Chapter 22 – Together again
My name is Sasaki Atsuko. I’m thirteen. I just enrolled in a local middle school the other day.
And so, I spent my days in the restless atmosphere of the classroom reading books in the seat farthest in the back. The girls around me that had come from various elementary schools seemed to be making new groups rapidly.
Originally, I should have also joined a group, and be having friendly conversations right now, but…… I’m not very good at this kind of thing…… What would be good to say, is it alright to join them, I have no clue whatsoever.
During elementary school, while I spent my days puzzled like this before I noticed it I had become always alone.
And so, when everyone was together I was always out of the loop, or completely ignored because I didn’t fit in, or teased, or sometimes they would even hide my stuff.
As I spent my days like this, before I realized it I became afraid of other people, and I didn’t speak very much to anyone at all.
Because of that, even though I’ve come to middle school now and it’s a brand new environment…… I still can’t approach people and have a conversation.
That’s why, I was only able to watch the people around me that seemed so happy, and read a book that I brought from home by myself.
From manga to novels, I loved all sorts of books.
While reading a book, once I entered the story, it became possible to forget the lonely feeling of being all alone.
While reading, I would imagine that I was the main character of the story. Even I who was always alone with my head buried in a book, could become a popular, amazing girl in a story.
So, I opened a book as usual today. In order to escape from my lonely reality……
And as the days passed like this, it became a few weeks since I entered middle school.
After my homeroom class ended, I would always go to the library to borrow books. In the last few weeks, that’s become my daily routine. After changing my shoes at the shoe lockers, I would cut across the school courtyard where all the athletic clubs gathered and head straight for the school gate. I didn’t enter any clubs. I kind of want to enter one and maybe even make some friends, but…… I didn’t have the courage to go anywhere by myself.
How nice, it looks so fun. I was thinking that as I saw other girls chatting away in the school courtyard. At that time –
I heard a strange cry from above me, and before I could confirm what it was, something hit me with a loud thud with a tremendous impact. It was such an impact that I immediately fell unconscious.
“Ohh, I’m really sorry.”
I woke up to someone’s crying, and when I slowly opened my eyes there was a girl whose face was flooded with tears and had a runny nose in front of me. It seems that it was this girl that had been crying.
“Ahh, she’s awake! She opened her eyes, sensei!”
When the girl noticed that I opened my eyes, she flew towards the other side of the white curtain.
I don’t understand the situation at all. I wondered if I was still asleep. I looked around slowly. There was a white ceiling, with swaying white curtains next to me, and I was in a white bed.
I don’t know where this is, but it seems like it’s somewhere inside the school, because the ceiling is the same.
Huh, I thought for sure that I was supposed to be cutting across the school courtyard……
This time, a woman wearing white clothes appeared in front of the confused me.
“How do you feel? Is your head dizzy? Does it hurt anywhere on your body?”
The woman in the white coat asked me several questions, and I checked my body. Nothing in particular really hurts, and I think my head is fine.
“……I, I’m alright.”
The woman in the white coat smiled gently when I answered her.
“Is that so, I’m really glad. But just in case, to make sure nothing really happened you should go to the hospital for a checkup. Your parents have also been contacted just now.”
“……Eh? Hospital? Checkup?”
I had zero idea what was going on and I just looked at the woman in the white coat with a confused face.
“That’s right. It must have happened so suddenly that you didn’t even know what was going on. This is the school infirmary, and you were brought here because you fainted.”
Oh, so this is the infirmary, it’s the first time that I’ve been here, so I didn’t know where I was…… That means that this woman with the white coat is probably the infirmary’s nurse. But anyways, I don’t have any illnesses, and I wasn’t feeling sick or anything today. Yet, why did I faint…… My confusion just increased and it was quite visible. And so, the nurse gave a wry smile at seeing my confusion.
“Well, you fainting probably didn’t have anything to do with your condition at all. Unmistakably, it was caused by this child.”
As she said so, the nurse indicated to the girl that was standing next to her. It’s the girl from earlier, and her face was still messy with tears and her nose was still runny.
As she said so, she deeply lowered her head towards me.
“I finally couldn’t resist the charm of the tree as it beckoned towards me…… It was going great in the beginning, but I got a little carried away…… And so my foot slipped and I fell…… And I landed on top of you…… I’m really sorry!”
At that time, come to think of it, I think heard a strange cry from above me right before something hit me really hard. So that was because this girl fell on top of me.
But anyways she’s not an elementary student anymore, she’s already in middle school, and on top of that, for a girl to be climbing trees…… And what does “I finally couldn’t resist the charm of the tree as it beckoned towards me” mean……
I looked again at the teary-faced girl who was desperately apologizing.
And then, I noticed. This girl’s uniform’s skirt…… The skirt was quite dirty with soil, and it was rather rumpled. It probably got dirty when she fell from the tree onto me…… But the thing is…… That means, this girl climbed a tree without caring about the fact that she was wearing a skirt. She seems like such a strange child……
“Um, I’m alright now.”
I can’t let her keep staying like this with her head bowed towards me, so I told the girl I was alright.
The girl still had a troubled face and continued bowing.
“I’m really alright now, so please don’t mind it anymore.”
I was suddenly buried underneath her when she fell on me. I probably should have been more angry, but…… When this girl is being so remorseful……
And… I just couldn’t bring myself to hate this girl who had a troubled face and was lowering her head, there was just this indescribable atmosphere around her.
“Since it wasn’t on purpose or anything, please don’t mind it at all. More importantly, are you injured? Are you okay?”
I said so to the girl while smiling.
“I’m okay. Thank you, Sasaki-san is so nice.”
The girl who had been crying up until now finally smiled.
“……Why do you know my name……”
Why does this girl know my name? I wonder if she checked my belongings or something.
“What are you talking about? Of course I know it. After all, we’re in the same class!”
I had a blank face at hearing those words and stared intently at the girl in front of me. Come to think of it, I feel like I’ve seen her before.
……So that was it, she was a classmate…… In the weeks since I’ve enrolled in middle school, I’ve mostly just been reading by myself, and I haven’t remembered most people’s names or faces.
“……Sorry, I haven’t really remembered everyone’s names and faces in the class yet.”
Even though you remember me, I’m really sorry that I didn’t remember you. What if she’s unhappy because of that? As if to dispel my worries, she grinned widely.
“So that’s it. Then, once again, I’m year one, class three’s –”
The girl held her hand out to me as she introduced herself. When I instinctively shook her hand in return, the smile spread over her entire face.
“From now on, I’ll be in your care.”
The girl’s hand that I was holding onto was very warm.
And so, from that day on, my days of being by myself underwent a great change. Just like her words “from now on, I’ll be in your care,” the tree climbing girl began to interact with me from the next day on for some reason, and before I realized it became my first friend.
And so –
“A-chan~~, help me~~”
My friend hugged me from behind while begging me for help in a pathetic voice.
“……What is it this time?”
I listened to her as calmly as possible.
“The English translation was today, but I thought it was on another day, and forgot all about it…… And before this time, since I’d forgotten about it the previous two times as well the teacher told me “if you forget any more times, you’ll be punished by having to do the sweeping……”
I was amazed at my friend’s hapless face and sighed.
“……I think you forget too many things……”
While being shocked, I loaned my English notes to my friend, and a smile magically appeared.
“Be sure to return them after English class.”
“A-chan-sama, thank you very much!”
After saying so, the friend that had just lowered her head to me dashed desperately back to her seat, and began copying my notes.
“Sasaki-san, you seem to have gotten completely used to taking care of that monkey.”
One of the girls that sat close to me and my friend in class said so with a wry smile.
“Yes, monkey. That’s been her nickname since elementary school. I went to the same school as her.”
As she answered my question, she gave yet another wry smile.
“She would move around from tree to tree during recess, and she would always be playing around in the nearby mountains, and there were even rumors in the neighborhood that ‘there’s huge monkeys in that mountain’ because of her.”
“……That’s really quite something.”
Indeed, if she was like that back in elementary school, climbing a tree at school in a skirt would be nothing to her even though she’s now in middle school.
“Moreover, just like today she always forgets her homework, and the teacher is always angry at her, yet she’ll just forget everything the next day again…… She’ll always forget to bring it.”
“……That’s really quite something.”
Indeed, my friend always seems depressed immediately after being scolded, but the next day, she’ll be completely back to herself again.
It seems that, no matter how angry you get at my friend, she has a downright enviable ability to forget about everything the next day. However, is this actually good for the person in question…… It must be hard on everyone around her.
When I said “it must be hard on everyone else” to her, her expression became a bit profound.
“But, like…… There’s something fun about being together with her for some reason.”
When the girl smiled and laughed as she said so, I also smiled on reflex.
And after that, she told me many legends about my friend’s elementary school days.
Thus, before I realized it I had become friends with the monkey’s friends as well as a lot of other people.
And so, a bit later, the monkey that had always been playing in the hills and fields, got interested in anime and manga due to my influence. Thanks to that, the monkey was no longer roaming the hills like before, and her parents even thanked me for ‘making the monkey into a human.’”
Since I finally had a friend interested in the same hobbies as me, I got even more addicted to anime and manga.
And then both of us turned into splendid otakus, and we became best friends.
And so, as we developed our otaku friendship, and spent three years in middle school together, we were supposed to go to the nearby high school together, but……
“A-chan…… I can’t go on anymore…… I’ll leave the rest to you……”
As my best friend said so and closed the textbook, I smacked her in the head with a loud “thump!”
“What are you saying…… Isn’t it just your first time getting 10 points? But if it’s like that, you won’t be able to enter high school, you know……”
“Urgh…… But, like, whenever I look at all the words in this thick reference book, I get drowsy…… There’s no doubt about it, this reference book is surely cursed!”
And so, I deeply sighed at my best friend who only got 10 points on a test and couldn’t study at all.
My best friend is good at athletics, but is completely useless at academics. Rather than saying she’s not that smart, I think it’s just that she has no interest instead.
Honestly, I was able to teach her some things for our school’s tests, but…… As expected of high school entrance exams, I can’t help her.
What should I do…… At this rate, we won’t be able to go to high school together, and she really might fail to get into high school. I think, the way to motivate her is to……
“Okay! After this next test ends, let’s play my secretly hoarded otome game to our heart’s content!”
“……O, otome game? ……Uh……”
I bought an “otome game” with my New Year’s money recently, and it’s a new genre that I had just gotten addicted to. Originally, I wanted to play it together with my best friend, and talk about it with her, but……
My best friend has a rather simple personality where she thinks “it’s a waste if you have a lot of money and don’t spend it,” and because of this her parents decided not to give her any New Year’s money, and forcibly deposited it for her to save instead. Because of this, my best friend can’t buy anything expensive on her own. As such, not only does she not have games, she doesn’t even have a game console.
But, I don’t have the extra money to buy and loan an extra game console to her either…… Since my best friend was always staring in jealousy at mine, I felt very sorry for her.
“……But, A-chan. I don’t have a game console……”
As my best friend said so, she looked a little down. I gave the best smile I possibly could to her.
“We’ll rent one! If you properly pass your test, we’ll rent a game console for a while!”
My best friend was looking at me with her eyes sparkling.
“Thank you A-chan! For the sake of the otome game, I’ll make sure to pass the high school entrance exams!”
She said so in a loud voice.
Thus, although there’s a problem in why she was motivated to get into high school, my best friend put in the effort, and was able to splendidly pass the exams and attend the same high school as me.
Even more luckily, to celebrate her passing the exam and getting into high school, my best friend’s parents bought her a game console, and so she immediately borrowed my otome game and got hooked on it.
In high school, we gained more otaku friends. In order to buy more manga and games, I got a part time job together with my best friend, as always I would support her when she forgot her homework, and we spent our days full of life and energy.
Being always alone reading a book when I was in elementary school, spending my days without talking to anyone seemed almost to have been a lie now.
Every day was so lively and fun, even though my best friend is a problem child, I still love her. I thought that my days would always continue like this from now on. That’s what I believed.
Then one day, on the day that I coincidentally forgot my cell phone at home, when we were both in our second year of high school, my best friend didn’t come to school.
“Come to think of it, that girl, she didn’t come over to play today,” is all I thought at the time.
And then, after school ended, I learned that it wouldn’t be possible to meet my best friend anymore.
Every day that I had been taking for granted…… Ended so suddenly.
At the wake, or at the funeral…… I couldn’t even cry. In the first place, I couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t be able to meet my best friend anymore like this.
I mean, since it’s that girl, she might even unexpectedly come back somehow……
After her funeral ended, my days still went on like normal. But, no matter how much I held out hope or waited, my best friend still didn’t come back.
And then after a few days had passed, I finally noticed that I had one unread message from her in my smartphone.
Since I was busy mourning her death at the wake and contacting all our friends…… But I didn’t realize it until now. I wonder when she sent it?
And when I opened it, I saw the familiar name of my best friend again.
It was sent in the middle of the night on the morning she died.
“A-chan. I’m having trouble capturing the sadistic evil prince~”
The message was accompanied with an emoticon of a troubled face, my best friend was probably getting pretty desperate about the otome game……
Her final message is something like this…… Even at the very end, it just seems so like her.
I started laughing at thinking how amusing it was.
I laughed and laughed until tears started coming out.
And then, the tears kept overflowing, without reserve…… They kept flowing and flowing until I thought my eyes would melt……
Although that girl isn’t here anymore, I’m not alone anymore. After all, that girl gave me a new world……
I tightly clenched my smartphone that contained that girl’s final message.
That girl won’t come back anymore…… I lived my days without that girl from now on.
I can live properly in this new world that she had given me.
So…… If it could be like in the stories, when my life is over, I can be reincarnated into a new life……
At that time –
I want to be with that girl and be friends again……
Once more, I want to spend every day energetically and having fun with her.
When I heard a voice calling me and opened my eyes, a maid was looking at me very anxiously from next to my bed. It seems that she was the one who was calling me.
“……What’s the matter?”
I responded while not being fully awake yet.
“……Um, it seemed that you were having quite a nightmare, are you alright?”
“……I was having a nightmare?”
When I woke up some more and looked at myself, I noticed that my cheeks were wet. Ahh, so I was crying…… And there must have been a reason for it.
“I just had a very sad dream, that must be it, but it wasn’t a nightmare.”
“Yes, a very, very, sad dream…… But after waking up, I can’t quite remember exactly what it was about anymore.”
Yes, I remember that it was a very sad dream…… Even though I don’t remember the contents anymore.
“I think it was probably about something that happened a long time ago, though.”
“……Something a long time ago……”
At my comment, the maid froze up with an indescribable expression.
After all, I had been living a sheltered life for many years, due to all the slander I received for my different appearance. She was probably wondering what I meant by a long time ago.
“……Well, uh. I’m not talking about from when I had to start living a sheltered life. I’m talking about something even farther, much earlier than that……”
Hearing so, the maid had a wondering expression on her face.
Well, that’s only natural. There should be no way for me to remember something that far back when I’m not even an adult yet……
Honestly, even I myself, don’t understand it very well…… I can’t remember the contents of that very, very, sad dream……
But for sure, I’m convinced that it was about something long ago……
And so, even though I don’t remember the dream in detail, a very sad painful feeling remained in my chest, and I was despondent.
And so, while I was feeling downcast, the maid said something that cheered me up.
“Sophia-sama, today’s the day that you’re supposed to visit the Claes family.”
At hearing that, the sad painful feelings in my chest lightened a little.
That’s right. Today, I’m supposed to visit Katarina-sama’s family to go over and play.
I chose a book to recommend to her yesterday, I wonder if she’ll be happy with it. As I thought about Katarina-sama, my mood improved.
After getting dressed properly and having breakfast, and finishing all the preparations I headed over to the Claes mansion with my brother coming along as usual.
When I arrived at the Claes mansion, Katarina was in the garden like usual. As always, her stepbrother Keith-sama was together with her.
“Keith, this mushroom is definitely edible, I’m telling you.”
“No, nee-san, an unknown mushroom growing on the side of a tree, you absolutely can’t eat it.”
“No, no, this is definitely edible. After all, they have the same smell as shiitake. This is absolutely something similar to shiitake.”
“What’s shiitake…… Anyways, you absolutely aren’t allowed to eat unknown mushrooms. You’ll get your stomach upset.”
“No, if you don’t try it you’ll never know if it’s edible or not…… Oh, Sophia!”
Somehow, Katarina-sama that was arguing with Keith-sama finally noticed me.
And then she welcomed me with a big grinning face.
At seeing that smile, some more of the sad painful feelings in my chest disappeared.
I’m really glad that I joined the tea party on that day several years ago. I’m really happy to have met Katarina Claes-sama on that day.
“Katarina-sama, I brought you a new book as a recommendation today.”
“Really!? Thank you, Sophia!”
As I said so and brought out the book, Katarina-sama was jumping up and down in joy.
Every day I spend with Katarina-sama is so lively and fun.
I’m really happy to have been able to become friends with Katarina-sama.
Before I realized it, all the remaining sad painful feelings in my chest completely vanished.