Chapter 1

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VOLUME 2: ~Naïve~

Chapter 1 “Our respective autumns”


Cheese! I am Harukaze Doremi.

Has everyone read “Ojamajo Doremi 16”?

This is the story of me and my three close friends Fujiwara Hazuki-chan, Senoo Aiko-chan, Segawa Onpu-chan, three years after our graduation from elementary school, at the age of sixteen. To be able to tell you our story like this, I’m really the happiest bishoujo in the world!

Usually, it’s a little embarrassing to say words like “close friend” out loud, but I say them with pride.

Hazuki-chan is the regular naive girl who aims to become a violinist, and has a boyfriend named Yada-kun.

Ai-chan has no eyes for boys, but is focused on her track event, the 100-m dash. Every day she moves closer to her goal of becoming an Olympic competitor.

Onpu-chan moved away to Hokkaido for a period of time due to her mother’s illness, but has now returned to Tokyo to re-debut in the entertainment industry.

The three of them are truly in the prime of their youth, dashing towards their goals, but I’m stuck in a romantic rut with Kotake, with no ambitions for the future.

It’s a little frustrating, but I plan to make the most out of my high school life, which had only just begun. So please do support me!

—— Well, was the prologue too long? Sorry! Teehee.

What? Don’t mimic Onpu-chan? You saw through me! Boo hoo hoo~

And with that… with what? Okay, enough with retorts. Another of my close friends, Asuka Momoko or Momo-chan, has just returned to Japan after more than three years abroad. And thus, “Ojamajo Doremi 16 ~Naive~” begins.

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Leon had gotten angry with me because I was zoning out in class, so I was to clean up the washroom during recess as a punishment.

Oh, Leon is the nickname for our homeroom teacher, Yamaki Rokurou-sensei.

I was the one who came up with the nickname, not because of the character from that famous movie, but because he looks like a chameleon.

It happened after Ai-chan, who came to help me, and I had finished washing the toilet bowls, and was wiping the sinks with rags.

Ai-chan knew why I was zoning out in class.

The previous day at the MAHO-do, I had asked Ai-chan, Hazuki-chan and Onpu-chan about my virtues, and though they said that I had many, none of them could give me a concrete answer.

I complained about that as I wiped the mirror above the sink.

“W-Well…” Ai-chan gave a bitter laugh as she scratched her head.

“See, you can’t even name one,” I said as I hung my head.

“That’s not true. Oh yes, you can smile immediately the moment anyone mentions steak,” Ai-chan declared as she looked at me.

“Well, that’s…” I smiled happily as I drooled a little, before going into a panic and retorting, “How’s that a good thing?!”

“Haha, I was joking. But I’m sure Hazuki-chan, Onpu-chan, and I can come up with at least 30 good things about Doremi-chan.”

Just then, a familiar voice piped up from the washroom’s window, “Momo can, too!”

“Hmm?”

We turned to the window and spotted a familiar yellow hat.

“Hmmmm?”

Ai-chan and I rubbed our eyes and looked again to see a familiar form clad in a witch apprentice’s garb.

It was Asuka Momoko-chan.

“Hello!”

But this was not the time for that! And she was flying on her broomstick, too!

What if the other students should see her?! Just then, we heard the voices of some female students in the corridor outside.

Ai-chan and I quickly grabbed Momo-chan and pushed her into a cubicle. Following her in, we closed the cubicle door just as a group of female students entered the washroom.

Safe!

Looking at each other, Ai-chan and I breathed a sigh of relief.

However, it was unbearable for Momo-chan, whose mouth had been covered by our hands and who was being held down by the two of us.

“Doremi-chan, Ai-chan, I feel uncomfortable!” Momo-chan whined.

We removed our hands from her mouth and glared at her.

“Shhhh—” We signalled to Momo-chan as we placed our fingers on our lips at the same time.

“It’ll be awkward if they discover three people crammed together in one cubicle, right?” Ai-chan whispered.

“That’s true,” Momo-chan replied with a carefree smile.

Just then, the bell rang to signal the beginning of lessons, and we sensed the female students leave the washroom.

After confirming that there was no one left, we came out from the cubicle.

We then made a promise to meet up at the MAHO-do after school. I quickly sent out a mail to update Hazuki-chan and Onpu-chan, before we parted from Momo-chan.

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I was the first to reach the MAHO-do after school, as Ai-chan had training while Hazuki-chan had violin lessons. There, I found Momo-chan chatting with Majorika and Lala.

“Welcome back, Doremi-chan!” Momo-chan greeted me.

“I’m bac… Hey, that’s my line. I can finally say this, Momo-chan… Welcome back!”

I flew towards Momo-chan and gave her countless hugs which I could not do in school just now.

“What is this? You girls are acting like kids,” Majorika chided.

“Fufu, what are you saying? Majorika yourself gave Momo-chan more hugs when she came by last night,” Lala said with a teasing smile.

“S-Shut up!” Majorika scolded to cover her embarrassment.

“Wait a second. Momo-chan, I thought you only reached Japan today?” I asked.

“Well…”

“If you reached yesterday, why didn’t you contact us? That’s mean!” I complained.

“It’s not that. I reached Japan really late last night,” Momo-chan explained.

“I was the one who told her to hold off contacting you girls, since Doremi would probably be snoring away by then,” Majorika added.

“I know that once I fall asleep, I won’t wake up till the next morning… But still…” I said with a pout.

“The smiling moon was out last night too, so we brought Momo-chan to the witch world,” Lala said.

Momo-chan nodded. “Thanks to them, I managed to meet the Queen and become a witch apprentice.”

“I see. That’s right, you had transformed into a witch apprentice when you came to the school,” I said with sarcasm.

However, Momo-chan did not catch the sarcasm and replied happily, “Heheh, but it’s been a long time since I was an apprentice, and I wanted to ride on my broom and cast some magic.”

“But if you use magic for your own sake…”

“I can’t, right? I heard about that from the Queen. I became a witch apprentice for the same reason as all of you did.”

“The same reason as us?” I wondered.

“For Onpu,” Majorika said.

“That’s right! I want to give Onpu-chan as much help as I can.”

While in New York, Momo-chan had kept herself updated on Japan’s entertainment news through the Internet. She also learnt about Onpu-chan’s activities through e-mail exchanges with us.

“I see. We may be apart, but we think the same way,” I said happily as I held Momo-chan’s hands in my own.

From then until the arrival of Ai-chan and Hazuki-chan, Momo-chan told us about the three years she had spent in the U.S.

Momo-chan had completed four years of schooling in New York, which is equivalent up to our middle school, and had graduated in June. She had then spent some time playing around with close friend Beth, a girl named Mary who resembles Tamaki, as well as a Japanese girl named Sachiko-chan. Then, as she started high school, she also went to a separate vocational school for pâtissiers to study baking.

She was working hard to fulfill her dream of reopening the New York MAHO-do, which was owned by her beloved mentor Majomonroe when Momo-chan was just a child.

Wow, even Momo-chan had found a path towards her future, while I was…

“Doremi-chan, what’s wrong?”

“Eh? Oh, it’s nothing.”

“Oh! Doremi-chan, what happened between you and Kotake after that incident?”

Gulp.

Just then, Majorika and Lala started to giggle.

“Eh, what’s up? Did I ask something weird?”

Momo-chan had been constantly mailing Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan, so I thought she knew about the romantic rut Kotake and I were stuck in.

“Well, it’s a long story, so I’ll tell you next time. But Momo-chan, your Japanese has become better. It’s really different from that time when you first transferred to our school from New York,” I hurriedly changed the topic.

“Really? Heheh, that’s because of Sachiko-chan. I became good friends with Sachiko-chan after Beth introduced us. Sachiko-chan always lent me Japanese drama and anime DVDs which she had brought over from Japan, and I watch them every day.”

“You’re still as hardworking as ever,” Lala praised.

“Momoko, you should extract just a little of that virtue and give it to someone we know,” Majorika teased as she looked at me.

“Someone? You mean me?! What’s with that! Boo hoo hoo!”

With that, Momo-chan laughed as she clutched her tummy.

“Hya hya hya hya, Doremi-chan, you never change”

“Does that mean I haven’t matured at all?”

“That’s not what I meant. What hasn’t changed is Doremi’s virtue.”

“Is that a compliment?”

“Of course!” Momo-chan said with a huge smile and a nod.

Just then, the door flew open, and Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan dashed in happily.

“Momo-chan, welcome back!”

“Hazuki-chan, long time no see!”

The two of them exchanged many hugs, just like how I did a while ago.

“You’re finally back, Momo-chan!”

“Ai-chan, I’ve been wanting to see you again. Yay!”

“Yay!”

Momo-chan and Ai-chan high-fived each other before hugging.

Watching them, I smiled broadly.

We hadn’t met up for more than three years, so it was amazing how we managed to come together just like in old times in just a moment.

This was probably a sort of magic between close friends, different from the kind of magic wizards and witches use.

“We just need Onpu here, and it’ll be like old times,” Majorika said with a smile.

“Oh, Onpu-chan just sent me a mail saying that she can’t come today because of auditions,” I said.

A look of disappointment crossed Momo-chan’s face for a second before she smiled and said, “Onpu-chan sure is working hard. I’m looking forward to seeing her again.”

Momo-chan used to be like an open book, and you could tell how she felt just by looking at her face. But now, it seemed as if she had grown more mature.

As we started on our girls’ talk, we soon forgot the passing of time.

The sky soon grew dark outside the window.

Just then, we heard the familiar clatter of carriage wheels.

“It can’t be!”

In a panic, we dashed into the yard to see the Queen’s carriage descending from the night sky in a storm of petals.

At the reins was Majorin, the Queen’s advisor. She got down from the carriage, opened the door, and the Queen emerged.

“Your majesty, we are very sorry to trouble you to come all this way,” Majorika said as she got down on one knee and bowed her head. In a panic, we mimicked her actions.

“Everyone looks well,” the Queen replied with a smile.

Why did the Queen of the witch world come all the way to the human world? She had already met with Momo-chan to make her a witch apprentice last night…

Sensing our confusion, Momo-chan explained, “I was the one who asked the Queen to come.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Momoko told me about how she had trained as a baker in New York, so I wanted to put that to use and make MAHO-do into a Suite House,” Majorika explained this time.

“So we won’t be selling magical goods anymore?” Hazuki-chan asked.

“Majorika, I think you meant ‘sweet’, not ‘suite’,” Ai-chan retorted.

“Humph. It doesn’t matter. More importantly, are you girls alright with that?”

“Of course! I want to taste Momo-chan’s cake soon,” I said, and Majorika shot me a look.

“Honestly, is that all?! Haven’t you considered Momoko’s intentions and my parental affection…?”

“That’s just a cover. It’s because a confectionery makes more money than a magical goods store, right?”

“Lala! Don’t say such baseless things about me!”

Lala stuck out her tongue, and we all laughed.

But it was true. When we were in elementary school, I remember the MAHO-do doing the most business when it was a sweet house, as compared to a magical goods store, or a flower shop.

“Alright, everyone, please get ready. Majorin, bring forth the items.”

“Yes, your majesty!”

Majorin snapped her fingers, and a box containing four Parara taps and rings appeared before us.

“Wow, it’s the Parara taps!” Ai-chan shouted.

“This is so nostalgic!” Hazuki-chan added.

“We’ll have new uniforms, too!” Momo-chan said.

“I really like this uniform! It can reverse to become the pâtissier uniform,” I declared.

“Doremi-chan, female pâtissiers are known as pâtissières instead,” Momo-chan informed me.

“Yes, yes, that’s what they call them on TV and in magazines too. Pâtissière? Sounds cool!”

We were all excitedly chatting when Majorin, without expression, cleared her throat and said, “You must return the apprentice taps before you take the Parara taps and rings.”

We nodded, took out the apprentice taps from our pockets and returned them to the box before taking the Parara taps and rings.

“Alright, let’s transform,” Ai-chan said and we nodded as we strapped the Parara tap onto our left wrists and slipped the rings on our fingers.

“Okay, let’s go,” I shouted.

The Queen, hearing me, quickly warned, “Doremi-chan! When the apprentice uniforms come out…”

“I know, I have to imagine it fitting my current body size, right?”

The Queen nodded with a wry smile.

“Hmm?”

Momo-chan looked uncomprehendingly at me, and Ai-chan whispered something in her ear.

She must be telling Momo-chan about the incident last May, when we first became witch apprentices again after three years. I had paid no heed to the Queen’s warning when we first transformed, so I put on a child-sized uniform in the end which showed my underwear. Seriously, Ai-chan!

“Hya hya hya hya.”

I knew it! Seeing Momo-chan clutch her tummy and laugh, I felt just a little pathetic.

Majorin cleared her throat again, and Momo-chan stopped laughing and said to me with a wink, “Doremi-chan is really still Doremi-chan.”

Yes, I’m still the same clumsy me. Boo hoo hoo.

“So, shall we begin?”

Hazuki-chan’s voice brought us back, and we each hit the Parara tap twice.

The taps and rings glowed as the magical power was unleashed, and we all did our dances to finish the transformation.

Gloves, boots, dress, hat. Each item appeared in a burst of light, and we became witch apprentices.

“Pretty, witchi, Doremi-cchi!”

“Pretty, witchi, Hazuki-cchi!”

“Pretty, witchi, Aiko-cchi!”

“Pretty, witchi, Momoko-cchi!”

After saying our lines and striking our poses, we all came together for a final cool pose.

“Mo~tto! Witch apprentice, version 16!”

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However, Onpu-chan’s face flashed through the back of my mind for a moment. It really felt a little lonely without Onpu-chan here…

“Let’s all renovate the MAHO-do together. Firstly, summon your Porons for Magical Stage”

We nodded at the Queen’s words, and struck our Parara taps once. A new Poron, the Suite… I mean, Sweet Poron appeared, and we aligned it in front of ourselves.

“Pirika pirilala, freely!”

“Paipai ponpoi, flexibly!”

“Pameruku raruku, sonorously!”

“Perutan petton, eloquently!”

Singing our chants, we held our Sweet Porons up high, with mine in the centre and the other three’s surrounding in a circle.

“Magical Stage!” We shouted, and Magical Stage appeared.

The Queen raised her right hand to the sky.

“MAHO-do, change!”

At the Queen’s command, the MAHO-do was immediately surrounded by holy white light before transforming into a sweets house.

With towers resembling a wedding cake, and the main building and cafe terrace resembling a candy store, it looked just like it did in the past.

“This version of MAHO-do is so nostalgic, too,” Lala said, and we nodded vigorously in agreement.

“Alright, everyone. Please create delicious sweets and bring joy to people,” the Queen said as she boarded her carriage.

As we gathered at the side of the carriage to send the Queen off, she poked her head out of the carriage window.

“If you make some delicious cakes, please do bring it to the witch world sometime, too,” she said.

“Okay!”

The Queen nodded in satisfaction, then commanded, “Majorin.”

“Yes, your majesty!” Majorin set the carriage moving by gently striking the horse with a whip. The carriage soared up into the night sky in a storm of petals.

“Thank you, your majesty!” We shouted and waved as we sent her off.

Then, we turned and dashed into the MAHO-do, now converted into a sweets house, running through the store and towers to look at everything.

“The display cases and shelves for the goods are still the same,” I observed.

“The utensils for making sweets are all here, too,” Hazuki-chan added.

“The cooking stove is the same one, too!” Ai-chan shouted.

Our cooking stove was an antique, made of an oven, a gas burner and a stove combined into one, and was an essential in our sweets-making process.

“Let’s take a look inside the towers too! Let’s go!” Momo-chan urged.

The interior of the towers was the same as before, too. The machine to make candy and chocolates was nicely installed in the atrium.

“Alright, I’ll make some candy!” I declared as I hit my tap.

I took off my witch apprentice costume, which turned inside-out to reveal a pâtissier…I mean, pâtissière uniform. Our costumes were now reversible like that.

Quickly pulling on the pâtissière uniform, I changed my hat to a hairband, witch’s boots into pâtissière boots, and made my gloves disappear.

Majorika stopped me just as I was about to ascend the stairs to the top part of the candy-making machine.

“Wait a minute, Doremi! We don’t have any ingredients yet. What do you intend to make?”

“Huh?! Oh, that’s right. Ahahaha.”

Just then, we heard a familiar singing voice coming from the store’s interior.

It was Dela, the wholesale store witch.

Returning to the main store, we half expected to see smoke pouring out of the cooking stove. However, the door opened, and Dela entered.

“Good evening, everyone at MAHO-do~ Long time no see, Momo-chan~ This is Dela, the wholesale store witch. Dela Dela~” Dela greeted us in a sing-song voice before continuing. “I heard that the MAHO-do has renovated to become a sweets house, so I’ve come with all the goods you need to make sweets.”

With that, she waved her Poron and a mountain of goods appeared. There was flour, weak flour, unsalted butter, fresh cream and more.

That was just like Dela, the capable merchant with sharp ears.

“If you need fruits like strawberries, kiwis or raspberries, just make an order and I’ll bring them over anytime. Here’s the invoice.”

Just as she was about to hand the invoice to Majorika, Momo-chan, who was standing next to her, took it instead and looked over the prices.

“Did she raise the prices again?” I asked as I glared at Dela, but Momo-chan tilted her head to one side.

“No. This is actually cheaper than the last time we bought these things.”

“That’s really nice, coming from Dela,” Ai-chan mused.

“Ho ho ho ho. MAHO-do has always been my customer, and I hope for that to continue in the future. It’s natural for me to do this. Alright, that’s it for today, then.”

With that, Dela waved her Poron and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

“Alright. With these, making candy is a piece of cake,” I declared as I made to gather the required ingredients.

“Doremi-chan, aren’t you hungry?” Momo-chan asked.

“Now that you mentioned it, it’s time for dinner,” I said.

“In that case, let me make chiffon cake for everyone,” Momo-chan replied.

“Wow, really?” I asked.

“I look forward to that,” Hazuki-chan added.

“Momo-chan, I’ll help you! Just let me know what to do,” Ai-chan said.

“Alright. Ai-chan, please light the stove.”

“Okay.”

Ai-chan dug through the materials Dela brought until she found some firewood, and carried them over to the cooking stove.

“Lala, do you have any lemons?” Momo-chan asked.

“Yes, there are some lemons which we use for making tea in the fridge.”

“Alright, then let’s begin!”

Following Momo-chan’s instructions, we started to make the chiffon cake.

Momo-chan’s directions were clear and precise as she taught us how to measure the ingredients and use the whisk. Her skills at transferring the batter into the mould were markedly better as compared to the past.

Yes, she looked like a true pâtissière.

After baking the chiffon cake on the cooking stove, we shared it and took a bite each. The delicious taste of the cake was really moving.

At that moment, I knew that with this, “sweet house MAHO-do” was bound for success.

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And that sentiment did come true.

Thanks to Momo-chan’s strict but precise advice and special recipes, our sweets-making skills showed marked improvement.

As a result, MAHO-do’s opening day, which took place 5 days later, was a huge success, and most of our sweets were sold out.

In the midst of that, we received a big surprise.

Our very first customers at the newly renovated MAHO-do were none other than Seki-sensei, our elementary homeroom teacher, and Leon aka Yamaki-sensei, our current homeroom teacher.

The store’s opening time was 10 a.m., and right on cue, we heard the roar of bike engines. They parked right in front of the entrance, and all of us froze when they entered the store.

However, once they took off their helmets and we recognized them, I really felt like falling to the floor in relief.

No matter how I thought about it, that scene with the two of them was just unbelievable.

“Seki-sensei, a-are you… a former biker too?!” I blurted out, remembering that Leon was the former leader of the legendary “Misora Bakuretsu Biker Gang”.

Hearing that, Seki-sensei clutched her tummy and laughed. “Oh, no. I’m just Yamaki-sensei’s riding buddy. His wife, Minako-san, was also my friend at Karen Girls’ Academy.”

“Hahahaha, I seem to be surrounded by beautiful ladies. This must be the fate of a lady-killer,” Leon boasted.

Most definitely not.

He sure could talk, even with a face like a chameleon.

While we stood chatting, customers started to flood into the store.

The posters we pasted around town, as well as the flyers we handed out outside the train station, were effective, but most of the customers were classmates from our elementary, middle and high school days.

Leon and Seki-sensei bought cakes for their families and left hurriedly, so as not to cause a ruckus.

Just when I wanted to hear more about their story.

However, I felt blessed to have them as my homeroom teachers. Even though they insisted that they were just passing by, I knew they were worried, and came to make sure that we were doing well.

~~~~~

Unfortunately, only half of the cookies I made were sold. Apparently, they tasted fine; it was just that they were misshapen.

I wanted to make cookies in the shape of musical notes, but everyone said they looked like tadpoles instead.

“Well, that was a huge success for our first day!” Ai-chan declared.

“That’s probably because of our super featured item, the “’beloved Tourbillon””‘,” Hazuki-chan said happily.

The “beloved Tourbillon” was the cake we made to soothe the heart of the witch Queen from two reigns ago. Her name was Tourbillon, which means “spiral”.

It’s the ultimate sweet, made of many swiss rolls to create spirals, placed on top of mousse and coated with jam.

“That’s right. Everything Momoko created was sold out in a moment,” Majorika chuckled as she patted Momo-chan on the shoulder.

“Thanks to that, I didn’t even get the chance to step out of the kitchen,” Momo-chan smiled and replied teasingly.

“You did a wonderful job,” Lala poured out cups of tea and brought them over.

Just as we were about to start eating the unsold cookies, the door suddenly flew open to reveal Onpu-chan.

“Everyone, I’m so sorry I couldn’t do anything to help.”

“What are you saying, Onpu-chan! I’m so glad you came!” Momo-chan said as she went to embrace Onpu-chan.

“M-Momo-chan… I can’t breathe.”

“Sorry. I mean, I’m just that happy!” Momo-chan said with an ear-splitting grin as she led Onpu-chan to the table.

“Onpu-chan, we only have these unsold cookies made by me left. Would you like some?” I asked.

“Thank you,” Onpu-chan took a bite of her cookie before she started to tell us about the third audition she had just gone for, and how she had been dropped out during the final round.

“Onpu-chan, don’t lose hope. We’re all supporting you,” I said.

“That’s right. There’s still lots of opportunities out there, so don’t get frustrated,” Ai-chan added.

“Your lessons have paid off. I’m sure those judges are all blind,” Hazuki-chan declared.

Hazuki-chan was right. Onpu-chan’s dancing and singing were tons better as compared to the past. Mum spends her weekends at Hazuki-chan’s house, playing the piano to accompany Onpu-chan’s practice singing. With that, nothing could have gone wrong.

Yet there was nothing more we could do, aside from saying encouraging things, sending her texts, and eating cookies together with her like this.

“…That’s not it.”

“Huh?”

A single tear fell from Onpu-chan’s eye. She had never once cried before us before…

“Onpu-chan…”

We looked at each other in dismay.

“That’s not it… The people at the office told me this today,” Onpu-chan said as she wiped the tear away. She told us that the reason she was dropped was because the judges holding the audition were against hiring a former child actress.

“What? I can’t believe it,” I said.

It seemed that the image of Onpu-chan being suitable only for child roles was solidified by her long absence from the industry, and it was now difficult for her to shake off that image.

“That’s just horrible. Images are one thing, but everyone grows and changes with time!” Momo-chan said angrily.

Following her lead, we all took turns voicing our complaints against the judges.

“That won’t do. The Onpu-chan now is no longer a child, and can take on different roles. Auditions should provide an equal starting point for everyone,” Ai-chan said.

“There’s no point in holding auditions if the results are swayed by past perceptions,” Hazuki-chan said.

“The person’s capabilities should be the most important factor. Great acting can make up for anything,” Ai-chan added.

After she entered high school, Onpu-chan had become beautiful and adult-like. Yet she still could not be accepted, despite all her hard work. I felt so much sympathy for her.

“Thanks, everyone,” Onpu-chan said as she wiped at her tears again. “I didn’t expect things to go smoothly anyway… Guess I was just frustrated.”

“It’s alright, Onpu-chan. It’s only been three auditions,” Momo-chan said.

“Momo-chan is right. Papa also says that the roles go to people who always come back to try again, despite failing countless times,” Hazuki-chan added.

Hazuki-chan’s dad was a film director, so those words felt true.

“That’s right. You’ve gotten through to the last round, so you just need a little more work,” I said.

“We just got into high school not long ago. It’s finally a new beginning, we should be enjoying ourselves. So cheer up,” Ai-chan added.

“…You’re right. That’s what we should do,” Onpu-chan said with a huge nod.

Our words might have missed the mark, but Onpu-chan was really working hard. We knew that she felt frustrated and hurt at times, so we wished for her debut to come soon to reward her efforts.

~~~~~

Onpu-chan had her next audition planned.

“An English director?” I asked.

“That’s right. I heard that he wants to do an adaptation of a popular English musical here in Japan,” Hazuki-chan said, full of excitement. I did not know much about it, but I heard that it was a really popular musical in England.

“It seems like most of the main cast will be picked through auditions, following international standards. Over half of the staff members are foreigners too.”

It was starting to sound like a big deal.

“That’s great. It’ll be wonderful if Onpu-chan can be selected this time round.”

Hazuki-chan had gotten all this information from her Dad. Being in the industry with such connections sure was useful.

“The audition details and staff list are not out yet, so everything’s top-secret. I hope there’s a role that suits Onpu-chan perfectly.”

“Yep, I agree.”

So saying, I sent a text to Ai-chan, updating her on the situation. She immediately sent a reply, saying that she knew Onpu-chan would surely be selected this time round.

Even though I’d typed out the musical’s title in my update to Ai-chan, I knew nothing else about the work to tell her more.

“…Looks like I need to do some research.”

I wanted to be able to celebrate together with Onpu-chan when she gets selected. I decided to go do some online research once I reached home.

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“Thank you! Doremi-chan, Hazuki-chan, Ai-chan, Momo-chan, this would not have been possible without you!” Onpu-chan cried as she threw open the door to the MAHO-do and rushed towards us.

“What is it? Have you been selected?” I asked, surprised.

“Are the results out?” Hazuki-chan added.

“Not yet. The auditions were held just yesterday,” Onpu-chan replied with a shake of her head.

“That’s right. We were just talking about it yesterday,” Ai-chan confirmed.

“Hazuki-chan told us that there were lots of people who went to audition,” Momo-chan said.

Onpu-chan, who looked like she had run all the way here in her effort to reach us, paused to collect her breath before replying with a sunny smile, “Thanks to everyone, I think I did a great job yesterday. I don’t know if I will be selected yet, but I think I’ve finally realized what true acting means.”

At that moment, Onpu-chan really shone. However, I did not quite get what she was saying.

“Whatever the results, it sounds like Onpu had a great experience,” Majorika said, looking satisfied as she entered the room with Lala.

“Since we’re standing around chatting, we might as well have tea,” Lala suggested.

We gathered around the table. It felt like a long time since we had last gathered together to share good news.

“How could we have influenced your acting?” Hazuki-chan asked after taking a sip of her tea. That’s right; we were all confused about Onpu-chan’s meaning.

“Why not?” Onpu-chan told us that the audition yesterday was held at a tiny hall, and she had chosen to take up the role of the female protagonist. “There were about 10 staff members seated below the stage, including the director and producer. Most of them were foreigners.”

“Huh? But the script is in Japanese, right?” Momo-chan asked, mystified, to which Onpu-chan nodded. She told us that there were translators in the staff team, who had edited the script’s lines and content to suit a Japanese audience.

“The protagonist is a really cute girl, just like Doremi-chan. I had you in my head right from the very first line,” Onpu-chan said.

“Huh?! Me?” Onpu-chan had just called me cute, right?

“She’s a little of an airhead too, so I imagined Hazuki-chan while I was saying those lines. And when she’s arguing with an unreasonable adult, she’s totally like Ai-chan!” Onpu-chan continued.

“Onpu-chan, those were compliments, right?” I asked, unsure.

“You just retorted like a Kansai person,” Ai-chan told me.

However, Onpu-chan seemed glad, so I guess they were compliments.

“Those were my first thoughts when I saw the script, so I acted with all of you in my mind. With that, the lines flowed out of me so naturally. I felt that I had really become the character herself.”

“Well, that must have been fun,” Ai-chan said.

“Is it true that a single person can contain so many personalities? I always thought we’re totally different from each other,” Hazuki-chan asked.

“That’s right. I’ve always wanted to be more like Hazuki-chan or Ai-chan at times, or to be skillful like Momo-chan, but we’re different people. I can only imitate them, but I can’t become like them,” I added.

Just what kind of girl was Onpu-chan’s character? Regarding this question, Onpu-chan tilted her head to one side, thinking about what we just said.

“Well, the protagonist often pokes her nose into lots of affairs, and her friends often find themselves dragged along for the ride. Whenever that happens, they would meet with troubling obstacles or face difficulties. However, you somehow can’t dislike her. That’s just like our Doremi-chan, right?”

“What do you mean, “right?”… Onpu-chan, is that the impression you have of me?” I asked.

“She is the daughter of a rich family, so she’s quite naive too. That’s why she often gets her friends into trouble, and you feel like helping her. That reminds me of Hazuki-chan.”

“Oh…? Thank you,” Hazuki-chan said.

“Her sense of justice is not childish, nor is it fully mature. When faced with sweet-talking adults, she cuts off their nonsense effectively. I felt that that was just like Ai-chan.”

“That’s right. Adults choose to treat us as children sometimes, adults at others, depending on what’s convenient for them,” Ai-chan agreed.

It seemed like we can be both strong and weak, with different parts residing within ourselves that come out depending on the time and circumstances.

But wait, Onpu-chan had yet to mention Momo-chan, but I guess the character’s airheadedness which she attributed to Hazuki-chan could have come from Momo-chan, too. Just then, Onpu-chan moved to stand in front of Momo-chan.

“…Thank you for always chatting in English over the phone with me. Because of Momo-chan, I managed to answer the questions posed at me without the help of an interpreter. Furthermore, I managed to understand the jokes in the script, so I could bring them out in my acting,” Onpu-chan said as she held Momo-chan’s hands tightly in her own.

“That’s because Onpu-chan worked hard, but I’m glad I was of help!”

It was rare to see Momo-chan blush. And it had been so long since we last saw Onpu-chan being so animated too.

“Actors and artistes really do observe the people around them a lot,” I said.

“Humans aren’t what they seem on the surface. We have lots of other sides to ourselves too, and that causes misunderstandings sometimes,” Hazuki-chan added.

There are even times when others notice things that we never notice about ourselves. That Onpu-chan remembered us and used that to enhance her acting, even without planning to, made me feel happy.

“That’s right. I myself have many faces and wishes. It was all of you and everyone I’ve met who helped to draw those sides out of me,” Onpu-chan said.

“That’s what acting is all about,” Hazuki-chan agreed.

“So I really enjoyed the audition. And because I was performing for foreigners, and it’s a musical, I decided to go for a little exaggeration as well. I imagined everyone as I was singing, so it was really fun,” Onpu-chan added.

“I know. Those three are so funny, aren’t they?” Momo-chan declared.

Momo-chan, look who’s talking? Aside from being an airhead, Momo-chan could be really dense sometimes too. This trait of her has not changed at all.

However, the Onpu-chan today was a little different from her usual self. She felt unrestrained. In a good way, of course.

“Well, looks like we were of some help, after all,” Ai-chan said.

“That’s right. Onpu-chan, reward us with hamburgers if you get selected,” Momo-chan added.

“I want steak!” I cried.

“Hmm? Hamburgers it is, one for each of you,” Onpu-chan replied.

Oh, that was more like Onpu-chan, someone who wasn’t afraid of losing. It seemed like she was looking forward to playing different roles during auditions.

She was amazing. Just standing on stage alone would be enough to make my heart race.

Oh, Hazuki-chan had stood on stage to perform at concerts as a violinist too. And Ai-chan had stood at the starting line at sports events.

I guess one just had to get used to it. Being a little nervous would not be all that strange, but to enjoy being in the spotlight? That was just too much to ask from me.

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It was 3 days later when we all received a text from Onpu-chan about her audition results, with the message “I got in-!!”

I immediately sent her a reply, saying “Congrats”, together with lots of hamburger emoticons.

Hazuki-chan’s dad told her that the decision to pick Onpu-chan for the role as unanimous among the judges, a message which she relayed to us.

He also added that, as the judges were foreigners, they did not know of Onpu-chan’s past. Although her singing and grasp of English were great, what cemented the decision was that Onpu-chan’s acting brought out the protagonist perfectly, and her dancing was spot on.

~~~~~

“What kind of dance did you do?” I asked her at the MAHO-do the next day.

“I imagined myself as a mayfly nymph in the process of moulting. I remembered the mayfly nymphs from Hida, and how they resembled my struggle from a child idol into a true actress, and I danced to reflect that,” Onpu-chan replied.

“Wow, so that was your inspiration. I’m sure Dad will be happy to hear that,” I replied.

“I’m really grateful to him too. Please thank him for me,” Onpu-chan told me.

“No problem!”

Momo-chan, Majorika and Lala, who were listening to our conversation, looked puzzled.

Oh well. It’s hard for anyone to imagine that super hatch event if one had not witnessed it first-hand.

Just then, Onpu-chan’s mobile phone rang.

It seemed to be a call from her office. Onpu-chan nodded as she listened, and the call was quickly over.

“I’m sorry. I won’t be able to personally thank Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan. I have to rush for a press meeting regarding the musical’s production,” Onpu-chan apologized.

“Don’t worry. We’ll let them know,” Majorika assured her.

“Thank you. Goodbye.”

“Good luck!” I called.

“We’re always behind you,” Momo-chan added.

After waving goodbye, Onpu-chan stepped into the office car, which was waiting outside, and went off to the meeting location.

Production was slated to begin in November, so I guess Onpu-chan would be really busy from then on.

However, she had expressed her wish to continue her lessons at Misora at least once a week.

A protagonist who resembled me? A girl who was like Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan in some respects, too?

Whoa-, I want to watch the musical soon!

This was really so exciting.

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The next morning, news of the press meeting took the top spot on many variety programmes on TV.

I watched as much of the programme as I could manage without being late for school. I spotted the reporter from that particular women’s magazine among the audience. His attitude had undergone a complete change, and he seemed to be buttering up to Onpu-chan now. It was all so amusing.

Ai-chan, who watched the entire programme and was thus late, told me that she caught a glimpse of Oyajide towards the end of the programme.

“Are you serious~?!”

“Yes. When Onpu-chan texted him about the event, he used magic to transform himself into a reporter and snuck into the meeting. Onpu-chan knew that he had been to Sapporo to look for her because he was worried, so after the meeting, she signed an autograph for him and told him that he’ll be registered as No.1 at her fan club, which will be reopened soon,” Ai-chan reported.

“He must have been pleased.”

“He was so touched that he cried a little.”

“Haha, I can totally imagine that.”

So saying, we both laughed heartily.

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Mum always said that when one becomes an adult, time suddenly flies by really quickly. But to think that my first year in high school would also disappear in the blink of an eye was really unbelievable.

I was once again painfully reminded of this fact in school today.

“What?! I’ve not even thought about it yet~!” I shouted without thinking.

“Oh~, so there are still people like Harukaze who remain undecided…” Leon aka Yamaki-sensei took advantage of my outburst and addressed the class. “Take this as an opportunity. Discussing it with your family may be a good idea, too.”

We had been given college prospectus booklets. With the kind of results I had, would I still be qualified to talk about chasing ambitions and dreams? Or was the fact that I had no ambitions or dreams the cause of my dismal results?

This one booklet reminded me that high school life was not exactly a walk in the park.

~~~~~

“You guys are so lucky, knowing exactly what you want to do in the future,” I moaned unhappily at the MAHO-do.

“Did Doremi-chan get the college prospectus too?” Hazuki-chan asked.

“That’s right. There’ll be a three-way conversation soon too. I’ll definitely be picking a college with the lowest tuition fees,” Ai-chan replied.

Hazuki-chan, who had just finished her lessons, and Ai-chan, who did not have training, were working their shifts with me today.

“Ai-chan, if you are scouted for your track abilities, they’ll waive your tuition fees, won’t they?” Hazuki-chan asked.

Ai-chan waved her hand dismissively. “It’ll be great if that’s the case… Hazuki-chan, you’ll be eligible for overseas studies depending on your concours results, too, since your school offers direct transfers up to college”

Everyone seemed to have done their research, and was able to talk calmly about the situation. It truly disheartened me.

“Doremi-chan, don’t worry. There are lots of people who are still undecided, too,” Hazuki-chan assured me.

“Really?”

“Some people are still deciding if they should continue their studies or start work. Others are torn between choices of college, junior college or vocational school,” Ai-chan added.

“It’s true. There must be many people stuck in those situations, and we haven’t even completed our first year in high school,” Hazuki-chan sighed.

“Even though I want to be an athlete and do sports-related things, I haven’t done any research with regards to college and career options yet,” Ai-chan said.

We were the only three working in the store that day. Momo-chan was not with us, as her Dad was back in Japan after being away in China for a huge project, and she wanted to spend time with him. At around 6 p.m., lots of customers who had just ended work came in and we were kept busy, so we could not continue the conversation.

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“Oh, so you’ve finally gotten it.”

Dinnertime was an event when the whole family would gather, so I decided to bring up the college prospectus issue then. After dinner, Dad went into the living room and picked up the prospectus, which I had left on the table, and started to flip through it.

“Doremi, your form is still left blank. Can I fill it up for you?” he asked.

“Of course not! I’m still undecided about what I want to do for my future,” I lamented.

“Isn’t there going to be a three-way conversation after the semester tests? If you don’t fill up the form, your teacher won’t be able to give you any advice,” Mum told me with a troubled look.

Looking up from the prospectus to my face, Dad continued, “If you qualify for college, you can apply for the private ones. However, if you’d like to rent an apartment and live on your own, I’d recommend national or government colleges.”

The whole issue suddenly felt so real.

“What? So it’s all about the money?” I asked.

“What are you saying? Of course it’s about the money,” Mum replied as she sat down next to Dad, having finished washing the dishes.

“Unless there’s something you really want to do, or a college you really want to attend,” Dad added.

“Well…”

I knew that they were going to say that, but I just could not come up with any career I’d like to pursue, or the name of a college I’d want to attend.

“This is a good opportunity for you to start thinking. You’ll have to decide by the time you need to hand this form back in,” Dad said.

“And you’ll have to convince us, too,” Mum added.

So saying, Dad went off to take his bath, while Mum returned to the kitchen.

Flipping through the prospectus, I went back to my room and left it on the desk.

“What do I want to do?”

I was already in high school, so I needed to think this through on my own. It seemed like discussing it with friends was not enough. Maybe I should visit the library and look up some college handbooks.

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Before going to work at the MAHO-do the next day, I decided to head over to the school library first.

“Ai-chan, do you have training today?”

It was cold and rainy, which caused the autumn leaves to fall from their branches.

“Just a short one. We’ll be doing stretching exercises indoors. The record sports meet might be over, but my muscles will stiffen if I stop training. Plus, the cold makes my body not want to move,” Ai-chan replied with a shiver. “Doremi-chan, good luck on your prospectus research. I’ll have to start on my own research too.”

After agreeing to meet up in a while and head out to the MAHO-do together, Ai-chan went off to the school gym. Hugging my bag, I hurried towards the library, which was situated on the outskirts of the school compound.

Phew~, the library sure was huge. And there were more students in here then I had expected.

To be frank, aside from that one time during the orientation tour back when I first entered the school, I had never set foot in here. As a result, I did not know where all the books were located, and so spent some time wandering around, looking at all the books on display.

“Oh, there’s someone I know.”

I had spotted a familiar face next to the shelf where all the college handbooks and career guides were located. Hmm?…… Shinshuu-kun?

As we were in a library, I crept up to Yamauchi Shinshuu-kun silently. And before he could voice out his surprise, I cut in,

“How rare to see you here.”

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In truth, I was the one who was surprised. We were in different classes so I had not seen him in a while, but Shinshuu-kun looked really healthy.

Hmm, but…

“Isn’t Shinshuu-kun going to take over the temple? Oh, I know. You’re looking for a Buddhist college,” I blurted out.

Shinshuu-kun was the only son of the family that ran the temple. I remembered all the tests of courage we used to do at his place in our elementary school days. They were really scary, but so much fun. Although I wouldn’t go so far, I had to admit that Shinshuu-kun looked exactly like how you’d expect a kid who lived in a temple to look like. He had always been very polite too, probably due to his religious upbringing. So it was really frightening whenever he told us ghost stories.

“Huh, well…” Shinshuu-kun muttered. I noticed that he was holding a book on a totally different college.

“Shinshuu-kun, don’t tell me that you’ve been adopted by Natsumi-chan’s family as their son-in-law?” I shouted.

“Harukaze-san… W-what are you saying?!”

Had I angered him?

Let me explain some things here. Satou Natsumi-chan was a fellow student at Misora Elementary. She lived near Shinshuu-kun, so the two were childhood friends. In short, she was a girl sensitive to supernatural occurrences.

The two should still be good friends now, since they lived so close to each other. Yes, Natsumi-chan’s dad was a church pastor, so she went to a missionary high school. Because of that, he was on bad terms with Shinshuu-kun’s dad.

“That’s right. Natsumi-chan is an only child, too,” I went on.

“Y-you’ve got it all wrong!” Shinshuu-kun denied.

Then, sensing the glares we were getting, we lowered our voices.

“…Look what you’ve done, Harukaze-san.”

“…Shinshuu-kun was the one shouting away.”

I felt a wave of disapproval wash over me, both from Shinshuu-kun and the people around us, especially from the seniors who were preparing for their exams and in a rattled state these days. They felt like true adults to me. Furthermore, semester tests were just around the corner, and most of the students in the library were studying instead of reading books.

Shinshuu-kun returned the book to its shelf and we headed quietly for the exit, even though I had not gotten any research done yet.

~~~~~

“Sorry for causing trouble,” I apologized to Shinshuu-kun once we were outside the library. I was not the type to usually burst out like that, but I felt that I had gone overboard this time.

However, Shinshuu-kun did not seem angry. Maybe he had expected things to turn out this way once he saw me.

“Anyway, is Shinshuu-kun not going to take over the temple?” I asked.

“That’s not the problem…”

Just then, we spotted Ai-chan running down the corridor towards us.

“Hey! Doremi-chan, have you found your books already? And, Shinshuu-kun… We’re in the same school, but it’s been so long since I last saw you.”

“Senoo-san, please don’t run along the school corridors,” Shinshuu-kun chided.

“Oh, alright,” Ai-chan stopped running. Then, as if sensing our mood, she continued, “Oh well, we can always find information in class or at home. Let’s come back to the library when we really need more information.”

I was grateful to her for voicing out my thoughts. There was still a week to go before I had to submit the form, and it would be easier to search for information when I knew more.

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As it happened, our route coincided with Shinshuu-kun’s way home, so we managed to talk about lots of things. Shinshuu-kun seemed really interested in the MAHO-do, even asking for details about our latest cake creations.

“Momo-chan is always thinking of ideas for new cake creations. She’s currently making designs for Christmas cakes,” I said.

“That sounds like fun,” Shinshuu-kun replied.

“Does Shinshuu-kun’s family eat cake during Christmas, too?” I asked. I was sure we were all waiting to hear his answer.

“When I was younger, I used to celebrate it secretly. However, the temple is always busy during this period, so I’ve not celebrated it these past few years.”

“What? It’s finally a chance for you to enjoy some cake without hiding away. It should be alright as long as you don’t celebrate inside the temple, right?” I asked.

I was sure that Shinshuu-kun liked cakes and sweets. It wasn’t rare to see male customers in our store, but Shinshuu-kun did belong to a religious family. They did not seem like the type to eat cakes, preferring to go for Japanese sweets instead.

“Well, we can deliver the cake to your place, though we would be quite busy ourselves,” Ai-chan said.

Shinshuu-kun waved his hand at us, as if dismissing an outrageous offer.

If he really liked cakes, I would love for him to try out MAHO-do’s Christmas cake. Momo-chan might have designed the cakes, but we had a hand in making them as well.

“How about this? Once Momo-chan’s designs are ready, we’ll hand out some flyers to you. Please order from us if you can. We promise to deliver them to you,” I suggested.

“That’s right. We’ll be waiting for your order,” Ai-chan added.

“Thank you,” Shinshuu-kun placed his hands together and bowed. After that, we separated and Shinshuu-kun headed off to his temple-home.

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Once we reached the MAHO-do, we immediately changed into our pâtissière uniforms. We then switched on the computer to find that Momo-chan had sent us an e-mail with photos of Christmas cake designs attached.

All of us, including Majorika, were satisfied with Momo-chan’s designs, and could not wait to see a sample of the real creation.

“It looks so trendy.”

“It looks like something a Western family would bake. I want to have a taste.”

Momo-chan, it seems like we all have the same thoughts.

~~~~~

I happily headed for work at MAHO-do the next day, knowing that I would get the chance to taste the new Christmas cakes.

“Hmm? Is Momo-chan here already?”

Momo-chan, dressed in her pâtissière uniform, was busy decorating the cake.

“I made the sponge cake at home first. I’m testing to see how long it’ll take me to make one cake,” Momo-chan replied.

The ingredients used weren’t anything special, just fresh cream, chocolate cream and fruits, but Momo-chan had diced the fruits, whipped them together with the cream, and lined it all up neatly to create a detailed masterpiece. All the while, her face showed a serious expression.

I quietly moved aside to change into my pâtissière uniform, and started on my own work.

Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan arrived shortly after, with Onpu-chan rushing over immediately after her musical lesson. We closed shop earlier than usual that day, and got ready for a tasting party.

It was so exciting.

Momo-chan took out 2 Christmas cakes with different designs from the fridge and placed them onto platters. After taking photos of each from various angles, she finally sliced one into pieces.

“It seems a waste to slice it up,” Hazuki-chan commented as she took a slice. Just then, we all caught a glimpse of the cake’s interior.

“Look, it’s so pretty on the inside, too,” I exclaimed.

“You’re right. It’s slightly tinged pink,” Ai-chan said.

Onpu-chan lowered her face to the cake, “Momo-chan, is this cake scented with strawberry fragrance?”

Fresh cream and diced strawberries had been baked into the cake, causing the sponge, which was usually yellow due to the egg yolks inside, to turn slightly pink.

“That’s right. In order to make the process of cake-cutting fun, I mixed some strawberry juice into the cake batter as well,” Momo-chan said.

“It’s a nice surprise. I’m sure kids will love it,” Ai-chan said.

“That’s right. It’s a great idea, Momo-chan,” Onpu-chan added.

Momo-chan placed a slice of cake before Majorika, “The taste is the issue here! Please try it.”

“Okay”

Even without having to taste it, we all knew how it would taste. I mean, it smelled so good, and there was so much fruit inside, making it so colourful and fresh.

Seeing our satisfied faces, Momo-chan let out a sigh of relief.

“The other cake is of a more chic design,” Hazuki-chan said as she brought the platter over. Momo-chan sliced into the cake immediately.

“This one’s a log cake, right? I wonder if it’s Mont Blanc,” Onpu-chan asked.

“The colour coordination is perfect,” Ai-chan commented.

The log cake is the staple Christmas cake in France.

As expected from anything French, the cake, made using bitter chocolate, looked really trendy.

“This is really delicious, too. Momo-chan, you’ve gotten so good at baking,” Lala praised.

“The adult customers will love this,” Majorika added.

Looks like Majorika and Lala were satisfied with Momo-chan’s cakes, too.

~~~~~

With its extraordinary taste and lovely designs, we settled on these as our Christmas cake designs.

We left Momo-chan, Majorika, and Lala to settle the details of the recipe, ingredients and baking instructions. Having received photos of the cake from Momo-chan’s camera, we thought up a design for flyers and came up with a new work schedule.

“Now to design new POPs with a Christmas theme,” Onpu-chan said as she showed us some online images. Most of them were in red and green, with presents, Santa Clauses, Christmas trees and reindeer. They were all so cute that we couldn’t decide on one.

Onpu-chan, the decisive one, then took charge. While looking at the online images, she started to modify our original photo.

“It’s been getting colder lately. I wonder if the plaza before the train station will have a light-up this year, too,” she remarked casually.

“Oh yes, I wonder how Satou Natsumi-chan is doing. Being part of a church surely means lots of things to do for Christmas. Maybe we should drop in on her when we go pass our flyer to Shinshuu-kun?” Ai-chan commented.

Seems like Ai-chan also sees Natsumi-chan and Shinshuu-kun as a pair.

“That’s right. I haven’t seen her in ages,” I said. We discussed the matter and compared our schedules to find a common time to go visit together.

“Why don’t we just pass him the flyer in school?” Momo-chan asked.

Momo-chan, passing out Christmas cake flyers to a boy from another class isn’t as simple as you think.

“Many people know that Shinshuu-kun’s family runs the temple, so that may not be the best idea.”

“I see.”

We might be involved in different clubs and societies in school, but rumours would still bring harm to Shinshuu-kun. We weren’t elementary school kids anymore. The thought of it was a little lonely, but it was much better than having our classmates start rumours about Shinshuu-kun and myself.

“Alright, let’s go together, then. We’ll drop in on Natsumi-chan too,” I decided.

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During the store’s regular closing day, we arranged to meet in front of the train station. It was already dark, but the illuminations were shining elegantly, and people were just starting out on their way home from school or work.

There were lots of people along the street, so our mood should have been light and happy, but…

“The temple sure looks creepy at night—,” Ai-chan observed.

“I-I-I-It… feels really strange,” Hazuki-chan said in a trembling voice.

“And the church down the street is all lit up, too,” I added.

“I can hear the organ playing. Maybe the choir is practising?” Momo-chan mused.

Seems like everyone was really put off by the temple at night. We pressed the doorbell to Shinshuu-kun’s home, which was located next to the temple.

As we had already informed Shinshuu-kun about our arrival via text, he soon appeared at the door.

“Good evening. So in the end, everyone decided to come along,” he observed.

“This year’s Christmas cake is brought to you by Momoko! It’s really delicious, so place your order quickly!” Momo-chan said as we passed our newly-printed flyer to Shinshuu-kun.

“Thank you. I know that Asuka-san’s cakes are delicious… So I look forward to tasting some. I’d love to order. Oh, can I receive my order on days other than the 24th?”

“Thanks! Anytime will be fine. I plan to take up an apprenticeship in France after I graduate from high school and make much more delicious cakes, so I hope you’ll be a regular customer!” Momo-chan said.

“We’ll deliver the cake to you, 24th or otherwise. Just contact us,” Ai-chan assured him.

Momo-chan might seem easygoing, but even she had decided on what she wanted to do. I felt another flutter of panic.

“Asuka-san wants to be a pâtissière, right?”

“Yes, and Shinshuu-kun is going to be a priest.”

“Erm… Well…”

“Why so evasive?” Ai-chan asked.

“Well, it is a big temple. Your dad must surely wish for you to continue in his footsteps,” Hazuki-chan said.

“You don’t like having your future decided for you, right?” Onpu-chan suddenly spoke up. “It’s definitely not an easy job.”

“That’s right. To become a temple priest, one must surely undergo training,” Hazuki-chan said.

“I know. You’ll need to fight through waterfalls and run through fires, right?” Momo-chan asked.

“No!” We all retorted at the same time.

“Well, it’s a traditional art, sort of like Kabuki, right?! With cool costumes and chants, working to protect tradition. Those people need to undergo training at a young age, too,” Momo-chan reasoned.

That’s sort of right, but sort of wrong too…

“Anyway, Shinshuu-kun has been an apprentice to his Dad since his middle school days, right?” Hazuki-chan asked.

That’s right. I used to see him, too. Though he looked embarrassed to be seen by his friends, I never thought that he was being forced into it.

Throughout our conversation, Shinshuu-kun was just staring at us with eyes wide.

Having delivered our message, we bid goodbye to Shinshuu-kun, as it was getting late.

“Momo-chan, you’ve done it again,” Onpu-chan sighed.

“Traditional art? That’s just like Momo-chan. I’ve never thought about it that way before,” Ai-chan added.

“Shinshuu-kun will definitely become a good priest,” Hazuki-chan said.

“Hmm. Am I being complimented?” Momo-chan asked.

Oh, Momo-chan, of course you were.

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The children in the choir were just being dismissed from their practice. Natsumi-chan had accompanied them to the door to send them off.

“Natsumi-chan!”

Upon seeing us, Natsumi-chan smiled and waved. She looked much more mature now, but her smile had not changed.

“Long time no see, Natsumi-san,” Hazuki-chan greeted.

“Natsumi-chan! Please try out some of the Christmas cakes I’ve baked!” Momo-chan declared.

“We’ve just passed a flyer to Shinshuu-kun, too,” I said.

“I think he likes sweets, because he comes to the MAHO-do sometimes. Natsumi-chan, please drop by sometime, too,” Ai-chan continued.

“Shinshuu-kun hasn’t changed at all,” Onpu-chan finished.

Listening to us, Natsumi-chan giggled. “We used to eat Christmas cake secretly when we were kids. He used to say that if he wasn’t a temple kid, he would have spent all his pocket money on sweets.”

In addition to going to different schools, it seemed like the two of them didn’t really have any chance to talk even though they lived so close to each other. Furthermore, one was a guy, the other a girl; one lived in a temple, the other in a church.

When we mentioned that we were going to pass our flyer to Natsumi-chan, Shinshuu-kun also commented, “Natsumi-san must be busy lately with preparations for Christmas celebrations.”

They seemed to understand each other so well, so they must worry for each other, too. Maybe they did have feelings for each other, though more of a soft type rather than the passionate kind.

Maybe they would get together when they’re both older, like how childhood friends sometimes do.

After passing our flyer to Natsumi-chan, we headed back to the train station.

~~~~~

It came up when we were chatting about Shinshuu-kun and Natsumi-chan.

“By the way, the prospectus form is due tomorrow. Doremi-chan, have you completed yours?” Ai-chan asked.

“Aaaaah! I totally forgot about it—!”

Now’s not the time for me to worry about Shinshuu-kun and Natsumi-chan’s future.

“Calm down, it’s alright. Just write down the name of a nearby college for now?” Onpu-chan suggested.

“I’ve chosen the Massachusetts Institute of Technology!” Momo-chan announced.

“Momo-chan, if that was a joke, it’s quite a big one,” Ai-chan retorted.

Onpu-chan, Momo-chan and Ai-chan sounded so calm. Would Leon notice if I did that? All this while, Hazuki-chan was giggling.

“Doremi-chan, you may not know which college to apply for yet, but your future is already decided, right?” Hazuki-chan asked.

“Hmm? What is it?! What has been decided? Are you going to become a witch?” Momo-chan asked excitedly.

Onpu-chan let out a deep sigh. Yes, Momo-chan was definitely joking, please come up with a retort.

“That’s right. You may not know it yourself yet, but I think all of us feel the same way about you,” Onpu-chan told me.

Huh, what? Onpu-chan then winked at me, as if telling me that I would find out what she meant soon. She felt like a devil who had just foretold my destiny.

Even though I didn’t do well academically, I still wanted to go to college. I wanted to meet lots of new people and befriend them. Furthermore, little sis Pop was also working hard, counting down to the days of her entrance exam. I needed to study hard too.

I can’t help it if I couldn’t make my decision so quickly. I knew that I would change in the next two years of high school, and I would come to learn much more, which would affect my decision.

“Alright, I’ll just write down the names of a private college I can go to, as well as the nearby government college,” I decided.

Everyone nodded their approval.

In just two more years, I would have to fill in another prospectus form, this time for real. I prayed that Leon wouldn’t be my homeroom teacher next year. He was a nice guy, but… I didn’t feel like discussing my future with him. I was sure that he would make me become a Giants fan or go buy cigarettes for him just to earn a good report.

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We finally reached the train station.

Through texts and phone calls made along the way, a taxi was already waiting for Onpu-chan, while Momo-chan and Hazuki-chan’s parents were also there to pick them up. Although Ai-chan and I lived just nearby, we received a ride home in Hazuki-chan’s dad’s car.

“It’s only 7pm, but Mummy is already worried about me,” Hazuki-chan grumbled unhappily as we sent Onpu-chan off.

“Well, won’t Yada-kun worry about you, too?” Momo-chan asked.

Seemed like Momo-chan was up-to-date with regards to that, too.

“That’s right, Yada-kun must really treasure Hazuki-chan,” I added.

“It’s alright when we’re all together, but if he knew about you walking home alone at this time, he would go into a panic,” Ai-chan said.

“Oh, all of you,” Hazuki-chan chided. Her face had grown red, and I didn’t think it was because of the illumination lights.

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It had only been a short while since I found out that the National Meet Kotake wrote about in his letter to me was pronounced as “kokuritsu” instead of “kunitachi”. I didn’t know much about Kotake himself, much less about anything related to soccer.

It had been 8 busy months since we first entered high school. I’d made new friends and was getting along well in school. Work at the MAHO-do had changed a little with Momo-chan’s arrival, but things were going much more smoothly than I expected. Each day passed by in the blink of an eye…

“Whaaaat?! It’s already the prefectural preliminaries?!”

Momo-chan, Ai-chan and I had our shifts at the MAHO-do today. On school days, Momo-chan did not really have the time to make lots of sweets. To compensate, we baked cupcakes instead, decorating them with various toppings and coatings.

“Doremi-chan, what are you saying? They’ve already won the first round,” Ai-chan told me.

“The principal announced it during morning assembly too! Doremi-chan’s boyfriend is a regular even though he’s a freshman, and as the centre forward, too, he’s so awesome!” Momo-chan added.

As they spoke, Ai-chan and Momo-chan’s hands continued working non-stop, adding fruits and fresh cream onto the cupcakes. Anyway, shouldn’t Momo-chan be clueless when it came to soccer? She sounded like she was a part of the team.

The only thing I knew was that the National High School Soccer Meet was occurring at the end of the year. Before that, the teams had to pass through prefectural preliminaries first, in which Kotake was playing as a regular.

“First things first, Kotake is not my boyfriend,” I wanted to declare, but they seemed to have lost interest in me.

“Soccer is different from baseball, in that they can’t hold competitions every day, and there are lots of participating schools. That’s why the preliminaries start so early,” Ai-chan explained to Momo-chan.

“But Doremi-chan has never mentioned all this before. Women’s soccer is really strong and famous in America. There’s also a team purely for Japanese players,” Momo-chan said.

I just realized that I was the one who knew the least among everyone here. Thanks for the heads-up, guys.

As Ai-chan was in the track team, she had lots of friends in sports, so I knew that she definitely knew more about sports than I did. But who knew that Momo-chan could suddenly ambush me with so much knowledge too? And I thought she was as bad as Hazuki-chan.

“Doremi-chan, he might not be your boyfriend now, but you need to know more about soccer,” Ai-chan advised.

“I think that Kotake-kun really loves soccer! If you can’t even talk about it with him, you won’t even be his friend,” Momo-chan warned.

Glancing at my shocked face out of the corners of their eyes, the two continued their work. Soon, they finished a heap of cupcakes decorated with autumn colours.

We went to arrange the completed cupcakes in the store’s showcase shelves. Even though we couldn’t mass-produce them, and there were only a few main flavours for the cake itself, the cupcakes were still popular among customers due to the seasonal and event-related toppings.

They were quite affordable, too, so everything we put out by evening was usually snapped up by customers returning from school or work. We managed to sell all the cupcakes today, too.

As I did my job as salesgirl, I reflected on what they had said, about Kotake and about soccer.

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After I returned home and ate dinner, I approached Dad, who was modifying some photos on the computer in the living room.

“Hey Dad, are you familiar with soccer?”

“I won’t say I know a lot, but enough general knowledge,” Dad replied as his hand left the mouse to grab the remote control, and proceeded to press some buttons on it. “There was the Asian preliminaries last week for the Olympics. I’ve got it recorded down.”

I looked at the TV to see some players in blue uniforms. Come to think of it, I recalled seeing Dad watching this enthusiastically a few days ago. I usually retreated to my room when I saw him watching, but today, I sat myself down on the sofa and started watching the match.

“……?”

I knew that people who followed soccer found the matches interesting. The rules weren’t that difficult to pick up too, but, “…Dad, I don’t recognize any of these players.”

Dad looked taken aback, and was silent for a few seconds.

“Erm. How should I reply to that?”

Kotake was one reason, but I also watched some live matches on TV sometimes. I had no choice, as Dad would monopolize the TV whenever a big match or preliminary round was on. Because of this, I could recognize some of the famous players.

However, I couldn’t find any of them on screen now.

“That’s because this is the Olympic preliminaries. The usual players whom you see on TV aren’t involved, as the players in this team have to be under 23 years old,” Dad explained.

So the players for Olympics could not be above 23 years old. Also, it seemed that up to 3 players above the age of 24 were allowed on the team, but they could not play for the preliminary matches. I guess I could be forgiven for not knowing that.

“Anyway, most of them are J League players, so Doremi should have seen them before, right?”

Well, you could say that…

But there was a deep river separating the players I’d seen before and the players I could recognize. It was the same reason why I couldn’t recognize TV idols if I had no interest in them.

“As for your high school preliminaries, won’t the Best 8 teams be featured on local TV, too?” Dad asked.

“…Huh?”

I was shocked for various reasons.

“Doremi’s school got through the prefectural preliminaries, right? Isn’t one of your classmates from elementary school part of the soccer team?”

“Erm, that’s right. I didn’t even realize the preliminaries had begun. By the time Ai-chan and Momo-chan updated me, they had already won. I wonder if I should go watch them the next time,” I glossed over Dad’s question, but maybe I should really check out the next match. “I’ll go ask them where the next game will be held.”

“That’s good. The more supporters there are, the more power the team receives.”

I remembered how we all went to support the preliminaries at Koshien Stadium this summer. Even though it wasn’t my first time watching pro baseball, it was much more fun when we were supporting players from our school.

We were defeated in a three-inning game in the preliminaries, so none of the freshmen got to play, and many of them looked really regretful. However, I also recalled sensing their determination to play the following year.

Unlike elementary and middle school, there were probably quite a few athletes in our school aside from Ai-chan who had started to aim to play at the national level after entering high school. The thought of that was amazing and joyful. I hoped Kotake was one of them, too.

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“That’s great, Doremi-chan. I’d love to go and support them, too!” Hazuki-chan said in approval.

“They’re doing the kick-off at 1 p.m. this Saturday. Ai-chan, do you have training then?” I asked.

“I only have morning training on that day. Maybe I’ll go after that,” Ai-chan replied.

As we talked, our hands continued working on decorating the cupcakes lined up before us. I was making Mont Blanc, Ai-chan sweet potato, and Hazuki-chan apple-pie flavoured ones with apple and cinnamon.

Momo-chan was working on small rectangular pieces of cheesecake, topping them with autumn motifs and musical notes. “Guess I’ll have to work longer today since Onpu-chan can’t make it,” she mused.

“That’s so cute; the children will love it,” Hazuki-chan praised Momo-chan’s work.

“Onpu-chan has become busier lately, and though I’m happy for her, it still feels a little lonely,” Ai-chan admitted.

“She has to attend courses to learn about stage acting. It sounds tough. I heard that there’ll be a movie, too,” I added.

“Maybe she’ll get the chance to act in some morning drama series or even Taiga next year,” Momo-chan suggested.

“It might be a long shot, but you can ask Onpu-chan to join you to support the soccer team,” Hazuki-chan told me.

But Onpu-chan was always busy, and I knew she had her own friends at school and in the celebrity circle. However, I’m sure that all of us treasured Onpu-chan just the same.

That night, I received a text from Onpu-chan, saying that she might be able to pop by for a short while in the afternoon… I hoped she wasn’t forcing herself to do this. That if she ever wanted to see us, just say the word and we would go to see her.

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On Saturday, we arrived at the venue an hour before the match was supposed to start.

The soccer field resembled a lawn, which I thought was pretty. However, the areas near the goal posts appeared slightly scuffed, probably because a few matches had already been played there since the start of the high school soccer preliminaries.

The audience stands also resembled the stands for a stadium, looking like it could accommodate lots of people. Right now, it was filled with students from the two competing schools. The scene made me slightly nervous.

“Look, Doremi-chan. There’s Kotake-kun, near the goal post,” Hazuki-chan pointed out to me.

“Looks like he’s practicing his shooting. His jersey number’s 18, I wonder if he’s a part of the starting line-up,” Momo-chan mused.

“As a freshman forward, the number 18 means they’re definitely pinning their hopes on him,” Ai-chan added.

Wait a second. Momo-chan and Ai-chan sounded like they were speaking in professional sports lingo.

I ignored the voices in my head as I watched the players clear the field. The game would be beginning in fifteen minutes.

“Ooh~ I’m starting to get nervous~,” I confessed.

“Me, too. This is my first time watching a live soccer match,” Hazuki-chan said, looking both excited and worried.

“Our opponent is a strong team. They have lots of large-sized players, and most of them are seniors,” Ai-chan analysed.

“That’s right. We can’t confirm it until the match starts, but they do look tough,” Momo-chan agreed.

I couldn’t be sure, even after watching numerous matches. But if we won this match, we would enter the Top 4, so there was no doubt that our opponent team would be strong.

The match began. It was amazing, but it got really intense really fast. It was different from everything I had watched on TV. The speed of the game and the sounds of the ball and bodies colliding was something new to me.

This pace of game for high school teams was so much more intense than any match I used to watch with Dad or on TV.

“Both teams aren’t scoring at all,” I observed

“Soccer matches sometimes end with only a single goal scored. Besides, this is only the first half. It’s a shame that Kotake wasn’t part of the starting line-up,” Ai-chan told me.

“But they’re really going all out. At this rate, there will surely be substitutions throughout the match,” Momo-chan said.

“Look, Doremi-chan, there are lots of students here to support our team, too,” Hazuki-chan pointed out.

I glanced around us to see students both in and out of uniform, as well as alumni, parents and guardians. It was just like the baseball preliminaries at Koshien.

Amidst cheers, I witnessed the first shocking goal. The opponent team had scored it. The other school’s supporters all gathered together, looking really happy. In contrast, the audience seats on our side suddenly grew really quiet.

~~~~~

What should I do? Kotake wasn’t moving, and he looked like he was in pain. I turned to Hazuki-chan and Ai-chan, “We need to help Kotake! Now’s the time to use magic…”

Suddenly, Ai-chan silenced me with a hand across my mouth. Momo-chan then covered me with her parka, effectively trapping me.

“No, Doremi-chan! There’s lots of people around!”

“That’s right, calm down a little!”

Everyone chipped in to calm me down. I was so worried about Kotake’s plight that I’d almost revealed our secret to everyone around us.

That’s right, on that day when I first became a witch apprentice in elementary school, I had used magic to help Igarashi-senpai, a soccer club senior I had a crush on then.

However, as I did not know the rules of soccer, my magic had the opposite effect and caused the opponent team to score a goal instead. Majorika had also gotten angry at me.

“Sorry, sorry,” I mumbled apologies from under the parka. My mind flashed back to the scene of Kotake being knocked down by a large-sized player from the opponent team, and I shivered.

After a moment, Momo-chan removed the parka, “Doremi-chan, Kotake-kun looks alright.”

I sat up quickly and saw Kotake on the field. He stood back up, rubbing his leg, and then started to lightly jump on the spot. Seeing this, the medical team left the field with their first-aid equipment.

“It happened so fast; I was really shocked,” Hazuki-chan said.

“He took the fall well,” Ai-chan praised.

“But that was horrible! Won’t that get the opponent a red card?” I asked.

The match had proceeded to the second half, and our team was losing by one goal.

“Kotake-kun’s moves were great. If nobody had stopped him, he could have equalised,” Momo-chan explained.

“He was heading straight for the ball, and the opponent was behind him, so he had no choice. If Kotake was a little stronger, he probably wouldn’t have fallen,” Ai-chan added.

As the two calmly analysed the situation, the match started up again. Kotake began to run again…

“Oh man, that was so uncool of me!” I moaned.

Everyone comforted me, and I focused intently on the match once again. I found that if I did that, the match became really interesting.

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“Still, it’s such a shame, especially when Kotake-kun had finally evened the score,” Momo-chan grumbled after we boarded the bus in front of the venue.

“They were really getting into it too, but their strategy didn’t factor in how the opponents would keep attacking Kotake,” Ai-chan added.

“And to think they scored that goal in the last minute. Matches are really so unpredictable,” Hazuki-chan said dejectedly.

After that incident, Kotake’s performance didn’t seem like he was injured at all, and he scored a goal for the team. The 3rd-year captain had passed the ball to him, which he handled really well. Kotake’s shot was clean, accurately missing the goalkeeper.

Yes, he was really cool. The other players had gathered around him, patting him on the head and back. Kotake then headed to the captain, and the two high-fived.

With that, my mood was lifted and I started to anticipate the next goal. I was sure everyone felt the same way, too.

However, the opponents started to target Kotake. It wasn’t against the rules, but the others were unable to pass the ball to Kotake. He had tried to move out of range of the opponents countless times, but it resulted in bad timings and his shooting was compromised. Of course, I learned all this from Ai-chan and Momo-chan’s discussion.

“Ah, this sucks!” I moaned.

“You’re right. I really thought we would win,” Ai-chan added.

“We were so close,” Hazuki-chan sighed.

“That’s not what I meant. I thought I would become better versed in soccer through this, but I’m not,” I retorted.

The other three stared at me.

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It was dusk as we made our way to the MAHO-do. Majorika and Lala were disappointed with the match results, too, but they perked up after hearing of Kotake’s achievements.

We started work with the candy-making machine in the tower next to the main store. As we packed the candies sprinkled with magical powder from our pâtissière Porons, we thought back on today’s match.

From the moment I saw Kotake being knocked over, I had seen the opponents as evil people. Similar to all the matches I’d watched on TV, I always thought of the opponents who knocked our Japanese players down as evil.

“Soccer does involve some amount of scuffling. Even the all-girls’ team does it,” Momo-chan said.

“You can’t attack someone from behind, that’ll get you a yellow or red card. You’ll also be out if you attack someone outright, but stealing the ball is okay,” Ai-chan added.

“It’s important that you’re strong enough if you want to steal the ball. Kotake-kun is still a freshman, so maybe he will bulk up in the future and become more muscular?” Momo-chan mused.

I was so certain that our team would win the prefectural preliminaries and go on to play at Kokuritsu.

“The chance to play at the National Stadium is determined by the semifinal matches, right?” Ai-chan asked.

What? Wasn’t every prefecture sending a team to play at the National Stadium?

“Maybe Kotake-kun was talking about attending the opening ceremony, instead of actually playing a match there,” Hazuki-chan said.

“Our school is not strong in this aspect. It’ll be a tough fight from now on if we want to represent the prefecture,” Momo-chan added.

What? It would be difficult to be the prefectural representatives?

“Doremi-chan, you seem really interested in soccer all of a sudden.”

Of course I’d learn much about soccer at this rate! Seeing Kotake work so hard made me want to support him so he could play a match at the National Stadium.

“Yes! Doremi-chan’s eyes are flaming with determination,” Ai-chan announced as she stood up.

“So, won’t it be nice if Doremi-chan can accompany him to the National Stadium?” Just then, the door to MAHO-do’s kitchen opened and an apron-clad Onpu-chan emerged. “Sorry I couldn’t make it to the match. I could only find some spare time in the evening, so I rushed over here.”

“Long time no see, Onpu-chan! You’re so cute today, too!” Momo-chan exclaimed.

Hearing that, Onpu-chan smiled, which made her look even cuter.

“Yeah! We lost the match, but Kotake really put out some great moves,” Ai-chan said.

“Onpu-chan… Did you say something weird just now?” I asked.

Momo-chan had rushed over to hug Onpu-chan, her Western style of greeting, so it took me a while to process her words.

Onpu-chan smiled and replied, “I said, won’t it be nice if Doremi-chan can accompany him to the National Stadium.”

“Wow! That’s somehow so proactive. You can do it, Doremi-chan,” Ai-chan told me.

“Onpu-chan, what do you mean?” Hazuki-chan was as confused as I was.

“Oh, I get it! There’s something the other teams have that our team doesn’t, and that’s a manager!” Momo-chan said as she looked over at Ai-chan.

“That’s right. Our team was all alone. We have quite a large team, so having three to four managers won’t be too much,” Ai-chan agreed.

What was this? While explaining the game to us, the two of them still managed to notice so much about the team.

“Huh? Am I going to be their manager?” I asked. I had absolutely no idea what sports managers were supposed to do.

“It’ll give you and Kotake-kun a second chance to start over. As their manager, Doremi-chan can take full charge of the team. You can do it,” Onpu-chan said as she stared at me with her powerful actress’s eyes. Or maybe it was just her powerful words.

“It’ll be like a training game. Sounds fun—,” Momo-chan added.

Hey, hey. Momo-chan made it sound so fun, but I felt that it wouldn’t be the case.

“It’ll be great if you can help them enter the J League, then become contenders for the Olympic team. Sounds fun,” Ai-chan agreed.

“Japanese players sometimes get featured on international news, too,” Onpu-chan added.

Wow, Onpu-chan really talked big.

“J Leaguers are born in their hometowns. Kotake-kun seems to really love soccer. I’m just judging by today’s match, but I think he’ll slowly get better soon.” Even Hazuki-chan was in agreement.

Onpu-chan nodded at everyone’s words, and then turned to look straight at me.

“The National Stadium isn’t the final destination. You have to control them and help them to grow into super high school athletes worthy of U17 and U19,” Onpu-chan told me with sparkling eyes. Huh? Was Onpu-chan well-versed in soccer too?

“Alright, I’ll work hard, then!” I blurted out without thinking.

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Back home, I thought over everything that had happened in this short day that felt long.

“Did I really do that?!”

Ahh, had I been tricked into doing something?

“Boo, how did things turn out this way?”

But between us girls, it was hard to turn your back on something once you’d promised to do it.

As I was mulling over the issue, I received a text from Kotake.

“Sorry I can’t bring you to the National Stadium.”

It was just a short message, but thinking about how he must have felt when he typed it, I felt my eyes grow hot. Even the spectators like us took the loss badly, so Kotake must have felt ten times, no, a hundred times worse…

Wiping away my tears, I called out, “Dad!”

Dashing downstairs, I updated Dad about today’s match. In that moment, the wish to know much, much more about soccer burned through my mind.

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From then on, my soccer training started with a bang. My coaches were Dad, Momo-chan and Ai-chan. I was determined to watch every match live or on TV.

One day, as I was heading for work after school, Kotake stopped me.

“You said you want to become our soccer team manager?”

We were standing in the corridor near the stairs, and as it was dark, I couldn’t see Kotake’s expression. His voice sounded serious though, and I wondered if he was angry, shy, or maybe troubled… What should I say?

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“After watching Kotake’s match, I was just wondering if there was anything I can do to help,” I replied, giving an answer which Onpu-chan had taught me, an answer that wouldn’t risk Kotake’s displeasure.

“Well, we do need a manager… But it’s going to be tough for you.”

I hadn’t thought about that, but Kotake’s words started to make me worried.

“I may not know much yet, but…”

Just then, I sensed someone creeping up behind us, and turned around.

(Gyaaaa!)

I let out a high-pitched scream, a noise a bishoujo definitely wouldn’t make.

My homeroom teacher Leon was standing right behind me.

“Harukaze, I heard some classmates talking about you wanting to become the soccer team’s manager,” he said.

“Y-yes, but I’m not sure of all the rules just yet,” I replied sheepishly.

Leon smiled, “That’s great, because I’m actually the soccer team’s advisor.”

What? Beside me, Kotake had suddenly gone quiet.

“Sensei, didn’t you say you were a Giants fan? Do you know lots about soccer, too?” I asked.

Kotake remained silent. Maybe he was just exhausted.

“Of course I don’t know lots. Right now, the coach and a talented and charismatic female manager are helping me out with lots of things. But we lost our last match.”

The manager in question was a third-year senior who was also in the female soccer team. She knew a lot about the sport, and the team really depended on her.

“She took the loss personally and felt that she was at fault. But she’s been the only one handling such a big team, and she’s done well. Now that university entrance exams are coming, I hope to excuse her from her duties, but I’ve yet to find a suitable successor,” Leon continued.

Just then, Leon told Kotake, who looked troubled, to go join the team. Maybe he felt that Kotake was going to team up with me. Kotake, don’t leave me alone with him…

After the match, I had consulted Ai-chan and the others about something which had bothered me. I had spotted Leon at the match, but noticed that he wasn’t mixing around with the other teachers.

“That’s because our coach is not a member of the school. I’m just an advisor, so I need to choose a manager from our school population,” Leon told me with a really sinister smile…

“And that’s you!” He suddenly exclaimed as he patted me on the shoulder. “I’ll talk to the current manager for you. When she’s free, I’ll get her to give you some special coaching. Of course, we’ll do that on days when you don’t have work, so there goes your free days.”

So saying, he gripped my shoulder with a strength I couldn’t escape from. At that moment, I felt like a poor butterfly caught it a spider’s web.

Throughout Leon’s speech, I was unable to retaliate and reject the offer. If only I could be like Ai-chan and come up with lightning-fast retorts, or like Hazuki-chan with her puppy dog eyes, or like air-headed Momo-chan and misunderstand the whole situation, or even Onpu-chan with her actress’ power. But sadly, I was not like them.

With that, Leon walked away with light footsteps.

Oh well, I was the one who agreed to this in the first place. I just had to think of it as karma.

I mean, I really believed in it back then, when Kotake said that he would bring me to the National Stadium.

And a modern heroine wouldn’t wait around idly while her Prince Charming did all the work. In fact, she would face forward and want to work hard together with him.

So, my first task would be to swallow all my complaints about being appointed as the new soccer manager.


TRANSLATOR’S NOTES

1. Yamauchi Shinshuu (山内信秋) is sometimes mistakenly called Yamauchi Nobuaki, as the kanji 信秋 can be read in both ways.
2. Kokuritsu (国立) means “national”. The same kanji can also be read as “kunitachi”.
3. Taiga drama is the name NHK gives to the annual, year-long historical fiction television series it broadcasts in Japan. [More]


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13 thoughts on “Chapter 1

  1. Pingback: Chapters Completed in Recent Weeks | NanoDesu Light Novel Translations

  2. I really like this book and Anime in general. I was wondering if this book is going to be an anime sooner or later, Do you know anything about it becoming an anime?

    • Hmm, nope, haven’t heard any news as of now. The closest thing we have to an anime are the drama CDs recorded by the seiyuus that came with the novels.

      Misa-chan

        • @Rukia and others: Please don’t attempt to rush Misa-sama, remember that she has real-life obligations too. Translating can be a very stressful task, it is very easy to get burnt-out if one tries to go too fast at it. If that happens, we all lose. Try to imagine how you would feel if the roles were reversed: someone nagging you to go faster while *you* were trying to type one-handed from a book during your lunch breaks at work.

          In terms of content, if a firm could be convinced to do the artwork, the current set of books already represent sufficient material for an entire 50+ episode season in length. During its run as an anime series, Ojamajo Doremi used an unusually-large cast of seiyuu. (most episodes required over a dozen people, and the credits for Dokka~n 51 listed over sixty) Although possible, (after all, Toei accomplished it over a decade ago) the logistics of collecting that many seyuu together for recording would make it a very difficult task for whichever firm takes it up. As anyone who has organized a gathering has discovered, finding a date when everyone can come becomes exponentially more difficult with each person added. (with each person it gets harder, faster)

          • I wasn’t rushing her I was just asking when the next volume in the book is going to translated. I just want to know the timing

            • While it may not seem that way at your end, to those whose hobby is providing either fansubs or these translations asking “when will xxx be out” can be irritating in the extreme. Many fansub groups will ban you for simply asking that question.

              I apologize for my reply appearing to be “snapping”, but I also ask that you please remember that doing this translation is Misa-sama’s *hobby*. Everything else in her life therefore takes priority over working upon it. Those “other things” seem to have a bad habit of tossing any attempt at scheduling out the window, thereby making your question quite impossible to answer.

              Misa-sama had posted in another thread on Feb 26 that she wanted to have chapter two posted “by the end of the week”. Therefore something she didn’t expect has caused a delay. The only thing that be said for certain is that the timing is *un*certain. The next chapter will be out whenever it gets out.

              • I totally understand how hard it is to translate and I don’t want her to rush herself. I am not the kind of person that . rushes people. I would like her to take her time and do her best.

              • Chill out bro. The guy was just asking a simple question out of curiosity (that we all have) and he even clarified that he wasnt trying to rush her. It was just not worded in the most elegant way possible. Im sure Misa-Sama understands.

                • It’s alright, babes. Chill out!! =)

                  In other news, Chapter 3 is complete, and will be posted once editing is done ^__^

                  Misa-chan

  3. I’m so glad this is getting translated!

    Though, I think the translation is a little too literal. It sounds “monotone” because you formulate the phrases as they were in the original language. Japanese sounds rather monotone in direct, word-to-word translation to english. You may need to convert some elements to the language.

    • I disagree. A literal word-for-word translation of the Japanese would sound “Yoda like”, (“When I angry be, like me you will not”) since most phrases in Japanese have the verb at the end, but Western languages have the verb embedded in mid-sentence. While there are several idioms that don’t translate properly to our language, and over a half-dozen different ways to say “thank you”, as one who has started the long process of learning that language, Japanese speech has its own unique rhythm that is far from being a monotone in nature.

      In doing the fansub of the TV series, this was also one of the things we of the QC team struggled with quite a bit. Like Misa-sama though, we chose to stay close to a literal translation whenever possible. Our furthest from a literal translation occurred toward the end of Mo~tto: the Japanese audio referred to specific species of poisonous snakes native to the southern-most islands by name, our subtitles referred instead to how those species differed from each other. (both were species of viper, but one lacks the heat-sensitive pits most vipers use to aim their strike)

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