Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume2 Chapter1
 Best Sœur
 Part 1.
After the school festival.
Awaiting Fukuzawa Yumi, who had idled away her Monday holiday like a cat, were not the ordinary, peaceful days she had been looking forward to, but rather an extension of the busy, lively days that had begun prior to the school festival.
"Ugh, I'm late."
She quickly walked down the gingko tree pathway after scurrying under the main gate, ignoring the other students milling about. … No, maybe she was running a bit.
Even though the hems of her skirt was in disarray, even though her collar was a mess, she could only beg for forgiveness this morning. After all, it was a special day.
"Ahh, why did I forget to switch alarm clocks?"
She had thought, "I should switch clocks" while sitting on the toilet on Sunday, but she had forgotten about it entirely by the time she returned to her room.
Perhaps washing her hands had stimulated her mind enough to put a lid on that memory, or maybe the door not closing perfectly had irritated her. No, speaking to her brother at the landing of the stairs probably was the number one reason.
Plus, as she had decided to sleep in during the holiday, she switched off her alarm clock when going to sleep on Sunday night, so she had completely forgotten about the alarm clock until this morning.
What a blunder. What a disgrace. Late on such an important day.
The Maria-sama statue appeared at the fork. Even though she was in this much of a hurry, she still stopped and put her hands together. That's what habit is.
-Maria-sama, please watch over me today, too. Please help me lead a life without misguided conduct.
Then she opened her eyes and ran, … no, walked, and that's when she heard the voice.
"Wait right there."
When she heard the voice, Yumi's back subconsciously straightened. For a moment, she thought she heard the voice of the person Yumi "feared" the most, but she then realized the voice sounded wrong.
"'Yumi, why are you in such a hurry?'"
She slowly turned around to confirm the identity of the voice, and found herself looking straight into a camera lens.
"Gokigenyou. How was I? Did you think I was Sachiko-sama?"
As she spoke, her camera made a clicking sound. The photography club's ace, Takeshima Tsutako-san.
In the case of Tsutako-san, she doesn't even let go of her camera for a shutter chance even when she's talking, so it almost felt like speaking to a cyborg.
"Gokigenyou. … I'm sorry, I'm in a bit of a rush, so I don't have the time to fool around right now."
Yumi turned down a request for one more and turned her back to her classmate, then resumed walking silently.
"Oh, what do you mean by not having the time?"
Tsutako-san ran after her after pocketing her camera. Even though there must be better subjects elsewhere in the school.
"I see. Yumi-san, for some reason, is in an incredible hurry. May I take this as having to do with Sachiko-sama?"
Her borderless glasses glimmered. When she goes into this mode, Tsutako-san seems just like her newspaper club seniors. In the end, she's just a curious cat.
"Sort of. Not entirely wrong."
As she was not the type of person that could be warded off with half-hearted words, Yumi quickly walked to the school buildings as she answered. She didn't have the time to be wasting time here.
"An earlier arrival to school than usual. Yet an expression screaming that you're about to be late to something."
Tsutako-san jumped out ahead by a half-step, turned around, and deftly walked backwards while staring at Yumi's face. Her footwork was light. Maybe it was a result of her peeping photo style of photography.
Leaving that aside, just as Tsutako-san insinuated, Yumi was not about to be late for class. Still, she would have much preferred her report card to have "Tardy: 1" rather than be in the situation she was currently in.
"I get it. Yumi-san, is Sachiko-sama waiting for you? An early-morning rendezvous at the back of the Sanctuary?"
"French. If you were to translate it, it would be a 'meeting,' I guess? As the romanticist, Tsutako-san would very much prefer to translate it as a 'clandestine meeting.' Speaking of which, you only see the word rendezvous used in space stories nowadays."
"Nowadays." What generation did Tsutako-san come from? Sometimes you begin to wonder if Tsutako-san is actually the same sixteen-years old as you are.
Of course, there are many people around Yumi that you would be hard-pressed to call an "ordinary high school student," so it wasn't that big of a deal.
"It's not something as delicious as a secret meeting."
When she answered truthfully, Tsutako-san adjusted her glasses, lowered her posture and looked up at Yumi.
"Oh, dear. Then, may I ask what that proudly glimmering rosary on your breast is?"
She's sharp-sighted. That rosary was indeed the same rosary she received two days from Ogasawara Sachiko-sama. And because she accepted the rosary, that meant she became the sœur to one of the most prominent students in the school-.
She blushed just thinking about it. It was a spur of the moment, or Sachiko-sama had pressed her in earnest, or whatever, in any case, she accepted the rosary with the feeling of leaping off of a stage made of clear, spring water, but now that she thought about it this clear, morning daylight, she realized the enormous reality that was looming around the corner.
There was a steep cliff right under the stage of clear water, and there was no angel on stand-by at the bottom of the cliff with a fluffy, feathery mattress.
Reality was harsh. If she messed up her flight, she could end up with a broken leg, or worse, snap her neck and instantly die.
"And this is in full view. Yumi-san, usually you hide these things under your uniform."
"I'm, not used to wearing it, so I didn't think about what you do with it after wearing your uniform. ... But, I don't have the time to be talking about this!"
Yumi realized and started running. At some point she'd gotten so engulfed in the conversation that she had stopped, like mothers around a well, speaking as they draw up water. She was already late as it was, but now she was definitely tardy.
"Yumi-san I'll be looking forward to hearing about this later."
Tsutako-san stopped following. In exchange, she heard the repeated clicking of the camera's shutter from behind. What could possibly be fun about taking photos of the backside of a student running at full speed-.
Anyways, Yumi felt that she was more and more becoming surrounded by strange people.
She arrived at the Rose Mansion, the student council's headquarters standing at the corner of the school grounds, at seven fifty.
"I'm sorry I'm late."
When she opened the door to the first-floor room that had, until the school festival, been used as a storage for the "Yamayurikai-version Cinderella" props, the gorgeous faces of the distinguished Yamayurikai members all turned around at once.
Rosa Chinensis, Rosa Foetida, Rosa Foetida en bouton Hasekura Rei-sama, Rosa Gigantea en bouton Toudou Shimako-san, and-.
"Were you caught in traffic?"
She was supposed to be weak against morning because of her low blood pressure, but Sachiko-sama glared at her and spoke with her usual, icy tone.
"Then, what happened?"
Her trademark raven-black hair fell off her shoulders and stretched down her breasts. Her expression, with her angled eyebrows and her cold eyes, looked chillingly beautiful. –But it wasn't the time to be caught awestruck. Although she used kind words in her questioning, it wasn't something as nice as a "question," and no matter how you tried to twist it, it was, at the very least, a cross-examination.
Rei-sama tapped her shoulder, but Sachiko-sama quickly shut her out with a "please stay silent" and advanced to Yumi again.
"If you have a reason for being late, be clear about it."
Even so, it was hard for her to say, "I overslept," when being pressured by Sachiko-sama so much.
"Just, what time do you think it is?"
She bluntly looked at her wrist-watch and answered, and behind Sachiko-sama, Rosa Chinensis started laughing.
On the Tuesday after the school festival was to be a quick cleaning, followed by a brief reflection meeting, so they were meant to meet at the Rose Mansion by eight. Technically she'd arrived before eight, so she wasn't actually late, but Sachiko-sama had sternly told Yumi that, since she was a first-year, she should arrive at worst fifteen-minutes before the meeting and welcome her seniors.
"Just what is your reason for being later than the third-year onee-sama?"
She had no idea. Sachiko-sama, when it came to these things, was as strict as an athletics club leader-. Just as she thought that.
"Sachiko's become quite eminent, hasn't she."
She heard a voice from behind her. Before she could turn around, Yumi's neck was pinioned, so all she could do was screech, "Ugeh."
This was its own style of entrance that truly reflected the person's personality. One of the three-colored Roses of the Lillian Girls' Academy student council "Yamayurikai"'s leaders, Rosa Gigantea yawned without covering her mouth, one arm still wrapped around Yumi's neck. It was a shame, as if she never opened her mouth, her looks were like that of a mannequin.
"My bad, my bad. I completely forgot, so I came as usual. Well, we were meeting at eight, so it's all good, right, Sachiko?"
Rosa Gigantea looked like she was an armed burglar using a hostage, or perhaps a ventriloquist using a puppet, as she stepped forward, dragging Yumi with her.
"Y, yes… but Yumi-."
"I think that's enough."
This time Rosa Foetida interjected.
"The meeting just has to start at eight."
"But! I want Yumi to be a bit more self-conscious."
"Says the person who made her seniors wait 25 minutes the other day. You don't sound very persuasive, Sachiko."
Rosa Chinensis laughed uproariously, but as Yumi was also late by 25 minutes to the play preparations, she could only shrivel even more. Blushing a deep red, having been struck where she hadn't expected, Sachiko-sama protested.
"Onee-sama, you are being far too soft on Yumi."
But she was protesting to people that easily made her dance upon their palms. Rosa Chinensis folded her arms and proudly replied.
"Of course! For us third-years, second-years are like children and first-years are like grandchildren. Training is fundamentally up to the parents. Grandmothers simply irresponsibly find them cute, and treat them as such."
Hearing Rosa Chinensis describe herself as a grandmother made Yumi exchange glances with Shimako-san, who was also a first-year, and then roll her eyes a bit. Ah, I see, the Roses are like grandmothers.
"Sachiko, when you were a first-year, you were treated quite kindly by my graduating onee-sama, were you not?"
Sachiko-sama could not find the words to retort. It seemed like she had been treated extremely well by her "grandmother" when she was a first-year.
"That's how the world is. Give it up."
Sachiko-sama was utterly defeated. Not that anyone actually won.
She wondered if the Roses were fundamentally rather sadistic. Or maybe Sachiko-sama was masochistic. Every time, Sachiko-sama was verbally defeated in this fashion. Even though she was the object of the school's affections, and she was a genuine, named household's princess, the Roses themselves were not simple peasants overwhelmed by love, either.
But, she wondered why Sachiko-sama felt so different when surrounded by the Roses. The usual Sachiko-sama was like a perfect princess.
"Oh my, Yumi-chan. I wonder what this is-?" Rosa Gigantea had finally stopped being a stalking ghost and had turned, instead, into a sexual harassing man, sticking her hand into Yumi's sailor uniform.
She yelped as the cold hand touched her collarbone. Rosa Gigantea quickly giggled, "Sorry," and dragged out the rosary Yumi had hidden.
"Ah hah, so this is why Sachiko's all uptight."
"So she pulls through when it matters."
The Roses spoke among themselves, alternating glances between the rosary and Sachiko-sama. Yumi felt like a panda in a zoo.
"Onee-sama, it's time for the meeting."
She didn't seem comfortable receiving attention in this way, so Sachiko-sama spoke, looking extremely unpleased. It didn't look like she was hiding her embarrassment, but that was probably what it was, nonetheless.
"Oh come, do us a service. When, and where, did you exchange vows?"
Sachiko-sama was finally beginning to look angry. As the Roses had deliberately used a wording to agitate Sachiko-sama, Yumi thought they seemed quite evil.
"And why must I perform a service task to the onee-sama?"
"Oh, if you say so. Then we'll just ask Yumi-chan. Yumi-chan'll tell us, because she's honest, right?"
What a conundrum. Sachiko-sama looked like she wanted to scream, "I'll never forgive you if you tell them," but the prospect of making enemies of the three strongest students in Lillian Girls' Academy was not any better.
What should she do-, Yumi gulped. Just then, she felt a stimulus in her stomach.
The first stimulus was just the trigger, and she felt another wave. There was no stopping it, something horrible was about to happen.
(What should I do?)
But there were some things that people could avoid using sheer force of will, and there were other things that they were helpless with. Because Yumi was fighting the latter, she tried to come up with a way to lower her embarrassment.
(One, to warn them of what's going to happen and simply accept the embarrassment. Two, raise my voice and try to confuse everyone. Three, run.) Yumi chose three. If she was going to confuse herself, she at least wanted to be spared "that."
But when she started running, Rosa Gigantea snagged her right before she got to the door and dragged her back.
"What, do you not want to say? Was it so fabulous a memory you don't want to tell us?"
Yumi shook her head. No. She hadn't run because she wanted to hide the story behind the ceremony.
(Ahh, but… it's too late.)
She should have eaten breakfast if it were going to come to this-. At the same time, a growling sound, like the croaking of a frog, arose from Yumi's body. And, unbelievably, it ran for about ten seconds, her longest ever, and as the room was dead silent, it echoed off the walls.
(Ahh, it's all over…)
Ah, to make these beautiful women hear the croaking of a frog. If there were a hole, … no, she wanted to tear a hole ten-meters wide and then hide in it for ten years.
Rosa Gigantea broke the silence. Because it was her, it was not chuckling nor giggling, but rather an uproarious "hah hah hah." Lead by that, -no, they probably weren't actually lead, but rather their attempt to hold it in was in vain, as everyone other than Yumi and Sachiko-sama began laughing.
"Nice, Yumi-chan, you're the best!"
"I was wondering how she was going to get out of this mess for Sachiko-onee-sama, but wow, what wonderful timing!"
"We shall pay our respects to Yumi-chan's natural comedy and allow them to reprieve, then."
She didn't know why it turned out that way, but in any case, the Roses smiled, apparently more than satisfied. The quick clean-up was indeed very quick, and Rei-sama and Shimako-san, who'd arrived first, had actually completed the job, so everyone left behind their laughter and climbed the stairs. In order to have their meeting, they were headed toward the second-floor room, which was supposedly the nominal conference room, despite actually feeling more like a salon.
There was one room on the second floor and one room on the first floor. Despite being called the Rose Mansion, it was extremely small. However, despite being small, it was splendid enough that calling it a cabin or shed would be disrespectful. It was constructed out of wood in the corner of the school grounds, and was rather clearly older than the other buildings. A triangular roof, stained-glass windows, ivy that crawled around the outer walls, bay windows made of wooden sills, it had the appearance of what you might expect to see in a sepia-colored photo. Once inside, you couldn't help but be constantly reminded of its old age by the warped floorboards and stairs that squeaked with every step, but even so, it had been used with utmost care by generations of student councils, so it was a mansion with a clean, soft atmosphere.
The beautiful seniors climbed the tight, steep staircase while making soft screeching sounds. Although it may have been Yumi's role to have gone ahead and prepared the room, the tightness of the staircase meant it would have been impossible to run past everyone, so she gave up and followed after. Yumi thought that she would have to take advantage of being classmates with Shimako-san and ask about how the Yamayurikai was run.
Starting today, well, more accurately it had begun two days ago the moment she accepted the rosary, she had become Sachiko-sama's sœur. As for Sachiko-sama, she was the sister to Rosa Chinensis, one of the three Roses that lead the Lillian Girls' Academy high school's student council, and thus was slated to become the next Rosa Chinensis. Of course, Yumi couldn't imagine that she would also be destined to become Rosa Chinensis, but as she was the sister to the Rosa Chinensis en bouton, Sachiko-sama, it was expected of her to help out around the Rose Mansion. In actuality, she was more interested in being even the slightest of help to Sachiko-sama, to prove her worth as a little sister.
So, today was a special day. Her first day as Sachiko-sama's little sister.
(I wonder if I disappointed her already.)
Yumi felt a bit blue as she watched the straight black hair sway coolly in front of her with every step. What was Sachiko-sama, the embodiment of pride who hated indecency, thinking of her little sister at this very moment? Because their meeting was filled with mistakes at every turn, Yumi was sure Sachiko-sama wasn't expecting a whole great deal of her, but she wondered if her error this time was too great.
(I hope she wouldn't be asking for her rosary to be returned.)
Screech, screech. As the heavy footsteps climbed, Yumi thought, "You never know." Sachiko-sama, with her unpredictable personality, was, well, unpredictable.
(I mean, everyone was in tears laughing at the frog's croak...)
There were only up to around twenty steps, but the stairs felt intolerably long. It would be so much of a relief if she said anything, but because she was silent, Yumi's thoughts kept turning to negative directions. If she was thinking about putting a blank slate to their sisterly relations, Yumi would have preferred a big bolt of lightning to just smash her that very instant. –As she thought that, Sachiko-sama turned around when she finished climbing.
She still had a sharp look in her eyes. But her relatively elevated position emphasized her splendid beauty.
Even though it wasn't the time for it, Yumi was mesmerized. She hadn't accepted being Sachiko-sama's sister because of her looks, but her looks were definitely the starting point for Yumi's adoration of her.
"Put out your hands, with your palms up."
As ordered, she put our her hands. Because it wasn't likely to be palm-reading, she assumed Sachiko-sama meant for her to put out both hands, and then noticed something about how she looked.
Looked eerily similar. Yes, exactly. The figure of a young boy being punished by a private tutor. She had seen, in an insert picture for a novel, the illustration of a boy sticking out both hands and being slapped on the palms with a pointing stick. Even though she completely forgot about what the book was for.
(Is Sachiko-sama going to...?)
She felt like flying away. She said she would prefer a bolt of lightning – but, when it came down to it, she couldn't help but think, "But I don't like pain."
But, Yumi screwed her eyes shut. Rei-sama, who was walking in front of Sachiko-sama, had already walked through the biscuit-shaped door, so it was only the two of them left in the hallway.
Yet, despite waiting, no pain could be felt from her palms. Instead, she heard Sachiko-sama rustling through her pocket. "Huh?" she thought, and then she felt something light placed on her hands.
When she opened her eyes, two cough drops were placed on her hands.
"Well, it's better than nothing, I hope."
"I understand you hurried so much you didn't even get the chance to eat breakfast."
Sachiko-sama turned on her heel and walked away.
"Just, don't embarrass me too much."
Yumi ran up the last step and followed. Her own imagination was foolish. But, she couldn't imagine in her wildest dreams that Sachiko-sama would give her cough drops.
When she caught up at the door, Sachiko-sama turned around, as if remembering something, and let go of the doorknob.
"Also, please stop with the 'Sachiko-sama.'"
"You're my sœur, so settle down and begin calling me 'onee-sama,' please."
As Sachiko-sama said that and fixed Yumi's tie, she asked, "And your answer?"
Still trying to grasp what was asked of her, Yumi simply nodded, but that was apparently enough, as Sachiko-sama smiled full of satisfaction and disappeared to the other side of the biscuit-shaped door.
She whispered, trying to get used to it. She felt like she was going to blush, so un-used to using the word she was.
It felt ticklish, and it was enough to speed up her palpitations.
It may seem foolish, but she touched her rosary from above her uniform, just to make sure everything was real. The rosary was still there. The rosary she received from Sachiko-sama two days ago.
So, Yumi was the only one allowed to call Sachiko-sama "onee-sama," in the whole school. Yumi was so overcome with emotion she made a fist with her hand.
"Come, stop dawdling."
Sachiko-sama called from the room.
Yumi quickly answered, then popped the cough drops into her mouth. Having been warmed in her hand, it had been difficult to remove the wrapping.
"Oh, where's Yoshino-san…?"
After the regular members had taken their seats, Yumi finally noticed that Rei-sama's sœur, Shimazu Yoshino-san was missing. Shimako-san had already begun preparing the tea, a job normally reserved for first-years, so Yumi quickly went to help.
"Her fever hasn't gotten down since yesterday."
Rei-sama answered, almost like she was speaking to herself.
"I think it's because she was over-excited because of the school festival."
Apparently her body always broke down after events. Everyone other than Yumi seemed to be aware of that, so discussions simply resumed, with no one making any further comment.
As she distributed Shimako-san's tea from a tray, Yumi thought, "I guess Yoshino-san's body is frail." When she thought about it, she'd never seen Yoshino-san participate in athletics activities.
Although Shimazu Yoshino-san had also attended Lillian Girls' Academy since kindergarten, they'd never been in the same class. Although they'd become acquainted with each other recently, because of the school festival, they'd never actually sat down and spoken.
In regard to Yoshino-san, she seemed to have a special personality on top of her frail body that created the image of a sweet young girl, with a relatively weak but perpetual smile. For example, one single lily of the valley in between roses and lilies.
When Yumi placed a teacup in front of Rosa Foetida, she heard a bit of idle chatter between her and Rei-sama.
"By the way, the newspaper club said they wanted to interview Rei and Yoshino-chan today."
"The newspaper club? Yoshino and I?"
Rei-sama seemed to wonder, "Why?" and tilted her head to the side. Yumi also tilted her head. The tough, stern Rei-sama and the honest, diligent Yoshino-san didn't seem to be the type of people to stir up enough cause for the newspaper club to come calling.
"Oh, Yumi-chan, no looking elsewhere or you'll spill!"
Rosa Gigantea seemed to scold Yumi as she took her teacup from the tray.
Even though she apologized, she was still curious about the Rosa Foetida sisters.
"You know. Even the newspaper club doesn't just print scandalous stories. Well, not that I blame you for holding that prejudice, after the big fuss you raised in becoming sisters."
Rosa Gigantea looked at Sachiko-sama and Yumi as she spoke.
She vaguely remembered that there weren't a whole lot of scandals on the school newspaper that she could think of. Normally they're quite normal, printing stories of regular school events, or reporting athletics match results. The paper that was being circulated tomorrow was most likely based on the school festival, too.
"You and Yoshino-chan apparently were voted best sœur in the school-wide survey. It's a formal commission request, and I don't see why you would reject-"
Rosa Foetida spoke in a business-like manner, as if she were stating mathematical formulas, as she asked Rei-sama, "What do you want to do?"
"But, I don't know when Yoshino can come to school..."
Rosa Foetida warmed both of her hands on her teacup, saying, "I understand." Rosa Foetida always looked bored like this. But it wasn't a disinterested feeling you got from her, as she completed every job requested of her perfectly, and she was always present at classes. Because she did everything perfectly, she seemed like she never had a whole lot of fun with anything.
It was quite mysterious.
That Rosa Foetida and Rei-sama were sisters. It was, of course, not really a "thrilling" relationship like Yumi and Sachiko-sama, nor was it a match of like-minded people like Rosa Gigantea and Shimako-san. Rather, it was hard to place.
Why did Rosa Foetida make Rei-sama her sœur? And how did Rei-sama respond? Perhaps because she herself had found an onee-sama, Yumi became curious about others.
"Has everyone received a cup? If so, let's have a toast."
Rosa Chinensis stood up and spoke. She called it a reflective meeting, but it seemed like she just wanted to have one last "good work everyone" party before returning to normalcy. Even after the Cinderella play was over, the Roses had to run around as the executive committee, and even after finishing that duty they were called upon for the night celebration, so they had not been able to gather everyone in one spot.
"First, a toast to a successful school festival."
A toast to straight Darjeeling tea. Unlike Sachiko-sama's tea, Shimako-san's black tea was mellow and tasty. When she eagerly poured herself another cup, Rosa Chinensis once again stood up and spoke.
"Second, as commemoration of the moment Sachiko-sama made Yumi hers."
Partly because she had let down her guard, Yumi barely managed to stop herself from blowing tea out of her mouth.
"Oh my, she's embarrassed."
"-Ro, Rosa Chinensis!"
The third-years mumbled, "Oh how it is to be young," like they were old women. They were totally mocking her, but there was no use in acting up about it. But the phrasing, "making Yumi hers" was rather extreme. But Yumi held back, simply opening and closing her mouth like a goldfish.
"Close your mouth, and wipe your face. How indecent."
Sachiko-sama held out her gorgeous, laced, white handkerchief. Because she had come close to blowing out tea, the area around her lips were wet.
"Oh, you won't wipe her face for her?"
Rosa Gigantea raised her eyebrows in feigned shock.
"Rosa Gigantea, you may wipe Shimako's face any time you please."
"I won't do it for Shimako, but I'd be more than happy to wipe Yumi's face."
"I want to take this opportunity to make it clear. Please do not spoil my little sister."
Perhaps it was because she wasn't being attacked directly, but Sachiko-sama was quite level-headed this time. Yumi still didn't know what was the cause for switching her from elegant mode to hysteria mode. Even though they had become sisters, Sachiko-sama was still an unfathomable being.
As the time for morning prayer was arriving, everyone finished drinking and stood up from their seats. Shimako-san said, as she cleaned the cups.
"There are many shapes of sisters, aren't there."
The fountain water felt colder than before.
 Part 2.
"Yoshino, are you awake?"
Acting out of her own convenience, she opened the door without waiting for a reply and stepped in. Yoshino was lying face-up on her wooden bed, and shifted herself just a bit to confirm who had stepped into the room.
She hadn't been expecting to be greeted with, "Welcome!" by a sick person, but Rei brought a chair to the side of the bed while thinking "why" was a bit of a harsh greeting.
It was a chic room, she thought, just as she thought that every time she went into Yoshino's room. Because it had originally been Yoshino's uncle's study room, there was no helping the flashy wallpaper, but everything other than the ivory walls were dark brown. Floor, ceiling, window sills, shelves, everything. It was enough to make her think, at least use a flowery curtain!
"Has your fever gone down any?"
A chick-design handkerchief was placed on Yoshino's head – the same handkerchief was used every time she came down with a fever. Yoshino couldn't calm down without that handkerchief. Even now, despite the pattern fading away, the towel was still used, its outer edges sewn back over and over again.
Her aunt had just wrung the towel a little while ago, so when she felt the methodically folded towel, it still felt cold.
"Do you still feel ill?"
Perhaps she still felt terrible, as Yoshino didn't open her mouth. But Rei, being used to it, continued.
"Rei-san's a delivery-man today, so she'll be retreating after delivering her mail."
She took out a binder from her bag and placed a set of papers in a clear case on the table.
"The English reader prints are homework for next week. The archaic report came back, so I collected it. And-"
"How about your club?"
Yoshino suddenly interrupted. While at school, they used formal language to be polite, but otherwise they reverted to their regular, casual tones. She even deftly made sure to use "onee-sama" and "Rei-chan" correctly, to suit the situation.
Rei closed her bag and asked.
"Your inter-school match is coming, soon, so you said you needed to put in some extra practice."
"I did, … so?"
"Did you skip out, for me?"
Yoshino deliberately removed her handkerchief and asked, no, interrogated. She, loving her detective stories and hard-boiled stories, always look about with insightful eyes, so Rei always had to catch herself from automatically nodding in agreement. But their long time together made her know that if she were to nod, now, Yoshino might become so overcome with anger that she might cause undue stress on her heart.
So, Rei smiled and denied it.
"That's not true. I asked father to help me practice, today, so I came home earlier for that."
In Yoshino's eyes was Rei, who had become extremely masterful at lying only to Yoshino. And in turn, Yoshino had become adept at seeing through Rei's lies. Although she backed down, accepting the explanation, it wasn't clear how much of it Yoshino believed.
But it's not all a lie, Rei whispered to herself. She had, indeed, made a promise with her father to practice, today, it was just at a later time. Plus, she hadn't come home early solely for Yoshino's sake, but also for her own. If she stayed at school, she knew she would have been worried sick about Yoshino, anyways. And that lack of concentration would show up in her kendo practice. It wasn't a good idea to show that sort of form to her juniors. So she said she had errands to run, and came home early.
Her father always said, her technique was great, but her weapon was always unsteady. The weapon of a girl still being swept along by emotions. Not that gender mattered to her father. But that's why those words struck Rei so deeply. She knew it was true, herself.
"Let me see the prints."
Yoshino placed her damp towel on her pillow, sat up, and scrutinized her "mail." Maybe the reason why she looked so worn-out was because her trademark braids were let down. Or perhaps it was a result of her fever. Yoshino turned around and asked, "What?" when she noticed the stare.
Rei smiled and shook her head.
Yoshino hadn't changed at all since she was small. Her cousin, who lived next door in the same building site, had basically been a true little sister even before the sœur ceremony. For Yoshino's sake, she was willing to go as far as lie, turning her back to Maria-sama's teachings. To not worry Yoshino. To protect Yoshino's peaceful days. Rei had lived as a knight all this time, like that.
"Rei-chan, what's this?"
Yoshino asked, pointing at a brown envelope mixed into the prints.
"Ah, that's right. I forgot. It's a questionnaire from the newspaper club."
Rei briefly explained how they had been voted best sœur, and that the newspaper club had asked for an interview but she had turned them down.
"Best Sœur Award..."
Yoshino had a complicated look as she mumbled.
"And, because an interview was impossible, they came crying, asking for us to at least fill out a questionnaire. They said they would write an article based on that."
"Ah. Then, Rei-chan, write my part for me."
After Rei picked up the questionnaire, she placed it side-by-side with her own and began filling in the answers. There were two sheets to the questionnaire, with the first one being personal data, such as her full name, her birth date, her constellation, her blood type, her class name and attendance number, her club activities, and other such things, so she was able to fill it all in without bothering Yoshino. The second sheet was about favorite quotes, favorite authors, favorite actors, and other such questions, so Rei asked Yoshino one question at a time and wrote down exactly what she heard.
"Rei-chan, what other awards were there?"
She paper-clipped her sheets and Yoshino's sheets individually, then put them back in the envelope, then remembered with a somewhat anguished expression. Apparently, Best Sœur wasn't the only school-wide award that had been awarded to her. Because the survey had been slow in being collected, she'd just found out that day, but Rei had curiously ended up with the Mister Lillian award.
Due to the unexpected answer, Yoshino opened her eyes wide in surprise and then began laughing. "I bet it's because those underclassmen sometimes mess up and call me 'Onii-sama.'"
"Rei-chan, why don't you grow your hair longer?"
Yoshino reached out and patted Rei's very-short hair.
"It doesn't suit me, and it's bothersome when putting on the protector."
Sachiko was Miss Queen and Shimako was Miss Princess, and Yumi had gotten Miss Cinderella this year, and upon hearing this, Yoshino mumbled emotionally, "Yumi-san."
"What? Yumi-chan's on your mind?"
As Yoshino generally wasn't interested in most people, that answer was a bit of a surprise. As she always missed a vast amount of class due to her illness, she never bothered to become intimate with any classmates. Although she looked well enough and would have been expected to have a wealth of friends, this attitude ended up having the opposite come true.
"Apparently she accepted Sachiko's rosary, so you can become friends with her from now on."
Yoshino flung off her blanket and jumped up, squealing, "Really?" at Rei's report. Evening, during an autumn night, wasn't cold enough to turn on the heating, so seeing Yoshino only wearing her pajama made Rei feel a bit cold. So, Rei took the cardigan that was slung over a chair and fit it on Yoshino.
"Sachiko-sama must be ecstatic."
There was a rosary on Yoshino's thin breasts, peeking out from the collar of the cardigan.
The dark green emerald Rei gave Yoshino during the spring looked outstanding on her white skin.
 Part 3.
Tsukiyama Minako (築山三奈子), the captain of the Lillian Girls' Academy high school newspaper club, was in a great mood.
That was because the newspaper she was in charge of, the "Lillian Kawaraban[]" was becoming popular.
She looked down on the B4-sized paper she held in her right hand while standing elegantly, her left hand placed at her waist. While she was simply holding a preview print of the next issue for final check-ups, the all-color display was breathtaking.
"And it's not just the appearance. The content, the writing, everything about this article is beautifully perfect."
Stories are fights against time, as they must be told while ripe, was Minako's creed. If the readers' desires weren't presented now, it couldn't be called a newspaper. On that note, the "Lillian Kawaraban" could stand proud for holding true to that value.
Of course, when there was nothing to talk about, they would had to print articles about the interests of teachers, or the flowers that bloomed in the courtyard, which sullied the reputation of the paper, so to speak. But it was different now. She completely understood what the readers wanted.
It was the era of the Yamayurikai staff. Readers would follow as long as she chased after them. Everything was ripe for the occasion, of sorts.
Unlike her seniors, she was confident, more than willing to chase down anyone, including the student council members, and on top of her nerves, she had the ability to write, and well. And then the Yamayurikai staff, she wondered if there was a more interesting collection of characters in the entire history of the Yamayurikai.
Minako pulled out the previous issue from a shelf and narrowed her eyes at the headline.
"Exclusive Interview! Rosa Chinensis en bouton, explains everything about her little sister"
See, she could do something this magnificent. The only way she could explain it was that God had chosen her to do the deed. This talent, this skill, it took even her own breath away.
The story of Rosa Chinensis en bouton was thrilling.
The sœur-less Ogasawara Sachiko, who was absolutely adored by everyone in the school, is rejected by the current Rosa Gigantea en bouton Toudou Shimako, was then turned down by the completely unknown Fukuzawa Yumi, and the person who found the answer to everyone's question of "what's going on" was none other than Minako. Because of certain conditions, she wasn't allowed to publish the article earlier, primarily because the Cinderella play had to happen before she could publish an article about it, but the result of publishing it the day after was that the newspaper became extremely popular. And now-.
"Onee-sama, please stop being a narcissist."
She had become intoxicated to pleasing levels, but her sœur, Yamaguchi Mami (山口真美), had to drag her back to reality. For whatever reason, she had imagined herself in an exquisite place, but instead looked around to see a club room with a giant table in the place of a desk, one aging computer, and a brand-new color printer they had finally managed to purchase with club funds after a long, hard fight with the budgeting committee. There were two other club members in the room, but both of them silently continued their own work, shrugging Minako off. "It happens every day."
"Mami. ... You know."
"Unless you finish checking the article, we won't be able to print everything by tomorrow. And if that happens, onee-sama's motto of 'stories are fights against time, as they must be told while ripe' will not be carried out this time."
Minako reluctantly took a seat. Although she had chosen her little sister herself, she sighed, thinking, what a strict little sister I have. After all, that she speaks nothing but the truth makes her all the less cute. The third-years that retired from the club mentioned, "She's just like Minako when you were a first-year," but she couldn't help but imagining she wasn't this bad.
"Not even to the level of Shimazu Yoshino."
But maybe even half-way to her level of obedience and demeanor, a kind sister, is what she would have liked-. Minako flicked her finger at the two-shot photo on the test print.
The girl who stood next to Hasekura Rei, who looked like a young man, floated a soft smile, and they looked like a loving couple.
The two were chosen by vote to be Best Sœur, but it hardly needed a vote. The proud elder sister and the meek little sister was an old, traditional scheme. Cousins and childhood friends. The sickly girl and her protecting knight. The main subject of rumors among the school went from the White Rose to the Crimson Rose, and now was the time for the Yellow Rose. And it was up to them to publish the article.
Warned once again, Minako quickly began looking over the article.
Something, was very odd. It wasn't a misprint or a missed word. Because it was a list, it wasn't a case of awkward phrasing or structure. But, something was odd. Like, the truth was warped, or something...
"Hey, who typed this?"
When Minako asked, a first-year member who sat next to Mami raised her hand, "Me."
"Is there... something wrong with it?"
It, was the Best Sœur award interview article. Because Shimazu Yoshino was absent, she had gotten them to answer a questionnaire. It seemed Hasekura Rei had answered them both, using the same blue fountain pen, and they had been answered with the same, methodical handwriting. Including the amanuensis episode as part of the two girls' beautiful relationship, they had written an article and printed it.
"... The questionnaires, did you mix them up?"
At once, the three club members scrambled toward the test print.
"Hasekura Rei-sama's favorite book is shoujo novels, in general, while Shimazu Yoshino-san loves Ikenami Shoutarou's fencing novels."
"Rei-sama's hobby is knitting, Yoshino-san loves TV and sports competitions."
"Rei-sama's favorite phrase is 'sincerity,' while Yoshino-san's is 'first strike, certain victory.' That's-"
What it said, everyone thought. But there had to be a mistake. Maybe the two questionnaires were mixed up while typing.
"But, I left them like this."
The first-year who entered the questionnaire pulled the questionnaires out from their brown envelopes. They were neatly separated into two pairs of sheets, with their ears folded in to keep them together.
"Ahah. Then, I can't blame you."
The sheet with the name Hasekura Rei and the sheet with 'knitting' were clipped together.
"Then Rei-sama messed up?"
But, because they were going to print it, they had the obligation to confirm the error before revising it.
"Yoshino-san was absent again, today."
"Rei-san should still be at club. Or maybe she's at the Rose Mansion?"
She could simply send someone else, but Minako stood up. In a case like this, she wasn't comfortable simply waiting for a report. She placed her cardigan on her chair and left the room.
Along the way, she ran into the photography club member, Takeshima Tsutako.
"Oh. Well, might that be the newspaper club's Minako-sama? Thanks for working hard this late into the day."
The photography club and the newspaper club were a relatively intimate pair of clubs, but she still felt uncomfortable around this person. Her actions were relatively simple, but you could never figure out just what she was thinking.
"Rei-sama? She wasn't present at the Rose Mansion. You know, because the match is soon, she's been busy every day at practice."
She was blessed with good timing, as Tsutako had apparently just come from the Rose Mansion. The rumors that she had been going in and out of the Rose Mansion because of her connection to Fukuzawa Yumi seemed to be true. –What an enviable position.
"If you're headed toward the martial arts building, I shall accompany you."
Takeshima Tsutako smiled like a lady and suggested that. In actuality, she was aiming for the time just before club activities ended, particularly for the kendo club and the fencing club, and she intended to climb a ladder and snap photos, she mentioned, as they walked toward the building.
"Kendo is a beautiful sport, but the mask is bothersome."
When she suggested taking photos before practice, she was told that wouldn't work, either.
"The instant they take off their masks after practice is the best."
The sweaty faces, the strands of black hair stuck to their faces-, her eyes glittered as she spoke. As Minako unfortunately did not share such tastes, she could only listen, nod, and answer, "I see."
The Japanese-style building called the martial arts building was at the back of the school site, behind the secondary gymnasium. Kendo, archery, judo, karate, and other such martial arts clubs all used this building, and today, half of the wooden-floor was covered with tatami mats and used by the judo club, while the other half was used by the kendo club.
"B, … beautiful."
Lady Takeshima Tsutako was clicking her shutter at the judo club members, whose clothing clung to their bodies from the sweat. There was no mistaking it, she was completely thankful for being born a girl.
Minako left her alone and walked toward the kendo club. As they were still in the midst of practice, she sat down in a corner and watched.
She couldn't confirm Hasekura Rei's location just by looking. She guessed, maybe one of the people wearing the protectors was her, but the name written on her protector was different.
The consultant teacher, who was acting as a referee, shouted, and taking advantage of the break, she decided to ask one of the first-years who was also watching.
"The second-year, Hasekura Rei-san…"
"A, Rei-senpai went home early."
"… Eh, when?"
"About thirty minutes ago, I think."
Thirty minutes was enough time to finish preparing to leave and then go out the main gate. She realized she should have checked the shoe boxes, but it was too late for that.
"I apologize for not being of any further help."
The first-year club member apologized formally and then turned back to watch. Just as she thought, oh, how cute, Takeshima Tsutako had silently appeared by her side and had begun snapping photos again.
Minako wordlessly stood up.
"Minako-sama, are you already done here?"
"Hasekura Rei-san left early, apparently."
"Oh, that's a shame."
As Tsutako didn't let go of her camera when she turned toward her, it felt like she was going to take photos, so she instinctively put both hands in between her and the lens.
"You have a tough guard, Minako-sama."
"Is that sarcasm?"
"Of course not, they're words of praise."
Takeshima Tsutako lowered her camera, then narrowed her eyes that were beyond the frame-less glasses and laughed. This is what I don't like about her, Minako thought.
How unlucky-. She thought, as she left the martial arts building alone.
First she ends up possibly needing to revise printing, then she barely misses Hasekura Rei, then she gets caught by the camera brat. Her happy feelings from just a while ago vanished to the beyond.
She decided to try phoning Hasekura Rei's home before returning to the club house. She's relatively close to the school, so she may have arrived home already.
The green phone placed in front of the office was luckily unoccupied. She put in her card and deftly dialed the number. Roughly 70 peoples' phone numbers were input into Minako's head. Incidentally, this wasn't something expected of newspaper club members. This was simply a hobby. One of Minako's secret pleasures was to pour over the annual student directory. Essentially, she was fundamentally interested in people.
In her hurry, she accidentally pushed the wrong area code, but the receiver seemed to have figured it out nonetheless. Still, no one was picking up.
"I wonder if she's out…"
She placed with the phone cord with her index finger as her stress level rose. For the caller, ten rings feels like an eternity.
At the thirteenth ring, finally a young man answered the phone. According to the input personal data, though, Hasekura Rei was an only child, so this couldn't have been a sibling. "I'm sorry. It looks like no one is at home-"
It seemed to be a young man that attended Hasekura Rei's father's dojo. That would mean Hasekura Rei hasn't returned home yet, and it was unlikely a mere student would know much about Hasekura Rei. As she thought about what to do, Minako noticed a certain student walking by.
"Okay. I'll call back later."
She quickly put down the phone and ran out in her indoor shoes.
That person turned around very slowly in front of the library. Her hairstyle was such that she had a hair-band that neatly collected her semi-long hair. Her sailor-collar was the most beautifully tied in the entire school, was how she was described, yes, this was definitely Rosa Foetida.
"Is, … there something you want?"
Minako instantly took a step back. Rosa Foetida felt even harder to approach than usual.
She was never really a sociable person, but it was especially so, today. But it didn't seem like she was in bad spirits, but rather more like she felt extremely dazed. Though it might be inappropriate to say she looked like she was in love.
"I apologize for calling you over."
Minako stopped, collected herself with a polite greeting, then drove straight to the point. After all, it would be prudent to ask someone who knows Hasekura Rei and Shimazu Yoshino well. And after receiving confirmation, she would run back and re-print. As long as she turned off the room lights and the computer's monitor, she should be able to stay hiding in the club room for a bit. Everything should be printed out before the first room check.
"Rei and Yoshino's interests…?"
Rosa Foetida asked back, her forehead wrinkling a bit.
"Yes. There's some doubt that cropped up regarding their interview article, so I wanted to confirm it…"
"Rei is kendo, Yoshino-chan is reading. I don't know what exactly they read."
That solves nothing.
She tried asking.
Rosa Foetida repeated the word knitting to herself, then went, "Ah," as if she finally remembered what it meant. Of course, Minako hoped Rosa Foetida had an idea, but that was a complete whiff.
"Knitting, as in like, sweaters with yarn?"
"I've never seen them knitting. Yoshino-chan's classmates might know."
It seemed like Rosa Foetida obviously left Hasekura Rei out of her assumption, at the very least.
"Then, their favorite phrases…"
She was grasping, but she asked one last question.
"Do you tell each other your favorite phrases?"
Minako could only nod. She would prefer not to have that intimate a sister.
"Is that all?"
Rosa Foetida fiddled with her hair, looking extremely agitated.
"Ah, I'm sorry for taking your time."
After stepping to the side and bowing deeply, she thought, that was weird. Even while looking extremely bored, Rosa Foetida was the type to quickly deal with things in a timely manner, but for some reason, she was in a slow tempo today.
"Oh, speaking of which."
Rosa Foetida, who she thought was simply going to go home, suddenly turned around and asked.
"Say, you're being swept along a river on a boat, and there's a big waterfall in front of you? But you can't go home unless you go past that waterfall."
What is she supposing? But Minako couldn't figure it out, so she simply cocked her head to the side and listened.
"But you have an oar. Which way would you paddle?"
She was wondering when the question would be asked directly, but apparently it was to end with the boat.
"Which way to paddle? Would that mean, upstream or downstream?"
"Ahh, nevermind. I wonder why I'm even asking someone else."
Without waiting for an answer, Rosa Foetida resumed walking to the rear gate.
Rosa Foetida never turned around, even after Minako spoke to her. But rather than ignoring, it seemed like Rosa Foetida simply didn't hear.
(What happened to Rosa Foetida…)
Forgetting her present state, Minako's reporter blood began stirring. Even though she could simply just be ill, it felt like something newsworthy.
With that determined, she was unable to see anything else. Such was the type of person Minako was.
 Part 4.
After school on a day where the lingering memories of the school festival were just about fading.
Having finished cleaning duties, Yumi was just walking down the hallway thinking, "Time to go to the Rose Mansion" when she noticed a familiar face in the 1st-year Chrysanthemum class and came to a stop.
Yoshino-san raised her head from her desk and smiled, as usual.
The Chrysanthemum class had also seemed to finish cleaning duties, as the desks and chairs were lined up neatly. There were a few bags hanging from desks, presumably belonging to students with club activities, but otherwise there was no hint of any other person.
"I didn't know you were back in attendance."
Yumi entered the classroom after striking a "pardon my intrusion" pose.
"Yes, beginning today. I ended up missing a week."
She giggled, fufufu. It was a smile filled with composure, saying that she was used to it.
"Yoshino-san, are you alone?"
"Yes. I'm copying notes, from the classes I missed."
There were several notebooks stacked on her desk that she had probably borrowed from other students.
"What a lot of work."
"I'm almost done, will you wait?"
Yoshino-san then resumed copying. That means I'm allowed to be here, decided Yumi, so she pulled up a chair and sat down in front of Yoshino-san.
Yumi looked on, wondering about the kind of person Yoshino-san was. She had a rather petite stature. She was a bit skinny, but not overly so – it would be adequate to call her small, in general. The lap blanket she placed above her skirt was probably hand-made. Maybe it was so it wouldn't stand out, but it was made of the same, dark-green colored cotton as the skirt.
Yumi looked elsewhere.
Her front hair was cut straight across right above her eyebrows, and she split her hair evenly, tying them in a braid. It wasn't to the level of Rei-sama, but her hair was tinted brown, and the tight braiding sort of de-emphasized the lighter-colored hair.
Her eyebrows were more thick than long. Their downward angle had the seeming effect of disguising lament, and thus made her look more fascinating. It wasn't difficult accepting that this would be the school's number one little sister. When Yumi turned into a second year, she would like a little sister just like Yoshino-san.
(... Ah, and just what am I thinking?)
She was embarrassed of her own fantasies. Yumi covered her blushed cheeks.
Yoshino-san suddenly looked up. She probably felt the stare.
"Ah, no, nothing. ... Sorry."
She tried to cover it up, but it was too late. Plus, she couldn't come up with any sort of excuse, so that made it all the more suspicious.
"As Rosa Gigantea mentioned, Yumi-san is interesting."
Even though she had been stared at, Yoshino-san didn't seem to be in discomfort. Having finished copying, she laughed and put her mechanical pencil and eraser into her pen case.
"Was I going through life phases again?"
Her face was in flames. Why did she always embarrass herself in front of beautiful girls?
No, that's not it. The problem was that there were more and more beautiful girls surrounding her nowadays.
"How do people perceive me?"
Yoshino-san asked, resting a hand on her bag.
"Yes. Yumi-san's image of me."
Having been asked this so directly, Yumi found it difficult to place things into words. Of course, Yoshino-san wasn't asking about thick eyebrows or brown hair. Not the outward appearance, but more of the internal image-
"A bit sickly, the type you want to protect?"
Yoshino-san had offered help, and Yumi quickly raised a finger and agreed, but then she realized that might have been a bit insulting.
"Umm… but not necessarily that sickly…"
Even though she tried to follow-up, she knew it was futile.
"Don't worry, it's the truth, after all, that I'm sickly. Anything else?"
Being urged on, Yumi decided to prudently pick her words and answer.
"That's what a girl is like, I guess? Great with dealing with other people, gentle, cute. The type my little brother might like… huh?"
She was trying to explain things with kind words, but she noticed she was going in an increasingly weird direction. No one was asking about the tastes of her family. But Yoshino-san giggled, "What an honor."
"Yoshino-san seems like the type to wear a frilled apron at home and bake cookies, and knit laced table-cloth."
"Her favorite drink is milk tea?"
"Right, and she has a white cat."
"Yes, that's the image."
Laces, ribbons, flowery designs.
In the case of skirts, flared, rather than tight.
Her favorite fruit is a strawberry.
Pink over blue, in colors.
Likes ice cream. Likes cookies. Likes candy.
Good at English and social studies, but not so fond of math and science.
Maybe this image isn't too different from what a girl might imagine of "a girl." At any rate, Yoshino-san had become excited, agreeing with those points.
"But, wrong. I'm not like that at all."
"But everyone thinks that way."
She laughed along with a sigh, then began folding up her lap blanket. The lap blanket, made to fit the color motif, looked a bit bland, but also seemed very maiden-like. … At any rate, her declaration meant she wasn't the one that knitted it.
"There aren't really girls that fit that image, after all."
It was a bit of a disappointment. But at the same time, Yumi was curious about how Yoshino-san really was.
"I don't think they don't exist, though."
Yoshino-san emphatically said, then stood up. Then, she walked to the back of the room, opened her locker, and placed her lap blanket inside.
"Shall we, to the Rose Mansion?"
When Yumi asked, Yoshino-san shook her head.
"Onee-sama is coming to pick me up, so I have to go home with her."
But Rei-sama's kendo competition was soon, so she was supposed to be training hard every day, was she not? That's why she had been absent from the "Tea-parties named Meetings" that had been going on every day at the Rose Mansion as of late.
"It's my first time going to school in a while, so onee-sama is being overly worried."
The knight had to see the princess off. However, the princess was scornful of the knight.
"Plus, she's timid."
"She doesn't seem that way."
"She looks strong because she does kendo."
"… Yoshino-san pulls no punches."
Indeed, reality seemed to be different from Yumi's original image. After all, Yoshino-san didn't seem to be the type to speak ill of anyone.
"We've been together since we were born, so we know almost everything about each other."
Yumi cocked her head, not understanding the meaning behind those words. Then, like a mirror, Yoshino-san did the same.
"Huh? Yumi-san didn't know? Rei-chan and I are cousins."
She was surprised at the truth between Yoshino-san and Rei-sama's relationship, but she was also shocked by Yoshino-san called Rei-sama "Rei-chan."
"Yumi-san, you must have been in a hole somewhere."
Apparently it was a famous story in the school. Particularly this spring, when the Rosa Foetida en bouton Rei-sama chose Yoshino-san as her little sister, the Lillian Kawaraban ran an article, so even the students that had entered starting from high school knew about it. Yet, embarrassingly enough, Yumi had attended since kindergarten and still didn't know.
Yet, it couldn't be helped. It wasn't something to be proud of, but Yumi only read the Lillian Kawaraban when it interested her enough, and when it came to the Yamayurikai staff, she was purely Sachiko-sama.
"Yumi-san, you accepted Sachiko-sama's rosary, right? How did it feel?"
"Was it exciting?"
It had happened just a week ago, so she still had fresh memories. Sachiko-sama, whom she'd adored for so long, had offered her rosary in complete seriousness. The happiness she felt was incomparable over her sixteen years of life. It was like fireworks had gone off in her soul.
"In our case, it wasn't like that."
"Onee-sama and I were always in Lillian, right? So at some point we knew that when we became high schoolers we would be sisters."
Yoshino-san called Rei-sama "onee-sama" this time.
"During the school entrance ceremony for high school, I was sick, too, so I was at home. So onee-sama came home, found me sleeping, and tucked the rosary into my hand. That was it."
"I think it's beautiful in its own right."
"Perhaps. But it wasn't exciting. It was like reading the end of a mystery novel."
In other words, Yoshino-san wanted to be excited. On the other hand, Yumi wanted to live as peacefully as possible.
"But, Yoshino-san, there's no way to turn back time, and there's no changing that you're cousins, right?"
"Exactly. That's why it's just a foolish complaint. For some reason, I just felt like having Yumi-san listen."
"So listening was enough?"
"Plenty. I'd never had a friend like that before."
Even though they were intimate cousins, she couldn't have complained about Rei-sama to Rei-sama.
But then she realized something.
(Wait a second. … That means, even though Yoshino-san is good at dealing with people, she never opened herself up to classmates?)
People aren't necessarily what they seem. She was supposed to have learnt that with Sachiko-sama.
"That's why Yumi-san is valuable."
Yoshino-san rested her chin on her hands and smiled softly. But beyond that angelic smile, she might have been thinking things unimaginable to Yumi.
"Yoshino, sorry to keep you waiting."
Rei-sama energetically arrived at the classroom, filling the silence between Yoshino and Yumi. "Oh, you were with Yumi?"
"Ah, I was just passing by. I'll be going then."
She felt a bit out of place, and quickly stood up. Maybe it was because they were talking about Rei-sama without Rei-sama, or maybe it was because it felt like she was interfering between lovers, Yumi didn't know herself which it was.
"Yumi-san. What're you fussing over?"
"That's right. We didn't become sœur yesterday after all, we don't have to flirt all the time."
Yoshino-san and Rei-sama both spoke drily.
The way Rei-sama spoke, it was as if Sachiko-sama and Yumi, having become sœurs just the other day, were always flirting.
Yoshino-san's eyes glimmered as she asked.
"Scolding over trivial matters, fixing perfectly fine ties, secretly giving cough drops, Sachiko seems so happy having found a little sister."
"Uh, umm, Rei-sama?"
She wanted to shake Rei-sama out of her run.
Cough drop incident aside, the scolding and appearance checking didn't seem to fit into what you would usually call "flirting"-.
Rei-sama and Yoshino-san, despite seeming very different, definitely looked similar when it came to this. They placed the same amount of value on rather strange things.
"Well, let's go home then."
Rei-sama picked up Yoshino-san's bag.
"Yumi-chan, if you're going to the Rose Mansion, could you tell the onee-sama, sorry for being a bit selfish until the competition?"
"Gokigenyou, Yumi-san. Having you listen let me clear my mind."
Yoshino-san bowed her head, spoke, and then followed after Rei-sama to the hallway. But Yumi didn't know what she cleared her mind of.
"Yoshino-san, are you scheming?"
When she spontaneously asked, Yoshino-san quietly turned around, paused, then asked, "Why?"
Rei-sama was about to vanish out the door. Yoshino-san didn't wait for an answer to her question, instead vanishing out with Rei-sama, leaving the words, "Who knows?"
"What do you mean, 'Who knows'-"
When she thought about the question, she realized it was an answer to Yumi's first question.
"Then… Yoshino-san, you ARE up to something-!?"
Yumi sat back down in the chair, alone in someone else's classroom, and held her head with her hands.
Yoshino-san's eyes looked like they were quickly planning something out. What was she planning? Should she stop her? Should she tell someone?
She felt responsible, as Yoshino had "cleared her mind" after speaking to her. But she wasn't very experienced with these things, and her high school freshman mind, still not knowing much about Yoshino-san to begin with, couldn't think of anything, despite serious thought.
"I feel like I'm going to have a developmental fever."
Yumi's desired "peaceful days" seemed far, far away.
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