before I adopted you. You had no legal guardian. Nobody relatively close to. In other words, you were unsupervised."
The impact of those words hit me like invisible flying daggers. The bluntness was all too much. I just blinked, and she continued.
"You'll be going to college soon (and to a prestigious one at that). It has been a short cohabitation between us, but perhaps I have deeply ingrained into your mind how I put great importance to your studies. You've never asked me even once though you dislike sitting with me and hearing lectures. You did not complain despite the betrayal of those withholding eyes."
She stared at me, and I saw something flicker in her eyes before she blinked it away.
"You'll be going back to the world where you're alone. I don't want you to leave, but I can't hinder you. I realized that you are not a frog in the well but a frog in the ocean. Can you understand what I'm saying, Maika?"
I didn't nod but furrowed my brows.
Doesn't she want me to stay? She's my new family, yet she's telling me that I can live on my own and explore the world? She was always telling me that I cannot live on my own. That I'm so young and I need someone to be there for me because I can't look after myself. Why is she speaking like this to me?
A lump formed in my throat. It had become hard to speak.
Obaa-san smiled a radiant smile.
"Your face expresses confusion. I'm not pushing you away, Maika. I'm just letting you go to the unknown you came from. It does not mean we won't see each other again. You can still go home during holidays. Besides, what I meant by alone isn't physically alone. I meant that you may be alone in dealing with your problems, and no one might be able to help you."
"But who will take care of you?" I croaked; I forced it out, but I didn't mind.
Although my cram school mock college exams were looming over me each day, I was always trying to keep the thought of college far away from my consciousness's grasp.
Obaa-san let out a hearty laugh. "I am alright by myself. I've been living in solitude for a long time that I'm used to it. I would miss your company especially when I don't have anyone to reproach anymore, but you're still young. So many things await for you out there, Maika. Life itself is the first, and the second would be experience. It's all for the best."
Change, a voice in my head pointed out. Why is change so rampant? Why?
I bowed my head slowly. I didn't know yet if I wanted to go back. I wanted to stay there. I wanted to be with someone I can call as family. Just that time, I wanted to remain where I am. I wanted to live in my comfort zone. I was contented where I am.
I...didn't want to be alone again.
I am happy now.
Tears started to cloud my vision, and I wondered why. Were my senses betraying me again?
"You're unfair, Obaa-san, making a decision like this without consulting me," I muttered.
I held back my tears, but I didn't look up. Truthfully, having someone scold me made me feel that somebody cares for my welfare, and I missed that...I missed those times wherein my mother used to do that to me...and when I got home...somebody would greet me...
How could I accept change again? How could I just leave a place where I thought I could settle already?
"I haven't decided anything. You are the one who'll decide for yourself," she uttered calmly. "Do you want to stay here with me without seeing what it's like out there once more? Or do you want freedom where you're responsible for yourself? In other words, Maika, which hell do you prefer?"
I winced uncontrollably. "Being with you isn't hellish..."
I peered up at her, but she wasn't focused on me. She was staring at the shoji door to the dining room. Then she suddenly spoke, "You can go out now."
I gawked at her, and the shoji door she was scanning at slid open.
Then it dawned upon me.
"Bou-san…Ayako…Yasuhara…John!" I enumerated, bewildered. "Why-why are you all here?"
"Correction, jou-chan." Bou-san winked at me. "Not everyone's here. That is if you counted Lin and Masako."
"And S—" John was saying when Bou-san covered his mouth brusquely, and I eyed the latter curiously. They straightened up immediately and let out a nervous laugh.
"By the way, Mai." Ayako patted my back and diverted my attention. "I can't believe it's you."
"What exactly do you mean by that, Ayako?" I squinted at her, and she let out her haughty laugh.
"My, my, don't get angry at me," she voiced and cackled. "It just happened that I still look younger than my age."
I narrowed my eyes, breathed a sigh, and smiled.
She was still pretty hung up about her age-lessness.
Same as always...how nostalgic.
"Don't mind her, Mai (Is it okay if I call her that, Obaa-san? [Obaa-san nodded])," Yasuhara said while fixing his well-kept glasses on the bridge of his nose. "You actually look younger than Ayako-Oba-san when she was in your age."
Ayako shot daggers at Yasuhara, who scooted behind Bou-san in defense. Meanwhile, John approached and greeted me.
"You look splendid with your long hair, Taniyama-san." John beamed─his saintly babyish visage still immutable. "We barely recognized you when your grandmother showed your picture to us."
I cupped my cheeks in delight. "Really, John? I've become more beautiful than Ayako, right?"
Playfully, I smirked at the priestess to spite her, and she dedicated her venomous laser beam to me.
"Yup, we now have a lady to look after," Bou-san agreed with a bob of his head.
"Excuse me! What do you think I am?" Ayako fired at him, and they started bickering.
"Now, now Bou-san, Ayako-san. You shouldn't act like that in front of Mai and her grandmother." John tried to stand between them, but they didn't stop. Yasuhara even cheered them on.
I could not help but guffaw at their childishness. They didn't change at all, and I recalled those times we had together.
Those happy times.
They even stopped arguing when my laugh echoed through their ears.
"Why are you…hahaha…staring at me…hahaha…like that?" I was clutching my stomach by then.
Without warning, something trickled on my cheeks, and I wiped it with the back of my hand. Yet tears continued to pour out of my eyes until I could not just wipe them anymore but let them fall.
"Eh? Why..." I wondered aloud, and before long, a hand tapped my shoulder.
"Why don't you take a stroll in the garden and arrange your thoughts, Maika?" Obaa-san suggested. "You have not spoken to me regarding what I told you. I want you to convey your decision to me when you've made up your mind."
Slowly, noiselessly, and feebly, I nodded, and I excused myself and departed to the garden through the shoji door at Obaa-san's back.
I strolled on the garden aimlessly. I wasn't arranging my thoughts. It seemed peaceful that way. I wasn't letting anything disturb me. I was just simply relaxing and taking my time. I was able to breathe the cool damp air and smell the fragrances of the flowers. I tried not to think of anything at all. But…
That was impossible.
Round and round the garden like a teddy bear...I skipped the small stream made by the bamboo fountain. I crossed the bridge where the platform was last Saturday and watched the koi fishes flail about.
It was still early...about seven in the morning. Drowsiness was slightly resurfacing, but the freezing gale shuddered me awake. Dewdrops sprinkled on me when I ambled beneath the trees. There must have been some short drizzle while I was asleep.
Reaching a sakura tree, I leaned my back on its trunk and closed my eyes.
"What should I do...?" I breathed.
"Don't slack off, idiot."
I winced and opened my eyes and swished my head to the voice. "Na-Naru! What are you doing here? Don't scare me like that!"
My cheeks were probably reddening.
He raised an eyebrow. He was wearing a black turtleneck sweater now and black slacks. In his hands was his unchanging sable notebook.
I narrowed my eyes. "How could you be doing your work even under a tree?"
"There's no law against it."
I pouted. "Still a workaholic jerk."
"Don't forget 'smart' before 'jerk,' idiot."
I growled and was about to riposte when another swift gale passed by. Consequently, I squeaked at the chill. I'd forgotten to wear my blazer before I came to the garden, so only my arms could protect my upper body for the moment.
Astonishingly, I felt something draped over me, and blushing, I perked up at Naru. "Wa-whoa, how did you grab a coat like magic?"
The sakura petals were falling along with a soft breeze, and his ebony hair was billowing with it.
Anyway, Naru just frowned. "It's not magic. I hung it on a branch."
"Ohh..." I scratched my cheek coyly with my finger. It's undeniable that I'm an idiot through and through, but that simple and small deed of his washed a wave of warm elation over me and my shivering-before shoulders.
How could Naru's most trivial actions affect me so much? What could I describe those feelings he'd given me at that moment?
Could I be...or not...?
Wasn't it Gene whom I...?
I shook my head and bravely eyed Naru's face. He was taller than me and a few inches close.
"What is it?" He furrowed his brow when he noticed my gaze.
"I could see your snot and nose hair sticking out."
He stiffened and then got out a tissue from his pockets, so I burst out in laughter.
He gave me a withering look, but I just returned with a victory sign and a tongue-out. "Revenge for calling me idiot many times~"
He suspired, and we might have argued if Chihiru-san didn't usher us to return to the living room.
Well, that was brief...
However, it's as if he put a spell on me. His voice was music to my ears, and it echoed through my heart endlessly. It had been a long time since I felt an overwhelming warm sensation rush through me inexplicably. Perhaps it's because he's the only one who could move an iceberg within me.
In the living room, Chihiru-san handed me my blazer, school bag, and bento boxes (on top of one another and wrapped in indigo cloth).
"The one on top is breakfast for the person they left at their working place, ojou-sama," Chihiru-san informed. "The rest contains your lunch and theirs."
I just nodded and whispered my thanks─which earned a snicker from her. I then realized she was glancing at Naru and at me (Bou-san and the others were on the parking lot already).
"Was red lace to his liking?" she questioned.
"What red lace?" Naru turned to me.
I became erubescent and shook my head at Chihiru-san for her to stop what she's thinking. She just chuckled more.
"Maika, what are you doing?" Obaa-san's voice reverberated through my ears, and distracted, I straightened and bid her goodbye.
Did she notice my blushing face?!
Without saying anything, Naru had gone ahead of me, and I was relieved he didn't delve about what Chihiru-san meant.
Frowning, I said, "Moh, don't say things like that in front of him!"
The housekeeper just giggled.
When I was exiting the living room, Obaa-san added, "By the way, you don't have to attend cram school this week."
Stunned, I goggled at Obaa-san as though she grew another head. She boffed at my expression and then explained, "You earned it, but if you slack off next week, I won't give you a week off from studying ever again."
Briskly, I jounced my head. "I won't slack off! I promise!"
"Did you wear your best weapon today?"
I blinked and tilted my head. "Best weapon?"
"Ah, Obaa-sama, I made sure of that." It was Chihiru-san.
"What color, Chihiru? I'm afraid I didn't hear it."
"That would be seductive. Well done," my foster grandmother approved.
And my mouth was hanging.
I stomped my feet in embarrassment. "Mohh! Stop plotting about my underwear! Geez, I'm going now!"
"Take care, ojou-sama!" Chihiru-san said after me, and she continued to laugh while Obaa-san just inclined her head to me with a once-in-a-blue-moon playful smile.
When I shut the shoji door to the living room, I swore I heard Obaa-san break out into unmistakable mischievous laughter.
At the parking lot, Bou-san suddenly engulfed me with his arms.
"You're really alive!"
"Wha─! Geroff me, perv!"
He did and ruffled my hair. "Do you know how worried this old man was? You didn't even contact me for a year!"
I squinted my eyes. "I doubt you'll recognize my number among your many fans named 'Mai'!"
"Wha─? There's only one Mai that has a heart attached to it!"
"You're the only one that has 3!"
"You player!" I mock-punched him, and he chortled.
"Alright, alright! Forgive me, and I'll forgive you. Don't make us all worry again."
There was a tinge of sadness in his voice, and I tilted my head. "I made you all that worried?"
He hesitated and shrugged. "Well..."
"He's just being an old man!" Yasuhara butted in.
Bou-san sighed. "Yes, yes, an old man that I am."
They gave a meaningful glance at each other, and I felt like there was something they weren't saying...because of how Bou-san's eyes had a glint...of relief?
But then I was just probably reading too much again, so I dropped it.
"Ooh! You have a new car!" Bou-san was opening the door to a silver Lexus. "Did you hit a jackpot or something?"
Bou-san narrowed his eyes. "How come you and Ayako say similar things at times? I do have money, you know?"
"So this is why you're usually stingy?"
"Hey, I always treat you to ice cream!"
"That was cheap convenience store ice cream~"
"But my sentiments aren't cheap, so while you were mourning because Naru-bocchan wouldn't─"
I glowered at him because the person he was about to tease me with was just a few feet away.
"Mai, what are you waiting for?" Naru called while he stood beside a shiny black BMW.
"Hah? I'm waiting for Bou-san..." Gehh that show-off narcissist...He now has his own car huh...
"Ah, I'm sorry, Mai." The monk shrugged off and scratched his head. "Obaa-chan made a reservation already for you in Naru's car."
"Wha─?!" Obaa-san said that without my consent?!
I didn't hear Bou-san's reply after that since a car honked so loud. I diverted my attention to the suspect of my entrance to the threshold of pain, and I covered my ears. I glared at Naru who came out of his car.
"Are you just going to stand there forever?" he said impatiently.
"Awwww, isn't that just sweet Mai?" Ayako mocked from inside Bou-san's car. "He even did that to inform you that you'll be riding with him only."
I frowned. "No, he didn't."
Besides, riding with either Naru or Lin or with both of them would make an eerie, disturbingly taciturn journey! I'd learned that very well in the past.
So I approached Naru and said, "I'll be riding with Bou-san─"
There was a squeal of tires, and both of us snapped our heads to look at Bou-san's new car whooshing out of the driveway.
"Wha─!" I ran to catch up before it streamed past the gate, but I was too late.
How could they?!
I could just imagine Ayako snickering on the front seat of Bou-san's car.
That Ayako! That Bou-san!
Without a choice, I returned before Naru and his sleek BMW.
"Would you prefer to walk then?" Naru asked, and I huffed disapprovingly and unthinkingly hopped inside his car.
I decided not to speak to him the entire trip.
What's so sweet about him? He only wants to annoy me.
Even though, I like it.
Mohhh, I thought in frustration, even if I convinced myself not to speak to him I still can't resist it!
I kept on glancing at Naru.
Sigh. Wake up, Mai. He's Naru after all. You shouldn't expect too much from him. He'll never change. He'll always be a narcissistic, arrogant, intelligent, and rich bastard. But…
I was deep in thought that I didn't hear Naru call my name. When I did, I only managed a feeble "What?"
"Stop looking at me and look ahead instead." He smirked irritatingly. Surprisingly, I didn't blush.
Maybe, it's because irk and admiration cancel out each other?
"You're so boring, Naru, so I was trying to get something out of you through eye contact," I mused, denying it. I should at least do something to faze that attitude of his.
"Only idiots would entertain idiots while driving," he said with a glimpse at me.
I glowered, but I knew he had a point; that would be risking an accident.
Let's play music then!
I stared on the dashboard, but there was no music player in sight.
"What the─? You don't even have a radio?"
"Only idiots would─"
"Stop that about idiots!"
He smirked again as he swerved his car. Just then, droplets of rain designed the windshield and windows.
"Ack! I don't have any umbrella!"
Before I could hear Naru reply with his infamous line about idiots, my vision changed, and replacing the sprinkles of rain on the windshield...
So I screamed on my seat.
I blinked and stared at Naru. On the front seat, I had my knees folded up and my ears covered by my hands. My whole body was trembling, and Naru released his hands on my shoulder.
He'd stopped the car just beside a cafe in downtown, near my school ...
"What did you see?" He was calm as ever, and I wished I could borrow his composure.
"The-There was blood...!" I said. "I...I..."
As expected, they were not there anymore.
Was I dreaming?
Is there something wrong with my eyes?
How could I have mistaken―?
Naru gazed at the windshield, and I wondered what he saw when he narrowed his eyes.
"Ca-can you see it too?"
"I can see some scratches."
"Stop teasing!" I pouted.
He frowned. "This car is brand new. There shouldn't be scratches."
I growled. "Stop obsessing about your car."
"Do you still see the blood?"
I blinked and glimpsed at the windshield. "No..."
"Then there's nothing to be afraid of."
I stared at him and soon nodded.
It was amazing how his words could calm me in an instant. It wasn't the first time too...I could remember the first ever case we had...that time when he performed an autosuggestion to me and the others...
I sighed. That's right. There's nothing to be afraid of...
Because Naru's here with me.
I straightened, unfolded my knees, faced the windshield, and sat properly.
I forgot...there was something I had to tell Naru.
Naru arched a brow as he started the engine.
"I think...I know who killed those girls."
"Your umbrella is quite big," I commented as Naru and I walked to my school building after he parked his car near the baseball field.
Drizzle turned to a downpour, and the raindrops made a cute popping sound on the umbrella.
Naru held the black umbrella while I held the bento boxes and my school bag (upon my insistence).
"About the case...what should we do?"
"There is no unusual floor inclination and particular soil moisture, and the apparitions are evident now. I will have Lin look up this 'Hoshimasa-sensei' while you go to class."
We stopped by the shoe lockers, and I handed him the bento boxes.
"How about you…? Did you not see anything? Like when you touch surfaces here in school?"
He has psychometry after all...
Naru narrowed his eyes. "No."
"Your power is unstable?"
"No. This place...has a barrier."
"Why do you think, after many years, it is only until recently that the school has had ghost apparitions?" he queried as-a-matter-of-factly.
I blinked. "The-then…?"
"Lin had his shikis confirm it, and as suspected the school grounds have a barrier that traps those ghosts and prevents them to come out. The barrier also prevents anyone from sensing anything around the school."
"But they're showing up now, so how─?"
"A barrier that encompasses so much area and has a lot of functions would need continuous maintenance. If the barrier has grown weaker, then the one who maintains it has not been able to do what he was supposed to do."
"Isn't that a good thing? We can still catch the culprit!"
"That isn't our job."
I frowned. "It's included in our job! We have to get the barrier off, so those girls can be freed!"
"A barrier of this sloppy caliber can be easily dealt with. It is the dead we should focus our attention to."
"Tsk. But you can't even use your psychometry, right? What a shame~"
He glared at me, and I smirked.
The rain pitter-pattered more vehemently, and distracted, I glanced at the raindrops outside.
"I'd never thought it would rain so soon..."
Naru shrugged, and it was his turn to smirk. "You should've suspected something so obvious earlier. Your brain is still far from a monkey's, Mai."
"Stop comparing me to an animal!" I hissed.
My defeatist nature before had been properly abated by Obaa-san somehow.
Naru just lifted a corner of his mouth, and strangely, I wasn't really mad...
Because we were back to our ordinary relationship.
To our inconsequential squabbles. To our wit-exhausting debates.
Naru...did you even miss me?
Did you...even miss arguing with me like this?
Stringing my fingers, I said, "You didn't have to ride and accompany me here, but thanks anyway."
"Because it wasn't troublesome." He was looking away.
Such a simple reply...could make me so happy.
There must be something wrong with my head.
"I would be docking the fuel fee from your pay, however," he added, side-glancing at me, and I loured at him.
What a spoilsport!
"Moh! Now I'm rethinking about working with you again!"
I knew my happiness was short-lived. Words that come out from Naru's mouth were always well-thought-out.
He had never shamed himself. He was always like that: smart and disciplined.
But I wanted to see him once.
No. Not just once.
I wanted to see him many times...
I didn't want him to just smile at me.
I wanted him to show real emotions.
I wanted him to be sad.
I wanted him to become desperate.
I didn't want him to be spoilt─always seeing through me as though he had an omniscient extra eye.
Naru, once in a while, can't you show me that you deeply care?
But then, who was I in Naru's life to demand his concern? Who was I to be needy of his affection and attention?
I even doubted if I was important to him─which indeed seemed impossible.
Although I know you're not a robot...you still act like one...
A two-note sound reverberated in the school. It was already 8 o' clock, and I had to go to my rehearsal before 8:30...
"That teacher might still be in school. Be vigilant."
"Yeah...Thanks." I smiled, and he just stared before nodding.
"The base is at the old gymnasium," he informed and started walking away.
"I'll go there at lunch!" I shouted before he turned a corner and vanished...
Did he hear me?
As expected...Naru was still indifferent even after I'd confessed to him a year ago. I was the only one...still hung up about it.
I was the only one still bothered...still torn between two people...
But then I'd observed...My heart did know...
That it wasn't Gene I remembered the most.
That I could recall Naru's glares more than Gene's smiles.
That those times Naru smiled at me were the ones I cherished the most...more effective than Gene's...more...realistic.
If Gene is alive, will I really fall for him?
Or...have I already fallen for Gene as Naru pointed out?
Can I believe what Naru says my heart feels?
Or can I believe in my mind that believes my heart says and feels otherwise?
I discovered then...as I stood staring blankly by the shoe lockers...that perhaps Naru felt completely insouciant because he still thinks I love Gene...
He'd never thought it would be him...
What if it was him?
What...would he do?
If it was really him...what would I do?
Naru might have thought I have 200 years to live. He might have thought that after a hundred years, I would meet Gene, and we would be together. He might have assumed I was meant for Gene...
I knew I hadn't been able to see Naru clearly...apparently thinking he was the guy in my dreams─just an alternate prototype of him...
But that didn't mean I hadn't felt anything for Naru...
Does he think...it's impossible for somebody to love him because he has the worst personality in the entire universe?
Well...if Masako couldn't prove him wrong...
How could I when I didn't know what I really feel for Naru as of yet?
I arrived late in the music room but got away with just paying lunch money for my wicked three club co-members (who would always lack lunch money anyway).
We called it a "morning" by 8:24 am since we already got the heck of the song. The other duties for the play would be simple; Honami and Inare would be checking the sound system─including the CDs, and obviously, we would be in charge of the sound effects before I would sing the last song...
Hopefully I wouldn't have more songs to sing...
"Hey..." I began slowly.
Karin raised an eyebrow.
"Is this school a co-ed before?" Yup. Got to do my work now!
"Oh, you've heard?" She tilted her head slightly with a smirk. "Seems like I'm not the only snoopy kind."
I narrowed my eyes. "Well, I'm not originally from here, so it can't be helped."
"Some newcomers just don't care, you know?"
"Alright, alright. Just answer me, sheesh." I pouted.
"Well, it was a co-ed. From the old school's newspaper club's articles, I'd read that Shountoku and Haitateki's school grounds were once encompassed by beige buildings that formed Takushiro Academy."
"Takushiro Academy...Sounds decent," Honami commented.
"What happened to the old school?" Inare asked.
"Well, obviously, they demolished it and built Shountoku and Haitateki and the new gym and some other facilities. I didn't read about what changed and not, but I was interested with something else."
"What? Some sort of scandal again?" I squinted my eyes.
She smirked and wagged a finger. "Not quite, Maika-ojou-sama~"
"Stop dillydallying, silly," Inare whined.
"Geez, you guys are so impatient." Karin made a moue with her mouth and shrugged. "Oh well...Before the demolition, students, specifically girls, had been missing. Also, at that time, there was an uproar around the country because, actually, schoolgirls had been missing everywhere."
"A traveling kidnapper?"
"Yeah, you can say that. But well, before the demolition, it was found out that most of the schoolgirls who went missing came from Takushiro Academy (really, it took them so long to speculate), and the kidnapping had been going on for years."
Simultaneously, we shivered.
And if everyone knew it's a teacher who killed one of those girls...or maybe all of them...
"Wha-What if..." Honami halted, and I bit my lip.
"Don't think about it!" Inare advised, but we all could not help it...
We were all girls after all, and as girls...safety was really something we can never be certain of.
"I don't think the culprit can go anywhere in school. Unlike the old school, we have a massive school gate and some scary guards, so I don't think it's that easy to kidnap us now. Anyway, I don't think it's the kidnapping that drove them to demolish the old school. Someone bought the land and privatized it (it was a public school), so I think that's the reason."
"We can still be kidnapped, you know? When we go outside," Honami pointed out, but Karin just shrugged.
I glanced at the ceiling and then down.
"Um...Have you heard of a Hoshimasa-sensei from the articles?"
"Hoshimasa-sensei? Dunno...Never heard of him." Karin rested her head on the desk before her. "It's just my speculation, of course. The reason could either be the kidnapping or the privatization. What I do know is that, years ago, on the grounds of Haitateki and Shountoku once stood a school for boys and girls. The old gym is a proof of that."
I perked up.
Naru had said the base was in the old gymnasium...
"How do you know the old gym is a remnant of the former school?" Honami furrowed her brow.
"Well, the old gym has two shower rooms and locker rooms," Karin responded, "while the new one has only one shower room and two locker rooms. Of course, we have separate classes with Shountoku, so only one shower room is needed."
"That makes sense..." I blew a hair strand out of my face.
"By the way..." Inare sat on a chair beside me. "What's up with the ghost rumors lately?"
Honami grinned. "I thought you wouldn't want to discuss them during mornings."
Inare shrugged and shivered. "Well, it's scarier at night! Now I think it's better to talk in the morning while the spirits are sleeping."
"It doesn't look like morning though," Honami said, and we glimpsed at the still bleak sky and pouring rain. It was drizzling now, but the rain didn't seem to have a plan on halting.
"You're such a scaredy-cat," Karin chuckled. "As if spirits could sleep. If they do, they should've already been in their afterlives."
Inare scoffed. "It's not funny."
"Anyway, are these rumors the one in the library and the girl's washroom?" Honami inquired as she rubbed the corners of her eyes while looking at a fancy pink mirror.
My neck craned as I looked up instantly at her. A shudder ran down my spine at the recollection of the chained feet last night...
I clutched my skirt in determination. I tried to remember the dreams I had and tried to guess which of them had something to do with the library and washroom...
I can't remember...
"You heard about them too?" Inare got out a nail file and began smoothing her nails.
Honami shrugged. "Yeah, I did during lunch last week. (Do you have a nail cutter?)"
Inare shook her head, but Karin lent Honami the beauty tool.
"Eh...What happened?" I queried.
I had my thoughts about the girl's washroom, but I still couldn't find anything strange in the library. I stayed there yesterday, but nothing happened...
Does the haunting have a schedule or what?
"A freshman said she saw bookshelves falling down upon her in the library," Inare began, blowing nail dust. "Thinking that it was real, she dodged them. She noticed that a girl was pinned, so she called for help. Nobody came since she was in a deserted part, and her voice was pretty soft. There was no response, so she told the girl to wait for her to come back. The girl suddenly gripped her legs, and the first year was petrified because the girl had no eyes."
The rest of us gasped as a morning breeze swept inward the music room through the slightly opened glass window nearby. It was getting cold, so Karin got up to close it.
Please don't let anything come out!
I did doubt anything would appear then and there though (as with my past experiences)...except that one time in Yasuhara's school...
"Wha-what happened next?" I gulped. I must gather information!
"She ran, screaming her butt off, probably louder than before, and when people rushed to her and she guided them to where she was, the bookshelves were standing properly without a trace of ever falling down. The eye-less girl disappeared too. Thinking that she was just seeking attention, the others ignored her, and she dashed out the library as fast as she could."
"But it's not as if that's really true, right?" Karin crossed her arms. "I mean, it's just a rumor."
"Well, it's true that nobody saw it except her." Inare shrugged. "But her scared expression was convincing when I overheard her tell her friend. She warned her friend not to go to the library too. She didn't look like she was acting at all."
Honami passed me Karin's nail cutter, and thinking it was a good chance to distract myself, I took it.
"What's the other rumor?" I clipped my jagged nails carefully.
"A senior went to the bathroom after dismissal," Honami started. "She was fixing her hair by the mirror and sinks when she saw someone behind her. Not wanting any conflict, she stepped aside so that the girl can have her own way. When she glanced back at the mirror, she was horrified to see the words 'Help me!' written all over the surface with her lipstick. The girl vanished too. From then on, many were said to have experienced the same event but were ignored by the teachers and the janitress because they thought it was just their lame excuse for being caught of vandalism."
"If they vandalized the bathroom, why would they go report about it?" I frowned. "That's the problem with some people. They give conclusions immediately without looking at it over properly."
They all stared at me, and I let out a curious "What?"
"The way you talk...it's as if you've seen something we've never had before," Karin explained while raising her eyebrow.
I waved my hand at her. "What do you mean all of a sudden?"
Though, I already knew it.
"Do you believe in ghosts and the like, Maika?" Honami asked.
"I…I guess…" I scratched my cheek and laughed sheepishly.
I've seen enough to say so.
Thankfully, they dropped it.
"If I were to choose, I think the rumor in the library seemed more believable," Inare commented, and we all looked at her. "It seems foolish─the one in the bathroom. Somehow unconvincing."
"What's more believable? Is it the one that's seen (the mirror writings) or the one that is not (the bookshelves falling)?" Karin chimed.
"Both stories left no proof that ghosts haunted the girls, but the fear within that girl who went to the library was evident," Inare defended. "You can't simply feign those things!"
"Now, now, it's just a rumor, isn't it?" Honami said. "Besides, when has there ever been substantial proof that there are ghosts? No one knows if they are true."
"Not really," Inare replied, and we glommed at her again. "It wasn't just in this school. There were also rumors in the other building, remember? And there are so many ghost stories in this school ever since last year. Don't you think it's strange?"
"So many in a short time?" I asked, and they nodded.
"Yeah. Before it was quite quiet."
"What do you know about Shountoku? Their rumors? Even I haven't heard the details." Karin un-crossed her arms and leaned forward.
Inare responded, "I don't know how true they are. All I know is that the girl apparitions are worse than here."
"What do you mean?" It was Honami's turn to ask.
"I heard some boys during club meetings say that there were girls appearing either stabbed by knives, hanged by a rope, beheaded, and or bleeding with serious injuries."
We goggled at her. Our breaths were held at the vivid images those words procured. I covered my mouth and gulped.
It can't be…
"Yeah," Inare went on, "we're lucky enough that it didn't appear to us just as I heard."
Not the beheading one...No...But I definitely saw those hanged and stabbed ones!
I tasted something bitter rising in my throat, and I tried to swallow it back.
"Perhaps it's because they're girls like us and knew how to make some exceptions," Karin pointed out as flatly as a paper falling down on the floor.
We all gaped at her as if she'd gone mad.
Before long, Honami gazed at her white indoor shoes. "We haven't heard of ghost stories until last year. There was no excitement at all."
Excitement…I stared at the ceiling afresh. It can be…and it can be not. Rather fearful…than exciting.
"You enjoy hearing them, do you?" Karin asked.
"Of course." Honami smiled toothily. "It's fun to have a little creepy history in this dull school."
"You're weirder than I thought," Karin muttered.
"Why, thank you." Honami beamed brighter than ever, and we all snickered.
Somehow, the humor worked well to abate the fear that was well-hidden in us...
Anyway, the bell rang, and toppling our chairs over, we hastily proceeded to our classrooms (we're in different sections).
When I entered classroom 3-B, written on the chalkboard were words that told the class to continue the cultural festival preparations. Since I got nothing to do except finish the essay Senaka-sensei assigned to me, I just sat on my seat and tapped my pen on paper.
"Did you see the hot guys in the old gym?" a girl, two desks behind me, gossiped.
"Eh! It's really true?"
Hot guys? I squinted my eyes. Don't tell me...
"Yup! They'd been roaming around before homeroom! Asking about the ghost stories!"
Gah. I hung my head low. I knew it!
"Ghost stories? Why are they asking such things?"
"It seems like they're exorcists!"
That's a near one but not quite, sista~ I smirked. Somehow, my mind was straying from what I should write on my essay.
"Hot exorcists? I'm game!"
They squealed, and I sighed. If only I could be so shallow as them in times like these...
"I wouldn't mind being possessed if I'll faint on a bishie's arms!"
I frowned at the ridiculousness of it. Girls!
Not that I wouldn't want to fall on a particular bishie's arms.
I reddened at the thought of Naru catching me, and as gross as it sounds, my saliva almost dripped down my paper as my mouth hung while daydreaming.
Closing and wiping my mouth and shaking my head, I finally returned my vision to my blank intermediate paper. Consequently, I stared into space while thinking what to write next. I kept on looking around the classroom and hoping to see an answer pop out of nowhere.
Yet I found nothing.
I somehow got bored staring and turned to look out of the window near my desk. I always loved sitting near windows, and ever since I'd seen the advantage, I would always trade with my classmates if ever I wouldn't be able to get the right desk through the semestral draw for seating arrangements.
I diverted my focus outwards, to the sky, and to the next building in my sight. The new gym was only two floors high, so sitting on the fourth floor, what I could see directly across me were the fourth floor windows of Shountoku University. I then peered higher...
And that's when I saw it.
But it was not an 'it' actually because it's apparently human.
It was a girl. She was standing on the edge of the rooftop of Shountoku University, before the railing. She was wearing a P.E. uniform...in the same color as mine but with some white stripes on the jacket and sweatpants' sides.
Some sort of new costume?
That was clearly not my school's PE attire, and I was assured well enough by the peeking sun that it wouldn't be one of those dead girls...
We Haitateki girls were allowed to go to Shountoku when it's time for club meetings and all, and Shountoku's clubs merged with my school's similar clubs so that we had started working together for the festival.
Hmm...She should be on some meeting─not strolling around alone for fun.
I found myself looking at her intently. I think, I was just bored that's why I did so. But most likely I found it hard to look away because she was strange. She was looking down on the ground right where she was. To think how many stories that down was!
I couldn't explain it...Just that...no other thought occurred to me. I didn't even think of suicide. It was like looking at her made my mind empty...my soul hollow...
And it was like I was floating before her...
She then lifted her head, and I blinked.
It was as if she was looking at me directly, and I shivered. I came back to my senses, but I was trembling within...
Because even from far away...I could feel that she was really staring at me.
Next, she tilted her head, and before I knew it, she took a step and fell over the rooftop.
I stood up in alarm, and my eyes widened. My breath hitched, and sweat ran down my temples. My whole body shook like a kettle shaking on a stove.
No way! No way!
Did I just see what I think I saw?!
I didn't even care to notice that my desk had fallen over. I continued to stare at the edge where I saw her a while ago as though wanting a replay or something. Everyone who remained in the classroom rubbernecked at me, and speechless, I pointed at the rooftop. They shook their heads and thought I was foolish, and I couldn't blame them.
It was then that I understood what those girls from Inare and Honami's ghost rumors had felt...
And then a shout pervaded my petrified self, and I, along with the others, stared at the girl two desks behind me. She had her fists covering her mouth like a child covering herself with a blanket at night, and she blanched. She was wearing a pink hair band and seemingly had black eyes from afar, and I recalled her name was Setsuna.
At that instance, I remembered some catchphrase: ghosts make themselves visible to people they only think should see them.
"Di-did you see it too?" she questioned in a hoarse voice, and I nodded, still speechless.
"What did you both see?" the others inquired, getting a bit worried.
"The-there was a girl! And she─and she fell over the rooftop!" Setsuna told them, and everyone fell silent.
Everyone had evidently heard of those ghost rumors.
"If she fell on the ground, why isn't there a body anywhere?" someone said, breaking the silence. Everyone hurried to look over the window to the ground, and I heard their voices cry in relief, "You scared us right there...!"
"N-no! She fell from Shountoku!"
Everyone stiffened, and then whispers began.
Although Setsuna was right, I planned to check the ground between Haitateki and the new gym, so I peered over the window.
Of course, there isn't supposed to be...
I hesitantly looked over anyway.
And that's when 'it' fell.
Right in front of the window I was peering out.
And I could tell everyone saw it because numerous gasps and yelps permeated the room. I myself had no strength for such reactions because...
It was, in slow motion, staring at me face to face.
I saw the face of a dead girl falling out of the window upside down.
Her billowing wavy light brown hair…veiny red eyes and parched lips, which murmured something inaudible with the noise of my surroundings, were recorded by my eyes and lingered in my mind. She was looking directly at me, and I swore my eyes were almost going to pop out of their sockets. All the girls screamed louder until it went out of sight, and I staggered down the floor and beside my fallen desk.
My soul definitely got kicked out as I recognized those white stripes against navy blue.
My classmates didn't dare look over the window anymore to see if there's a body on the ground; they knew already that there wasn't any supposed to be. They incessantly screamed their lungs out and filed out the classroom in panic while I sat motionless on the cold floor─freaked out to my bones.
Setsuna-san didn't leave the room too, and I found it nice of her.
The girls who screamed came back in and brought Senaka-sensei with them. By that time, I had already straightened and was facing my back to the windows.
Somehow, I didn't want to sit near windows anymore.
"Now, now, don't push me girls," he said. "What's going on here anyway?"
He gazed at me and Setsuna-san while waiting for an explanation, but those cooing girls answered for us. So as calmly as I could pretend, I arranged my desk right back up. I sat down again as if what happened did not take place, yet I could feel my body shaking along with my blood.
"We saw a ghost, sensei," they chorused. "A ghost of a girl who fell down from the rooftop."
"Eh?" Senaka-sensei blinked as if he heard it wrong.
"It was so scary!" They put on frightened faces and teary-eyes. "Please stay with us sensei!"
They ended their plea with simultaneous eyelash-batting, and any nice guy would be pinned.
"Alright, alright, I'll stay with you, okay?" Sensei agreed, but it felt like he was forced to.
Totally forgetting what transpired, the girls cheered and began talking to Senaka-sensei about his hobbies.
Really, their resilience was outstanding.
Must be the power of a pack...
I quietly returned to my essay, but the image of the girl falling in front of me was still clear in my mind. My hands shook as I tried to write words connected to my essay...tried to brainstorm to calm myself, and I'd thought that I'd seen worse than what I saw just then.
However, I myself wasn't convinced because my hands were still shaking after homeroom ended.
"I want that one with the eye-patch!"
"Idiot! He doesn't have an eyepatch!"
"But he's like he's hiding one~"
"You just have some fetish for bangs. Well I'll want that tan-haired one!"
"Ehh! You two like older guys that much? I'd have that black-clothed one!"
"No, no, no! That one with glasses is great!"
I narrowed my eyes at the gathering of my giggling and pointing schoolmates at the main entrance of the old gymnasium. They were trying to peek at a slit they made with the sliding door, but I doubted they were as sneaky as they should be...
They were quite rowdy, and somehow, my previous horrific experience was shoved to yesterday; the silliest of things could really be good distractions from fear…
Just then, my ringtone pierced through the petty girl arguments, and I fumbled for my cellphone.
Who is it now?
I blinked at the digits on the screen.
An unknown number…
Deciding to better answer it (and just block the caller if it's some crazy person), I clicked the button and pressed the device to my right ear. "He-hello?"
My heart instantly tossed confetti.
Gahh, how can I be so happy with just him calling my name? This is so unfair!
"Na-Naru, what…?" How did you get my number?!
"Enter through the door to the backstage," he ordered flatly.
Again…my mind was being filled up with his face…
Feeling the heat on my cheeks again, I combed my hair from my nape as I trod around the old gym to where the backstage door was supposed to be.
And something black and white smacked me head-on.
I staggered backwards, and my bottom kissed the ground unceremoniously.
What the heck…!
I massaged my forehead as I glared at the object that collided me; it was a soccer ball…!
I stood up slowly and took the ball and readied myself to pitch it to whoever will pick it up.
This is cruel of me, but─
"What's taking you so long?" Naru's voice crept behind me, and I flinched and dropped the ball.
Flushing, I yelped, "You really should stop that!"
He narrowed his eyes and glimpsed at the ball. "Quit playing around and─"
"Hey, the one who was hit," an unfamiliar voice intercepted, and Naru and I glommed at a guy with blonde hair.
He was quite tall, taller than Naru by a quarter of an inch and many inches taller than me. He was, for the lack of a better word, indescribably good-looking…
Blinking, I said, "Who's hit…?"
I glanced at the ball, which was already in the stranger's hands.
"Aaha!" I pointed and frowned at him with my hands on my hips. "Isn't there anything you'd like to say to me?"
He raised an eyebrow, but then he loured and took something from his pants' pocket and handed it to me…
Expressionless, he pointed to his forehead, and it was a few seconds before I realized he was referring to mine…
How could he see through my bangs?
And…how did he see me get hit?
I was pretty sure that with the long and steep downward slope between the soccer field and the old gym, I couldn't be seen…
"Senpaiiii, what's taking you so long?" A rather stout boy came panting toward us, and noticing me holding a Band-Aid, he gasped, "Ah! Sorry about that! It's not senpai's fault."
"Uh…yeah…" I murmured and glimpsed at his senpai, who I noticed wasn't wearing the crimson uniform that categorized boys in Shountoku.
An alumni? A transfer student?
Suddenly, I felt something cold from behind…a chill of some kind…
And "senpai's" friend blinked at me and sweat-dropped and then dragged the blonde guy out of there. "Let's go, senpai!"
I tilted my head and wondered if they also felt a chill behind them…
"Mai, stop pacing out. Tea."
I winced and spun to Naru.
I forgot he's there!
No wonder I got a chill!
That other guy…he wasn't looking at me…
He was looking at Naru before scramming…?
What did Naru do…?
My cheeks heated up at an idea.
My wishing mind could only hope.
The old gymnasium was perpendicular to the new gymnasium. It's sort of hidden from view because it's located at the back of the two schools and the new gymnasium. I'd never been inside the old gymnasium, though. I didn't even know why the schools didn't use it anymore. When I sauntered towards it at lunch, I couldn't help looking over my back. I was actually thinking that maybe someone unseen was watching at me.
I felt stupid scaring myself, but I just really felt queasy ever since what happened during homeroom period.
Although I should be used to it…
With Naru, I entered the backdoor, which appeared like a part of the wall made of dark wood planks. I wouldn't have known it was a door if Naru didn't open it in the first place.
It wasn't after a while that I felt a stinging pain on my forehead. Having forgotten my small pocket mirror, I glanced at a tiny scratch on my forehead through my cellphone's black screen.
So that was the Band-Aid for…
It was probably some tiny rock or what that got stuck on the ball and scraped me.
Shrugging, I stuck the Band-Aid on my forehead, and I felt heat crawl up my cheeks as I perked up and saw Naru frowning at me.
"Wha-what?" Why does he look so disagreeable?
He didn't reply and just swiveled to Lin-san, who was surprisingly interviewing and typing…
"Kagami-san?" Setsuna-san blinked at me, and I smiled slightly.
"Hey…" I waved.
She glanced around and questioned, "How did you enter…?"
It seemed like the main entrance was locked completely. Naru probably got irritable about the slight disturbance…
I shrugged. "Through the backdoor…"
I caught a glimpse of the shelves of monitors and felt a wave of nostalgia.
Those cables! Those thermo-whatever! The smell of tea leaves urging me to brew them! I'm really back!
"Hi, jou-chan." Bou-san tapped me by the shoulder, and I returned a smile.
"We're going to eat lunch after Lin finished the interview," Ayako chimed in with a grunt, and Bou-san mouthed at me, "Her fake toe nails tore off."
I was about to take a glimpse of Ayako's misfortune, but Bou-san advised me not to.
"She'll get crankier if you do," he whispered, yet Ayako seemed to have caught a gist of what he was saying as she glowered at us.
Her hair seemed ready to turn like snakes and nibble us.
I just snickered though even if Ayako sent me an evil eye.
I was back. It was all that mattered at that instance.
"Kagami-san saw it too."
I turned my head back to Setsuna-san, and a corner of her mouth jerked up and down at me.
"Do you know each other?" Yasuhara scooted beside me with a teacup filled with what smelled like coffee.
"Yeah. She's my classmate."
"There was no body found?" Lin-san queried, and astounded, Setsuna-san nodded. Her hair band slightly moved forward and puffed up the front of her hair.
So she checked…? I trembled.
"A guy from Shountoku experienced the same thing." John materialized with Masako from the backdoor.
The medium was still the same (if not a little taller like me). She still wore her fancy kimono (a black one with peach blossom designs for the day), and her hair was still cropped short before her shoulders. If she smiled or frowned at me while inclining her head, I couldn't know because her kimono-sleeve-to-mouth-reflex still hadn't vanished.
"Mai." I fluttered my eyes at Naru in inquiry.
Of course, how could I have forgotten?
With a sigh and a smile, I approached the small electric stove behind me. Lin-san had already dismissed Setsuna-san by the time I turned to check on her. The Chinese man had already taken his seat before the monitors and carried on his typing legacy while Naru took over the former's seat and perused a thick compilation of bond papers on his unchanging clipboard.
Bou-san handed me a jug of distilled water to boil.
"So, ghosts following you again?" He meant it as a joke, but there was a faltering note in his voice.
"I'm fine, Bou-san," I answered, but he scowled. So I added, "I think…?"
He soughed. "Just spill it. Naru-bou's eavesdropping anyway.
I sprinkled the tea leaves in the kettle I just washed and tried to shun the returning images in my head. "Yeah…It fell in front of me."
I suspired. "The girl Lin-san's interviewee also saw."
"Buddha's lard…" he murmured, and I inevitably chuckled.
"Hey, are you sure you're okay?" He examined me intently, and I half-smiled.
Fatherly as always.
"Normal? Ghosts committing suicide in front of high school girls isn't normal…!"
"I'm fine, Bou-san." I waved my hands in assurance and shunted my head before admitting, "I'd…seen worse."
He shut his mouth and didn't press on. He ran a hand through his untied tan hair. "If you need me at night, just shout my name. My room in your house isn't far away."
I nodded and simpered. "Yeah…"
"Mai," Naru called once more, and I replied, "The tea's still brewing!"
"No. Sit," he commanded while looking obliquely at me from where he sat, and I pursed my lips.
What's up now…?
I did what he said anyway and observed his black notebook ready on his lap.
"What is it?" I started as I settled across him (where Setsuna-san sat before).
It was the first time, I think, that Naru and I sat across each other like I was one of his clients. Unlike how he treated his clients though, I felt like his gaze pierced me ten times more than ordinary, so I couldn't help but fidget on my seat.
What the heck is he on about?
Finally he spoke, "Tell me about your dreams."
I blinked at him.
It seemed like my appetite fading away was unavoidable.
Dead. 45 years old.
Rheumatic heart disease.
I recalled the picture of the debonair man that Yasuhara showed me after Naru's peculiar interview. Hoshimasa-sensei was a youthful guy with dark brown hair falling slightly above his shoulders in small curls. He wasn't smiling in the photo, and he wasn't staring at the cameraman either. There was a slight cleft and line on the middle of his nose, and stubble was on his chin and above his pale lips. His lower eyelids were a little dark…
I wonder if it was because of his teaching duties.
I quivered as I sat with the SPR gang during lunch (which consisted of shu-mai, pork buns, and sukiyaki).
That was the guy…who killed all those girls…?
"I know he's innocent until proven guilty, but this guy has the background," Yasuhara informed us while he battled with Bou-san over the remaining shu-mai. "When he died, the ghost stories became rampant. He's quite obsessed with the occult too on top of that."
"We have quite a match then?" Ayako held her teacup in mid-sip.
"Yeah. We only need to find the girls' bodies."
"Don't you think we should hand this case over to the police?" The miko glimpsed at Naru, who just focused on his serving of sukiyaki.
"Well, as long as there are ghosts circling here, our job isn't done, you know?" Bou-san responded with a shrug, but his chopsticks sparred with Yasuhara's without ado.
"Where will we find the…bodies?" I inquired slowly while swallowing a piece of my pork bun.
"In both schools here, of course." Yasuhara fleered at Bou-san after the former won the shu-mai battle.
I picked on my one and only piece of thin-sliced beef and contemplated. Is…it really that easy?
Although I knew it was logical that the bodies could be found in my school and in Shountoku (If not, why were they trapped there?), where could they be hidden?
"But the excavations before around the campus didn't reveal anything," Ayako voiced, and I nodded eagerly. I'd heard about it…before I transferred.
They changed the soil…or something like that.
Yasuhara just wagged a finger. "Just the soccer and baseball fields were excavated."
"Seriously? 'The corpse under the sakura tree' folktale didn't even ring a bell to them?" Bou-san drank his favorite iced coffee (made by me).
"Perhaps they don't want to alarm the students…" John joined in.
"What do the spirits harbor, Hara-san?" Naru finally began, and we all eyed Masako, who sat in proper posture as usual─and hid her expression with her kimono sleeve.
"They don't have malicious intentions," she riposted with a joyful sparkle in her eyes; she must be grinning underneath the dark cloth. "But I feel a strong desire for justice."
"Justice, eh?" Bou-san mused. "They keep on appearing and scaring more people."
"Perhaps they just wanted to be found out," Yasuhara supplied.
"With the barrier still there, exorcism is useless," Ayako scowled.
"You mean, your exorcism won't work?" Bou-san mocked, and Ayako hissed at him.
"Don't they keep on saying 'Help me' to the ones they'd materialized to?" John sounded despite the bickering. "It feels like they still feel the pain of their death."
"Maybe it's some sort of replay? Like…they're showing how they died…or something…to urge people to know who killed them, where they were buried, and all that…?"
They glanced at me (except the narcissist and Lin-san), and I returned their gazes with an absentminded batting of eyelashes.
Have they forgotten I'm here?
"What is it?"
"It seems like you've started to use your head for once," Naru quipped, and I made a moue with my mouth.
"Well, I'm becoming less an idiot then," I gritted out.
I took my last bite and stood up. Naru followed suit.
"They act like they're angry, but actually they're showing off their attraction," I heard Bou-san whisper to Yasuhara─making me blush. He sniggered at my reaction, and I mouthed for him to stop.
Masako was obviously not pleased, but she wasn't in a good mood from the start since Naru's interview with me (and she showed it by not passing the nearest soy sauce to me).
Although there was nothing to be jealous about…Naru just penetrated me with his eyes earlier.
Naru proceeded to stand near the monitors, and recalling the past, I neared him and handed him a newly filled teacup.
His interview with me earlier only started with an awkward piercing stare from him, but then I diverted my gaze when I narrated the gist of my dreams. The next time I glanced at him, he wasn't looking at me anymore…so it wasn't nerve-wracking as I thought it would be.
Though some images got stuck in my head as I disclosed to him, I had at least lessened my uneasiness by not watching him watch me.
Anyway, some of the monitors were not turned on. Only the ones that show what I could tell as the slightly renovated building (used for clubrooms) blinked back at us.
Oh…they'll just set up the rest of the cameras at night?
I winced and tilted my head at Naru. "Hm?"
He straitened his eyes. "You still have class."
I shrugged and smiled. "Yeah...I'll see you all later!"
The rest inclined their heads to me, and I waved before going out through the backdoor again. But even before I reached the secret exit and entrance…
"Be careful, Mai," Naru muttered with his back on me.
My eyes twinkled, and I goggled at his sleek back.
It was faint, but I caught it.
And it gave me hope that both Gene and him are there to look out for me.
"Hooray!" I exclaimed as I put my fists into the air.
"Shhh!" the librarian hushed me immediately, and I placed a hand to my mouth.
"Oops, sorry." I bowed.
Classes ended earlier than usual (due to cultural festival preparations again), so I rushed to the library firsthand to finish my essay. Despite what I heard about what happened in that place that morning, I still entered and scribbled my English essay there.
This is the only way I could escape them anyway…
It seemed like the girls in my class got wind of my presence in the old gym during lunch. They heard from our schoolmates that I was seen talking to the hot exorcists when Setsuna-san exited.
I rested my forehead on the library's table (made of cedar like a room in Obaa-san's mansion).
I knew…that going to the library might be a bad idea. After all…the apparition that morning proved that ghosts were not totally nocturnal.
Funny…all media tropes are so wrong.
I knew…even if I went to the library at an early time and headed home at an early time…there was no way I could predict when they might appear…
Although it's scary, how can ghosts have a consensus of their haunting schedule?
Now that I think about it…they didn't even care.
As long as they got their motives across…
I shivered at the flashes of images in my head, but I shook them off.
They suffer too!
They're not scary! They only appear to be!
It wasn't like I was daring them to appear to me or something. It's just that…they were humans too, so they'd probably feel bad too when everyone thinks of them as monsters or something. Besides, even though they appeared like nightmare bringers than help-seekers, maybe they just didn't know how to approach the living─being dead and all.
That's why…if I was going to help them, I must be brave.
When they were walking towards me the day before…their faces weren't happy to scare the soul out of me…
They were desperate…as if before they died, they were crawling into nothing─which was the common case in my dreams.
The memory of the falling girl came back to my mind, and I shuddered once more.
Stop it! Stop scaring yourself!
I glimpsed at the wall clock and straightened up to pack my things. I couldn't stay long…if I didn't want to have another repeat of the night before…
I forgot to close my pencil case, and out of hurry, it fell and scattered its contents on the floor. I suspired heavily and crawled under the table to get my eraser, the farthest from me.
As I steadied myself with my hands on the floor, I could feel it: a chill.
The floor became oddly very cold. My breath suddenly came out in white wisps of air. Promptly, I retracted my hands and...
My eyes expanded.
I could never have mistaken those chained bare feet—the same feet I saw under the stall in the bathroom yesterday.
I closed my mouth and held my breath.
Why do I have to be afraid? I just told myself I have to be brave, haven't I?!
But words (or thoughts, in that case) seemed to speak louder than actions. Immobilized, I stayed in my crawling position.
Those feet halted across me again.
I wanted to shout...to scream...but wouldn't that usually make things worse?
I might have watched a lot of horror movies, but really...screaming never amounted to anything even that morning!
What should I do?! What would Naru do?!
He would be calm.
I bit my lip until it hurt, and I tasted my blood.
That's right...I need to calm down...! Isn't that what I also learned in Kendo?
Slowly, I exhaled my held breath.
Calm down. Calm down, me.
It seemed to work. Reassuring myself...
I decided to stare at it until it goes away. I was thinking that if I do so, it would leave me alone.
Wasn't that what Naru did before? When a ghost was haunting him...
I closed and opened my eyes, but the feet didn't disappear.
Then I gulped as blood oozed from under those feet and started spreading towards me as if hightailing, pursuing me. I slowly but surely avoided getting wet by it by dragging myself backward (gladly, I was able to move at such a situation).
Yet I could not believe how mediocre my efforts were because my body seemed to be heavy at that exact moment. The flow of the blood stopped about two inches away from me, and I stopped moving too even though my paranoid of a heart didn't want to.
I felt like I could not move anymore; I could not escape. I tried to scream, but my throat was dry.
Is this the same feeling that they felt when they were about to die?
As bravely as I could, I stared at the blood and back to the feet.
And realized the feet were gone.
My weak heart sighed at that instant.
It's gone! You did great, me!
But I forgot the blood was still there, and when I glanced at it again, it bubbled up.
And as I stiffened once more, a head emerged slowly, and its face was covered by its blood-drenched hair. I covered my mouth and nose as I smelt the scent of blood, and it nauseated me.
Tears fell down my cheeks as I felt desperation...anguish...
What should I do?
Why freaking always me?!
I shivered and let out a gasp finally. I saw a movement at the corner of my eye and felt someone grope my shoulders.
Alas, I screamed.
"Mai! Mai!" I heard a familiar voice say, and I blinked my tears away.
"Bo-Bou-san?" I croaked.
"Sheesh, Mai." He ran a hand on his hair and slumped on the floor. "Don't scream like that. It's so creepy. What are you, imitating a banshee?"
My tears welled up. "Oh, Bou-san!"
"Mai, what are you─?" I flung my arms around him, and he flinched in surprise. He was bewildered but relaxed when he heard me sobbing. He then patted my back to soothe me.
I tried to be calm. I really did, but I couldn't be resilient all the time.
I couldn't be Naru.
I wasn't that strong.
Even if I learned Kendo...I wasn't so strong yet against ghosts.
I needed to become stronger.
I needed to fight...
Can I even knock out ghosts with martial arts?!
"Hoy, Mai," he said uneasily. "They might think I'm harassing you, you know?"
I laughed heartily while pulling apart from him and wiped my cheeks with the back of my hands.
"You're my savior," I muttered.
The bloody head was gone. The blood puddle was gone.
The chill was gone, yet the sun irradiating the library still brought a menacing atmosphere to me.
"Hey, if you wanted a handkerchief, you should've told me, you know." After noticing his wet shirt, he frowned at me and added, "Even though I knew you've thought my shirt has more space for absorbing tears."
"That's mean, Bou-san." I pouted at him. "You should appreciate it that your shoulder is somewhat useful."
"Hmmm, I wonder about that." His eyes flickered. "If it was Naru, I wonder if you'll pull away immediately…"
I flushed and shunted my head to hide my erupting cheeks. "S-stop saying stupid things! Naru will never let me get near him in that manner…"
Bou-san became silent, so I eventually gazed back at him in wonder.
"You should stay in the base for the meantime," he suggested, and I conceded with a bob of my head.
His tone was slightly shaky.
He was worried for me...and that meant a lot.
Bou-san was still Bou-san.
"Come on." He straightened and got me out from underneath the table.
I noticed him holding his vajra and largely beaded necklace. He wasn't wearing his monk suit though.
"You were exorcising?" I snuffled, and he jounced his head.
"Just trying to. At least, that's what Naru ordered us. Even if we can't really release them from the hold of the barrier, we can at least make them run away somewhere else in school when they're out to scare anyone." Bou-san gave me my eraser, which was not under the table as I had thought...
Another trick of the eye...
Why can't they just tell me their business in a normal way? Why the need to scare people out of their wits?
Trying to joke around was making me relax somehow, and I was able to stop my quivering. With Bou-san's help, all my things were in order in my bag, and I strode off from the library saner than ever.
It was really strange to be found crying under a table. I thought I saw the librarian shake her head at me as if I had gone deranged for a moment. Though she became suspicious of Bou-san too and threw him looks of inexplicable resentment, she didn't lecture me for screaming.
Who knows? Maybe it wasn't the only day a girl screamed so loud inside the library?
As Bou-san said, Lin-san was left in the old gym. No one knew where Naru wended off, but he'd commanded some to partner up for exorcisms and look for spell papers—the ones that create the barrier.
"I can help you look for them," I proposed.
Bou-san loured. "No. Go study."
I pouted. "Tsk."
"Now, now, don't slack off." He flicked my forehead gently, and I chortled.
"Ok, ok. Sheesh. I need some respite from school work too."
He smiled. "Go do some origami or what."
I narrowed my eyes. "No way."
He laughed and waved before he left Lin-san and me to be engulfed by silence.
The Chinese onmyouji was typing away like a chased pianist, and somehow, I was tempted to hug him from behind and pretend to be Kenji-kun from before...Not that I remember how I acted...
Oh Kenji-kun, bless his pure soul...
I pressed my hands together in prayer.
Lin-san probably sensed me with his shiki-onnis, but as customary, he was too occupied to bother a nod to me.
Maybe I should tickle him...?
I succussed my head and behaved myself before the table where Naru interviewed me during lunch. It was a dark table, probably mahogany...
I rested the side of my head on it and withdrew a breath.
Ghosts can be very relentless...So many times I'd seen them today...
What am I supposed to do? I'm not an expert with exorcism...
Exhausted enough not to revise and edit my essay, I was lulled to meet Sandman with Lin-san's typing symphony.
I woke up alone in the old gym.
Lin-san was not there. The monitors were not there.
It should have been sunset, but the old gym was irradiated by the noon's sun. Students in white shirts and brown jogging pants were playing basketball by the court.
I found myself sitting below the stage's platform, and then I gradually rose from my spot.
There was nothing else that could explain it as I moved out of the gym not out of my own accord. I was wearing some brown uniform too, and my face on the glass window reflections…
I was not me at all. What I saw instead was a comely curly black-haired girl with glittering barrettes.
Whose memory is this?
The school was really different from the present…The beige buildings…the still bulky cellphones in some of the students' hands…
Through whoever-I-was-portraying, I could see a disparate time…a distinct outdated reality…
I ascended to the fourth floor, and when I spotted blonde hair, I felt my body become tense. Without warning, I sprang to where the blonde-haired girl vanished and yelled, "Miharu!"
She turned around and beamed at me. "Hikari."
I clapped my hands together, and my mouth moved. "Hey, hey, can I borrow your English homework? I forgot to do mine last night."
She gave me a 'What-the-hell?' face and sighed. "Honestly, you're always forgetful when it comes to homework."
I tee-heed, but she handed me her green notebook anyway. Glancing at the cover, I noticed a neatly looped writing of a name: Elizabeth Miller.
At that instance, something pulsed to my hands, and I blinked. It was as though the notebook was beating─like it's alive…
I blinked again, and the notebook was gone.
Everyone in the classroom was gone. Miharu was gone.
The sun was gone.
I looked up.
It was already dark, and I was alone in the back of a blue-hued classroom…
My eyes traveled.
I was in control again. I was myself again…
I was in my school again…
Wait! What am I doing in my classroom?! Wasn't I in the old gym?!
Is this another dream?
The classroom was darker on some corners, but the moon gave off some light on the others. It looked so peaceful…I wasn't even scared to be alone inside my classroom at night. It felt strange, but I wasn't tensed...
I apparently forgot my dream a few minutes ago.
I heard a clanking sound, and I flinched.
Involuntarily, I spun.
And she was standing in front of the teacher's desk.
The chained-feet girl.
At last, I could see not only her feet but her whole profile. She…did not look frightening…but instead…pitiful.
Her wrists and neck were also chained. There were welts on her skin, and I could see where her blood had dried from her cuts. Her beautiful features and silky blonde hair were the same as I had seen her in my dreams.
But the pained look her face bore was rather heart-breaking.
She is a victim…They all are.
I wanted to help her…and being afraid of her wouldn't get me close to helping her at all.
Not just her but all the other girls who suffered the same end.
Was it because I knew what happened to her?
Because what happened to her wasn't fair.
She didn't deserve to die.
No one deserves to die!
Gathering my courage, I began to approach her. Consequently, her eyes lit up, but she was mute. Before long, when I was a step away, all the chairs floated high up threateningly.
"I won't hurt you," I assured soothingly although my heart was in turmoil.
"It's not me." Her voice was hoarse as she shook her head.
"Then, who─?" I saw a chair fly towards me in the corner of my eye, and I dodged it immediately.
And then almost everything was hurtling towards me.
I dashed to the front door and tried to get out of there, but it wouldn't budge. Another chair was hurled to me by an invisible force, and I evaded it by bending down. It smashed to the door and fell into broken pieces.
It was that strong…!
Getting an idea at the spur of the moment, I decided to hightail to the backdoor and wait for the chairs to come to me simultaneously and hopefully bust the door out.
But the chairs changed their direction. They lunged to the windows, again and again...and again...until a web of cracks appeared...
Not wasting time, I still ran to the backdoor and tried to slide it open, and I finally, with a rare and unknown brute strength, flung a desk and hit the door with it until my body could not exert anything anymore.
Yet nothing worked.
Then I noticed; all the desks, including the teacher's table, forged to the windows too, and on the spots where the webs were already woven, the glasses gave away and shattered outwards.
When I glimpsed at Miharu to tell her to stop, I was knocked down by a wind and throttled to a broken window.
The force was too strong and fast. I was outside the window before I had the chance to grab for life. Though still unfortunate, I had grasped the windowsill and yelped as the shards of glass pierced my palms.
Tears streamed down my face, but I struggled not to let go.
I do not want to die! Moreover, I cannot die!
I was holding the windowsill with only one hand, but I didn't think twice of hurting my other hand and yelping in agony. At that moment, I just didn't care anymore. I wanted to live so much. Sacrificing my hands for dear life was fine as long as I could live…
And be beside people I love!
Something hit me on my side, and when I turned left, I found myself face-to-face with a hanging girl. I screamed shrilly and waggled my legs even though it hurt my palms to move so much…I just screamed more and more. Her eyes were bulging, and she was looking at me. I could not take it. The tears were coming like a river flow.
Somebody, save me…!
"HEEEEEEEELLLLLLLLLLLPPPPPPPP PPPP MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"
I could hear voices approaching, and I shouted repeatedly.
I cringed to look at where it came from and saw Naru below me.
"Don't you dare look up under my skirt, you pervert!" I yelled at him while sobbing.
My red lace panties will be seen! My freaking red lace panties!
So I crossed my legs.
How pathetic can I become?
I didn't know if it was relief that made me say them. I don't know what I should do if you won't come…!
"Idiot, what are you talking about?!" he snarled. "Wait there, I'll─"
"Naru!" I heard Lin-san call and added (as he saw me), "Wha─Taniyama-san!"
"Mai!" I heard the others call my name in terror.
Naru ordered them to do something, but I hadn't heard a thing he said. The last time I glommed at the narcissist, he was looking at a mirror.
Why is he being vain now for freaking's sake?!
"Hu-hurry…! M-my ha-hands ca-can't ho-hold on a-any lo-longer!" I groaned and yelped.
The air was chilling to me, and it wasn't natural at all.
"Taniyama-san, please relax, we're coming to get you," I heard Lin shout, but I wasn't at all focused because, by then, ghostly hands were reaching to me from inside the classroom. They were repeating the words that they had always been saying.
How can I freaking relax?!
I gasped as they held my hands on the windowsill, and I cried in pain as the glass fragments sunk deeper to my skin. I soon attempted to stifle my cries and whimpered.
I could not see the faces of those dead girls, but they were there holding me, bringing me more pain.
"I really…want to help you all…!" I told them as I sobbed. "But, I still want to live…and killing me won't be of help…!"
"We're sorry," a voice whispered to my ears, and shockingly it was the hanging girl. Her presence beside me pervaded a cold trickle to my spine.
Then, I didn't know how it happened. My hands were just so bloody tired and hurt that I had involuntarily let go of my life line.
Was it fear that made me do so?
I didn't really know.
But one thing was for sure; I lost hope.
Kami-sama, if I die now, will someone mourn for me?
I was falling, and I knew it. But my thoughts were streaming out questions as if configured when I would be near my death.
I wonder how Naru will look like when he attends my wake…
How will everyone look and what will they say about me?
I…have lost the will to live…
Suddenly, everything went back to volume, and I could hear the cries of the people below as my thoughts were a mess. I could almost imagine tomorrow's obituary: Mai Taniyama, 17, died because of total recklessness, accidental death…
Never been kissed and never had a boyfriend…
The guy she thought she loves refused her by implying she loves his brother and not him…
Her mind's still confused as to whom she really loves…
Just how unfortunate could my life become?
Obaa-san, looks like I'll neither answer your question nor go to college at all.
…How long am I going to fall?
A/N: If I finish rewriting this story, I would post a one-shot entitled "Metamorphosis." I believe those who've read Dollmaker would agree that there is a gap that makes them feel a little disconnected with what occurs in Dollmaker. To fix that gap, I am filling in with a case, that occurs less than a week, as a direct continuation after the events of the original ending of Reminiscence. I would be rewriting Dollmaker soon too (but it's just the first few chapters though, so I won't erase them all like this story).
This has not been edited yet. I will edit it later when I wake up. There are some sticking letters when chrome is the browser used. Firefox is a preferred browser for me because the em dashes appear…^^
Thank you for reading! ^^