Maria-sama ga Miteru:Volume5 Chapter5
 St. Valentine's prank
 Part 1.
The reason her eyes were red wasn't because she'd cried the day before.
After all, that would mean a third of her class had been crying for some reason.
Obviously the probability that a chunk of her class had run into a disaster wasn't zero.
But this time it was almost certainly another cause.
Everyone had picked this day to become a rabbit. The cause of red eyes? Lack of sleep.
Think about it, you can't just make it and leave it for a couple days. So the first-year peach-class girls had challenged themselves to work late into the night – something they wouldn't do even for exam studies – and cook up marvelous chocolate pastries.
When she stepped into the room, Yumi was struck speechless by the amount of energy bubbling around. It was almost like how everyone was during the school festival.
"The recipe, you know, it said to let it sit for three days, so I made a batch three days ago and brought the best one. I guess you'd call it beginner's luck? The first one I made turned out the best. But I have to tell onee-sama, 'Please eat today.'"
"I'd promised to hand it to her during lunch, but now I'm worried about the chocolate melting because of the classroom temperature. It might be cooler in the locker."
"Oh no, the box got crushed a bit. But it's too late to make sure everything's alright inside…"
"I was worried about the cookie becoming moistened, so I included a drying agent from a nori can."
Talk talk, clatter clatter.
Yumi had come to school thirty minutes earlier than usual, but most of the class had arrived before her. Maybe they'd left home early to beat the rush. Or maybe so they could hand chocolate to their onee-sama first thing in the morning.
Along the way, she'd noticed there were already pairs of sisters performing a chocolate presentation ceremony in front of the Maria-sama statue. On top of working late into the night, they'd come to work early. It was like, thank you for your efforts.
The people that had decided to just use store-bought chocolate might have been able to rest easier, but then they might have had to struggle over hand-made cards, so they might have ended up being sleep deprived, too. And people who'd challenged things like last year's Rei-sama and her cake probably looked in even worse shape, sleep-wise. Some people that were intending to give a hand-knit sweater couldn't finish in time and ended up presenting vests, instead.
Katsura-san, one such bunny, bounced over to Yumi.
"Katsura-san, you already presented your chocolate, didn't you?"
"Bingo. How'd you know?"
"You look much more relaxed than everyone else."
Everyone who was still needing to present their chocolate had a mysterious quality to them, expressing their anxieties. What if onee-sama rejects it? What if the chocolate runs into an accident before I can present it? No one was letting their guard down, so they looked extremely tense.
"How about Yumi-san? Are you giving chocolate to Sachiko-sama? Aren't the boutons busy after school?"
Because we hadn't actually made any promises yet, Yumi laughed. Katsura-san, not knowing what was going on, simply pointed out that there didn't need to be any promises. They were sisters. But even Katsura-san had called her onee-sama to the tennis court first thing in the morning to present the chocolate.
"I'm going to step out for a bit."
Yumi left the school coat she'd just taken off and her handbag, then left the classroom. Then she headed straight for the corner leading to the second-year classes.
Inside her handbag rested two little boxes of chocolate truffles that she'd been working on yesterday… no, more like today, at two in the morning.
She'd hoped to make her own variation based on Rei-sama's original, but that was a mistake. She found out that a newbie should always work on the orthodox. While she was trying to find her own special taste, she'd created a number of astonishing things using weird spices and western liquor. So she actually ended up using three times the ingredients she'd intended to use, and even then she barely managed to make enough "proper" ones for Sachiko-sama.
But as she put them in a box, Rosa Gigantea drifted across her head, so as a bit of a prank, she put the others, hardly distinguishable from the right ones from looks, into another box. If she was acting proud after squeezing chocolate from Shizuka-sama, then Yumi would make Rosa Gigantea eat these.
So, there were two boxes in her bag. They were in different-colored boxes, so there was no way she would mix them up. The ivory box was for Sachiko-sama, the brown box was for Rosa Gigantea.
The second-year pine class wasn't as boisterous as Yumi's class, but there were still a fair number of students inside. In the case of second years, they were both on the side of presenting chocolate and on the side of receiving chocolate. In front of the pine class, as well as the next-door camellia class, first-years were waiting like fans looking for stars.
"Oh, Fukuzawa Yumi-san."
Right as she'd been hoping to catch someone's attention, a student came out of the classroom and recognized her face.
"Sachiko-san? Hold on."
And then she turned on her heels and walked right back into the classroom.
But it was too late to stop her. Of course, she was hoping to call Sachiko-sama anyways, so there was never any need to stop her.
Things were happening without her even saying anything. And it was deflating enough that she felt a big burden lifted from her shoulders and knees. Essentially, Yumi's face and name were already input into the brains of students as Ogasawara Sachiko's little sister.
She was nervous about approaching an upperclassman's classroom. She had to make sure she didn't mess anything up. She had to make sure she wouldn't embarrass her sister. But all of that worrying was moot.
So she sighed. One problem was solved, but the next waited for her. The reason she'd mustered the courage to come here was to see Sachiko-sama.
"I'm sorry. Sachiko-san did arrive, but she's not in the room. Have you gone to the Rose Mansion?"
"I have not."
It was the headquarters for today's treasure hunt, so she'd been avoiding it under the assumption that she shouldn't stop by. That's why she was hoping to catch Sachiko-sama before she went to the Rose Mansion.
"My guess is that she'd there. Why don't you take a look?"
Regardless of whether she would or not, she replied, "Thank you very much," and bowed her head.
"You're welcome. Oh, Yumi-san, you're participating today, aren't you? Good luck, we're all cheering for you."
It probably wasn't her intent, but Sachiko-sama's classmate ended up putting more pressure on Yumi.
She wondered if the second-years just didn't care as much about the treasure hunt as the first-years did. But of course, if you think about it, a half-day dating ticket with a friend who you might even sit next to in class probably isn't that exciting. Yumi herself would probably hand Shimako-san's ticket to someone more worthwhile if she were to happen upon it.
Back to the classroom, or to the Rose Mansion. –Yumi wandered around the hallways as she mulled over her options.
Wherever she went, she kept running into students exchanging chocolate. At the landing of stairs, in front of the faculty room. Some students even met in the courtyard despite how cold it was. "Warmth" and "Quiet place to be alone" had to be weighed carefully.
As she milled about the school grounds, she found the newspaper club distributing copies of "Lillian Kawaraban Petit – etc. –" by the entryway.
"This is finally the day. After school starting three forty-five, the newspaper club presents the 'Yamayurikai Rose bouton treasure hunt festival.' You can find out how to enter here. Please finish exchanging chocolate during lunch break so you can make it on time."
Minako-sama's sister was the one raising her voice. The fact that she was reading bits of the article really made her seem like a street kawaraban merchant, so Yumi felt a twinge of admiration for her.
When she'd picked up her copy, someone tapped her shoulder from behind. When she turned around, she saw Minako-sama.
"Thank goodness. I was worried you might miss school today after what happened yesterday."
Come to think of it, Minako-sama might have seen Yumi's ragged face yesterday. She was in such a panicked state she could only vaguely make out bits of her memory, though.
"I apologize for causing you concern."
"Indeed. If the sister doesn't participate, things become less exciting."
Minako-sama's worries began and ended at the hype level surrounding the event.
"How about Sachiko-sama? Have you seen her yet?"
"That's no good, come."
Minako-sama grabbed Yumi's hand and walked straight down the hallway.
"I don't know what's going on, but I'd prefer you two settle things down by after school. If the bouton and her sister were fighting, it'd make everything feel glum. But, Yumi-san, if things don't work out just yet, you'll still participate, won't you?"
"OK, gotcha, it's a promise!"
She didn't remember ever agreeing to it. But Minako-sama was just sliding things along to her own hopes. Anyways she was intending to participate to begin with, so she didn't bother correcting her.
She was brought to the Rose Mansion.
"Is an outsider allowed in?"
A piece of paper with "Treasure hunt headquarters" written across it was taped on the door.
"Of course. We're leaving the Rose Mansion open for the treasure hunt anyways, so there's event-related left inside. And the boutons are tight-lipped so I don't think they'll let anything slip."
"Do come in."
Minako-sama was acting completely like a regular inhabitant of the Mansion. By contrast, Yumi was acting the part of a customer, saying, "Excuse me," as she stepped in. The roles were completely reversed today.
"Well, wish you luck."
Yumi was expecting her to come in, too, but instead Minako-sama simply turned back around and left. She had a lot to do before the morning prayers, she said. If she was that busy, she shouldn't be poking her head into the affairs of other sisters like this…
She carried herself heavily toward the stairs when the first-floor door opened.
Both people on opposite sides of the door. Neither expected the other to be there, so they both put a hand to their heart and froze.
"… Oh it's just Yumi-san, you surprised me so much!"
"Wh… what is it?"
Shimako-san was acting extremely flustered. A very rare sight to behold. Like she'd been caught doing something bad.
"Is Sachiko-sama in?"
"What? Umm, yes, she's upstairs… I think."
She thanked Shimako-san and walked right up the stairs. She wasn't busy like Minako-sama, but if she didn't hurry, she wouldn't make it back to the morning prayers.
(Shimako-san was really sweating, though.)
Yumi stopped half-way up the stairs and looked at the door Shimako-san had appeared from. It was hard doing things you don't normally do. Yumi assumed Shimako-san was doing something treasure hunt-related, so she acted like she didn't see anything.
When she got to the door to the salon, also known as the meeting room, Yumi heard not just Sachiko-sama's voice, but many voices.
Yumi froze, her fist placed over her chest. It wasn't really like she found the room itself menacing, but there was definitely an emotional hurdle in the way. She remembered how disgraceful she was yesterday, and it made her want to just run away and go home, but it was an obstacle she would have to make it past if she wanted to stay Sachiko-sama's sister.
This time, when she opened the door, Sachiko-sama would be on the other side.
(First, I'll apologize for yesterday, and then-)
She mentally planned out what she would do, then knocked. There was no answer. Then she worried that if she were to wait until there was an answer, she'd lose her momentum, so she opened the door and went in.
"Cut it out, Yoshino."
The first thing that greeted her was Rei-sama's shout.
"You don't have to tell me, just listen to my predictions."
She was being yelled at, but Yoshino-san showed no signs of backing down. Forget backing down, it looked like she'd grabbed her prey by the throat and didn't want to let go. Yelp, yelp, like a noisy little puppy. There was no way they'd have heard Yumi's knock through this.
"You're probably hoping to check right or wrong based on my facial expression, but I won't fall for it. … Oh, Yumi-chan, good timing. Sorry, but can you take this loud bother elsewhere?"
"Eh… uhh, what?" As she stood there confused, Rei-sama grabbed both of Yoshino-san's hands, dragged her to Yumi, and held her out to Yumi, like she was giving something to her.
"You could at least give me a hint. Stingy sister!"
She scowled and stuck out her tongue. For whatever reason, that hateful face suited Yoshino-san well. It actually made her look cuter.
"I can't tell you, you know that. You've already got an advantage just by being my sister."
In short, Yoshino-san had been persistently dogging Rei-sama trying to find out where the treasure was. Of course Rei-sama would yell at her.
Yumi wasn't especially pleased at being told to handle something this dreadful. But Yoshino-san had calmed down, her last words having expressed everything, so it was at least somewhat more manageable.
"Fine. I won't rely on onee-sama. … Yumi-san, let's go."
At first she was supposed to be taking Yoshino-san away, but now it looked more like Yoshino-san was taking her away. All of her mental preparations had gone down the drain.
Sachiko-sama was sitting beyond Rei-sama. She was sitting in her favorite chair and calmly looking this way-
"W, wait a second, Yoshino-san."
Just as she'd been dragged to the other side of the door, Yumi planted her foot and shook herself free. It'll be just a moment, she said, and then she dashed back in the room.
Yumi had walked back in with such force that Sachiko-sama looked astonished.
"Umm, I apologize for how I acted yesterday. And, if you're willing, I'd like to request some of your time today."
Yumi said everything in one breath.
"Continuing from yesterday? … Okay."
After a moment of silence, Sachiko-sama clasped her hands, looked up, and suggested.
"How about in the evening. After the treasure hunt?"
"If possible, somewhere we can be alone… Like the old greenhouse."
"Greenhouse?" Sachiko-sama furrowed her brows.
"Yes. If that's an inconvenient place, I can try to think of another."
"It's not inconvenient, but… Well, no, the greenhouse it is."
Thank you very much, she said, and she turned away. Then Sachiko-sama stopped her with, "Yumi."
"Are you going to participate in the treasure hunt?"
Of course, she answered. After all she became an "outsider" to participate. And everything went downhill because of this. So if she decided not to participate now, of all times, then her priorities would definitely have been all over the place.
Curiously, Sachiko-sama looked conflicted.
 Part 2.
There were six class periods that day, but unfortunately for the teachers, most of the students' minds were way out of the classroom.
Part of it was because of lack of sleep, but part of it was also because of their excitement of the afterschool event.
The students understood this, though, so the classes were spent with the teachers talking about their own Valentines' experiences. They never opened their textbooks the whole day. Even the teachers who thought it was outrageous spent their whole classes scolding everyone about it, so either way, the lessons never actually got underway.
And finally, we'd come to that afterschool day we'd waited so eagerly for.
The students who were participating quickly finished their cleaning duty (while also making sure to check places they thought the cards might be hidden) and gathered in the courtyard in front of the Rose Mansion.
Yumi arrived slightly late and slid into the mob. She noticed Rosa Gigantea and Yoshino-san standing close by.
Facing the participants, the three boutons and the newspaper club were on standby, their backs to the Rose Mansion. Some teachers were also looking at the courtyard from the school buildings, but their expressions were more of curiosity and amusement. That was probably because Minako-sama had formally presented an event proposal. At least she always did what she needed to do, Yumi thought.
"Shall we begin then?"
Minako-sama glanced at her wristwatch, confirmed it was three forty, and raised her voice.
"As of now, we're closing registration for the event participation."
On cue, the newspaper club students began passing out A4-size papers to participants. That included, of course, Yumi.
She looked at it with excitement, and noticed there was a dotted line running across halfway down, and there was the symbol of scissors next to it. In other words, you were supposed to cut along the line. This paper was destined to be cut in half.
"As you can see, the left side has rule explanations for this game. And on the back it has a map of the school, please be sure to look through these."
When she flipped the sheet over, she saw the map, clearly explaining which places were potential hiding spots. That left the right side of the sheet unexplained.
"After cutting the sheet, the participants will bring this side with them."
Mmhmm. As with everyone else, Yumi folded the paper in half and creased it with her fingernails. There'd been no instructions about it yet, but everyone was preparing the sheet for cutting. Human behavior is pretty funny.
"We have some scissors and pens available over here, so people who are in need of them should come and use them after we start."
The courtyard began bubbling with excitement, but Minako-sama fought hard to keep her voice heard. At the same time, the three boutons, Sachiko-sama, Rei-sama, and Shimako-san, raised the scissors and pens in their hands to indicate where they were. It looked like those TV assistants on the sales shows.
That caused the participants to look straight at the boutons. They were just showing where the stationary was, but the participants swelled with excitement again, and when Rei-sama put a finger to her lips, everyone went silent.
(… W, wow.)
She knew the boutons were popular, but she didn't realize how charismatic they were. Yumi realized once again that she was surrounded by amazing people. After all, the courtyard was filled with students. Just with a brief glance you could guess there were at least 200. Some of them were here just for the fun of it, of course, but most of them were here because they were attracted to the boutons. Otherwise you wouldn't waste this special day just to hunt for cards. The prize was a date with the boutons, after all.
"-So please write your class and full name in this space."
While she was admiring the boutons' popularity, Minako-sama's explanation had proceeded quite a bit.
(Filling what out?)
When she looked to her side, she noticed a first-year from a different class pull out her student notebook, use it as a mat, and begin writing something on her sheet. That something was her name.
Speaking of which, Minako-sama did mention scissors and pen. Yumi skimmed the right side of the sheet, and realized it was a vow. (A vow…?)
When she looked closer, she noticed it was titled "Additional Registration Record." It was basically a direct copy of the important points page on the left, but at the end there was, "I vow to participate in the games with the above rules firmly in mind," and under that was the space for your class and name.
Smart move, Minako-sama. By forcing everyone to sign a vow, she was protecting herself from any reckless actions.
You couldn't register without signing the vow, so everyone had to sign it. And because they signed it with their own handwriting, the "I didn't read it" excuse wouldn't work. If something were to occur during the game, and it was caused by the student not following the rules, it would just be their own fault. At the very least it'd make sure the students restrained themselves to a fair degree.
"The boutons' handwritten cards look like this."
Minako-sama raised a blue sheet of paper. So the people in the back could see, the other newspaper club members also raised the same sort of sheet around the crowd. It was around the size of a paperback book, but because it was folded in half, the actual sheet was probably twice that size.
"Because this is an example, it's blue, but the rest are colored in respect to each rose."
Sachiko-sama was crimson, Rei-sama was yellow, and Shimako-san was white.
"The crimson, yellow, and white cards are hidden somewhere in the school. If you find one, please bring it directly to the Rose Mansion headquarter. We'll confirm the student notebook and the registration card, and if there're no problems, we'll confirm there's a winner. Along with the card, we'll present you with the bouton dating ticket on the spot."
A sound erupted from the crowd, one that couldn't be described as "Wah" or "Kya" or "Wooh." And because the courtyard was surrounded by buildings, it bounced back and forth for a long time.
"If something comes up during the game, please talk to a newspaper club member. We'll be posted at the Rose Mansion and at spots around the school. You can find the locations on your map. … Does anyone have any questions?"
Having finished her explanation, Minako-sama swung things to the crowd.
Several students raised their hand, so Minako-sama began with the person closest to her.
"If more than one student finds the card at the same time, what happens?"
Oh, that's a good point, Yumi thought. With this many people, it would be possible more than one person decides to search the same place at once. People will just look "in the area," after all.
"Hmm. The only way we can decide things is 'whoever touched it first.' If the situation were to arise that both people really get their hands on it at the same time, and they can't let go, they should come to the Rose Mansion, and we'll do rock-scissors-paper in front of the boutons. Sound good? … Next question."
"Are we allowed to donate the cards?"
If a Sachiko-sama fan were to find Rei-sama's card, for instance, would that student being able to give the card to her friend.
"Well fundamentally we'd rather that not happen, but there's no way we can tell if that were to happen. Again, as long as the student notebook and the contract line up, we'll confirm the winner. All that said, because of the time limit, I think giving the card to a specific person might be difficult. Also, the dating ticket can't be used by anyone other than the winner."
Minako-sama's answer was complicated, but basically, if Yumi were to find Rei-sama's card, it might be difficult to find Yoshino-san and give Her the card.
If she could track down Yoshino-san and give the card to her without anyone seeing, and Yoshino-san were to report that she found it, then they'd have no choice but to accept it. But it would be a difficult task to find Yoshino-san within the time limit. And people not looking for Rei-sama's card might find Sachiko-sama or Shimako-san's card in the meantime. Whatever the case, you'd still need to be the first person to find the card.
"Any other questions?"
Minako-san glanced around the crowd and made sure there were no other hands.
"If you don't find the card before four forty, the card will become void. … Well, I guess we shall start now, but if the boutons' sœur are here, please step forward."
Boutons' sœur included, of course, Yumi.
As she tilted her head to the side, Yoshino-san and others went to Minako-sama.
"Here, Yumi-san, you too."
Pushed forward by her classmates, Yumi joined them. Rosa Gigantea, Yoshino-san, and surprisingly, Rosa Foetida.
"Did you finish your exams?"
She whispered, and Rosa Foetida responded, "Not yet." Well, it was Rosa Foetida, after all, it wasn't surprising she'd decide not to miss out on an event like this.
"I apologize to the boutons' sœurs, but we'll have them start five minutes later, for fairness' sake." "Eh-!?" The boutons' sœurs all booed. But as Minako-sama hoped, the other participants rejoiced.
And because they'd been told right before the start, Yoshino-san couldn't rampage in protest. She was complaining, but the crowd drowned her out.
"Well, hand in your forms and let's start."
Minako-sama blew into a whistle you'd expect to see at an athletics event.
And the participants began moving.
 Part 3.
A step back allowed Yumi to observe the students' movements clearly.
First, as soon as the start sign was given, the students who'd finished signing their sheets and cutting it in half as Minako-sama explained things immediately dashed to the newspaper club members whom were holding cardboard boxes titled "Written Vows," tossed the sheets in, and scattered toward the school facilities. They were quick. –They probably had ideas of where to check.
Next, the methodical and somewhat nervous types. They acted as though they weren't willing to write without something solid underneath the sheet, and the idea of cutting the sheets without a scissors was impermissible. Not minding the fact that time was ticking, they lined up to use the desks that'd been set up for writing. At this rate, some of them would actually start even later than the boutons' sisters.
But the most common type of participant was the one in between. They were the ones who glanced around in confusion when the start signal was given, or the ones that finished signing their vows with their friends and left the courtyard chattering excitedly amongst themselves. Yumi thought it'd be better if they acted individually in the event they were to find a treasure…
As an extra, there were some students that seemed to have given up finding the treasures to begin with, having come along simply to be near the boutons as long as possible. They were the ones that had turned in their contracts and then stood close by, gazing at the boutons.
As for Yumi, she held the sheet against the Rose Mansion door and wrote her name. Yoshino-san was more the first type, so she'd been completely prepared, and occupied her time kicking at the grass in irritation. They wouldn't accept her contract yet, so she couldn't even just give and run.
Dirt was finally getting on the toes of her shoes. If she were to walk into the buildings like that, there would be dirt all over the place.
"It's been five minutes. The boutons' sœurs, you may begin."
At the sound of Minako-sama's voice, Rosa Gigantea, Rosa Foetida, Yoshino-san, and Yumi all rushed to the cardboard box.
Rosa Foetida grabbed Yoshino-san's arm before she could run off.
"Your indoor shoes have dirt on them. Wipe them with a rag."
"No 'ehhh.' It's my job to caution you in the stead of busy Rei, isn't it?"
She was full of complaints, but she couldn't argue against her onee-sama's onee-sama.
"But, Rosa Foetida. I can't get a rag like this, can I?"
A small counter-attack. But grandmother Rosa Foetida wasn't about to lose to her grandchild.
"I'll go grab one from the Rose Mansion, so you wait here."
"Um, then I'll go."
She couldn't let a third-year do odd jobs like that. Yumi received permission from Minako-sama and entered the Rose Mansion. Of course, it was already acceptable grounds for the treasure hunt, so she was told she didn't need permission to begin with.
Rosa Gigantea gleefully followed Yumi, not having seen what had transpired.
It felt like too much of a bother to explain, so she just trounced up the stairs and opened the wooden locker in front of the room. The cleaning utilities were stored there, so she grabbed a rag hanging over a bucket, rinsed it in the room, then jumped back down the stairs. Rosa Gigantea was following her up and down, but Yumi apologetically ignored her completely.
"I'm sorry for the bother, Yumi-chan."
Rei-sama apologized to Yumi at the foyer. She'd been watching Yoshino-san from a distance.
"Yumi. When you're finished, just spread the rag out and leave it here." Sachiko-sama, who'd interjected, continued.
"In case the students coming in feel guilty, so they can clean their shoes."
She was ecstatic Sachiko-sama had spoken to her. She was so happy that she forgot all about Yoshino-san and just watched Sachiko-sama disappear into the Rose Mansion. It wasn't even like Sachiko-sama had smiled for her.
The boutons were going to stay on the second floor of the Rose Mansion and wait for students to find their treasure. They climbed the stairs holding the cardboard boxes with the vows in the stead of the newspaper club members, who'd dispersed to selected locations around the school grounds.
Who would be the lucky one to report finding Sachiko-sama's card? Yumi so dearly wished it would be her.
When she looked at the clock, it was already five past four.
There was only thirty-five minutes left.
 Part 4.
"Hmm, I get it."
When Yumi laid out the rag by the entrance after Yoshino-san had wiped her shoes, as Sachiko-sama had instructed, and wearily stood, she found Rosa Gigantea standing right next to her.
"What do you get?"
"I finally figured out why Yumi was running around."
Had she been watching this whole time? She was standing around just inside the foyer, where there was a level difference. Yoshino-san had dashed away immediately, but Rosa Gigantea…
"Thank you for your time, shall I say? Well I guess I'll start calling people."
But Rosa Gigantea had stayed behind, and now began flirting with students that were still in the courtyard.
"Heeey. Wanna talk inside? The boutons are in."
The students seemed to have been pondering whether to go in or not, so they graciously jumped at the opportunity and carefully stepped into the Rose Mansion. Yumi remembered the first time she'd come here, looking for Sachiko-sama. Had Shimako-san not spoken to them, she and Tsutako-san may have stood outside forever. The students walking in now probably felt as Yumi did then.
Still, what was with the students still in the courtyard? Yumi tried inviting them, "Would you like to come in?" but the five or six remaining shook their heads and smiled, "No, thank you."
"How about Yumi-chan?" Rosa Gigantea asked.
"I'll pass, thanks."
There were only thirty minutes left. She would be starting incredibly late, but she had "an obligation to participate." Plus, considering how Minako-sama had given them a handicap, being the sœur must have an actual advantage. "Rosa Gigantea, are you not going to look for it?"
"Look for what?"
Apparently it'd become too much of a hassle. But Yumi could understand her feeling after seeing the number of participants.
"A date with Shimako isn't that attractive, you know. Plus, I have no idea where she would have hidden it."
Because Rosa Gigantea was supposed to understand Shimako-san really well. Which was why Shimako-san wanted to make sure she hid it well, Yumi thought. Or maybe they were playing mind games with each other, so it'd really be a toss-up.
"The only thing that comes to mind with Shimako is piety. But the sanctuary is off-limits, right? Well, even if it was allowed, I doubt Shimako would use such a place for a game, anyways. Which means it wouldn't be anywhere near Maria-sama's statue, either. … I'd have to sit down somewhere quiet and think about it."
She yawned without covering her mouth with her hand. "Thinking about it" was just an excuse. She was completely ready to take a nap.
(Errgh, but Shimako-san's card should be in there.)
Yumi stared at the first-floor room of the Rose Mansion.
When they'd run into each other in the morning, Shimako-san was clearly flustered. Something was there. What other than the card? But telling her would be against the rules. Not that such a rule was actually printed, but it was a fact Yumi had accidentally run into as a sister of a bouton.
"-Yumi-chan is there something in that room?"
And she thought, shoot! She had the same reaction as when she pulled a joker in baba-nuki. This was like saying "yes, you're right." Well, her face had probably told everything anyways…
"Thanks, I'll check it out."
She jumped and walked straight to the door.
"Yumi-chan, good luck."
"Ah, Rosa Gigantea!"
It was too late to regret her reaction, and her facial expressions.
(… What did I just do?)
She felt a bit down, but she also decided to leave that for later. Time was ticking, and the time limit of four forty was inching closer. She'd have to put introspection for later and go treasure hunting. She felt a bit proud about her ability to set priorities, this time.
When she stepped outside, that group was still there.
Without knowing what they intended, she walked toward the school buildings. And then for whatever reason, the six girls followed Yumi.
At first it was just a subtle shadowing. But the faster Yumi walked, the faster they began to follow, and when she jumped up the stairs they followed in full pursuit. Yumi felt like a fugitive.
As she ran around the school, she ran into Yoshino-san, who'd come running from the other way.
"Yumi-san, it looks like you've got goldfish droppings, too."
Yoshino-san had a number of students chasing her, too.
"What do you mean?"
"They think we have an idea of where the card is, being the boutons' sisters. So they're probably hoping we'll lead them. A stupid strategy."
Yoshino-san's explanation was quite harsh. But it was probably around the mark. Even if they wouldn't be able to get there first, they'd at least have the possibility of winning it through rock-scissors-paper. So they were banking on that probability over the probability of finding it first.
"Lose them somewhere. Otherwise you won't be able to go where you want."
Leaving such advice, Yoshino-san ran to where Yumi had come from. Then a group of students followed her like a flock of ducklings. They were probably Rei-sama fans. One of them was Yumi's classmate, and she had an onee-sama, from what Yumi remembered. But this was probably an unrelated matter. What would she do if she found the card?
Yumi sighed, turning around and looking at her pursuit. Treasure-hunting with that sort of group would be impossible. "Losing them," as per Yoshino-san's advice, would be necessary after all. But, and this wasn't especially worth bragging about, she knew, but she wasn't very confident in her leg speed. She might be able to sprint a bit, but she had no stamina whatsoever. So in marathon festivals it was always easier to count her position from the back, not the front. In short, she didn't think she could lose them.
"Umm." Yumi decided to talk to them instead. To the fans of Sachiko-sama.
"I don't think it's worth following me around. The boutons' sisters really weren't told anything."
"Oh, we know that."
A student with thick brows – that was Yumi's first impression of her – stepped forward, perhaps being the group's leader, or perhaps just being relatively self-confident, and replied. Yumi vaguely remembered being in the same class as her once in elementary school, even if she couldn't remember her name.
"But Yumi-san must have ideas, right? At the very least, better ideas than us."
"That's not true. I have no idea where to look."
She had no idea, but she'd run because she was being chased. She'd spend all night working on chocolate, after all. She hadn't actually given this much thought.
"Oh, come now."
They just laughed it off. They'd assumed she was running because she was trying to get somewhere. Well, she was definitely not being taken lightly, that was for sure.
"Someone will probably find it as you chase me around."
It might be futile, but Yumi tried persuading them anyways."
"You're just saying that so you can go get the card after we give up, aren't you? Don't worry, go right ahead. But there's nothing preventing us from going the same direction."
That's right, it was impossible talking sense to this person. The type of person who, for example, during a class meeting, might take an opposing opinion and thoroughly hammer her points down. Someone who you might get if you were to take the "wow" parts from Yoshino-san and Tsutako-san and Rosa Foetida and make a single person using those parts.
Which meant mere Yumi wouldn't be able to win an oral battle. Which left-.
"Ahh! It was there!?" With a shout, Yumi pointed toward the sanctuary.
The fans of Sachiko-sama jumped and turned around in surprise. And Yumi took the opportunity to run for it. The sanctuary was the other way, so they barely caught her ducking into the school buildings.
They shouted at once, like cops chasing an escaping criminal, and the girls started chasing Yumi. Maria-sama would be astonished at the sight. The skirts were completely disheveled.
The distance between them began shrinking. Yumi just remembered. One of the girls chasing her was the anchor for the athletics festival relay.
(I can't keep this up anymore.)
She was running around the building but her speed was dropping. She could see students laboriously searching for treasure through the open windows. That was how this was supposed to be, so why was she playing a game of cat-and-mouse like this?
Before Yumi could think further, she jumped through the next open window. It was just a bit higher than her heart, but she placed her hands on the sill like you would an iron bar, and jumped. She kicked her feet, tangled with her dress, forced herself to tumble forward, and somehow made it through.
"The window! She went through the window!"
She could hear shouts outside.
She had no time to rest. She closed the window she'd tumbled through and locked it. Luckily she'd tumbled into the student bathroom, so this was the only window in. The only way they'd catch up would be for them to enter the building through a different entrance and then track her down again.
She heard the window being shaken for some time after that. Of the fifteen private rooms, two were being used. And one student jumped out from one shouting, "What's going on!?" Yumi recognized her, it was Katsura-san.
"Yumi-san, what're you doing?"
Katsura-san, relieved that something crazy wasn't happening, went back to flush the toilet, then spoke as she washed her hands.
"… Tag, I guess?"
Yumi didn't really know what she was doing, either.
Finally, the window stopped rattling. Yumi peeked outside.
There was no one in sight. If she took too much time here, they would come in through other means and catch her.
"There we go!"
Yumi unlocked and opened the window. She felt this was a safer route than going through the hallway.
Katsura-san didn't see her come in, so she was watching with her eyes widened.
"When I go out, could you lock the window, please? Oh, and could you also keep me going out this way a secret?'
"… Umm, sure."
If the window was locked, then they'd probably not think she'd have left this way, so it'd buy her some time. But she didn't have the time to explain to Katsura-san.
"Well, see you later."
This was the second time, so she made it out more smoothly. Although the ground was closer outside, so when she tumbled out she hit her legs on the ground, and it hurt a bit.
For now, she decided to get away from the building, and hid herself in the tree shades in the back. She didn't want to stand out.
(Now, what to do.)
She looked at her wristwatch. Four twenty-five. She'd unexpectedly spent precious time. What was Yoshino-san doing?
Considering the time needed to get back to the Rose Mansion, she had ten minutes. She'd have to find the card in ten minutes to be the winner. That meant she couldn't check around.
One place, maybe two at most. No, she should concentrate her efforts on one place.
(If Sachiko-sama were to hide something-)
Would someone hide something in a place completely irrelevant to them? It wasn't like she was hiding a number of things, she was hiding a single card.
Shizuka-sama mentioned that. She mentioned how if she were doing the hiding, she'd use either the music room or the library.
This treasure-hunt had no hints. No, the one hint was the person doing the hiding.
Sachiko-sama wasn't a part of any club. She wasn't part of any committee. Compared to Rei-sama and Shimako-san, the places she frequented was limited.
Her classroom, or the Rose Mansion.
But the classroom was off limits. And the Rose Mansion had Shimako-san's card. Would Sachiko-sama hide her card there, too?
She opened the map that she'd folded into her pocket and looked at it. At the back of the school grounds, the second gymnasium and the martial arts building were both open. Rei-sama's card might be in the martial arts building. No, she wasn't that simple.
(If I were to hide it-)
Like Sachiko-sama, Yumi wasn't a part of any club or committee. It was impudent to use herself as a test case, but she was willing to grasp at any straw.
(If it was me.)
Then I'd want Sachiko-sama to find it. Even if that were impossible, she'd want to get that feeling across.
Where the two of them spent time together.
Yumi found where she'd hide it. She ran in a straight line.
She couldn't think of any other place. If Sachiko-sama was trying to send Yumi a message-.
The old greenhouse came into her sights.
 Part 5.
There was already someone inside.
That someone seemed startled by Yumi, spinning around to face the unexpected visitor. Yumi could tell she was also a high school student based on her uniform, but she'd never seen her before. Like Yumi, her hair was tied into two parts, but it seemed her hair wasn't long enough, so there was some scattered hair behind the ties.
"Gokigenyou. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to surprise you."
She was small, so Yumi thought she might be a first-year. And like Yumi, she had a treasure map folded under her armpit, so she was probably a treasure-hunt participant, too.
"Yumi-san, are you here to look for her card?"
Yumi didn't recognize her, but she recognized Yumi. She'd really become famous.
"Yes. You, too?"
"I got here just ahead of Yumi-san, but… do you think there is one?"
Because someone had gotten here before her, Yumi felt a bit down, but the person hadn't seemed to have found a card yet.
Pacing around the greenhouse, Yumi wondered what would happen if she were to find a card now.
(I guess we'd have to do rock-scissors-paper.)
If she waited for her to give up and walk away, time would run out.
Still, if Yumi were to find it now, the student would be able to present at least a little claim. After all, she'd come here first. At the very least, Yumi wouldn't allow herself to just selfishly take it.
Rock-scissors-paper, that was best. Praying to herself that she'd find the card, she stopped where she guessed the card would be.
"I knew it."
It was a place where someone had pried away the floorboard and used the ground to raise flowers. And the area around that bed of Roses was different from yesterday.
"What is it, Yumi-san?"
The student who'd come here first followed her and asked.
"I thought it'd be here." One patch of soil near Rosa Chinensis had a different color. Which was proof that it'd been dug up recently. Sachiko-sama had hidden her card near what would symbolize her in the near future. This had to be it.
Yumi noticed she'd started digging away at the dirt with her hands. Like a dog, she thought to herself.
That person might have whispered something behind her. But Yumi was desperate, so she wasn't up to listening. She was using her bare hands, so the damp soil went into her fingernails, and it felt icky, but you can't do a treasure hunt minding stuff like that.
"Would you like to help? If we find it, we can present it together."
At this point it'd be a fight with time. She wanted even a little bit of help.
And then a little shovel was offered to her over her shoulder, along with, "If you'd like to use it." "But I don't think it's there."
She said, as she handed the shovel to Yumi.
She couldn't believe her ears. Did she just hear, "don't think it's there?"
How do you know that, Yumi's eyes seemed to telegraph. She struggled to find her words, and then answered apologetically.
"Because I'm the one that dug that up."
"I'm sorry for bringing this up so late. Actually I'd looked there before Yumi-san arrived."
"But…" But Yumi had to accept it. The reason why she'd pulled out a shovel so quickly was clearly because she'd just used it.
And the reason why the soil was so easy to dig up was because it'd been gone through in the last thirty minutes.
She'd been so confident, but she'd whiffed, after all. In retrospect, burying a paper card in soil would be reckless.
"Yumi-san, why'd you think it'd be here?"
"After you entered the greenhouse, you walked here in a straight line. I wondered if you had a reason for that."
Yumi said the name of the Rose in front of her, its leaves growing a luscious green.
Rosa Chinensis. –The name of the flower most suitable for Sachiko-sama.
"… So that's what it was."
That person nodded in admiration.
"Then why did you dig?"
For once, Yumi's mind was spinning pretty quickly. If she hadn't gone through the Roses, why'd she pick this place to dig?
"That's… because the color of soil was different, so I wondered if that'd be it."
Upon hear that, Yumi picked up her shovel and resumed digging. Maybe it was bingo after all. The other person had dug a bit and then put the soil back, but maybe she hadn't dug deep enough. Maybe she'd just scraped the top and then given up.
But it never appeared. After digging about twenty centimeters, Yumi gave up.
When she glanced at her watch, the minute-hand was between the seven and eight. There was no hope.
The student, whose lasting impression was her scattered hair, silently helped put the soil back. In the end, they were both the same, having been unable to find the treasure.
After washing their hands at the water supply and then stepping out of the greenhouse, they heard the signal for the end of the treasure-hunt broadcasted. It called for participants to gather at the courtyard again, and Yumi began walking that way, but the other person didn't budge.
"I don't need to hear the result."
"Because I won't be the one with the card. That's all."
Sachiko-sama's card might have been found by someone else, or it might not have been found at all. Either way, the reality was that it wouldn't be hers. With that truth, the game was over for her.
Even though most of the students were probably like Yumi, who wanted to know where Sachiko-sama hid it, and who found it.
"Yumi-san, go ahead."
The students whom were looking outside began popping out, making Yumi wonder where they were all this time, and walked toward the courtyard.
Yumi lightly bowed her head and began walking.
She never did find out her name. She could have asked, but she felt there was a timing for these things. After all, the other person knew about her, so she felt bad not knowing the person back. Plus the memory of what happened when she first met Shizuka-sama was fresh in her mind.
They attended the same school. They would run into each other once again. She burned the person's face into her soul, so that when they met again, Yumi would recognize her at once.
But she knew it would be difficult remembering the face of a person without being able to attach a name to it.
After about twenty steps, her memory was already becoming hazy.
 Part 6.
Along the way, she thought she saw a familiar person, so she called out. But once that person turned around, she deeply regretted calling out… still, she couldn't take it back.
Her face was full of displeasure. Which meant, of course, that her treasure hunting ended in failure.
While walking, Yumi replied negatively, and formed an X in front of her with her hands. Yoshino-san's face softened. Even though they were looking for different cards, they both had the same feeling, as the sisters of boutons.
"But, if we couldn't find them, then maybe no one found them."
Yoshino-san gradually began to regain her usual positive thinking.
But-. Yumi thought.
The person who she'd run into at the greenhouse mentioned the soil had a different color. So it might have been where Sachiko-sama had hidden the card, and someone might have beaten both of them to it. Actually, that was probably the case.
The emergency exit nearby was open, so they wiped their feet on the mat before walking into the buildings.
"Yoshino-san, where did you look?"
"After I shook off Rei-chan's fans, the library."
"I opened all the books about knitting and cooking at the library."
Ah. She attacked Rei-sama's hobbies. Because the treasure was just a thin piece of paper, books would be a good hiding place.
But then she'd realized that hiding the card in borrowable books could end in disaster, especially if someone decided to borrow the book between when the card was hidden and when the event would start, so Yoshino-san did a 180 degree turn in her mind.
"So, I went to the martial arts building."
"Well Rei-chan's pretty straightforward, isn't she? I tried to think through her, but instead I just ended up being the same as everyone else. … Everyone was there, at the martial arts building. Though that meant we didn't have a lack of hands in turning over the tatami."
Yumi felt like she was eccentric for digging through dirt, but Yoshino-san's checking under the tatami was fanatical:– There are always people stranger than you, she reaffirmed herself. Luckily it was listed as off-limits on the map, otherwise people might have jumped into the lake in Maria-sama's garden.
When they finished passing through the buildings and made it to the courtyard, they found many participants already there, and some students were coming out of the Rose Mansion. The newspaper club, the boutons, and some fans who'd soaked into (apologies for the language) the Rose Mansion.
"Ahh, ahh, thank you for participating, everyone."
Perhaps she'd tired of raising her voice; Minako-sama had found a handheld megaphone and began talking into it. The murmurs quieted, and everyone began to listen. There were far less people gathered than had started. There were people who didn't care to see the results as well as people who'd withdrawn midway through. Maybe there were some who were still heading to the courtyard, and some who were so immersed in looking around that they missed the broadcast.
"Well, it's becoming late so I'll jump right to the results. First of all, two of the cards were found."
Some shouted in excitement, while others cried, "Ehhh." For what it was worth, Yumi was more along the lines of, "Oh well," while Yoshino-san pumped her fist, "Yes!"
Two being discovered meant one was void. That's why Yoshino-san must have thought she'd won. In her case, the handwritten card or dating ticket wasn't important – she could ask Rei-sama for those anytime she wanted. What she wanted was to prevent anyone else from getting their hands on them.
And Yoshino-san was probably right.
Rosa Gigantea should have found Shimako-san's card, and Sachiko-sama's card had been dug up by someone.
"When I call your name, please step forward."
The murmurs didn't stop this time, so Minako-sama was forced to raise her voice even with the megaphone. And then things became quiet as everyone waited in anticipation for the names.
"First, the one who found the white card-"
Just as Minako-sama said that, Rosa Gigantea showed up, saying, "Yumi-chan thanks."
Why was the person who needed to be walking forward in a moment sauntering around in the back, Yumi was about to point out, but then she heard a name other than Rosa Gigantea.
"Second-year wisteria-class, Kanina Shizuka-san." (-Eh!?)
And a wave of surprised cries swept through the crowd. "Eh-!?"
An "Eh-!?" of disbelief. Because everyone knew about Shizuka-sama and Shimako-san's relationship.
Shizuka-sama, who'd challenged the boutons and been defeated in the election. Everyone was surprised she was a fan of Shimako-san. Even Yumi, who knew that wasn't entirely the case, was taken aback in astonishment. Because she didn't know Shizuka-sama was even taking part.
The commotion was the BGM as Shizuka-sama stepped forward.
(… Which means Shizuka-sama really did find it.)
Wow, Shizuka-sama. She was really unpredictable.
Rosa Gigantea whistled.
"So it was Shizuka."
What did she mean, so it was Shizuka. Yumi glared at her – how could she not find it with such a big hint? But it didn't get across to Rosa Gigantea at all, who just looked back, "Why're you glaring at me?"
Shizuka-sama's winner's interview began.
Congratulations, thank you. How do you feel? Actually I'm quite surprised. –After that sort of introduction, the interview went into the important questions.
"Where did you find Rosa Gigantea en bouton's card?"
They were passing the megaphone back and forth so it was taking a bit. Yumi was sure she'd hear, "The first floor of the Rose Mansion."
"The committee board."
She felt like toppling over in surprise. How could that be!?
Because Shimako-san was definitely hiding something. If she wasn't hiding her treasure, what was she doing? Or maybe she'd quickly changed hiding places because Yumi'd seen her.
"Rosa Gigantea en bouton, was it indeed on the committee board?"
Minako-san brought the megaphone to Shimako-san for confirmation. And Shimako-san replied.
"Yes, I placed it on the board."
She was unmistakably clear.
Wow, Shimako-san. How audacious. She'd thumb tacked her card on the corkboard the size of a tatami sheet, the one every committee used to post announcements to students. And she'd actually posted it under, "From the environmental care committee," so there was a bit of cynicism about how little the students paid heed to the announcement board attached to the hiding place. Of course this was possible only because Shimako-san's card was white.
"Then, why did Rosa Gigantea just say 'thank you' to me…"
But her question was drowned out by Yoshino-san's "kyaaa."
That told the whole story. A number of students who'd had their names called walked to the front, and they were lead by one person proudly holding the yellow card.
"Then it was Rei-sama's card that was found."
After her wail, Yoshino-san's dejection was difficult to look at. She wasn't really anywhere close to tears, but she'd lowered her shoulders and tried not to look toward the front.
Not concerned about that, Rei-sama looked on as the students played rock-scissors-paper with each other, under the direction of Minako-sama.
Yoshino-san had the right to feel dejected. After all, she was supposed to have shaken that group of students off. And the card was found in the library.
Actually, Rei-sama had hidden the card in a non-borrowable book about pricing during the Edo period. Rei-sama's fans had probably acted like they'd lost sight of Yoshino-san and just followed her. And when Yoshino-san went straight for the cooking and knitting books, they were confused, and instead followed their own gut feelings. They believed the information that was presented in the "Lillian Kawaraban" survey some time ago. Which meant unfortunately, Yoshino-san knew too much about Rei-sama.
The student who'd won the rock-scissors-paper tournament was happily answering the interview. But Yoshino-san probably deserved to win, Yumi thought.
On one hand it looks like the straightforward Rei-sama had played a misdirection on everyone and hidden it in a strange place, but Rei-sama was straightforward after all, having hidden it in a place she felt Yoshino-san would look. And that was the end of the game.
Maybe she was overthinking things. But Yumi'd seen Yoshino-san looking through that book before. Rei-sama was so straightforward that she'd stuck her card in a book Yoshino-san liked to read. Wasn't that the truth?
"And so only Rosa Chinensis en bouton's card was not found."
Yumi snapped back to reality at Minako-sama's words.
That's right, if Rei-sama's card was found, that left the crimson card. That meant no one had found Sachiko-sama's card.
She felt conflicted. The joy that no one else had found it, and her chagrin and not being able to find it herself. But then the same thing as Yoshino-san could have happened to her, so she tried to be as happy as possible.
"As planned, we will retrieve it and return it to her. For more details, look forward to next week's 'Lillian Kawaraban.' It'll be a special edition about the treasure hunt. With the help of the photography club, we have plenty of photos of everyone searching around, so it should be fantastic. Everyone who finds themselves on the 'Lillian Kawaraban' may receive a copy of their photo."
Minako-sama was stirring up the crowd. And to her side, the photography club ace Takeshima Tsutako-san posed with her camera.
Finally, the boutons handed out bite-sized chocolate wrapped in silver paper to everyone who'd stayed for the results. A participation prize, of sorts. Even Sachiko-sama who didn't like presenting chocolate for Valentine's Day wasn't able to get out of this. So there she was handing chocolate to many people.
Yumi lined up in Sachiko-sama's row and received chocolate.
And even though she'd received it directly from Sachiko-sama, she was so hungry she immediately popped it into her mouth.
 Part 7.
Not that it was surprising, but…
Some students stayed in the courtyard after receiving their chocolate because they wanted to know where Sachiko-sama had hidden her card.
Roughly ten people. Some of them had chased Yumi around. Fans of Sachiko-sama, stubborn, disliking defeat, well, et cetera.
Even though Minako-sama told them three times the result would be published in the "Lillian Kawaraban," they stood firm, and so there they were.
"I guess even with the people involved there aren't more than twenty… it's doable."
Minako-sama mumbled to herself, and then turned to the ten.
"Fine. We shall head out to retrieve Rosa Chinensis en bouton's card now. However on the condition that everyone becomes a witness to the location of the card. Understood?"
Of course, they nodded. "Becomes" and "witness" were mesmerizing words, even to Yumi.
In retrospect, everyone might have fallen into Minako-sama's trap. After all, if only those involved retrieved the card, people might wonder if it was actually hidden in the first place. So the third-party witness was desirable.
Minako-sama may have actually wanted everyone. But that'd be too many people, and it'd make travel difficult. So she whittled the number down to Sachiko-sama's fans. She announced the answer would be published in the "Lillian Kawaraban," so everyone who gave up more easily would simply go home.
"Yumi-san, you'll come as well, won't you?"
Invited, Yumi happily answered, "Yes," and joined the crowd of remaining students. The other boutons and sisters didn't. They were probably only interested enough that they'd be satisfied reading the answer later. If the roles were switched around, Yumi felt she'd make the same decision.
"Well, let's go then."
None of them were holding any flags or banners, but it was almost like a tour group. Minako-sama was enthusiastically rounding everyone up. And Sachiko-sama was behind her. Yumi opted to give way to others, staying near the back.
Where did Sachiko-sama hide it?
Yumi excitedly pondered as she walked.
"Sachiko-sama, when did you hide it?"
One of the first-years in front asked Sachiko-sama. Yumi listened carefully, not willing to miss the answer.
"Early this morning. If I went during the break periods someone might see me."
Sachiko-sama had apparently come earlier than normal to hide her card. Of course, she'd already told the newspaper club where she'd be hiding it.
"But I'm a bit stunned no one found my card."
She began asking her fans where they looked. As they answered, they rounded the corner to the back of the school grounds.
Something was wrong. Because this was the way Yumi had walked back to the courtyard. And the half-abandoned greenhouse was in front.
The excitement turned into her heart pounding. They were just walking slowly, but her heart raced.
(That can't be. … But… what?)
That, that! She felt like someone excitedly pointing toward something. And amidst her impatience, they arrived at the greenhouse.
"I hid it here."
Sachiko-sama turned around and announced.
Half of the students in front of Yumi opened the maps. They probably were wondering if the greenhouse was listed. But it was, neatly in the corner, even if it wasn't especially noticeable. It was well within the boundary line.
"Shall we go in?"
Sachiko-sama held the door open and waited for everyone to enter. She was probably going to direct everyone after everyone was in.
And Yumi, being last, hesitantly raised her voice as she passed by.
"What's wrong? You look ill."
Other people might have just assumed Yumi was sick.
"I, I came here. Today. But I couldn't find it…" "Where did you look?" "In the soil by the Rosa Chinensis."
And this time Sachiko-sama's complexion changed.
Sachiko-sama grabbed Yumi's wrist and dashed past Minako-sama and the fans, bringing Yumi to where the Rosa Chinensis was planted. Everyone looked on in surprise.
"You looked here?"
The place Yumi had dug through had the tell-tale sign of blackened, lightly-packed soil.
Minako-sama caught up, and Sachiko-sama whispered to her what'd transpired.
But Yumi didn't hear what was said, so she couldn't really answer that.
Did you really dig through here? And Yumi nodded.
"But there was nothing here."
"That can't be right, because I hid it here."
Sachiko-sama was about to shriek in hysteria.
"Yumi, did you not dig deep enough?"
"I dug about this deep, but it wasn't there."
Yumi showed "this deep" by spreading her hands out about twenty centimeters.
"You probably just missed."
"If I did miss it, I think onee-sama is also at fault for digging it so deep."
"What are you saying? Hiding is for the purpose of being found, I'm not foolish enough to hide it that deeply. I only went this far."
And this time Sachiko-sama showed with her hands about half of Yumi's distance.
"Then, how come I couldn't find a card that shallow?"
At some point, Yumi'd also become defensive. Because she was being honest, but Sachiko-sama didn't believe her.
And then someone poked her in the back and she snapped out of her mood.
"May I request you leave the sister spat for later?"
Minako-sama forced a smile. Sachiko-sama's fans were staring at the two of them with their mouths agape. Well, they did start shouting at each other without any prior warning, so that wasn't too surprising. Plus they were on hand to see Sachiko-sama's "other side," and Yumi herself was quite stunned when she experienced it the first time.
"Why don't we just dig, then we can be sure."
Minako-sama made a splendid suggestion. Sachiko-sama and Yumi were both so angry at each other they'd forgotten that obvious thing.
Yumi took the shovel she'd just used and handed it to Minako-sama. To ensure fairness, the third party was to dig.
When Minako-sama began scooping, the students began murmuring.
"I thought I heard digging, did she actually put her card underground?" Sachiko-sama's fans finally began understanding what was happening.
"But, why there? … Oh!"
The girl with thick eyebrows lightly shouted. People with good intuition are everywhere.
"Is this tree Rosa Chinensis-"
When Sachiko-sama smiled like a flower, Minako-sama said, "Found it."
Yumi and Sachiko-sama, and the people around Sachiko-sama, leaned over to look.
Yumi was the one who mumbled.
She couldn't believe it. A vinyl bag was visible alongside the shovel. And the red card was visible through the clear bag.
"But, it was definitely-"
She knew she just sounded like a sore loser, but she couldn't stop herself.
She couldn't accept that her own memory wasn't correct.
Minako-sama's eyes were filled with sympathy. Ugh. That was worse, she'd have preferred to be laughed at than be looked at like that.
"I'm not lying. There was another person with me, actually." "Another person?"
"I think she's a first-year, she was a bit short, had her hair tied in two like me, and she had some scattered hair over her cheeks… she was with me."
"That's a bit lacking…"
The students not in Yumi's class also pondered. She should have asked for her name, but it was too late now.
"Was there really someone with you?" "Yumi-san, were you dreaming?"
Now she was becoming insecure. Who was she? Was she real?
But her hand remembered. The cold soil. That wasn't a dream nor an image.
"Really. Believe me."
She was on the verge of shouting, like a pouting child, when a hand was placed over her shoulder from behind.
"I believe you."
She slowly turned around. Not that she needed to. Because she knew the feel of that hand and the voice of that person.
"Because you're being that persistent. It must have truly not been there earlier."
And along with her kind expression, Sachiko-sama nodded. Yumi lost any will to argue further.
She only wanted one person to believe her. So as long as Sachiko-sama believed her, nothing else mattered.
Suddenly a flash illuminated the darkening greenhouse.
"Sorry. It looks like I surprised everyone."
Tsutako-sama was standing among the crowd – when did she come in?
"But it was a great scene."
And then with an, "Excuse me please," she stepped forward, shooed Minako-sama away, and walked to the hole.
"I'll be taking photographic evidence."
Snap snap, she was taking pictures from different angles. And then, satisfied, she turned around and took pictures of the audience. Minako-sama was hoping there would be some good pictures for the newspaper, so she let the photography ace do as she pleased.
Tsutako-san was about to walk away when she froze, then pondered.
"Yumi-san, can I borrow your student notebook?"
"What?" "Come come, quickly, I need two."
Tsutako-san took her own and Yumi's and walked back to the hole.
"What're you doing?"
This time Minako-sama piped in.
"The student notebook is about ten centimeters on its long end. So when I'm taking photos of small things, I put my notebook next to it for comparison."
Like what professionals often do with cigarette boxes.
"Anyways, my point was the depth of the hole."
Tsutako-san put her notebook on the bottom of the hole. Her notebook was far from reaching the top.
"And one more."
This time, she put Yumi's notebook on top of hers. A bit of Yumi's notebook poked out.
"Seventeen centimeters, maybe eighteen. This refutes Sachiko-sama. And I assume you won't change your statement."
"I will not. Because I don't recall digging that deeply."
Sachiko-sama smiled. Ah, rather than stubbornly refute it, she smiled.
"Then what's going on?"
The card Sachiko-sama buried. When Yumi dug through, it wasn't there. And when it re-appeared, it was much deeper than where Sachiko-sama had buried it.
Like the card had moved around to prevent itself from being found. A mysterious happening.
"Saint Valentine's prank-"
Sachiko-sama raised the vinyl bag out of the ground and handed it to Minako-sama.
"Rather than trying to find the truth, shall we just leave it at that?"
Everyone became silent at those words, like God had just come down from the skies.
That was best.
Yumi thought. Because today was the lovely Valentine's Day.
There shouldn't be anything wrong with a miracle happening.
When she glanced outside, thinking it was becoming cold, she noticed white fluff was falling from the heavens.
 Part 8.
"We'd promised to meet at the greenhouse. Shall we talk now?"
Sachiko-sama asked Yumi as she was about to step out. They were the last ones left.
Yumi strongly shook her head. Because she didn't have the chocolate with her. Valentine's Day was to present chocolate, so it would all be pointless empty-handed.
"Okay. Then, let's go back to the Rose Mansion. The sun's going down, and it's begun to snow."
She probably couldn't fathom what Yumi was going to do. So with her cold, blunt suggestion, she quickly walked ahead.
Yumi followed Sachiko-sama, who didn't turn around even once.
The dark back lane.
The distance between them never grew smaller, so it felt like a scene Yumi would see in a dream.
 Part 9.
When they'd arrived at the school buildings, they found themselves a part of a pack of students that dwindled as they split off in ones and twos to retrieve their belongings from their classrooms. In the end, only Minako-sama, Sachiko-sama, and Yumi remained.
Yumi actually needed to have gone to her own classroom to get her bag, her coat, and the important chocolate, but she'd ended up following Sachiko-sama.
"Umm, I'll be right back. Could you wait for me at the Mansion? I'll be really fast."
"Of course. No need to hurry."
With Sachiko-sama's permission, she went straight to her classroom. It was usually lonesome in the school buildings after school, but because there were so many who'd stayed behind for the treasure hunt, lights were on everywhere, and so it wasn't that bad.
The lights in the first-year peach class were on, too.
Yumi walked in, expecting Tsutako-san, but she found Shimako-san instead. She turned around in surprise and froze.
"I'm sorry, I surprised you again."
"… Indeed. Yumi-san, you surprised me so much this morning, too. –Yes, this morning…"
Shimako-san ran to Yumi and asked, "Do you know anything about it?"
"A pink- nevermind."
She started, and then stopped herself.
"Yumi-san wouldn't know, I'm sorry."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't worry about it."
She looked gloomy as she turned her back to Yumi and closed her locker.
"Are you looking for something?"
"Yes… I am."
But she wasn't expounding. She drifted to her desk, double-checked that there was nothing hanging off the hook at its side, and sighed.
"Shimako-san, where's your bag? Is it at the Rose Mansion?"
"… Rose Mansion. Yes, it must be the Rose Mansion. That's the only place it can be."
She'd probably left it there herself, but Shimako-san only vaguely confirmed where her bag was.
"The treasure hunt was quite the event wasn't it?"
"Sachiko-sama's card is being raffled. Of course, without the dating ticket. Maybe I'll throw my name in."
"Is that so."
"Still, I was surprised by Shizuka-sama."
"Huh? … Oh, yes, a surprise."
Yumi gave up talking to Shimako-sama. She'd tried raising topics since they'd left the classroom, but Shimako-san was completely out of it.
Furthermore she was mumbling to herself, "I was so careless," every now and then. She figured she'd only get another absent-minded answer, but Yumi asked anyways. "What were you careless about?" But she received an unexpectedly clear answer.
"I didn't think that was part of the treasure hunt."
"The first-floor storage room. For some reason I thought it was out of bounds. So I-"
She answered, but she was still being unclear. Still, Yumi tried to figure things out with what little information she had.
"So Shimako-san is looking for something that was placed in that room? And so you're panicking because it wasn't there?"
And that's why she was at the classroom. Because she hoped she might have remembered wrongly. Something that should be somewhere wasn't, so maybe it would be where it wasn't supposed to be. Today was a mysterious day like that. Maybe it was Valentine's prank.
"But, even if they'd gone there for the treasure hunt, they wouldn't take someone else's stuff, would they?"
"I'd like to think so…"
But there was no name on it, and it looked ambiguous… Shimako-san went off mumbling things like she was hosting a quiz show. And then they arrived at the Rose Mansion.
The moment they opened the door, Rosa Gigantea jumped out and latched onto Yumi, like she'd been lying in ambush.
"W, wait a second."
She was so clueless!
How could she go hugging with Shimako-san watching? Well, not that it was any better when Shimako-san wasn't watching…
"I held myself because there were too many people before. So I was waiting to thank Yumi-chan for chocolate."
Shimako-san tilted her head.
"Yumi-san, did you give onee-sama chocolate?"
She hadn't had the composure to do so today. She was still needing to hand the chocolate to Sachiko-sama, so she'd never even thought of tracking down Rosa Gigantea.
"Come come, stop kidding. Shizuka just gave me chocolate directly, so it must have been Yumi-chan."
She wondered if this was a new way of begging. Was Rosa Gigantea that desperate for chocolate?
Yumi took a box from her bag and gave it to Rosa Gigantea.
Well, if she was being begged, she was somewhat forced to comply.
Even though it was the brown box with ten really bad chocolate truffles. She was ecstatic over receiving chocolate from Shizuka-sama so it wasn't Yumi's care, though. It wasn't good, but it wasn't toxic, so she wouldn't upset her stomach over them.
"Shimako-san, this is courtesy chocolate, so don't mind it."
As she nodded, Shimako-san looked confused. But Rosa Gigantea, who'd accepted the chocolate…
Looked even more confused.
"… Wait, so it wasn't Yumi-chan?"
"Uh oh, I ate it. Because I thought it was from Yumi-chan."
Now Rosa Gigantea began blubbering inexplicably.
"Yumi-chan pointed with her eyes, and it totally looked like it was meant for me."
That's when Yumi realized it. Shimako-san probably realized it, too. But she wasn't saying anything, so Yumi spoke up for her.
"Was that wrapped in pink wrapping paper?"
"It wasn't pink wrapping paper, it was a pink paper bag. With a white rose pattern."
Meant for her because of the white rose pattern… that might be a thought process Rosa Gigantea would have to revise. Because there were plenty of things with white rose patterns in the world. Of course in this case it was fortunate it really was meant for her.
"Was it good?"
"Yep. It looked like a beginner made it, and it was a bit deformed. But it was a really good marble cake. Wait, why?"
Was it Yumi-chan after all? Rosa Gigantea seemed to wonder, and that's when Yumi plucked the box of truffles out of Rosa Gigantea's hand.
"You shouldn't eat something this agonizing after eating something that good."
Then, saying, "Congratulations," to a blushing Shimako-san, Yumi left, rhythmically climbing the stairs.
She probably deduced correctly. That "really good marble cake" was what Shimako-san was looking for.
She climbed the stairs.
Sachiko-sama was waiting on the second floor.
 Part 10.
"Thanks for waiting…"
Yumi found Sachiko-sama sitting alone at the second-floor room's table reading a book.
She raised her head and smiled softly. Ahh, what a wonderful smile, Yumi thought. If she could, she'd freeze time so she could stare at it forever. It was that wonderful.
"Did you have something to talk about?"
Sachiko-sama closed her book and stood up from her chair. Yumi, in turn, rushed toward her, and they ended up standing across from each other, the table between them.
"Yes, um. I have something to give you…"
As she spoke, Yumi reached into her bag.
"What is it? I do hope it's not the rosary."
"I'm glad I'm wrong."
Sachiko-sama smiled at Yumi's startled reaction. She was just teasing her. Sachiko-sama was becoming more and more like the Roses.
But Yumi would prefer it if Sachiko-sama toned down on such heart-stopping words. Her heart was already racing as she tried to maintain composure in front of her onee-sama.
"Though, come to think of it, I would never have chosen someone to be my sister if they'd return the rosary after such a trite happening."
With that mumble, Sachiko-sama tossed her straight hair over her shoulder. "Uhh."
The cynicism stabbed at her, like one of Rosa Gigantea's specialties. Truth be told, Sachiko-sama described it as "a trite happening," but Yumi felt she'd tossed and turned over it. Of course, returning the rosary had never even remotely crossed her mind, but she did panic over what she'd do if Sachiko-sama had asked, "Can you give it back?" Because she felt like she wasn't living up to onee-sama's expectations.
"When I was a first-year, I felt like the current Rosa Chinensis saw through me all the time."
Like God himself, Sachiko-sama glanced around the room, like she was looking for bits of nostalgia from a year ago.
"But then. I don't really know what you're thinking. I guess that made me lose confidence."
As she spoke, Sachiko-sama seemed to be sorting through her thoughts.
"I may have been too harsh yesterday…"
"Not at all."
Replied Yumi, but she silently felt it was pretty harsh. Sachiko-sama's voice was already so clear and powerful that it was ominous (?) on its own, so if she put any degree of extra power behind it, it'd become extremely overwhelming.
"That was because it felt like you were avoiding me, so I started to panic. But I must have misunderstood things?"
"Yes. Umm, that's-"
Now! thought Yumi as she took a box from her bag and held it out.
"Chocolate. I tried making it with Rei-sama's advice. I wanted to keep it a secret from onee-sama, and that's why I was sneaking about. So of course onee-sama would feel like I was avoiding you. I'm so bad at arranging things properly, but I still ran around feeling excited on my own. I didn't even think about stopping to wonder what onee-sama would feel about it. And when you asked, I couldn't even explain it…"
"I know. I know onee-sama doesn't like Valentine's chocolate. But I wanted to show my gratitude anyways, so…"
With a harsher tone, Sachiko-sama cut her off.
"… When did I ever say I don't like it?"
"Really, you're always lacking on words, and yet when you begin talking, it's like the floodgates have been opened. I don't understand you, after all."
"I'm irritated by everyone using me as a way of letting out their desire to send Valentine's Chocolate to someone."
"So, if you made it for me, of course I'll accept it, happily. Isn't that obvious?"
Sachiko-sama placed a hand on Yumi's box.
Yes, began Yumi, before she stopped, realizing that the box was, for some reason, brown.
"W, wait, no. Give it back, onee-sama."
She tried to pull the box back. But Sachiko-sama was gripping it tightly.
"It's unsightly to wish a gift be returned."
"That's not it."
The box Sachiko-sama was gripping with five fingers, that was the box Yumi intended to give to Rosa Gigantea. Even though they were all Yumi's handmade chocolate truffles, and they all used to same ingredients, they tasted wildly different. She'd forgotten she'd taken it back from Rosa Gigantea, so she'd assumed the box she'd touched in her bag was the ivory one.
"Let go, Yumi."
"Onee-sama, umm, actually this one-"
When Yumi pulled out the other box from her bag, in an unnatural posture, it happened.
First, the brown box neither was letting go of exploded (or so it seemed).
Then, the ivory box Yumi was holding out exploded (or so it seemed).
And the next moment, black, circular bullets (or things that looked like them, anyways) fell and scattered on the table.
As a result of the two of them pulling on the box with all their might, the chocolate inside fell out. That was what happened. As for the second box, Sachiko-sama lost her balance when the first one ripped, so she grabbed hold of that box, and it went the way of the first box.
The one fortunate thing was that neither of them had chocolate rain onto their head. Even if they were the size of dried plums, they were still chocolate – being hit by them would hurt.
The two of them stared, stunned, at the chocolate rolling about on the table, as well as some that had rolled off it.
"… What performance is this?"
Eventually Sachiko-sama laughed.
"Yes. Surprise chocolate."
"Some really bad chocolate is mixed in. That's the surprise."
Sachiko-sama didn't seem to take her seriously, laughing and then plucking one off the table and tossing it into her mouth.
It happened too quickly to stop.
"Don't worry, it was on the table."
Well, Sachiko-sama eating something that had fallen was a surprise, but Yumi was more terrified and curious about which sort of chocolate Sachiko-sama had found.
"… How is it?"
Yumi fearfully asked.
Sachiko-sama closed her eyes, rolled the chocolate around in her mouth for a bit, then opened her eyes and answered.
Phew, Yumi sighed, relieved.
"Thank goodness. That was a hit, then."
Even Yumi, who'd made them, would have to look very carefully to distinguish between the two batches of chocolate.
It was 50-50. How like Sachiko-sama. Luck was on her side.
To make sure Sachiko-sama wouldn't choose a miss chocolate, Yumi quickly picked up the ones left on the table. And as she picked them up, she quickly, but carefully, looked at them and sorted them. If Sachiko-sama wanted to eat another one, she'd be able to pick up one of the relatively better-looking ones.
There was twenty chocolate in all, and fifteen had remained on the table.
"What happens for winning?"
Shoot, she hadn't thought about that. –Or rather, she'd just named it "Surprise Chocolate" out of whim. But hit and miss was like a lottery. And lotteries come with prizes.
As she went on her knees to pick up the chocolate on the ground, she thought about it. Technically the delicious chocolate was the prize, but she didn't think of that.
The remaining chocolate had rolled under the seat, or behind the doors, or other such random places. They cleaned the room almost daily, but that didn't prevent the rolling chocolate from losing its chocolate powder somewhere and picking up sand and dust. It hardly resembled what it used to be – in fact it almost looked like a sesame-sprinkled dango from a collection of Japanese confectionary.
She blew on the chocolate to clean it. Of course, there was no thought of eating it, but she wanted to know if it was a hit or miss, to keep track of numbers.
She found three somewhat easily, but she couldn't find the last one. Right now, there were nine hits and nine misses. Sachiko-sama had eaten a hit, so there was one miss somewhere.
Yumi looked at the table again, just to make sure.
And that's where she found the last one. In the corner of the box that'd been tragically torn rested, miraculously, one truffle.
Yumi plucked it out of the box, marveling at it, and said.
"A hit comes with a half-day date with me-"
The last one, for some reason, had come out of the "hit" box.
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