Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume32 Chapter9
 The Ribbon's Path
 Part 1.
After leaving Katsura-san behind and eventually making her way to the room on the second floor of the Rose Mansion, she was greeted with Yoshino-san asking her, 'Are you sick?'
As she answered, Yumi made her way over to the chair by the wall and dumped the coat, bag and purse she had been carrying.
"I guess not. But, Yumi-san, when we split up you said 'I'm just going to the toilet.'"
That's right. After they had finished cleaning, she had gone to the staff room together with Shimako-san and Yoshino-san and they had decided to go back to their classrooms and pick up their belongings, before heading off to the Rose Mansion. Because Shimako-san was in a different class she had split from them at their classroom. But after picking up her belongings Yumi had realized she needed to go to the toilet, so had asked Yoshino-san to go ahead of her. Then after she was done she had run into Katsura-san in the hallway.
It seems they were worried because she had been so late in returning from the toilet.
"Did you take the scenic route back?"
"I bumped into Katsura-san."
Yumi carried her lunch over to her usual seat at the table. It looked as though Noriko-chan and Touko, who had come to the Rose Mansion straight after cleaning, had already finished their lunch while Shimako-san and Yoshino-san appeared to be about halfway through.
"I ran into her just before too. I think she said she was going to look for her onee-sama. You must have seen her after that, then."
It made sense, since Shimako-san and Katsura-san were classmates, they would have more chances to see each other.
Just like in a comic book, the light-bulb flicked on inside Yumi's head.
"You didn't happen to say something to her like 'From here I'm going to the Rose Mansion to do some odd jobs,' did you?"
"Yeah … maybe. Why?"
"So that's how she knew."
The true shape of the psychic was revealed. Well, she already knew that Katsura-san's claim of ESP was mostly fake anyway.
"More importantly, your cute petit soeur was also worried."
Yoshino-san turned her head prior to speaking. Yumi turned to follow her gaze, and there was her 'cute petit soeur' Touko pouring tea at the sink. Yumi didn't think that Touko would have minded that she was a bit late, but she decided to apologize anyway.
"Don't mention it."
Touko seemed somewhat lacking in energy when she brought the tea over.
Perhaps this was a result of something Yoshino-san had said to make her worry needlessly. 'She's so late, I wonder if she's okay,' or 'Perhaps she's got a stomach ache.' Or perhaps Touko herself was feeling sick.
Especially after what had happened with Katsura-san, Yumi admonished herself that as an onee-sama she should pay more attention to her petit soeur.
The plan was to check the first floor room for anything left behind by Sachiko-sama or Rei-sama, ahead of their graduation tomorrow. But if Touko wasn't feeling well, it may be better if she went home early instead. She shouldn't strain herself, and they shouldn't ask her to.
But Yumi thought that even if she told Touko to go home, Touko wouldn't leave because everyone else was staying to work. There was a part of her that was very stubborn. In which case it was probably better to finish this quickly.
Yumi launched herself into eating lunch at double speed and while she didn't quite make her goal of finishing at the same time as Shimako-san and Yoshino-san they didn't have to wait long for her.
"Well, this shouldn't take too long."
Yumi remarked as they were descending the stairs.
"Even so, we have to do this for appearance's sake."
Yoshino-san's lack of interest was obvious as she said this. But it was something they had to do so they were resigned to doing it. Both her tone of voice and her attitude seemed to radiate the feeling that this was a bother.
"Oh, do you think we won't find anything?"
Shimako-san spoke as though she was expecting something, but even she was allowing for the possibility of finding nothing.
At any rate, they won't have left anything behind and we'll be able to head home quickly – that was the general consensus of the search party members.
 Part 2.
So when that item was found there was a general sense of weary exasperation.
The search was winding down when Noriko-chan found a single ribbon in the space between two cardboard boxes.
This discovery was obviously unlike the Rose Mansion stationery, the pens and labels, that had been discovered earlier. But even so, it didn't look like it was something of Sachiko-sama or Rei-sama's either, and the only feeling that it aroused was that it was one half of a matched set.
"Is it yours, onee-sama?"
When Touko asked her this, and Yumi looked at the ribbon, she was immediately sure of it.
The White Rose Family, Shimako-san and Noriko-chan, Yoshino-san and Touko, in other words all the other members of the search party, were waiting for Yumi to answer. This kind of situation may have been amusing, but Yumi had cold sweat running down her back. It felt like an interrogation.
Yumi had recognized it, and already knew that it was hers. But what she couldn't understand was what it was doing here.
Why, is that, here? Why, is that, here? Why, is that, here?
Those words swirled around her head.
The shiny, black velvet ribbons had been her favorite, so she would often wear them on special occasions.
Like for school opening ceremonies and closing ceremonies, or Christmas – .
But currently it was neatly folded in the drawer of her closet at home.
There were no questions about how one of the pair had come to be missing either – Yumi and her onee-sama were both entrusted with the care of one of these precious items.
On Christmas Eve during her first year at high school, when Yumi hadn't brought a present, her onee-sama had asked her for one of the ribbons that she had tied in her hair.
To Yumi, this ribbon was like one of those heart pendants that come in two pieces.
So then, why was it here?
Had the ribbon teleported itself here?
That's just stupid.
Then, did that mean that she had brought it here and left it laying around, but then forgot all about it. In that case, it was a huge problem. She should go to a hospital and have a doctor examine her if she suspected such a defect in her memory.
(So that means – )
"… It's mine."
"What's up with that pause?"
Naturally, that dig came from Yoshino-san.
"Oh, I didn't expect to find it again, so I was a bit surprised."
Because this was the ribbon that Yumi gave to her onee-sama. She didn't expect to see it again. It had been quite a while. One year and three months, or thereabouts.
"Come to think of it, I haven't seen you wearing those ribbons lately. I suppose it's because you lost one of them. But I don't understand how you'd manage to drop one."
It was true Yumi didn't wear these ribbons any more because she only had one of them, but she hadn't dropped it. She remembered precisely how it had left her possession. But it would be hard to concisely explain that so Yumi chose to laugh it off.
But what was the ribbon that she had given to her onee-sama doing here?
Sachiko-sama had long hair, so she didn't usually use ribbons. So it was impossible to believe that she had used it to tie her hair, then untied it, carelessly flung it aside and forgotten it.
First things first, how long had that ribbon been here?
Yumi imagined a calendar that went from Christmas Eve of the year before last until today. Like a scroll with the dates flowing from left to right.
The start date was Christmas Eve of the year before last.
Right before the party was about to begin, Sachiko-sama had unfastened the ribbon and put it in her purse. She had said that it would be a disaster if she were to lose it when forced to wear a paper hat in the Rose Mansion.
But Yumi thought the truth was that she was embarrassed. Sachiko-sama wouldn't have liked it if someone had seen that they were both wearing matching ribbons and teased her about it. So Yumi had also taken her ribbon off and instead rolled her hair around a ruler and then wreathed it with crepe paper. And then Youko-sama had unexpectedly complimented her, saying 'Yumi-chan, that looks great.'
In other words, Yumi could safely assume that the ribbon remained inside Sachiko-sama's purse and made its way to her home.
Then jump forward a bit until this time last year. At the very least, the ribbon hadn't been found during the equivalent search last year. So she could cross out all the way up to March of last year in the calendar in her mind.
Yumi couldn't think of any large-scale searches that took place after that, but from time to time they would come down here and they would usually have a cursory look around. And participants in this year's Valentines Day treasure hunt would probably have had a rummage around too, but nothing was found then. – So that means it wouldn't have been here before the middle of February.
(A cursory search…)
That's right, they were just here looking for something the other day. They had decided to make purses as gifts for White Day and were here looking for the sewing machine and iron. Now, the sewing machine and iron are hardly small items, so they didn't look in every nook and cranny but they probably would have shifted the cardboard boxes. So if the ribbon had been here back then, they probably would have found it.
The conclusion Yumi reached was that the ribbon wasn't here back then. At which point, realization started to dawn on her.
Why was the ribbon here? If we rule out the ribbon teleporting here by itself then the only reasonable explanation was that Sachiko-sama had hidden it here.
(But, for what purpose?)
About a week ago, on the second floor of the Rose Mansion, Sachiko-sama had laughed like some olden days noble from a comic book and said:
"Well, there's no way we would have forgotten any of our personal belongings."
You wouldn't expect that someone who would make such a proclamation would purposefully hide something of theirs. Or perhaps it was meant as a challenge – if they couldn't find the ribbon then just what kind of search had they done?
(No, it's not that.)
Yumi's intuition told her.
This wasn't something that her onee-sama had forgotten.
The black ribbon that Yumi previously wore. The other people here didn't know that this was something that Yumi had given to Sachiko-sama. So to everyone else, this was just something that Yumi had dropped.
Her onee-sama had left a message that only Yumi would be able to understand.
That was it. There was absolutely no mistaking it.
Yumi turned to Shimako-san and Yoshino-san and addressed them.
"I think we're finished with the search, don't you?"
"Then, I suppose we're done for today."
Yoshino-san and Shimako-san both looked at Yumi for a moment. They were probably thinking that Yumi had something to do, since she had suddenly brought up the topic of leaving. But they didn't take it upon themselves to press her for information. After giving a slight nod, they cheerfully responded.
"Looks that way. Don't worry about tomorrow."
"Right, right. We've already done enough preparation and practice."
Shimako-san and Yoshino-san probably didn't have any idea what Yumi was planning on doing after leaving. But they were aware that her thoughts had turned to matters outside the Rose Mansion, so had given her a pleasant farewell. Just what you would expect from close friends.
Since they were both probably expecting that there would be a final meeting about tomorrow after the search was over.
At any rate, Yumi graciously accepted their generosity. As she turned to leave, Touko caught her eye.
"Touko, you can go home ahead of me."
Those were Yumi's parting words as she left the room. She was still a little bit concerned about Touko, but Shimako-san and Yoshino-san and Noriko-chan were still there with her.
She'd be fine. If anything happened, they would take care of her.
 Part 3.
She had left the Rose Mansion in a hurry, but Yumi didn't know where to go.
Her only thought was, 'Onee-sama is calling to me.'
Yumi grasped tightly the ribbon that she held in her hand for the first time in a year and a half.
To everyone else this wasn't Rosa Chinensis' lost item. So there was no need to have a ceremony to return it either today or tomorrow.
But Yumi alone knew who the owner of this ribbon was. So it was up to her to deliver it.
Onee-sama is waiting for this.
But where could she be right now?
(Thinking logically, she'd be in her classroom.)
But before that, Yumi went to check her onee-sama's shoe box. If her indoor shoes were in there, then there was a high probability that Sachiko-sama had already gone home and Yumi would have no option but to abandon the search.
(I knew it.)
Just as she had expected, inside the small locker with the 'Ogasawara' name-tag was a neatly placed pair of black outdoor shoes.
Her onee-sama was still at school. There was no doubt about it (because it was impossible that she would have absentmindedly gone home wearing her indoor shoes).
Leaving this area, Yumi headed towards the third year classrooms.
If, like a little while ago, her onee-sama was being besieged by autograph seekers, Yumi decided that she would wait openly until they were finished rather than hiding.
But there was no such scene.
Quite some time had passed since then. There were no longer any younger girls looking for autographs. Perhaps they all thought that Rosa Chinensis had left some time ago.
When Yumi opened the door to the third year pine class, she saw there were still a fair number of people inside.
"Oh, it's Fukuzawa Yumi-chan."
"It is too. Rosa Chinensis en bouton."
Come in, come in, they beckoned her over so Yumi strode confidently inside.
There were about ten people there all up, and they had joined their desks as though they were having lunch together. It seemed as though they were having some kind of party. A farewell ceremony, most likely.
"But Sachiko-san isn't here."
"… It looks that way."
It didn't take long to check the ten faces.
But there was a huge difference between these people and last year, when Sei-sama had been alone in the classroom at dusk. They seemed to be having a lot of fun, with their rows of sweets and drinks.
"Do you know where she went?"
The kind girls of the third year pine class gathered together their eyewitness accounts to give to Yumi.
"I saw her about an hour ago together with Rei-san from chrysanthemum class in Milk Hall."
That report seemed to be a little too out of date. Yumi had seen her less than an hour ago signing autographs in the hallway. Thinking back on it, Rei-sama had been close by then too. They were probably on their way back from Milk Hall.
"Oh, I didn't see Rei-san, but I saw Sachiko-san walking down the hallway with Minako-san from the newspaper club."
That was the first Yumi had heard of that. So she dug a bit deeper.
"Do you know where they were going?"
"Let's see....? Actually, they were heading in that direction, so they were probably going to the newspaper club's clubroom. Because Minako-san was with her."
The clubhouse was definitely in the general direction she was pointing.
But going with Minako-san to the newspaper club's clubroom? Why on earth would her onee-sama go there?
"A little while ago I saw Rei-san on my way to the toilet, so they may have split up by then."
"I guess so."
At that point, the reports dried up. It was only natural – they had been having their party together in the classroom for most of the afternoon.
"How about the Rose Mansion?"
"I just came from there."
As Yumi was thinking that she should search somewhere else, one of the chocolate snacks was put in her mouth.
"Well, Sachiko-san's bag is still here, so she'll have to come back to get it."
"Oh wis that sho."
Leaving her bag in the classroom made it seem as though she had just momentarily stepped out. At the very least, it was further proof that she hadn't just gone home in her indoor shoes. On top of that, the candy was delicious.
"So why don't you stay here and wait for her?"
Yumi understood the rationale, and was grateful for the offer, but was feeling impatient so she couldn't just accept their invitation and wait.
"Thanks for the chocolate."
After bowing quickly, Yumi left the third year pine group classroom. If Sachiko-sama came back, she could rely on them to inform her that Yumi had been here.
 Part 4.
She was at school. But she wasn't in her classroom.
So where could her onee-sama possibly be right now?
Yumi went to check her own classroom, that of the second year pine group. She didn't expect to see Sachiko-sama there, but the thought had passed her mind that perhaps her onee-sama had gone there to meet her.
Inside the classroom there was a girl's solitary figure. She seemed to be staring out the window from her seat, but upon noticing the sound of the door opening she waved lazily at Yumi.
"Oh, it's Yumi-san."
'What are you doing here now?' was written on both of their faces.
"I was in the clubroom until just a while ago, but I was thinking about all kinds of things and got a bit sentimental … So I decided to move."
Tsutako-san laughed softly after saying this.
"Don't read too much into it. I think it was probably because of the graduation group photograph that I took."
Tsutako-san didn't have an onee-sama, but she was probably fairly close with some of the seniors from the photography club. Well, actually, in Tsutako-san's case it was probably a different type of closeness. After all, everyone knows about 'sibling rivalry,' and it's probably quite sad for Tsutako-san to see her rivals leave.
"How about you, Yumi-san?"
"I'm looking for my onee-sama."
"For Sachiko-sama? What is this, hide and seek?"
"I'm not sure if she's hiding on purpose or not."
"That's quite a predicament."
Tsutako-san had only been in the classroom for about ten minutes, but she said that during that time she hadn't seen Sachiko-sama. Yumi wasn't too disappointed, since she had come to her classroom primarily to confirm that Sachiko-sama wasn't here. It looked like she'd have to try somewhere else.
"Oh, right. We're counting on you for tomorrow."
Since she was here, Yumi took the opportunity to remind Tsutako-san about tomorrow.
After the graduation ceremony, Yumi and company had decided to have some photos taken privately. Just like last year, Tsutako-san had been nominated for the role of photographer.
"Ahh, yeah. I'm looking forward to it too."
Tsutako-san made the 'OK' gesture, so it looked like she had everything under control.
"That reminds me, have you checked the clubhouse?"
As Yumi was making her way towards the door, Tsutako-san called out to her.
"The clubhouse? No, not yet."
When Yumi turned around to ask her why, Tsutako-san added a disclaimer, saying:
"It might be nothing, but I ran into Rosa Foetida in front of the newspaper club's clubroom."
"Yeah. She was with Mami-san."
Rei-sama and Mami-san? That's quite an unusual pairing.
"It wasn't Sachiko-sama and Minako-sama?"
"What? No. Wrong on both accounts."
But in both cases it was a Rose with a newspaper club member.
"Ahh, but about that."
Tsutako-san lowered her voice.
"I only met Rei-sama, but Sachiko-sama may have come along afterwards. Let's just say it's a definite possibility."
It looked like a fair amount of time had passed since Tsutako-san met Rei-sama. It seemed dubious whether anyone would still be at the newspaper clubroom.
The third year student from the pine class who said she saw Rei-sama when she went to the toilet seemed to backup Yumi's thoughts.
"Thank-you. I'll go check it out."
After saying this to Tsutako-san, Yumi left the classroom. She would have to hunt down these unlikely locations one by one.
 Part 5.
Looking at the clubhouse building from outside, Yumi saw a light glowing in the room she was heading towards.
Which must have meant that someone was still in there, so Yumi went inside, climbed the staircase and knocked on the door to the newspaper club's clubroom.
Almost immediately, Mami-san opened the door. She was one of Yumi's classmates.
Mami-san said, as though sighing.
Yumi asked the question that was normally reserved for the person being visited. She did this because, for some reason, Mami-san seemed completely exhausted. No, that wasn't quite it. It seemed as though Mami-san was at a complete loss as to what to do.
Again, it seemed like she was forcing this out with a sigh. As though just remembering, Mami-san asked, 'What brings you here?'
"Minako-sama – is she in?"
Was the question Yumi started out with. From Mami-san's appearance, Yumi could tell that Sachiko-sama wasn't inside. But if Minako-sama, who had been with Sachiko-sama, was there, Yumi could ask her what time Sachiko-sama had left and where she was going.
"Well, she is but she's a bit distracted at the moment so I don't know if she'll be much use to you."
Mami-san said this and looked back into the clubroom, at which point the voice of Minako-sama came from within.
"Yumi-san? Is that Yumi-san?"
Yumi responded, since she was undoubtedly 'Yumi-san.' The 'distracted' Minako-sama walked unsteadily over to the door and, upon confirming that it was Yumi-san, hugged her tightly.
"Umm, ahh, what?"
Yumi was flustered by the unexpected contact and had no idea what brought this on when Minako-sama spoke.
"It's all thanks to you. So wonderful."
"Wait, wait a minute, Minako-sama."
Yumi still had no idea what was going on. At any rate, to be embraced like this by Minako-sama in front of her petit soeur, Mami-san, was distasteful (although it would probably be a bigger problem if they were doing it somewhere where Mami-san wouldn't see). But no matter how she squirmed, Yumi couldn't get free. Today Minako-sama seemed to possess super-human strength that would be more at home in the athletics clubroom.
"I'm begging you – please let me go."
As she was standing there embarrassed, Mami-san calmly tapped her on the shoulder.
Yumi still had no idea what the pair of soeurs were talking about. Thankfully, Mami-san explained it properly.
"Firstly, thanks for bringing such happiness to my onee-sama. Secondly, thanks for bringing her back out of her daze."
After saying that, Mami-san calmly but firmly removed Minako-sama's hands from Yumi. Thanks to that, Yumi's body was freed – although Minako-sama didn't look the least bit remorseful.
"At any, rate thank-you."
Minako-sama said this and then happily returned inside the clubroom. Mami-san smiled as she followed her onee-sama's movements with her eyes.
"A while ago Rosa Chinensis and Rosa Foetida were here, having a chat with my onee-sama. This made her extremely happy."
"Hold up. I had nothing to do with that."
That was Sachiko-sama and Rei-sama's good deed. There was no need to go as far as thanking their petit soeur.
"I guess so. But my onee-sama seems to think that it's all thanks to you, Yumi-san, so I guess it's okay."
So it would seem. Still, something didn't quite make sense about it.
"More importantly, that means that my onee-sama was here, right?"
"Yeah. But she left together with Rosa Foetida. That was a fair while ago."
"Do you know where she was going afterwards?"
"Sorry, I didn't ask."
"I guess not."
Well, at least Yumi knew that Sachiko-sama wasn't still in the newspaper club's clubroom.
"Yumi-san, are you looking for Rosa Chinensis."
"Yeah, pretty much."
Yumi said as she pushed on the door that was slightly ajar.
Well then, where should she look next?
 Part 6.
Yumi felt like she was chasing the footsteps of her onee-sama.
Once Sachiko-sama had been seen in a certain place she didn't go back, no matter how much time had passed. Like a criminal avoiding the scene of the crime.
But when Yumi went to Milk Hall it was already shut and there was no-one inside.
Well, that happens too. Yumi cleared her head, pulled herself together and thought about where to go next.
No-one had said anything about Sachiko-sama going there, but since Yumi had come this far she decided to stray from the path and walk over to the old greenhouse.
Yumi noticed that the air temperature was slightly warmer than outside as soon as she stepped inside. Because the weather had been nice today, the sun's rays had probably warmed the interior of the greenhouse. It felt like it was May inside.
Yumi didn't know who it was, but somebody took good care of the plants, which gave the space a relaxing atmosphere. There was no sign of anybody in there. The 'pixie' that looked after this place had probably gone home by now too.
Yumi walked slowly, then stopped when she reached her destination – the place where the 'Rosa Chinensis' shrub was planted.
During her first year of high school, on the day before the school festival, Yumi had followed after Sachiko-sama as she ran away in tears and eventually caught up to her here. That was the first time Yumi had been inside.
Thinking back, Yumi smiled fondly. It must have been a terrible experience for the ginkgo prince, Kashiwagi-san, first being slapped and then being pushed over onto the ginkgo nuts. And that terrible experience had been caused by Sachiko-sama and Yumi. But after so much time it was just a funny story. It felt like they had come a long way since that day.
Back then, Sachiko-sama had been sitting on one of the ledges inside the greenhouse. Yumi had shifted a potted plant from beside her, and sat herself down.
(Right about here.)
Turning around, the ledge from that day was still there. Sachiko-sama wasn't there, but there was still a space for two people to sit beside each other.
Feeling nostalgic, Yumi moved closer to the ledge. That day, as they sat next to each other, was the first time she felt as though their souls had connected.
Looking closer, Yumi saw traces of something that looked like a circular stain on top of the ledge. There was a section about 15cm in diameter that looked darker than its surroundings, as though it had been wet. It was right in the center of where they had sat on that day.
The mark seemed familiar. Yumi saw a similar stain when she lifted a potted plant on the next ledge over, although the size was different. Which meant that a flower pot had been placed there recently. And not just an empty flower pot, one that had soil and a plant growing in it since it had been watered thoroughly, so that the water reached the roots.
Yumi cried out instinctively when a pill-bug suddenly appeared and crawled up the side of the flower pot. It was probably equally surprising to the pill-bug. 'I'm sorry,' Yumi mumbled as she put the pot back in its original position.
(At any rate.)
Yumi looked around restlessly. Where was the flower pot that had been there earlier?
She quickly found what she was looking for. The flower pot that had previously been on the ledge was on the floor about 50cm away from her feet. The base of the pot matched the size of the stain on the ledge.
The plant contained in the pot had leaves that looked like those of a pine tree. It didn't seem to be a bonsai, since it was in a standard ceramic pot and there didn't seem to be much done by way of pruning. Instead the plant had been allowed to grow freely to a height of about 30cm. Stuck in the soil was a plastic tag that read 'Japanese white pine,' so it looked like it was a relative of the pine tree.
It was a bit heavy and Yumi strained to lift the plant and place it on top of the mark. Taking a step back and looking at it, both the visual impression and the impression on the ledge were a perfect match.
Yumi was convinced that the plant had been on that ledge until about an hour ago. No, it probably would have dried in under thirty minutes.
Who had moved this plant, and for what reason?
Yumi looked at the potted plant. This wasn't the Rosa Chinensis shrub, but it was definitely whispering to her:
Sachiko-sama was here, Sachiko-sama was here.
"Thank-you. And sorry for moving you so many times."
Having returned the plant to its original position, Yumi left the greenhouse.
 Part 7.
Sachiko-sama and Rei-sama had split up after leaving the clubhouse.
They may have started heading back towards the classroom together but at some point Sachiko-sama had said something like, 'I have things to take care of,' and made her way to the old greenhouse alone.
How long Sachiko-sama had stayed in the greenhouse was unknown but it seemed as though she had borrowed the Japanese white pine's seat and daydreamed. Perhaps, like Yumi, she had been thinking back to that day.
It didn't seem as though Sachiko-sama had any particular tasks she wanted to do in the old greenhouse. If forced to give it a name, just 'coming to the greenhouse' itself was probably it.
Yumi made a guess. Sachiko-sama was probably following the path of her memories.
A year ago, Sei-sama had said her goodbyes to her classroom.
And Youko-sama had tried to experience everything she possibly could.
And Eriko-sama had blasted Yoshino-san with every little thing she wanted to tell her, and the classmates were having their party in the classroom, and the seniors in the photography club had a commemorative graduation photograph taken – everyone had their own ceremony that needed to take place for them to be comfortable with graduating.
In that case, where would she be going next?
Yumi started walking. Without a plan. Letting her feet take her wherever her feelings did. It was probably the same method her onee-sama was using. Although she wondered if that was okay.
What would she do if she met her onee-sama?
After all, she probably wanted to be alone. To have Yumi walking with her would probably be a bother.
Yumi had the ribbon. So she felt like she was being called to. That was why she started looking for Sachiko-sama, and she couldn't let her resolve be broken.
Yumi walked along, looking at the school buildings to the right and the library to the left. Walking along the path that continued to the sports grounds.
But rather than continuing to the sports grounds Yumi took a turn to her right.
The gymnasium seemed kind of lively because the teachers were still there getting things ready for the graduation ceremony. The chairs had been arranged yesterday by the first year students but there were still plenty of things to do. The red and white curtains, the program of events, the national flag and the school flag all had to be put up, as well as numerous other minor tasks.
"A bit to the left, and a bit lower."
"Oh, isn't that upside-down?"
"Here's the documents from last year."
A small window had been flung open near the stage and Yumi listened to the conversation that came flowing out. It seemed as though there were a number of students mixed in with the teachers. Probably people that had agreed to help in return for meal tickets from the noodle shop.
In direct contrast to the hustle and bustle inside, the back of the gymnasium still had the same serene atmosphere as always.
"I guess she's not here."
Since they hadn't arranged to meet behind the gymnasium today, Yumi wasn't really expecting Sachiko-sama to be waiting there. Still, Yumi looked down and smiled. In the small gap between the gymnasium and the store-room, there was a section of ground with a thin layer of dust on it. And there was another set of tracks beside Yumi's brand new ones. Yumi went over to have a look, and placed her foot down next to one of the existing tracks – the shape was almost identical.
Not only that, but when comparing the size of the tracks to her own shoe size, Yumi saw they were exactly the same.
"The culprit's shoe size is 23cm."
It was a fairly ordinary shoe size for girls, but amongst the Rose families there was only one person other than Yumi that had such a shoe size – who else but Ogasawara Sachiko-sama.
Having seized on the culprit's shoe size was proof enough for Yumi. As she was walking back to the front of the gymnasium, Katori-sensei emerged from inside.
"Oh, there's Rosa Chinensis en bouton too."
Katori-sensei said upon seeing Yumi. That was a different greeting to the 'Fukuzawa-san' she usually used. And what was with that 'too' at the end? It was said with quite some emphasis. Yumi had all kinds of questions remaining, but the first thing to do was to acknowledge the greeting.
"Thanks for all your hard work."
"Not at all. I'm beat. If you'd like, why don't you help out. There's cake and soft drinks."
That's not meal tickets from the noodle shop.
"I'm on my way to buy it right now."
Katori-sensei held up the black purse she had in her hand.
"But it's only going to be from the convenience store. And because there's so many people, I'll probably have to go to a number of stores."
She seemed enthusiastic about walking out the main gates to the convenience store that was opposite the wall and buying out their entire selection of cakes.
"It's because we have a sponsor."
"Atsumi-sensei strained her back, so she wasn't able to be of much use. If she tried to do too much, she wouldn't be well enough to come to the graduation ceremony tomorrow. So she gave me her purse and said to make use of it. Ahh, but this is a secret. Don't tell anyone else."
Well, it probably wouldn't be good for a teacher's reputation if everyone knew that they bought their way out of problems. Still, it was unfortunate for Atsumi-sensei who was suffering from lower back pain, so Yumi thought she could keep this under wraps.
"So, what are you going to do?"
She was probably asking whether or not Yumi would assist them in their work.
"I would just get in the way."
Yumi politely refused.
"You soeurs are so cold. That's exactly how Rosa Chinensis refused."
Yumi finally understood why she had been addressed as 'Rosa Chinensis en bouton,' and why the 'too' had been there in their initial exchange.
"But, sensei. Ignoring me for the moment, my onee-sama has a leading role in tomorrow's ceremony. Why would you be scouting her to help with the – "
"Ahh, that's right."
Katori-sensei clapped her hands together, as though she had just remembered something. Atsumi-sensei's purse got in the way, but she still produced a decent sound.
"I still feel like it wasn't all that long ago that Ogasawara-san entered into high school."
In other words, what Katori-sensei was saying was that as you get older, the years seem to go by even quicker. Since that was how Yumi was feeling now, it made her dizzy to think what it would be like when she reached Katori-sensei's age.
"It's a lonely thought, isn't it."
Although Yumi agreed, she didn't feel as though she was completely alone.
 Part 8.
Yumi split from Katori-sensei in front of the entrance.
Unexpectedly, the Fukuzawa Yumi character didn't make her way back to the school buildings, instead taking a large detour towards the path lined with ginkgo trees. Just before the path forks there's a small courtyard that contains the statue of Maria-sama. That must have been what she was aiming for.
If she was retracing her memories, there was no way this place would be left out.
This was the place where Sachiko-sama first called out to Yumi.
The place where, on the night of the school festival, Sachiko-sama placed her rosary around Yumi's neck.
The place where, under Sachiko-sama's supervision, Yumi and Touko had become soeurs.
The Fukuzawa Yumi character stopped abruptly. She was still a fair distance from her goal, but what she saw ahead of her made her give up on the idea.
There were already visitors in front of the statue of Maria-sama.
The figures of two people.
At first Yumi thought they were students on their way home who had stopped to pray at the statue. In that case, it would have been okay to wait a little while until they were finished – but she soon saw that wasn't quite the case.
The two of them weren't standing next to each other praying towards the statue of Maria-sama, instead they were facing each other. And one of them had their hand in their pocket and was slowly drawing something out –
Yumi was too far away to see what exactly was being brought forth from the girl's pocket, but it was clear what was going to happen next.
Right now, a rosary was about to be transferred and a new pair of soeurs would be born.
Knowing that, it would be vulgar of her to wait until they were finished. In her mind Yumi whispered, 'Please, take your time,' and turned around and left.
Good luck, new soeurs.
All kinds of things will happen from now on, but don't give up.
There will be times when you cry, times when you'll be angry and times when you won't hear what the other's saying, but if you don't let go of each other's hands eventually you'll understand each other.
If someone asks you 'Do you like your onee-sama?' or 'Do you like your petit soeur?' and you can unhesitatingly answer yes then you'll be fine, and your partner will feel the same.
Such were the thoughts of the Fukuzawa character, who had a fair bit of experience as a soeur.
 Part 9.
After cleaning the dirt from her indoor shoes, Yumi entered the school building.
Thinking that her onee-sama may have returned, Yumi was making her way towards the third year pine group classroom when she saw Yoshino-san in front of the office.
To be precise, Yoshino-san was standing in front of the yellow-green public phone that was out front of the office, with her back towards Yumi. – In short, it looked like she was making a phone call.
As Yumi was thinking she should probably just pass by without waiting for her, Yoshino-san put the receiver back on the hook.
Yoshino-san let out a sigh as she turned around, and then when she saw Yumi:
Yoshino-san cried out in shock.
Which caused Yumi to cry out in shock too, although her reaction wasn't quite as large.
"… What was that? You surprised me."
"That's supposed to be my line."
Yoshino-san was wearing her coat and holding her bag, so she was probably on her way home. But it had been quite a while since Yumi had left the Rose Mansion. What had Yoshino-san been up to during that time? Had she been sipping tea and chatting with everyone in the room on the second floor?
"How's Sachiko-sama? Did you see her?"
"Nope... Wait, how did you know?"
She was the second person today, after Katsura-san, to claim she had psychic powers.
"Or, more likely, it was written all over my face, right?"
Yumi wasn't going to be tricked. They had obviously sent her out telling her everything was okay because her feelings were showing clearly.
For a long time now, Yumi's feelings would always show on her face. She had entered into an apprenticeship to try and control them, but it wasn't easy.
"Nope. Well, we could see that you had some urgent business you wanted to attend to."
Yoshino-san laughed, then added, 'Like I said ESP."
Touko has ESP? What's that all about?
"Yep. Touko-chan said that your business probably related to Sachiko-sama. And it looks like she was right."
Touko had known. Yumi wasn't surprised. Hmmm. She had an excellent handle on things.
"But I don't really think it was ESP, just a normal petit soeur."
Even so, what Yoshino-san had said was something wonderful.
"So has Touko gone home?"
"Probably. But, sorry. I left before her, so I can't say for certain."
"It's okay, I was just asking."
As Yumi shook her head, she was wondering, 'In that case, what has Yoshino-san been doing?' She had no idea whatsoever.
"I'm about to head over to the middle school."
"Huh, oh, is that so?"
It would be inelegant to ask her what she was going to do. Yoshino-san was going to see Arima Nana-chan. You could tell that without having to be a psychic.
Yoshino-san looked as though she was about to step onto a battlefield so Yumi didn't pry and bid her farewell. At that time, Yumi felt as though her feelings mirrored those of her good friends when they had sent her out from the Rose Mansion.
 Part 10.
When she arrived at the third year pine group classroom, Yumi started to panic.
The lights inside the classroom were turned off.
She could tell that from where she stood in the hallway.
It was after 3:30pm and the sun was starting to sink rapidly. The lights from the neighboring classroom were dazzling.
Yumi had a bad premonition that the party had already finished. Even so, she couldn't just stand there at the boundary. She balled her hand into a fist ready to knock on the door and proceeded towards it.
That was when a voice called out to her, asking, 'What's your business here?' When Yumi turned around, there was a third year standing there – probably from this class.
"Oh, Fukuzawa Yumi-chan."
She gave the impression that Yumi should wait a bit, then went into the classroom. There was no sign of the people who had been having a party in there.
"It looks like Sachiko-san has been back here. Her bag's gone."
The girl reported after quickly returning. It seems she had been over to check Sachiko-sama's desk.
Her bad premonition had been spot on.
Peeking inside the classroom from the doorway, there was no-one in there except the girl who had just entered. The tables that had formed the one big table were all neatly lined up in their original positions, as though nothing had happened. She had a look at the blackboard, to see if a message had been left there, but there was nothing whatsoever written on it.
"As you can see, I just got back here myself, so I don't know when Sachiko-san was last here."
The girl apologetically reported to Yumi, who remained standing there, letting her gaze drift around inside the classroom.
"That's okay. Thank-you all the same."
After bowing, Yumi walked off down the hallway.
There was no reason to believe that the girls having their party would remain here until Sachiko-sama returned solely to deliver the message that Yumi wanted to meet her. First of all, it was such an imposition that Yumi had never even considered asking it of them.
So there was no doubting that conclusion.
If there was a reason Yumi had been beaten, it was because of an error in her judgment.
Instead of listening to their advice, Yumi had gone looking for Sachiko-sama outside. After failing to find Sachiko-sama in the clubhouse and at Milk Hall she should have returned here. Instead, she kept on going – to the old greenhouse, then the gymnasium and even to the statue of Maria-sama.
There was no reason to believe the party would continue forever.
If only she had realized that.
(Let's go home.)
But first, she'd have to go to the Rose Mansion and get her belongings. Then she could go home.
If she hurried, there was a chance Yumi might still be able to meet Sachiko-sama at the bus stop.
Holding on to that slim hope, Yumi broke into a jog. She could rest when she got there.
When she left the Rose Mansion, Yumi had no idea she would be returning under such circumstances. Although she didn't have any basis for it, she had believed that she would be able to meet Sachiko-sama.
Human intuition isn't so great a thing.
As she opened the front door to the Rose Mansion, Yumi gave a thin smile.
Yumi looked back over her shoulder, reminiscing. Speaking of places from her memories, this place was definitely one of those.
In the autumn of her first year, at Tsutako-san's instigation, she had come here to meet Sachiko-sama. As she stood outside, working up the courage to enter, her classmate Shimako-san had called out to her and invited her in.
The squeaking sounds of the wooden staircase, the glowing stained glass window – everything had seemed new and unusual to Yumi's eyes.
After climbing the staircase and turning to the right, at the start of the hallway was the biscuit-like door. When she had followed Shimako-san to this doorway, the sound of someone shouting could be heard from inside.
(This is tyranny! The onee-sama are being mean!)
Yumi was thoroughly surprised when she learned that it was Sachiko-sama's voice. What was even more surprising was –
Yumi placed her hand on the doorknob and gently turned, before pulling the door towards her.
At the same time as the shout, something came flying out of the room with considerable force.
Later, when she had calmed down and thought about it, Yumi realized there had been many hints – before she opened the door there had been noises coming from the other side, when she turned the doorknob it turned a bit easier than normal and the moment the door opened there was light coming from the other side. But it all happened in an instant, so at the time she wasn't able to put all this information together.
Yumi realized the 'something' that came flying out was a person when she felt the impact across her whole body. Then her field of vision tilted, the ceiling spun around and soon afterwards she felt the pain coming from her buttocks.
If she was just replaying her memory, would there be pain?
Suffering exactly the same misfortune as on that day, Yumi's power of reasoning had once again taken flight.
The soft, gentle pressure that ran from her chest to her abdomen, the long hair that belonged to someone else covering her face – in every detail it was an exact replica of what had happened before.
It was like a scene from a movie, where the main character had slipped backwards in time. And because of that they were able to meet the person they wanted to see, to fix some incident they regretted or to deliver some message, or, occasionally, to accomplish some great task to change the course of history.
So if she were to get up now, would she be in the world of a year and a half ago?
(Are you alright?)
Shimako-san and Tsutako-san would be beside her, watching on with concern. Having noticed the commotion, the Roses would come filing out from inside the room.
(Aww. That was a flashy fall.)
(Eh, she got crushed by Sachiko's 50kg? How miserable-!)
(Heeey. Victim, are you alive?)
Rei-sama would be there, as would Yoshino-san, hidden behind her.
Such a nostalgic scene. Nostalgic –
"Yumi, are you alright!?"
Being gently shaken awake, Yumi opened her eyes and there, as expected, was Sachiko-sama.
"Ahh, stop. If you hit your head, you shouldn't move. That's what Rei said."
"Ahh, it's alright. I only fell on my butt."
When she hastily stood up and looked around, Yumi couldn't see Rei-sama standing there, nor anyone else.
"Are you sure you're alright?"
When Yumi nodded, Sachiko-sama's anxious face loosened and she returned to her usual calm demeanor.
"I'm so glad."
Once Sachiko-sama realized Yumi wasn't hurt, she quickly went back into the room. Yumi smiled wryly as she followed her onee-sama.
It looked like she hadn't slipped back in time, after all.
"Onee-sama, what are you doing here?"
On top of the table was a cup that was about half filled with tea, and a paperback novel with a bookmark in it. They were located in front of the only seat that was flung back, disrupting the orderly arrangement of all the other chairs.
"Isn't this where I usually come to meet you?"
"Am I mistaken? My classmates told me that you had come to the classroom asking about me."
Sachiko-sama placed her hands on the back of the chair, and returned it to its position at the table.
"...You're not mistaken."
So that meant that Sachiko-sama had returned to her classroom before the party had finished, and heard Yumi's message. Then she had come to the Rose Mansion, seen Yumi's bag was there, poured herself a cup of tea and read her book while she waited.
"Just what have you been doing until this hour?"
Her tone of voice also indicated that she was saying, 'You've kept your onee-sama waiting,' so there was no way Yumi could say, 'I've been looking for you.'
"Taking a stroll, I guess."
Yumi answered, in desperation. Of course, as part of her search for her onee-sama she had walked to all kinds of places so it wasn't a total lie.
All Sachiko-sama did was curtly mutter, 'Is that so.' She didn't interrogate Yumi as to where she had walked to.
"That's right. Here."
Yumi remembered what she had been doing, and took the black ribbon from her pocket.
"Ahh. I see you did a thorough job on the search."
Sachiko-sama laughed as she said this, so it looked as though she had intentionally hidden it, after all.
"I thought you didn't want it, and were returning it to me, onee-sama."
"My, what harsh words you sting me with. If you truly believed that, you wouldn't have brought it to me, right?"
And with that, Sachiko-sama plucked the black ribbon from Yumi's hand as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
"Now even this becomes something that we've done twice, not just once."
Sachiko-sama turned to look at the biscuit door as she spoke. It seemed she too had remembered perfectly the similar accident that happened a year and a half ago. However.
"But, really, I'd grown tired of waiting for you to come back, so when I finally heard someone climbing up the stairs I went over to the door to have a look and see who it was. But when I put my hand on the doorknob to open it, someone flung it open from the other side."
Sachiko-sama made it sound as though she was the victim in all this trouble.
Hating to lose, the queen bee, hysterical, self-centered, willful, charming, gentle, emotionally profound, beautiful – Yumi could keep listing these traits endlessly, but she loved these things about her onee-sama.
"Really, you're like a child, never calm – "
After saying this, Sachiko-sama broke into a wry smile and shook her head, as though just realizing something.
"No. This time I'm the one that can't calm down."
Yumi started to say, 'Exactly so,' but she couldn't. It seemed as though she would burst into tears if she were to say such an impudent thing.
"Even though we're in the same place as back then."
Really, the two of them had come a long way.
See, told you so. The dam holding back Yumi's tears had burst. But she didn't understand why the tears flowed.
Sachiko-sama said as she stroked Yumi's cheeks.
"Do you want to return to that time, Yumi?"
At first Yumi didn't understand what she was asking. Do you want to return to that time? But there's no way to return.
"As for me."
After briefly looking up at the ceiling, Sachiko-sama continued.
"I hold it dear, but I don't want to return to it. The year and a half that has passed since then has been just fine. All kinds of things happened, but because of those days and months I can hold hands with you as you are now, Yumi. If God granted me a year and a half to use as I liked, then I wouldn't hesitate to use it for the future, don't you agree?"
Yumi was thinking, 'Ahh, right. You're exactly correct.'
"I think you're great as you are now too, onee-sama."
If they were to return to that time, all the days that had piled up since then would seem like a dream. Yumi didn't want that. She didn't want to lose the onee-sama that was before her eyes, now, in this place.
Then Sachiko-sama looked breathtakingly beautiful as she smiled and said:
"I have a confession to make."
"I'm sure you've already figured this out, but I hid the ribbon because I wanted to see you again, just the two of us. I knew you'd agree if I came straight out and said it, but I couldn't find a pretext to use to summon you."
"I don't really know myself. Why did I want to see you? Because we're soeurs, if I wanted to see you all I would have to do is say so. Isn't it strange? Why did I feel like there was a reason for wanting to see you?"
Sachiko-sama's remarks hit home with Yumi.
That was because Yumi herself hadn't fully understood why, but when she saw the ribbon she thought that she absolutely had to meet with her onee-sama.
It wasn't just that they wanted to see each other. They both felt that when they met, there was something that they should do.
"I get it, now."
Sachiko-sama straightened the ribbon horizontally and held it up to her eye level.
"It's like when you have to censor photos of certain people."
Yumi laughed unthinkingly when the black line reached Sachiko-sama's eye level.
"It really is."
The corners of Sachiko-sama's lips raised.
"Enough joking around."
Yumi took Sachiko-sama's hands in her own and lowered the ribbon. At the same time that Sachiko-sama's eyes reappeared, large teardrops started to spill from them.
Flustered by such an unexpected occurrence, Yumi let her palms slip from the back of Sachiko-sama's hands. Yumi didn't quite know what happened, but her right hand got tangled up in the ribbon and it ended up looking as though her right hand and her onee-sama's left hand were bound together in handcuffs.
"I wanted to see you, Yumi. And I know that you came because you wanted to see me too."
Despite Sachiko-sama's right hand not being bound in the ribbon, she didn't use it to wipe away her own tears.
"I'm not going to cry at tomorrow's graduation ceremony."
Onee-sama cried as she said this.
Yumi agreed. Her own left hand was free, but she didn't even think about bringing it up to her own cheek either.
That left hand wasn't there so that she could wipe away her own tears.
It existed so that she could tightly embrace someone precious to her.
"So all the tears that I would have shed tomorrow, I want to cry today, in front of you, Yumi."
With their free hands, they pulled each other closer together.
The black ribbon remained tied around their wrists.
Where they touched, Yumi could feel her onee-sama's warmth.
Yumi too, understood now.
Embracing each other and crying like this was the ceremony that they both needed.
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