Warm Place Chapter 16


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In the Present, in the Past, Never Changing

“That girl looked so happy to see her mom.”

While we’re walking side by side, I hear her mutter those words.

“Yup, you’re right.”

She smiled so wholeheartedly when she reunited with her mother; a face that she didn’t show the whole time when she was with us. Her mother must have looked for her child so desperately, too. I could tell that she looked happy and relieved when she found her. They must be getting along well.

“………”
“Tsubaki?”

Concerned about Tsubaki, I look to my side. She is showing no emotions at all. Her expressionless face looks really similar to my childhood friend. My chest is suddenly filled with pain, like it’s being torn off.

“I’m envious. They looked so affectionate…”

I wonder if she is comparing their relationship with her own… She’s making a lonely smile. I don’t want to see her like that, but I have no idea what to say. In the end, I remain silent.

“Speaking of which, Hinata-san’s dad is working away from home, isn’t he?”

“Ah, aah, yup. He’s working in Russia. He’d planned to return for some time when we moved, but he ended up staying. Seems he suddenly had more work to do.”

“…Don’t you feel lonely?”
“Hmm, I have Mom and Saki, so I think not. Well, I’m already used to be separated from Dad.”

Dad would have cried if he heard me say that, so I chuckle. Dad looks scary on the surface, but inside, he’s just a doting parent.

“Tsubaki, you don’t have a dad anymore, do you?”

I say it to her timidly. Tsubaki shakes her head and shows a weak smile.

“Please don’t mind about it…… I heard from Mother that Father had already died by the time I was born.”
“I… see.”

“That’s the only thing that Mother ever mentioned to me, so I don’t know what kind of person Father was at all. I don’t really feel like wanting to know about him… but I would be lying if I say that I don’t want to know at all.”

It’s possible that instead of wanting to know about her father, she just wants to talk more with her mother. She feels lonely. Of course, it could be that she’s also curious about her father.

“……Ah.”

Tsubaki looks startled as she fixes her gaze on something. I turn to see who or what she’s looking, to find a woman that looks very similar to Tsubaki standing there.

“Mom.”
“Tsubaki.”

Speak of a devil. Tsubaki’s mother calls her name and approaches us.

 

“Why are you here at such an hour…? What about your work?”

“I left early today, and I’m on my way home… Perfect timing, I have something to talk with you about.”

“Talk, is it?”

Tsubaki’s expression turns dark right before my eyes. Perhaps she’s guessed the content of the talk, and she doesn’t want to listen to it. Her mother, on the other hand, has a nonchalant look as she stares at her daughter. Then, she looks at me, seeming that she’s just realized that I was there.

“You are… from our neighbor.”
“I’m Hayase Hinata. Um, it seems that you want to discuss about something important. I will be taking my leave now.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“See you then, Tsubaki.”
“……yes.”

She answers me with a fading voice, but she doesn’t look at me, only the ground. After hesitating for a bit, I start walking, leaving the two behind.

 

…Is it okay for me to go home just like this? Isn’t there something that I have to say to them? ——For both their sakes. I know that I’m not qualified to meddle in their affairs. But, it doesn’t mean that I can just leave them alone. My wish for her to be happy before I died—it remains the same in my heart even now.

I stop my feet, and I decide to turn back to confront the two. When…

“I don’t want to hear it!!”

For the first time ever, I heard Tsubaki making a heartrending shout. Tears form on her face, and she shows a truly sorrowful expression. She looks hurt.

“Tsubaki, listen——”

“I know. I’m a burden to you, aren’t I? It’s all right. I’ll be okay on my own. After all, I’ve always been alone all this time.”

She shouts like she can no longer contain the words. She cannot hold in her overflowing sentiment.

“Just… do as you wish, Mom. I’m not going to oppose or resist you. I’ll only abide.”
“?!”

She looks terrifyingly impassive as she smiles. It’s the same. It’s really the same. I didn’t think that she would look so similar. No, that’s not quite right. She looks exactly the same as her from that time.

“……hh”
“Tsubaki!”
“Tsubaki, wait!!”

As if she has nothing more to say, Tsubaki hastily runs off. Oh no, I’ve got to chase after her before she goes out of sight!! When I start moving my legs to pursue Tsubaki, her mother enters my vision. She remains still, without even a quiver. I peer into her face, she looks as indifferent as ever. But looking closer, I can tell that she is gritting her teeth……….

 

I————

 

If I dilly-dally here, I will end up losing sight of Tsubaki. I’m concerned about her who is standing still in shock. But for now, I shake off that feeling and turn my back against her. Then, I start sprinting in order to catch up with Tsubaki.

 

 

*

 

I have intended to catch up with Tsubaki by running as fast as I can, but in reality, I’m barely able to keep up with her. Maybe she is actually athletic despite her looks. Uuh, even though I’m confident with my running speed. Well, I don’t have much stamina though.

“Tsubaki—— Sto—p!!”

Perhaps she can’t hear anything now that she’s lost her composure. She doesn’t respond even when I call her name. I guess I have no choice but to overtake her. Having said that, the distance between us is getting shorter, so I haven’t given up just yet.

Just how long have we run…? But she finally stops, maybe because she has run out of stamina. She desperately tries to control her erratic breath. I, too, stop behind her to catch up with my own breath. It seems that she hasn’t realized my presence, so I decide to wait for her to calm down before calling her out.

“Tsubaki.”
“Hh?!”

Her shoulders twitch in surprise, and she gingerly turns towards me. After noticing that it’s me, Tsubaki’s scared expression changes to that of a relief. Thank goodness.

I approach her slowly and calmly, then I stand in a position where we can talk comfortably. I’m looking straight into her eyes, but she avoids my gaze. That hurts me a bit.

“Umm, yup. Uh, Tsubaki, I know that you want to be alone, but…”
“………”
“But, that’s why I can’t leave you. Because, you’re my precious… friend.”
“Hinata-san.”

“Maybe I’m just forcing myself on you, but I want to become your strength. I thought it’d be better if I don’t ask what you don’t want to talk about. But still, it’s not good for you to endure everything by yourself.”

“……hh”

“Please, let me stay next to you.”

I gently grasp her hand and gives her a smile.

“W-why?”

“Hm?”

“I-I mean, it hasn’t been long since we first met, has it? Both Hinata-san and I barely know about each other, right?”

“…Yup, that’s right.”

“Then, why are you doing this for me? Why do you want to stay with me?”

“Hm— I haven’t really thought much about it. I simply want to become your strength. Can’t I? Or, is my reason not good enough?”

“Eh? Umm, that’s, uh…”

“Besides, I’m not doing this just for Tsubaki’s sake.”

“?”

I thought that I would be repeating the past again. I’m afraid. I don’t want to make the same regret. I won’t hesitate this time, so that I can avoid the mistake that I’d made before. Even though I’ve died once, even though I’ve reincarnated into a different person, I want to do something for them both.

 

Because, I’ve realized a bit too late that no matter what happened, I’m still [me].

 

“——I want you to be happy. I want you to keep smiling. That’s all.”

For that reason, I——

“…hh”

Transparent beads of water trickle down from her eyes. Her overflowing tears arcs along her cheeks one after another, then down the ground. Her tears are beautiful… is what I end up thinking. I wonder if she’ll get angry with me if I mention that to her. I take out a handkerchief from my pocket to wipe her tears with. Afterwards, I stay with her in silence for a while until she stops crying.

……I can’t force her to talk about her problems if she doesn’t want to. But, it doesn’t mean that I can just stay on the sidelines.

Yes, not this time.


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