When you graduate, someone has to give a speech; right? Final Chapter! I hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own MSGM nor any of its characters. All such honors belong to Oyuki Konno. I will lay claim to my characters and the various plotlines.
The break luckily turned out to be just a hairline fracture and Yumi was able to walk with crutches the very next day after receiving a modest cast. If anyone asked, and they all did, she told them that she had simply taken a small tumble down the stairs at home and that she should be better in a few weeks. Given her history of klutziness, this was a perfectly acceptable and believable excuse. Only her family and the members of the Yamayurikai knew differently.
"I am pleased to now introduce to you the graduation speaker for the underclassmen, giving the farewell address, our Rosa Chinensis en Bouton, Matsudaira Touko-san," announced the Academy Director, Kaori Tamura.
Touko made her way to center stage, thanking Kaori-sensei and shaking her hand. The older woman gave her a warm smile and a wink before passing her and heading backstage once again to wait for the next item on the program. Touko gathered herself behind the wooden podium and her eyes immediately searched for and found her onee-sama. Yumi was sitting in her wheelchair on the aisle, Shimako by her side and holding her hand. Sachiko had insisted, with the crowds that were going to be walking around the campus today, that Yumi use her grandmother's wheelchair to try to protect her injured leg. The warm, loving smile on Yumi's face as she looked up at Touko was, as always, the only encouragement the actress needed.
"Ladies and gentlemen, friends, family members, classmates, and soeurs, I thank you. As the representative of the underclassmen, it is my very great honor and privilege to address the graduating class of Lillian Girls' Academy.
"When it was announced that I was going to be giving this speech, I was approached by a delegation of third-year students who asked me for a favor. When I heard what it was they wanted, I really had no choice but to agree to their request.
"Throughout the three years that the graduating class has spent here at Lillian, they have been given one of the finest educations that can be had in Japan today. But even still, there are things that we learn as students of Lillian that can never be learned from a textbook or lecture. They are lessons that can only be taught by our friends, our fellow students, and our soeurs. One of those students has taught each and every one of us here at Lillian – students, teachers, and administrators alike – more than any other single student in the history of the school."
Touko took a deep breath and turned to look once again into the loving eyes of her grande soeur.
"The first time I saw Fukuzawa Yumi-san she was galloping across the campus being hotly pursued by a group of students intent on finding a certain red card. Of course, it was the Valentine's Day Treasure Hunt of two years ago and, as a third-year middle school student I had snuck in to try to catch a glimpse of the girl my cousin, Ogasawara Sachiko-san, had chosen to be her petite soeur. I find no shame in admitting that at that time I was absolutely prepared to hate Yumi-sama on sight for trying to take my dear cousin away from me. However, I was in no way prepared to see the honesty, innocence, and exuberance of the girl my Sachiko-oneesama had chosen to be by her side. Frankly, my awe and admiration for Yumi-sama began on that day and I became a staunch 'Yumi-fan'.
"Oh, I admit that there were days when it probably seemed to everyone that I hated her, but that was because I could not come to grips with the desperate need I had to be next to this wonderful girl. To think that because of my own stupid misunderstandings I could have missed out on everything that has happened since then . . . I still shudder to think of it. But it was Yumi's patience and understanding that allowed me to see for myself the error of my ways and to join the path of the enlightened.
"Alright, that was probably a little over the top," she giggled, "but more than one student here at Lillian, from all grade levels including middle-school, have told me of how they have directly benefited from having a girl like Yumi among us. If I was to list her faults: she is too innocent, too naive, too selfless, too kind, and too caring. She is too strongly attached to her own impossible moral code, too willing to see the good in others, too trusting of others and too quick to forgive when that trust is broken. She is too quick to jump to the aid of others, too thoughtful of everyone else's feelings, too willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done no matter what the cost to herself, too patient and accepting when others cannot measure up to her high standards . . . um, I did start out saying that these were her faults, did I not?
"What many in today's society see as faults, Yumi-sama holds up to us as the epitome of what a person can be. I will never forget the words of wisdom I received from two very important people to me. The first, one of my dearest friends, told me that I would never be able to find Yumi-sama in a space as small as a room, or a building. Yumi-sama is too big to be constrained in such a manner. She cannot be held to just one or two people. She is a friend to everyone. She cares too much about everyone to be tied down by just your own selfish desires. The second came from Yumi-sama's onee-sama. She told me that being with Yumi-sama and her confounded honesty is like standing in front of a mirror and being shown all of the faults that you hate about yourself. When I asked her why she stayed with her, she told me it was very simple . . . she loved Yumi-sama and wanted to change herself so that she no longer had to see those faults. She wanted to change and be the absolute best person she could be for Yumi-sama. I learned that truth the hard way but, over time, I too have done everything I could to be the person that I really wanted to be; a person that my onee-sama could be proud to call her petite soeur and her friend.
"This year, Yumi-sama has faced one of the greatest challenges that anyone could possibly face in life. In September of last year Yumi-sama was diagnosed with leukemia. She was lucky that it was found early and her doctor's tell us that her prognosis is excellent, but that doesn't mean that she has not been through a living hell for the past five-and-a-half months. Between chemotherapy and radiation treatments she has had to miss over half of her classes since being diagnosed. And yet, she was still able to achieve one of the highest scores for academics in the school as well as win early acceptance to Lillian University, a feat less than five percent of applicants achieve.
"Also, during that time, she worked diligently as Rosa Chinensis for the Yamayurikai, ensuring that all of the student activities were handled properly, including the highly successful Christmas Ball, and to ensure that all of the other needs of the students were met. And she did of all of this, and went through everything she has gone through, with a smile on her face and a kind word for everyone she meets. Her strength, her dedication to Lillian and its students, her love for her friends and sisters, her example, has been a model and an inspiration to us all.
"Which is why, as the sole request of this year's graduating class and with the full support of the school's administration, it is my very great honor to announce the creation of Lillian Academy's 'Fukuzawa Order of the Rose', an award to be given only to that very rare student that embodies everything that a Lillian student should strive to be; and, of course, it is also my very great honor to announce that the first recipient of this award is my very own onee-sama, Fukuzawa Yumi-san. Onee-sama, could you please come forward?"
Since Yumi just sat there wide eyed, hands to her mouth, shaking her head in denial, Shimako stood and got behind the wheelchair to force the issue. When Yumi looked up at her in shock, the Rosa Gigantea smiled at her and whispered, "This isn't for you, Yumi. It's for them. Please allow them to do this."
The pigtailed girl shook her head one more time, this time in exasperation, before she gave her good friend a smile and a nod. Shimako wheeled her down to the apron of the stage as the entire audience stood and applauded her. Yumi's face was as red as a beet in her embarrassment, but she understood what Shimako had been saying. It wasn't so much that Yumi had done anything special, she had simply been herself. She didn't believe that she deserved this kind of award or recognition just for doing what she thought was normal, but she would not embarrass her onee-sama by trying to fight a losing battle. Touko had walked down the steps on the side of the stage and now came up to her holding a cordless microphone.
"They will want a few words from you, onee-sama; even if it is just a 'thank you.' Please don't disappoint them," she whispered in Yumi's ear as she bent down to give her a hug and a kiss before handing her the microphone.
"Th-thank you. Thank you all so very much," Yumi said once the applause had died down. "I really don't believe I deserve this. If anyone deserves an award it is all of you. You, who stood by my side when I needed you; who kept me going with your help and your kind words, thoughts, and prayers. If it wasn't for you, my sisters, I don't know where I would be. I firmly believe that it is because of you and everything that you have done for me that I could be here today," she said as she wiped a tear from her eye.
"Oh, and since I have everyone here, I guess I will make it easy on myself and let everyone know at the same time that, because of your help and your prayers, my doctors informed me yesterday that my leukemia has gone into remission and . . ."
The shouts of joy that came from every student's throat were deafening. First one student broke from her chair to run and hug her, and then another, and then another, and soon it seemed that the entire student body was storming the stage to give her their congratulations, hugs and kisses. It took fifteen minutes for the pandemonium to settle down and to get everyone back to their seats.
"Th-thank you. Thank you, everyone, so very very much. Y-you all mean so much to me," Yumi said through her tears before she had to hand the microphone back to Touko and, with Shimako's help, made it back to her place in the audience, hands reaching out to touch her as she moved up the aisle.
The third-year student's response speech, to be given by Shimako-san, never occurred. It seemed that everyone was happy with Yumi's words.
The handing out of diplomas was almost an afterthought.
Yumi received more offers of congratulations and thanks from well-wishers as she and the rest of the Yamayurikai wended their way from the graduation ceremony to the Rose Mansion for the post-graduation party. Once again the Ogasawaras, Fukuzawas, Shimazus and Hasekuras families, this year with the addition of Touko-chan's parents and Shimako's father, would be meeting at the small building to celebrate. She wished Hiromi-san could have been there with them for the party, but she knew that appearances had to be maintained.
Yumi was not surprised, however, to see a tall, extremely handsome, somewhat androgynous looking young man in the uniform of Hanadera Academy with short black hair and deep amethyst eyes smile broadly and wave to her from the top of a small knoll as Tsutako-san stood by his side taking photographs. Yumi smiled and waved back as Sachiko continued to push her along in her wheelchair. Hiromi had promised to join them once the parents had departed. Just the thought made her giggle.
"What's that all about, Yumi," Sachiko asked with a smile at her giggling partner.
"Oh, I was just thinking about what Yuuki's face will look like when we introduce him to the new Hiromi-san later today," Yumi replied with a laugh.
"You know, Yumi, you have learned way too much from Sei-sama with regards to what you find humorous," Sachiko chuckled, "but you are right, it should be quite a sight."
Yuuki had to help his sister get up the narrow, creaky stairs to the meeting room while Yuichiro carried the wheelchair. Once Yumi was comfortably ensconced in her chair it was time for the party to begin.
The boutons and their petite soeurs had already set everything up and, as tea was poured, everyone gathered around the Rosa Chinensis.
"Yumi, we are so happy for you," Tooru-otosama said as Sayako-okaasama gave her a hug and a kiss.
"I still have to go through a bunch of tests and have periodic checkups," Yumi replied with a smile as she took his hand in her own and squeezed it tight, "but the doctor's say that there's a good chance that I'll never have to deal with 'IT' ever again."
"Thank you, Maria-sama," her adopted father said fervently as he kissed her hand.
She received similar congratulations and prayers for her continued health from all of the other parents in attendance as well.
Everyone shared tea, cookies and other snacks over stories of their years together. Rei had made a platter of sandwiches for everyone to share while Miki had brought her famous chocolate cake and Sayako had brought a reasonable portion of Mille Feuille. Yoshino's mother had brought some tiramisu, while Shimako's father had brought rice balls filled with various tasty vegetables.
"You're looking good, Priest," Sakura whispered to Shimako's father as she dropped into the chair next to him.
"You look the same as you did eighteen years ago," he smiled at her, "still as beautiful as ever."
"Flattery won't get you anywhere this time," she grinned but still preened under his compliment before her eyes became softer. "You did a good job raising her. She's a wonderful girl and I am proud to call her my daughter," she said softly.
"You could have stopped by more often. Let her meet you as she was growing up," he ventured with a small smile.
"It would only have confused and hurt her," Sakura sighed. "She didn't need a mother that came and went whenever the mood struck her."
"You know, you almost lost her to the 'white devil church'," he smirked.
"Oh, yeah, that would have been great," she scoffed. "They would have had to proclaim another miracle when one of their nuns reached 150 or 200 years old. No, I knew she would return to where she belonged if she was just reminded of where she came from; her 'roots' so to speak," she grinned, enjoying her own pun. "It's her home, her heritage. She knows Inari loves her deeply, she just needed to be reminded of that."
"As long as she's happy, that's all I care about," he replied with a smile as he glanced across the room to where his daughter was feeding a piece of Miki's cake to Noriko. Shimako noticed his glance and saw the two of them sitting together. She smiled a wide smile, one that she rarely showed anyone else, and blew them a kiss before she turned and pushed the cake into her lover's face with a laugh.
"She'll be happy," Sakura grinned, "Even if it kills me that is one thing I will make sure of."
The Buddhist priest simply nodded, acknowledging the strength of her vow and knowing that she would do everything in her power to make it a reality.
By the time everyone had eaten their fill it was time for the second part of the party to begin. The parents said their goodbyes while the girls cleaned up and set out a lighter fare until everyone else showed up.
Of course, Sei had brought a couple of bottles of champagne and forced everyone to toast both Yumi's recovery and the new graduates. Luckily she hadn't brought enough for anyone to get drunk.
Youko-sama must be having a positive effect on her, Yumi giggled to herself.
"So," Yumi called out to the group once everyone had gathered, "who's up for karaoke?"
As the bus pulled away from the stop, Yumi Fukuzawa, nineteen years old, got her first real look at the imposing gates that were the entrance to the Lillian University campus. The tall, black, wrought iron gates piercing an almost equally tall wall that ran left and right as far as the eye could see, stood wide open to admit the crowds of college age girls wending their way to classes on this first day of the new term.
Lillian University, much like Lillian Girls' Academy, was a Catholic university known throughout Japan for historically turning out ladies of culture that could mingle with the best of high society. The vast majority of the students came from very rich and powerful families. Yumi's family boasted no mansions, no summer homes, no servants, and only the one small car that her mother and father shared. Her father ran his own architectural firm and her mother, while an alumnus of Lillian herself, was just a simple housewife. Yumi had no noble pedigree, no great family history or lineage, and no pretentions to high society. Three years ago Yumi would have wondered if there was any way that she could fit in with such a rarified crowd. Today, although she still considered herself just a simple, middle class girl and far from a model "Lillian Maiden," she knew that she was fully capable of successfully swimming in those shark infested waters.
Not overly tall or short, not overly large or skinny, certainly not what anyone would call buxom (but she still harbored some small hope in that area) there was nothing about her body that would normally attract the eye. Her hair was a light brown that was normally a pain to manage so she typically kept it up in two pigtails gathered on either side of her head and decorated with ribbons. Today, however, it was still a little shorter than Rei-sama's and it would be quite a while before she could put it up in pigtails; but at least it was back again! Her eye color had been compared to mocha, chocolate, and coffee but was, in her opinion, simply brown. Until recently the best anyone (other than her family) had ever said of her was that she was "cute". But for some reason she had caught the eye of an absolutely ravishing young woman with long, raven black hair and deep sapphire blue eyes that insisted on telling her that she was "beautiful". The fact that this girl loved her, and that Yumi so dearly loved her in return, was still a wondrous miracle in her eyes.
Yumi smiled broadly as she hefted her backpack a bit higher on her shoulder and headed towards the pedestrian overpass that would allow her to safely cross the busy street. She moved through the crowd confidently, most people nodding their heads with a smile and moving out of her way as she walked across the bridge and through the school's imposing gates.
"Good day, Rosa Chinensis," she heard from a couple girls that had graduated with her a few weeks earlier. She nodded her acknowledgement and smiled at them as she continued on her way down the cobbled pathway lined by gingko trees. She surreptitiously checked her skinny-legged blue jeans, her white blouse with its scarf collar tied in a bow, and her light blue cardigan sweater against what the other girls were wearing. She seemed to be right in line with what most of the girls considered "college" fashions. It felt strange for her to be wearing anything other than a dark green, almost black uniform with a sailor collar and scarf, but she was sure she would somehow get used to it.
Yumi smiled as she came towards the end of the path to see a very familiar and welcome sight; a white, stone statue of Maria-sama surrounded by a small grove of trees and an ornamental garden. She stopped briefly before the statue, put her hands together and bowed her head.
Maria-sama, thank you for your grace and for watching over me so carefully. I know that it is only with your intervention that I have gotten as far as I have, and have found the woman that I so dearly love. I ask that you please continue to watch over me, my love, my family, and my friends and provide us with your guidance and your love. Amen.
Yumi raised her head and, with a smile, had turned to move towards the administration building when she heard a very familiar and very much loved voice call out to her.
My greatest thanks to everyone that has taken time out of their busy day to read this story. I especially appreciate all the comments you have given me. Of course, any final comments on the chapter or the story as a whole would be greatly appreciated.
If at any time I have made you smile, laugh or cry, and you enjoyed doing so, then I feel that I have done my job.
Thank you for sticking with me through this. Yes, it is my plan to work on a follow-on story, but probably not anytime soon.
Please take care of yourselves and may Maria-sama watch over you and yours.