The Happiness Written on Her Palm ＊1
I heard the books that I had requested were arriving today, and so I’m currently taking my sweet time in the bookstore… when I spot someone I know enter through the front door while acting strangely.
(……What the heck is she doing?)
I assume that she’s trying to hide herself behind a bookshelf. But if that’s the case, she fails horribly. Besides, her suspicious behavior is making her stand out even more. I’m puzzled whether I should greet her properly, or act as if I don’t know her and leave…
After pondering for a bit, I’m getting worried that the police might drag her for a questioning sometime soon. Thus, I decide to call her out.
When I tap her shoulder from behind, her whole body jerks and she looks at me, aghast.
She’s gotten more surprised than I expected. We manage to gain the strange looks from the people in the store, as well as the clerk at the counter who is scowling at us. I guess the sooner we leave the place, the better.
I reluctantly place the book I’m holding back to its shelf, before seizing her hand and promptly dragging the stupefied girl out of the bookstore. After we exit the store, I turn my face to Rumi, who seems to be unable to keep up with the situation.
“What were you doing, sneaking around in a bookstore like that? …You looked really suspicious.”
She was bewildered at first, but it soon wears off after she takes a good look at my face.
“W-was I acting that strangely?”
“…It was like you were going to shoplift or something.”
The shop clerk was glaring like he was facing his arch nemesis. When I frankly tell her about it, she looks glum and depressed.
“Uuh… I’m a teacher, for argument’s sake…”
“Eh? Were you actually trying to shoplift earlier?”
“N-no! Of course not!!”
“Haah… What were you doing then?”
I speak with astonishment, but Rumi seems to be hard-pressed to answer.
“I was… hiding from someone.”
“Eh? From who?”
It seems that she’s trying to dodge the question by forcing a laugh while averting her eyes from me. I’m not really trying to pry, and it’s probably better for me to back off. Although, the slight gloom that remains in her expression bothers me a bit.
“Anyway, Hinata-chan, what were you doing at the bookstore… although, it goes without saying that you were there to buy some books, doesn’t it?”
“Yup, the books that I wanted to purchase seem to be arriving today, but…”
I couldn’t. Noticing the meaning behind my gaze, Rumi makes an awkward smile.
“…S-sorry— It’s my fault.”
“It’s fine, I can just come back later. Then, see you. Take care not to be found.”
It’d be awkward to go back to the bookstore right away. And, I shouldn’t be keeping her here when she’s trying to get away from some pursuers. Left with no other choice, I decide to return home for the time being. However, she suddenly seizes my arm, keeping me in place.
“Eh? What is it?”
“…Since you’re here and all, let’s walk home together partwa… ah, never mind! Sorry for stopping you!”
The way she’s hesitating really makes me worried. And, it clearly shows on her face that she’s restraining herself.
“It feels lonely to walk by myself. I wonder if there’s anyone around who would accompany me~ Haha.”
“I’ve heard rumors about a suspicious person loitering around here recently. Rumi-san, to tell the truth, I feel a little scared. It’d be such a relief if you would walk me home, you know~”
And that suspicious person is standing right in front of me. Of course, I’m not saying that part aloud.
Listening to my words, ‘Aah!’ Rumi suddenly raises her voice before nodding in assent.
“Come to think of it, I think they mentioned about it during the faculty meeting… I was half asleep, so I’ve totally forgotten about it.”
“Y-you can’t be forgetting about these things.”
She grows despondent and down, like she’s a pet dog that just got scolded. I can’t tell which of us is the adult like this.
“In that case, it’s my obligation as a teacher to make sure that the students reach home safely.”
“Yippee— please take care of me—”
“Mm! Leave it to me.”
Rumi puffs up with pride. Although, I feel bad for her since the rumored suspicious person is actually known to appear at night. In other words, it’s relatively safe when the sun is still high up in the sky like now. Well, it doesn’t hurt to be cautious, and I don’t want to throw cold water on Rumi’s eagerness. I’ll keep quiet about it for the time being.
“Then, let’s be on our way. Ah, were you on any other errands?”
“Nope, I’m good.”
As we walk, we chat about various things. I find out that Rumi is actually working at a famous private girl-only high school that is located two blocks away from my school. The place where she teaches gives me the impression of having strict regulations, but if I’m to believe Rumi’s words, it doesn’t seem to be so in reality.
“A—ah, I thought that an all-girls school is where everyone greets each other with, ‘Good day,’ or something.”
“Fufu, it really isn’t that different from co-ed schools. Although, with no male students around, the girls can be slightly more unrestrained, you know.”
It’s awfully different from the rumors that I’ve heard. That private school sounds like any other schools out there. I’ve always thought that it was a place only for the rich, with some factions here and there; a place only for high-class ladies to attend.
“Hinata-chan, you and Tsubaki-chan are in the same school, right?”
“Yup, I picked that place since it’s close to home. Commuting to school every day is so convenient that I can sleep in right to the last minute.”
“Hm? What is it?”
“Eh? I-it’s nothing. Your school is quite the elite one, you know? Was that really the only thing in your mind when you studied so hard for the school entrance examination?”
“I’m smart, so the entrance exam was as easy as cake.”
“R-really? You’re amazing.”
I raise my thumb and gives her a wink. Rumi, on the other hand, cramps up as she smiles awkwardly. It’s the truth, though, I didn’t study much for the exam. I did go through a light review, but I wouldn’t call that an effort on my part. Besides, I’ve already had my share of hardship of studying for a high school entrance exam during my previous life. Yup, at that time, I had to go through a lot.
Namely, the pep talks from Her Highness, Hiori-sama.
“By the way, what subject does Rumi-sensei teach at school?”
“I’m teaching mathematics. And, I’ve been assigned as a homeroom teacher starting from this term. It’s been really busy.”
“Ahaha, keep at it.”
She may be saying that it’s been busy for her, but she looks quite cheerful in that regard. I guess she’s happy to be relied on as a homeroom teacher. I believe that her occupation is a perfect fit. Although I have no complaints about my current school, I start to think that I should’ve taken the exam to the all-girls school instead. I want to attend one of Rumi’s classes, even once would be good.
“Come to think of it, which school did Rumi-san graduate from?”
“Actually, it’s the girls’ school where I’m teaching right now. You see… it had been my plan to work where I graduated from as soon as I received my teacher’s license.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Mm, when I was accepted as a teacher at my alma mater… I managed to fulfill both my promise, and my dream at the same time.”
Said Rumi happily. However, there is a hint of sadness in her expression as she squints her eyes.
“…Rumi-san, are you glad to become a teacher?”
“Of course I am. It may be quite hectic, but it’s worth going through it all. It’s fun, too.”
She replies to my question in a firm tone, without getting bashful. I’m relieved that she could realize her own wish and [dream].
It seems Rumi has stopped walking at some point. When I look over my shoulder, I find Rumi falling behind, staring at someplace.
I approach her, and I notice that her complexion has turned pale, even paler than at the bookstore. I can see her trembling faintly, and it seems that she doesn’t notice me even though I’m already standing next to her. Rumi keeps looking at the same place as she stiffens. I try to follow her gaze, but I can’t spot anything out of place.
She’s not answering. She looks frightened, and her gaze is fixated on something I can’t see.
All of a sudden, I can feel a shivering gaze from behind the telephone pole. Could that be the suspicious person hiding behind it? There goes my assurance that he only appears at night.
“…Recently, I feel as if I’m being watched time and again. At first, I thought that I was just being too self-conscious.”
“So, you were hiding in the bookstore because…”
“Mm, it’s because I felt someone’s gaze on me……”
Isn’t that already classified as a stalker…? It was just the other day when I saw a special TV program about an extreme case of it. My imagination ends up going wild and fear creeps into me. I start to tremble while I try to think of a way out. The one we’re facing is most likely a man. He seems to be alone, but it’d be dangerous if he’s carrying some kind of weapon. Forget about me, it’d be bad if something happens to Rumi. Our best option right now is to run away.
“Stop looking at him. Let’s go!”
Rumi seems to be frozen stiff, so I grab her hand to forcefully drag her away. But at that moment, I feel an unpleasant sensation from behind, so I turn around in a fluster. There, I see that the figure is running towards us vigorously.
From the situation, I make an instant judgement and stand before Rumi to protect her from the stalker.
Just as I make up my mind to strike the stalker down, he stops right before I can grab him. That’s when I try to identify the suspicious stalker.
The figure has a small build, slender arms, large eyes, silky hair with moderate length, and a pair of beautiful lips.
“…Eh? A girl?”
No matter how I try to look at it, she’s a girl around my age. Yup, there’s no way such a cute girl can actually be a guy. Rumi is checking up on her from behind me, when ‘Ah!’ she raises her voice in surprise.
When Rumi calls her name, the girl twitches in response. I look at Rumi and her alternately.
“Eh…? So, Rumi-san, you know this girl…?”
“She’s one of the students from my school. I taught her class before.”
I feel spent, my legs almost give way. Although, I use my spirits to stand firm and recover my posture. I look at Shimazaki-san, the so-called student, but she’s glaring at me like I’m her family’s enemy. Did I hurt her feelings in some way?
“Could it be that, you’re the one who’s been watching me recently?”
Asks Rumi timidly. The girl’s cheeks are flushing red as she nods slightly… Hey, why are you blushing?
“Why are you doing such a thing?”
After fidgeting around for a short while, she gives her answer in a soft whisper.
“It’s because I love you, Sensei…”
Getting a ‘Kya! I finally said it~☆’ vibe from the girl in front of us, Rumi and I simply stare at her, dumbfounded. Being left open-mouthed truly describes our current situation… is what comes to mind as I try to escape from reality. My thought process has stopped due to the shock. Although, now that I’ve begun to accept the situation, I start thinking about the next course of action I should take.
“Well then, I’ll take my leave and let the young’uns take their time–”
I try to act as if I’m accompanying Rumi at a marriage interview as her guardian. So, I’m ready to leave the place as to read the mood, but it ends in failure because my arm has been seized, again.
“Please, wait! Hinata-chan!”
“Go on home.”
Rumi looks forlorn with glittering eyes, while Shimazaki-san looks at me with contempt, as if I’m some disgusting bug. She’s right, though, just let me go home already.
“Uum, Shimazaki-san, was it?”
“Haah? Can you not speak my name so casually?”
“…Ms. Stalker, is the reason you have been stalking Rumi-san because of your love towards her?”
“Shut up and die.”
Won’t the conversation proceed more smoothly if I go out of the picture? But, there’s a chance that Ms. Stalker here will do something hasty, so leaving them alone might not be a good idea. I’m still thinking about what to do, but the Stalker Shimazaki-san keeps glaring at me. Forget it, I won’t be satisfied until I give her a piece of my mind.
“Um, although it’s your freedom to like whoever you want, you should be more discreet so that you don’t cause trouble for him, or her in that regard. If you’re really in love with Rumi-san, I believe that making her hate you is the wrong way to go about it.”
“Hey, who are you to Sensei? You’re calling her name so casually, and even sticking to her… Who do you think you are?”
I wonder if she’s even listening to me.
“I’m just her acquaintance.”
“In that case, you’re irrelevant to this matter. Go away, and don’t come close to Sensei a second time.”
Her overly abusive words are tearing my heart to pieces.
“I-I’ll ask this just in case. Do you really love Rumi-san?”
“Haah? Of course I do… It’s because I want to be with Sensei that I follow her around like this. Ah, perhaps, have you never fallen in love before? That must be why you don’t understand what I’m talking about.”
The way she looks down on me is so annoying.
“What did you say?! Even I have fallen in love once or twice!!
“Or… maybe not?”
“Why is that a question?”
Even though I’m already two times older than the girl in front of me, I can’t remember having any romantic experiences at all. Thinking back, I’ve spent my youthful days in loneliness.
“Hmph, then you’re in no position to preach to me about love.”
Ugh, her words shouldn’t have any effects on me, but I still find them mortifying one way or another.
After staying silent all this time, Rumi finally confronts the stalker girl. She looks so earnest, and there is no hint of fear nor nervousness from her expression.
The gaze that she sends to Rumi, is not one of contempt (that she gave me). Instead, I can see the passion in her pupils. Even so, Rumi starts to speak, without averting her eyes from her.
“Shimazaki-san, I’m really happy to receive your confession. But, I’m sorry… I can’t return your feelings.”
Rumi looks apologetic as she rejects her confession.
“W-why?! But I love Sensei so much!”
“I’m a teacher, while you’re a student. And above all, I just can’t see you that way…”
“Our status is irrelevant! I… I’m…!!”
“I’m sorry. No matter what you say, it’s impossible for me to return your love.”
No matter what that girl says, Rumi won’t change her answer. The girl seems to be in so much shock, that she runs away without minding her own image. Rumi looks at her retreating figure with a pained look on her face. I’m sure this much is enough for her to give up on Rumi…
“I’m sorry for dragging you into my private problem, Hinata-chan.”
The sight of her, forcing a smile just to comfort me is painful to look at. And so, I remain silent. Shimazaki-san have gone too far with her methods, but I think it was really out of her love towards Rumi. After rejecting Shimazaki-san, Rumi looks gentle, yet worried about something.
I can feel a hint… of helplessness from her.
“Rumi-san, you’re really good-natured. After all the inconvenience she brought you with her stalkerish behavior, you still gave an honest answer to her confession.”
“I don’t have any way to return her feelings. Besides, I was telling the truth, I was happy to hear about her feelings.”
“In the end, did you reject her because of your status? Or, is it because you are both girls?”
“Mm-mm, that’s just a front. I believe that love can sprout regardless of social status and gender. The reason I didn’t accept her feelings is simply because I don’t love her… I think.”
For a while after, an awkward silence fills the heavy air around us… Alright, I should pull out a different topic to lift up her spirits.
“Rumi-san, you’re really popular, aren’t you?!”
I try to brighten the mood by giving a peppy shout. Although belated, I wonder if it’s too insensitive of me to ask that. It’s already too late for me to do anything about it anyway. She doesn’t seem to mind about it as she ponders for a little while before she answers.
“Well, I’ve been getting confessed to a few times.”
I knew it. There’s no way people would leave such a beauty by herself. Still, I’m deeply moved to know that the small and innocent Rumi has really grown into such a mature adult. I was surprised when she told me that she hasn’t dated anyone even once the last time I asked her about it.
“Wasn’t there anyone you liked among the ones who confessed to you?”
“Hmm… I guess I didn’t feel like going out with any of them.”
“My, what a waste.”
“Fufu, I suppose I should start considering it seriously, though.”
“…Rumi-san, I don’t think you need to be in a hurry. With how beautiful and charming you are, you’ll find a good person approaching you on their own.”
I think the girl just now was among those who got captivated by Rumi’s beauty.
“Well, I don’t have any romantic experiences myself, and I don’t know much about such things. I suppose I’m not in the position to assert my opinion too much.”
Hrm, I’m seriously bad at these topics. I have no idea what to say anymore. Meanwhile, Rumi is deep in thought for some reason, she’s just standing there in a daze.
I call out to her, worrying that she might be thinking too much. She looks towards me, startled. But soon after, she averts her gaze while showing an awkward smile.
“Thank you, Hinata-chan… for cheering me up.”
“I’m fine now.”
I think she’s grown into a fine adult. She would act spoiled, following me anywhere while crying before. But, that girl is now standing in a position that gives support to other children. With her own two feet, she’s treading the path that she believes in. It makes me happy, but lonely… and worried at the same time.
“Ah, Hinata-chan. Your home is in that direction, so this is where we part ways. Although, should I just send you all the way home?”
“It’s alright. I practice judo, so I’ll throw any suspicious person back to where they come from.”
I say that to her, brimming with confidence. But she looks worried instead.
“T-that’s too dangerous, so don’t do it, okay? If something really happens, make sure to run away, okay?”
“Come to think of it, when Shimazaki-san came to us… you covered for me, didn’t you?”
I was relieved to think that she didn’t notice, with how shaken she was. But, it seems that it only slipped off her mind after what happened.
“What if it was a real criminal, carrying a dangerous weapon? You could have died, you know?”
Wasn’t that girl one step away from being a criminal herself? I almost blurted that out loud, but Rumi looks as if she’s gonna cry right now. I always clam up when she’s like this, as I had always been in the past.
“Although it makes me happy that you were there to protect me, you can’t be putting yourself in harm’s way. Please.”
As I receive her scolding, I can only nod in compliance. Rumi seems to be worried about something. She looks really sad while making a complex expression.
“I’m sorry, even though it was all my fault to begin with.”
“Mm-mm, I’m the one who did everything my way.”
“Thank you… for your help today.”
‘See you,’ said Rumi before she walks along a different path. After a short while, I call out her name.
“Come to visit us again sometime—! I’ll make pancakes for you—! It’s going to be chocolate flavor next time—!”
“See you agai—n!”
I smile at Rumi as she shows me a surprised look, then I turn on my heel and start walking home.
A few days later.
“I’m so tired~”
I throw my worn out body down to the bed and bury my face in the pillow. I had to participate in the detestable marathon training for today’s class, it was terrible. I kept running throughout the PE period, and now my feet feel sore. Aah— how come my class is doing marathon when Tsubaki’s is doing volleyball?
Unfortunately, Tsubaki and I aren’t in the same class. Our classrooms are next to each other, though. We always walk together to school in the morning, and we also have many occasions to chat, so it doesn’t feel that lonely. My homeroom teacher is strict, but earnest. And, my classmates are all outgoing and friendly. Thus, I’m enjoying my perfect school life a whole lot.
I yawn widely. My fatigue is gradually sending me to dreamland, and my eyelids seem to become heavier. I was planning to look over the school printout that was handed to us today, but I can’t win against the Sandman. Deciding to hold it off for tomorrow, I close my eyes to end the day.
Peep peep peep peep peep
…which I open again just in a short while.
I reach out towards the sound to seize the small, vibrating lump of metal. I draw it close to my face and look at the display. When I notice the two kanji of [Rumi] on the screen, I press the call button in a hurry.
“Hello, this is Hinata speaking——”
“[Ah, it’s me.]”
“Is this one of those ‘it’s me, it’s me’ scams?”
“[N-no! It’s me! Sekiguchi Rumi!”]”
“Aah— it’s Rumi-san— Don’t surprise me like that—”
“[…Hinata-chan, you’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you? You even speak in monotone.]”
“Of course, that’s not true.”
Ahahaha, as I let out a nonchalant laugh, I can hear a long sigh from the other side of the phone. It seems that she’s astonished by my quip.
“[Hinata-chan, you usually give off the impression of being calm and adultlike, but you also have this childish side of you that I wouldn’t expect.]”
“An adult woman wears many faces.”
I speak with a serious tone to show my adult aspect, only to receive a languid response.
“Anyway, did you need something urgent? It’s rare of you to call at this time.”
Usually, she would leave a message for me to reply. Actually, this is the first time she’s calling me this late.
“[Eh? Ah, no, that’s not it… Well, uh…]”
Her vague answer puzzles me. I wait for her to continue.
“[You know, Hiori-san sent me a message and… Hinata-chan, did you get the first rank in the academic test?]”
I practically cheated since I had completed all of the high school curriculum before. That’s why I don’t feel that happy about it. Well, I still had to do some light reviews, naturally.
Either way, why did Hiori have to inform Rumi about it? She didn’t have to, it’s embarrassing!
“[That’s amazing. Congratulations.]”
Did she really call me just to tell me that? When I had just a scratch the other time, she went all the way to visit me with a box of cakes. Hmm, was she always that serious of a girl?
“[Um, am I bothering you? Sorry for calling you out of nowhere for something so trivial.]”
“You’re definitely not! Thank you very much for going out of your way to call me! I’m so happy!”
“[R-really? Thank goodness… I was worried that I might be annoying you like this.]”
There’s no way that would happen. If you were calling me for the sake of congratulating me, of course it would make me happy.
“You’re worrying too much. I’m so happy to receive your call, you know?”
“[Mm, that’s a relief, then.]”
Perhaps with some of her tension lifted, her voice sounds somewhat brighter. You don’t need to be that nervous around me.
“[Ah, sorry. I should hang up before the vice principal finds me out.]”
“…You’re still at work?”
“[Actually, I’m staying behind today. There is some preparation that I need to do for tomorrow…]”
“Haah, that sounds terrible. Good luck to you.”
“[Thank you. Mm, I’ve gotten some of my spirits back after speaking with you, Hinata-chan. With this, I think I can keep doing my best!]”
“Ahaha, good for you, then.”
“[Can I… you know, call you again sometime?]”
She asks me in a soft and reserved voice. It’s so cute that I can feel my face heating up. I’m thankful for the bottom of my heart that she can’t see my face via a phone call.
“Of course you can.”
“[Then, I’ll be in touch.]”
“Yup, good luck with your work.”
“[Of course! See you.]”
Beep, and the call ends. I press the power button to lock the cell phone, and toss it to the other side of the bed.
I notice that the drowsiness from earlier has been blown away. It seems that talking with Rumi has completely perked me up.
I get up from bed and search my bag for the printout, along with a textbook. When I flip through the pages, I find that some of the pages are not too familiar to me. Although my textbooks and their contents are pretty similar to what I had learned during my previous first year in high school, the design has gone through a complete change.
Well, since textbooks always have some small revisions over the years, I guess it’s just to be expected. I may have learned all of this before, but it’s fun in its own way to review it. Still, I wonder why I always have this urge to draw some scribbles in my textbook whenever I open it, especially figure sticks.
I decide to stop reading since I’m getting in a whimsical mood. So, I throw myself down to the bed once more.
Peep peep peep peep
I grab my ringing phone, and see that it’s a message from Tsubaki. Let’s see, [Will you come this weekend?] is what it says. I quickly tap on my reply before pressing the send button. It goes without saying… that my answer is the same as always. By the way, weekend here refers to the day I stay over at her house. Before I realize it, staying over during the weekends at Tsubaki’s home has turned into a custom. Well, the opposite also happens sometimes.
After a while, my cell phone rings again. Although I’m expecting Tsubaki’s reply, what is written in the sender’s name is [Mother] instead. I find it strange as I open the message.
[Subject C has appeared. Emergency. Send assistance to the kitchen.]
She could’ve told me directly… Actually, you can dispose it yourself. Left with no other choice, I spur on my tired body and head towards the kitchen.