Walking Towards the Future
“Hinata! Get up already! How long do you want to keep sleeping?!”
Mom enters my room without knocking and tries to peel the blanket off me while I’m still sleeping. But, I prevent her from taking it away from me by clinging to it. Eventually, I lose in the contest of strength and fall to the floor along with the blanket.
I shield my body from the shivering cold by rolling around the blanket, wrapping myself in it. Seeing that I don’t want to separate from my safe haven at all costs, Mom makes an exaggerated sigh.
“Let me sleep for two more hours…”
“You can’t! You had a promise with Hiori-san and the others, didn’t you?! You’re going to be late if you don’t wake up soon.”
“Then, just 10 more minutes…”
“Geez, if you won’t get up, I’ll give you a morning kiss, you know?”
Sensing a threat approaching my lips, I roll on the floor to escape from my mother’s mouth-to-mouth contact, all while I’m still wrapped in the blanket.
“Hrmm, it was just a bit more!”
(That was so close…!)
I-I managed to escape by a hair’s breadth… If I had moved just a bit slower, I would have experienced the terror that I don’t even want to imagine. What’s troublesome about Mom is that when she says she’ll do something, she’ll do it for real. I think she was aiming straight at my mouth earlier.
Meanwhile, Mom is puffing her cheeks in a pout. It seems she’s unhappy because I ran away from her kiss.
“You don’t need to be so opposed to it~ This is how mothers show their love towards their daughter, you know?”
“Oh yes, I need to. Your expression of love is definitely too extreme. I’m not telling you to stop it entirely, but please try to show your love in a different way.”
“Hmm— What should I do, then?”
After pondering about it for a short while, Mom makes an eerie smile, like she’s just thought of a good idea. I have a bad feeling about this, but it’s too late for me to do anything about it. She suddenly gets on top of me while I’m still wrapped in the blanket. I thought she was going to hug me, but she places her hand on my head instead. While I’m wondering what it is that she’s trying to achieve, she moves her hand over my hair that was disheveled in my sleep, caressing it slowly.
I guess… she’s patting my head? Well, yup, it’s indeed a sensible way to show her motherly love. That is, if I were to ignore the slightly weird positions we’re in.
“Hinata-tan is a good girl~”
“…I take it back, please spare me from this kind of torture, as well.”
I’m no longer a small child, so getting my head patted like this feels quite embarrassing. Although I want to resist, I can’t really move in my current state. She’s patting me unilaterally. Trying to roll around the floor like earlier doesn’t help because she’s preventing it by pressing her body against me.
“~hh! Aah, geez! I get it already! I’m getting up, okay?! Move aside, will you?”
“Nfufu, very well.”
There’s a satisfied look on her face as she releases me after I say uncle. I wonder why she’s letting me go so easily. But taking the positive side, I can now unwrap myself from the blanket. Then, I rush to get myself up.
“Good morning, Hinata.”
…Uuh~ why do I feel like I’ve just run a marathon? I feel tired even though I’ve just woken up.
“Hurry up and get ready. Your food’s going to get cold.”
“Don’t go back to sleep, okay~?”
“I know already.”
I wait for Mother to leave the room and confirm that she has finally left with my own eyes. Then, I put my hands on my pajamas in order to start taking them off. While I’m yawning in my drowsiness——
“Ah, by the way, today’s breakfast is…”
Mom, whom I thought was heading for the living room, has appeared again through the door. I end up letting out a silly yelp in surprise. It’s not that I feel embarrassed to be seen while I’m changing or something. She’s my own mother, after all. But, I fear that she’s going to do something again, and I can’t keep my composure. It seems my shriek is amusing to her, since she’s giggling to herself.
“Gosh, what was that yelp? Hina-tan, you’re so cute!”
“Gaaah! Get out already!!”
Mom doesn’t even seem to flinch even though I’m practically yelling at her. She calmly leaves through the door in good humor. This time, I strain my ears to hear her footsteps, making sure that she’s really walking down the corridor. She’s headed to the living room for sure, so I can be relieved for now. I’ve wasted so much energy first thing in the morning. Honestly, I feel dog-tired.
(Haah… I didn’t get much sleep, either…)
Normally, I would fall asleep as soon as I tuck myself in bed. It was so unlike me to be unable to sleep last night. My thoughts kept wandering to today’s plans, and I ended up sleeping for only half the usual amount. In my whole two lives, this is my first time losing sleep due to nervousness of all things.
“Fwaah… So sleepy~”
My eyelids feel so heavy that it’s hard to keep them open. My vision is blurry, and rubbing my eyes doesn’t seem to help. Mgh— nope, nope. I better get a grip on myself on this important date.
I lightly clap my cheeks to drive the sleepiness away.
I don’t have much time left until the meeting, so I can’t dilly-dally here. I get back to changing my clothes and shake off the allure of going back to sleep.
After I get dressed, I go to the living room and eat breakfast in a hurry. “Chew properly when you eat,” says Mom from the kitchen. But I don’t have the time for that. I’m literally pushing the meal down my throat, and I silently apologize for not enjoying my meal like I should. I tell Mother that I’m leaving before heading straight to the entranceway.
“Hm? Onee-chan, going out somewhere?”
As soon as I exit the living room, I bump into Saki, who seems to have just woken up. It’s a holiday, so she’s still in her cat-print pajamas. Childish clothes really suit her, with how petite and cute she is. Although, I keep those words to myself because she’ll kick me for real if I say it aloud.
“I think I already told you about it, though. There’s a place I need to go today. I think I’m going to be home late.”
“Really? Oh, well. See you—”
“Yup, I’m heading off.”
“Ah, I forgot to mention it earlier. You have strawberry jam sticking to the side of your mouth.”
That’s dangerous. Hiori and Tsubaki will laugh at me if they see me with a jam sticking to my mouth. I take out my handkerchief in a fluster and wipe around my lips, but Saki bursts laughing instead. W-what’s wrong? I thought I have wiped it properly, but did I miss some?
“Pfft, khukhu, gotcha! There’s no strawberry jam or anything.”
“Eh? …ah… AAAAAAH?!”
Now that I think about it, my breakfast today was in Japanese style, unlike the usual. There’s no way there would be strawberry jam on my mouth when I didn’t have toast in the first place. Now that I look at the handkerchief, it has no stains on it.
“S-Sakiii! You tricked me!!”
“Ee~h? I thought you would’ve realized it, though~ Aren’t you still half-asleep?”
Out of the frying pan into the fire. Why do both Mom and Saki love to ridicule me first thing in the morning? I want them to try and put themselves in my shoes, but I’ve long since given up. Getting mad seems to have no effect whatsoever on them.
“So, are you awake now?”
“Heheh, you should be grateful.”
Wow, she’s so smug. My drowsiness and tension are mostly gone thanks to her, but I’m not feeling happy about it for some reason.
I can’t get angry at my dear little sister when she’s smiling in such good humor. Actually, I find her actions cute instead. I think that I dote on her considerably, with the way I easily forgive everything she does and all. Even though she keeps making fun of me, even when we fight… I can’t just leave her alone. I’m sure this is what it means to have a little sister.
“Hey, I think you need to go. You’re going to be yelled at if you’re late. Weren’t you in a hurry?”
“Ah, you’re right. See you, Saki.”
“Yeaah, see you—”
Says Saki as she waves goodbye to me. I turn around to the door and open it. The meeting spot is as usual—Hiori’s house which is just next door. Although… it seems I don’t have to walk there anymore.
“You’re late, Hinata.”
“Good morning, Hinata-san.”
The people who I have promised to meet with are already here in front of me.
“GOOD MORNING.” (in a robotic voice)
It’s clear as day that I’ve made Hiori angry. Meanwhile, Tsubaki is standing next to her with a wry smile. They must have come to fetch me because I’m late. I’m sure they would’ve come barging into my room if I was late for another ten minutes.
“I believed I had told you not to be late. You never change, do you?”
Somehow, there’s this pressure that compels me to use a polite tone as I speak. I feel intimidated by Hiori’s glare, and being a scaredy-cat I am, I shift my gaze towards Tsubaki.
“But, I think Hinata-san has already put some effort into it. If it were the usual, she would be late for at least 20 minutes.”
“A-ahaha, my sincerest apologies.”
“You’re only 10 minutes late today,” says Tsubaki with a smile. Although she’s genuinely trying to give me solace, I feel depressed when she reaffirms the fact like that. Well, it’s my bad habit at work, okay? Believe it or not, I’m more of an early-riser nowadays compared to the past.
“Alright, we should start moving. We’re used to it by now, but you can’t cause trouble for other people by being unpunctual.”
We’ll be late for the meeting if we keep dawdling around.
“It was the right decision to meet up earlier.”
“Ugh… Y-you’re right—”
“Fufu. Ah, Hinata-san, you have a cowlick at the back of your head.”
“…Good grief, as a girl, you need to pay attention to your own appearance.”
“I’ll take note of it… Tsubaki, you’re cute as always.”
“T-thank you very much.”
“Stop making advances with my daughter first thing in the morning.”
“No, I wasn’t…”
It’s a clear weather today, and we walk towards our destination while talking about trivial things. It’s a place with deep ties to us and the people whom we’re going to meet. They’re already waiting for us. I had been pondering if I should be coming along, but they’re all asking me to.
After walking through the quiet residential area, we finally reach our objective. Although it seems that Hiori comes to visit every year, I’ve only been in that place once. It was where I found Tsubaki when I was looking for her, which happened a few years ago. We pass through the gate in silence and head towards the meeting spot. We walk along a pathway which is fenced with trees, which make it feel gloomy and bleak even though it’s still midday. After exiting what felt like a small forest, we reach an open location with many rows of gravestones.
“Ah, here they are.”
Noticing our arrival, Rumi waves her hand towards us. The couple behind her are waving their hands, too. They smile gently when they see us. I’ve met them a few times since I came to this town, but my heart still feels restless whenever I see them.
They’re my… rather, they’re Sekiguchi Tsubaki’s parents who had raised her for 18 years. We’re no longer tied by blood, but even so, I still think of them as my precious parents. We might have a different relationship now, but I’m content just to be able to speak with them again. Although, my own nostalgia and awkwardness hinders me from interacting with them normally, which makes Hiori break into a smile every time.
“Thank you for taking the time to join us this year as well.”
“Don’t mention it. I’m here because I wish to be.”
Hiori gives a slight bow in salutation, so Tsubaki and I lower our heads, too.
“And thank you for coming, Tsubaki-chan, Hinata-chan. I’m sure that child is happy to see you.”
Mom looks so happy to see us. Then, she shifts her gaze towards a certain direction—the gravestone. There are several potted flowers and various kinds of offerings placed in front of it. It seems there are previous guests—the incense sticks are still burning, wafting a peculiar scent to the air.
“Her friends were here just earlier.”
“Let’s burn some incense ourselves.”
Guided by my former parents, I stand before the grave that I saw once or twice a few years back. The tombstone is etched with [Sekiguchi Family] at the front. If I look from the side, I’m sure I’ll find my name carved there. Even after all these years, it still feels strange to stand in front my own grave.
“[Tsubaki], we’re here.”
That’s right——Today is Sekiguchi Tsubaki’s death anniversary, a date that only comes once a year.
It’s the day when the previous me died.
That’s the reason we’re gathered here in the cemetery. While Hiori and Tsubaki are already considered as part of the family, I don’t have any superficial reason to be accompanying them. It makes me wonder if I should be here in the first place.
When Hiori took me to visit the Sekiguchis a while back, they told me, “If Hiori-san thinks of you as her family, then you are like a family to us, too,” and invited me to visit their daughter’s grave together. How do I say it… they’re so big-hearted like that, and they’re amazing. I’m not sure about my amiable Mother, but Father might have guessed my relationship with Hiori with his sharp intuition… I don’t think they realize that I’m their daughter who has died and reincarnated, though.
Placing an incense stick, Father claps his hands together and closes his eyes. With that as a cue, everyone puts their own hands together, lower their heads, and close their eyes. I follow suit. After offering a silent prayer for about a minute, I open my eyes and raise my head to look at the grave again.
“It’s been 18 years… Somehow, time sure flies.”
“I see. It’s been so long.”
Father and Mother speak in a gentle voice towards the tombstone. I can’t see their faces from where I’m standing, so I don’t know what kind of expression they’re wearing right now. The only parts that are visible to me are their backs with their hands still held together in front of them.
“You were a bit dimwitted like me, but you were sensitive to people’s feelings like Dad. You were a kind girl. I’m always concerned that you might be worried about us even after you died, thinking that you might have made us sad.”
“True, that’s why I know full well that you wouldn’t give up your life so simply. I’m sure you had something that you wouldn’t let go even though you had to risk your life for it. That’s why, my daughter, I’m not blaming you for dying before us. But even so… as your parents, we still wanted you to live.”
“It really pained us when you died, Tsubaki. We felt so sad. And so did everyone who knew you. But, we understand that’s not what you would want. If we come to meet you with sorrowful expressions, you’re only going to take be sad, aren’t you? We know that… and that’s why we’re smiling for you right now.”
Noticing my own gasp, I close my mouth in a fluster. I bite my lips hard to keep myself from speaking out of place.
“You don’t need to worry about the two of us. Please watch over Rumi, Hiori-san, and her child instead. But knowing you, Tsubaki, you might have been watching over them all this time. Maybe we didn’t even need to ask you at all.”
“Fufu, that sounds like what she would do.”
Father and Mother are smiling in front of the grave. They sound so encouraging, making sure that they won’t make me sad.
I can feel a soft sensation on my hands. My trembling left hand is being clasped by Hiori, while she keeps her gaze towards the grave. And Tsubaki grasps my other hand. She doesn’t say anything to me, but I notice her watery eyes as she looks at the front, like her mother. I can feel the warmth from my both hands, and it’s soothing my heart.
“Are you watching, Tsubaki? The baby that you saved back then has grown so big… You can carry yourself with pride.”
I can feel their grasping my hands tighter.
I keep silent as I listen to my parents conversing with ‘myself’. Each and every word they utter is wrenching my heart, threatening to release all the emotions that I’ve been keeping in my chest. I want to convey it, but I know it won’t lead to a good thing. I can’t say it.
I listen to my family’s feelings without saying anything in return.
That’s the only thing I can do right now.
Mother gave birth to me, but I could only live as far as 18 years. They raised me, pouring all of their affection for me, but I wasn’t able to repay them. I’m sorry for not being able to say anything to you.
My life as Sekiguchi Tsubaki was short, but I can say for sure that I had a blessed life. I’m really glad that you gave birth to Rumi and I both. I’m proud to have you as my parents.
“We’ll never forget about you, Tsubaki.”
Dad, Mom, I’ll always remember the warmth that you gave me.
This time, I’m going to live until the end. I’m going to live two lives’ worth, of both Sekiguchi Tsubaki and Hayase Hinata. And in my final moments, I’ll say, “I had a happy life,” with my head held high.
I look up towards the cloudless blue sky, as I swear solemnly.
“Alright, let’s go back.”
After cleaning around the grave for the most part, all that’s left is for us to leave this place. Rumi suggested that we should all get together at the Sekiguchis and have a party, which received unanimous support. It goes without saying that they’re including me in it… But before that, I have something that I must tell that person.
I know that I must say it to her. Although I tell that to myself every time, my lack of courage forbids me from speaking. This is the reason I was nervous all night and ended up waking up late this morning. Well, the fact that I would meet with my Sekiguchi parents and visit my own grave increased my nervousness even more.
“Nee-san, you’re going to tell Hiori-san about it today, aren’t you?”
“Y-yup. That’s the plan.”
While I’m deliberating whether I should tell her now or a bit later, Rumi approached me and asked in a whisper. It seems that she roughly knows about my inner situation, which has caused her to worry.
“Ahaha, your nervousness is showing in your face, you know? It isn’t like you to be so nervous, Nee-san.”
“Gh… I-I can’t help it, okay? It’s an important matter.”
“I think it’ll all be okay, though. Go on, the earlier the better, right? How about you go and tell her now?”
“We’ll go on ahead, so… good luck.”
Says Rumi as she gives me a light push on the back.
Geez, she should be worrying about herself instead of me. She’s already in the latter half of her twenties, but she doesn’t even have a lover yet. As her elder sister, I’m worried. Although, this is one thing that can only be decided by the person in question. In the end, I can’t meddle too much in her private life.
Well, anyway, I need to go to Hiori right now. My little sister is cheering for me, so I have to resolve myself and face her.
“Hiori, I need to talk with you, just the two of us.”
“If you’re okay with it.”
“I see… Alright then.”
I tell everyone to go on ahead without us. Then, I consider changing the location, but I’d feel bad to make everyone wait for too long. So, I decide to talk right here. Although it’s not a topic to be discussed in a cemetery, I guess the location doesn’t really matter as long as I can convey the words to her properly.
We’re looking at my grave. I’ve prepared the words that I want to tell her beforehand. But when it comes to it, my head suddenly goes blank. I’ve forgotten about everything that I want to say. Umm… aah… what do I do? First, break the ice. Wait, what did I want to talk about again? Oh no, I’m getting so confused. The words won’t come out at all.
Hiori seems to have grown tired of waiting for me to speak as she heaves a sigh. Haha…… It’s really pathetic of me.
“Somehow or other, I can guess what you want to talk about.”
“It’s about your future course after graduating, right? You told me that you were going on to a university, but you never said where.”
I’ve told Tsubaki about it, but I told her to keep it a secret from Hiori because I want to tell her myself. I intended to keep silent about the university that I’m going to attend until it’s time. She never asked me about it, either. But it’s not because she doesn’t care. Most likely, she’s been waiting for me to come out with it.
“So, where will you go? …Is it somewhere far?”
“It’s a bit far, but it’s still a distance where I can commute from home. About one hour or so by train, I guess.”
She must have thought that I was going far away because I was hiding it from her. She looks relieved when she hears my answer. Hrm… it actually makes me happy to see that reaction from her. I suppress myself from forming a grin on my face as I struggle to keep a serious expression.
“I’m going to attend a culinary school, which is focused on pastries. I’m going to learn how to make sweets for two years, and… I want to become a patissiere in the future.”
“You know, I want to see more people eat the sweets I make… By the time I realized it, it has turned into a dream that I want to pursue.”
At first, Mom taught me how to bake cookies. Then, I keep baking it for Hiori to hear her say it’s delicious. In time, making sweets became my hobby. I hadn’t thought much about it all this time. However, my true desire seems to lie somewhere deep in my heart. The moment I was aware about my own feelings towards Hiori, I came to realize it as well.
“It was part of the reason I started working part time at the confectionery store. It’s beneficial to learn from a real experience. Furthermore, I was able to get acquainted with some people, thanks to Manager’s consideration.”
“Here I was sure that you went to work there just because you like sweets.”
“Ahaha, that’s the other part of it.”
It’s fun to do the things I like. Working in a place where I can interact my favorite things is really enjoyable. While it’s not all fun and games, despite the difficulties that I need to face, I want to pursue this career. Perhaps, there’s going to be an arduous journey ahead of me. Finding employment like many others might give me a more steady income…… but I’m sure I’m going to regret it.
“I may have lived almost as long as you, but I could never get out to the society because I’m still a child. That’s why, I don’t know what lies ahead of me. I feel anxious to finally reach a place where I’ve never been to. But, that’s exactly why I want to try doing what I want for myself.”
As Sekiguchi Tsubaki, I died before I could graduate from high school. Although I didn’t have much regrets with me, God decided to let me live again like this. Was it just a whim, or something else entirely? I want to make full use of my second life. But on the other hand, my life no longer belongs to me alone.
“Well, isn’t it fine?”
When I finish telling her all that, she readily lets me to pursue my selfish dream.
“Eh? Are you sure, Hiori? I thought you would be against it.”
“I mean, it’s a childlike dream. I thought you would rebuke me, saying that I’m being too naive.”
“Idiot. After watching you for so long, I know that you like making sweets so much that you want to do more with it. For that reason, I’m not going to oppose your dream. No matter who tells you that they’re against it, I’m here to vouch for you. I’m going to cheer for you, more than anyone else. Don’t worry about anything else and do what you like, as much as you want.”
“……Yup. Thank you, Hiori.”
It makes me so happy to know that there’s someone who’s rooting for me. It’s even more so since it’s coming from my most beloved. Although I think everyone is also going to cheer for me, Hiori’s encouragement is the one thing that I need the most.
“Is that all you wanted to talk about?”
“No… there’s one more.”
Being able to properly talk about my future career takes one load off my mind. But, I have one more thing to convey to her. To tell the truth, this is going to be the main point.
“Umm, so… you know, I don’t know how long it will take, but I want to run my own store in the future. I’m going to sell the sweets I make, and people are going to come and eat them.”
“That’ll be wonderful. I’m sure you can make it a reality, Hinata.”
The path towards that future is going to be a hard one. To be honest, I’m not sure if I deserve to dream such a future. But, even so, I don’t want to give it up.
“Um… will you accompany me in my dream, Hiori?”
“I don’t know yet if I’m going to make it. But, if I manage to have a store of my own… I want to run it together with you.”
“I haven’t done anything yet, and I might even cause you various kinds of troubles… but even so… I want you to be by my side.”
“…In other words, you want us to live together when you achieve your dream?”
“This… is quite a matter for the future.”
“Well, I think that I’m being too hasty myself. Of course, I’m going to give it the best of my abilities. So…”
I cut off my words, taking a deep breath before continuing my next words.
“So…… please stay with me [for life].”
Her eyes open wide in shock. I want to avert my gaze because I’m feeling so embarrassed right now. But somehow, I persevere and stare at her beautiful eyes. My hands are drenched in sweat due to nervousness, my throat feels parched and dry… Ugh, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to say these words. It’s just too embarrassing.
Hiori doesn’t say anything for a while, which makes me more and more anxious. Is my future prospects too dim? Am I not suitable?
“…Are you fine with me…?”
“Y-yup. Actually, it has to be you. I’d hate it otherwise.”
‘What’s your answer’——she suddenly hugs me tight before I can utter my question. It’s so out of the blue that my body stiffens in response.
“I’ll be with you forever. I’ll stay by your side, no matter what path you’ll take.”
“Hinata, will you stay with me [till death do us part]?”
I put my hands around her slender waist. She’s trembling. Her thin body fits into my arms. Although I had been nervous until a moment ago, I feel really calm in this position.
When I’m with Hiori, I feel that I can do anything. All the worries that I had about the future are gone in an instant. Confidence wells within me, telling me that my life is going to be a happy one, without a doubt.
“…I’ll do my best.”
We let go of each other, and we entwine our hands as though in exchange. No matter how many years, how many decades ahead, I’ll do my best so that we can always link our hands like this.
“Let’s go. Everyone must be waiting for us.”
“I suppose so.”
Before leaving the cemetery, I decide to look at my own grave one final time.
——We had a painful and sorrowful past. Time won’t heal this kind of wound. It’s a past so dark and tragic, that we can never look back and laugh upon. We have reached the present by overcoming that sorrowful past. However, nothing will be able to mend it.
It’s possible that there will be more hardships and painful experiences waiting for us.
But, there will also be fun and happy moments ahead of us.
No one can predict the future.
But it’ll be alright.
I’ll take on everything that may happen, and live.
Together with my beloved.
“……It’ll definitely be a happy life.”
“Did you say something?”
“Nope, it’s nothing.”
I turn my back on the past, and start walking.
Linking my hands with her, who’s making such a happy face right now.
We’re going to walk together, forever and ever.
With this, we have reached the conclusion. Thank you very much for reading this story to the end.