A Warm Place
“I see… That’s what happened…”
When I finished telling Hiori about what had happened 16 years ago, the side that she didn’t know about, she muttered those words. Her bitter expression probably revealed her feelings of guilt and regret among other things. After making her show that kind of face, I was at a loss of words, and I could only keep silent.
Now, we’re going back home at a leisure pace while talking to each other. We could’ve continued our conversation there, but when I received a mail from Saki saying, ‘You’re super late. Dinner. Ready,’ we decided to return home for the time being. Quite some time has passed since I left, so I guess everyone is getting worried.
She calls me using my [past name] in a stern voice. I look up at the crimson evening sky, and I make a sound in response.
“It was all… my fault that you died… wasn’t it?
“Eh? That’s not true, though?”
“It is true!!”
She suddenly shouts while denying my words, which makes me look towards her in surprise. There’s a clouded expression on her face, as she stares into my eyes.
“I got you involved in my personal matter, even though it should have had nothing to do with you. It’s all because I was weak, behaving like a spoiled child to you…!”
“Don’t say that it has nothing to do with me. It makes feel so lonely.”
“After all, we have connection to each other, right?”
I won’t let Hiori say that we have nothing to do with each other. I won’t let her see our encounter, the time that we spent together go away ‘as if they never happened’.
“We had always been together, right?”
Even now, they remain vivid in my memories.
We played together. We took a nap, we studied, we went for a walk, we chatted, we did many things together. Even after I reincarnated, my precious memories with Hiori are still with me. Hiori is my childhood friend, as well as my best friend. Nah, I think of her as someone more special. I don’t know how to name a relationship that goes deeper than a best friend… although, she is as important as my family. That’s why, when she says that I have nothing to do with it, it makes me sad.
I grab one of her cold hands, and I grasp it tightly to warm her up. It’s already spring, but it still gets chilly when it gets dark. From her hands, I can tell that Hiori is feeling tense. How adorable she is.
“I died because of my own fault. If only I had handled it better, everything wouldn’t have turned out that way.”
Like an idiot, I thoughtlessly jumped out back then. Bad luck struck, and that was how it had to turn out. I was so pathetic. Instead of trying to stop that person, I could’ve gone to Hiori first and escape somewhere. There must have been many other options to take. I was too desperate back then. My judgement was clouded, and I couldn’t think calmly. Although, I don’t regret what I did at that time. I think it’s fortunate that I managed to protect Hiori in the end.
“Still, I believe… I don’t have the right to stay with you…”
“Aah, geez! Hiori!”
Startled, her eyes become round. Then, I give her a gentle smile.
“It’s true that I died back then. But, I don’t intend to blame anyone for that.”
What I have to blame, is nothing but my own foolishness.
That’s why, there’s no need for Hiori to feel guilty at all. That’s not what I wish from her.
“I’ve already lived the past sixteen years as a different person. Our ages have become so far apart. But… even so, I want to stay with you, Hiori… just like back then.”
“Nope, I’m no longer Tsubaki. After all, you already have [Tsubaki] with you, right?”
She is a polite and kind daughter, inheriting my name, and Hiori’s looks. One [Tsubaki] is enough to stay by her side. Hiori has her family, and I have my own. I have grown into a new [self] as Hayase Hinata.
“I want to live my current life. Maybe it’s important to look back to the past sometimes, but I want to create the present with you, Hiori.”
I know that what I’m saying is ridiculous. In the first place, my existence as the reincarnation of Sekiguchi Tsubaki is already absurd. Whether or not Hiori will accept me, depends on herself.
Finally, she calls my name. Not Sekiguchi Tsubaki, but my name after I reincarnated.
“I want to stay with you, as well. It doesn’t matter what kind of shape you take, even though our circumstances have changed, nothing will change. My feelings to you will never change.”
“Stay with me, forever, Hinata.”
She holds my hand firmly, transferring her warmth. Her earnest gaze and glistening eyes make my heart pound loudly. I’m unconsciously drawn to her prim and maturely beautiful face, which remains unchanged to this day. She looks really young for her age.
…I’m captivated by Kurasaka Hiori, a woman so beautiful that it should be illegal.
For some reason, we’re gazing at each other without saying anything. After a little while, she opens her mouth and weaves a few words.
“I love you, Hinata.”
With a gentle tone that is so unlike her, she says those embarrassing words, which makes me leak out an idiotic voice in surprise. Although, she looks displeased when she sees my reaction.
But, butbutbut it’s because she took me by surprise! She said it out of the blue, you know?! …Of course I would get embarrassed!!
While fanning my heating face, I force a cough to gloss it over.
“Uh, umm, are my Dad and Mom doing well? I mean… from the Sekiguchis…”
I change the topic to escape from this awkward situation. I didn’t get to meet them even though I visited home the other day. So, I’m getting a bit curious.
“Yes, your parents are doing as well as ever…. I’ve been in their good care since that incident.”
“I see. It’s been on my mind for a while. Yup, it’s good that they’re well.”
“Are you sure not to meet them?”
“So… you aren’t going to tell them, either?”
I wonder how sad Mom and Dad are to have a daughter who dies young. However, it seems that they got over their sadness to support Hiori and Tsubaki. There’s no meaning to tell them about me at this point. It’s true that I died, and I don’t think they wish to hear about my ‘reincarnation’. Instead, they would tell me ‘to live my current life to its fullest’, I’m sure.
“Besides, if I stay in this town… we’re bound to meet each other anyway.”
When I meet them, I can just make a new ‘bond’ with them as Hayase Hinata.
I hope they forgive me for being such a thankless daughter for dying ahead. I hope that they spend every day smiling in good health. If anything happens to them, I want to be able to help without hesitation. When all is said and done, they’re still my beloved parents, the ones who had raised me lovingly for eighteen years.
“…If you say so. Then I’m not going to inform them, either.”
It seems that there’s something she wants to say, but she didn’t. I’m thankful that she’s being considerate.
Afterwards, we talk about lots and lots, as though we’re trying to close the 16-year gap that had separated us. I ask her about things that I want to know, while adding trivial topics in the mix. We never seem to run out of things to talk about.
“…We’ve already arrived.”
Chatting as we walk, we’ve suddenly reached home. After holding Hiori’s hand all the way here, I gently release her. But, she makes an anxious face.
“Even if you look at me like that… what else can I do?”
“Y-you don’t need to tell me that.”
It seems that I’ve just made her sulk, as she turns her face away. I guess it’s just her way to hide her embarrassment. Even though she looks like a refined adult from all perspective, I think that the childish side of her is really unexpected and cute… She’s going to get angry and ignore me for a while if I mention it, though. I’ll just keep it to myself.
“I’m sure everyone is waiting, let’s go in.”
So I put my hand on the door handle.
When I open the front door, Tsubaki is there to greet us with a gentle smile. She’s my important friend who found out the truth about the [me] that I’d been hiding. Also, in a way, I think of her as my irreplaceable daughter.
“Welcome home—! Geez, you’re late! I’m super hungry, you know—!”
“My, welcome home. You’re getting so late that I thought you would be back by the morning.”
My pouting sister, as well as my grinning mother appears from the inner room. These troublesome people always have their way to tease me, but they never fail to cheer me up.
“Welcome home, Hiori-san, Hinata-chan.”
This time, Rumi shows her face out of nowhere. She can be absent-minded at times, but out of everyone I know, she works the hardest. She’s my kind sister who’s been helping Hiori when I couldn’t.
The people that are gathering in droves at the entranceway are all, my precious family.
And the one standing next to me, is my special person, the one whom I want to protect for the rest of my life.
‘What’ I thought I’ve lost forever, is here.
My chest feels tight, because it’s being filled with warm feelings.
My words are stuck in my throat, and I can’t seem to speak. Even though they have no idea what I’m feeling right now, standing here in this place, everyone is waiting for me patiently to say those words.
……I take a deep breath.
I’m used to saying these two words, but this time, I’m conveying it with a different meaning.
I face the precious family standing in front of me.
I’m finally able to say it out, those two words.
And right after.
Replies the girl standing next to me, before anyone else can overtake her.