Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume27 Chapter7
 The Door That Opened
 Part 1
In front of the elephant enclosure, they ran into some quite unexpected people.
"Err, ah, Yoshino-san!"
Both groups were taken aback. Mami-san and her petit soeur Hidemi-san were eating ice-creams. Wasn't it a bit cold for that?
Yoshino folded her arms and started the interrogation.
"I suppose it would be a bit boorish to ask why you're here."
Mami-san was the chief editor of the "Lillian Kawaraban" → She knew that today was the day of the Valentine's Day dates → She came to gather information about the dates.
There could be no other reason for two newspaper club members to be loitering around this area today. However.
"No, listen, listen."
Mami-san and Hidemi-san frantically waved their left arms, which weren't holding ice-cream.
"We're just having our own date."
"It has nothing to do with a newspaper article. Really."
"At first, I did think about straining myself to follow you, like my onee-sama last year. But while I was thinking about it, it seemed kind of pointless. Because today, somewhere, somehow, the three winners of the treasure hunt would surely be having a wonderful time."
Hearing this, Yoshino and Chisato-san looked at each other. They answered neither, "Yeah," nor, "No way," instead smiling vaguely.
"And yet, we'd be chasing after them like idiots? On Sunday, of all days? We're not detectives, but we're going to follow them and keep tabs on what they do? And not even get paid for it?"
Mami-san was getting herself down just thinking about it. Apparently this was still a fairly raw topic.
"But my onee-sama wasn't about to give up just like that."
Hidemi-san blurted out excitedly from beside her.
"She said, "If we're going to write an article about a date, we'll write a report about our own date.""
Not really understanding, but just saying something to be polite. This time around Mami-san explained.
"So, basically, a personal account along the lines of, "What can you do for 4000 yen?" Something that our readers can compare to the three dates of the prize winners. Of course, we've covered all the expenses ourselves."
Truthfully, it wasn't just Mami-san and Hidemi-san, there were a lot of soeurs at school that were like that.
"There's two patterns."
Mami-san held up two fingers, making the peace sign.
The first was trying to guess where the future Roses were going on their dates, which had been last week, the other was resolving to go on a date that Sunday. If the details of the date weren't published, most people would probably go with last year's budget of 3000 yen.
Following that thought, once the Valentine's Day special edition of the Lillian Kawaraban was published, there would be a number of girls looking to follow the same route as the future Roses. Next Sunday, a plague of Lillian's Girls Academy students would probably descend upon three areas around Tokyo.
"And with that, I bid you farewell, so we don't intrude upon each other."
The two newspaper club members waved cheerfully, then headed off towards the monkey enclosure.
"Oh my. I guess they really are just out on a date."
The two that had been left behind saw them off with the expressions of those who had just been tricked by a fox.
Sorry to say, but the fox enclosure was in the opposite direction.
 Part 2
"When did you realize?"
The teenaged girl that, until recently, Shimako had been calling 'Ami-san' asked timidly. Sitting beside her was another teenaged girl, who was also slumped over and looking downcast.
"Something felt off from the start. But it was only recently that I became convinced."
Shimako nodded, "Yes."
"In front of the toilet block, it seemed like you two were arguing about something, remember? I picked up the fallen shoe, and saw the name that was written on the inside sole."
Although somewhat blurred, the name 'Emori' was clearly visible written in permanent marker.
"Ahh … "
One or the other, no, probably both of the girls in front of her said in comprehension.
"It would indeed be strange for Igawa-san to be wearing Emori-san's shoes. But, rather than the fight being over someone mistakenly putting on someone else's shoes, it seemed more reasonable to me that it was Emori-san wearing her own shoes. Which led me to reconsider everything that had happened up until that point."
Upon reflection, the foundation of Shimako's belief that the girl she called 'Ami-san' was actually Igawa Ami was because that was the girl that had been brought to her when she initially called on the first-year peach class, and because that girl had presented Igawa Ami's student diary – and that was all.
For instance, if there was someone standing in for Igawa Ami, and she gave that girl her student diary – basically, if they were accomplices – then it would be easy for them to trade places.
In that case, 'Ami-san' would seek to avoid public attention at all costs. If someone called out her real name, then she'd be found out immediately. Even if that didn't happen, if the rumor spread that 'Ami-san' was the winner, then the switch would be over. Lots of people would know that 'Ami-san' wasn't Igawa Ami-san.
"Therefore, you are Emori-san."
Shimako looked first at 'Ami-san.' Immediately following that, she turned to 'Ami-san's classmate.'
"And you are Igawa Ami-san, right?"
They both nodded, with a sense of resignation.
"It's no wonder Noriko thought Igawa Ami-san seemed different to the image I presented."
It was only natural, since they were looking at two different people.
So then, why had Emori-san pretended to be Ami-san? That was what Shimako didn't understand. She had wanted to bring them both together here to find that out.
"So, could you tell me why?"
Shimako asked, and the real Igawa Ami-san started speaking, haltingly.
"Chi … Emori-san and I sit next to each other in class, and have been good friends ever since we started school here. Out of all the Roses, we both like you, Rosa Gigantea, the best, and we bought matching white rose pencil cases, and we've both grown our hair long like yours, and we do everything together."
As she listened, Shimako thought back to the white rose stickers she saw on their lockers.
"Plus, our voices sound similar enough, so we'll sometimes answer each others' name during roll call for a bit of a joke, and we occasionally swap lunches. I guess the boundary between us sort of blurs when we're at school."
"But on Valentine's Day, unusually, we took different approaches."
At this point, the previous 'Ami-san', ie. Emori-san, took over telling the story.
"Ami-san entered the absentee's chance draw, while I took part in the treasure hunt. Of course, we were both going after the white card."
And, as everyone knew, the white card was not found on the day, so it went to the absentee's chance draw.
"When I arrived at school the following day, Ami-san looked deathly pale. She said that the white card might fall to her. She'd heard about the white card's hiding spot that morning, and knew it was quite close to the place she had written."
The words she'd written on the absentee's entry form were, "Under a car in the staff parking lot." Using Mami-san's scoring system, it was a 90.
""What should I do?" she asked. I told her flat out that she should go on the date. However, Ami-san said she couldn't, that it would be impossible for her. She said she wouldn't even be able to talk to Rosa Gigantea alone, never mind go on a date with her."
Ami-san mumbled, "Because."
"It was always fun to imagine getting close to you, Rosa Gigantea, and talking with you, and even going on a date with you, but when it looked like that might become a reality, I didn't know what to do."
Shimako didn't consider herself that imposing a person, but perhaps she was hard to approach, even beyond her involvement in the Yamayurikai leadership.
"Then Igawa-san started panicking, saying she was going to turn it down. I thought that was stupid. I asked her, "Why, when you've got hold of something that we all were wishing for, are you letting it go so easily?" Then I said, "If you can't do it, then give it to me." It just slipped out."
Emori-san hung her head. She'd been regretting those words that 'just slipped out' ever since.
"I'd meant it as a joke. So I said, "I mean, if you're just going to give up, after all." But then Ami-san said, "Okay. We can just swap places like we always do." Even then, I wasn't serious. I thought Ami-san would change her mind, given time. I still only half believed that she would actually win the white card. However, that afternoon."
"I paid a visit to your classroom."
Shimako remarked. That day, Shimako had paid a visit to the first-year peach group classroom to speak to "Igawa Ami-san."
"Right. Whether it was fate or luck, it was Ami-san herself who answered the door. And rather than identifying herself, she came over to see me. She said, "Remember our promise, you have to take my place," and then she slipped her student diary into my hands."
And so, Shimako had believed her completely. After all, there was no reason to expect something like that had happened.
"Numerous times I thought about coming clean to you. But then I'd think it would be such a waste, or that it was too late to say anything, or countless other competing thoughts. Although, if I'm being honest, maybe all I was thinking was that I wanted to go on a date with Rosa Gigantea."
Tears fell down Emori-san's face. Shimako hadn't meant to blame her. She'd just wanted to hear the truth.
Shimako stood up and opened a window. It felt like the atmosphere was growing stagnant. The weather was fine today, so the fresh air that ruffled the curtains as it entered wasn't cold.
"Did Ami-san choose the route for our date?"
Shimako-san turned around and asked them, and Ami-san responded with, "Yes."
"I read last year's report, and it sounded fun, so I told Emori-san I'd like the same thing. Even though it would actually be her going on the date. And if it was at the Rose Mansion, it'd be away from public notice, which worked out well for us."
So, even though they'd decided to go ahead with the swap, they'd planned it out together and it hadn't changed their friendship. Which explained why 'Ami-san' never answered immediately whenever Shimako asked her a question about the date, instead responding with, "I'll think about it and get back to you tomorrow," or, "I'll go over this again at home," and taking the question as homework. It was because she'd decided to talk everything over with the real Ami-san.
"I always thought that it should be Ami-san going on the date. Even up to today, I was always willing to swap back if she changed her mind. I told her that if she apologized and explained what had happened, then Rosa Gigantea would forgive her. We met an hour before the date started and talked it over. But Ami-san was stubborn."
"Well, I mean, how could I face up to her after all this time? I'd deceived Rosa Gigantea. I'm a dishonest person. I'm unworthy of that right. If the real Igawa Ami is someone like me, then there's no way she could have a fun date."
Setting aside the deception, Shimako wondered if Ami-san really had to go as far as calling herself dishonest and unworthy. There's a large gap between running away because you're timid and being 'dishonest,' and, at the very least, as the person whose entry in the absentee's chance draw was closest to the answer, she most definitely did have that right.
"So, in that case I should have bravely stood aside. But I was still overcome by this lingering affection. I watched you, from afar, as you went about your shopping, and let Emori-san persuade me into getting on the bus to school."
"And in the bathroom, you and Emori-san were quarreling about whether or not to go the Rose Mansion together, right?"
The truth had come out. Shimako said, "That's enough," and Ami-san responded with:
"But, there's something else, something I have to tell you, Rosa Gigantea."
"Is it about how you knew the hiding place of the white card beforehand?"
Shimako asked, and Ami-san's eyes flew open in shock.
Shimako returned to her seat, and looked directly at Ami-san.
"Well, about that. Even though you didn't get the Aota-sensei part, it was still an incredibly detailed answer. Plus it's the absentee's chance, right? You wouldn't have been able to put an entry in if you saw it being hidden on the day."
They'd talked about in on the day after the event, as they were sorting through the other entries. Not a single person who knew the location had leaked it, so it was a mystery how it got out. Mami-san had said to Shimako that she should ask the winner if she got the chance, but the chance hadn't arisen, so she hadn't asked until now.
"By chance, I spotted Rosa Gigantea and the three boutons in the car park. So I thought, hmm, just maybe."
"Ah, so it was that after all. You shouldn't have worried. That was our mistake, you didn't break any rules."
Ami-san's expression quickly brightened. Until then, she'd obviously been beset by guilt about putting in an entry when she already knew the answer.
"Could that be why you didn't participate?"
Emori-san prodded, as this was apparently the first she'd heard about Ami-san knowing the answer. In response, Ami-san stuck out her tongue.
"Yeah, it was. I felt guilty. But I thought, well, if no-one finds it on the day, then it's okay, right?"
"Huuh – no way – "
They both laughed together raucously. The same expression on their faces as Shimako had seen in the courtyard once before. The very expression that Shimako had hoped to see.
Ami-san to Ami-san, and –
"Emori-san, could you tell me your first name?"
Shimako asked. And, as she wiped away her tears of laughter, the former 'Ami-san' answered.
"Chiho. My name is Emori Chiho."
Chiho-san to Chiho-san, they'd both finally reverted back to normal, and that probably explained why.
"Well then, Ami-san, Chiho-san, I know it's a bit late, but why don't we have lunch?"
The 'carelessly purchased overly abundant food' was just right for three people.
There was still plenty of time left for their date.
It would be such a waste if they didn't have a great time.
 Part 3
The 300 yen per person lunch they had was surprisingly tasty.
Upon arriving at Touko-chan's grandfather's hospital, the first place she took Yumi was the cafeteria, so that they could fortify themselves with a meal.
It wasn't a restaurant as such, but if you made a reservation in advance you could get lunch for 300 yen or dinner for 500 yen. At any rate, there weren't any other shops nearby, so without it there would be nowhere for attendants or visitors to eat. Incidentally, today's lunch menu was a rice omelet, salad and a consomme soup.
While they were eating, a scruffy looking old man entered the cafeteria, walked over to Touko-chan and hugged her tightly.
"I heard you were coming, but I had to do my rounds. You're looking well. Why did you run away from home and cause mama and papa so much heartache? You little scoundrel."
He pinched Touko-chan's cheeks and smiled.
"You're always going on about that, grandpa. That was last year already, it's getting old."
"You're right, you're right."
The corners of his eyes drooped as he spoke. From Yumi's position, it was easy to tell he found Touko-chan so cute that he couldn't resist.
He was wearing a white doctor's robe, that looked like a long open-collared shirt, over the top of a turtleneck sweater. It would appear that this was the grandfather Yumi had heard so much about. The one that would retire in three more years. Although it looked like he was still working as a doctor currently, and quite lively too.
"Grandpa. This is a senior of mine from school, Fukuzawa Yumi-sama."
As they'd reached a break in their conversation, Touko-chan introduced Yumi to her grandfather.
"Yumi … -san, are you, perhaps, Sachiko-san's?"
"You know of that?"
"Well of course I do, Saiko-san would often talk about you."
The Saiko-san he referred to would be Sachiko-sama's grandmother who had passed away the previous year. Sachiko-sama must have talked about Yumi when she came to visit, and Sachiko-sama's grandmother must have got the impression that Yumi was one of her friends.
"I see, you're Yumi-san. Please take good care of Touko. Make sure you work her hard."
"Umm, … ahh, okay … "
Work her hard? What was he going on about? Just as Yumi was getting flustered, Touko-chan stepped in.
"Don't worry about it. It's just a sports saying."
Apparently there was no deeper meaning to it. Yumi hadn't thought he meant that if Touko-chan became her petit soeur that she should start her on hard labor, but she had been a bit nervous.
"Will you be taking your time?"
Touko-chan's grandfather asked.
"I'll be going home after I've shown Yumi-sama around the area. After all, mama and papa will worry if I'm back late."
"Alright. Next time, you and mama and papa should all come together."
"And stay over night."
"Please do. I'll be waiting."
Leaving them with those words, Touko-chan's grandfather hurried out of the cafeteria. Apparently off to visit the patients, one by one.
Listening to their conversation, it seemed unthinkable that they'd have differing opinions on the fate of the hospital.
"In the end, I was small."
Touko-chan said, after they'd finished eating, as she picked up her tray. She also picked up Yumi's, so Yumi hurried after her.
"What do you mean?"
"Like how Sun Wukong couldn't escape from Buddha's palm. I would cry, and struggle, and throw a tantrum … but I'd still be safe and sound in some adult's palm."
Yumi sort of understood, and sort of didn't.
"Even Noriko told me that. "Since you're in this small place, you can't see the big things," she said."
They thanked the lady for the meal and returned the trays. Then they left the cafeteria, Yumi with her head down trailing Touko-chan.
The hospital buildings were made of wood, and they had the appearance of an 'olden days elementary school' from a movie or commercial. But while the floor retained its original wood coloring, the walls had been painted in bright colors – white, light blue and cherry.
As they walked down the corridors, from time to time a voice would call out to them, saying, "Touko-san," or, "Young miss." When that happened, Touko-chan would stop and greet the caller, or wave hello. The people that did this were both staff members and patients, and it was further proof that Touko-chan came to visit from time to time, and chatted with the various people.
Hearing this crying voice so suddenly, they turned to look and saw an elderly lady holding a six-month old baby in a sunny corner of a common room. A young couple, apparently the baby's parents, were beside her smiling happily. They were probably saying something along the lines of, "If you get well soon, you can come and visit your grandchild." Although, it may even have been her great-grandchild.
Touko-chan smiled happily too. They stopped and watched for a while, it was the kind of blessed scene that Yumi could watch forever.
"Shall we go?"
At Touko-chan's prompting, they left. They temporarily exited the hospital grounds and walked alongside a road through the woods. From memory, Touko-chan had said that she was going to show Yumi around the area. However, it didn't feel as though they were walking aimlessly. Touko-chan strode as though she had a definite goal. Yumi followed silently, wondering if there was some famous location nearby.
How long had they been walking? It was probably after they'd been walking for about 15 or 20 minutes that Touko-chan stopped.
"Sixteen years ago, there was a car crash."
"A car crash?"
Yumi took a closer look at her surroundings. The country road was properly paved, and it made a gentle curve as it followed the mountain around. Visibility didn't seem that bad –
"See how the branches that overhang the road are all the same length? I don't know the exact spot, but I'm sure it was somewhere around here."
At the time of the accident, they were probably much thicker. Had they been cut back as a result of the accident?
"It was a collision between a truck and a car, and the married couple in the front seats of the car died. A baby was sleeping in a child seat on the back seat of the car, and that child alone was rescued unharmed."
Where was this story going to end? Yumi's heart beat faster. She was scared to hear what happened next. But she couldn't stop Touko-chan.
Why did Touko-chan look so pained? Her right hand was shaking slightly as she used it to clasp her left hand to her chest. It was something she had to say, she was willing to go to that extent. Yumi had to listen.
"About the size of the baby from before, … no, at one month old, I was probably even smaller."
"The baby that was rescued. That child was me."
Yumi grasped Touko-chan's hand and, still holding hands, embraced her. She didn't know if it was the right thing to do, but she wouldn't have been able to stop herself from doing it anyway.
Touko-chan's body stiffened, but with the addition of Yumi's strength, her closed heart had been unwrapped.
The door had been opened from the other side. The illusion had been dispelled.
Touko-chan was probably crying, but because Yumi was holding her so tightly she couldn't see her face. But she kept talking, as though feverish.
"I've lost my parents once already."
Yumi said. Since the story was so painful to Touko-chan, there was no need to go further. However, Touko-chan shook her head.
"No, please hear me out."
Still not enough. It looked like there was more she had to say.
"When my parents died, the only family member left was my father's elderly mother. That grandmother was a patient at this hospital."
When she said this, Touko-chan extricated herself from Yumi's grasp and turned to look at the hospital, the Matsudaira Mountain Base Hospital.
"She was in no position to raise me. So she decided to send me to an orphanage, but just before that happened the Matsudaira family took me in and adopted me. Mrs Matsudaira had been pregnant a number of times, but had never brought a child to term. Even at that time, she was recuperating at her father-in-law's hospital after suffering through the heartache of miscarriage. So it seemed like deliverance."
The mother that had lost a child from her womb, and the child that had lost both parents in an accident, together they could provide the parts each had lost and start a family. That sort of thing.
"Mother Matsudaira is this person."
Touko-chan took out the photo from before and showed it to Yumi again. The girl with the same hairstyle as Touko-chan. Even though Yumi had thought they looked so much alike, apparently they weren't blood related at all.
"And this person."
After pointing out 'Mother Matsudaira,' Touko-chan shifted her finger across two people, to another smiling young girl.
"This person is the woman that gave birth to me."
"Huh … so, then – "
"Quite the coincidence, isn't it. They were classmates back in high school."
With her short-cut hairdo, Touko-chan's birth mother didn't really look much like her, although there seemed to be some faint resemblances around the brow. However, it was such a small photograph that it was hard to tell for sure.
"I only found out about this recently. But I've known that I wasn't the Matsudaira's child for a long time. My parents were always careful not to mention anything, but some insensitive adults, probably thinking I was just a kid, talked about my bloodline in front of me, and others who weren't aware of the situation would comment that I didn't look like either of my parents. Because of all those things, I started to wonder about it when I was still just a child. When I was smart enough, I looked at the family register and knew."
At one time or another, everyone harbors doubts about whether they are their parents child, but to have the proof thrust in front of her must have been quite a shock.
"My birth mother was apparently an actress in a small troupe. When I found that out, I thought about quitting acting. But then I thought that if I quit suddenly, my parents might attach too much significance to it."
Yumi thought that Touko-chan was the one who had been attaching too much significance to things.
"I love my current parents dearly. So I never once wanted to swap them for my deceased parents. But I've hurt them. My parents agreed with my grandfather about the hospital. I told them, "You don't need someone like me anymore then." Even though, up until that point, they didn't know that I knew. After that, my mother started to unravel a bit. She has nightmares, and calls out about her baby being taken away from her."
"I see … "
This must be 'Touko-chan's secret' that Kashiwagi-san mentioned. Even though he'd offered to tell Yumi, it really wasn't something she should have heard from him.
"Why are you telling me all this?"
"Because I want you to know everything, Yumi-sama. That's why I've told you."
That's why Touko-chan had asked Yumi to hold off on her response. She wanted Yumi to decide only after hearing everything.
(Are you ready to deal with that blow?)
Kashiwagi-san's words came back to her. Yumi took a short breath and shook off the illusion.
Regardless of any kind of blow, Touko-chan had chosen to confide in Yumi. How could she refuse?
No, it wasn't even at that level any more. Yumi had obtained her petit soeur.
As long as Touko-chan was Touko-chan, everything was fine.
When set in front of that resolution, any argument about dealing or not dealing with a blow was completely meaningless.
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