Two Sides of a Coin ＊1
With the change of seasons, Hinata-san and I have become third-year students.
Saki-chan passed her exams, which means that she’s now commuting to the same school as our junior. Although, since she’s a size smaller than all of her classmates, the cute Saki-chan remains as popular as she was in her middle school.
I often spot her talking with other third-year students, so I guess being the younger sister of the famous Hinata-san also played a factor. She let out a grumble, saying that it is tiring to deal with all of them. But with an innocent smile on her face, she added that she made many friends because of it.
Saki-chan, Hinata-san, and I are leading a wholesome and fun school life.
However, Hinata-san and I have to prepare for the university exam. The mood in the classroom seems to be getting tense. I’m also putting my earnest effort to my own studies. Although my homeroom teacher tried to assure me after looking at my grades, it still doesn’t quell my anxiety.
On the other hand, Hinata-san is one of the few who received a recommendation, which seemingly means she has practically passed, or so she told me. Meanwhile, she’s taking it easy without deliberately studying for the exam. I feel slightly jealous with how she can be so carefree about it.
(…But, it’s going to be alright.)
I search my pocket and take out a number of charms: a charm for study and success that Mom bought me the other day, a charm for passing the test that Rumi-san picked for me, and a charm that Hinata-san personally made for me. When I look at all these charms, I can feel the confidence welling up from within me mysteriously, telling me that everything is going to turn out alright.
Carrying the charms reminds me that I have people who are cheering for me, and it makes me feel warm inside. That’s why I would look at them like this whenever I feel anxious about the upcoming exams.
“Maybe it’s time for a break.”
I release the pen from my grasp and stretch my back. It seems that I’ve been holing myself in my room, studying for quite some time. It’s almost time for me to go out shopping. I’m at a good place to stop anyway, and it will also make for a good change of pace. Besides, Mom will get home from work soon.
When I tidy up my notebooks, pencil case, and the other things on my desk, our [family picture] comes into my view. Looking at it makes me break into a smile. To the left is Mom, who is looking sheepish inside the picture, and I’m standing to the right with a happy smile. Standing between us is that person with a gentle expression on her face. In the past, I wouldn’t even imagine to decorate my room with a photo that’s exuding so much kindness. I thought that even a miracle wouldn’t be enough to make it come true.
But, the dreams that I had believed to be unattainable were realized, all thanks her. She likes sweets, she’s a sleepyhead, she’s thickheaded, and she has a beautiful smile——She is Mom’s significant other.
She should be working at her part-time job right now. I usually avoid visiting her while she’s working because I would be getting in the way. Although, I think I should stop by today at least, after I finish shopping. She said that she’s going to quit her job in the near future, so this could be my last chance to look at the sight of her tending the store.
I head to the door after finishing my preparation for an outing. Then, I turn around when I open the door.
“Mom, Hinata-san… I’m off.”
After saying my partings to the photo on my desk in lieu of my family who isn’t home right now, I take my leave.
Currently, I’m carrying the shopping goods that I have just purchased while exerting strength to both my arms. Although it was my intention to procure only enough for today’s dinner, I ended up buying three days’ worth of ingredients instead. The main reason being, I was in time for a limited-time sale. It may be a daily necessity, but I think it was a mistake to get a big bottle of soy sauce regardless of how cheap it was. My arms are going to tear off from my shoulder.
(Uuh… They’re so heavy…)
Not to mention, in addition to the soy sauce, I still needed to purchase other ingredients with it. I walk along the road home in a tottering pace, as though I’m being pulled by the heaviness in my hands. I was planning to stop by Hinata-san’s workplace, but at this rate, I’ll only become a bother to her. Unfortunately, I will have to save it for another time. I have to bring this heavy baggage home for now.
My arms are getting numb, and it feels like I’m going to let go of the shopping bags if I’m not careful. Thinking that it’s dangerous for me to keep going like this, I decide to take a short break in a public park nearby.
I was going to sit on the bench, but it seems to have been occupied by someone else. I’m left with no choice but to find another place, but that’s when I notice something wrong. That person is bending over as though she’s slouching. She’s also covering her mouth with her hand while grimacing. She might be feeling unwell.
“Um, are you okay?”
“Hm? …Aah, I’m sorry. I’m just feeling a bit under the weather…”
I approach the bench and peer into her face, and the sitting woman gives me a weak reply. Then, she slowly raises her face to look at me.
But when our gazes meet, her eyes open wide and she leaks out a voice in surprise. She looks at my face without moving in the slightest.
After a while, the woman’s shocked expression turns grim. Instead of being looked at, it feels as though she’s glaring at me. It makes me worried, thinking that I might have rubbed her the wrong way. I only called out to her because out of worry, but it might have been a needless consideration on my part.
“I’m sorry. Did I——”
Now it’s my turn to be surprised. She mutters the name of the person that I’m closest to in the midst of her pain.
“Perhaps, are you acquainted with Mother?”
“…Mother? By some chance… are you the daughter of Kurasaka Hiori?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Aah, I see… That’s why you’re the spitting image of her. Your bearing, on the other hand, doesn’t feel the same in the slightest… urp, ugh…”
“A-are you okay?!”
It seems that she’s feeling nauseous again while she’s talking. She covers her mouth with her hand again, as though to keep herself from vomiting. The things that I can do for the time being is to put down the heavy bags from my hands and prop her unsteady frame.
She looks really pale. I wonder if I should bring her to the hospital. It’s a long distance from here, so a taxi… no, calling an ambulance might be better. On the other hand, the woman rejects my suggestion, saying that she’ll be fine.
When I’m at a loss to know what to do, she breathes a sigh and proceeds to straighten her back. So, I release my hands from her.
“I’m fine. I’ll feel better soon.”
“I-is that so?”
“…You may look like her in appearance, but you seem to have quite a different personality from her. Actually, I think you’re the exact opposite of her in that regard.”
“I’ve been told that a lot. Um, how are you related to Mother, if I may ask?”
Although when I think about it, she’s most likely Mother’s acquaintance from work. I’ve met them before on rare occasions. Although, since they’re ultimately work-related, I’ve never met anyone who can really be called her friends.
“You’re asking how I’m related to Kurasaka Hiori? …Hmm, that’s a difficult question.”
The woman looks up to the sky, looking at something that I can’t see. Perhaps she’s recalling something from her memories, or diving into thoughts… Either way, she’s giving off a lonely expression as she squints her eyes, smiling faintly at no one in particular.
“Meeting that girl’s daughter right after I return to this town might have been her doing.”
“Well, to answer your question… Although I’m not that close to Kurasaka Hiori to be called her friend, we’re not such strangers to be simply acquaintances.”
I don’t really understand what she means from her vague words, but it appears this person has a deep connection to Mom. Although, I can easily surmise whether or not it’s a good one from the way she looks right past me, as though she’s looking at Mother’s shadows. And, it’s certainly not the way someone would look at a close friend.
“This must be some kind of fate. Hmm, I’m getting bored just sitting here, too… so let me talk a bit about the past. You must be tired standing all the while, right? Come and sit next to me.”
It was my plan to take a break from the start. Also, I’m curious about this person’s relationship with Mom. After I sit next to her as she says, she takes her time to tell me a story, as though recounting the past.
“——I met your mother, Kurasaka Hiori, when I was in my third year of middle school. She was a freshman at that time. My friend introduced us to each other during the freshmen welcome party. She was an unsociable girl, to a surprising extent. All the words she said were ice-cold. She refused to mingle with others, choosing to be alone on her own accord.”
That sounds really just like Mom. She has been getting more expressive lately, though. The thorns in her personality have also decreased quite a bit. However, I had pretty much the same impression of Mom before Hinata-san appeared in our lives.
“I couldn’t get to be friends with her. We were two years apart, so there were a few chances for us to converse to begin with. I think our link to each other was nothing more than the fact that we knew each other’s names. Considering her personality, I believe she didn’t have any friends… other than that person.”
“Do you mean…”
“She was a close friend of mine. We had gotten along ever since we entered middle school, and we were always together. It seems that she was childhood friends with Kurasaka Hiori, and she often told me stories about her.”
She would tell me even the trivial things like it was fun, the woman adds. Then she looks at the sky, making a wry smile. Although it seems like she’s remembering the past about her close friend with nostalgia, there’s a hint of loneliness in her expression. Speaking of Mom’s only friend which was also her childhood friend, there’s only one person that comes to mind. Most likely, she’s talking about that person. I can tell, because the woman’s eyes are filled with sadness.
“Since she’s a friend of my close friend, I thought of getting along with her. But, with her acting like she did, not to mention my own incapability to make friends, it didn’t work out… I think there were other problems that arose, but in the end, I never came to like your mom that much.”
“I didn’t like that person that much, but it doesn’t mean that I hated her at first. I believed that the girl that my friend loved must have been a good girl deep down, but… but…… after ‘that day’, I can’t help but to resent Kurasaka Hiori.”
Suddenly, her expression swerves. Hatred is clearly shown on her face, and I can feel the depth of her resentment.
“Even now, my resentment is still here. I left this place as soon as I graduated from high school, but from time to time, I’ll end up recalling the fun memories with my dear friend, as well as my hatred towards Kurasaka Hiori.”
She looks at me with a blank expression. Hatred is the only emotion that I can perceive from her face, and it slightly scares me.
“I’ll tell you about your mother’s past, one that you don’t know about.”
“No one has ever told you, right? About the incident that happened a short while before you were born…”
Did a big incident happen before I was born? Is it an incident related to Mom, maybe even me? Perhaps what this person wants to tell me is about ’18 years ago’, the period that Mom never told me about.
(Is it alright for me to keep listening to this?)
Mom’s kindness for not telling me may end up being trampled by my own curiosity. But, there’s also a part of me that wants to know the truth that Mom has been carrying inside her all this time.
“From your reaction, I assume you don’t know what I’m talking about. Well, I suppose it’s normal for anyone not to tell their own children about it.”
The woman fixes her gaze to me when I’m still hesitating. Her fierce eyes make me flinch.
“I don’t have any grudge against you personally… But, this will serve as something like a revenge against Kurasaka Hiori.”
The woman makes an eerie smile, as she mumbles. I feel disconcerted from this situation. I feel that I shouldn’t keep listening. But… it’s already too late.
“By the time you were born, there was a murder incident in this town. The victim was a third-year high school girl, and the suspect was a woman residing in the mansion where the incident took place.”
An incident that occurred 18 years ago, a murdered high school girl, and a woman from the mansion. The pieces of information are slowly put in place with her account. No, stop it. My instincts are screaming at me, telling me not to stop listening to her. My heart is beating faster because of the mental strain, and my throat feels terribly parched.
“The weapon was a sharp pair of scissors used for flower arrangement. A servant who was working at the mansion contacted the police, and the suspect was arrested. The motive of murder remains unknown because the suspect refused to speak about it…… However, there was little news about it even though it was a murder. Thus, as time passed, people lost interest about the case. The incident easily vanished from everyone’s memories.”
I’ve never heard of a murder happening in this town, not to mention anywhere close to where we live. Perhaps it was kept a secret from me considering that I was still a child. Or, could it be that the incident has simply slipped everyone’s mind?
“But, I’ll never forget it. Even though over a decade has passed since, I still remember——after all, it was a revolting incident that took the life of my dear friend.”
The chains of information finally click into place.
Previously, Mom told me that Hinata-san protected us. But, from what? How exactly? How did Hinata-san… or rather, how did Sekiguchi Tsubaki-san die back then? The question that has been buried in my chest is resurfacing.
“The name of the murdered girl was [Sekiguchi Tsubaki], my dear friend…… And the name of the woman who murdered her was [Kurasaka Yagura], your grandmother.”
By my grandma?
“It’s the truth. How about asking your mom later? I’m sure she will tell you.”
From what I can tell, Mom seems to hate Grandma. That’s why she never said anything when I asked her about my grandparents. The only thing she ever told me is that both of them have already passed away. In my earliest memories, Mom and I were already living with the Sekiguchis. We moved into our current house when I was in grade school.
I’ve never visited the mansion where Mom used to live, not even once. I’ve never met any relatives from the Kurasaka family, either. Since I was a child, I’ve always thought that my family circumstances are quite peculiar, and I wondered why no one ever told me anything about it.
(Aah, I see…)
Because there had always been some distance between me and Mom, I couldn’t bear to ask. I kept all the questions buried deep in my heart. I could’ve asked Uncle and Auntie Sekiguchi about it, or even Rumi-san. The reason I never did is perhaps because I had sensed something when I was still a child.
(If… what she says is true…)
Mom had been putting her distance from me, thinking that [she couldn’t give me happiness] for such a long time.
The fact that her beloved person was killed by her own mother, had Mom been carrying the guilt by herself all this time? What did the Sekiguchis feel as they cared for me since I was little? What did they feel as they raised me?
How was Hinata-san able to visit the grave of the person who took her life so calmly? How can she stay in love with the daughter of the one who had killed her, and also smile along with me, who is that person’s granddaughter?
I’ve always been protected by everyone around me. They would encourage me when I’m facing a difficult time, cry along with me when I’m feeling sad, and laugh together during fun times. They would support me when it’s painful, and they would be there to push my back when I’m hesitating.
Like it’s the most natural thing, they said that we’re families.
…so kind like that.
The people around me are really, helplessly kind——and warm.
“Uh… uuh… sniff”
I begin to sob, and tears flow from my eyes. All the affections that I’ve received are welling forth, forming drops of tears that are trickling down my cheeks.
“…Does it hurt? Knowing that one of your family was a murderer?”
“No, that’s not it… I’m just… You made me realize all over again just how much I’m blessed and loved by everyone.”
I look at her without caring to wipe my tears.
It’s as she says, it hurts knowing that my own grandmother was the one who killed Sekiguchi Tsubaki-san. It hurts so much. But, Mom, Hinata-san, everyone must have had it much, much worse than me. It would be rude of me to look sad around them when they’ve already regained their smiles. I can’t bring up the past that they’ve managed to overcome.
…They’re always thinking of me in a way more than I can ever imagine. I’ve finally come to understand that after all this time.
“That’s unfortunate. I thought I could’ve made your lives more miserable with that.”
It’s hard to tell whether she’s joking or serious from her expression. But either way, our bond will remain firm. It won’t get destroyed a second time.
I wipe my tears and look ahead of me.
“I’m not a child anymore. Besides… Mom is already living for the future.”
“And, I believe I haven’t introduced myself. My name is Kurasaka Tsubaki.”
The woman looks surprised when she hears my name.
It’s the name that I inherited from her friend, Mom’s childhood friend, as well as the girl who had protected me——a name which carries so many meanings and wishes behind it. To tell the truth, I’m not living up to my own name. But even so, I love the name [Tsubaki].
“I already left this town before you were born, so I never knew about your name… Still, to think that she named you after her, I find it a bit unexpected.”
When Mom gave me this name, perhaps it was to punish herself. It’s so that she would never forget about her own guilt, forever. She didn’t want her sacrifice to be left and forgotten.
But even so, I’m proud to bear this name.
“Aah, come to think of it, I haven’t introduced myself, either. I’m Sawamura Akari. I was from here, too, but I landed a job in a faraway place after I graduated from high school. I’ve just returned recently because of… circumstances.”
Then, Sawamura-san looks around the area, squinting her eyes as she reminisces.
“I suppose it’s been 18 years since I left this town… since that incident.”
I can feel the wind gently brushing my cheeks, and I can hear the sound of rustling leaves around us. Since there’s no one here but Sawamura-san and I, the place feels really quiet.
“Although I’d always thought of returning here… I was scared. Even now, there’s this turmoil inside my chest. I can’t forget about that person, I still can’t accept the truth… I’m trapped in the past, even though I’m supposed to be start facing the future after coming back to this place……”
She buries her face in her hands, uttering those words with much struggle. Looking at Sawamura-san agitates me, because it feels as though I’m looking at Mom from the past.
(Could it be that——)
Hearing that familiar voice, I turn around to see that it’s really Mom. She looks at me with a smile on her face, before moving her gaze towards Sawamura-san who’s sitting next to me.
“You… aren’t you…”
“It’s been a long time, Kurasaka Hiori.”
Mom frowns as she stares at Sawamura-san. The two of them are glaring at each other, forming a hostile air around them.
“…What kind of conversation were you having with my daughter, I wonder?”
“Just a bit about the incident 18 years ago. She didn’t seem to know about it, so I told her.”
“……A needless meddling. I had planned to tell Tsubaki about it myself eventually.”
Mom is biting her lips while glaring at the woman next to me with abhorrence.
“Is that so? Then let me apologize. Ah, don’t worry, I only met Tsubaki-chan by coincidence. She’s the exact image of you, only her appearance, though.”
Sawamura-san looks at both of us in turn and says that as though in admiration. Mom sighs, seemingly in exasperation, as she looks towards my direction.
“Tsubaki, go on home. I’ll explain about everything that you heard later…”
Mom looks visibly pale.
I’m quite certain that she’s getting flustered because I’ve ended up knowing what she had been hiding from me. But, you know, I’m no longer the same as myself from two years ago. You don’t need to worry about me anymore. I won’t get upset and run away like that time.
“Please take your time and chat… I’m fine.”
Although Mom looks surprised for a bit, she soon returns to her usual poker face. Similarly, Mom is not the same as she was in the past, either.
That’s why, I’m sure it’ll all turn out alright.
I’m going to take the shopping bags with me, but Mom tells me to leave them to her. It seems that she had wanted to take a taxi home, but changed her mind and walked all the way here instead. And so, I leave empty-handed. Apparently, Mom will be carrying the heavy things home for me. With a taxi, of course.
Leaving the two alone in the park, I trudge along the path.
I heave a sigh. I learned about the truth that Mom had kept a secret from me. Nevertheless, it came to me as a shock. Although, if I had learned about it before I met Hinata-san, I might have ended up running away again. I’m glad to know that I’ve become more mature.
(I want to meet Hinata-san.)
My feet are bringing me to her workplace on their own. The store where she’s working is located near the park, so it doesn’t take long for me to arrive. Although I’m thinking of entering… I refrain.
(I wonder what kind of face I should make when I meet Hinata-san. What should I say to her?)
I lean on a wall outside the store. If I wait here, I will meet Hinata-san when she leaves work. But, I’m not confident that I can act as I usually do when I see her.
(What do I do?)
While I’m still pondering and hesitant about it, Hinata-san appears from the door. Her countenance brightens when she notices me. She comes my way while smiling and waving her hand. When I look at her, I can feel something hot rising from the bottom of my heart.
“It’s rare for you to come see me here. Although, you should’ve come inside instead of waiting out here.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to bother you.”
“Ahaha, you don’t need to worry about that. Just come in without thinking too much about it next time, okay?”
“Well, I’m going to quit soon, though. Ah, they gave me some leftovers, so let’s eat it together when we reach home. There’s only one, but it’s big, so we can slice it to three parts.”
She peeks into the paper bag that she’s carrying, smiling so happily. It seems that Hinata-san really loves her sweets.
“Is Hiori home already?”
“Mom… is going to be late, I think.”
“Ah, I see. Hmm— I’m sure it’s going to taste better if everyone eats it together, so shall we hold it off till then?”
Hinata-san notices my strange behavior. She peers into my face, looking worried. Every time I’m troubled, or when I’m feeling sad, she would know right away and start worrying. There’s nothing I can hide from her.
“I met Sawamura Akari-san earlier.”
I confess it to her. Listening to my words, Hinata-san’s cheerful face stiffens in an instant.
“Yes. We talked a bit, about the past.”
“About her relationship with Mom, and about the incident that occurred 18 years ago.”
“I see… How do I put it… It’s sudden.”
Although Hinata-san makes a troubled smile, her expression turns sharp in the next instant.
“…Are you okay, Tsubaki?”
“I’m fine. But, Mom is currently talking with her in the nearby park.”
Listening to Hinata-san’s gentle voice is making me tear up. So, I look down in order to hide it from her.
“Hinata-san, do you hate my grandma, for taking your life?”
“We only had an unfortunate misunderstanding. Besides, I was the one who invited my own death, so Hiori’s mother was not completely to blame.”
“But, in the end, isn’t it Grandma’s fault that Hina… that Tsubaki-san had to die? Even though you still had a long path ahead in your life, she had blocked it off just like that, you know?”
“Even so, I have no regrets. Whether or not I was reincarnated back into this world, I can say for sure that I don’t bear any grudge. As long as Hiori and her child could live happily, that was all I needed.”
Right, that’s just the kind of person she is.
Thinking of other people’s happiness as her own… she’s unthinkably good-natured like that.
“Aah, geez, don’t cry.”
When Hinata-san gently wipes the tears that are spilling from my eyes, I can’t hold myself from hugging her. Then She laughs, calling me a spoiled child. She pats my head and combs my hair with her fingers.
“…She didn’t tell you about the motive… or about your father, did she?”
“No, she didn’t… There’s still more to the story, isn’t there?”
“Sorry, Tsubaki. Although if you wish for it, I’m sure Hiori will tell you someday. Wait patiently until then, okay?”
“Yes, I understand.”
If it’s going to make Mom sad, then I think I’d be better off not knowing about it. To me, the present is more important than the past. And, I’m sure that’s what Mom and Hinata-san would wish from me.
“Tsubaki, are you happy right now?”
“Of course I am.”
“Yup, then everything is okay!”
Hinata-san lets me go and smiles without concern.
(She’s… a really incredible person.)
I wonder if her open-mindedness stems from all the experiences that she have obtained in her lives, or if it’s a trait that she already has with her. But, there’s no doubt that both her brightness and kindness are something ingrained in her personality. That must be how people like Sawamura-san gathered around Tsubaki-san and adored her… It doesn’t change even after she became Hinata-san. Her family, Sawamura-san, her friends, and Mom, everyone really loves her.
And I love her, too.
In a special way.
“Tsubaki, let’s go home.”
——I had fallen in love with Hinata-san from a long time ago.
It was a romantic feeling, like the one Mom has towards her——
Recently, my romantic feelings have started changing to that of a familial love, but the amount of my affection remains the same. I don’t think these feelings will ever abate even in the future. It’s a first love that will never bear fruit. Although, since I’m still able to stay next to her in a special position, it’s more than enough for me.
“…If I ever date someone, I think it’s going to be a person like you, Hinata-san.”
When I mutter without much thinking, Hinata-san reacts to those words quite exaggeratingly. She grasps both my shoulders and looms over my face.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait! Hold on a second!! Tsubaki, you need to have higher ideals for yourself!! Don’t stop at someone like me! In fact, I won’t approve anyone who’s not at least better than me!!”
I think my ideals are already high as is. I’m not sure where I can find a person as wonderful as Hinata-san. Since I want to stay with Mom and Hinata-san, I’m fine with not finding my own romance for a while. Although, I wonder if I will be able to properly fall in love in the future.
“…Ahem. I was half-joking just now. Tsubaki, if you find someone you love, I-I’ll be rooting for you.”
“Thank you very much.”
Hinata-san’s face is stiff for some reason, which I find it amusing. She’s strangely stuttering, too.
“Hinata-san, would you mind if we hold hands?”
To her consent, I grasp her hand without reserve. Just holding her warm and slim hand gives me a piece of mind.
And so, we walk towards home with our hands linked together.
I’ve always been protected, but someday, I want to be one who protects someone else. I want to live in a way where I can firmly say that I don’t leave any regrets.
Just like the girl who’s walking next to me, the one who gave me happiness.