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Notes on Maria-sama ga Miteru 16 – Variety Gift, Part 2

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  • atheniag
    Variety Gift II The contents of the box of food supposed to have been sent by Eriko- sama were unexpected, and Yoshino, after having lifted the lid, stood
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2006
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      Variety Gift II


      The contents of the box of food supposed to have been sent by Eriko-
      sama were unexpected, and Yoshino, after having lifted the lid, stood
      staring dumbfounded for some time.

      "Did you think there was a bomb inside?" Yumi inquired.

      Whereupon Yoshino placed the lid upon the table and muttered, "No.
      But what it if had been one of those spring trick dolls that popped
      out - -"

      "...What kind of person do you think Eriko-sama is?"

      At that moment, the kind to confer a gift box upon a rival,
      obviously. There was no such person who did that old trick anyway.
      And thinking about it, because it had been tightly wrapped by
      department store wrapping paper, it wasn't likely that the contents
      were some kind of trick. Therefore, go ahead and eat the sweets
      inside. And they lived happily ever after.

      "It's suspicious," Yoshino-san said as she reached out for the marble
      cookie.

      "Ah-" Yumi's voice cried out vainly, while the cookie disappeared
      into Yoshino-san's mouth. Still, none of the third-years were here to
      put out a hand. What was that boldness worth?

      "Even if it's suspicious, there's nothing to do but eat it." While
      Yoshino-san was chewing, she took two more cookies into her right
      hand, then grabbed a chocolate with her left.

      "What's suspicious about it?" Yumi abandoned the idea of stopping
      her. When you've eaten one piece, what's two or three?

      "What is Eriko-sama trying to say to me by sending this thing, that's
      what. What if we get food poisoning from eating these sweets."

      "Come on, there's no poison in the candy. The 'eat by this date' day
      hasn't happened yet. Yumi read the date from the seal affixed to the
      wrapping for Yoshino-san's benefit. It said the last day of November.

      "Yeah, Well, if we eat too much, we'll get stomach aches."

      "Then don't do it. Hey, wait..."

      What was so confusing? If you eat too much of the gift Eriko-sama
      sent and got a stomach ache, then it didn't seem like it would be
      Eriko-sama's crime.

      "More importantly, what should we do? We opened the box selfishly
      without checking with our onee-samas and now you're eating some of it-
      -" Yoshino-san really was going to give herself a stomach ache, as
      she kept stretching her hand out for one sweet after another. --She
      thought that she would soon complete her mastery over all the kinds.

      "Nothing." Not heeding her sin at all.

      "'Nothing'!?" She envied her composure. When facing others' business,
      one of them was impatient, and the other a coward.

      You just say, 'it's your nature', and how nice would it be to explain
      things so simply with a single phrase, she thought seriously.

      "If we eat it all, there'll be no one to criticize."

      "'Eat it all'!?"

      All of a sudden Yumi had become a parrot, Yoshino-san's cold glance
      said. "It'll be fine. No one else is coming. And, let's face it, Yumi-
      san's onee-sama is pretty frightening."

      "That's not the problem--" Just as she protested, the biscuit door
      opened and three girls flew into the room.

      "Good day, Yoshino-sama. Good day, Yumi-sama." Leading the way, her
      eyes sparkling as if they were childhood friends, was Matsudaira
      Touko-chan.

      "Our apologies for being late." Next up was the very tall, with long
      hair, previously stalker of Yumi, man-hating Hosokawa Kanako-chan.

      "Homeroom dragged on for a long time, then cleaning went on and
      on.... Ah, tea's made already." And in the rear, kappa-headed, make
      you think of an Ichimatsu doll, Nijou Noriko-chan.

      The three girls of the first year Chrysanthemum Group.

      Noriko-chan was Rosa Gigantea en Bouton however, the other two were
      for a limited time until the school festival, assistants.

      "Ah - cookies. And chocolate." Touko-chan was the first to spot "it."
      Next to both her ears, the spring-like banana curls bounced as she
      approached.

      "It's from a sempai who graduated."

      "Wait a second, Yoshino-sa..."

      "It's fine."

      Before Yumi could restrain her with a word, Yoshino-san had beckoned
      the three with "Please, go ahead."

      (Ah-!)

      Making the underclassmen who don't know the situation partners in
      crime. This could not have been foreseen when, just a moment ago she
      had said, "No one else in the group would be coming."

      So, the result was...

      A girl who did not like sweets, there may be such a thing however,
      it's a minority. Being of the more common type. All three girls
      respectively flew over to the variety gift tin with eyes shining with
      pleasure.

      "Itadakima-su"

      "Yes, eat up."

      Eat up, she says. Yoshino-san was totally acting like she had brought
      it herself.

      "Speaking of which, I heard about how difficult last year's
      Valentine's Day was," muttered Kanako-chan, as if the chocolate had
      made her remember.

      Taking up the thread, Noriko-chan continued. "We only heard the rumor
      from the high school because it was Lillian, and because in my class,
      there were some people who wanted to hurt the high school students
      who were mixed up in it."

      We were there in in that place, Noriko-chan and Kanako-chan. So, what
      about the leftover individual?

      "Touko-chan? Was it like that in Lillian Middle School?" Yoshino-san
      asked.

      Touko-chan answered, "Ah, well..." with a lack of oomph. "There was
      interest in the middle school, but of course they couldn't
      participate with the high school. I was in the crowd, I wanted to see
      Rosa Chinensis en bouton at that time. Hey, because we're relatives
      and childhood friends, I thought it would be nice."

      "Not blood relatives, though." Yoshino-san's sharp riposte made Touko-
      chan's fangs come out like a cat.

      "True, but we're still relatives-"

      "Excuse me. It's true, a distant relative."

      (Ah, it's starting...)

      Yoshino-san would never put up with backtalk from an underclassman.

      Wearing the nature on their sleeves, the fireworks exploded, boom
      boom, around these two characters, the other three were like "hey
      now," soothingly. It was the same character they put on as always,
      but if for instance, Shimako-san had been there, it might not have
      gone on this way.

      "While I accepted your invitation, I think it would be best for me to
      decline. It's not in my nature to run and make my skirt pleat
      flutter."

      Putting the silver foil chocolate wrapping in her pocket, Touko's
      expression said that this was concluded; while the other four all had
      the same penetrating thought.

      "She's about to lose it."

      --So.



      Chocolate Portrait


      "Do you dislike photographs?" She put her camera down as she spoke.
      "Me too."

      "Eh, but, that..."

      To my question she said, "Ah, this?" and held up her hand lightly
      with a smile. That a person who dislikes photographs should carry a
      camera was a simple contradiction, as were her next words.

      "I'm bad at it, being photographed."

      "Ah...I see."

      I was also no good at having photos taken. Therefore when she said
      that, it made me happy. Taking it from the side of that person, who
      understood the feeling of a person who didn't like taking pictures, I
      would press the shutter.

      Because this person wasn't going to force me. Once more the camera
      was set up, I avoided it by taking myself off outside.

      At that time, I thought, if such a mysterious person took one of me,
      it would be all right.

      Mm, it would.

      When, later, the memory returned, it was an even more positive
      feeling.

      I wanted that person to take it.

      Having met the cameraman who thought in such a way, that was the
      first time in my life I thought that.


      1

      "Hey, Shouko-san. Did you know about this?"

      It was after school, as I checked over my English vocabulary, when my
      classmates Atsuko and Miyuki came over and stood in front my desk and
      said that.

      "What?" Well, that was sort of natural to ask. When someone suddenly
      says "Do you know about this?" you want to know what they are
      referring to. Like when you fall doze off in class, and the teacher
      asks "Did you hear me?" you're likely to answer "yes."

      "This." Atsuko held out the "Lillian Kawaraban" so I looked over the
      printed page. As it covered the dictionary, I quickly hid all the
      study materials in haste.

      Why didn't I want anyone to see how seriously I studied or reviewed
      my lessons? This way I could say to my family when I get home that I
      don't have to be at my desk so much. Like being able to say, "Ah, I
      don't have homework" or "I don't want to study for exams" and not
      having to be in any rush to open a textbook.

      So there we are.

      The "Lillian Kawaraban" Atsuko-san was presenting was the Lillian
      Jogakuen High School newspaper which, although we were students in
      middle school, we read with pleasure anyway, so it was a quite
      popular publication. We were overreaching our bounds a little, but to
      learn about the onee-sama of the high school, it was a precious
      source of information.

      "It says that the Yamayurikai are have a Valentine's treasure hunt
      event. Don't you think that sounds like a fun plan?"

      "Treasure hunt--?"

      "Uh, you don't know what that is?"

      "No, I was just thinking out loud." Underneath the "Lillian
      Kawaraban,"I was taking my Japanese-English dictionary, vocabulary
      book and reading textbook out and sliding them onto the shelf under
      the desk.

      "If I'm not mistaken, the story says that the treasure to be found is
      something the boutons are hiding secretly—"

      "Ah, Shouko-san's real sister is enrolled in the high school.
      There'll be a lot of onee-samas there."

      "Yeah, ...I guess." I said noncommittally.

      I hadn't heard anything about this from my sister. Of course I could
      get information from my older sister with whom I lived in the same
      house, but as the two in front of me could guess, us sisters didn't
      often have pleasant chats.

      I had a grudge, so as a result I was completely ignorant of that kind
      of conversation. No, more than ignorant, I used my senses to avoid
      any kind of conversation with her. Saying there was prejudice there
      was not too much of an exaggeration.

      As proof, every time I read the "Lillian Kawaraban" when I was done,
      I would roll it up into a little ball and throw it out.

      Anyway, was she my "real onee-sama", I thought. Outside people had
      told me that, and it wasn't like that suggested complicated family
      circumstances. Everyone here had been poisoned by the idea of the
      soeur system, but I didn't want to think about it.

      In high school, there was a tradition of one-on-one guidance that
      bound them together, That was the "soeur system." When one became a
      soeur, the underclassman called the upperclassman "onee-sama," but
      since in the ordinary world girls who are siblings born of the same
      parent will call the older "ane", for the sake of distinction, people
      used "your real onee-sama".

      "But," I muttered, as I wrapped a curl from my semi-long perm around
      my index finger. "We have no direct relationship to this event."

      It seemed like this would be a noisy place, and we were just middle
      school students. It was likely that outsiders wouldn't be let in.

      In response to my modest doubt, Miyuki-san and Atsuko-san met each
      others eyes and gave a little laugh.

      It was a little mischievous. Like the feeling when a person is trying
      to make you join in and take a candy.

      "You know, the truth is, we've already discussed sneaking in that
      day. Then we thought we'd ask you to come with us, too."

      "Me too?" Although it was an ordinary pause, I was fiddling with my
      hair around my finger, I brought it in towards my nose to confirm.

      "Eh. So, if Shouko-san..."

      "Yeah, that's, that's..."

      We were all the same, loyal readers of the "Lillian Kawaraban, and
      how many times before had that been the subject of lively
      conversation. But, if you counted how many times we'd actually acted
      on anything, the total would be none.

      "We invited Touko-san, but she declined." Miyuki-san said. Yeah,
      yeah, that was the one who sat next to her, Matsudaira Touko-san was
      the girl who had those banana curls that hung beside her ears.

      "Rosa Chinensis en bouton is one of her relatives. She wants to go on
      her own to stand out and cheer her on she said." Atsuko-san added.

      "So, Touko-san is the relative of one of the boutons." I said
      guardedly, pretending to be very surprised. Incidentally, about the
      bouton (E: the buds), the high school student council presidents are
      called the "Bara-sama", the Roses.

      "Yeah. She's seems a bit boastful about it." Miyuki turned her
      glance toward the classroom door, next to the hallway, with a bitter
      smile. Probably Touko-san was in her club activities in the theater
      club. One could faintly hear the sound of speaking exercises.

      "I wonder if that's enough."

      Two people seemed uncomfortable. Five people stood out. So saying,
      they had decided that three or four was a good number.

      Although they had invited a number of people, not all had accepted.
      Lucky for me, I thought.

      But why, I wondered, did I feel that I had to hide that, since I
      learned about high school's Yamayurikai-sponsored event, I'd been
      feeling anxious. Because of that, I was behind them, pushing.

      "Yes. That sounds fun." I nodded.

      "Then it's settled." Atsuko-san and Miyuki-san clapped their hands
      together, and told me about tomorrow's program.

      I totally thought that something would happen when I was there. I
      felt like I was in a dream, all excited. High school would be the
      kind of place filled to overflowing with this kind of feeling.


      2

      "Hey, onee-chan." That night, I called out to my older sister,
      Katsumi's, back. "You said that tomorrow is the day of your exam,
      right?"

      "Yeah. What's up?" Concentrating on her reference book, she didn't
      look up. Maybe, because of her always looking like "I'm studying," I
      disliked to be seen studying by other people?

      "Hey, tomorrow is Valentine's Day, isn't it?" There's rumors of
      something going on at the high school so, I wondered if you were
      going after the exam is over."

      "Go to something so stupid? The day after tomorrow is another exam.
      If I have any free time, I can spend it memorizing another English
      word."

      "...Guess so." I nodded, leaning on my sister's closet. Well, that
      was pretty much the answer I expected. For the moment, that was all I
      was going to ask.

      "So. What do you want?" Heaving a displeased sigh, my sister dropped
      her pen, turned her chair and asked over her shoulder.

      "Mm. If you were participating in the event, I wanted to know what it
      was going to be like, what your classmates are saying. ...That's all."

      "Following the latest fad."

      "..." That's my older sister. It might have been the truth, but I
      didn't want her to say it.

      "My friends asked me to go to that, but I guess you'll be there to
      look like a fool too." My sister never hesitated to criticize other
      people. So, why was it that when she did that so heartlessly, she
      always sounded cheerful. "While you're off doing stupid things so
      happily, your rival is studying hard, right?"

      Exactly what you'd expect to hear from a third-year high schooler.
      Good grades mean going to a good college and working at a good
      company, so you have to study. From now on, you should really be
      studying hard."

      "Because I'm going to Lillian University, it'll be fine."

      "You're soft."

      Because my sister smiled coldly, with a sneer, I shot back, "It's the
      preference, and it's the choice of people with the highest grades in
      my major. Previously, those who chose other schools found their
      grades dropping. Entering a college is different than middle school
      or high school, don't forget."

      "...Hmmph."

      "Besides, I don't regret that I'm not studying now." Yeah, well, I
      thought, you probably regret that you are studying now, don't you? In
      the quest to go to a good college and get a good job, you're not
      living your high school life and you'll never get that back.

      Therefore, I thought, I want to do things now that are fun. Stay
      positive and do everything the opposite of my sister and a happy life
      will be proof that I am right.

      "People who have fun have nothing worthwhile to look back on." My
      sister turned back to her desk and began her "grinding study".

      "Sorry to interrupt." I returned to my own room, to the English I
      began checking after school. Both parents were already in bed. In
      this mood, my sister wouldn't be leaving her desk for a while.

       treasure――宝物 (takaramono)

      While consulting the dictionary, I thought a little. People who have
      fun, who on earth did she mean? Those people, what had they done to
      my sister?


      3

      "...is here. Shouko-san."

      After school.

      After we had finished cleaning our individual areas, meeting up at
      the pre-arranged place, Atsuko-san and Miyuki san saw me and lightly
      waved me over.

      "Ah, but. We have to have a disguise so we won't be seen as middle
      school students."

      "Eh? But. That--"

      I told them about my perfect disguise idea, brimming with self-
      confidence; from here, we would go to the high school buildings
      around the edge of the boundary.

      "Mufflers, or wearing school coats. Or we should change our hair
      styles a little or something."

      "Heyy..." Atsuko-san and Miyuki-san looked at each other, their
      concerned expressions disappearing into cheerful ones.

      I had taken a school uniform from my sister's room and changed into
      it after school.

      The high school and middle school uniforms appeared, at first glance,
      to be the same but it was a little different in the chest section.
      The collar and tie area in the middle school uniform ended in a thin
      black ribbon that was more suitable for a bow knot.

      In my classmate's estimation, my disguise was perfect. I thought
      that, even if I got into a deep position, I'd be safe in this. I'd
      look just like any other high school student and, as my sister was
      not at school that day, my victory would be natural.

      Victory would be natural.

      As I said that once more inside my heart, I had no idea what I meant.

      3:40

      The middle courtyard of the high school grounds was overflowing with
      participants for the event.

      Leaving timid Atsuko-san and Miyuki-san behind, I slipped into the
      middle of the crowd of participants. No one was lined up by class.
      One lone middle school student could blend in and, with the same
      uniform, no one would notice.

      Pretending to be one of the participants, I took one of the flyers
      being handed out without hesitation. The paper contained an
      application form, the rules of the challenge for participants, and a
      map where one could search.

      In the column of the application form, I wrote my sister's name and
      class. Just as a little prank. I thought it would be fun if someone
      saw it and thought, surprised, "That straight-laced person
      participated?"

      It was a little mysterious; although I might be able to see the en
      bouton I admired, I wasn't feeling very lively. What I might feel if
      they weren't the beautiful people. It was like, when I read the
      "Lillian Kawaraban", I had been all excited but, against expectation
      now nothing was boiling up.

      As the organizer, the president of the newspaper club explained
      things, the fever of the area slowly heated up. In opposition, my own
      feelings stayed cold.

      The treasure hunt event was conducted as a simple game, we would be
      looking for a red, yellow and white card hidden in secret by the
      bouton, the winners would get, as an extra prize, something like a
      coupon good for a half-day date with that bouton.

      However, even if I were in front of the bouton, and we went out
      together, what I was expecting to do, I couldn't imagine. They all
      went to the same school my sister did, like actresses on television
      that don't change, unknown strangers. Of course, as I wasn't a high
      school student I didn't have the right, but that wasn't the point.

      The bouton's soeurs were given a handicap. The first-years little
      sisters were going to participate, and I also thought I saw two of
      the third-years.

      Rosa Gigantea and Rosa Foetida. If you add Rosa Chinensis, who I did
      not see there, those three were the leaders of this year's Student
      Council. Rumor had it that they were in competition for their year's
      top grades, so they were probably my sister's rivals. On the other
      hand, they had time to play and participate. Thos two looked relaxed,
      and like they were having fun.

      "Where is Rosa Chinensis?" One of the people in the group of
      participants next to me asked her friend. Because that was something
      I wanted to know as well, I turned an ear towards them.

      "Today's an examination day. That's so pathetic."

      "If Rosa Chinensis was here she would find Sachiko-sama's card right
      away, I bet."

      Sachiko-sama is Rosa Chinensis en bouton.

      "What about Yumi-san?"

      "I wonder what she'll do. Should we follow and see?"

      So they weren't going to search, they were going to shadow. That
      didn't seem like a very fun game.

      I tried to peer ahead to see the first-year known as Fukuzawa Yumi,
      but just didn't have the power. However, I got the sense of a face
      almost about to cry.

      That this girl was chosen, I had some sympathy for those gathered. To
      the upperclassman, this must have seemed rude.

      "Start."

      With a "fwee" signal from a pipe, the treasure hunt began.

      Leaving the bouton's soeurs behind, everyone dispersed in small
      groups. I, not sure which way to go, loitered on the pleasant lawn of
      the central grounds and enjoyed the atmosphere.

      As I looked around for something tell me what to do, I definitely
      looked no different from any other fad follower, sucking information
      like a sponge. In other words, I didn't know whose care to take aim
      at.

      In that, I was different from the other two I had come with. Miyuki-
      san was an Ogasawara Sachiko-sama fan, while Atsuko-san was a fan of
      Hasekura Rei-sama; they had been hot on the trail of the red and
      yellow cards. The two of them had earlier done janken (E: rock
      scissor paper) to determine which card to search for first.

      The girl who had been part of the group I listened to before, glanced
      over at me and leaned towards her companion close to her ear.

      My heart pounded, as I thought I had already been found out as a
      middle school student. But, without much more of an uproar than a
      suppressed laugh, they went off. Until Yumi-sama left the Rose
      Mansion, they were going to wait on standby in her path.

      Discouraged, I thought I might try and meet up with Miyuki-san and
      Atsuko san, but they had already left this area and, pretty soon,
      there was no one else there.

      I couldn't complain. When I had entered the middle of the grounds in
      the high school uniform, and taken the application form, I hadn't led
      them along.

      "Hey. Won't you come inside and have a chat? The boutons are here."
      With a face like a Greek sculpture, a third year, Rosa Gigantea,
      Satou Sei-sama called out, inviting the students in the grounds in.
      This was the first time I had actually seen Rosa Gigantea but I had
      heard about her character from my sister, and seen her picture in the
      "Lillian Kawaraban" I had procured; she seemed different.

      I thought she would be a colder person, and more superficial. Like,
      the kind of person who would make others feel foolish. But she was
      totally different. Gentle, someone who would put her shoulder into
      it, an interesting person. That sort of feeling.

      Although the invitation to talk together was tempting, I was a middle
      school student, and my primary motive to be there was to experience
      the treasure hunt, so I unintentionally followed the group who were
      following Rosa Chinensis en bouton's soeur, until I got off half way.

      4

      Not all the places where the cards were hidden were revealed.

      Before that, because of my lack of experience in the high school
      area, I wasn't sure where to look. After I looked at the map, nothing
      much had changed. Like, where the science room was, you had to know
      that, or there wasn't much significance. If they gave this map out to
      guests for the School festival to see, they'd wander around; outside
      people would feel liked they were lost in a labyrinth.

      More than that, I didn't know the bouton's patterns of behavior, or
      their preferences, or anything really, that well. Of course I had
      gained some information from reading the "Lillian Kawaraban", but
      given the gap in my sense of Rosa Gigantea and the real person, with
      my knowledge, unless I stumbled upon the treasure I might as well
      start with a janken tournament, rather than look for the treasure, I
      thought. For example, Kendo club member Hasekura Rei-sama might hide
      the yellow card under the tatami mat in the kendo hall, or devout
      Christian Toudou Shimako-sama might hide the white card in a bible in
      the, library reading room. Ogasawara Sachiko-sama's red card was-
      -, ...that I couldn't guess quickly.

      I walked out of the school buildings.

      Then, suddenly, a girl with her hair in braids came flying out, and
      in front of my eyes, ran away. Following after her came high school
      students, confirming that she was, in fact, Shimazu Yoshino-sama. It
      was the same pattern as with Fukuzawa Yumi-sama, tagging along as she
      searched. Pathetic.

      "How pathetic."

      My voice hadn't come out. Why did the same words I uttered in my
      heart reach my ears?

      "Ah, was that too threatening? Sorry."

      Turning to look over my shoulder, there was a camera there. --No,
      there was a person holding a camera.

      Reflexively, I lifted a hand in front of me to ward off the lens.

      "Do you dislike photographs?" She put her camera down as she spoke.
      "Me too."

      "Eh, but, that..."

      To my question she said, "Ah, this?" and held up her hand lightly
      with a smile. That a person who dislikes photographs should carry a
      camera was a simple contradiction, as were her next words.

      "I'm bad at it, being photographed."

      "Ah...I see."

      I understood that. But sorry, I didn't understand why she would want
      to take one of me.

      "Excuse me."

      She lifted the camera a second time, turning towards a different
      direction that me and pressing the shutter.

      Once, twice, three times... . The gasha sound felt a little
      nostalgic; I stayed quiet and listened.

      When she had taken many pictures from the same angle, she pressed the
      shutter once more turning elsewhere to take the picture.

      At first glance, she was taking pictures randomly, but no. She was
      clearly chasing someone in particular.

      "Are you a member of the newspaper club?" I asked. I figured that
      pictures taken of the people searching for the treasure must be for
      use in the "Lillian Kawaraban."

      "Uhn-uhn. Photography club. Hmm, yeah. I guess there are still people
      in high school who don't know me."

      "Ah, sorry," I flinched. If she had been famous, it was inconceivable
      that the middle school students wouldn't know of her.

      "No, no. I am the Photography Club Ace--"

      "...First-year Peach group Takeshima Tsutako!" It had the feeling of
      getting the answer right to a quiz, I thought, as I pointed and
      shouted. Furthermore, I forgot to use an honorific. But she didn't
      seem to take offense.

      "That's me. How did you know?"

      "I've seen the pictures you take occasionally for the "Lillian
      Kawaraban". At the school festival, I saw the large-scale panel you
      did of Rosa Chinensis en bouton and her soeur. 'Scuse me, I didn't
      know the actual face...no, I mean, I forgot."

      "Thank you for that. I also don't think I've seen you around that I'm
      aware of, so we're even. Um..."

      "Shouko."

      Uh-oh. Would it have been better if I had been Katsumi, I wondered.
      Well, there wasn't that much of a difference. We only just met here.

      "Sure, Shouko-san. I suppose you're here to participate in the
      treasure hunt?" Takeshima Tsutako-san asked, looking at the map I
      held in my hand.

      "Yes."

      "Even if it's not like you?"

      "Not like me?" I repeated.

      "You don't look like you're having fun, I guess I mean. Ah, sorry.
      It's really none of my business."

      "No."

      Not like me. Even as I considered those words myself, I hadn't
      thought of that at all. However, I was surprised that even though she
      and I had just exchanged a word or two, she had guessed right.

      Just then, Fukuzawa Yumi ran in front of us. As expected, Tsutako-
      sama lifted her camera and the sound of the shutter sounded. The
      brigade of students chasing after her followed. She opened the camera
      to reveal the film.

      "Isn't this fun?"

      "Uh." Which this did she mean? Could be Yumi-sama. Or the flock of
      girls chasing her. Or"this" could include both. However, for a
      moment, I was impressed by that weak looking Rosa Chinensis en
      bouton's little sister, with her skirt flapping as she was chased.

      "The game is to be able to take pictures without being noticed. And
      to take as many as possible at the same time."

      When I noticed Tsutako-sama, it wasn't an escape, I thought.

      Certainly, I wasn't having fun. But there was no helping it. After
      all, I was a middle schooler fake participating.

      "Ah, darn it," Tsutako-sama said, glancing at her wristwatch.

      "I promised to be in front of the statue of Maria-sama. ...You want
      to come with me?

      Instantly I wanted to not be parted from Tsutako-sama.

      "Is it all right?"

      "Of course."

      Today was Valentine's Day, but my thought that she probably was
      giving chocolate to someone was incorrect. Probably she had been
      commissioned to take pictures of what was going on there.

      "I'd like to do a little more peeping, but it takes up time so, for
      the moment, I'll have to leave the treasure hunt." As we walked,
      Tsutako-sama was pressing the shutter. Although it was after school,
      there were students visible everywhere in the school grounds.

      "Ah, middles. Cute." (E: Tsutako calls them "chuubou", a nickname for
      middle school students)

      There were Atsuko-san and Miyuki-san. Another middle school student
      would quickly see through my tentative disguise.

      "Oh, right. Because they don't have a map, they're searching outside
      the bounds, huh." While laughing, Tsutako-sama lifted the camera and
      pressed the shutter.

      "Do those girls seem like they're having fun?"

      "Ah, are you worried about what I said a little while ago?"

      "Not really."

      It didn't really bother me that she had said I didn't look like I was
      having fun. But I had a vague sense of being jealous of those girls.
      What was that all about?

      "The do look happy. But, even if they weren't I'd take the picture.
      People who are crying or people who are angry. Whatever you want to
      call it, isn't it worth taking a picture of? Taking a picture by
      chance is better, because I don't want it posed. ...I guess that's a
      bit difficult."

      "So, you'll take pictures of an happy scenes?"

      "I wonder. Just, I think that today, even when I'm going to take
      pictures like that, I think I can get some good ones."

      Standing in front of the statue of Maria-sama where the tree-lined
      road split, there were a lot more people than I expected. From what
      I'd heard, this was a famous place to hand over chocolates.

      "Good, looks like we're in time."

      Tsutako-sama drew near the two neatly ordered lines, when the
      students lined up fifth from the front called out. Obviously, she was
      the one to whom the promise was made.

      "Five minutes, and they'll be there." Tsutako-sama said as she
      separated from the line. Increasing the distance, she took a picture
      of the students waiting for their turn in front of the stature of
      Maria-sama.

      "Isn't it fun to take pictures of people posing for the camera?" My
      words were, more or less, sarcastic.

      "That can be fun too, but..." the shutter sounded.

      "Why?"

      "You can see the drama."

      "You mean, when you're taking a posed picture?" I asked anyway. Poses
      are like acting, showing what one wanted to show.

      "Well, the striking of the pose itself might be dramatic." Tsutako-
      sama's answer had some kind of persuasive power that made me nod
      instinctively.

      It was almost like I was having a hallucination of "Ask the
      photography expert". Before I could even think, my mouth opened.

      "I'm. Not photogenic."

      I could hear the sound of the shutter, and Tsutako-sama's surprised
      "eh?"

      I continued, not caring. "I'm awkward."

      Tsutako-sama didn't lower the camera, but she pulled her right index
      finger off the shutter button. I interpreted this as permission to
      keep talking, so I thought I'd go until the end.

      "When I was a child, I did modeling. Yes, look this way, smile, that
      kind of thing. Or, cute, this time lift your right hand and tilt your
      head. It became too much for me, I didn't understand why I had to
      turn toward the camera. After I stopped modeling, when it comes to
      having my picture taken, I get nervous and stand stiffly, not able to
      make the right face, even just talking about it doesn't give me any
      peace or joy. No matter what I do, it backfires and the picture comes
      out strange."

      "How about at the Sports Festival? Aren't the pictures from that
      natural?" Tsutako-san offered, but I shook my head back and forth
      violently. "The field of vision of a camera is limited, so even in
      the team event and the creative dance, I'm aware of it; if,
      comparatively, I was not be aware of the camera, I was somewhere
      where the camera couldn't see me."

      And, even if it is possible to take a good close-up with a zoom, that
      really only applied to the Sports Festival. Not too sympathetic, that.

      "Because of that, I'll never get married. I can't have an omiai
      picture taken." (E: omiai is a meeting for an arranged marriage.) I
      said it half seriously, but Tsutako-sama laughed.

      "Not even if it was a marriage for love?"

      "If I married for love, we wouldn't have to have a marriage picture."

      "Yeah, in that case, you wouldn't be forced to take a picture. Ah,
      sorry, it's time," she said; I walked after her. I could see the
      client in front of the statue of Maria-sama, beckoning. It was within
      a small percentage of the time promised, since Tsutako-sama had not
      quite waited five minutes when their turn came around.

      Tsutako-sama was all around the chocolate giving/receiving couple,
      taking pictures of them in a variety of poses, and the photo session
      was finished in exactly one minute.

      "But, you know, I understand that Shouko-san is serious, and although
      I'd like to take your picture, I'm not confident I could do it." When
      Tsutako-sama returned, she remembered the previous conversation and
      returned to where we had left off a minute ago.

      "How about Tsutako-san?" I asked. I thought we were the same, that
      she didn't like having her picture taken.

      "Yeah, me. To put it simply, I'm different from Shouko-san. I just
      don't like being on the taken side. Therefore, I just run from the
      camera and my problem is solved. But I still have to participate in
      group photos."

      "When it's vacation, do you make quick exit?" Tsutako-sama muttered,
      pointing at me.

      "Yes, out the back corner. Haven't you ever done that?"

      "Of course. To avoid having my picture taken, I skipped the middle-
      school entrance ceremony."

      The image of a badly developed photograph taken by me in the rear
      courtyard, of my classmates all lined up in the middle of the full-
      blooming sakura tree, that looked like a balloon, floated into my
      mind.

      "B, balloon? Ha, hahahaha."

      "Hahaha." Tsutako-san grabbed her arms, laughing, so I laughed. Just
      so.

      "That face, I want it."

      The next second, the camera lens was turned directly towards me. I
      couldn't hear the sound of the shutter. I just turned my back quickly.

      "It's okay, it's okay, Shouko-chan. Go ahead and laugh." In her
      portrait cameraman role, Tsustako-sama threw the words at me.

      "I'm sorry. But," I still wasn't able to respond to the magic.

      "It's a serious illness, huh?"

      The opposite, really, it was just a symptom. When Tsutako-sama
      averted the camera from me, I turned back towards her.

      Although I was still running from the camera lens, I had determined
      not to run from Tsutako-sama.

      The atmosphere was cold. In that moment, there were no words between
      us. However, with those eyes watching me from within those frameless
      glasses, I somehow understood.

      Probably, the problem was inside me.

      Whatever attitude I projected was over-exaggerated, which caused me
      to be unable to move.

      "Tsutako-san, will you photograph us too, please?" From behind her, a
      student asked, destroying the silence between us.

      "Ah, then I'll be going." I moved away from that place,

      Shortly the treasure hunt would be over and Tsutako-sama would be
      taking another group of photos, and returning to the school
      buildings; I didn't want to be a hindrance and inside my heart, what
      were all these sort of feelings seething that I wanted to think about
      on my own.

      As I returned to where the tree-lined path began, I hit on it by
      chance, and halfway turned around and went back.

      "Uh. Tsutako-san. Someday, when you see me. If you want to press the
      shutter just then, will you please take the picture without
      hesitation?"

      "...Is it okay? Tsutako-sama asked, tilting her head a little,
      smiling.

      "It will be my most treasured possession - the one portrait of me in
      my teen years." I raised my voice as I turned and walked away.
      Tsutako-sama stood, stopped, in that place, smiling.

      "You're exaggerating."

      "No. It's the truth."

      "I understand. During class, I usually have my camera somewhere
      within reach. If I can, I'll do it, I guarantee it."

      "If it's a picture by Tsutako-san..." That would be perfectly fine, I
      was saying. To that degree I could endorse it, I though, as I ran
      back to the school buildings, relieved.

      5


      As I headed back to the school buildings, I looked at my wristwatch
      to see that it was already 4:30, and in just about ten minutes, the
      game would be over. In the end, I never ended up participated in the
      treasure hunt that looked like it would be fun.

      At least, I could hear the results, so I headed back to the starting
      point, walking through the hall to the center garden, when from
      behind me a voice called out.

      "Wait right there." The person with semi-long, smooth hair pulled
      back in a hair band was Rosa Foetida, Torii Eriko-sama.

      "Uh," I was immediately on guard.

      Because I followed the fads, I immediately knew her face, although
      she couldn't know mine. I couldn't understand the reason she would
      have called out to stop me.

      Three year's difference in one's teen years is enormous. Like a frog
      being watched by a snake, the force of her glance pressed me and
      wouldn't let me move. Compared with the "Lillian Kawaraban" goods and
      my sister's photo album, Torii Eriko-sama was much more beautiful.

      "That uniform," at those words, in one moment, I was cursed.

      I had been found out.

      I turned on my heel. Could a person tell just from looking at the
      uniform that was worn? More importantly, as expected from the things
      said about Rosa Foetida, that she could, from behind, have the power
      to determine that someone is a middle school student.

      "Wait right there, you." Rosa Foetida called out following. So, I ran.

      "Why are you running away?" Rosa Foetida yelled after me, Why are you
      following me, I asked in my head.

      So then, why was I being chased after, I wondered. As I ran down the
      hallway, no clear answer came to me.

      Because I'm wearing the wrong school uniform? Apparently.

      Even as I was about to be caught, I noted that I was near the staff
      room. Why was I running away so desperately?

      Ah, that was it.

      If I were caught, it would cause problems for my sister. It was only
      meant to be a little mischief. With my sister away at exams, how much
      effect could it have on her?

      I was like Yumi-sama and Yoshino-sama with those girls running after
      them. Like them, I was now looking behind me with a serious
      expression. If I met Tsutako-sama in that place now, there was no
      doubt that the shutter would be pressed.

      I made my escape into the wave of humans.

      However, as I made my way from one building to another, I changed my
      gait slightly and the difference made me lose my balance.

      Oh no. Was it better to fall down ungracefully than to be caught
      painlessly by Rosa Foetida? If I fell down, it was just a matter of
      time before I was caught anyway.

      In a short moment, a person can think of a lot of things. I was very
      quiet, putting both hands out in front of me, thinking that I hoped I
      didn't hit my face.

      "Be careful, Shouko."

      Who said that, someone who was flying over, calling out my name.

      As it happened, I couldn't see the person's face. I tried standing,
      throwing my face into that person's chest, leaning all my weight into
      her at the moment.

      It was my sister, Katsumi.

      "What are you doing here, Eriko-san?" My sister asked Rosa Foetida,
      as she held me. With a somewhat intense tone.

      "...Nothing."

      "It doesn't feel like nothing, though."

      "It was just that something about the uniform, it caught my
      attention. But, if it's a student you're close to, I'll leave it to
      you, then." After patting my collar lightly, Rosa Foetida turned
      away. I had not moved.

      Turning to look over her shoulder, Rosa Foetida looked at me again,
      then one of the students who surrounded us whispered something to
      her, her brows drawn together. I thought I heard something about the
      yellow card, although I may have heard wrong.

      Just as she left, Rosa Foetida shot another glance at us.

      "Katsumi-san. I'm relieved. You can make that kind of a face, too."

      "Shut up."

      As I feared, my sister returned the comment with abusive language.


      6

      When I heard the broadcast announcing that the game was over, we left
      the school building by the emergency exit. Happily, the previously
      scattered students gathered back in the central area, but we weren't
      seen.

      "What were you doing?" My sister, who I was pulling by the hand, and
      who had not said a word to this point, suddenly opened her mouth.

      "I'm sorry."

      "I mean really. Wearing my school uniform."

      Upon hearing "school uniform" I suddenly became frightened and clung
      to my sister's arm.

      "What are you going to do, onee-chan. Are you going to tell Rosa
      Foetida or the teachers?"

      "What are you talking about?" Smiling, my sister put her hand around
      my neck and pulled something off. "Didn't you notice that the
      cleaning tag was attached?"

      Pinched between my sister's fingers was a slip of paper like a label.
      Written on it, the characters XX Cleaners were visible, and I said
      "Ah."

      That was what Rosa Foetida was trying to tell me when she called out.
      At the start of the treasure hunt, when those students were looking
      at me, that must have been for the same reason.

      "What a dunce you are, Shouko."

      "...Mm." I nodded meekly. I was already pretty self-conscious. "But,
      why are you here?"

      Although she had appeared like magic out of nowhere to rescue me,
      today my sister was not supposed to be coming to school. Whereupon,
      my sister stretched a little.

      "Because I'm an idiot. When the exam was over, and could have gone
      home directly, for some reason I wanted to come here."

      "Oh.".

      "I guess I was thinking something like a third year ended without a
      Valentine's Day was futile or something."

      "..."

      "I even went so far as to buy chocolate on the way here. For serious
      me, a big adventure." From her pocket, my sister pulled a small
      wrapped box and held it up in front of my eyes.

      "Let's eat it together." The box was wrapped with yellow paper, and
      she picked at the slender green ribbon.

      "But..." I was going to ask who she had bought it for, who she wanted
      to give it to, but I stopped. Even between sisters, there are some
      areas best to not get into, was the feeling then.

      My sister, although it was obvious that she thought that she wouldn't
      be able to give it, had gone and bought the little box and hidden it
      in her pocket in case she happened to run into the person she wanted
      to give it to today. Perhaps I had been the one to crush that
      thought, and she'd certainly deny it if asked.

      Inside the box there were five pieces of almond chocolate. I said
      "Itadakimasu" and took one piece. My sister watched quietly, then
      asked, "Is it good?"

      "Yeah, delicious."

      My sister who had, for a moment, been a fool, had forgiven me without
      saying anything.

      "Is it?" My sister smiled sadly, as if she were about to cry, looked
      up to the sky.

      "I think, I wasn't even able to be seen."

      From the central grounds, the broadcast announcing the results of the
      treasure hunt could be heard.

      But my sister and I stood together and ate our secret chocolate, and
      I thought that it was a Valentine's Day that was very like us.


      7

      "Phew." In the first-year Peach group classroom, Takeshima Tsutako
      heaved a sigh.

      "Tsutako-san, what's the matter?"

      The classmate who had caught the sigh, Fukuzawa Yumi-san, was in a
      very bouncy mood as she asked. It was after school a few days after
      Valentine's Day.

      "Ah, Valentine's Day pictures? They're done?"

      "Ah, mm." The snapshot prints were spread out on the desk, about
      halfway through being sorted.

      "Waah. I look terrible."

      "What, no, you're cute. Here's a two-shot with Sachiko-sama. The
      title is, yeah, "Making up after the argument. Onee-sama, I'm so
      sorry."

      "I beg you, please, don't publish that in the newspaper." Yumi's eyes
      clung to her as she spoke. Her expression proclaimed compassion
      against teasing. --But, today she was forgiven. Maybe that was why
      she asked the question.

      "By the way. Do you know this person?" Tsutako-san pointed to one of
      the photographs, Yumi-san said, "I don't know her" and she discarded
      it once and for all.

      "That's it. Yumi-san, I can't get a hold of data about a person I
      don't have an relationship to." It was said with finality.

      "Ah, wait a moment. I think I remember seeing this person." Yumi-san
      pointed to the person on the left. Tsutako-san smiled wryly. "Third-
      year Chrysanthemum group, Naitou Katsumi-sama. She's a classmate of
      Rosa Foetida's, and always one of the top five in the test results."

      "Um. ...So, Tsutako-san doesn't know her?"

      "Well, even Yumi-san knows the famous people. The problem is the one
      here." On the right, she pointed to a young figure in profile.

      "I thought that maybe it was a first-year, but I haven't found her.
      Maybe a sempai, I wonder. But, I haven't seen her in the upper
      classes either."

      "You can ask Naitou Katsumi-sama."

      "Yumi-san, don't you know? That Naitou Katsumi is famous for being a
      stubborn, totally focused on studying person. Do you think that such
      a person would want to see that she had been caught on camera eating
      chocolate around the back of the school building?"

      "What, you mean it would look like a threat?"

      "Don't you think? Ah, what a bother, what a bother." However, Yumi-
      san thought her tone was rather cheerful, considering.

      "Why? Isn't it just like always, when you put aside your basic
      humanity and morals?"

      "It may look like that, but this girl here wanted me to take her
      picture."

      Why didn't you ask her which class she was in, Yumi-san didn't have
      to say it, since Tsutako-san was clearly amazed at her own omission.

      "I was careless. I'll have to rely on the name Shouko alone, I
      guess... . All I can do is look for the characters on the register of
      names."

      Too late. But, in truth is would be better to have had the family
      name.

      "Shouko? Did you say Shouko-san?"

      "Now that I think about it, even Shouko is doubtful. It could have
      been Shouko, or Choko."

      "Or Choco?"

      "Maybe it was meant as a tease?" Tsutako blew her bangs up, and Yumi-
      san patted her lightly on the shoulder.

      "If she's a third-year, won't she be graduating soon in March? You'll
      be able to meet up with her then."

      That, and that alone somehow lightened her feelings, although she
      didn't know why.

      "You think so, ...yes, I will."

      "Someday" she said, she'd see the girl called Shouko. One day, during
      an unexpected visit, she thought she'd be able to show her this
      photo, so she thought she need not be in a hurry.

      We have time.

      I'll hand it over when we meet.

      When the time comes, we'll probably meet again.

      Tsutako-san wrote "Hitsuji" on a white envelope, put the photo in it
      and placed it in her school bag.

      This was a picture postcard portrait of two girls taking chocolate.


      To Be Continued in Part 3
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