I have but a vague recollection of what took place after Fuki-san had left without a word though she had seen me.
The only thing I am certain of is that I left early.

I made Sara-sama and Souju-sama worried that day.
I do not even recall what I had told them as an excuse for leaving early.

The only thing I did after getting home was crouch in a corner of the living room.
The tears did not cease to come.
I only continued crying.

I must have fallen asleep without realizing it.
When I came to, morning had come.
And when I looked at the phone, a message asking if my headache was gone had come from Sara-sama and Souju-sama.
It seems that I had left early stating a headache as the reason.
I sent them a message of apology, while also informing them that I would be resting at home today.

Sluggishly I got up and took off my now disheveled uniform.
To smoothen out the wrinkles, I sprayed It with water and hung it to dry.

While soaking in the bath, I thought over what will happen from now on.

I could now no longer fulfill my wish of meeting Fuki-san.

She had rejected me.

Fuki-san, Fuki-san, Fuki-san.

Getting out from the bath, I took a look inside the small, dilapidated, and quiet house.

Ah, me and Fuki-san prepared the new year’s feast at this kitchen.
The black soybean we used was produced in Tamba.
We also often used vegetables from Kyoto.
I know now.
All these were high quality produce.
The dried bonito, the konbu, everything we used were of high quality.
The difference in quality is easy to spot once one starts buying from the supermarket.
The supermarket does not even have dried bonito, you can only buy dried bonito flakes there.
And the supermarket nearby does not sell fermented dried bonito.

In the cupboard was a finely made tea ceremony set.
I even learned how to use them.
The cutleries we used were swapped every season.
It was not only the cutleries.
The clothes we had worn were the same way.
The clothes Mari-sama and Fuki-san wore were brand new every year.
Me? I wonder how it was in my case.

From the kitchen, I moved to the living room.
Although there doesn’t seem to be anything there, inside the closet was a chest made of empress wood.
In it were fine kimono.
Fuki-san liked silk and often wore them.
As for Mari-sama, I never saw her in anything but western style clothing.

I continued on to Mari-sama’s room.
A B-211 Steinway & Sons grand piano was there.
It stands there imposingly as like a master, but this house is but a dilapidated rental.
This piano does not suit the house it is in.

Now that I am living alone, I came to realize just how strained our life here in this rental house at Hanaoka was.
It only seemed as if we were living in poverty, while in reality a significant amount of money was being used to support our lifestyle.
There is no way Mari-sama and Fuki-san’s pensions were enough.
We needed the money Fuki-san’s son sent us to live in that manner.

In that world we lived in, everything had been for the sake of Mari-sama and Fuki-san.

“Ohhahhahahahhaaha! HAAHAHHAH!”

I laughed madly while crying.
Here was but a fabricated little world we lived in.

Not only is there no need for me to remain here, it even pains me to be here.
For I can’t help but recall Fuki-san’s warmth.
Even if it had all been but a sham.

Right, I should just work in a new town.
I’m poor, there is no need for me to attend high school.

I suppose I would have been able to go on without much trouble until graduation were I to continue attending the academy as I have been doing.
But I can’t anymore.
I can’t face Takanashi-sama, him being the great-grandchild of Fuki-san.
Regardless of the cause, I had truly been raised by Fuki-san.

Ah, I should return the money Fuki-san had used on Mari-sama and me up until now.
Shouldn’t I be able to return even a little part of it if I sell the piano? The kimono would be better returned to Fuki-san as it is.

I should also return the phone to Souju-sama.

I need to find a job before that though.

I looked up job listings on the phone.
It is after all difficult for a 15 year old girl, with only a middle school education, to find a job.
If I had been a man, I would have had more opportunities.
Ah, why was I born a woman?

There are of course part time job listings, but if possible, I would like to work somewhere with housing included.
I will be leaving this place after all.

After going through numerous listings, I finally found one with housing included.
It’s contract based, with the contract being renewed every half a year.
It’s in the food manufacturing industry.
I already know that I will not be able to get along well with the people there.
The only ones who would get close to me were Sara-sama and Souju-sama.
Ok, let’s start practicing dimming my presence.
Comrade Yoshio seems like he would know how to.

I have decided that my first course of action was to contact a piano dealer and agreed on a viewing day to estimate its value.
I then made a call to the aforementioned company and informed them that I will be sending them my resume.

I am someone who recovers fast.
I have often met with painful situations in the past.
That’s why, this time too, I will be fine.
I will surely be fine.
It’s still difficult now, but I will be okay.
For now, I should do what is required of me.
Seal those feelings of wanting to meet Fuki-san up.

I am planning on meeting Comrade Yoshio before going to buy a resume form.
He might have some advice to give.
Afterall, I am but a half-baked kid who has yet to step into the working world.
Although it’s a pity that the landlord is currently preoccupied with her lover, I at least still have Comrade Yoshio, who has stayed unchanging throughout the years, being someone I can rely on.

Wearing my usual jersey and worn out head covering, I went to the mountain.
And when I arrived at the usual spot, there Comrade Yoshio was, near the cocoa tree.

“Good morning.”

To my greeting, Comrade Yoshio frowned.

“Did something happen? Your eyes are swollen and you don’t look so well.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary happened.
It’s just that, I realized that there was no need for me to remain here any longer.
I am therefore thinking of leaving Hanaoka and becoming independent.”

“Aren’t you still 15?”

“I am already 15.
I have finished my compulsory education.
It is not at all strange for someone with no relatives like me to start working.
I am only doing what I can do.”

Comrade Yoshio looked up to the sky.
Did I perhaps say something unpleasant?

“… A long time ago, there was a woman who said the same thing you just did.
That she would do what she can.
She was a very fine woman.
Both inside and out.
I was deeply enamored with her.”

I slightly recoiled at Comrade Yoshio’s beginning to tell his life story.
I suppose I should keep quiet and listen.
Umm, to be frank, I don’t like such raw stories.
Much less Comrade Yoshio’s; I don’t want to know such sides of him.

“I believe you should keep to yourself the memories of a person so precious to you.
There is no need for you to tell them to a simple girl like me.”

“Heh, is that so.
But I have to tell you this.”

“No, that’s fine.
I have no interest in such things.
I will leave this town once all preparations have been made.
I will come again to say goodbye before I leave.”

I still have to go to the convenience store to purchase the resume form.
Let’s leave here quickly.

“Wait! Where are you going? Someone with no relatives like you.”

“To the convenience store.
I need a resume form.”

“So you’ve found a job? Are you really planning to continue living alone by yourself?”

I fixed my gaze at Comrade Yoshio.
I wonder, if my father was someone decent, would he have on a worried face like this?

“I have always been alone.
Even when Mari-sama was still alive, or when Fuki-san was still here.”

It is indeed so.
I have never before sympathized with anyone, nor has anyone ever sympathized with me.
Not at school, nor at home.
Before meeting with Sara-sama and Souju-sama at the academy, I have always been all alone.

At this, Comrade Yoshio took hold of both my shoulders.

“Wait! I’ll look after you.
Go to school as you have til now.
And continue to play the piano too.”

I could not help but be taken aback by this sudden proposition of his.
Somehow, I found my voice and said,

“…… Why, how can you be so kind? You have always been so since I first met you when I was 4.
It was all so curious.
I thought that if I tried to get close, you might disappear.
I could not ask you anything.”

Comrade Yoshio had on a puzzled look.

“That, Comrade Yoshio, you said? What’s it about? My name is not Yoshida Yoshio.”

Oh no, I have done it now.
I have always referred to him as Yoshida-san.
But in my surprise at this unexpected development, I have become careless.

“Umm, I have this setup in my head where you’re a spy from KGB, and I’m a novice spy under your guidance.
Your codename is Yoshio.
I’m calling you as so to myself because you’re from the KGB.”

I told him everything as it is.
That the landlord was MI6 and Tanaka-san was Mossad.

With a somewhat disappointed look, Comrade Yoshio heaved a sigh.

“My name is Michael Yoshida.
I’m an American of Japanese descent and I was in the US Navy SEALS.”

So Comrade Yoshio was not called Yoshida Yoshio.
His name was Michael.
If that’s the case, I should have made him affiliated with the CIA instead.
But I like the KGB.

No, this is not the time for such musings.
He just said Navy SEALS so simply like that! Isn’t that a well-known special operations force?! I wonder why someone so accomplished is living like someone discarded by the world.

“As a member of the Navy SEALS, I was involved in the operation to raid Al-Qaeda.
…… And when I came back, I discovered my wife had been seeing another man.”

He has started again! I thought he was a decent man.
Stop! I beg you, stop!

“Of course, I separated from my wife.
I fell into ruin.”

“Is, is that so.
Thank you for telling me something so painful to recall.”

I don’t want to hear such things.
I would like to just keep thinking of Comrade Yoshio as a KGB spy.

“At such a time, I met a woman.”

Comrade Yoshio, now deemed Michael-san, had a distant look in his eyes and continued his story.

“That woman was Kiryuu Ruriko.”

To think that it would be my mother! I did not expect to hear my mother’s name like this!

“My mother?”

Michael-san nodded with a smile.

“Umm, were you kind to me because I am my mother’s daughter?”

She was my goddess.”

A naked goddess.
What is this, Venus’s birth? It is true that she was naked in the painting… I wish to change the course of this conversation, but Michael-san would not stop speaking.

“She saved me from the depths of hell.
I was betrayed by the wife who I thought loved me and I could no longer trust anyone.
Ruriko taught me love.”

No, stop! I do not wish to hear about the love story of that naked artist mother of mine!

“I was once again deployed to the Middle East.
When I returned, Ruriko was already gone.
This time however, unlike with my wife, I believe that something must have happened to her and went about inquiring.”

“No, enough with this story already!”

“You HAVE to listen!”

Seeing how serious Michael-san’s expression is, I reluctantly continued listening.
Although I really do not want to!

“She had been sold at an action, in place of a friend of hers.
That friend had 2 children.
Ruriko had no family of her own, so she put herself out.”

A human trafficking auction.
What kind of a life was my mother living? To have a friend of that sort.
She was indeed not a normal person.

“The one who bought Ruriko was Kujouin Tooru.”

And here comes the trash star performer! So he won his wife at a bid in the auction house! I may have thought of him as trash, but he turned out to be even more dubious.

“At first, I only came to see the orphan child Ruriko had left behind.
Although you don’t resemble Ruriko, you were an angel-like child.
But the circumstances you were under were much too cruel.
I came to this town time and time again, until finally I came to reside here.”

“And how about work, Michael-san?”

With a pleasant smile, Michael-san told me that he retired.
Does that mean he’s currently unemployed? He’s a veteran though, so he should be receiving pension.

“I have money.
I manage assets.”

As one would expect of an American! No matter though.
I should leave.

“Michael-san, I am not my mother.
You were looking at my mother through me, were you not? I am me.”

Michael-san looked taken aback.
Alright, now is the time!

Thank you for treating me kindly.”

I climbed down the mountain and returned home to find the Hongou twins there.

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