Warm Place Chapter 6


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A Trembling Me

“What a great weather~”

Mother told me to retrieve the uniforms, so I’m off to the store where we had ordered them. Blue sky and white clouds extend wherever I see, and the great sun has risen right above me. It’s the perfect day to make an excursion.

“Hnng~ it feels pleasant.”

There’s nobody around, and I stretch my limbs wide. I want to take a nap by the river during such weather, but then I realize that I’ve just woken up earlier. I had been taking such a pleasant sleep, but Mother woke me up at noon.

“Well, I have to go and retrieve the uniforms anyway.”

Saving the afternoon nap for another time, I walk towards the uniform store. I was given a map to the store, but I already know the place since the previous [me] went to the same store at middle and high school.

Relying on my memories, I walk for a while until I find the place where I remember it. Maybe because so many years have passed since I was separated from this town, it took me much longer than I thought to reach here. Now that I think about it, if I add my age and the past [me] together, it’s 30 years… isn’t it…?

(So from my mental age, I’m an auntie that’s over 30 years old.)

Thinking about it gives me mixed feelings. On the other hand, my body is that of a teen, bursting with youth and energy….. Ahaha.

“E-excuse me—! I am Hayase. We have ordered some uniforms from you.”

In order to stop myself from thinking further about it, I vigorously open the store door.

*

“…It’s heavy.”

Carrying the large, heavy plastic bags with both my hands, I sluggishly tread the path home. With this weight, I feel as if my arms will get pulled apart. If I knew this would happen, I would’ve pulled Saki along even if she resisted. Although, even if she was here, she would just say something like, “I can’t carry anything heavier than a pair of chopsticks~☆”

And Mother… she’ll just make me pointlessly tired, so no.

“Uuh… it’s heavyy…”

While I’m confident with my strength, I’m not too sure about my stamina. Exhausting my energy in no time, I let go of the bags and take a rest. Carrying that heavy thing have created smarting marks on my palms.

“Haah… I’m tired.”

While I am regulating my breath, an acquaintance comes into my view.

“Good afternoon, what a coincidence.”
“Uhyoo?!”

Jolt! My heart throbs loudly, making a strange sound.

There stands a young girl who I just met yesterday—the one that resembles my childhood friend. Thrust by the sudden encounter, my whole body stiffens from surprise that I can’t make a proper response. On top of it, my heart is pounding noisily.

Aah, this throbbing heart… I see. This must be love——wait, no no no no, am I an idiot?! Calm down, me! Even though this girl really looks like her, she’s a totally different person in the first place! I don’t have to be so flustered! I shake off the confusion from my head, and I feign composure. Although I believe it is far too late by now.

“Umm, g-good afternoon.”
“It seems I have surprised you again. I’m sorry.”
“I-it’s my fault for getting dazed like that! Don’t worry about it! Yup!”

As she apologizes, I fluster as I tell her that she’s not at fault. Troubling her two times in a row like this makes me feel so guilty.

“Are you out shopping?”
“Yup, I’m on my way home after retrieving our uniforms. They’re pretty heavy, so I’m taking a break right now.”

I point at the plastic bags on the ground and make a wry smile. She notices the uniforms inside them, and she looks a bit surprised.

“Those uniforms… are you enrolling in that school?”
“Yes, what of it?”
“To tell the truth, I’m going to the same school.”
“Heeh~ I see! We might be in the same class then.”
“Fufufu, I suppose so. Ah, if you don’t mind, I will help you carry the uniforms.”
“Y-you don’t have to! This is quite heavy!”
“My home is in that direction anyway, so please let me help you.”
“Uh… then, I appreciate your help…”

She’s shown her goodwill, and it would be rude to reject her. So, I end up receiving her help. Anyway, it saves me half of the burden that I need to carry.

“Leave it to me! Then, I’ll be carrying this one…”

She is lifting one of the two large bags, but——

“Upsy, daisy!! ~~aaAaaah?!”
“………”

The bag returns to the ground with a thud.

“S-sorry, one more time…”

Once again, she picks up the bag. This time, she manages to stand while being unsteady on her feet. She must be forcing herself to carry it. It makes me feel sorry to look at the way she is trembling.

“A-all right, let’s go!”
“I appreciate your feelings.”

In the end, I am carrying one bag on my own, and the other together with her. Feeling ashamed, she gives me her earnest apology. Her gesture alone already makes me feel happy, though. Besides, I am grateful that she is here to help.

We somehow carry the uniforms together, and we finally arrive at my home. Uuh, my hands are numb, it’s like they’re gonna break into pieces.

“Ah, this is my home. Thank you for helping me.”

I convey my gratitude to the young girl who have helped me with good grace even though we’ve met just yesterday.

“…This is, your home?”
“Yes, what of it?”

She looks surprised for some reason. I tilt my head, confused.

“My house, is next door.”
“Eeh?!”

So, the one who Mom mentioned this morning—the girl who is the same age as me—is her? The world sure is small. I look at the nameplate of the house where she points at, and I drop the bag to the ground.

“Kura…saka……?”

My whole body takes a sudden drop in temperature. My throat feels parched, and I gulp down my saliva. My fingers, my knees, they’re trembling. Even though it’s still daytime, I feel that my surroundings have turned dim somehow.

“Yes, now that I think of it, I haven’t introduced myself yet. My name is Kurasaka Tsubaki.”

She smiles as she makes her self-introduction.

“……hh”
“It didn’t cross my mind that you would be the one who moved next door yesterday. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Wow… it’s such a coincidence… I am Hayase Hinata. Let’s get along as neighbors.”

Did I, manage to smile properly? I wonder if she notices something strange about me. I hope that she doesn’t know that I’m… trembling.

We talk for a bit afterwards before parting. I leave the uniforms that I’ve brought to Mother, and I hurriedly return to my own room. I throw myself to the bed, and I bury my head into it.

How? Why?
No way. It’s impossible.

My mind is full of chaos, and I can’t think straight. No matter how I think about it, I can’t get to understand.

“…Is this fate?”

I put my thoughts into words, and I heave a sigh. Since I’ve come to this town, it’s highly possible that I’ll meet her family. Although, I never expected that it would be right next door.

——Kurasaka.

It could be that they just have the same surname, but I drop that thought. Yeah, after all, that girl looks just like [her]. There is a feeling that I can’t put into words welling up inside me, like it’s going to overflow.

“……….”

After a long time, I mumble the name of my childhood friend. My sound is so soft that I can’t even hear it myself, but I can feel my chest jar for a bit.

*

“Wake up, Hinata! How long are you gonna stay asleep?!”

Slowly opening my eyes, I see the sight of my mother (37) wearing the new uniform that I just brought home yesterday.

“…Aah, so it’s just a dream.”

This must be a dream. Yes, it’s a dream… no, maybe it would be more appropriate to call it a nightmare.

I can’t bear to look anymore than this, so I go back to sleep. I hope that I’ll get to see a nice dream instead of some nightmare this time.

“Just. Wake. Up. Already!”

Fwap! I am deprived of my mattress by force. Sheesh, so persistent. I open my eyes again, only to see that Mother is really wearing my uniform. Aah, so it’s not a dream… I wanted it to be a dream…

Hey!

“Why are you wearing my uniform?!”

I suddenly wake up. I am forced to.

“Because I wanted to try it on. Does it fit me? Say, how does it look?”
“No matter how I look at it, you only look like a middle-aged woman doing a cosplay! Okay? Take it off now!”
“Noo~ Maicching~”

Stop doing this the first thing in the morning, you young-girl-wannabeee—!! While enduring myself from shouting that out loud, I get up from bed and change my clothes right away. When I’m done, Mother suddenly comes near to stare at my face. I step back in surprise.

“W-what?”
“Your face, looks horrible.”
“How rude.”

Aren’t you the one who bore me with this face?!

“My mistake. You look really pale, you know? Did you sleep well? Do you feel sick?”
“………I’m okay.”

And whose fault do you think it is?—is what I refrain myself from saying. I look at the clock, and I see that time is close to noon.

“Your breakfast-lunch is ready. Hurry up, okay?”
“I’ll be there soon~”

Mother leaves the room peacefully, and I start changing. Just when I thought to leave as soon as I finish changing, I can hear someone knocking the door, whom I am sure is Saki. After all, Mom would just barge in instead of knocking.

“Come in—”

I give her my permission. As I wonder what it is about, my little sister enters the room, wearing her new middle school uniform.

“Look, doesn’t it suit me really well?”

Twirl, she turns around once and strikes a pose.

“Ooh— it’s cute, it’s cute. As expected of my sister~”
“Why are you saying it like that? You don’t sound like you mean it… it’s irritating!!”

Kick!

“Ouuch!!”

Seemingly unhappy with my praise, she launches a low kick against me. What kind of girl would kick her own elder sister…? But I hold myself from saying anything because it will just escalate things further. Hmm, I suppose it’ll be better if take this more seriously…

“Yup, it suits you very well. You really look cute.”
“……Ah, I know, right?”

Goddammit, I want to kick her back.

“Sailor uniforms all look the same anyway. It doesn’t look all that different from your uniform, does it?”
“Eeh, there are some differences. Look, like this part, or this line over here.”

She is desperate to show where the differences are, but I still don’t get it. Maybe because I have a crude personality, I don’t really fuss over fashion, clothes and the like… Besides, I had worn that uniform for three years in the past, so it’s also perhaps I’ve grown used to seeing them.

“Haah, even after I try to explain, it seems that Onee-chan still doesn’t understand.”
“Sorry for being an elder sister that doesn’t get the difference. Anyway, it seems that the meals have been prepared. Let’s go.”
“You’re no fun—”

Leaving behind Saki, who is puffing her cheeks, I depart from the room.

“My~ Is that true~?”
“Yes, it is.”
“?”

Thinking to wash my face, I am heading towards the washroom when I hear the voice of Mother talking with someone. I wonder if it’s a guest, so I peer into the room and I see the girl from next door.

Curious as to why the girl is here in our house, I am listening in to their merry conversation. But Mother, with her intuition too keen, spots me.

“Oh, you’re finally awake, Hinata. Gee, you’re such a sleepyhead.”
“Good morning, Hinata-san.”
“M-morning.”

She greets me with a smile, so I give her a greeting, too, in reflex. Anyone is bound to stiffen up when they are suddenly being talked to.

“It’s already noon, though~”

Mother’s sarcasm (in a murmur) is ticking me off for a bit. Well, it’s a common occurrence, anyway. More importantly——

“Why is Tsubaki here?”
“Oh my, since when did you get acquainted with Tsubaki-chan?”
“I met her on the day we moved in, and she helped me carry some things yesterday.”
“My, my~ We’re sorry for the great trouble.”
“Not at all. I am weak, so I couldn’t help much in the end.”
“It’s all right~ Thank you. Hinata’s strength is abnormal, so you don’t have to mind about it, okay~”

She’s saying everything without reserve. It seems that Mother has taken a liking to Tsubaki, seeing how she enjoys talking with her so much. Looking at Tsubaki, she doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, either.

“I went out to the veranda this morning, and I saw Tsubaki-chan airing her laundry. So, I brought her in.”
“……You mean you kidnapped her? I’m sorry you had to go along with my mother’s whims.”
“Please don’t worry about it. It is fun talking to Emiko-san.”

Emiko is Mother’s name. Because she doesn’t like being called ‘Auntie’ by teenagers, she must have told her “Call me by my name♪” or something.

“My, my, she’s really a good child, isn’t she?”
“Ok, ok.”

Leaving behind Mother who is looking fascinated, I go to the washroom to wash my face.

 

When I return from the washroom, I find Tsubaki sitting in the room alone. Mother and my younger sister are nowhere to be seen.

“Ah, Hinata-san.”

Tsubaki spots me and calls my name.

“…Where is my mother and younger sister?”
“Emiko-san is in the kitchen. Saki-chan seems to have gone away somewhere to play.”
“I see, thanks.”

Offering my gratitude in return for her information, I take a seat to her opposite. After that, I stay silent while wondering what I should talk about, but the silence makes the air somewhat heavy.

……This is where I should be asking her some questions. Although there is a mountain of things that I want to ask, what is it that I should ask first? What are the things that I can ask? My mind is messy and I can’t seem to say anything because of it.

(Eeih! Instead of thinking too deeply about it, I’ll just ask the things I want to know!!”

“U, um!”
“Yes?”
“Err, um…”

It’s good that I have broken the ice just with my spirit alone. But since I called her without anything in mind, the words that I want to say are caught up in my throat.

“I mean, what is your hobby?”

What finally comes out of my mouth, is the phrase that is often used in a marriage interview. I am ashamed of myself for not being able to make a more appealing question, or at least put in some clever words. On the other hand, Tsubaki doesn’t seem to mind as she takes a short while to think before answering.

“My hobby… is drawing.”
“Do you do landscapes? Or portraits?”
“Neither, I am poor at drawing realism. So I like drawing characters that would be fitting for picture books or the like.”
“Heeh— it’d make me happy if you would let me see them next time.”
“Eh, eeh?!”

Tsubaki makes a surprised look, as she turns a bit red.

“Y-you don’t need to show me if you don’t want to.”

I won’t force her if she doesn’t like the idea.

“No, I mean, it’s embarrassing, but I will show you next time.”
“Thanks, I’m looking forward to it.”

I’m curious about what kind of pictures she draws, so I’m happy to know that she’ll let me see them.

“What is your hobby, Hinata-san?”
“Let’s see…… making confectionery, I guess—”

I’ve tried various things, but due to my fickle nature, I never got to do anything for long.
Making confectionery is the only hobby that I’ve been indulging in for a long time. At first, it was just me trying to make my childhood friend say that it’s delicious. But, I got worked up midway; the more I made, the more I came to enjoy it. Now I have even started to make my own recipes.

“The cookies that you gave me yesterday were very delicious.”
“Is that so? Thanks.”

Making them is already fun by itself, but hearing others say that it’s “delicious” is all the more reason I can’t stop.

“The next thing I like would be sleeping, I guess.”

Although I’m not sure if I can call it a hobby, being able to take a leisurely nap gives me a happy mood.

“By the way, Tsubaki, you live alone with your mom, right? Do you do your own chores? Meals, for example.”
“Yes, Mom is busy at work, so I’m the one who does the housework.”

What an astonishing story. She’s so diligent despite being so young. I see, now I understand why Mother likes her so much.

After that, we talk about various things, we change our phone addresses, then Mother brings meals for us to enjoy together.

 

“That was a feast—”
“Thank you for the meal. It was very delicious.”
“Don’t mention it, it was nothing much.”
“Then, I should be returning home now.”
“My, are you leaving already~?”
“Mom, you can’t stop her like this. Aah, geez, don’t make that kind of face, either. You’re troubling Tsubaki.”

Haven’t they talked for long enough? I stop Mother from trying to stop her with her grumbling. Tsubaki looks happy, yet troubled from our banter; she is showing a complicated expression as she laughs.

“I will come again, if you don’t mind.”
“Gee~ no one would mind. You’re very welcome to, so come here anytime, okay?”
“Yes!”

Tsubaki stands up, so I follow suit.

“Oh, Hinata, where are you going?”
“To the bookstore. There’s a book that I wanna buy.”

I recall there is a new release on my favorite recipe book today, so I am going to buy it.

“Was there a bookstore around here? Say, do you know where it is?”

Of course I do. The bookstore in this town is hard to find, so only the locals would know about it.

“Um, would you mind if I guide you there…?”
“But, you already helped me out yesterday. I feel guilty to trouble you again…”
“The bookstore here is slightly difficult to spot, which is quite troublesome. Since I am free anyway, please let me be your guide.”

She smiles as she displays her concern to me. Her smile is like that of an angel… no, the Holy Mother herself.

“Uuh, so dazzling…!”

She’s such a good girl that I can’t look at her directly!

“Eh? Eh?”
“Sorry about this, Tsubaki-chan~ Will you take care of this child for me?”
“I-I understand.”
“She’s in your care.”

It’s too late for me to bring up that I actually know the place. So in the end, it’s been decided that Tsubaki will become my guide.


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