~Silk Flowers~

As members of the Student Council, we frequently received gifts from the impressionable young girls of Seirei Gakuen.

Valentine's Day was the worst time for it. All of that attention focused into one schoolday, it was practically too much; between the five of us we certainly received enough chocolate to comfortably treat an entire yeargroup, though to actually do such a thing would have been rather cruel considering the first intention. Instead, these offerings would sit around the Student Council building until consumed, used or taken somewhere else. We were careful with the edible goods if we particularly wanted them for ourselves; anything left in the open would find its way to Kudou's hand before too long. He was in possession of a voracious sweet tooth that we would rarely deny - sweet things were not my favourite and when it came to a matter of the five of us, we always seemed to be in excess.

We would receive other things, sometimes. Shared lunches were the most frequent and we wouldn't turn these down without good reason. After all, when a girl said 'I want to eat lunch with you', what she really meant was 'I want to spend time with you', and we had a duty to fulfil. Who were we to refuse such offers? The short time it took to share a lunch was nothing in the long term.

Hand-made items were not unheard of. Items of ranged quality made with varying levels of skill lay around the Student Council building; knitted jumpers, scarves, gloves, anything that could be worn was there in a selection of styles. Personalised, sometimes. Always carefully made, even if the final result couldn't be said to match the original vision - it was the thought that counted. There were souvenirs from exotic holiday destinations - teddybears with their origins embroidered upon them, carvings and models and porcelain figures that adorned our display cases, each one token to a memory that we had not experienced. We appreciated them all.

Sometimes, we would receive flowers. Not so often as the other things, but sometimes. Perhaps the girls saw it as something strange - it wasn't a girl's place to be buying flowers for the boy they were interested in, was it...? We'd receive arrangements for decoration and bouquets for achievement and sometimes a girl would walk up with a bunch of flowers and hand them over with a blush and a harried word... and we'd put them in water and display them for as long as they lasted. As much as I admired those innocent feelings, I couldn't help but feel sometimes that the feelings of those girls were as fragile as the cut flowers put to water. They'd be nourished, for a little while. Then they would die, but that wouldn't matter. There would always be new flowers and, at that age, for those girls, there would always be other interests. Such was the normal path of teenage infatuation.

I liked to keep flowers on my workdesk. I think mentioning this in conversation was what landed me with so many impromptu bunches in the first place; I'm sure the caretaker didn't appreciate the school's flowers being uprooted so often, but that was the nature of schoolgirl determination. By the time they were on my desk it was rather too late to be considering such things. I would keep them and water them and, every so often during whatever essay required my attention, I would look at them. I'd lean my head against my fist and silently marvel at how the flowers seemed caught in some kind of perfection, albeit one that caused their death. By the end of the week they would be fading and wilted. Even if I watched them for the whole afternoon, I wouldn't be able to witness this process; perhaps a petal would fall, but that would be all. It seemed amazing to me, the things that happened without us realising, the unseen things that happened - even those directly in front of our eyes...

Sometimes I'd have several glasses holding flowers on my desk. Katsuragi would dispose of the dead ones when the time came.

That morning when Takumu came to the Student Council building with that impressive bunch of flowers... you could hear the squeals of the girls outside for quite some time before and afterward. Who might Takumu have bought them for? Such extravagant flowers...! Showy and impressive, tied together with a red ribbon. That was the kind of bouquet that someone bought for their romantic interest. Takumu walked with happy confidence but didn't reveal to any of those questioning girls the answer of precisely who the recipient was to be. That was his secret. Our secret.

At least, so I thought at the time. Quite early on, I had trusted Katsuragi with the details of my relationship with Takumu. Later on I would find out that Takumu had placed similar trust in Moritaka's hands. In the end, I suppose the only one who wasn't told implicitly was Kudou and I'm sure he was quite capable of working things out for himself. Still, at the time, I thought it our secret and that was what was important.

The flowers I had received before that, I had appreciated for their basic value. They looked appealing and had a pleasing scent, the radiant natural colour would naturally brighten up any room they were placed in. I liked them for what they were, often going so far as to forget who had given them in the first place; I often felt rather ashamed for that, though the amount of gifts we were given, perhaps it was unsurprising that all of those thoughts would combine and merge with one another. Had it been that first year student who had given me the flowers, or had she been the one to give me the scarf? It was difficult to remember and not especially important. If they asked how we enjoyed their gift, we would reply with our most noble enthusiasm. They would make up the gaps in our memory.

The flowers that Takumu gave me were the first that I really enjoyed for their significance. They sat on my desk for a long time and every time I caught that scent or looked upon them, I would think of who had given them and feel warmed for it. They felt special in a way that those previous gifts hadn't; such was the pleasure of requited feeling, so I supposed.

Even once Takumu had said his piece and gone his own way, I didn't want to move those flowers. They died, but I didn't want to move them. What they were now didn't matter - they were still something that Takumu had given to me, something physical that still existed despite their fallen form... nobody dared touch anything on my desk, though Katsuragi would occasionally ask me if I wanted him to tidy up, by which he meant to throw the flowers away... my answer would be short, terse and negative. He seemed to acknowledge this.

I found the flowers gone one day. Katsuragi told me that the petals had fallen and that it served no purpose to replenish the water of dead plants. I didn't speak to him for quite some time after that.

I found out later that he'd taken the flowers and the fallen petals and pressed them into some shade of their former glory. He gave me the laminated pages later on, saying that pressing dead flowers was never going to achieve such results as the alternative, but he'd tried and that was his result. I kept them in my desk and looked at them every once in a while. I appreciated his effort but looking at them only seemed to remind me that they were dead. I took them home and put them in one of my desk drawers and didn't look at them after that.

Another day, I came to my desk in the Council building to find Katsuragi there before me. On the desk was a glass vase filled with water and beside that were light-coloured roses of varying shades. He'd pick them up one at a time and place them in the vase, moving one here and taking out two there. I didn't know that he had any skill with flower arranging and perhaps neither did he to that point, but his attention for the task was quite admirable. He didn't even notice my presence and I felt loathe to disturb him; it was only once he had placed the last flower that I made to step forward and question his activity.

"... Katsuragi."

"A-ah--!... ... Ah. Good morning, Wada."

"... What are you doing?"

He moved to the side as I spoke, moving the vase to the corner of my desk to allow me to place my bag down on the flat surface. He carried on tending to the flowers as he spoke, apparently not entirely satisfied with the arrangement. He didn't look at me.

"I bought you these. To replace those other ones."

"... I see. Thank you, Katsuragi... you didn't need to do such a thing, though."

I tried to diffuse his rather intense concentration with practiced humility, but it didn't seem that he wanted to agree with my tactic.

"Yes, I did."

It often amazed me at how much seemed to be unspoken between Katsuragi and myself - and this would remain the same up to and beyond our graduation. He had been unsurprised when I had told him of my feelings for Takumu, unshaken when I told him of our relationship and perfectly calm when that fell down around me. He seemed to always know exactly what to do, when to hold me close and when to respect my distance... and I didn't know how he knew this, which unnerved me slightly. Still, as was the nature of things unspoken, I never pressed him further. How could one explain intuition? It couldn't have been anything else.

I reached out to touch the flowers, noting a sheen that seemed somewhat unnatural. My fingertips recognised the anomaly; they were man-made. Silk. I looked up at Katsuragi who still didn't look at me, wondering the difference in price between real flowers and silk ones... it seemed rude to enquire but I felt strangely pressured by his gesture. They were well-crafted and looked remarkably real - from a short distance, one wouldn't be able to tell the difference. I had been overjoyed when Takumu had brought me flowers, but anything that Takumu did had entertained me, back then. I wasn't sure what I thought of Katsuragi doing the same, though the drive of his actions seemed to be essentially to fill the empty space the dead flowers had occupied on my desk corner.

"... Katsuragi, these flowers... they're silk...?"

He didn't look up, still tending to them as he spoke. He seemed to be looking more for a distraction than any actual error in his arrangement.

"... They're not real, but they'll never die."

Their placement seemed to please him all of a sudden; he left without saying another word, still without looking at me. I looked at the flowers. He had a point. He'd put them in water for the visual effect, but it wouldn't need to be continually replaced... and they were attractive flowers, whatever their composition. I touched them again, sitting down to attend my academic matters.

I'd look at the flowers and consider his words. I'd go back to my work.

When we lay together, pressed close with nothing but silence between us, I'd contemplate those words once more. Think of the flowers. Think of Katsuragi. Think of Takumu. Feel a touch wipe my train of thought. Feel lips against mine. Feel myself intoxicated. Feel nothing, something, everything. Just for a moment.

The flowers stayed on my desk until graduation. After that, I took them home. I kept them on my desk. When I moved to university, I took one of the roses with me.

I heard that, following his own graduation, Takumu moved to America. That seemed an expected thing for him to do. Moritaka followed after him; it seemed right. The model and his photographer. We didn't hear a lot from them after that.

I didn't see Katsuragi much, but we kept in touch. I invited him to my university one holiday, to see how he was, to show him around, to catch up with him. As is the nature of those meetings we seemed to talk a lot without saying much of any importance, but as we drank tea in my bedroom I saw his eyes glance over my desk, saw his gaze stop over that one rose I kept in my pencil holder. I watched him for a few moments, to see if he'd say anything. He closed his eyes and drank his tea. Like always, he didn't have to speak a single word.

For that reason, I held my tongue. The silence was comfortable; I didn't want to disturb it.