Warm Place Chapter 27

Author: Korota
Translator: Aoitenshi
Proofreader: Graze


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The Sun Rises

 

 

I brush aside the wildly-grown grass and tree branches as I push my way through the rough animal trail. After she had pulled my hand to take me outside so many times, I managed to memorize this path to the mansion. It’s difficult to look around along this path, and it’s been so long since I last used it. I was worried about possibly getting lost, but it turned out to be a needless worry.

 

After walking in the forest for a while, I arrive at an opening.

“Unlike how I had assumed, this place didn’t change much.”

It has been 16 years since my last visit. Nobody inhabits this place anymore, so I imagined the wilderness that would have taken over, as there was no one to maintain the site. Although apparently, it hasn’t changed that much. This is a place of memories, where I met her for the first time, and being here truly brings me back——but at the same time, I feel a sharp pain running through me.

I walk around the garden while gazing at the old mansion in front of me. I wonder how long it had been since the last time I looked at this mansion up close. Since I moved to my current house, I rarely passed by this area. Never would I return to this mansion anymore, I thought, but here I am.

I inadvertently recall the past, which makes me feel sick in my stomach. Even though I try not to think about it, the despair, hatred, and sadness that I’ve hidden deep inside my heart are bubbling their way out. I bite my lips to endure the nausea, and I move my heavy legs forward, one step at a time. Then, I enter the mansion and head towards the meeting place.

 

 

 

“Hey, you’re early.”

When I open the door, that man is standing in front of me sluggishly. His slovenly grin is discomforting. I would like to leave this place as soon as possible and remove this man from my sight.

Wanting to finish the matter quickly, I open my mouth and say:

“I wonder if I failed to tell you not to meet Tsubaki the last time we talked.”
“Haha, you’re so cold. Isn’t it fine? She’s my child.”

“You have the nerve to say that, how impudent. I don’t recognize you as her father, and you don’t have the right to call yourself that, either.”

“But, my blood still flows within her body.”
“……That’s all it is.”
“Then is it wrong for me to meet my cute child?”
“Stop joking around.”

My voice is shaking due to my anger. Even when I’m staring at him, he doesn’t seem perturbed in the slightest as he remains smiling with composure.

“……What is your aim?”
“You’re so harsh. It’s like I’ve told you the other day, I want to properly register our names and get married.”
“Your joke isn’t funny. What you want isn’t me nor Tsubaki, but Kurasaka family’s fortune, correct?”
“…Aah, come to think of it, you’ve always been the sensible one.”

He contains his smile for just a bit, and he stares at me like he’s trying to sound me out.

“I investigated right after we met. Which is how I know your motive in approaching us after all this time.”
“……I see.”

“Business isn’t going well for the company that you’re managing, correct? You seem to be suffering quite the loss. From what I heard, you’ll get in trouble if you can’t prepare the down payment by the end of the month.”

“Geez, just how did you manage to investigate all that? Truly terrifying, you’re really that woman’s child….”
“……hh.”

I bite my lips so strongly that I think they’re going to tear.

“Did I touch a nerve? Well, everything you said is pretty much spot-on.”

Huff, he breathes out as he approaches me.

“I wouldn’t even think of approaching you if I wasn’t troubled with money. I didn’t want to see that look in your eyes a second time.”
“You reap what you sow. I didn’t want to meet you again myself.”

After I spit out those words, he starts letting out an amused laugh like I just said something funny. Aah, this man hasn’t changed. He’s been rotten from the inside out.

“Hahaha, haah… exactly, Hiori.”
“………”

“Let’s make a trade. What I want is this mansion and land that you have inherited from the Kurasaka family.”

The land around here is strategic, which makes it highly-valued. On top of that, the land that the Kurasaka family owns is a few times bigger than usual. Although the mansion has been weathered with age, it should sell for a considerably good price since it was constructed with fine materials.

However, I have no obligation to hand over these assets to him.

“Pray tell me, why should I be giving these assets to you?”
“It’s for both our sakes. If you hand them over, I won’t appear in front of you anymore, both of you. I won’t meddle with you anymore, either.”
“…What if I refuse?”
“Then I’ll tell everything to your precious child.”
“…Are you threatening me?”

To tell the truth, I couldn’t care less about my family assets. This mansion, the land, and all the money that I inherited—I didn’t touch even a penny. I almost want to give all of the Kurasaka family’s fortunes to him since he wants them, but… there’s one part of me that refuses to let go of this mansion.

What floats in my mind are the dazzling, gentle memories of when I was playing with her in the garden. I want to preserve everything that’s connected to her in this world….

“No matter what you tell me, I have no intention of handing this place over to you.”

I have the resolve to tell Tsubaki about ‘that matter’. I didn’t want her to know if I could help it. But on the other hand, it is something that I must inform her of someday. Besides, even if I give him the assets, there is no guarantee that he won’t come to me again with the same threat.

“It can’t be helped then. I’ll ‘force’ you to agree.”
“hh?!”
“If you don’t promise to give me the assets…… I’ll do what I did in the past, you know?”

The moment Kashima stares at me with his narrowed eyes, my body stiffens with fear.

Noticing my reaction, he makes a lecherous smile. I can’t forget about it even if I want to; that nightmare springs back into my mind vividly. He’s approaching me quite slowly, so I intend to run away, but my body is numb from fear. The man in front of me looks at me like he’s enjoying this situation from the bottom of his heart.

“It’s not like I want to do this, either, you know?”

He utters words that he doesn’t truly mean. He strongly grabs my shoulder, and inches his face closer. Dread and revulsion are mixing within me, and I want to let out a scream.

“If only you would agree, you know—?”
“…ah……”

He’s still peering into my face as he lays his hand on my clothes. But, he stops short of removing them. I suppose this is his final warning. Even though I don’t want to lose against this man, my weak self keeps wanting to run away from him. I feel like giving him everything so that I can escape to a safe place.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Tsubaki.

It seems that I have remained the same even after all this time…

 

Perhaps he’s getting irritated because I’m not saying anything, he starts moving his hand again, like he’s resuming what he was——

 

 

Smash!

 

“What?!”

I hear the sound of the window shattering, and I look at what’s occurring behind Kashima as he turns around. After making a small hole in the window glass with a stick or some sort, someone is sticking their hand through to unfasten the window latch. Then, while being careful not to step on the glass shards, that person skillfully climbs over the window into the mansion.

 

 

“Oops, sorry for intruding.”

 

 

“You’re…”

“……how?”

The arrival of an unexpected visitor leaves both of us dumbfounded, and a warm smile, unbefitting of the situation, shows on the face of the young girl. The one who is standing there is the girl who has moved in next door just the other day. Surprised by the unexpected occurrence, that man separates from me and faces the young girl.

“H-hey, you can’t just break into someone else’s mansion like that.”
“I think forcing yourself against an unwilling woman is even worse.”
“Tsk.”

She doesn’t flinch from the man’s thorny words. Far from it, she’s staring at him with such strength in her eyes.

“Shit, so you’ve prepared a chess piece over there… I thought I had set up the security and confirmed the surroundings beforehand.

…What’s this man talking about? She’s only a young girl who happens to be my neighbor. She doesn’t know anything, and she’s not related to us in any way. And, the one reason that the security didn’t respond is that she set foot in this mansion from the secret path. I wonder how she knows about the path that only that person and I know about. And, why is she here right now?

“Hiori.”

The young girl slowly approaches me and checks my appearance.

“Are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere? Did he do anything to you?”
“Y-yes, I’m okay.”
“It seems I made it in time.”

After confirming my safety, she removes her grim expression as she smiles happily. Then, she breathes out a sigh of relief. Her smile appears as if it’s overlapping with someone that I know well. What am I thinking about? That person is no longer of this world.

I shake my head to disperse that illusion. More importantly, I want to know why the girl is here in front of me.

“Say, what are you doing here?”

To my question, she holds her tongue. She only makes a troubled smile without saying anything. After she puts my hair and clothes back in order, she makes a satisfied look.

——When I really think it over, it’s a mystery.

It’s weighing on my mind how she behaves as if she knows everything. Without this girl, my relationship with Tsubaki would have most likely deteriorated. Perhaps I would’ve ended up agreeing to this man’s words, too. It would be understandable if she knew about our circumstances. But, she has moved to this town just recently, and there shouldn’t be enough time for us to get to know each other yet. Despite all that, the way she speaks is like she even knows about the things unknown to those who are close to me.

Just… who on earth is the young girl with kind eyes in front of me?

 

“I’m having an important discussion with her right now, so… little girls should go home. You’re bothering us.”
“But that’s the reason I’m here, Kashima Masayuki-san, to bother you.”

She puts on a firm expression as she turns to face that man.

“…You were there at the cemetery, too. Sheesh, just how many times do you want to interfere before you’re satisfied?”
“If you’re going to ruin Hiori’s happiness, then I’ll do it as many times as I need.”

She and that man… Kashima, glare at each other. Betraying his composure, Kashima now shows a stern expression. However, that girl stands imposingly against him.

“Just how much do you know?! Do you also know the fact that she’s the daughter of a murderer?!”
“hh?!”

Kashima speaks of an ounce of truth about our past that I never even told Tsubaki, to a young girl that’s unrelated to us whatsoever. Now that she has ended up hearing about the truth that I want to keep hidden, all my strength leaves my body.

“………”

The girl doesn’t look disturbed, nor does she avert her eyes from Kashima. She only keeps silent.

I wonder what is running through her mind right now. What does she think of me, who is the daughter of a murderer, as well as Tsubaki? There is no doubt that she feels repugnant towards us, who have the blood of a murderer running through our veins. She will then keep her distance from us.

Tsubaki is quite attached to her even though they’ve met just recently. I’m sure she will be terribly saddened when that happens. When I imagine the sad look on my daughter’s face, I feel a pain in my chest.

“Well, I do know that you’re a disgusting fool.”
“……aah?”
“No!! Run!”

Kashima approaches the girl while seething with anger. Then he grabs her collar and pulls her towards him. I want to rescue her, but my body is paralyzed from fear. She’s going to get hurt at this rate!! What happened in the past is going to befall her——

“……hh!”

The girl calmly grabs both his arms, and suddenly she sweeps him underfoot. And so the young girl smoothly pushes a man bigger than herself down to the floor.

Thud, a loud voice resounds, and dust flutters about.

“Guhh…?!”

She lets go of his arm, and looks down at him. Perhaps his back hurts from the impact, since he only curls on the floor while touching his back.

“I don’t hold the title ‘anymore’. But in the past, I had a black belt in judo, just so you know.”

Pat pat, she brushes the dust off her clothes, and sneers at Kashima as she looks down on him.

“Kh… bastard… do you think, you can get away with this? …I’m gonna expose this woman’s secret for everyone to know…!!”
“…………”
“I’ll follow you anywhere you go, Hiori, and that child, too!! I’m gonna make you hide from the sunlight like the criminal’s daughter you are!!”

“You’re really the worst.”
“Whaat?!”

“That’s when we’re going to sue you. Article 222, a person who intimidates another through a threat to another’s life, body, freedom, reputation or property shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than 300,000 yen.”

The way she states the criminal law is fluent, which is unthinkable for a girl as young as her.

“Haah?! D-do you think that the police will act just from that?!”

He supports his upper body with his arm and sends a weak glare against the girl from below.

“In that case, I’ll consult with my Mom.”
“Huh?”

Kashima looks at her, dumbfounded, while the girl keeps her calm as she stares at him.

“My mother is an attorney. If you do anything to Hiori or Tsubaki, I’m going to use this as evidence to take you to the court.”

She produces a cell phone. When she presses a button, a recording of my voice, as well as Kashima’s and hers, starts playing. It seems to have impeccably captured our conversation earlier. This recording will be advantageous for us as evidence.

“Ugh, d-damn it… Damn it aaaallll!”
“Never show up in front of Hiori and Tsubaki, ever again.”
“Fuck you!! You think that will make me give up?!”

Mortified, Kashima stands up staggeringly, seemingly still in pain. Then, he confronts the young girl again. Both of them glare each other in silence for a while, as a tense, oppressive air fills the room.

“Are you going to assault me, like you once did to Hiori?”
“……That would depend on your actions.”

She isn’t frightened by Kashima’s intimidation. Instead, she glares at him without even trying to hide her irritation.

“I won’t forgive you for my whole life. I’ll never forgive you for hurting Hiori.”
“You can hate me all you want. It’s not like what you think of me matters anyway.”

 

The young girl’s expression is filled with anger. However, it is now tinged with sadness.

 

 

“……Even though Hiori’s mom had truly loved you.”

 

Eh?

 

“hh!”

 

I have never seen Kashima open his eyes so wide before. Although, I find that my jaws are opening wide myself. Who did she just say loved whom?

 

“H-how… how did you know… about that…? The only ones who knew were that woman and that girl….”

“And yet, you pushed all your responsibilities to Hiori…… and you ran away, by yourself.”

 

“What the hell, you…… what the hell!!!!”

Kashima grows exasperated as he pushes her to the wall and pins down her shoulder forcefully.

“……hh!”

Anguish shows on the girl’s countenance. Her pained expression sprouts a disgusting smile on the man’s face as he gazes at her.

“Stop it!!”

I can’t move. I want to help her, but why is my body still frozen with fear?!

“…hh, why…!”
“…Khukhu, just stay there and watch.”
“……hh.”

He sends me a glance while he’s still pushing her against the wall. Just one sharp glare is enough for him to reduce me to this pathetic state.

“So, where did you hear that from? I thought they were the only ones who knew about it.”
“………”
“Answer me.”
“………”
“Do you need to see some pain, before you can understand?”

He lifts her chin and brings his face closer. However, the girl only stares back at the man’s eyes without saying anything. Her pupils exhibit no weakness, rather, there is a strong will dwelling within them. Does she not feel fear from being glared by an adult man?

“I didn’t hear anything from anyone.”
“Haah? What, are you saying that you were there and saw everything yourself?”
“…What if, I say yes?”
“Ha, hahahahahahahaha! What are you saying! Are you insane, eeh?!”

She shouldn’t have been born yet back then. Naturally, it is impossible for her to have been there. Knowing that, Kashima goes into a laughing spree.

“Tell me. Who told you about what happened back then?”

 

“Sekiguchi… Tsubaki.”

“?!”

Hearing that person’s name out of nowhere makes my heart thump loudly.

“…That’s not possible, either. That girl died back then, and there’s no way you could have met her.”
“So, you know about her name.”
“I investigated about that child just to confirm that things wouldn’t get awry somewhere along the line.”

Wait a second. Why does Kashima know about Tsubaki? I did talk to Tsubaki about him, but they should have never met each other before. Or, did she meet him without me being aware of it?

“A young girl saw you and Hiori’s mother having a rendezvous by accident in a certain garden, the blind spot in this mansion. That girl was Sekiguchi Tsubaki… right?”

“…………”

“At that time, you two were in a fight. Hiori’s mother knew about Hiori’s pregnancy, as well as the one who had conceived her. That was why she was questioning you.”

“What are you…”
“Kashima Masayuki-san, you had an affair with Hiori’s mother.”
“hh?!”

Kashima’s face turns pale before my eyes, and his breathing becomes ragged. He can’t hide his agitation.

So, Mother had associated with this man. I was totally unaware of that. I believe even Father and the servants don’t know about it.

As if she was there to witness it in person, the young girl recites the truth unknown to me.

 

“When Hiori’s mom pressed you for an answer, you answered, ‘It wasn’t my fault, your daughter was the one who tempted me,’ making it as though all the fault lies with Hiori.”

“…………”
“You pushed your own action to someone else, and you succeeded in turning her mother’s hatred to Hiori instead.”
“…H-how… did you…”
“While grasping a pair of scissors with a blank expression on her face, she went to her daughter. Yet, you ran away from her!!”
“T-that’s not my fault!!”

Kashima shouts frantically. His eyes are bloodshot, and his mouth is visibly distorted.

“I was only acting kind so I could get ahold of all of Kurasaka’s assets. But, that woman, she didn’t even realize that I was using her. She actually loved me for real… haha, what a joke!!”

“……”
“She’s the one who fell for me! I didn’t do anything! I’m not in the wrong!”
“……”
“It’s that woman’s fault that the Kurasakas fell to ruin, and my plan along with it. Yeah, yeah! I’m the victim here!”

The madman spouts one excuse after another.

 

Aah.

She wasn’t loved by her husband. She wasn’t loved by her daughter. And, she wasn’t even loved by this scum of a man. Just how deep was her loneliness, as she lived on? Just how cold did she freeze her own heart? I can’t even begin to imagine.

 

 

 

 

Just how clumsy we are with people…

 

 

 

 

Both Mother, and me, too.

 

 

 

“…Stop joking around.”

A blazing emotion wells forth within me. Although… I can’t tell if what I’m feeling is anger, sorrow, or regret. I’m now able to move my body again, as if I have been released from my shackles. I start moving my feeble legs to slowly approach Kashima. I glare at the man in front of me without averting my eyes.

 

All my fears have left my body.

 

 

“Mother, and I….. aren’t your playthings!!”

“Eep?!”

I pull Kashima away from her, and I use both my hands to squeeze his neck. When I put more strength into my fingers, I can feel his throat vibrating, and a strained voice leaks out from his mouth.

“Guuh…?!”
“Hiori!!”
“…It’s alright. This man isn’t even worthy to be killed.”

Although truthfully… I thought of letting my emotion run amok and strangling this man. That’s just how much I detest him.

(But, I’m not alone.)

I have someone that I must protect, my irreplaceable treasure. That’s why, I have no intention of sacrificing my life for someone like him.

“Geh… cough!!”

When I release Kashima, he takes his distance from us in fright to the corner of the room. His vigor is nowhere to be seen, and I can see his body trembling repeatedly over a short interval.

“Hahaha, s-so in the end, you’re still that woman’s daughter! Were you trying to kill me?!”
“……I suppose you’re right. I’m the daughter of that person. That fact won’t change forevermore.”

 

I have no memories of being loved by Mother. I have no memories of loving her. I suppose Mother had no memories of ever being loved by me. I suppose Mother had no memories of ever loving me.

 

But, is that really true?

 

“……”

No one can tell anymore. After all, even if I want to ask, that person is no longer of this world.

I have been thinking that my parents don’t love me. I have decided so. However, what if——there had actually been a time when they showed their love to me?——the thought comes to me now of all times. Too many bitter, unpleasant things occurred, but what if I’ve forgotten that such a time actually exists?

Of all times… yes, it’s far too late for me to start having such thoughts. It doesn’t change the fact that I still detest that person, and that I will never forgive what she did. However, just a little, it’s just a little feeling within me, that I want to believe in my mother.

 

“I… will tread a different path from Mother. Although, I did end up following the same path as her partway through.”

This is where we part ways. I must make the first step in the path that I ought to tread, in order to reach the best future. And, it’s time for me to sort and leave the things that I don’t need and move on.

“Kashima, I will give this mansion to you… I no longer need it, so you can do whatever you want with it.”

After all, even without this mansion, my memories will remain within my chest. Today is the day I stop sacrificing my future to protect my past.

“I will appoint a representative for the formal procedures, so don’t ever show your face to us again.”
“…………”
“If you do… perhaps I won’t be able to restrain myself anymore.”

When I clench my hands tightly, Kashima stiffens up and goes into a fluster.

“…hh!! F-fine! I wouldn’t want to get involved with you if I had the money anyway…!”
“Shut… your mouth, and go away already.”

Kashima cautiously backs off until he reaches the door, before hurrying to leave. I pity myself for being scared of such a miserable man all this time.

 

(…It’s over.)

I’ve finally resolved the bothersome things, so I heave a long sigh to let the tension out of my shoulders.

The sense of liberation runs through my whole body, and it feels comfortable. It seems that my mood has become considerably lighter. Aah, from now on, I can live together with that child without having to worry about anything. I feel happiness gradually welling forth from that line of thought, and I let myself be immersed in that sensation.

 

 

“Good job.”

Despite what happened to her earlier, the young girl looks as though it was nothing as she draws near. Even though she’s still a child, she holds considerable courage.

“You did your best out there.”

Those words greatly stir my heart.

The way she speaks those gentle words is like she’s sympathizing with my past. The burdens that I’ve been carrying, my sorrow, my loneliness, my regrets—it’s as if she knows everything that I’ve been holding. It’s as if she’s been watching over [all of me].

 

“Why… why are you here?”
“I was just passing through.”
“There’s no way that’s true.”
“A-ahaha, I guess you won’t fall for that, will you?”

She knows. The girl in front of me knows about many things that even I, the one concerned, am not aware of. That’s why, I want to know.

 

Who… is she?

 

 

“…Well, I do have a reason to come here.”

So she says as she produces an item from her pocket and presents it to me.

“This is…”
“Tsubaki asked me to bring this [charm] to you, saying that she had a bad feeling.”

What she presents to me, what I’m holding in my hand now, is a precious item that I received from the Sekiguchis. I have always been carrying that person’s cell phone close to me wherever I go, keeping it as my charm.

“I see… Thank you for going out of your way to deliver it. However, that was the reason why you were looking for me. It still doesn’t answer why you are here.”

It’s possible that my daughter informed her about this mansion. However, this place isn’t easily accessible anymore, and it’s exceedingly difficult to locate the hidden path to this mansion. This young girl knows about the things that only [Sekiguchi Tsubaki] would know about.

“You’re right…. Well, since Hiori has already broken free of her past with her own strength… it’s all okay now, right…?”
“……”

“Ah.”

The girl seems to have discovered something in the room. She suddenly takes something from the top of the shelf. It seems to be covered with dust, since she brushes it off several times before showing it to me.

“A Rubik’s cube…”

“Let’s make a bet.”
“A bet?”

She smiles as though she’s having fun. Unlike the mature self that she showed earlier, she’s now showing a cherubic smile befitting of her age.

“Let’s compete at who can solve the cube faster. The one who can arrange the colors faster wins.”
“…What do we bet?”

“If Hiori wins, I will tell you everything you want to know.”
“……”
“How about it?”
“…Alright.”
“I’ll go first. Umm, go ahead and jumble it up.”

I rotate the cube that I receive from her, so much that it might have turned into the most jumbled arrangement ever. I hand it over to her, and it takes her but a few seconds to look as if she has figured it out.

“Then, I’ll use the cell phone that you brought earlier to time it.”
“Sure.”
“Ready, go!”

She quickly rotates the cube around, and the jumbled colors are gradually put in order. It looks as if she’s only rotating it randomly, but I can tell that she’s considering where and how to arrange the colors together. The clattering sounds of the cube resound in this otherwise quiet room.

“Okay, it’s done.”

After a short time, she gives me the solved cube. Its surfaces are uniform with one color each.

…She’s fast. The displayed time is slightly faster than my best record in the past.

“I’ve been practicing like forever, in the past, and in the present, too…. Because it was vexing for me.”
“…………”
“So, it’s Hiori’s turn now.”

 

“Yes.”

 

I pass the cube to her, and she jumbles it up. It’s been such a long time since I last played with it; I suppose that time was my last. As I gaze at the girl who’s jumbling the cube around like her life depends on it, I recall those days. The sight of her desperately trying to surpass my record resurfaces in my mind.

“Here you go.”

I receive the now jumbled cube. After looking at the surfaces for a bit, I signal her to start.

“Ready, go!”

My fingers start moving the cube around as soon as I hear her shout. This really brings me back. I would calmly stare at the cube surfaces, working out the solution in my head as I rotate it around quickly. I was good at playing this in the past, but I can’t seem to move as well since it’s been such a long time. However… it will be quite all right.

“I did it.”

When I let her see the solved cube, she squints her eyes a little and smiles a bit.

“I can’t really compete against you, even after practicing so much. This is unfair.”
“Even if you tell me that.”

It seems that I managed to solve it faster than her. Although, she doesn’t seem disappointed at all. She looks as if she has expected this outcome right from the start. And for some reason, our exchange just now feels so nostalgic. It feels as if I’ve done the same exchange in the past.

“You’ll have to answer me, then. Why did you come to this mansion? And, how do you know about all those things?”

I suppress my throbbing heart, as I demand the wager that I’ve won from her.

“Yup. We’re ending the ‘punishment game’ now.”

“………eh?”

 

She gently places the Rubik’s cube on the shelf, before returning to stand in front of me. After locking our eyes for a while, she finally begins to speak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My name is Hayase Hinata, and I’m the reincarnation of Sekiguchi Tsubaki, who died 16 years ago.”

 

 

 

 

 

“Rein…carnation…?”

 

“Yup.”

 

With a serious expression, she says something that’s closer to a joke.

“That’s why I know how to reach this mansion, about the things between Hiori’s mother and Kashima, which you aren’t aware of, and that incident, too.”

Impossible.

 

There’s just no way it could be true.

 

“D-don’t joke around with me…”

“Aa~ah, I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”

She shows a somewhat sorrowful smile. But even so, she doesn’t retract her own words. She won’t tell me that she was joking.

“It’s okay if you don’t believe me. But that’s the truth, so there’s just no other way for me to answer your question, Hiori.”

I don’t believe in unscientific things. That’s why I know that that person is no longer in this world—that I won’t be able to meet her anymore. How can I believe that the young girl standing in front of me is Tsubaki’s reincarnation?

But in that case, why does this child remind me of her? I wonder why looking at her feels so nostalgic. Is it just a coincidence that their trivial gestures, as well as the way they speak, are identical to each other? Just how is she able to know about the things that would be known only to Sekiguchi Tsubaki? If I were to believe her words, then everything would fit in place. But, my heart simply can’t accept that.

“…hh.”

I have always been wishing for this to happen. Be it as a spirit, in a dream, a phantom, even an illusion… I want to meet her. I know full well that I don’t have the right to, but even so, I still want to meet her. I want to hear her bright voice, I want to see her troubled face, I want her to show me her smile, which was as warm as the sunshine.

 

“Hiori.”

 

 

Perhaps I have already noticed. Perhaps I have already known the what-ifs somewhere along the line.

However, I don’t have the right to meet her, and that’s why I’ve been pretending not to notice.

When I think about it now, that’s the conclusion that I arrive at.

 

 

 

“It’s already okay.”

 

 

 

At this moment, my tears start to flow.

I break down, in more meanings than one. Like a child, my tears trickle along my cheeks in large drops, before falling to the ground.

“……ah”

Blazing emotions rise from within my heart. They comprise of my guilt, my loneliness, my nostalgia, my love, among many others. The feelings that I have stashed away since forever ago have started spilling, and I can’t stop it.

 

 

“Tsuba…ki?”

 

 

There is a girl in front of me, who is smiling at me. Her face is entirely different from the childhood friend from my memories, her stature and voice don’t resemble that person’s, either. But…

Even though I can’t believe it myself….

 

I’m having goosebumps.

 

“Is it really you… Tsubaki?”

With tears blurring my vision, I can’t see her face that well. However, I’m sure that she’s showing a troubled face right now. That’s what my hunch tells me.

 

 

“I’m sorry that I’m late.”

 

 

 

I wanted to meet you.

 

You know, I really wanted to meet you.

 

I’ve been wanting to meet you forever.

 

I wanted you to live.

 

I wanted you to stay next to me.

 

I’m sorry for harboring such selfish thoughts. For several years, I have been able to conceal it inside me, but these thoughts just won’t disappear. My feelings towards you will never disappear.

Then, is it alright for me, to vent it already? Is it really, alright?

After pondering various things, and with my mind turning into mush… I no longer understand what is it that I should do, except that———

 

 

I’m already at my limit.

 

 

 

 

“Tsubaki!!!”

 

“Hiori.”

 

I embrace her with all my strength, and she hugs me back. The warmth, the gentleness, those sensations loosen my tear glands again, spilling my tears. The warmth nestling in my arms is… really, really endearing.

“Huh? Hiori, I thought you weren’t the type to believe in unrealistic things.”

The way she pokes fun at me is really Tsubaki-like. Everything feels so nostalgic, so endearing, and I can feel the gaping hole in my heart starting to fill. I still find it difficult to believe that she is Tsubaki, but rather than using my logic, I recognize her with my feelings instead.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Tsubaki…… I’ve been wanting to meet you.”

“I should be sorry, too. I’m not able to stay by your side for such a long time.”

 

“hh!”

 

 

 

Those words make me overcome with emotion, and I burst into tears, as if I’m screaming.

 

 

 

Tsubaki gently strokes my back, as if she’s trying to soothe a child. The sight of me hugging a child while crying so loudly must look comical. However, that is but a trivial matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes.

It’s nothing but a trivial matter compared to the miracle that has occurred in front of me.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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8 thoughts on “Warm Place Chapter 27

  1. Thank you for this chapter~
    That bastard would have deserved a kick (or stomp) to the nether region- twice by both Hiori and Hinata… at the very least.
    Great to see the secret is out \(^-^)/

    Like

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