Chapter 2

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VOLUME 1: 16

Chapter 2 “MAHO-do opens for business”


Just as we reached the front of MAHO-do, the three dandelion seeds twirled in the weathervane’s wind, before being sucked into the building through the skylight.

It was then that Majorika stepped out of the entrance of MAHO-do.

“Majorika!”

My loud voice seemed to have shocked Majorika for an instant, but her features immediately changed in an instant.

“Doremi! Oh, Hazuki, and isn’t that Aiko! It’s been so long!”

We ran up to Majorika and embraced her, sharing the joy of reunion after being apart for three years.

Majorika’s hairstyle was still in its usual chignons, like mine, but a few white hairs could be spotted hiding within.

“Have you aged?…” The words were on the tip of my tongue, but I swallowed them.

Majorika would definitely have hit me if I had said that out loud.

I smiled happily, but I was suddenly swarmed with questions.

“Majorika, what is happening? Weren’t you staying in the witch world until Hana-chan becomes Queen?”

“…”

Majorika frowned, and her expression soured.

Faced with a silent Majorika, Ai-chan grew impatient before I did, and asked,

“Did something happen in the witch world?”

Hazuki-chan continued in a worried voice,

“Did anything happen to Hana-chan…?”

“…Who cares about that brat”

Spitting out these words, Majorika turned away.

“What is “that brat”! Isn’t Majorika Hana-chan’s guardian?”

I pointed out, to which Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan nodded vigorously.

“Humph! I quit being her guardian”

“Eh, quit?!”

We stared at each other, before questioning her further.

“Well, to speak the truth, Hana was the one who forced me to quit. In other words, I was fired. Fired.”

Majorika explained with a pained expression on her face.

“What is this?! If that’s the case, who is looking after Hana-chan now?”

Ai-chan asked, grabbing Majorika by the shoulders and pulling her face closer.

Majorika seemed to want to escape from Ai-chan’s straight gaze, and averted her eyes.

“Majoruka is”

A small shadow spoke as it flew slowly out of the entrance. It was Majorika’s fairy, Lala.

“Lala!”

“All of you are looking well”

“Save the greetings for later. Lala, why was Majorika fired and Majoruka assigned as Hana-chan’s guardian?”

I asked, worried.

“Well…”

Lala glanced at the sullen Majorika before continuing with a wink,

“Well well, it’s finally a reunion, so let’s not talk whilst standing out here. Let’s talk inside the store, we have some tea ready”

“That’s right. It’s getting cold out here too”

Hazuki-chan immediately assented.

True, even though it’s already April, the evenings are still chilly. I shivered in the breeze blowing in from the river.

“Doremi-chan, let’s go inside”

At Ai-chan’s urging, I followed Majorika and Hazuki-chan into MAHO-do.

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MAHO-do looked the same as when I first met Majorika, filled with lots of suspicious-looking magical goods.

The pleasant fragrance of Darjeeling hung in the air inside the dimly-lit store.

Both Majorika and Lala now make tea without magic. They boiled the water, warmed up the mugs, and poured everyone a cup using their own hands.

They had picked up this habit after spending four years with us.

Until then, they had been using magic to prepare both tea and food.

They must have watched us as we boiled Hana-chan’s milk bottle to disinfect it, tested the milk’s temperature, then fed it to Hana-chan, every loving action done without magic.

So, even tea, if made with hospitable care and love, would be delicious.

Thinking about that filled my body and heart with warmth, and I asked Lala about the situation between Hana-chan and Majorika.

“Majorika is totally not at fault here. Hana-chan is the bad one”

“What did you say?!”

It was the exact opposite of what I had in mind. Hazuki-chan, Ai-chan and I stared at each other.

According to Lala, when they first returned to the witch world three years ago, Hana-chan thought of us everyday, and was often on the verge of tears.

However, Majorika acted like a real mother to her, sometimes hardening her heart and scolding Hana-chan, sometimes showering her with lots of love. Slowly, Hana-chan stopped crying, and entered the magical preschool in high spirits.

“You just have to quickly learn all the magic and become a witch suited to be Queen, then you can visit Doremi and the rest anytime”

Majorika often said to encourage Hana-chan.

Thanks to that, Hana-chan’s magical powers grew dramatically, and this year, she managed to skip a grade and was enrolled in magical elementary school.

Hana-chan was happy at first, but in February, she suddenly announced that she did not want to attend magical elementary school anymore.

Majorika and Lala assumed that it was because she did not like being separated from her preschool friends, and was throwing a tantrum.

“Your preschool friends Atarimeko-chan and the others will be entering elementary school in a year too,” Majorika explained.

“You will make new friends in elementary school. Atarimeko-chan and the others will still be your friends, so Hana-chan will have more friends than anyone else,” Lala added.

“And that’s a really wonderful thing,” Majorika concluded.

This gentle explanation should have appeased Hana-chan, but she soon started throwing tantrums again.

The tantrums escalated day by day, and the house in which everyone was living in was almost destroyed by Hana-chan’s magic on one occassion.

Majorika managed to return the house to its original state by using magic, but since that day, Hana-chan stopped speaking to Majorika and the others.

Majorika and Lala, plus Hana-chan’s fairy Toto and our former fairies Dodo, Rere, Mimi, Fafa, Roro, and Nini had a discussion, and concluded that maybe Hana-chan was going through a rebellious phase.

Everyone then made a promise to tolerate Hana-chan until she moved past the rebellious phase, no matter what happened and what she did. However…

Hana-chan gave everyone a hard time on purpose. Even the fairies, who used to be Hana-chan’s mobile toy when she was a baby and should be on good terms with her, were not spared.

Majorika then summoned Hana-chan’s best friend Pao-chan the white elephant to try to reverse her mood, but it had no effect at all.

Reluctantly, Majorika hardened her heart and scolded Hana-chan, but it had the opposite effect. Hana-chan ripped Majorika’s precious treasure to shreds.

Do you know about Majorika’s precious treasure?

Yes, it’s the red ribbon carnation that Hana-chan gave to Majorika on Mother’s Day.

That was the last straw for Majorika, who yelled at Hana-chan and gave her a good spanking.

I fully understood Majorika’s feelings.

I would have done the same thing, if I had been in her place.

However, it turned out to be a bad move.

Crying, Hana-chan dashed to the palace and showed her red and bruised bottom to the Queen, whilst telling of Majorika’s abuse and begging for a change of guardianship.

Hana-chan was the apple of the Queen’s eye and much doted upon, so the Queen decided to strip Majorika of her position as Hana-chan’s guardian and look for a replacement that very day.

However, Majorin, the Queen’s advisor witch, suggested that it would be better to listen to Majorika’s side of the story first…

At that point, Hana-chan beat everyone to the punch by recommending, of all people, Majorika’s lifelong rival Majoruka for the new guardianship.

And if it wasn’t granted, Hana-chan declared defiantly that,

“Hana-chan will not become the new Queen!”

This put the Queen in a spot, and she had no choice but to grant Hana-chan’s wish.

Even so, the Queen secretly invited Majorika and the others to the palace to hear their side of the story.

Just as Lala, Dodo and the other fairies were about to put the blame on Hana-chan, Majorika stopped them and admitted that she had indeed abused Hana-chan. She also acknowledged that Majoruka would make a better guardian than herself.

After that, she received permission from the Queen to move back to the human world and reopen MAHO-do, and without any further explanation regarding Hana-chan, left the palace.

I watched Majorika, who had sat down on a rocking chair and was sipping her tea, as I listened to Lala’s story.

“Majorika, why didn’t you tell the Queen the truth?”

Hearing my question, Majorika stopped her rocking.

“Let’s not talk about Hana anymore. More importantly…”

With a resigned look, Majorika tried to change the topic.

“Even so, that’s not the Hana-chan we know,” Ai-chan interjected.

“That’s right. There must be some reason,” Hazuki-chan did not allow the switch in topic as well.

But that’s reasonable.

Afterall, we were Hana-chan’s mothers for three years!

“Hazuki-chan is right, there must be some reason…”

Just as I was about to continue my complaint, Majorika’s expression calmed unexpectedly, and she said,

“Don’t worry. Dodo and the others will let me know if anything happens to Hana. Right, Lala?”

“Yes. Dodo and the rest actually wanted to come here too, but Majorika managed to convince them to stay back to look after Hana-chan and find out her real intentions,” Lala explained.

“Well, seems like Majorika has some good points afterall,” Ai-chan said.

“That’s right,” the rest of us agreed.

“Shut up—!!”

Majorika’s loud voice blew all of us off our chairs.

“Even though we’re not related by blood, I’ve always thought of Hana and all you girls as my daughters! That’s the least I could do!”

Majorika’s rant pierced our hearts.

We had always been yelled at by Majorika, even in the past.

Hazuki-chan, Ai-chan and I looked at each other and smiled.

“W-what’s so funny!”

Majorika glared as she asked.

“Hehe, it’s been so long since Majorika last got angry at us”

“So, what about it?”

“Haha, it’s just somehow nostalgic,” Ai-chan said.

“Fufu, and somehow happy…” Hazuki-chan added.

“We’ve spent three years apart, but it feels like we’ve suddenly shrunk and returned to the past,” I explained.

“Humph! That’s because you girls have not matured at all”

Majorika commented spitefully.

“Majorika too!”

Ai-chan was quick to retort.

“Pu–!”

Lala burst out laughing, and we all joined in, laughing from the bottom of our hearts.

After laughing so much that our tummies hurt, Majorika presented us with an unexpected proposal.

“Lala and I have decided to stay here and sell magical goods to earn an income, together with all you girls, just like when we first met”

“You mean, toil hard to earn our keep at “Makihatayama Rika’s Maho-do” again?” Ai-chan asked.

“You can say that. We were thinking of getting you girls to help out at the store again,” Majorika replied.

“Ehhhh—?!”

All of us raised our voices in a shout.

“Don’t be so shocked. Seven years ago, with everyone’s help, we managed to earn three times the amount monthly than when we were running the store ourselves,” Lala said.

“Wow, was it that much? It didn’t feel like it”

Ai-chan said, scratching her head.

“That’s true”

Hazuki-chan and I agreed.

“You girls were witch apprentices then, so you needed Magic Spheres to do magic, right? Those Spheres were really expensive then,” Lala explained.

“Seriously, you girls were always using magic on the silliest things, so the Spheres ran out really fast,” Majorika complained.

“Especially Doremi”

Lala gave a bitter smile and looked at me.

“W-was that so?…”

It was true, but I pretended not to realize.

“Oh well. That’s not the point. More importantly, I’ll give you girls wages, so you will help out with the store, right?”

Majorika asked.

“I’m fine with it. But…” Ai-chan trailed off.

“I know. You can come after your track training”

“Eh?! H-how did you know I’m in the track team?”

“Even in the witch world, we watched over everyone through Majorika’s crystal ball, because we promised Hana-chan that we would”

Lala smiled as she replied.

“Enough about Hana. So Aiko will be able to help out from evening until the store closes?” Majorika asked.

“Yep. Saturdays and Sundays and days without competition are all OK,” Ai-chan confirmed.

Majorika closed her eyes and nodded in satisfaction, before continuing,

“I see, I see. How about Hazuki?”

Hazuki-chan looked a little troubled.

“I won’t be able to give a definite reply until I’ve spoken to Papa and Mama…”

“Hazuki-chan, do you have other lessons aside from violin practice?”

Lala asked.

“I’m aspiring to become a violinist now, so I’ve stopped all other lessons. Now, my life is all about my violin”

“Oh! So that means you will have more free time than Aiko?” Majorika asked.

“I’m sorry. I have lessons on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but I have to practice on my own on the other days, so I think I’m only able to make it on Saturdays and Sundays”

“You’re helping us out just by coming. It’ll be alright on weekdays, if Doremi works hard,” Majorika assured her.

“W-w-what?! When did I say that I would help out at MAHO-do!”

I snapped at Majorika.

“Hmm? Are you saying you won’t help out?”

“It’s too bad, but I’m starting out on a part-time job at a steak house owned by a friend’s parents from next week on, working every evening”

I declared.

“Steak house? Do you mean Iida Kanae-chan’s place?”

Ai-chan asked.

“Pinpon! I get paid 900yen per hour, as well as a free meal of steak once a week. There is nothing more I’d ask for”

Saying so, the image of a steak dripping with juice came to mind, and drool started to gush out of my mouth.

Just like the one they call Pavlov’s dog, right?

Well, it is steak after all, the best food which brings me happiness.

Just then, Majorika turned teary eyes to me and complained,

“Y-you brat… Are you saying that steak is more important than me, who had looked after you so well?!”

I wanted to reply, “That’s right, so what?”, but that was too blunt, so I just averted my gaze and mumbled,

“E-even if you say that…”

“Doremi-chan, you may love steak, but this is too cruel!” Hazuki-chan cried.

“My opinion of Doremi-chan has dropped too!” Ai-chan added.

“Y-you don’t need to say all that…”

How could I reject the offer now that Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan had said all that.

Boo-hoo-hoo…

The steak in my mind disappeared into the dark abyss.

“A-alright, I get it. I’ll do it! You will give me wages, right!”

I sulked.

“Definitely!”

“Now we can gather at MAHO-do and have a roaring good time, just like during our elementary school days!” Hazuki-chan exclaimed.

“I guess so…”

But I guess Hazuki-chan was right.

Seeing Majorika embracing Lala with happiness, I smiled too.

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From the following day all the way until the day before our entrance ceremony into high school, we were busy preparing the MAHO-do for opening.

The “Makihatayama Rika’s Maho-do” signboard was changed to the old simple “MAHO-do” sign, and we redid the interior with brightly coloured wallpaper.

The shelves holding the magical goods, the tables, chairs and other furniture were also changed to colourful poppish ones that girls would like.

Just like in the past, Majorika seems to like giving her store a dimly-lit, suspicious feel. We knew that, but we pretended not to and ignored her wishes.

I sacrificed steak for this job, so it should be OK that I get to design the interior of the shop as I please!

Once we were done refurbishing the store, we heard a familiar singing voice.

A puff of smoke suddenly appeared on the bench seat, and Dela the wholesale store witch appeared.

Dela is a true saleswoman who sells everything, appearing out of anywhere whenever she gets wind of a profitable sale, be it out of fire, water, or even the bathroom.

“Doremi-chan, Hazuki-chan, Ai-chan, long time no see”

“Cheese,” I said.

“Good afternoon,” Hazuki-chan greeted.

“Thanks for coming to do business with us,” Ai-chan added.

We shook hands with Dela as Majorika and Lala came out from the back of the store.

“As expected, Dela. Only a small handful of witches, even in the witch world, knew that I was coming back to the human world to do business…” Majorika commented.

“Hohhohho, the wholesale store witches’ network is really great. You came immediately…” Lala added.

Dela surveyed the store before saying,

“Ah, a store selling magical goods, just like in the past. If that’s the case, you’ll need magical clay. How much should I bring?”

“That’s right. Anyway, I’ll stock up 30kg of that,” Majorika decided.

“We’d like some amulets too, and glass beads and chains for making lucky pendants,” Lala added.

The two promptly ordered all the necessary ingredients and tools for making magical goods, while we brewed a new pot of tea.

“That’ll be this amount in total, how about that?”

Dela showed Majorika and Lala a grand total on her calculator. Ai-chan, who was passing a cup of tea to Dela, took a peek at the amount as well.

“Well, that’s settled then,” Majorika decided.

“Alright,” Lala agreed.

Majorika and Lala seemed happy with the amount, but Ai-chan quickly retorted,

“What are you saying?!”

“W-what’s the matter, Aiko?” Majorika asked.

“The magical clay costs too much. It’s three times more the price we paid seven year ago”

“Gasp! I-is that true?… It wasn’t this price?” Dela stammered.

“Nope. My memory with regards to stuff like that is the best!”

Ai-chan pressed.

“Well, if you say so, I guess I’ll give you a 10% discount”

“10%?! We won’t settle for that!”

Ai-chan took the calculator and keyed in a new amount.

“T-this little?!” Dela argued.

“If you won’t settle for this, we’re alright with calling for other wholesale store witches,” Ai-chan countered.

“A-alright. I’ll sell this to you below cost price, just to commemorate your store’s opening. Payment will be settled at month’s end, just like before. Bye”

Heaving a huge sigh, Dela disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“That’s our Ai-chan”

Hazuki-chan said admiringly.

“Yo, meet the Osakan merchant! Thank you, thank you”

Ai-chan joked, rubbing her hands together, before bursting into laughter.

“Oh, Ai-chan”

Hazuki-chan joined in the laughter, and the store was soon filled with laughing voices.

The day or our high school’s entrance ceremony was finally here.

The rain from the previous night had lifted, and the blue sky spread overhead without a cloud in sight.

It must have been due to my good behavior.

Dad had set up a camera tripod in our garden, and was peeping through the viewfinder. He then pressed the self-timer button.

I was standing right in front of the camera with Pop beside me and Mum at the back. Immediately, I struck a pose.

Dad dashed to his spot beside Mum and faced the camera, “Ready? Ok, cheese!”

Saying “Cheese” together, our whole family smiled. The shutter sound of Dad’s favourite Leica camera echoed.

Our family has a habit of taking commemorative portraits together whenever one of us daughters enters or graduates from school.

“Shall we take another shot?” Dad asked, just as we heard the voices of Pop’s female classmates calling her from the gate.

“Sorry, I need to go”

Hefting up her school-issued bag, Pop headed towards the gate.

“Have a safe trip. Be careful of cars”

Hearing my call, Pop waved a hand lightly.

“Rather than worry about me, be careful not to trip and embarrass yourself during the entrance ceremony.” So saying, Pop laughed and dashed off.

“Oh! That Pop…!”

“It’s ok, she’s just worried about Doremi,” Mum stopped me with a smile.

“Really…” I could only agree, as Dad peeped through the viewfinder again,

“More importantly, let’s take another shot with the three of us”

He pressed the self-timer button again.

The three of us, parents and child, posed as per normal, as the shutter sound echoed again.

~~~~~

The Prefectural Misora High School, where I would be studying from today on, is located in the centre of Misora City, near the Misora Park and municipal library.

It is one of the newer public schools in the city, with a relaxed school culture and cute girls’ uniform as its selling points. It is also one of the more popular public high schools despite its relatively average academic standing, with unexpectedly high acceptance rates.

For me, I almost gave up on this school so many times, due to my results only being barely above the minimum acceptance mark…

It is really nearby, the school and home.

It is much nearer than my elementary school and middle school; less than 10 minutes’ walk away.

That was the biggest reason why I chose this school.

Being able to sleep for five minutes more every morning, how happy that can be…

Fufu, I’m sure you understand my point.

I came with my parents to the school gymnasium, where the entrance ceremony was to take place, and met with a messy crowd of students and their guardians.

“New students, please move on to your respective classrooms”

“Guardians, please wait here until the entrance ceremony begins”

Following the instructions of the teacher-in-charge, I separated from my parents and headed to the classroom for 1-A.

The class roster for new students, grouped into classes from A to F, came in the mail after the acceptance letter. I was super happy to find that an unexpectedly high number of my classmates are Misora natives.

For the boys, there is Yada-kun, Hazuki-chan’s boyfriend and jazz trumpeter wannabe, and Hasebe Takeshi-kun, who often quarrels with Yada-kun but actually always hangs out together with him, and who has a super beautiful mum. There is Sagawa Yuuji-kun and Oota Yutaka-kun from the SOS Trio. And Miyamae Sora-kun, who made his own airplane in elementary school.

For the girls, there is Shimakura Kaori-chan, who aims to become a pro photographer, and Okuyama Naomi-chan, who is once again in the same class as me. This would be the 10th year that the two of us were in the same class. That’s worthy of a Guinness record.

And then, there is Nagato Kayoko-chan, who used to play truant in elementary school but changed in middle school and even received a perfect attendance award. Yokokawa Nobuko-chan, who aspires to be a novelist, and who was never once in the same class as me during middle school, is in my class now too.

And then, somehow, my best friend Ai-chan, who transferred from Osaka, is in 1-A too.

The day before yesterday, Ai-chan dashed all the way to my house to inform me about this when she found out, even though she could very well have used the phone.

She must have been really happy.

Of course, I was super happy too, and hugged Ai-chan right there at the gate, the two of us jumping around together. The passers-by had given us weird stares.

But we were so happy, we couldn’t help it.

And so, there are 11 of us from Misora Elementary in Class 1-A, including myself.

The largest clique in 1-A!

Haha, how did that happen.

As for the rest of the nineteen classmates, fifteen of them are enrolled in six other high schools in Misora City, with the remaining four in schools outside of our area.

I will be introducing these classmates in detail one by one, so look forward to that.

~~~~~

“Ehh, be quiet. We’ll decide on the seating arrangement later, but for now, just sit in rows according to the class roster”

Those were the first words we heard from our homeroom teacher.

It was a hoarse voice that took some time getting used to.

But his looks were even worse than his voice.

His face resembled a reptile’s more than a human’s… Yes, he suited the image of a chameleon.

Missing an upper front tooth, his other teeth were stained like a heavy smoker’s.

His hair was highly dishevelled, with a mixture of black and white.

His old man’s glasses often slipped down his nose, so his eyes were always upturned. In addition, his suit looked wrinkled and shabby.

He told us that he was 45 years old, but no one would deny that he looked like he was 50 or even 60.

“Doremi-chan, looks like this teacher is a miss,” Ai-chan, who was seated diagonally to my front and right, whispered.

“I know. I was looking forward to a hunky homeroom teacher, but this one looks like a creature who is not even human…”

Just as we were talking in whispers and giving wry smiles, the teacher quickly wrote his name on the blackboard.

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“Hachimaki… Rokurou?”

Hearing my voice, the teacher turned around and smiled, showing off his missing front tooth,

“It’s written as Hachimaki, but read as Yamaki. In our family, my wife earns a good income, so I don’t actually need to work as a teacher. She keeps begging me to quickly quit this job to focus on our home”

A few sniggers could be heard from the students.

Disregarding the noise, Yamaki-sensei continued his story.

“My wife is a beautiful woman, and she loves me with all her heart, so I’m torn over this issue now…”

H-he was joking, right?!

With a face like a chameleon, he sure could talk.

Is it normal for teachers to speak so fondly of their wives in front of his students?

I was not the only one who thought this way. All the students in class were stunned too, and silence reigned in the room.

The teacher soon realized the situation, and hurried on, “I can’t be the only one talking. Come, let’s have an introduction session.”

So saying, he pulled out a chair from beneath the teacher’s desk and placed it near the window by the schoolyard, through which the spring light was shining. He then sat down heavily.

With that, the students stood up one by one and introduced themselves, following the order on the class roster.

With our biggest clique (laugh), the students from Misora First Elementary, including myself, soon got the excitement mounting, and we got through the introduction session with no problems.

Oota-kun and Sagawa-kun of the SOS Trio’s introductions were sprinkled with stupid jokes, but just before the situation got out of hand, Ai-chan’s retorts resulted in a bounty of laughter, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

However, Ai-chan, who managed to generate the most hype, suffered a big disgrace herself.

It happened during her self-introduction.

“My favourite things are the Hanshin Tigers and takoyaki”

Ai-chan declared in her native Osaka dialect, and Yamaki-sensei, who had been basking in the sunlight with his eyes closed, listening, suddenly opened his eyes wide.

“Senoo, I am a super big Giants fan,” he said, glaring at Ai-chan.

As expected of Ai-chan, she replied to the teacher she had just met, “What are you saying! You fool!”

When no retort came, Ai-chan got flustered. “What is my mouth saying?! I’m an idiot, an idiot”

So saying, she twisted her own ear, “hey, that’s my ear!”

Even this over-the-top joke, so unlike her usual self, could not generate any laughs, and silence descended upon the room.

~~~~~

“This won’t do. I can’t get along with that sensei.”

Ai-chan remained depressed throughout the entrance ceremony, muttering to herself.

“But we need to go get his approval for our part-time job after the ceremony…” I whispered.

Without delay, Ai-chan replied, “I’ll pass. Doremi-chan, get his approval for me too”

“That’s not possible. I just heard from Yada-kun that we need to get the approval form from our teacher directly and fill in some stuff, before we can receive the approval stamp from the teacher in-charge of part-time jobs”

Yada-kun would be starting to work as a waiter at a jazz club called “Bird” from this spring onwards.

By the way, “Bird” does not refer to the flying animal, but is the nickname of a famous American jazz saxophonist named Charlie Parker.

I learnt that from Dad, who was a loyal customer of “Bird”…

“What, that’s complicated. What should I do?”

Ai-chan shook her head and let out a huge sigh, ignoring the principal and guests’ speeches.

“Ai-chan, just think of how we used to help out at MAHO-do during our elementary days. This is no big deal compared to that”

With my encouragement, Ai-chan lifted her head and murmured in a nostalgic voice, “You’ve said it. We used to meet with so many complex and tough problems”

Yes, it was truly tough.

Regardless of whether we were paid to work then, parents or teachers wouldn’t have allowed elementary school kids like us to work at a store after school and during our holidays.

Nonetheless, we had turned storeowner Majorika into a witch frog, so we got Grandma Majoririka, who brought Majorika up, to stand in as storeowner to meet up with and convince our homeroom teacher Seki-sensei and all our parents.

Seki-sensei and our parents were worried at first, but watching how we matured at the MAHO-do, they soon understood.

That’s why I managed to convince Dad and Mum to let me work at MAHO-do again so easily.

However, the problem now was Yamaki-sensei.

“What should I do if he rejects my application just because I’m a Tigers fan?”

It was after the entrance ceremony, and Ai-chan was still lamenting.

“Why are you so hesitant? That’s not like Ai-chan at all. Confront him directly”

Without permission, we couldn’t work at MAHO-do, so there was nothing left to do but to try.

~~~~~

And so, after the entrance ceremony, I grabbed Ai-chan by the arm and pulled her to see Yamaki-sensei at the staffroom.

“Sensei, we’d like to get part-time jobs, and are here to seek permission…”

Just as I was speaking, Yamaki-sensei interrupted with a sigh. “This is really impossible”

“Ehhhhh—?!”

“I-it can’t be…”

Shocked, we stared at each other, when suddenly, Yamaki-sensei pulled open his desk drawer and grabbed a round, dark blue case.

“I’m sorry, please follow me”

So saying, he left the staffroom.

We had no choice but to reluctantly follow behind him.

~~~~~

Cigarette smoke drifted lazily up into the blue sky.

Yamaki-sensei had brought us up to the rooftop of the school building.

Here he was, happily sucking on an unfiltered “Peace” brand cigarette, known for its super high nicotine content.

“Why can’t we have part-time jobs?!” Ai-chan asked directly, with a slightly angry look on her face.

“Hmm? What are you talking about?” Yamaki-sensei returned the question, tapping cigarette ash into a portable ashtray.

“What do you mean, what?…”

Seeing Ai-chan’s confused face, I spoke up helpfully. “When we said that we wished to seek permission to get part-time jobs, sensei told us that it was “really impossible”, didn’t you?”

After I finished explaining, Yamaki-sensei looked as if he might burst out laughing, but it turned into a violent coughing fit instead.

“Sensei, are you alright?!” Panicked, Ai-chan patted him on the back.

Reigning in his cough, Yamaki-sensei thanked Ai-chan, before continuing with a really weird laugh, “I meant that this was impossible. This”

He showed us his cigarette, before sucking on it with delight again.

“Huh?”

We tilted our heads to one side, not understanding.

“My wife, the principal and the other teachers keep telling me to stop smoking, it’s so annoying. I’ve not had a smoke since this morning, and I just couldn’t take it anymore…”

“Oh! So that was what’s impossible”

“I see! Seriously, sensei…”

“Sorry, sorry. Quitting is impossible for me. This has been with me even longer than my wife has”

Pulling another cigarette out of its case, Yamaki-sensei lit up again.

Even with a “No Smoking” declaration…

Even Dad gave up smoking when I was born.

You are a teacher, right?

This guy is really impossible…

With that in mind, I heard Ai-chan ask, “so, what about our part-time jobs?”

“I will fill out the application form for you to recommend it, so that’s OK”

Breathing a sigh of relief, we waited for Yamaki-sensei to finish up his cigarette, before returning to the staffroom to receive our application forms.

“We’d like to start work tomorrow…”

To my question, Yamaki-sensei brusquely replied, “just get the in-charge’s name, address and stamp before the last lesson tomorrow, and you’ll be fine”

With that, he seemed to forget about our existence as he tore off the “No Smoking” sign stuck on his desk’s bookends, crushed it into a ball and tossed it into the bin.

With a stunned face, Ai-chan shrugged her shoulders and looked at me, as if to say “Let’s go”.

I nodded and called out, “so, sorry for bothering you”

“Goodbye”

Bowing, we left the staffroom.

~~~~~

“I knew it, I really can’t get along with that sensei,” Ai-chan said with a sigh as we were changing shoes at the shoe rack.

“Me too. A normal homeroom teacher would have asked us questions, such as “Why do you want to work?” or “What kind of job is it?” I voiced out my dissatisfaction too.

“Yea yea. He was so irresponsible, and half-baked…”

Just as Ai-chan was grumbling, we heard a voice calling down the corridor.

“I plan to trust my students”

It was Yamaki-sensei!

Why was he here?!

“S-sensei…”

Shocked, we stood rooted to the spot.

“If you are working to support your boyfriends or to buy drugs, then it’s a different story,” Yamaki-sensei said, smiling.

“N-no way!” Ai-chan denied in a panic

“That’s impossible!” I agreed.

“Haha, I was joking. People work part-time because they need the money. That’s enough reason”

T-that’s enough reason…?

Ai-chan and I stared at him open-mouthed.

Seeing our expression, Yamaki-sensei continued. “Sensei knows that part-time jobs can be the start of delinquency, but it can also help you enter the adult world, learn about society, and earn some money. I think that having a part-time job is very reasonable”

Well, he can speak seriously if he wants to.

Noticing my surprise, Ai-chan asked, “sensei, were you looking for us?”

“Yes, yes. I forgot to say something to Senoo”

“Me…?”

“I’ve heard from Nagao-sensei, the teacher in-charge of the track club. You competed in a national 100m race back when you were in middle school in Osaka, and won a prize?”

“Ehh, well…”

Ai-chan was a little shy about this, so I raised three fingers of my right hand and said with pride, “third in the whole country! She’s great!”

“Do-doremi-chan,” Ai-chan blushed with embarrassment.

Seeing this, Yamaki-sensei let out a really weird laugh.

“You two make a good combi”

“Of course! We are best friends, after all!” I declared with even more pride, puffing out my chest, but I overdid it and tumbled backward.

“Watch out!”

Ai-chan grabbed me in a flash, saving me from disaster.

“Hahahaha, I’ll take note of this. Harukaze gets carried away easily…” Yamaki-sensei laughed as he pretended to take down a note.

“S-sensei~!” I shouted, making a pitiful face and voicing out my denial. “I’m not that kind of person~,” I silently added in my heart.

“M-my stomach hurts… Harukaze, you are too funny,” Yamaki-sensei said as he rubbed my head.

And then, seeing Ai-chan smiling wrily as she supported me, he continued, “Senoo, work hard at track”

Giving her a pat on the shoulder, he turned and left.

“H-huh?…”

Surprised at Yamaki-sensei’s words, Ai-chan stared as he left. Suddenly, he turned around and called out an unreasonable request,

“Oh, I forgot. Senoo, being a Tigers fan may result in you getting a bad report from me, so do switch to being a Giants fan”

“W-what did you say?! This isn’t a joke! Who would want to be a Giants fan…”

Just as Ai-chan’s face turned red in anger,

“Hahaa, I was joking. Bye.” Yamaki-sensei laughed and left with a small wave.

“T-that was a mean joke…”

Exhausted, Ai-chan sank down onto the floor.

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“Fufu, Ai-chan, you must be exaggerating, right? Your teacher sounds too unique to be real”

“No no. It’s a true story, right Doremi-chan?”

“Yep. It’s all truly true”

In the afternoon after the entrance ceremony, Hazuki-chan, Ai-chan and I met up in front of the fountain in Misora Park, before heading to Segawa Onpu’s house within the city.

Worried about how none of us were able to contact Onpu-chan, we decided that we might find some clue as to what was going on if we visited her at home.

On our way to Onpu-chan’s house, Ai-chan and I updated Hazuki-chan about Yamaki-sensei and our classmates.

Hazuki-chan listened agreeably to the stories of our classmates, but opened her eyes wide and seemed to enjoy the story about Yamaki-sensei.

“I can’t trust a sensei who is a Giants fan!”

Ai-chan made a fist with all her strength while Hazuki-chan giggled.

“Both of you were at fault… But Doremi-chan, what do you think of that sensei?”

Hazuki-chan asked.

“I… I don’t know yet. He’s totally different from Seki-sensei and all my middle school teachers, and he’s not human too”

“Not human?”

“He really resembles a chameleon!” Ai-chan declared.

“Oh!”

Hazuki-chan burst into laughter until tears streamed down her face, as Ai-chan covered her mouth in a panic.

“Hazuki-chan, you laugh at really different things from us”

Ai-chan said, aware of the dubious looks passers-by were giving us.

After exhausting her laugher, Hazuki-chan said with a huge sigh,

“I thought my tummy was going to cramp up with laughter. Phew~”

~~~~~

Chatting, we reached the front of Onpu-chan’s house.

The gate was secured with a padlock and stout chain.

In a glance, we took in all the wilted potted plants that were lined from the gate to the steps, and the untrimmed trees in the yard.

“Doesn’t seem like anyone is living here”

Ai-chan whispered. Just then, Hazuki-chan pointed to the mailbox next to the gatepost and said,

“Look at that, you two”

Letters were flowing out of the mailbox’s slot.

“Ah, the postcard I sent is here,” Ai-chan said.

“My letter too,” Hazuki-chan added.

“Mine too. So they didn’t reach Onpu-chan…”

When the three of us could not reach Onpu-chan via phone or text, we got worried and sent her letters and postcards. Now, we knew why we never got any reply.

Just what had happened to Onpu-chan?

Giving small sighs, we gathered up all the mail and slotted them one by one into the mailbox, so that they were not flowing out anymore.

“There’s no clue here… What shall we do now?”

Just as I asked this, a voice sounded from behind us.

“Do you girls know Segawa Onpu?”

Turning around, we saw a shady-looking man in his forties and a young man with a camera hanging around his neck approaching us.

“…”

We kept silent, looking at them with suspicion.

“We are not bad guys”

The man in the forties assured us as he held out a namecard.

He was a reporter for a women’s magazine, a popular one we often saw in hair salons.

Without waiting for us to take the name card, he drew closer.

“You girls look like you’re Segawa Onpu’s age. Are you her classmates?”

Before I could even nod,

“No!” Hazuki-chan said.

“No no, we are just Onpu-chan’s fans!” Ai-chan added.

“Eh?! W-what are you s…!”

Suddenly, the two covered my mouth and bowed to the reporters.

“Sorry for bothering you!”

Carrying me up, they dashed off at top speed.

The reporters chased after us for about ten metres, but they soon gave up.

~~~~~

We stopped running when we reached a children’s park near Onpu-chan’s house.

Hazuki-chan looked around as she tried to get her breath back,

“Hah, hah… I don’t think they’re coming”

Ai-chan, who was in the track team, was not even panting as she said,

“We should be alright here”

Panting heavily, I asked,

“Zeh… Zeh… W-what’s up with you two?”

“The magazine that those people belong to wrote a bad article about Onpu-chan recently. I just can’t forgive that!”

Hazuki-chan, who was always calm, showed a rare anger as she spoke.

“I read that article at a beauty salon too. I got so angry halfway that I threw the magazine away!”

“Did they really write bad things about Onpu-chan?”

“It wasn’t just bad. They wrote that she had been cast out of the celebrity circle because she was too conceited as a child idol,” Hazuki-chan elaborated.

“They don’t even know Onpu-chan, yet they wrote such untrue things!” Ai-chan raged.

“Ah, but that’s… Erm… slender?… Not that…”

“You mean, slander?”

“Ah, yes, that”

“Doremi-chan, I think you should refrain from using difficult words,” Ai-chan commented.

“Haha, sorry”

I could only scratch my head in embarrassment.

“Those people must have wanted to get information from us to write another bad article about Onpu-chan,” Hazuki-chan said.

“I see. So that was why we ran away”

I finally understood the situation.

“What is everyone doing here?”

Shimakura Kaori-chan, our classmate, was walking towards us from across the road.

“Ah, Kaori-chan. We went to take a look at Onpu-chan’s house, but was almost caught by a suspicious man, so we ran over here”

I explained. Kaori-chan, who knew all the latest news, nodded quickly.

“Ah, I see him around often too. He hangs out with a young photographer, right? He asked me some questions before too”

“So you knew about him?” Ai-chan asked.

“Fufufu, who do you think I am?”

Kaori-chan’s glasses sparkled as she spoke. Then, she dropped a bomb on us.

“More importantly, I heard that Segawa-san’s family is selling the house”

“Eh, really?!”

“The woman who lives next door said that she often saw real estate people around the place…”

“Oh, so it’s just a rumour…” Ai-chan let out a sigh of relief.

“Don’t scare us, Kaori-chan”

I sighed in relief too, but Hazuki-chan glared at Kaori-chan,

“Shimakura-san, please do not speak of this to the magazine people. They’ll exaggerate the story just for fun”

“Oh, OK…”

Cowed by Hazuki-chan’s intensity, Kaori-chan nodded and left.

Hazuki-chan can be really reliable with these things.

Once she believes that she is right, she won’t give in no matter what happens. She really has inner strength.

After seeing Kaori-chan leave, we discussed about what we should do to search for Onpu-chan.

We decided to ask for Majorika’s help to look for Onpu-chan using magic, and called MAHO-do on our mobiles, but we reached the answering machine. Since the store was closed today, I guess she had gone to the onsen or the beauty spa with Lala.

Next, we decided to head to Onpu-chan’s downtown apartment, but we gave up the idea as we did not know the address.

“If that’s the case, how about visiting Onpu-chan’s dad at the railway company?”

Hazuki-chan suggested.

“That’s right, Onpu-chan’s dad works as a driver of the sleeper express train between Tokyo and Sapporo,” Ai-chan said.

“The railway company’s headquarters is in Tokyo, right?” I asked.

“Anyway, let’s go and see!” Hazuki-chan decided.

“Let’s go!” Ai-chan agreed.

~~~~~

And so, it took us nearly an hour to reach the building which is the headquarters of the railway company.

After explaining our situation at the reception desk, the receptionist contacted the train driver and crew department, and arranged a meeting with one of Onpu-chan’s dad’s male colleagues for us.

“You girls came all the way here, but I’m sorry. Segawa-kun had transferred to the Sapporo branch at the end of January”

The nice man, named Ogawa-san, updated us apologetically.

“Sapporo?!”

We were so shocked that we could not say anything more.

Sapporo was so far away.

When we were witch apprentices, we could easily have gone there, either on our brooms or using Magical Stage, but now…

Even so, we really wanted to contact Onpu-chan, so we asked,

“Erm… Can you tell us where they are staying over in Sapporo?”

“We’ll be glad if it’s just a phone number,” Ai-chan pressed.

“I’m sorry, but our rules forbid us from giving out personal information”

Ogawa-san said even more apologetically.

We had no choice but to leave.

However, just as we were leaving, Ogawa-san called out, with his back turned,

“I’m just talking to myself here, but Segawa did say that Onpu-chan is doing well”

“!… Thank you!”

Giving a deep bow to thank Ogawa-san for his kindness, we left the railway company.

~~~~~

The evening sun was setting in the western horizon as we crossed the overhead pedestrian bridge near the nearby train station.

It somehow looked bigger than the setting sun we normally saw at Misora City.

We stayed on the bridge, watching the sun in silence until it had set completely.

“We didn’t find out Onpu-chan’s whereabouts in the end”

Ai-chan said with a sigh, leaning back against the bridge’s railing.

“Don’t be disappointed. We’ve learnt that Onpu-chan is doing well in Sapporo, and that’s great”

Hazuki-chan replied with a gentle smile.

“Hazuki-chan is right. If that’s the case, we just need to work hard at MAHO-do and earn some money, then we can go to see Onpu-chan!”

“Yep, that’ll be great!” Ai-chan agreed.

“I agree!” Hazuki-chan added.

“Alright. Hokkaido is to the north, so it’s this way, right? Onpu-chan, we will definitely come, so wait for us!”

I shouted at the northern sky.

“Doremi-chan, that’s the south,” Hazuki-chan corrected me.

“The west is to this side, so the north is over there,” Ai-chan explained.

“Oh—!”

In an instant, we were laughing out loud.

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Now with an aim to visit Onpu-chan, even the uninteresting part-time work at MAHO-do seemed worth doing. It is quite amazing.

When we first reopened the store, there were many customers who did not know much about magical goods, due to our three year absence. Therefore, our sales did not increase as much as Majorika had wished.

However, three weeks after our reopening, customers who knew about the old MAHO-do came to visit out of nostalgia. We also promoted the store to our schoolmates from Misora First Elementary, as well as to our current classmates, so it has become a lively place now.

News of the effectiveness of our lucky items, such as pendants and bracelets made from magical clay, spread by word-of-mouth, and middle school girls from outside Misora City also came to visit.

Hazuki-chan, who can only help out on Saturdays and Sundays, and Ai-chan, who comes in after track training, are in charge of making the items out of magical clay.

That’s because they are good with their hands.

As for clumsy me, I head down straight to the MAHO-do after school every day and work hard at helping Majorika and being a salesgirl.

By the way, even though Ai-chan made a fool of herself during the introduction session on our entrance ceremony day, she had received recognition for her activities in the track team, and had become a popular persona not only in class, but throughout the school.

In addition, she set a new record within the prefecture during the qualifier 100m race for all high schools, held at the end of April. She is awesome.

Her relationship with our homeroom teacher Yamaki-sensei is also laughably strange.

The morning after the Giants won the Tigers in a match, he stealthily placed a newspaper clipping with a huge picture of the victorious Giants players on it in Ai-chan’s shoe rack. That was the start of their loyalty war.

“Nobody except Leon would do this!”

Ah, Leon is the nickname which Ai-chan and I gave to Yamaki-sensei.

Isn’t that too cool?

However, it did not come from some famous movie. If you take “chame” away from chameleon, you get Leon.

Everyone in class is in on the joke too, and we often call him Leon instead of Yamaki.

As for Leon, we told him that his nickname came from a movie, which made him really happy. We almost burst into uncontrollable laughter at that.

So, I will be referring to Yamaki-sensei as Leon from now on.

I am digressing a little, but Leon’s childish act had hit a nerve with Ai-chan.

During that night’s game, the Tigers defeated the Giants. The next morning, Ai-chan bought a sports newspaper that was biased towards the Tigers, then left it on Leon’s desk in the staffroom.

“Nobody except Senoo would do this!”

That hit a nerve with Leon too, and their loyalty war is still ongoing.

What will happen when the two teams next meet on the pitch?

Part of the class spread rumours about there being a bloodbath. Pupuu.

Either way, there is no doubt that Ai-chan is enjoying her high school life in her own way.

~~~~~

By the way, Golden Week came in the middle of May, and one day after track training, Ai-chan came to the MAHO-do and sat down at the table with a depressed look, letting out countless sighs.

“Ai-chan, sighing will lead to you breathing out your happiness”

I said, curious.

“Ah, Doremi-chan… Sorry, it’s nothing”

Ai-chan grabbed some magical clay and started moulding lucky items.

However, she let out another sigh before five minutes was even up.

“Hey, Aiko! The items won’t be lucky if you make them with a troubled heart! Go home if you’re not in the mood!”

Majorika scolded as she watered the potted plants.

“S-sorry…”

Ai-chan hung her head listlessly.

“Majorika, you shouldn’t shout at someone suddenly without knowing the reason”

Lala voiced out what was on my mind.

“Ai-chan, did something happen in school?”

“It’s not something terribly important…”

So saying, Ai-chan pulled out a college notebook from her bag by her feet and placed it onto the table.

The words “Creative notebook” and “Yokokawa Nobuko” were written on the cover.

“Ah, Nobuko-chan’s notebook. So, is her new novel complete?”

Ai-chan nodded, but her expression remained troubled.

“What’s with the notebook?”

Lala asked as she flipped through the notebook’s pages.

“She passed it to me before Golden Week, and asked me to read it and give some comments”

“I see, just like what we used to do so often in elementary school”

“Well… This is totally not interesting”

“Eh? But she was in a combi with Maruyama Miho-chan in middle school, and they received countless honourable mentions from shoujo manga magazines”

I exclaimed, shocked.

“Nobu-chan sent copies of her original stories all the way to Osaka to me, so I’ve been reading them too, but this one is really uninteresting compared to the stories from that time”

So saying, Ai-chan handed the notebook to me.

“Anyway, Doremi-chan should read it too”

“O-OK…”

I took the notebook from Ai-chan.

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The next morning, I walked to school yawning.

I had read Nobuko-chan’s story which Ai-chan passed to me, but I took so long that I did not get enough sleep in the end.

It was not because the story was so interesting that I forwent sleep just to keep reading. In fact, it was the opposite.

As Ai-chan had said, it was totally uninteresting. I went through cycles of reading a little then falling asleep, and before I knew it, it was already morning.

“Fwaaahhh~”

I yawned, wiping away tears.

“Doremi-chan!”

Ai-chan ran and caught up with me from behind.

“Ai-chan, good morning… Fwaaahhh~”

I let out another yawn.

“Don’t tell me, you read Nobu-chan’s story?”

“Pinpon”

I took out Nobuko-chan’s notebook from my bag and returned it to Ai-chan.

“So, what are your thoughts?”

“It wasn’t interesting at all. It’s fallen one, no, two ranks from the time when she was in a combi with Miho-chan”

“I knew it. This is even worse than the ones she made us read before she got into a combi with Miho-chan, right?”

“Yep, you’re right. Doremi the faithful dog appears in this story too, but it seems more like an rehash than anything. It could have used some freshness, and the story-clinching jokes were completely absent too”

“Well, we think the same. Doremi-chan, what should I tell Nobu-chan?”

“It’ll be good for her if we can tell her the truth”

“Well, I guess… It’s a little mean, but I’ll do that”

Ai-chan gave a little sigh and placed the notebook into her bag.

~~~~~

The next day was a Saturday, and it had been raining since morning.

I closed my umbrella, looked up at the melancholy sky as I shook out the water from my umbrella, and entered the MAHO-do.

“Good morning, Doremi-chan”

Hazuki-chan was already here, drinking tea with Majorika and Lala at the table.

“Doremi, come here and drink some tea too”

Majorika said as she added new tea leaves into the pot.

“Thank you”

Placing my umbrella into the stand, I headed over to everyone.

“It’s cold today. Come, drink this and warm up”

I received a cup of Royal Milk Tea from Majorika, and just as I was about to take a sip, the doorbell at the entrance rang loudly.

I unintentionally spilt my tea.

“Hot—, hot hot hot”

Ai-chan, who just entered the store, was shocked by my shouting.

“Ai-chan, don’t go around making such loud noises so early in the morning. Now I’ve spilt my tea”

“Ah, sorry, sorry. I’m in a bad mood, so I took it out on the door”

“What happened?”

“Well, I guess…”

“Anyway, have some tea”

Ai-chan nodded at Lala’s encouraging offer,

“I’ll have some then”

She came over to the table and sat down heavily on a chair.

Majorika poured a new cup of Royal Milk Tea, which Ai-chan downed in one gulp, but her mood did not seem to improve.

An idea struck me.

“Don’t tell me, you had a fight with Nobuko-chan?”

Ai-chan nodded wordlessly.

~~~~~

Before she went for her track training, Ai-chan returned Nobuko-chan’s creative notebook to her as she was cleaning up the classroom after school yesterday. She then told Nobuko-chan directly that the story was uninteresting.

When she heard that, Nobuko-chan gave a surprising reply.

“I knew it”

“What do you mean, you knew it?”

Ai-chan asked immediately.

“The me who wrote this was not interesting at all”

Nobuko-chan replied nonchalantly, which annoyed Ai-chan a little.

“Then rewrite it until it becomes interesting. Isn’t that the logical thing to do if you want people to read this?”

“I’m in a slump. Maybe I should stop writing stories”

Nobuko-chan said listlessly, not answering Ai-chan’s question.

However, that hit a nerve with Ai-chan.

“What are you saying?! Don’t talk about giving up so easily!”

Now, Nobuko-chan was the one who had run out of patience,

“Ai-chan doesn’t understand the pains of being a writer!”

“Yes, I don’t! I also didn’t know that Nobu-chan is so incompetent!”

With that, the two parted ways.

~~~~~

“I think I said too much too, but I just got so frustrated…”

Ai-chan hit herself on the head lightly with her fist.

“I understand what Ai-chan feels. You just wanted Nobuko-chan to continue writing, right? That’s why you spoke so harshly”

Ai-chan nodded at my words.

“Erm…”

Hazuki-chan, who had been listening quietly to our conversation, spoke up.

“What’s up, Hazuki-chan?”

“I was just wondering if Nobuko-chan’s slump has something to do with her relationship with Maruyama Miho-chan”

That’s my Hazuki-chan! I thought that was a sharp deduction.

“Talking about that, the two were behaving awkwardly during last month’s reunion too,” I said.

“Oh, is that true? But they had so much fun creating manga together back in 5th and 6th Grade…”

Ai-chan added nostalgically.

“They often hung out together even in middle school, and submitted their works to magazine companies under the pen name “Misora Komachi”,” I said.

“But they’ve gone to different high schools, and they didn’t even speak a word to each other during the after-party,” Hazuki-chan added.

“I see. Why don’t you go ask that Miho girl then?” Majorika suggested.

“I’ve been thinking about that too,” Lala agreed.

Just when Majorika and Lala were speaking, the doorbell rang softly and a petite girl entered.

W-w-what! It was Maruyama Miho-chan herself.

Just when we were talking about her!

“Ah, Doremi-chan! I was thinking it might be you girls running the MAHO-do”

For a moment, we remained speechless.

“Hey, you girls, it’s a customer! Go serve her!”

Majorika’s voice brought us back, and we dashed up to Miho-chan,

“Ah, Miho-chan, welcome!”

“A poster promoting the store was put up on a nearby telephone pole, so I came over wondering”

“Oh, I see. We were just talking about Miho-chan, so we were surprised when you came in,” Ai-chan explained.

“Is that so? Well, what is the MAHO-do selling this time?”

“Magical goods. Pendants that make dreams come true, brooches that bring happiness, they’re all really effective”

Hazuki-chan explained each item as she held them out.

Suddenly, Miho-chan interjected,

“Do you have magical goods that bring misfortune to someone you hate?”

“—!”

Shocked, we looked at each other.

“We won’t sell such things!”

“Miho-chan, someone you hate… Can it be… Yokokawa Nobuko-chan?”

“—!”

This time, it was Miho-chan who was shocked, opening her eyes wide.

However, she immediately regained her composure,

“I-I was joking. Maybe I should buy an item that can make dreams come true”

“That’ll be this pendant. It costs 380yen”

While I received the money from Miho-chan and returned the change, Ai-chan wrapped up the pendant and passed it to Miho-chan.

“Thank you for your patronage”

Ai-chan said with a stiff smile. Just then, Hazuki-chan asked decisively,

“Hey, Miho-chan. Why did you choose to go to Aogaoka Academy instead of Misora High?”

“Because Aogaoka has a manga research club. They also produce professional manga artists”

“Oh, I see. So why didn’t you invite Nobuko-chan to enroll too?”

This question seemed to strike Miho-chan once again.

“—!”

Miho-chan appeared shocked again, but she did not bother remaining calm this time, and showed an unhappy face.

“Hazuki-chan, I have dissolved the combi with Nobuko-chan! Please do not mention her name before me again!”

“Miho-chan…?!”

Hazuki-chan could not ask any further, and remained silent.

“I’m sorry, but I’m leaving”

Miho-chan took the change from me, who was standing dumbfounded, and left as if escaping.

“Miho-chan!”

In a panic, we ran outside after her, shielding our eyes from the pounding rain.

However, we could only watch as Miho-chan’s back retreated in the hazy rain.

Returning into the store, we discussed the issue as we moulded magical clay.

“I didn’t know that their relationship had soured so much,” I said.

“Is it because they went to different high schools?” Hazuki-chan mused.

“There is nothing we can say now,” Ai-chan said.

“And they used to be so close…”

“Is there any way to help them revive the combi?”

“We need to first find out the reason behind their quarrel. Let’s ask the two of them”

“You’re right. Doremi-chan, I just had a fight with Nobu-chan, so you go talk to her,” Ai-chan said.

“Alright”

“So, Ai-chan and I will tackle Miho-chan then,” Hazuki-chan concluded.

“If we could use magic, we could have found out the reason easily, and helping them make up would be so much easier too”

“Doremi-chan!”

Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan glared at me.

“Haha, I was joking”

I laughed as I tried to cover up my blunder.

“You can’t become witches, but you can still become witch apprentices,” Majorika commented.

“The contributions you girls made to the witch world is significant, so I think you can still become witch apprentices if we ask the Queen,” Lala added.

“So, shall I go ask the Queen?…” Majorika offered.

I wanted to say “That’ll be a great help…”, but I swallowed the words.

“We had decided to live life using our own efforts without magic. We surely can do something about this on our own. We’ll be OK even without becoming witch apprentices”

Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan nodded vigorously at my words.

divider2_zpsf995036c

That afternoon, Majorika granted us leave from work, as the rainy weather kept customers away and the store free.

Thanking Majorika in our hearts for her thoughtfulness, I headed over to Nobuko-chan’s house, while Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan visited Miho-chan’s apartment.

The rain had let up a little, but showed no signs of stopping.

Nobuko-chan and her mum were just returning from shopping when I reached the front of their house.

“Oh, Doremi-chan, welcome”

Nobuko-chan’s mum called out to me.

“Hello. I came to talk to Nobuko-chan about something”

“Eh, me?”

As if sensing something, Nobuko-chan said as she grabbed my arm,

“Doremi-chan, let’s talk in my room”

~~~~~

After having some strawberry shortcake in Nobuko-chan’s room, she started the conversation with a good guess.

“Doremi-chan, you came to talk about Ai-chan, right?”

Noticing that the fight with Ai-chan had worried Nobuko-chan, I nodded.

“I seem to have said too much myself. Please tell Ai-chan that I wish to make up with her”

“Yep, I understand”

I answered with a smile as I placed the plate holding the cake onto her desk, and shifted my chair so that I was in front of Nobuko-chan, who was sitting on the bed.

“Actually, I didn’t come here today just for that”

“?…”

Nobuko-chan looked at me as she ate her last mouthful of cake.

“Well, Maruyama Miho-chan came to the MAHO-do just a while ago”

As I said this, Nobuko-chan’s expression turned unhappy.

“Doremi-chan, I don’t know what Miho Miho told you, but we have dissolved our combi. If you still want to talk about Miho Miho, I’ll have to ask you to leave”

“Nobuko-chan, wait. I may sound nosy, but why did you two go to different high schools?”

“…”

Nobuko-chan remained silent for a while, then said,

“If I tell you about it, will you leave?”

“O-OK…”

Nobuko-chan propped her chin on her right hand as she explained,

“When we were discussing material for a new manga, Miho Miho seemed to have told me about Aogaoka Academy having a manga research club, and that we should enroll there together. However, I was too absorbed in the material and did not hear her”

“Eh, really?”

“However, Miho Miho saw me nodding, so she thought that I had heard her. But think about it. Aogaoka is a private school, right? And the tuition fees are much more expensive than the public Misora High. I totally had no intention of enrolling there”

“The enrollment score is higher than Misora High’s too”

“That’s right! Even so, Miho Miho is angry at me for not enrolling in Aogaoka. It was a real headache, so I suggested dissolving the combi. And that’s the truth. So, I’ve talked, now please leave”

“Ah, but…”

There were still questions I wanted to ask, but Nobuko-chan had pushed me out of her room.

Just then, I noticed that Nobuko-chan had pursed her lips.

By the time I returned to the MAHO-do, Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan were already back.

The two had successfully managed to gather the reason behind the fight from a reluctant Miho-chan.

Her story was largely similar to Nobuko-chan’s. Miho-chan had talked about enrolling at Aogaoka Academy together, and Nobuko-chan should have heard her. However, Nobuko-chan claimed that she did not, then decided on her own to dissolve the combi.

“Arguing about whether she heard it or not is pointless now. Is there nothing we can do about it?” Ai-chan asked.

“We suggested that Nobuko-chan really might not have heard her, being too engrossed with the material, but Miho-chan was insistent that Nobuko-chan had heard her. She claims that Nobuko-chan is a big liar”

I was taken aback by Hazuki-chan’s words.

“Ah, I remember the lies. After telling her story, Nobuko-chan pursed her lips”

“Pursed lips?! Isn’t that Nobuko-chan’s habit whenever she tells a lie?!” Ai-chan exclaimed.

“I know!” I confirmed.

“Which means that Nobuko-chan did hear Miho-chan talking about enrolling together,” Hazuki-chan added.

“She heard it, but pretended not to, and didn’t enroll,” I said.

“And because of that, she decided to dissolve the combi,” Hazuki-chan added again.

Ai-chan interrupted the high speed conversation between Hazuki-chan and myself,

“Wait a minute”

We stopped and listened.

“Why did Nobu-chan tell such lies, just to dissolve her combi with Miho-chan, who is such a close friend?”

“That is strange. It’s as if she had decided on dissolving the combi even before the enrollment issue”

“Why did she want to do that?”

“We won’t know unless we ask Nobu-chan. Alright! It’s my turn now to find that out!”

Ai-chan exclaimed as she made a fist with her right hand.

The next day was Sunday, and we received permission from Majorika to take a break from 2 to 4pm to go to Misora Park.

Hazuki-chan and I told Miho-chan about what Nobuko-chan had said the previous day, and had brought her to the park as well. The three of us hid ourselves in the bushes behind a bench.

All these were instructions from Ai-chan.

Ai-chan had heard from school about Nobuko-chan’s habit of jogging every Sunday afternoon as part of a diet plan. I think she had planned to jog together with Nobuko-chan and ask her about the truth.

When we reached the park, Ai-chan and Nobuko-chan were already jogging together along the running track inside the park.

Ai-chan had planned to tire Nobuko-chan out and lead her to the bench in front of the bushes we were hiding in, then ask her about the situation. As they ran, she increased her jogging speed gradually to prevent Nobuko-chan from realizing the change.

This seemed to work. Nobuko-chan tried to keep up with Ai-chan at first, but then started to get tired and lag behind. Soon, she stopped running altogether.

“Ai-chan, wait. I can’t run anymore~…”

So saying, Nobuko-chan sat down on the ground near the bench.

“Nobu-chan, are you alright?”

Ai-chan lent her shoulder to Nobuko-chan, and successfully led her to sit on the bench in front of us.

While drinking the sports drinks they had brought along, the two started to chat.

“We’re really sweating, and I’m glad that I managed to make up with Nobu-chan”

“I’m glad too. We’ll need to thank Doremi-chan for that”

All was going according to Ai-chan’s plan up till now, but…

“By the way, Nobu-chan…”

Just as Ai-chan was about to shift the topic onto Miho-chan, Nobuko-chan interrupted with sharp intuition,

“Stop! Ai-chan, I think you’ve already heard from Doremi-chan, but I don’t want us to fight again, so please leave it. Don’t mention Maruyama Miho-chan in front of me”

Inside the bushes, I glanced at Miho-chan. Her shoulders were shaking slightly with anger.

Th-this was bad…

Hazuki-chan put her arm around Miho-chan’s shoulders to soothe her, but I still worried that she might reveal herself at this moment.

“I know, but…”

Ai-chan tried to persevere, but Nobuko-chan had stood up,

“I’m sorry, Ai-chan, but I’m going home”

“Wait a minute—!”

It was not Ai-chan or Miho-chan who shouted that, but me, as I jumped out of the bushes.

“Doremi-chan…!”

Ai-chan slapped herself on the forehead and stared at the sky.

“What, Doremi-chan is here too? How nosy”

“I am nosy. I just want to know Nobuko-chan’s real intentions! Why did you resort to lying to dissolve the combi with Miho-chan?”

“What are you talking about? I didn’t lie”

Nobuko-chan said through pursed lips.

“Your pursed lips tell us that you are lying, Nobu-chan”

Ai-chan pointed out, and Nobuko-chan covered her mouth with both hands in a panic.

“In any case, I’m going home!”

But before she could escape, I opened up my arms and blocked her path.

“Doremi-chan, why are you so nosy, when nobody asked you to be?”

“Well…”

“We are not elementary school kids anymore! We are already adults, so no matter what problems we face, we can solve it on our own! Doremi-chan is being really tedious!”

“—!”

Nobuko-chan’s words pierced sharply into my heart.

“Nobu-chan, that was too much!”

Ai-chan objected, but I interjected in a strained voice,

“I don’t care if I’m being tedious… I don’t care if you dislike me… But at least speak the truth to Miho-chan”

“That’s enough! Why are you barging into other’s hearts like this?”

“Because… I’m a fan of Yokokawa Nobuko-chan’s novels, and a fan of Misora Komachi’s manga!”

I guess I was too worked up, because I was crying without knowing it, and Nobuko-chan appeared blurry to my eyes.

“Doremi-chan…”

Ai-chan walked over to me and gently put her arm around my shoulders.

“Nobu-chan, I feel the same way as Doremi-chan. I’ve been a big fan of yours since elementary school!”

Nobuko-chan closed her eyes and hung her head.

After a period of silence, she sighed and opened her mouth.

“Miho Miho is better off pairing up with another writer than to remain in a combi with me”

“Eh, what do you mean?”

I asked as I wiped away my tears.

“I heard it. The conversation between Miho Miho and the editor. It happened when we entered a manga contest and received an honourable mention. Miho Miho and I visited the magazine company to seek advice from the editor”

So saying, Nobuko-chan returned to the bench and sat down.

Ai-chan and I followed suit, sitting down beside her.

“We received great advice, as well as encouragement to work hard. Before we left, I went to the bathroom, and that was when the editor said this to Miho Miho, “Your art is wonderful. If you will pair up with a better writer instead of that girl and her forceful stories, you’ll get a chance to debut real soon” “

“Y-you heard that?”

“I didn’t know where the bathroom was, so I went back. To speak honestly, that shock tore my heart to pieces…”

“Nobu-chan…”

Ai-chan laid her own right hand on top of Nobuko-chan’s right hand.

Nobuko-chan gently patted the back of Ai-chan’s hand with her left hand, and said jokingly,

“But if Miho Miho can become a professional manga artist, Yokokawa Nobuko-san doesn’t mind being the bad guy”

“I knew it, Nobuko-chan is still Nobuko-chan”

Happy, I was going to embrace Nobuko-chan, but before I could do so, a pair of hands appeared and hugged her from behind.

“Eh?!”

Shocked, Nobuko-chan turned around to see Miho-chan, her face messy with tears.

“M-miho Miho…?!”

“I didn’t know that Nobuko-chan heard that conversation. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“That would have been uncool… Miho Miho had received recognition, while I was just a burden”

“That’s not true! My art is good because Nobuko-chan’s stories are interesting and give it life. It’s the result of our trial and error”

“Thank you…”

A smile had returned to Nobuko-chan’s face.

“And then, that editor sent me a story written by some famous writer afterwards, and told me to draw manga based on that”

“Isn’t that great?”

“It’s not great! I immediately rejected the offer and sent the story back”

“Why? You could have debuted as a professional”

“I can’t draw manga unless I am Misora Komachi… I can’t be without Nobuko-chan!”

“Miho Miho…”

Tears were swimming in their eyes.

Ai-chan and I signalled to Hazuki-chan, who was crying behind Miho-chan, and the three of us left quietly.

~~~~~

A week later, we got to read the latest manga by “Misora Komachi”.

We were happy with the revival of the combi, but what made us even happier was that the manga was a masterpiece with the best humour.


TRANSLATOR’S NOTES

The Yomiuri Giants from Tokyo and Hanshin Tigers from Kansai are two of the strongest baseball teams in Japan. As expected, rivalry among fans of both fans is big.


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