Warm Place Chapter 24


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Slowly, Tied Together

 

I wonder how long has it been since I last went shopping with Mom.

I can’t seem to remember when, so it must have been a really long time ago. I look at my mother who is calmly walking next to me, and she notices my gaze soon after, so our eyes end up meeting.

“Do you need to buy anything else?”
“Ah, mm-mm, I’m all set.”
“Is that so?”

I’m really happy to be able to go shopping with Mom after so long, and I end up buying many other things instead of just the ones that I forgot. I look at the many shopping bags in both our hands, and I make a wry smile.

Hinata-san has gone ahead with Rumi-san. I did send an email saying that we would be late, though it’s still rude to make our guests wait. We really have to hurry home. When Hinata-san replied, ‘Don’t mind us, just take your time,’ I ended up taking up on her kindness until the day is turning so late.

Still, I really had fun today. Although Mom is a person of few words, she is talking more often to me now. And above all, she’s now looking straight at me while we’re talking. She would usually turn away and avoid looking at my eyes before.

 

“Come to think of it.”

It comes to mind on our way home.

“Mom likes western food, and Rumi-san likes Japanese food… but what kind of cooking would Hinata-san like?”

We’ve invited her to dinner and all, I want to make what she likes while we’re at it.

I know that she likes sweets, but I never heard about her favorite foods. I think she mentioned that except for Chinese foods, she doesn’t have any specific preferences when we were shopping earlier. But, that doesn’t really answer the question at hand…. It feels as if Hinata-san has been with us forever. But when I think about it again, we’ve just met recently, so I barely know anything about her.

“…How about you call her and ask?”
“Ah, you’re right.”

I take out my cell phone, thinking to get in touch with Hinata-san, but it won’t start up for some reason.

“Ah, I have forgotten to charge it…”

I had planned to do it later, but I ended up forgetting about it completely. I regret not replacing it with my spare battery before I went out. I was so happy when Hinata-san invited me to go shopping that I ended up hurrying. The state of my cell phone completely slipped my mind. Uuh, I should learn to be a bit more collected like Mom.

“It can’t be helped. Use mine.”
“Wah, thank you very much.”

Mom can’t endure to watch and gives me her cell phone. I press the call button, but when I’m about to key in the phone number, my hand freezes.

“Ah, but, I don’t memorize Hinata-san’s number.”
“I have her contact information saved in my phone record. Look for it.”
“…Y-yes.”

While wondering why Mom has Hinata-san’s contacts, I look it up as told.

“Ah.”
“You found it?”
“Um, Mom’s cell phone is… out of battery, too.”
“………I see.”

Mom awkwardly turns away from me and looks somewhere far away. Hm? Is this her being embarrassed? It makes me happy to see a new side of Mom who always seems composed. I find it quite comical, and I giggle secretly so that she won’t notice.

 

“Still, this is quite the problem.”

With both our cell phones unusable, we can only give up getting in touch with them. Now that there’s no way to know Hinata-san’s favorite foods, I have no idea of what kind of ingredients to bring home, either. I can only pray that they can be prepared with the things we have. I return the dead cell phone to Mom.

“Isn’t it fine to make her favorite foods next time? I believe that for today, you should stick to what you want to cook, Tsubaki.”
“…You’re right. I’ll do my best.”

She’s right. Today, I will cook my specialties for Hinata-san… rather, for everyone to eat. I’m confident with my cooking, which I’ve learned from Aunt Sekiguchi since I was a child. I’ll make the most delicious foods possible for the people I cherish with all of my skills and gratitude.

——After all, they’re the reason why I can spend this time together with Mom peacefully.

 

“On the other hand, Hinata-san seems to dislike Chinese foods, so I will avoid making them today.”

Sweet-and-sour pork is included among my specialties, but I shouldn’t serve what she dislikes. I still have many other options, so there’s no problem to pass on that this time.

“That girl… dislikes Chinese foods?”
“Yes. Hinata-san’s Mom said so, and Hinata-san herself confirmed it.”
“…I see.”
“?”

She suddenly hangs her head and ponders. Mom looks the same as always, but somehow I can tell that she’s crestfallen. Did I say something that saddened her? I ask her about my unease, but she shakes her head right away and refutes it.

“It’s just that, it makes me remember about the past.”

That’s what Mom says while showing a lonely, yet warm smile on her face. Now that I think of it, when there’s a sad look on Mom’s expression, she’s most likely remembering about the [past]. Whenever she looks sad while looking at me, it’s surely because I’m making her recall the past.

Mom rarely talks about it. The only things she’s told me since then were about my father, and a bit about Mom’s childhood friend. She must have gone through a lot. I believe that the reason she doesn’t want to tell me is for my own sake.

I had believed that [the reason she doesn’t talk to me is because she doesn’t care about me] before. But now, I can say that it’s not true. In reality, [the reason Mom doesn’t talk about it is because she’s worried about me]. Therefore, she doesn’t need to force herself to talk about it anymore. But at the same time, I don’t want her to carry all the burdens by herself.

“Mom!”
“Eh?”
“I’m sure that Hinata-san and Rumi-san have gotten tired of waiting. Let’s hurry home.”
“H-hey, Tsubaki.”

I hold my mother’s hand and start walking in quick steps, which end up pulling her towards me. Mom is astonished by abrupt behavior, but she still follows me in the end. And so, we hurry onward. I’m sure that it will be fun when we get home. After all, there are gentle and kind people waiting for us there, and they will surely warm up Mom’s chilled heart.

If Mom is caught by the darkness of her past, then I will pull her towards the future. No matter how many times it will take, I’ll keep doing the same.

Even if I can’t become the substitute for Mom’s beloved person, I believe there’s something that only I can do.

 

 

*

 

 

“We’re home.”

When we enter the living room, I see Rumi-san raising her head and smile sweetly with a magazine in her hand.

“Welcome back, you two. We tried calling you, but it wouldn’t connect. You got us a bit worried there.”
“I’m sorry we’re home late. We thought of contacting you, but both our cell phones went out of batteries.”
“Ah, I see. Fufu, you can be absent-minded at times.”
“I don’t want you to tell me that.”
“Uwah, Hiori-san. That’s harsh.”

While listening to Mom’s amusing conversation with Rumi-san from the sidelines, I realize that I do not hear her voice. Finding it strange, I search for her, to find that she’s right there on the in the same room. Hinata-san must have been tired of waiting for us, as she’s now sleeping pleasantly on the sofa. I place the groceries on the table and I approach her quietly so that I won’t wake her up. She’s breathing rhythmically, and her innocent, sleeping face looks so adorable that I can spend forever looking at her.

“We’re playing cards together until just a while ago. But when we took a short break, she’s already asleep when I wasn’t looking.”
“It seems that Hinata-san likes sleeping, after all.”
“Is that so? Really, she’s just like Nee-san…”
“………”

Before I know it, everyone is gazing at Hinata-san. She grimaces, seemingly ill at ease, then she mutters an incomprehensible mumble before turning over in her sleep.

“Fufu, Hinata-san is sleeping so peacefully.”
“You’re right. We have no reason to wake her up, so just let her be.”
“Ah, then I’ll lend Tsubaki-chan a hand.”
“Thank you very much, Rumi-san.”

I reluctantly leave her side and heads to the kitchen with Rumi-san. After we finish carrying all the ingredients, we put on aprons and start the preparation.

“Soo, what are you making today?”
“Let’s see… I’m thinking of Rumi-san’s favorite hamburg steak, and mixed rice… along with gratin.”
“Ooh~! That’s something to look forward to~”
“I want to add one more dish… but what would be good?”

While taking out the vegetables to wash, I ask Rumi-san. She answers after thinking about it for a moment.

“How about, cabbage rolls?”
“Ah, that’s a good idea.”

The essential ingredients are all present, so there will be no problem making them.

“Although, are cabbage rolls Japanese foods, or Chinese?”
“Hmm, I think it’s Japanese… why the question, though?”
“Hinata-san said that she dislikes Chinese foods, so I want to avoid making them.”

Hearing my reply, Rumi-san looks at me in wonder. Then, she giggles softly.

“It’s as if Hinata-chan is Nee-san’s reincarnation.”
“Eh?”
“The things they like, the things they hate; they’re amazingly similar to each other. And their aura, or rather, their personalities match, too.”

I recall Mom said that she resembled Rumi-san’s elder sister, too. But when I hear Rumi-san mention the word ‘reincarnation’, my heart jumps for some reason.

 

——Then, do you believe in the circle of transmigration?

 

When I was feeling down after running away from Mom, Hinata-san kindly cheered me up before muttering those words out of nowhere. It had left me in wonder why she would ask me that question all of a sudden.

 

——Hinata-san, do you believe in it? I mean, in reincarnation?

 

But when I ask Hinata-san, it’s like she was trying to console herself.

 

 

——I suppose. I think it’s a happy thing to be reincarnated. I got to meet a new family, and I also met Hiori, Tsubaki, and Rumi. I had always wondered why I get to retain my memories… but after coming to this town, I feel like it doesn’t matter anymore. No, that’s not quite right. From the bottom of my heart, I’m grateful to retain my memories when I was reborn.

 

(Could it be?)

I didn’t understand what she meant back then. I thought that it was a joke that she came up with to cheer me up. But, what if it wasn’t a joke, but the truth? What if Hinata-san reincarnated with [someone]’s memories?

(But, is that even…)

There’s no way such a dreamlike story can be real. But, when I told Hinata-san that I wanted to believe in ‘reincarnation’, it seemed that it made her happy. Above all, it seems like Hinata-san has known Mom from long ago. Not to add that both Mom and Rumi-san say that they resemble each other.

I don’t know what the truth is. I’m surprised at myself for even considering something so illogical. But, what if… what if Hinata-san is really [that person]’s reincarnation……?

“Sekiguchi… Tsubaki-san……”
“Hm? What’s the matter with Nee-san? ……hey Tsubaki-chan, what’s wrong?!”
“Ah……”

When I realize it, tears are already spilling to my cheeks. I don’t understand why I’m crying myself.

“I’m sorry. The onion is stinging my eyes…”
“But Tsubaki-chan, that’s clearly a burdock that you’re cutting over there.”
“A-ahaha… that’s strange.”
“…Are you okay?”

I make the best smile I can to assure Rumi-san. Perhaps relieved to see that, she gives me a smile of her own. I wipe away the tears around my eyes and try to behave like usual. That is, while hiding the fact that my heart is still thumping fast.

“Maybe my eyes are tired. I’m going to take some eye drops.”
“Okay—”

I convey my intention to Rumi-san, who is peeling a carrot timidly with a kitchen knife, before leaving the kitchen. I enter the living room to look for the eye drops. Hinata-san is still sound asleep, and Mom is vacantly looking at her sleeping face. Mom notices my presence and she turns to look at me.

“What’s wrong?”
“I’m looking for some eye drops…”
“I see. You’ll find them in the shelf next to you.”
“Yes.”

I open the shelf that Mom was pointing and I quickly find them. After I accomplish my objective, I close the shelf slowly so that it doesn’t make a sound.

“……zzz”

Her sleeping face is so innocent, which is fitting for someone her age. No matter how I look, she’s just a normal girl. Although, there are times when Hinata-san appears much more mature than what her age would suggest.

(I wonder if… I’m just worrying too much.)

Maybe it’s just one coincidence piling on top of another. Yes, it’s only by chance that she has the same preferences as that person…. But, the words that Hinata-san said, and her expression at that time, I can’t seem to get it off my mind.

“Are you waking her up?”

Perhaps my stare catches Mom’s attention, as she calls me out in a small voice. But I lightly shake my head.

“No, it’s just that… it seems she’s sleeping so happily.”

It’s like her sleeping face would make the ones looking at her feel happy, as well. It would be rude of me to keep staring at Hinata-san like this, so I take my eyes off her and looks at Mom.

“You’re right…”

Mom responds to me with an expression that’s difficult to read. Then, she slowly leaves her seat and heads towards the entranceway.

“Mom?”
“Sorry, I’m going out for a bit…. Don’t worry, I’ll be back by dinner.”
“Ah, b-but…”

All of a sudden, the way Mom looks makes me feel worried. It makes me want to stop her. I don’t understand it myself, but somehow, I have a bad feeling about it.

“I’m okay.”

Mom lowers her eyebrows and gently brushes my head. But her caring gesture and words are making me feel even more anxious.

 

“I’ll… be back soon.”

 

A short while after, Mom leaves the place. I can only watch her from behind.

“Ah… I need to prepare the foods….”

 

I can’t leave Rumi-san in the kitchen by herself, I need to return soon.

 

I tell myself that it’s going to be alright, that I’m just imagining it.

I chase away the uneasiness to the corner of my mind as I hurry back to the kitchen.


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