VOLUME 1: 16
Chapter 5 “Believe in your dreams”
The breeze blew through the gaps between the beech trees as we made our way towards the source of the Fukiyama River.
My dad was in the lead, followed by Onpu-chan, with me bringing up the rear.
The three of us were clad in those waist-high waders for creek fishers, and we were all sweating buckets.
I was wearing Dad’s old waders, while Onpu-chan was clad in Grandpa’s waders. Both were slightly too large for us, which made walking difficult.
“Dad, are we there yet?”
“Just a little more, hang on.”
Dad, who was holding all our fishing rods, was clad in an additional fly fishing vest, so he was probably sweating much more than us.
“Onpu-chan’s here with us too, so let’s just take a rest,” I suggested, exhausted. We had already been walking for close to 30 minutes.
“I’m alright. Anyway…” Onpu-chan replied, looking totally unruffled. Then, she appeared to hear something. “Hmm?…”
I listened hard, too, and dimly heard the murmuring of a stream.
“You hear that?”
Once we exit this forest and find that stream, we would be able to freshen up in the clear and cool water.
I suddenly felt full of energy again and continued to walk on, humming to myself.
So how did the three of us end up creek fishing? It happened last night, as we were gathered around the sunken fireplace at Grandpa’s place, eating dinner.
“This fish is delicious!” Onpu-chan declared.
Since coming to Hida, Onpu-chan had remained mostly quiet, so it all started with this sentence from her.
Onpu-chan had been doing a lot of serious thinking with regards to her future. She had hoped to reach a decision of whether to continue being an actress or not over this vacation trip.
Knowing Onpu-chan’s dilemma, we found it hard to relax thus far.
We were all frustrated that we could do nothing but stay by her side and watch over her. However, with this exclamation from her, the atmosphere immediately lightened up.
Grandpa had been grilling trout over the sunken fireplace for us.
That day, Dad and Grandpa had gone fishing at the Fukiyama River near our house. They had caught these beautiful trout, which resembled the well-known salmon.
“This trout is different from salmon because it has these red spots. With the Sakawa River in Kanagawa Prefecture acting as a border, the East side is where all the salmon are, while the trout are on the West side,” Dad explained, using his vast knowledge of fishing. After that, he asked, “So? Would you girls like to go catch some trout tomorrow?”
Onpu-chan did not seem very enthusiastic.
“There’s something I’d like to show Onpu-chan there,” Dad added.
“Something to show me?”
Without answering her, Dad turned to Grandpa and asked, “Old man, those nymphs come out around Bon Festival, right?”
Grandpa nodded wordlessly.
“What are these nymph things?” I asked.
“Nymphs are the young of aquatic insects such as mayflies. There’s a stagnant pool near the source of the Fukiyama River where the water doesn’t flow much, and that’s where the nymphs emerge as flying adults all at once. It’s a magical place where all the trout and char gather to catch their prey, unmindful of any fishermen. That’s why we don’t even need live bait to catch those fish.”
“Does that mean that even I can catch some fish on my own?” I asked.
“Of course,” Dad answered.
“That sounds interesting! Onpu-chan, shall we go?” I urged.
“Yosh, it’s decided then! Hazuki-chan, Ai-chan, how about you?” Dad asked.
“Hazuki-chan said that she’ll help me with homework! So she’s out!” Pop declared.
“Mayflies sound like large mosquitoes to me. Sorry. I’m really bad with insects,” Hazuki-chan added.
“I’ll pass, too. The competition is nearing, so I’d like to go practice in the grounds of that elementary school behind the house,” Ai-chan said.
In the end, the three of us were the ones who made our way up to the pool beside the creek.
As the sun slanted towards the west, the water surface reflected its rays and shone golden.
Leaning over the water’s edge, we washed our faces and dried them off with towels, then wiped the sweat off from our bodies.
As Onpu-chan and I quenched our thirst with beverages that we had brought along, Dad fixed the reel and line onto one of the fishing rods and started fly fishing.
Immediately after he cast the line, a trout about 20cm long flew out of the water and ate up the baited hook.
Dad quickly planted the fishing rod into the ground, and, without reeling it in, he grabbed the line and expertly pulled it in. Then, using the net that had been tied to his back, he caught the trout.
“Wow, that was awesome!”
Onpu-chan and I were both amazed by this turn of events, and rushed over to look at the trout in the net.
With blue barcode-like stripes and red spots, it was a truly beautiful trout.
“The fins are fully developed too, see? The trout in this region are all wild, not cultured by man,” Dad said happily as he unhooked the trout and pulled out a dropper from his vest pocket.
He filled up the dropper with water from the stream, stuck the dropper into the trout’s mouth, and injected the water into the fish.
Loosening the dropper, he then sucked out some water from the trout’s mouth, and then squeezed out that water onto a small white dish he had prepared.
With that, the prey which the trout had ingested before it was caught flowed out onto the dish together with the water. There were black insects that resembled caterpillars, as well as cream-coloured ones that looked like mosquito larvae.
“Fufu, I was right. The black ones are mayfly nymphs, and these cream ones are adult moults,” Dad said as he released the trout and washed away the insects’ remains from the dish in the stream. Then, he put it back into his vest, together with the dropper.
Turning the reel, he reeled the fishing line back and unhooked the artificial bait from the fishing rod.
“Dad, aren’t we fishing anymore?” I asked.
“We just need to travel a little more, and we’ll catch all the fish we want, so it’s okay.”
So saying, he attached the reels onto all our fishing rods and helped us thread the fishing line through the rod.
Next, he attached some artificial bait that resembled the adult mayflies onto our hooks and passed the rods to us. Then, we all started to walk towards the pool upstream.
The pool was a silent place, as if time had stopped still at that spot.
The water still flowed, but so gently that you couldn’t hear it. The water surface was like a mirror, reflecting the sky as it changed from a golden to red colour.
We sat down on some rocks along the gentle inner curve on the right side of the stream and waited for the mayfly nymphs to moult.
Watching the sun setting towards the west, Dad said, “It’ll begin soon, the festival.”
As if waiting for those words, tiny rings started to ripple across the surface of the pool.
Inside those ripples, we saw cream-coloured nymphs emerge and fly out of the water, their tails swinging.
With that, more ripples started to form, and the nymphs all started to fly up out of the water.
In the next instant, trout and char started to jump out of the water, cutting through all those tiny ripples.
Splash… Splash… Splash splash splash splash!
A whole haze of nymphs was dancing wildly before our eyes.
There were so many of them that the surroundings were blurred out by their numbers.
And on the water’s surface, a countless number of fish continued to dance as they caught their prey.
Onpu-chan and I were struck speechless and sat rooted to the spot.
“What is this…!” Onpu-chan asked. I turned to look enquiringly at Dad.
Dad was busy pressing on his camera’s shutter as he took photos of the scene, “We call the process of aquatic insects moulting as hatching, but when all the larvae hatch together at once like this, we call it a super hatch.”
“But there’s so many of them…”
Some nymphs had fallen onto us and were wriggling about, but we paid them no heed as we stared dazedly at the natural phenomenon occurring before our eyes.
Having taken enough pictures, Dad’s face grew serious as he spoke to Onpu-chan. “I wanted to show this to Onpu-chan. All aquatic insects, not just these nymphs, live within water for a year, and when the time comes, they moult altogether at once. Among them, there are some who fail, and some who get eaten by the trout, but all of them still struggle and put all their effort into moulting.”
Onpu-chan continued to stare at the super hatch and the feeding fish joyfully jumping out of the water, unblinking.
“Onpu-chan right now is just like one of those nymphs, growing up from a child into an adult. Continuing to struggle, and finally emerging, I think that’s the best decision after all.”
“…Thank you. You have shown me something really wonderful.”
“Even Dad can say good things if he wants to,” I said.
“What’s with that ’even‘?!” Dad retorted.
“Alright, let’s catch some dinner!”
We all cast out our lines together.
The trout and char were caught on our hooks one after another.
We released all fish measuring below 20cm, and kept nine which were about 25cm long.
As we kept our equipment, the super hatch came to an end, and Fukiyama River’s pool sank back into silence as if nothing had happened.
Nature is really magical and amazing.
From the next day on, Onpu-chan got really active and began to chat happily with everyone, as if a burden had been lifted from her shoulders.
Early in the morning, she invited a sleepy Pop to join her for a morning workout at the nearby elementary school. Then, she went with Grandma and Mum into the fields to harvest the dewy vegetables. She then accompanied Ai-chan to her track training, the two of them working up some good sweat.
I heard all of this from Hazuki-chan.
Yes, I slept in all the way till noon.
That was because we all got so excited during last night’s pajama talk that I couldn’t get to sleep. Ahahaha.
With that, I went to wash up with water drawn up from the well in the yard. I spotted Onpu-chan heading towards Grandpa’s workroom, which was situated a distance away.
“Good morning, Onpu-chan.”
“We’re way past the time for morning greetings. You’re really a sleepyhead”
“Oops. Anyway, what’s up?”
“I was thinking of asking Grandpa to let me watch him work,” Onpu-chan explained.
“Ooh, I’ll come along, too.”
Wiping my face with a towel, I followed Onpu-chan into Grandpa’s workroom.
The smell of varnish hit us as we entered the room.
Besides farming, Grandpa is also a famous Shunkei lacquerware maker over in this region.
The Shunkei style differs from the usual lacquerware in that it brings out the beauty of the original wood material, and so it utilizes yellow and red tones more. It can be done on trays, bento boxes and teacup saucers.
“Is it alright if we watch you at work?” Onpu-chan asked. Grandpa, who was applying the finishing varnish onto a Noh mask used in shrine ceremonies, stopped and nodded wordlessly.
Onpu-chan’s eyes sparkled as she intently watched Grandpa’s careful work, but I soon got bored and let out a big yawn.
“Doremi, I’m thirsty. Could you get me some tea?” Grandpa asked as he passed me an empty teapot.
As I was about to take the teapot, Onpu-chan said, “I’ll go instead,” and reached out for the teapot.
“It’s okay. Onpu-chan, you want to speak with Grandpa, right? See you”
After I left, Onpu-chan got up and went to sit behind Grandpa.
“Shall I massage your shoulders?”
“Sorry for the trouble, but thank you.”
As Onpu-chan’s hands worked on the massage, she asked, “Grandpa, can I ask you something?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“How long have you been a Shunkei lacquerware worker?”
“Hmm… I’ve been at it even before I met Grandma, so that’ll be about 60 years.”
“Wow! That’s amazing.”
“It really isn’t”
“But you still continue to create such wonderful works. I really respect that. You must be talented at it,” Onpu-chan said as she glanced at the trays and bento boxes which Grandpa had displayed on a shelf.
“Talent? That’s not true. I just watched and replicated what my own Dad used to do.”
“But that alone won’t help you to create such beautiful works. It’s just like fine arts.”
“Hoh hoh ho, you can praise me, but I can’t reward you with anything other than tea.”
Onpu-chan giggled, and that was when I returned.
Pouring out tea for the three of us, we all drank it together.
“If there’s really something I’m talented at, it’s the strength to continue doing what I like,” Grandpa said with half-lidded eyes.
“Continuing… to do what I like?”
Onpu-chan’s expression brightened in an instant, and I could guess why.
“I’ll continue being an actress for my own sake.”
Onpu-chan announced this decision one night as we were playing with sparklers in the yard.
The sudden declaration garnered shocked looks from both Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan at first.
Since I had already suspected that, I just smiled and replied, “Oh! I’m glad that your worries are over.”
“I knew it. Onpu-chan can’t just be a normal girl. Being an actress really fits you more,” Hazuki-chan said as she walked over and passed a new sparkler to Onpu-chan.
“Onpu-chan looks really pretty tonight. It’s as if your superstar aura is shining through,” Ai-chan added as she lit her own sparkler from Onpu-chan’s.
“Thank you,” Onpu-chan replied, smiling as she twirled her sparkler in circles.
Not losing out, I twirled my own sparkler and asked, “Hey, Onpu-chan, you said that you’ll continue being an actress for your own sake. What do you mean?”
“Ever since I entered the entertainment industry and worked hard at being a child idol, I did it all for the sake of fulfilling Mama’s dream. In exchange, Mama helped me to handle everything outside of work”
“But you were a child then; that was her responsibility.”
“I was really spoilt then. But from now on, I’ll stand on my own two feet, and, no matter how slow my progress, I’ll continue walking the path of an actress with enjoyment.”
So saying, she turned towards Grandpa and Dad, who were drinking beer on the veranda, and gave them a slight nod.
Grandpa and Dad smiled and raised their beer glasses.
Just then, Mum brought out some barley tea. We all grabbed a cup and lifted them into the air.
“Let’s toast to Onpu-chan’s future!”
We all drained our glasses in one gulp.
Onpu-chan, being Onpu-chan, got things moving really quickly.
After returning from Hida, where we spent the O-Bon vacation, Onpu-chan appeared before us shortly after we resumed our work at the MAHO-do.
“Hi!” She waved her right hand lightly as she jauntily entered the store.
“W-why are you here?!”
Hazuki-chan and I stared open-mouthed in shock, as if we had seen a ghost.
Ai-chan was on a break today, as she had to compete in the Inter-High competition.
“What? I’m not a ghost. Look, I have legs”
Without thinking, Hazuki-chan and I glanced down at Onpu-chan’s legs.
“Fufufu, so you’re the real Onpu-chan,” Hazuki-chan said with a wry laugh.
“But why? You didn’t say anything about coming here when we were at Hida”
“Fufu. Actually, I’ve just been signed on to a new artiste production company, so I came to let everyone know.”
I fell off my chair in shock, and Hazuki-chan’s glasses slipped down her nose.
As if satisfied with our reactions, Onpu-chan laughed as she clutched her tummy.
“Onpu-chan, that was mean…”
“Sorry. That was a better reaction than I had expected.”
Onpu-chan helped me up, then sat down at the table and started to talk about how she signed on to the new artiste production company.
The following day after deciding that she would pursue the life of an actress, Onpu-chan returned to Hokkaido and announced her decision, as well as her wish to debut once again in Tokyo, to her parents.
Onpu-chan’s parents, sensing that her decision was final, assented to her request.
Then, she systematically contacted every single artiste production company introduced by her celebrity acquaintances. However, as she had been labelled as a child idol capable of playing only children’s roles, and with her popularity in a slump, there was no company who wanted her.
However, Onpu-chan did not give up.
In the past, Onpu-chan had met with an actress of the same age, Kirino Karen-chan, at an audition, and they were still keeping in contact. After consulting together, Karen-chan introduced Onpu-chan to the company that she was signed on with.
Onpu-chan immediately wrote a letter to the company, introducing herself and expressing her wish to debut again as an actress, and a reply letter asking for a face-to-face interview came soon after.
And today, she had travelled to Tokyo for the interview at the company office.
This ability to take action is Onpu-chan’s true strength.
“Their office was really quite small, but they focus more on developing their celebrities and talents rather than just earning profit, so I’ve decided to sign up with them.”
Just then, Majorika and Lala came in and joined us.
“Oh, is that Onpu-chan!” Majorika exclaimed.
“Majorika, Lala, it’s been so long!”
The three embraced, rejoicing at the reunion.
“Majorika, Onpu-chan has just decided to sign on with a new company.”
“Oh, is that true? So are you here to stay?”
“Nope. I plan to stay at the office dorms.”
“Oh, speaking of that, there were some rumours about you going to sell the family home?…”
“Those were all fabricated by the media. Once Mama has recovered, the whole family will be coming back to stay there.”
“I knew it”
“Won’t all this moving around be tough on Onpu?”
“That’s true. How about becoming a witch apprentice too, Onpu-chan?” Lala lightly suggested.
We had also advised her to do so, but Onpu-chan still refused resolutely. “I’m fine like this.”
“If I could use magic, I’ll definitely use it for my own gains like I did in the past. Also, I’ll try to heal Mama’s illness,” Onpu-chan replied with a smile as she stuck her tongue out at us mischievously, though her eyes were serious.
It was a silent signal to drop the topic.
Sensing that, Hazuki-chan changed the topic, “How about school?”
“That’s alright. I’ve already transferred to a high school that offers courses for celebrities.”
“That’s our Onpu-chan! You really think of everything.”
“Dance and vocal training lessons will begin tomorrow, so it’s best to clear away all these irrelevant issues first.”
“Segawa Onpu is finally starting out on the path to becoming a true actress. We’ll definitely support you!”
“Thank you. Enough about me. Doremi-chan, I met Kotake-kun just now while on my way here,” Onpu-chan said.
“Kotake-kun has become really cool! I now understand why Doremi-chan wrote him a love letter.”
During our vacation in Hida, I had told Onpu-chan everything about my interactions with Kotake.
“We didn’t talk much, and when I started to talk about Doremi-chan, Kotake-kun dashed off as if escaping from something.”
“Onpu-chan, let’s not talk about this anymore!” I cried, trying to change the topic.
“Judging from how he looked, I think he’s still worrying over the fact that he didn’t write you a reply.”
“So Onpu-chan thinks so too. I really believe that myself,” Hazuki-chan joined in the discussion whole-heartedly. “A written confession really means business, so he’s probably really thinking things through.”
“I understand. I felt this way too when I went off to Hokkaido. I knew that everyone would definitely be worried about me, but it would be really troublesome if I said it out… In the end, it was really hard to inform everyone.”
I felt glad at seeing everyone so concerned about me.
Eh? Could this mean…
“What’s wrong, Doremi-chan?”
I didn’t trust myself to explain this clearly, but if Kotake really liked me, did that mean that we could get together as a couple?
Kotake had always been looking after me. Even though he always complained about it, he was somehow always there to protect me. I’ve always felt that he wouldn’t have done all those things if they had been for anyone else but me.
“Doesn’t that mean that he likes you?”
Onpu-chan might be right.
It felt as if we had always been a couple.
“Doremi-chan, why don’t you go ask him in person, instead of writing letters or calling? You’re both in the same school, so it’s silly that your relationship is so sour,” Hazuki-chan said. However, I felt like he had been purposefully avoiding me these days.
“That’s right. It’ll definitely give you some peace of mind,” Onpu-chan agreed.
“Onpu-chan can be really aggressive…”
But being aggressive had gotten us our jobs at the MAHO-do, and helped us to solve various problems using magic, and made us new friends, to list a few things.
High school was a place where lots of students coming from faraway places gather, and I had made friends who taught me about lots of things which I’d never even known about.
If I had a boyfriend, would I treasure him more than those friends?
I know I don’t have a boyfriend now, but I couldn’t help but worry.
After voicing out these concerns, Hazuki-chan smiled and assured me, “It’s alright, Doremi-chan. I’m attached to Yada-kun right now, but I still love and treasure all you girls, my friends at Karen Girls’ Academy, and my family, too.”
Lala winked and continued, “There’s just so many things you young ones want to do. It’s really hard to drop everything and just focus on love.”
Just then, my mobile phone suddenly rang with a new message.
“Ah, it’s from Ai-chan!”
Hazuki-chan glanced at the clock in the store and added, “The competition probably just ended!”
According to a message she sent out in the morning, Ai-chan had proceeded on to the finals, with a timing that ranked her fifth during the heats. I immediately put in a call to her.
“Hello, Ai-chan, how was it?”
However, Ai-chan remained silent.
“What’s wrong, Ai-chan?”
Everyone worriedly gathered around me.
I dimly heard a whimpering sound.
“Ai-chan… is crying.”
“Ai-chan, what’s wrong?! Did you do badly?”
“…Not really…” She finally replied.
“Don’t tell me you won, and are crying happy tears?” Majorika called out.
“No no…” Ai-chan immediately answered.
“So why are you crying?”
“It’s tears of regret.”
“Tears of regret?”
“I lost to first place by only 0.01 seconds, and I’m so, so regretful…”
“Wait! So that means you’re in second place?!”
Just then, Hazuki-chan snatched the phone from me, “Ai-chan, that’s awesome! You’re second place in the Inter-High Competition. After competing with second and third-year seniors from high schools all over the country, you came out as the second fastest, right?”
“Well, that’s true…”
Onpu-chan grabbed the phone next, “You’re really awesome! I think you should be proud of that.”
“Ehh? Why is Onpu-chan over there?”
I grabbed the phone back, “Well, Onpu-chan came to Tokyo and has signed on to a company here!”
“Really! That’s our Onpu-chan! Doremi-chan, please hand the phone to Onpu-chan”
Forgetting the fact that she was crying a minute ago, Ai-chan started chatting with Onpu-chan.
Watching Onpu-chan enjoy herself as she laughed and talked, Hazuki-chan, Majorika and Lala smiled too.
However, I was the only one who felt different.
Hazuki-chan, Ai-chan and Onpu-chan had all found the paths that they wanted to follow, and had started to walk on firmly.
I had just turned sixteen, so I probably shouldn’t be feeling so anxious.
But, everyone already seemed like adults.
Am I still a child?
No, that’s not true.
Either way, if I didn’t clear up this thing with Kotake, I wouldn’t be able to move forward.
I don’t even know if he hadn’t replied yet because he was shy, or because he didn’t feel like rejecting me outright.
But even if we don’t become a couple, I still want us to remain friends.
With that, I would be able to go support him at his soccer matches whole-heartedly.
Now, I just need to speak to Kotake!
As I was too shy to speak over the phone with Kotake, I went to look for him during his morning soccer training session in school the next day.
Kotake, who was already a regular team player despite his freshman status, had been really busy. Spotting me but aware of his teammates’ gazes, Kotake approached me only when his break time began.
“W-what is it?”
“There’s something I wanna talk to you about; can you spare me some time?”
“…” Kotake seemed to have caught on to what I was implying, but he kept silent.
Just then, the coach blew his whistle, a signal for the training session to resume.
“Sorry. Let’s do this. Training ends at ten, so why don’t you meet me in front of the fountain at Misora Park at eleven? I’ll definitely head over.”
Without waiting for my reply, Kotake dashed off towards his teammates.
I made my way to the MAHO-do, where Ai-chan was back at work after returning from the Inter-High competition, and told her about what had happened.
“Got it. I’ll let Majorika know that you won’t be coming in today.”
With Ai-chan’s support, I headed over to Misora Park.
“Doremi-chan, fight!” I had smiled and saluted at Ai-chan when she said that, but as I neared Misora Park, my heart started to beat harder.
I arrived ten minutes before the scheduled time.
There was a library inside the park, and the place was crowded with elementary school kids who had completed their summer vacation assignments.
When they saw me, the kids started to giggle amongst themselves.
I glanced at the surface of the fountain’s pool, thinking that I must look really weird now.
I really did look quite pathetic.
There was no trace of the lively freshman I usually was.
Speaking of which, when I was still in elementary school, I used to think of high school girls as old ladies. I hoped that I would never turn into one of them.
Now, I realized that I looked worse than those girls I used to see.
What if Kotake saw me like this, too?
I jogged over to a water cooler nearby and thoroughly washed my face.
However, as I was about to wipe my face dry, I realized that I had forgotten to bring my handkerchief with me.
W-what should I do…
“Looks like you forgot your handkerchief. Here, use this,” Kotake fished a towel out of his sports bag and handed it to me.
The towel stank of sweat, but I was in no position to complain. Wiping my dripping face dry, I replied, “T-thank you…”
As I was handing the towel back to him, Kotake suddenly bowed his head, “…I’m sorry! I really wanted to write you a reply immediately, but I didn’t know how to do it right, so that’s why I haven’t given a reply yet.”
“It’s alright; I’m bad at writing letters too,” I had wanted to give a cheeky reply, like how Onpu-chan and Ai-chan always does, but it turned out awkward in the end.
“But I really want to write you a reply. Will you give me some more time?”
“Eh? It’s ok… There’s really no need.”
No, being able to talk to you like this is good enough.
I wanted to say it, but it was really awkward. However, Kotake looked really serious, so he would probably do things the way he wants to.
“The soccer preliminaries are coming up. I’ll be really busy, but I’ll definitely write you a reply.”
“OK. You are part of the regular team, after all. Good luck.”
“It’s okay, we’re a strong team. Even so, if I don’t work hard, my position on the team can be snatched away by someone else, so I have to work hard every day.”
“I see… Do your best.”
Before I knew it, Kotake and I had held a long conversation.
Kotake really seemed like an adult now.
I’ve been like this really often recently, having such negative thoughts. I shook my head hard to get rid of them.
“N-nothing. So… I’ll be waiting for your reply!” I waved at Kotake and dashed off.
Thanks to everyone’s advice, I’ve finally talked to him.
I might still be more childish and naive than everyone else, but I wouldn’t give in so easily anymore.
Also, I should look on the bright side. Since I’m a late bloomer, I can always receive good advice from everyone.
“Doremi-chan, if you don’t improve yourself, Kotake-kun will grow tired of you real soon,” Onpu-chan said.
“Yeah, if you like Kotake-kun, then you should find out more about him, right?” Hazuki-chan added.
“…You’re really silly, Doremi-chan,” Ai-chan chided.
Boohoohoo. All you people are so unforgiving.
It’s like Cinderella. Witch apprentices, please help me.
“But it’s okay, I don’t know the rules for soccer either. Why don’t you go check out the bookstore on your way home?” Onpu-chan suggested.
“It’ll be quicker if you can watch a DVD or something instead. Oh, the J-League is on now, so how about asking your Dad to explain things to you?” Hazuki-chan added.
“Well, either way, it’s good that you came to consult us first,” Ai-chan said.
I had received a letter from Kotake.
It came in early September, soon after summer vacation ended.
The contents were simpler than what I had imagined, so much so that I wished he had just replied me straight that day.
Basically, what he wrote was “I want you to accompany me to Kunitachi”, and that he would tell me about his feelings then.
“Kunitachi is located somewhere along the Chuo Railway Line, right? What’s so special about that place?”
We were all gathered, as usual, at the workspace in MAHO-do.
By the way, it was our off-day, and we were busy with stocktaking and sticking of pricetags. Sitting before me were my three good friends, trying to rein in their concerned expressions.
Even Onpu-chan, who was taking a break between lessons, had turned up because she was worried about me.
Boohoohoohoo… This is a mistake. All these people here were the worst, since they knew all about my weaknesses.
If I thought about it, my whole life had been a series of confrontations like this. I really never learn from past experiences.
“Alright, I guess I’ll explain,” Onpu-chan pretended to adjust a pair of glasses on her face, then stood up. She looked like a teacher about to explain things to me.
“First, it’s not Kunitachi, but “Kokuritsu”. It’s short for “Kokuritsu Gyoujijou” or the National Stadium. That’s where they hold the annual National Soccer Meet, like how Koshien Stadium is where the National Baseball Tournament is held. The prelims are held at each prefecture, but the semifinals onwards are held at the National Stadium. By the way, the rugby tournament is also ongoing at the same time… Are you still with me, Doremi-chan?”
“Yes, I’m not asleep!”
She was totally acting like a teacher.
However, I still could not process what she had just said, even though it was just a small amount of information.
“Sensei… I mean, Onpu-chan, question! Kotake said that he’ll be competing in the prelims soon”
Onpu-chan giggled and replied, “That’s right. The team hasn’t been chosen to represent the prefecture yet, so Kokuritsu is still far away. Therefore—”
The true bishoujo leaned in close as she continued, “It’s still okay that you’ve mistakenly called Kokuritsu as “Kunitachi”. Isn’t that a relief?”
She was acting just like a queen, and I wondered if she was trying to mimic Tamaki Reika.
“Our school’s soccer team has a great coach, and is quite strong and famous. So there’s no doubt that they would be chosen to represent the prefecture, but Doremi-chan still needs to find out more,” Ai-chan added.
“That’s right. Asking you to accompany him to Kokuritsu is almost like a confession. If Doremi-chan can learn more about soccer rules, watching and supporting the matches together with him will be more enjoyable,” Hazuki-chan said.
“I guess Kotake-kun still hasn’t worked up the confidence yet. Kokuritsu may seem close, but it’s still a far-off goal. Besides, soccer isn’t an individual sport, so he is working on fulfilling his dream of playing on Kokuritsu’s field right now,” Onpu-chan said.
“… I see. It’s really hard being a freshman regular,” I mused.
Seems like I had been making assumptions again, thinking that the only problem he was facing was whether he liked me or not, or whether he should get together with me or not.
If I hadn’t found out all these things about soccer and the hardships of being a regular today, I’d probably have gone off and asked him to choose between me and soccer.
I was glad I consulted everyone first. Friends are really awesome.
“Maybe you should watch matches on TV with your Dad. He’s a fishing expert, so he probably knows lots about other sports too. You’ll be able to learn from him,” Hazuki-chan suggested.
“That’s true. Dads with teenage daughters often feel lonely, so if his daughter tries to communicate with him, he’ll surely be glad,” Ai-chan added.
“Just say that you’d like to learn more about soccer rules because a friend of yours from elementary school just became a regular player. He won’t suspect a thing,” Onpu-chan said.
“Yep yep, I’ll work hard.”
I’ll work hard to learn more about soccer and remember the rules.
Kotake was working so hard, and if I didn’t know anything, I wouldn’t even be able to talk to him about anything aside from superficial things like winning and losing.
I should start by learning how to feel joy or regret together with him.
Kokuritsu (国立) means “national”. The same kanji can also be read as “kunitachi”, hence Doremi’s mix-up.