Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume1 Chapter2
 Tuesday of Storms
 Part 1.
Rumours circulate quickly.
By noon the next day, every high school student had learnt of the fact that Yumi had rejected Sachiko-sama.
"Tsutako-san, did you tell?"
"Of course not. These things are far more amusing watching than participating." In that case, the Roses probably proactively spread the rumor, fueling the fire with their peculiar sense of humor. Of course, there was the possibility that Sachiko-sama was the originating source, too.
It wasn't that I wanted to track down who spread the rumor so I could complain, especially because we had made no mention of the topic being secret, but since this was an obstacle for my desire for a peaceful life, I think I at least had reason to complain.
First came the stares of classmates, who, upon meeting eyes with Yumi, must have thought, "as if," and then looked away. No one spoke directly to her.
"'There's a weird rumor circulating about you, but you shouldn't pay it any heed.'"
Katsura-san concluded during class.
The students in the same class already knew how Yumi looked, but because they didn't know the gap between truth and fiction, they settled into a pattern of being confused, and then gradually accepting that it was probably a baseless rumor.
However the reverberation among the students who didn't know Yumi (and granted, those people were far more common) was great.
A person of such magnificent traits that Sachiko-sama would shift gears after being rejected by Toudou Shimako-. The rumor took on a life of its own, and many people gathered in front of the first-year peach-class room during recesses.
"That they need someone to tell them who's the subject of the rumor is fortunate, but painful."
Tsutako-san mumbled as they put away their textbooks after the fourth-period class.
"Indeed. I feel conflicted."
Yumi laughed drily. As Tsutako-san said, Yumi was the perfect image of ordinary, so people who had come to see someone that stood out like Shimako-san had to be pointed in the right direction.
Her classmates, however, were being thoughtful, and so they constantly guarded her with "Yumi-san is not here right now." Because of this, she was able to walk out through everyone and even go to wash her hands.
"Alright, then I have some advice too. Don't be in the classroom during lunch."
Tsutako-san spoke quickly, while smiling peacefully and acting like she was simply having a normal conversation.
"I caught news that the newspaper club was intending to interview Yumi-san. The newspaper club is persistent. They have a lot of sensationalist, paparazzi drama-lovers."
She turned pale. Paparazzi would be like, those people that ask, "Did you really marry?" or "Did you really divorce?" or something out of the blue, right? Sachiko-sama is powerful in her own right, but the newspaper club seemed like something she preferred to be away from entirely.
"Understand? Okay, then, pick up your lunch."
Tsutako-san pulled out Yumi's boxed lunch from her bag, hanging from the side of her desk, and, forcing Yumi to grab ahold of it, began pushing her.
"Oh? Yumi-san where are you going?"
Katsura-san asked curiously, as they usually always ate together.
"I'm borrowing Yumi-san for a second."
Tsutako-san answered in Yumi's stead. Then, she swiped her own lunch and urgently whispered, "Hurry hurry." As if she were saying, "Hurry or the newspaper club'll arrive."
Just as they walked out in the hallway, three students whose appearances screamed "newspaper club!" were standing in wait.
"… Too late."
Tsutako-san's regretful voice only reached Yumi's ear.
Camera, tape recorder, memobook… Of course, despite calling them "paparazzi" earlier, they did not have a hand microphone or one of those shoulder cameras.
"Oh, gokigenyou, you were part of this class, too?"
The one in the lead noticed Tsutako-san and began speaking. Newspaper club and photography club, as expected, they'd had previous relationships.
"Gokigenyou, and what matter brings the newspaper club here today?"
Even though she knew everything, Tsutako-san smiled, feigning ignorance.
"We came to interview Fukuzawa Yumi-san. Delightful timing, would you mind calling her here?"
"Umm. Yumi-san, Yumi-san… is."
Acting senile, Tsutako-san looked back into the classroom without giving Yumi even a single glance. Her eyes scanned the peach-class room, beyond the door from whence they had come.
The classroom was in the midst of getting ready for lunch. Some clumped their desks together and laid down table-cloths, some distributed milk and bread and other such ordered food, students from other classes joined in... all in all, it was chaotic.
"Ah, I think she might be Yumi-san, over there?"
Tsutako-san acted like she was adjusting her classes and pointed to the furthest reaches of the class.
"I'll go call her, wait one second."
Just as Yumi was wondering what Tsutako-san intended to do, she took a step into the class, then stopped, abruptly, and turned around, as if remembering something.
"Natsume-san, you were in a hurry, correct? There is no need for me to keep you waiting, go on ahead."
"Huh? … Ah, yes."
As Tsutako-san had deliberately looked into Yumi's eyes and winked, she assumed that meant her.
"Then I will go on ahead."
Yumi gave Tsutako-san and the newspaper club members a quick bow and left the scene. As she walked down the hallway, she thought of Natsume Souseki -> Fukuzawa Yukichi -> Fukuzawa Yumi, and clasped her hands in realization. The connecting point was the figures on printed money.
Even so, she wondered what Tsutako-san was going to do. Because it was her, she might be able to weasel out by claiming, "I got the wrong person," but despite claiming things were more interesting as an observer than a participant, she was pretty caring.
As Tsutako-san was gone, she wondered where to go. As she walked down the stairs in such thought, a voice called out.
"Yumi-san. Over here."
When she looked down the handrail, she noticed a white hand beckoning. When she leaned out to look, Shimako-san's face popped out.
"Let's eat lunch together."
Yumi rhythmically skipped down the stairs, relieved to see that angelic face.
Shimako-san led Yumi to her personal seat.
"Do you eat here every day?"
Here was behind the auditorium. One cherry blossom tree stood among the gingko in an obscure place. There, the two opened their lunches and sat.
"Only seasonal. When the weather is nice during the spring and autumn."
"This cherry blossom tree, it gathers a lot of caterpillars, and I am not too fond of that. But the gingko falls soon after, and that I do eagerly wait."
Shimako-san wistfully stared up at the gingko trees while plucking taro out of her varnished, square lunch box. It was slightly off balance from how she looked like a Western-style doll. The talking about gingko, the tasteful lunch box, oh and, incidentally, the boiled potato balls, too.
"… You are a bit odd, Shimako-san."
"Am I? But as long as they do not get squished, gingko do not smell too awful. And that is why the gingko pathway is a sight of misery."
"Shimako-san, does that mean you happen to take home uncrushed gingko nuts?"
Shimako-san laughed happily, fufufu.
"Why do you like gingko?"
"Yumi-san, do you hate them?"
With the question turned, she thought. Hmm, she had no idea people actually ate them.
Until today, she thought it was like the shiso leaves for sashimi platters, or like the decoration placed on savory egg custard.
"I love things like gingko and lily and soya beans. My parents always say it is unlike a normal teenaged girl, but I think taste preference is affected by your environment, don't you? Because I was raised by them, I like bitter tastes, most likely."
When I asked, I learnt that Shimako-san's house is almost purely Japanese-style architecture, with no Western-style rooms. Image-wise, though, I would have guessed a great, chalk-white mansion complete with a grand piano. Also, a lunch of club sandwiches or fried chicken seemed to suit her looks better.
"Not what I look like?"
Shimako-san asked, staring intently at Yumi's face.
"Mm, a bit, but it's unexpectedly interesting anyways."
Told so honestly, Shimako-san giggled and responded, "Yumi-san, too."
"I am honestly glad we were able to become acquaintances."
The two of them looked at the sky.
The clouds slowly flowed across the clear sky.
Sky-blue and the white of clouds, and below that, the sun's rays shone through the yellow gingko trees, casting a golden sparkle upon the ground. If I were a painter, I would have been able to paint that scene into a giant canvas. Or if I were a poet, into a poem, or a song, if I were a musician, saving that scene for eternity.
"Shimako-san, why did you reject Sachiko-sama?"
When she spontaneously asked, Shimako-san responded, "Should I not return that question to you?"
"That's right, we both did the same thing."
Even so, it wasn't as though their affinity got closer. She felt that Shimako-san and her approach to Sachiko-sama was completely different.
"In my case."
Shimako-san looked up at an oblique angle, still in thought.
"I am not a fit for Sachiko-sama. Conversely, Sachiko-sama is not a fit for me, either."
"In what way?"
"I like Sachiko-sama, but we look for different things in our partners. Subsequently, what we can offer one another differs."
"… That sounds too complicated for me."
"Sachiko-sama said the same thing. She understood what I meant to say, but that it was too vague. Even I would have to admit that it is simply a vague feeling that I have."
What you can offer the companion and what you seek from a companion. Because it is a one-on-one relationship, it makes sense that a concurrence of that would be of the utmost importance, but-.
"If Shimako-san was no good, wouldn't that mean there is no one who could fit with Sachiko-sama?"
"I do not know. Of course, because such a person is so hard to find, she probably is still left with no petite sœur. But Rosa Chinensis and Sachiko-sama do face each other, as you saw. Compatibility is possible."
Then perhaps that would mean Shimako-san complemented Rosa Gigantea well, thought Yumi. After all, rather than two-timing, it was a decision borne out of taking a careful look at herself and her opponents.
"Well, shall we return?"
Shimako-san stood up. Fifth period would start in five minutes.
"The newspaper club also has class, so it should be safe."
As a consequence of the conversation earlier, Yumi took care not to step on gingko nuts.
She had never paid the ground much attention, but upon closer inspection, the fallen gingko nuts looked like ripe plums.
"In the case of Sachiko-sama, I think her shock was far greater when you rejected her than when I did."
"I believe she felt it coming, in my case. We acted as temporary sisters, so I am sure she had come to notice that we would not be perfect fits."
But in the case of Yumi, she had supreme confidence.
"But she didn't seem to have been that shocked?"
"She is a contrarian who absolutely despises losing. So when she is truly vexed, she refuses to show it."
The two of them lined up and walked up the empty stairs. They overtook the meticulous old teachers whom were entering their classrooms with a greeting, and the chime rang. They had arrived in front of the classroom with a minute to spare.
The newspaper club as well as other students had, as Shimako-san expected, already cleared out of the hallways.
Shimako-san spoke as she opened the rear door.
"Yumi-san and Sachiko-sama may be compatible fits."
Yumi mumbled, "What are you saying," as she stepped in and looked at the backs of the students who had arrived earlier.
How could Yumi be a fit and Shimako-san, who could even describe Sachiko-sama as a contrarian and sore-loser, not?
Sheesh, Shimako-san is definitely an odd-ball.
 Part 2.
Apparently Japan was around the only country that introduced a system such as "cleaning duty" to school. In the US and Europe, schools were thoroughly ingrained as "places in which to learn." -I forget the exact details, but I vaguely remember a foreign commentator mentioning that on television.
It was a strange feeling, in that she was polishing the school's floors, but her mother cleaned her bedroom. You could put it off as being linked to home economics class, but the cleaning process for a school and an ordinary home was too different.
Perhaps it was a matter of morals. Return things you borrowed in a clean fashion.
By the way, while Yumi was quite ordinary in that she was not particularly fond of cleaning, for some reason she disliked it much less while in the music room.
Possibly as a result of soundproofing, the floor was made of a packed, felt-like material, meaning there was no need for water mopping nor the weekly waxing. Because the walls were made of a special soundproof material, they only needed to be dusted once in a while, and as the chairs and tables were built-in, there was no need to move them around.
You simply needed to move around the special vacuum cleaner, rinse the top of desks, and clean the blackboard and the scaffold around the windows. The usual portraits of Mozart and Beethoven were left up to the supervisor for the room.
"Yumi-san. Shall we leave it at that?"
Said the classmate in the same cleaning group, as she shut a window.
Normally, she scurried off immediately upon finishing cleaning duties. But today she felt like taking her time.
"Everyone may go on ahead, I'll take care of the cleaning diary."
If you were to step out of the school now, you would run into the end-of-school peak. She didn't mind crowded buses, but having become the center of rumors, she did not have the courage to jump out into the open on her own. But, she had no place else to go to spend time.
"Then we shall stay with you until it is completed. It would not be suitable to leave Yumi-san alone, after all."
The kind classmates offered to help.
"But you do have club activities, do you not? All I have left to do afterward is to go home, and I did hand over diary duty yesterday, so I'll take care of it today."
When Yumi insisted, the other three discussed among themselves, "Shall we leave go, then?" and then left the music room.
"See you tomorrow."
Tap tap, their footsteps faded into the distance at a rapid pace.
So as to not disturb the plaits in their skirts, so as to not toss their white sailor scarves into disarray. They were actually so busy that such standards had slipped their mind.
"Ahh. I'm so bored."
Having no attachment to a club or a committee left her quite lonely at this time of day.
The class' presentation was to be an exhibit about the "path of the Cross." They intended to reproduce 14 pictures from the proclamation of Christ's execution, to his walk to Golgotha hill, to when he was buried after crucifixion, and then place captions under each of those pictures. However, as honest Lillian students should, they had already completed most of their preparations over the summer. Maybe everyone had realized that they would become busy for their respective clubs as the school festival drew closer, thus preparing for the inevitability that they would not be able to extend much of a hand to their classroom exhibit.
"I wonder how much time I should take."
It would be bone-headed to take so much time that her departure coincided this time with the club-activity students.
"Oh, I should go hand in the diary."
However, she did not yet want to move. She could hear the excited sounds of students still moving to classrooms or club houses or the gymnasium beyond the half-opened door.
Yumi absent-mindedly opened the cover to the piano. There was nothing to be afraid of, even alone in the piano room.
-Maria-sama protects this school, after all.
Because of this, there were no horror stories of midnight pianos or Beethoven's eyes at Lillian.
With her right index finger, she pressed down the higher Mi key. Yes, she thought everything started from that sound. Yumi drew up a chair and properly faced the piano.
It had been quite some time since she had last touched a piano. She had attended piano school once a week for the six years of elementary school, but as it never managed to become a significant part of her, she quit as she entered middle school.
She played the same sound once more. This time, depending on her memory of sound, she tried to reproduce that song she heard half a year ago. If it were just her right index finger, she could somewhat reproduce the melody.
This was Gounod's Ave Maria.
Half a year ago, Ogasawara Sachiko-sama, introduced as Rosa Chinensis en bouton, played this piece for the freshmen during the Yamayurikai-sponsored freshmen welcoming ceremony. That was the first time Yumi had encountered Sachiko-sama.
Having been played on an organ inside a sanctuary, the sound echoed deeply and stained a part of her soul. Sachiko-sama, who was playing the piece, looked almost like Ave Maria herself.
Even after the performance, Yumi was unable to take her eyes off of Sachiko-sama. Not just her lovely appearance, but the way she carried her each and every conduct with dignity, and with her upper-classman tone of voice, she was absolutely beautiful.
She wanted to become a person like Sachiko-sama.
She wanted to get even an inch closer to a person like Sachiko-sama.
When she thought so half a year ago, she did not imagine in her wildest dreams things would end up like this. No, not even yesterday, at this same time, had she even imagined this.
Her school life just changed drastically. –Just as she leaned into the piano with such thoughts, she saw something at the edge of her vision.
Before she could even begin to recognize what had appeared, an indescribable and curious sound jumped out of Yumi's vocal chords.
That was because a human hand had reached out from behind her, toward the keyboard. There could be no helping her heart leaping out of her chest.
"What a sound you make, as I were attacking you."
She jumped, once again, when she looked up at the face of that hand.
"Anyone would shriek if someone came up silently from behind, Sachiko-sama."
On top of that, if that person were the person for whom the thoughts were about, it would be further surprising.
"I was being considerate, about not intruding on your piano performance."
Sachiko-sama pressed down on the Do key with her still-stretched left hand. It's the key you first learn to press with the thumb of your right hand when you begin learning.
"Once more, play just as you did earlier."
When she tried to scramble off the seat, Sachiko-sama held her down by the shoulder with her open right hand.
"The rhythm is… one, two, three, four, two, two, three, four."
Sachiko-sama notched the rhythm into Yumi's right shoulder as truthfully as a metronome, and signaled, "Start," on the third count.
When humans are told, "Start," they seem to have the trait to begin doing something. Yumi had begun playing out of momentum.
Then a second sound jumped in, intertwining itself with Yumi.
Sachiko-sama was playing the left hand's part. Plus, she was using the pedals, so the sound had an echo.
(It's a four-handed performance.)
Her own sound, combining with the other sound, returned to her ears in a pleasant fashion.
However, the fun feeling only lasted for a short while. Soon, she remembered that Sachiko-sama was near, and the excitement turned into fear.
The song was not designed for a four-handed performance, and because it was being played with Yumi's right hand and Sachiko-sama's left, it was a case of one person closing in on the other's personal space. Sachiko-sama's breasts kept brushing with Yumi's left arm, the glossy straight hair fell on Yumi's shoulder, and the pleasant fragrance began making Yumi feel like this was all commonplace.
Even so, the performance continued. Sachiko-sama probably would not stop for as long as Yumi's right hand could keep up the melody line.
On one hand she wanted this to last forever, but part of her also wanted this to end, immediately. Deep within Yumi, those two contradicting feelings fought.
Sachiko-sama's breathing softly swayed Yumi's hair. However, that breath was almost irritatingly calm. Unlike Yumi, Sachiko-sama was not one to be thrown in disarray from just this.
The beautiful harmony was broken.
Yumi purposefully went off-key.
"I'm sorry, I couldn't keep up with Sachiko-sama, after all."
Chuckling softly, she scrambled off the chair and turned away.
"Is that so? You were playing wonderfully."
Sachiko-sama shut the cover softly. The small clunking sound felt oddly loud in the room devoid of anyone but them.
She noticed Sachiko-sama was slowly walking toward her. The soft floor absorbed most of the sound from the indoor shoes. She thought, ah, no wonder she didn't notice Sachiko-sama entering earlier.
"Well, shall we get going?"
"What do you mean, huh. Just why did you think I came all this way?"
"Ah, why DID Sachiko-sama come here?"
"Of course, to pick you up."
Sachiko-sama raised an eyebrow, adopting an "isn't that obvious?" sort of tone.
Yumi was spared the need to ask where to, as Sachiko-sama began explaining.
"Alright? From now until the school festival, you will take part in performance recitals with everyone else. That is your obligation, after all."
Sachiko-sama's reasoning was thus.
There was a degree of impossibility to Sachiko-sama persuading Yumi within the small time frame given, before the school festival. In conclusion, in order to help make things fair, Yumi, who had no after-school obligations anyways, was to take part in Yamayurikai business.
"What do you mean, unreasonable. The Roses were already quite aware of this. Also,"
Sachiko-sama placed her index finger on Yumi's jaw and looked into her eyes.
"Do think about it. You are the substitute for Cinderella. Of course you are expected to attend rehearsals."
"Substitute… But that's only if I accept the rosary-."
"Do you plan on missing rehearsals because you are confident you will not accept? If so, by that logic, I can miss out on rehearsals, too."
Sachiko-sama admonished Yumi with a faint, quiet voice.
"However, I will attend rehearsals. There are not too many things in the world where you can claim 'absolutely.' Plus, the bet with the onee-sama, aside, ignoring confidence and probability, there are only one or two results lying in the future. If the Cinderella role is down to either you or I, then I will practice. Even if it were to contradict how confident I feel, it is better than running the risk of being embarrassed during the actual performance."
Sachiko-sama chuckled, curling Yumi's straggling hair over her ear.
There was nothing she could say. Even if she were to refuse, raising hysteria, Sachiko-sama was certainly being reasonable. There was no doubt that, in her mind, right and wrong were organized neatly just like garbage and recycling.
Her heart constricted, have I disappointed her? It was the same feeling as the four-handed piano performance, a feeling totally different from the excitement or dread. Rather, it was a mysterious mental state, in that she felt that, left alone, she would have ended up in tears. Similar to the feeling of, as a child, having lost sight of her mother in the middle of a crowd.
Had Sachiko-sama not lifted her head that moment, Yumi probably would have latched onto Sachiko-sama and cried "I'm sorry."
Sachiko-sama blurted out, as if just thinking of something.
"You have your own way of thinking, so I will not coerce you. However, will you not at least come watch me practice?"
"Then, take your bag."
Having been urged onward, Yumi took the bag she had left on a table, as well as the cleaning diary.
She wondered if she was allowing herself to be swept along into Sachiko-sama's pace in a nice way. However, as she tilted her head slightly, she admonished herself for such damning thoughts.
Despite her hysteric behavior yesterday, Sachiko-sama was supposed to be like Maria-sama: pure, right, and beautiful, like an artist's depiction of the perfect onee-sama. No, she had to remain like that in Yumi's thoughts.
"What is the matter? Yumi, come along."
Sachiko-sama called from the doorway.
When she hurried over, Sachiko-sama informed her, "Be quiet," and fixed Yumi's tie.
It was the same as yesterday morning. For a moment, it synchronized with that moment in front of the Gingko trees.
Sachiko-sama blurted, stopped, and looked at Yumi.
"That photo. Was it taken yesterday morning?"
Unbelievably, Sachiko-sama had just remembered that scene.
"Could you not remember from the photo?"
"I could see it was myself, and that it was Yumi with me. But I could not remember when it happened. Because Takeshima Tsutako-san's photo had no date on it."
She thought, that's not the problem. There was no need to confirm once again that Yumi was too unmemorable.
"Then Yumi and I truly did just meet yesterday."
Yumi nodded as she shut the door to the music room. It had been mere hours before Sachiko-sama's sœur declaration. When they mentioned "warashibechouja," she had no retort.
"I feel so much better now that I remembered."
The two of them walked down the hallway together. She felt it was awkward to be walking together the same day the rumors spread like a wildfire, but Sachiko-sama seemed to give it no mind. Particularly as there was almost no one left in the corridor, Sachiko-sama probably would have disliked being shadowy about it.
"Sachiko-sama, do you fix underclassmen ties that frequently?"
In that case, Yumi felt there was no helping her forgetting Yumi. However, the answer Sachiko-sama imparted from her lips.
"Quite the opposite."
"Seldom. … No, basically never. I wonder why I did such a thing."
As they walked down the stairs, Sachiko-sama wondered, truly fascinated. She had presumably kept thinking about it, as after descending one flight of stairs, she had an answer.
"I am not much of a morning person, so I am always in a daze in the mornings, so I might have subconsciously called out to you. That might explain why I could not recall the incident immediately."
"You do not seem the type to be weak to mornings."
"I am told that all the time. … But in reality, I have low blood pressure."
"Ah, low blood pressure."
It seemed like, more and more the character of Ogasawara Sachiko-sama became a mystery. Right next to her was definitely that person of adoration, but the image of her had changed quite a bit since three days ago.
Yet, normally, you were supposed to learn more and more about a person as time passed.
When they stopped by the staff room to hand in the diary, Yamamura-sensei, who was in charge of Yumi's class, said, "Oh my."
"I thought there must have been a mistake, but what was that rumor true, after all?"
It seemed the story had spread to even the teachers.
"But, that is fascinating. I heard Ogasawara-san was rejected by Fukuzawa-san? But why are you two walking together? Or was it actually an OK?"
As expected of a former Lillian student. Her eyes twinkled and she asked with the curiosity of a young girl, shedding the 20-year differential in their ages.
"Umm, that's, that's-."
When Yumi became stuck, Sachiko-sama spoke out from her side.
"We apologize for making a fuss. I will leave what happened between us to your imagination."
She smiled, and then, "Well, excuse us." Sachiko-sama took Yumi's hand and walked away elegantly from the staff room.
Yamamura-sensei smiled bitterly, having had the opportunity to speak sealed.
After they had walked a fair distance from the staff room did Sachiko-sama finally let go of Yumi's hand.
"There is no need to say more than what is necessary."
"The more you respond, the greater and wilder the rumors become. If you wish to explain, explain it at once, in great detail, to a large audience, rather than explaining little by little. When it is still a big fuss, be a willow in the wind."
But being able to silence people with just a smile like Sachiko-sama is impossible to replicate for a normal high school student. Sachiko-sama's reasoning was, well, quite reasonable, but difficult to put into practice.
 Part 3.
She was brought to the second gymnasium.
This was a bit to the back of the school facilities, and was nowhere near as expansive as the primary gymnasium, which could hold every middle school and high school student. It was about the size of a basketball court, but had no stage. In its stead were a changing room, bathroom, washroom, and lounge, making it rather popular among students. It was used quite often for friendly matches with other schools, or for other athletics or club activities.
"Put on those slippers and come up."
Sachiko-sama pointed at the vinyl slippers on the shelf, furnished for visitors. Every gymnasium required the use of athletics shoes – regular shoes were forbidden.
While Yumi took off her indoor shoes and put on the slippers, Sachiko-sama simply walked up in her socks.
"Ah, Sachiko's here."
Amidst the echoing voices of the Roses, Yumi chased after Sachiko-sama and entered the gymnasium. After one step, she felt a painful number of stares.
Awaiting them were yesterday's members, sans Tsutako-san, plus another twenty or so students. Among them was one student in Yumi's class, and that was all she needed to see to realize this was the dance club.
Sachiko-sama instructed Yumi to watch from the side, and joined the dance club.
"I apologize for disrupting practice. Please, continue."
Then, classical music flowed in from somewhere, and Sachiko-sama held hands with Hasekura Rei-sama in the middle. Every other student likewise found a pair and began dancing to the music.
It was triple time, a waltz.
"Welcome, Fukuzawa Yumi-chan."
When she turned to look, Rosa Chinensis was beckoning with her hands.
"The view is better from here."
Rosa Gigantea and Rosa Foetida were with her as well. The three were leaning against the wall and watching the dance. Yumi stood next to Rosa Chinensis, as per invitation.
The young ladies danced to the elegant music.
Even though they all wore the same uniform, her eyes were magnetized by Sachiko-sama. She spun around like a flower, as if controlled by the music, performing even the most difficult of steps with the ease of walking.
It was not that other students were inadequate dancers. They, too, danced smartly, living up to their name proudly as the Lillian Girls' Academy dance club. Yet, none of them could beat Sachiko-sama when it came to being described as a flower. Even without any costumes, it was easy to tell Sachiko-sama was the lead role.
"It's decent enough, what do you think?"
Rosa Chinensis asked Yumi, still staring straight ahead.
"Decent,… even though it's this spectacular?"
When she asked how long they'd be practicing, she was surprised to hear they had just started that day.
"About thirty minutes before Sachiko arrived, I think? Shimako and Rei learnt the steps from the dance club, and they just tried fitting everything together for the first time now."
"For the first time?"
"You learn the rudimentary aspects of dancing in class, and Shimako is already experienced with Japanese dance, so she seems quite good at learning dancing styles. Rei memorized it with the concentration she gained from martial arts, but she is struggling a bit… See, she just stepped on her foot."
Rei-sama had just stepped on Sachiko-sama's foot. Even so, the two of them continued dancing as if nothing happened. That they weren't wearing shoes probably was out of consideration to the possibility of stepping on one another's foot, it being their first rehearsal.
"In the case of Sachiko, you know. She is an authentic lady, so it's expected of her to be able to dance socially."
Rosa Chinensis spoke rather proudly of Sachiko-sama. She had been doing ballet since she was five, but began private tutelage of social dancing from the first year of middle school. English conversation, piano, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, all the way through middle school she had at least one tutor every day.
"It's like, she's from another world."
She sighed. She'd been alive for fifteen years, but society was still an immeasurable thing.
"Right? You'd suffocate. So, I made her quit them all. I made it so she had to quit, I guess? I made her my sœur and pulled her into every task imaginable for the Yamayurikai."
Sachiko-sama was amazing to be able to do all of that practice all the way through middle school, but Rosa Chinensis, in her second year of high school, to be able to make Sachiko-sama quit everything was also amazing.
"Sachiko is just so diligent to the core, so if someone expects something of her, she does exactly what is expected. That's why, sometimes, she needs to be allowed to breathe. Do you understand?"
"… Sort of."
"Sort of. … Well, that's fine."
The song was reaching its climax. Sachiko-sama was sweating a bit, and a line of black hair had adhered itself to her white nape.
"But, even if she knows how to dance, would she ever have the opportunity to dance?"
When Yumi blurted out the question, Rosa Chinensis returned with the question, "Why do you think that?"
"If she were dancing frequently, I don't think she would all of a sudden refuse to dance with a man…"
"Exactly. Actually, we were wondering the same thing. For Sachiko, this is 'just a dance.' Yet, she refused it so desperately. She wanted out so badly we began wanting to know the reason, too, so we were waiting a bit to let her off the hook, but-"
But it turned into something even more amusing, Rosa Chinensis happily laughed.
"A spice named Fukuzawa Yumi was added to the mix, now I wonder what it will cook up."
It felt like dry wind has sliced straight through her body.
It was like a scene from a historical play, where a person with no place to stay, and with no place willing to let him stay, despite being in an inn town, stands out in the open, alone. The dusty, dry wind was irritating to the skin, and enemies were to his left and right, with no knowledge of what the future held for him.
Even though in the background was an elegant waltz. Ah, how unsuitable.
"Just as Rosa Gigantea said."
"When Yumi-chan starts thinking, she goes through life's many phases."
Rosa Chinensis' intellectual expression broke down, and she began giggling.
When the song ended, Rosa Chinensis imagined them to have been on a stage and began giving directives about starting positions, body position, and other things. Even though she had been talking to Yumi, she was still paying careful attention to details.
"Yumi-chan have you danced before?"
Rosa Gigantea had come close and began fiddling with Yumi's curled hair, which had been split in two and individually tied.
"N, no. Not at all."
"Really-? Hey, did dance class start from second year?"
She twisted her body and asked Rosa Foetida.
"That was the case, I think."
Rosa Foetida answered indifferently as she re-winded the cassette tape.
"Then, I'll teach you. Here, put out your hands."
Rosa Gigantea forcibly grabbed Yumi's hands and glued her body to hers.
"Yumi-chan uses so much 'eh' and 'ah' and wah!"
Even if she were told that, she couldn't hold back her voice. She thought there was some responsibility on the person who surprises her.
"It's in three-time because it's a waltz. One, two, three, one, two, three."
Left with no choice, Yumi took off her slippers.
Left foot back a step on one, spin 3/8 while stepping to the side with the right foot on two, move the left foot to the right foot on three. Right step forward and then a half turn right on the next one, left foot back diagonally and turn another 3/8 to the right before collecting both feet back together on two, then a small step forward with the right foot on three.
She tried to do as she was told, but it wasn't going very well.
"Your hip's too close. See, don't look down. You can step on my foot."
One, two, three.
One, two, three.
Just as she became accustomed to not looking down, she noticed the crowding atmosphere around them. The dance club, having finished their review of the rehearsal, all stared at Yumi and Rosa Gigantea as if they were watching some curious animal.
"Ah, that's bad, now Yumi-chan's two-timing rumors might spread!"
Rosa Gigantea laughed and let go of Yumi. Then, she raised one arm high and shouted to everyone.
"Alright-! I'm introducing our new friend, Fukuzawa Yumi-chan. She's joining the group dance from today on, so please be kind to her-!"
She wanted to shout "eh!" but, having just been teased about it, Yumi covered her mouth.
"It's boring if you just watch, isn't it? Plus, if we think about what 'could' happen, you probably should get used to dancing."
Whispering that dangerous line in Yumi's ear, Rosa Gigantea pushed Yumi's back.
However, 'could' would be a case of her standing up on stage in Sachiko-sama's stead.
(Rosa Gigantea was betting on me winning, so is it alright to be giving such a negative image to her playing piece?)
However, winning or losing hardly mattered to the Roses. They were just watching, amused by the course of events.
"Someone pair with her."
Rosa Foetida requested, looking at the faces in the circle.
"Alright, I will."
When Yumi looked up at who replied so simply, it was none other than Rosa Foetida en bouton, Hasekura Rei-sama.
"B, but. Rei-sama, is with Sachiko-sama."
"I'm just a stand-in. Once the real prince arrives I say so farewell to that role, so there's no problem with pairing with Yumi-chan."
Oh dear. This didn't seem like it would end with just the level of dry wind.
No matter how alien she was to the scene, she could feel the inquisitive stares stab her like knives. No, rather than inquisitive, it might have been more like envious.
First was the rumor that she rejected the Rosa Chinensis en bouton, Sachiko-sama. Then, when she appeared like friends together anyways at the gymnasium, she was on friendly terms with Rosa Chinensis. Then she learnt dancing from Rosa Gigantea, and now was a dance partner with the Rosa Foetida en bouton, Rei-sama.
Just who does that girl think she is. –They were no doubt thinking that.
Even though she had no intention in the least of garnering attention. Ah, why do things always have to flow away in a completely different direction from her hopes?
Then, when practice resumed, she felt like a pincushion.
Although the boutons dancing with her hardly seemed to care, the majority of the people, the dance members, kept staring at her.
From straight ahead, from behind, whether she looked left or right, she would always lock eyes with a dance club member. On top of that, Rosa Gigantea's practice was quite slow, so, unable to keep up with the pace of the song, she kept stepping on Rei-sama's feet, and Rei-sama kept stepping on her feet, and it was all-in-all a mess.
Through it all, Sachiko-sama remained elegant. She turned aside Rosa Gigantea's offer to be her dance partner, instead dancing her steps alone. As she arched her torso, and softly curved her arms, she gave the impression that the prince was, in fact, dancing right there with her.
What sort of prince was Sachiko-sama looking at? What sort of prince would Sachiko-sama be willing to stretch her arms out to?
"Don't look elsewhere."
When she snapped back to attention, Rei-sama was deliberately feigning anger.
"It looks like you can't take your mind off Sachiko."
"No, that's not it."
Even as she answered, she thought, maybe I can't. Because immediately, her eyes followed Sachiko-sama again.
Sachiko-sama danced as lightly as a winged creature with the invisible prince.
Assuming there were a prince the likes of which Sachiko-sama imagined-, Yumi thought. The one definite thing was that the Hanadera student council leader was not he. That thought made her feel a certain amount of compassion for the Hanadera council leader.
What a pitiable Prince.
The Lillian Girls' Academy Cinderella was, unlike the fairy tale, proud and idealistic.
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