While the confounded Sora widened her eyes, the impressionable mole under them, Koremitsu slowly stopped in his tracks, and stood in front of her.
“How, do you know…where I am?”
She sounded perturbed as she asked.
The cold breeze swayed the thin lime green branches, and that breeze stroked at Hikaru’s soft hair, his eyes tranquil as he answered,
“You mentioned that it is too early, and that you will not be returning before autumn ends….I was wondering why it would be autumn, for the child is to be born in spring.”
And with a heinous look, Koremitsu stared at Sora, saying,
“You said that you’re going to stay here before autumn ends.”
“And then, I recalled that I invited you to see the red leaves of the broom tree together. You refused me, saying that you would not make promises with me, but you did remember that moment.”
“Hikaru said that you’re like the legendary Cypress tree, but you saw the broom tree that is of the same name, and said in disappointment that it can’t be considered a flower. Hikaru then promised you to see a beautiful broom tree filled with red leaves.”
Sora’s thin shoulders quivered, probably due to recalling the past, and the ‘promise’ she made with Hikaru. Her pale, forlorn face showed surprise and sadness.
And upon seeing Sora like this, Hikaru’s eyes too faltered due to sadness.
“If we made that promise, if I were still alive…we would surely be looking at the broom tree filled with red leaves.”
“Sora, you told me that ‘you can’t make promises’. But that time, you made a promise with him. If Hikaru was still alive—he’ll definitely fulfilled that promise, and both of you will be together look at the broom tree with red leaves.”
Sora’s eyebrows that were already lowered and drooped further, her eyes and the mole contorted in anguish as she looked completely despondent.
“Upon thinking about that, I was firmly convinced you will be here looking at this broom tree.”
The pain and sadness in Hikaru’s eyes continued to expand,
But even so, Koremitsu continued on steadily,
“That time, there was the melody of Twinkle, Twinkle little stars in the background, so I asked Asa to look for a place with broom trees and playing the glittering stars’”
He also informed Sora that Hikaru never forgot about that promise with her, and it was because of that memory that led him to this place.
“The melody of the Twinkle Twinkle little stars rang during our conversation, so I got Saiga to check if there’s any place with broom trees growing and such a melody playing. Such investigations is this girl’s specialty.”
But the moment Koremitsu mentioned Asai’s name, Sora showed some timidity in her eyes, and her shoulders jerked. After that, she could be seen folding her arms, ostensibly protecting the child within.
And this caused Koremitsu’s chest to ache.
Hikaru’s eyes too became cloudy.
“For a long time, I had no idea what you were thinking. After meeting you for a while, I at least know what sort of a person you are.”
The broom trees rustled, and the forlorn autumn winds swayed fleetingly.
“You are a timid person.”
“Sora, you may appear strong, but that’s not the case.”
While the world was in the golden evening sunset, she became white, pale, increasingly transparent, and everything became so transparent in this vague illusion, to a point where the truth was about to vanish as well.
While Sora continued to lower her head while cupping her tummy, Hikaru continued on sternly as he showed an anguished face,
“You said that promises are hollow because they will never be fulfilled…but the reason why you never made any promises is not because promises are empty, but you are terrified that they may never be fulfilled. You are afraid of waking up from your dreams, and did not dare to dream—that is the kind of feeble person you are.”
“Sora, you’re really a weak, timid person.”
The eye with the mole quivered as Sora’s face contorted. The sealed lips too shuddered, and perhaps she wanted to refute Koremitsu’s claims, yet she could not.
Hikaru too remained anguished as he continued,
“When Asa came to the apartment, you said that you had no right to bear the child because of your little sister. I went to meet the little sister you mentioned, and she was living quite happily. No matter whether it was the bond with her husband, or that she took your place, it was all out of her own will. You did not sell out your little sister, but that your little sister wanted to do so.”
“I met your little sister , Ogina.”
Sora’s eyes widened in shock.
And she lifted her face, looking back at Koremitsu timidly with a pale face like a child waiting to be chided.
“Your little sister’s getting on well with her husband and her family. The baby’s born, and she looks really happy. She told me happily that she loved her husband, and took the initiative on him. Though this led to her being expelled, her husband to lose his job, and your parents to be divorced, but she had no regrets at all.”
Sora averted her eyes, saying,
“Don’t say it.”
She shook her head about, refusing to listen any more.
“Please, stop. Don’t talk about Ogina.”
“You have no reason to harbor guilt over your little sister!”
“You don’t have a reason to apologize to your little sister, Sora!”
Sora’s slender body jerked before she cringed back again. She lowered her head, closed her eyes tightly, and the mole under the eye seemingly became a large tear, not a transparent one, but a black tear of anguish.
“Why must you continued to suffer like that? You did you cut the postcard in half, yet keep it?”
Hikaru said with an adamant voice,
“That is to escape from your guilt.”
“Sora, you used your little sister as an excuse.”
At this moment, Sora still looked utterly devastated as she cringed back, covering her belly with both hands, enduring the pain that was not supposed to be there.
But Hikaru did not stop in his reproach,
“Sora, were you not envious of your little sister’s carefree personality? Perhaps you did like that teacher after all? When you were hesitant, your sister took your place and bonded with the teacher, so you had no choice but to sculpt your sister as a helpless, unfortunate girl. Why is that? That is because you are unable to move forward. You think of the negative no matter what, locked yourself within, restrained yourself, and did not dare to move forward. You did not dare to yearn for happiness. It was the same when you were with me; you could not make a promise because you were scared of it being broken. You refused me whenever I proposed a promise, so in fact, it was impossible for us to head out together, and we did not choose a cup together.”
But even in the fact of these cruel words, Koremitsu tried his best to convey while ostensibly crushed by the lingering pain in his heart.
His eyes widened, his eyebrows raised and his face sear, he yelled with all his might to convey those words to Sora’s heart.,
“Sora, did you not have a crush on that teacher in any case? It’s because you’re too serious, so hesitant on whether you can be in love with that teacher, that your sister took the opportunity and did it with that teacher! Isn’t it because you refused to admit it that you painted your little sister as an unfortunate person? It’s because you can’t give up on everything to get what you want, as what you sister did! Isn’t that the reason why you hate promises because you’re afraid of it betraying you!? That’s why you never made a promise with Hikaru! What you said about going on a trip with Hikaru and choosing a cup with him is all a lie!!”
The broom trees rustled with the wind.
And Sora continued to embrace herself, her face frozen due to despair, her body still in tension.
“But Sora! I really noticed that you really wanted to make a promise with me! You reenacted everything after I died! You pretended to go on a trip with me, chose a cup with me, made love with me, and had my child!”
Yes, that’s really the case, Sora.
You actually want to see the broom tree with Hikaru.
The fantasy Sora swore to keep and protect; Koremitsu’s heart was gripped in anguish as he stared at that place.
—This child encourages me.
—Do you love him?
The sight of Sora placing her hands on her belly, looking satisfied and blissful, was what Hikaru so yearned, the sight of an ideal mother.
“It’s all your wishes, Sora…to go choose a cup together…to go travelling with Sora…you actually wanted to make promises with Hikaru…”
And even the child she protected so lovingly in the belly was…
“Sora, you do not have my child inside.”
“Sora, you’re not pregnant.”
And in the midst of the broom trees, Sora suddenly collapsed to her knees.
Like a puppet with its strings severed, her shoulders sank, and also, her head sank. But even so, Sora continued to hug the belly with her hands, never removing them.
Gently and sadly, Hikaru inquired,
“Hey, Sora, you did notice it before, right?”
“Sora, you already noticed, didn’t you?”
Sora continued to remain silent, her lips firmly sealed.
Both the expression contorted by the mole and the sight of the weakly shivering shoulders caused Koremitsu to be despondent.
Hikaru too was unable to rid himself of the anguish and melancholy in his eyes,
“Perhaps it was a mix of fantasy and the reality that caused you to stubbornly believe that you have a child…at least that was the case before Asa paid a visit…why did you go about spraying fragrances all over the room when Koremitsu and Asa were talking? Why did you cut your hand with the cup? Why did you remain squatted on the tatami, not getting up? You scattered fragrance because you wanted to mask a smell; you cut your hand to cover up a scar, and you were on the floor because you noticed some change in your body.”
With his face frowning, Hikaru continued,
“The blood on the floor was not caused by the one flowing from your hands, but your menstrual blood. The moment you saw it, you realized the baby inside your body did not exist. That was why you panicked, and to cover up this fact, to not make the blood on the tatami obvious, you broke the cup and cut your arm, but that was not enough. That was why you went about scattering your homemade fragrance, yet that could not cause you to relax. You threw all the magazines and baby toys onto the bed, and once you heard Koremitsu returning, you hurriedly got onto the floor. You stubbornly refused when Koremitsu wanted you to stand up and tend to your wounds, and that is because you got blood on your pants, and could not get up. You then vanished..”
Perhaps that was the cause of it all, as Hikaru mentioned.
Koremitsu too did know that there were women who had similar psychological pregnancy symptoms due to wanting to have children.
And surely that was the case with Sora.
When Asai laid bare the reality to Sora, and when the period that had long stopped for months finally dripped, Sora knew.
She knew that she was empty within.
That Hikaru’s child did not exist anywhere.
Koremitsu’s heart was filled with anguish as he wondered about how Sora felt back then, how she embraced the belly that had nothing inside.
Yet he continued to grit his teeth, telling Sora,
“The blood from your cut arm was meant to hide the other blood on the tatami, and the fragrance of green tea and grapefruit, and the reason why you wouldn’t stand up; that’s the reason. You knew the truth, Sora, yet you wouldn’t admit it. That’s why you ran away!”
The night thickened, and in the transparent, cold air, Sora continued to cuddle the belly just like that day, stammering these distressed words,
“B-because, Hikaru never left me with anything…”
Some transparent tears fell from the eyes filled with despair.
The lime green broom trees continued to rustle in the cold breeze. Sora’s thin hair was messy as she bent her slender body, eking out all her strength into her voice as she said,
“I was really shocked when I heard that Mr. Hikaru passed away. How did that pretty, glowing boy die like that? When we first met, I thought I met an angel…he was so pretty, so innocent, and I felt ashamed just being with him…even the fact was that he lived and breathed in a different dimension from me. Basked in the stares of others, beloved by everyone, he was a special person so dazzling…I met him many times near his school, and he was always surrounded by many girls. All of them were so cute, pretty, young and fresh; surely they are all outstanding princesses…that Mr. Hikaru will be a better match for him…perhaps I too can believe Mr. Hikaru’s feelings for me if I’m of the same age as him, pretty, innocent like those girls…but I’m not that kind of girl!!”
Sora’s holler scattered in the white, blurry world, and the branches of the round bush of the broom trees were extended, ostensibly tugged away as they fell to a side. It looked to be shrieking along with her.
“Compared to Mr. Hikaru, I really am just an old aunt. I am not compatible in terms of looks to Mr. Mikado, just a stubborn, unchanging woman who’s stuck reading the bible—I don’t really love God, but everyone says that I’ll be married with him, and yet I’m a woman who can’t refute that. The reason why Mr. Mikado had that spur of interest in me, and that he let my brother pass on this message, is because I’m just avoiding Mr. Mikado. I never made a promise with him, that’s all! I’m just a naive, curious kid chasing an escaping cicada! If I didn’t run away, Mr. Hikaru definitely wouldn’t be chasing me!”
And Sora’s words caused Hikaru’s expression to anguish.
Koremitsu knew that Sora had self-esteem issues with regards to Hikaru.
To all the girls in the world, being proposed by a dazzling prince was a wonderful dream to them.
However, Sora was not a woman who dared to dream.
That was why she was fearful with regards to Hikaru’s love.
How could such a pretty boy actually fall in love with this older, boring woman? Surely it was not his true thoughts, and surely his interest in her would wane, and she would be tragically abandoned.
They were definitely not a match for each other even if they were together. Surely she would feel the distance between them, and she would feel depressed within.
Thus, she definitely would not make promises, never making foolish dreams.
Yes, Sora feared Hikaru.
And not because she feared Hikaru’s feelings, Hikaru’s love.
She feared of letting Hikaru learn that she was a boring woman unworthy to be pursued, so fearful that she could only leave a thin coat of cicada skin behind, escaping.
And she cuddled the empty belly, her pale lips trembling as she shivered,
“But after I learnt of Mr. Hikaru’s death, I recalled the sight in the church, when I found him completely injured, and the comfort I gave him…and I regretted it…no, this surely is just me whitewashing matters. I’m a timid person, giving up immediately when I can’t get what I want, and my heart becomes unbearable, with me wanting to escape this fact. I too was like this with regards to my little sister…why is it that I can’t go shopping with the teacher alone? It was me he invited, and not my sister. My sister’s just taking my place. When they got married and had a child, I couldn’t bless them. I could only think of my sister as one stained by the teacher, a laughing stock of everyone at school, an unfortunate, pitiful girl who got expelled by the school. I really—am ugly.”
And while the broom trees continued to rustle, Sora ruffled her hair as she squatted down. While Koremitsu watched on in anguish as she continued to hurt herself with her words, he thought of Ogina, her little sister.
Ogina was a cheerful, optimistic woman who would boldly say what she wanted, and would do her best to plan for that cause.
Perhaps she was shallow for being expelled from school because her love with her teacher was exposed.
But the way she smiled and declared ‘I have no regrets at all!’ was so cheerful, convicted.
A woman like Ogina probably would not feel intimidated even if her partner was an Arabian millionaire or a European prince.
No matter even if it was a dream that lasted for a night, she would devote her cause to it, play with it, reveal in it, and never feel a single regret about it, narrating it to others as the most wonderful dream she had.
Sora could do none of that.
The more she was allured by the other party, she would first think of the devastation, despair, dark future.
And before that dark future arrived, she would escape first, leaving only a shed skin behind.
And then she would continue to be imprisoned in her escape.
At that moment, if she had accepted him.
At that moment, if she had chosen to move forward.
“You’re right that even with regards to Mr. Hikaru, my mind was a complete blank, and my heart was completely broken, regretful. Tha-that’s why, as you said, I chose a cup with Mr. Hikaru, and went on a trip with him…perhaps all those would happened if I did really accept him…that was my wish that seemed real, but was not. The child too…if Mr. Hikaru had my child…if I could have given birth to Mr. Hikaru’s child…I thought of this every single day, and my period stopped, I found difficulty in eating meat, and I vomited a few times, like morning sickness, and that was when I began believing that I had Mr. Hikaru’s child. This child was growing in my belly, with my blood flowing in him, and surely it would not cause me to hallucinate, and never will it abandon me. It’s a Mr. Mikado that belongs to me. If this child’s to be born, I’ll protect it with all my might, to love him. I can say the words I couldn’t say to Mr. Hikaru, ‘I love you, I really love you. I love you, I really love you.’”
One had to wonder what sort of feelings Hikaru had hearing Sora convey her love.
And Hikaru, standing beside Koremitsu, was wincing, his head lowered as he looked down at the hollow, tragic sight in Sora’s eyes. The breeze rustling the broom trees stroked Hikaru’s hair as he showed a melancholic look.
Sora continued to sob as her voice continued to crack,
“B-but, when Mr. Hikaru’s cousin Miss Saiga said that the baby can’t be born in that cramped apartment, and when she said that the baby has to take a DNA test when born…when she gave me that ‘a crude, boring person like you can’t possibly have Mr. Hikaru’s child’…I felt someone pinching deep within my belly…that something warm was flowing from my buttocks, my thighs…at that moment, I knew that my belly was as empty as my name…I’m just a hollow cicada skin; the one who loved Mr. Hikaru and was pursued by him’s a shrieking cicada, and I’m just the skin that fell onto the floor! I have nothing! Nothing at all!!”
Sora continued to cuddle her empty belly as she lowered her head deeply, her shoulders quivering.
Koremitsu finally understood why did her eyes become that hollow when he mentioned the cicada skins.
When he mentioned the gathered cicada skins blown to the floor and crushed, Sora looked so forlorn.
—Is that so…that’s a pity.
He recalled that day when Sora’s mole looked like an eye, and his heart gripped.
—I’m as empty as the name Sora implies, the shed skin of a cicada.
And he also finally understood why Sora sounded so forlorn in that phone call…
To Sora, who deemed herself the shed husk of a cicada, ‘Hikaru’s child’ was her hope and emotional crutch.
And she lost it.
(Sora right now definitely will have despair in the future. The sights she once he in front of her vanished just like that, leaving behind an endless hole. How am I supposed to deal with this?)
Koremitsu’s mouth secreted an unbearable taste, and he could not find a way to stop Sora’s tears and laments. It was just like the scene when his mother kept apologizing to him, where he could not do anything.
(What am I supposed to do now?)
Sora continued to sob, looking extremely lethargic as she looked around at the rustling broom trees.
Once she awoke from her dream, she was left with the icy reality. Her expression contorted, ostensibly told that the Cypress Hikaru passionately dubbed her was all a fantasy.
“I’m not some legendary Cypress, I’m just a broom tree that can’t be compared to a flower!”
“That is not true! The broom tree is no inferior to the Cypress tree in being a beautiful flower!”
And Hikaru’s yell seemed to be blocking the winds.
The voice contained such intense, agitated emotions, striking Koremitsu’s ears and heart directly, causing him to shout.
“That’s not true! The broom tree’s an outstanding flower itself!”
Sora slowly lifted her lowered head, trails trickling down her face.
“It doesn’t have any petals, no bright colors, just a messy, crude pile of grass. How can such grass be considered flowers?”
Sora’s face could not be seen, but one could see through the blinds of her thin hair the tears that dripped, and the wailing words grazed Koremitsu’s heart, for he knew Sora had no intention of his words.
“You have yet to see the blooming red flowers, the broom tree dyed.”
“Sora, you haven’t seen the broom trees with red leaves on them.”
“Mr. Hikaru did say that, but ever since I came here, I’ve been looking at these trees, and I finally know. No matter how I look at it, the broom tree doesn’t have flowers, just some branches gathered together. Even if it’s autumn and the tree’s dyed red, that’s just it. It’s really disappointing.”
Hikaru’s eyes had all kinds of emotions as he looked at Sora, and with a forceful tone, he said,
“Are you still going to set a safety net for yourself, Sora!? Are you going to determine that the broom tree with red leaves are just some unimpressive, boring flowers…to deny that they are flowers? Now then, I shall show you how wonderful the broom tree is, and that it is no lesser than the legendary Cypress!”
“Stop being depressed at the future that’s yet to come because of that insufficient imagination of yours! I’ll now show you the best broom tree there is! The broom tree that’s no lesser than a Cypress tree!”
“Stand up, Sora!”
“Come with me, Sora!”
And while holding Sora by the right arm, Koremitsu dragged her up.
Sora’s arm left her empty belly, and her knees straightened with ease.
With tears covering her face, Sora looked up at Koremitsu timidly. She flailed her arms, stamped her feet and continued to struggle, trying to escape Koremitsu’s hands.
“I’m not letting you get away!”
Koremitsu widened his eyes, yelling.
That voice and expression startled Sora, her shoulders jerked as she was unable to say anything.
With determination not to let go of her, Koremitsu held Sora’s arm firmly as he moved forth to where Hikaru was headed.
Hikaru’s eyes were as adamant as ever, looking poignant and more masculine than usual. He floated in the air, continuing to move towards the hill of broom trees. The breeze blowing by caused his soft hair to flow towards the back.
And behind him was Koremitsu’s quick steps.
And Sora, held in Koremitsu’s arm, was behind him, breathless.
They arrived at the top of the hill, and upon looking back, the sunset that yet had to fully descend gave off a dazzling light, shining upon Koremitsu and Sora’s eyes.
And Hikaru’s cheerful voice rang,
“Have a look, Sora.”
Both Koremitsu and Sora narrowed their eyes in unison due to the light that was too dazzling.
The sun was slowly setting on the other end of the trail of hills, and the broom trees growing upon them gave off a phantasmic, faint red color.
That place was dyed a dazzling gold and hue of red, resembling a paradise in the heavens.
Majestic, riveting, cute, a reverie.
The flowers dyed in the red hue extended their leaves in the accompanying breeze.
And Sora, right beside Koremitsu, widened her eyes, watching this scenery breathlessly.
And basked in this dazzling light, Hikaru too was dyed a faint red along with the broom trees.
With his rich, sweet voice, he said,
“The broom tree has the same name as the legendary Cypress, that one cannot see its true beauty if approached too closely. That is why it has to be seen from far. Hey, this is a beautiful ‘flower’ is it not? It really is an impressive ‘flower’, is it not? As with the autumn air, the green flowers will be dyed a light paint like the faces of girls in love, and the advancement of the months will cause this delicate pink to slowly become a refreshing, passionate red. The magnificently refreshing green broom tree is slowly morphed by the early autumn into a faint red, and one cannot help but gasp and amaze at how adorable it is, how much of a masterpiece it is. The flowers of a broom tree may never bloom, and perhaps they are just some crude, unimpressive flowers. The broom tree itself however is a ‘flower’. You said that a green broom tree is not impressive, no Sora? No other ‘flower’ can sweep away the bitterness in a person’s heart like it can. Rich and beautiful, one can obtain a peace of mind growing such a plant in the garden. It really is an outstanding flower.”
Hikaru’s tone revealed his longing and love for Sora.
One had to wonder how much Hikaru actually loved Sora.
And with added power and emotions, Koremitsu conveyed Hikaru’s words to Sora.
“You see, this thing’s really breathtakingly beautiful, right? If you get too close to it, the broom tree’s just like a simple, rich bunch of branches and leaves, but if you look at it from far away, it’s really a magnificent ‘flower’, Hikaru once told me with such passion on his face that even a green broom tree dyed with the color of autumn can cause one to feel at peace, and anything that feels hazy in the heart can be swept away by this broom tree!”
And after hearing Koremitsu’s words, Sora remained unmoved as she stared at the faint red grove of broom trees, tears seeping from her eyes.
“Sora, perhaps I could not see your true self as I was trying too hard to pursue. Perhaps you were a broom tree more than being a Cypress. However, after looking at you clearly, I can loudly state that no matter whether you are like the Cypress or the broom tree, I really love you!”
His eyes cheerful, Hikaru professed these words with conviction.
And Koremitsu yelled with all his might,
“No matter whether you’re the legendary Cypress or not, you’re a wonderful woman, Sora! You’re an outstanding flower, like the broom tree with this color here!”
Sora’s hands were no longer resting on her abdomen, naturally dropped to the sides.
Surely she moved her quivering lips for her emotions were about to overflow.
And Hikaru embraced Sora’s shoulders, saying softly, ostensibly wringing out her courage,
“Sora, you are the outstanding flower that enthralled me within. A beautiful, wonderful person like you cannot possibly have a dream you cannot have fulfilled.”
Hikaru’s voice could not possibly reach Sora; however, Sora seemed to hear it on the hill dyed red by the sunset, and she raised her eyebrows, looking at Koremitsu with bated breath.
“Make a wish, Sora.’
“Say your wish, Sora.”
“Do not think of a bad future. Do not run away, and say your wish.”
“I’ll tell you that your wish will definitely be fulfilled.”
Her eyebrows dropped, and her lips quivered as she lifted her head at Koremitsu, tears glittering in her eyes,
“I wish to say goodbye…to Mr. Hikaru.”
♢ ♢ ♢
The next day,
Sora had a sky-colored cardigan over her her shirt, waiting for the wish to be fulfilled under the sunset at the main entrance plaza of her college campus. The hem of the skirt could drift in the air, and there was a transparent cloth on her skirt, ruffling.
Koremitsu stood by the doors, anxiously checking the time.
It was to be the time of the promise.
With trusting eyes, Hikaru whispered.
“Please help fulfill Sora’s wish.”
“Leave it to me.”
Koremitsu answered with a deep voice, and strode forth.
While the students wandering around the plaza stopped in their tracks, muttering away, Sora too turned to where the commotion was.
There was a boy with messy red hair and a sharp expression dressed in high school uniform, his back slouched and eyes raised as he approached Sora.
The crowd was staring at the boy in amazement, whether it was due to that red hair, or that he was dressed in a suit, appearing in this college campus.
The students naturally parted to the side, forming a path in front of Sora and the boy.
Both Sora and the boy walked down that path leisurely, shortening the distance between each other.
The boy pouted his lips unhappily, surely because he was finding it awkward to be in the school, and got tense due to the surrounding stares. Looking at how desperate he was, Sora’s lips showed a smile.
That boy, Hikaru’s friend, pulled Sora towards himself and carried her up.
That scene was akin to a scene in a drama.
The thin, firm, boyish arms lifted Sora’s slender body with much strength.
And while everyone was looking, Sora too raised her toes, reached her arms out, and latched herself around the boy’s neck, embracing him back with all her might.
And the startled stares assaulted them.
However, Sora still showed no fear. At this time and place, she certainly was the heroine with the biggest shine upon her.
At this point, she would be bidding the best farewell person to her beloved.
Yes, the best, blissful farewell possible.
“Farewell, Mr. Hikaru.”
And with the vibrant array of emotions contained in this soft whisper, Sora moved her lips, almost touching the boy’s, and the boy, Hikaru’s friend, froze still, seeming a little hesitant, blushing all over.
However, he did not push Sora aside; instead, he embraced Sora’s body forcefully, rendering both almost breathless.
Hikaru’s representative was gentle.
And he fulfilled her promise with Hikaru.
Sora was no longer the shed skin.
Sora’s name no longer meant the ‘hollow’, but the endless blue ‘sky’.
To become greedy, she would have to make new wishes.
And even if there were things robbing her, no matter whether there were things unable to be fulfilled, she would no longer remain rooted, and no longer cup her head and scurry.
When things were not going well, she would not fear pain and farewell, enjoy a little hurt, and bid farewell properly.
The hope that vanished could be replenished with new hope.
She would fill her heart with dazzling memories.
She would put on pretty clothes, wear high heels, let her hair down, and walk out of the door.
Once Sora released the strength from her arms, Hikaru’s friend too let his arms loose.
And both of them remained silent as they head off in different directions.
“Farewell, Sora. Thank you for saving me twice.
Hikaru’s rich words appeared to reach Sora’s ears in this sweet golden mist of the sunset, as the latter’s skirt fluttered, her thin hair swaying as she strode off cheerfully.
♢ ♢ ♢
The street lights began to light on the way back home.
And at the street near his house, Koremitsu spotted an unexpected person, stopping in his tracks.
Aoi looked up at Koremitsu, looking bashful and worried.
“Sorry, but I was worried about you, Mr Akagi…”
It seemed Aoi was worried for Koremitsu after their visit to Sora’s little sister, and Koremitsu ran out screaming. Realizing this, Koremitsu’s heart tightened.
He did send a message to Aoi before, but he never apologized.
“Sorry about what happened before. I ran off on my own.”
“No, that is alright.”
Apparently, Aoi was more worried about Koremitsu doing such a thing rather than herself being abandoned, and seemed afraid of Koremitsu suddenly turning to run away. She kept frowning, staring right at him.
Due to the overly direct stare filled with all her vigor, Koremitsu felt a lot feeble, depressed.
(Nso it’s not just Shikibu. I even worried Aoi.)
Back then, Koremitsu was always alone.
Whenever he did something, he did not have to consider what others would think, and never did he made anyone like Aoi worry for him.
(But now, I’m…)
At this point, Koremitsu knew that ever since he met Hikaru, after getting involved with many diffierent people, his actions would cause others around him, unnerving them.
So whenever Koremitsu wanted to say or do something, he could not simply thijnk about his own matters, but also the people around him.
But though that was his thought, Koremitsu could not do it fully. It was fine for him however to take every single step, and slowly becoming strong yet gentle.
And Hikaru, standing right beside him, watched over Koremitsu and Aoi tenderly.
“Thanks for coming…but I’m fine now.”
Koremitsu too looked back at Aoi with the same honest expression, and answered seriously. Perhaps , he matured a lot more compared to how he was at the beginning.
“About Hikaru’s kid, and Sora…I managed to settle them.”
After that, Aoi’s shouilder could be seen jerking slightly.
“…I’ll tell you the rest later.”
Yes. And Aoi nodded, whispering.
“Where’s your car, Aoi?”
“I came alone.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
“I wanted to do this.”
It seemed Aoi matured a lot more than how she was 3 days ago, giving Koremitsu a somewhat matured look.
While Koremitsu was skeptical about Aoi’s change, “It’s dark now. I’ll send you back.” and just when he blushed, saying that.
Koremitsu spotted a petite woman standing quietly in front of his house.
There was a 1st grade boy standing beside him, and her unreliable, frail shoulders were shivering as she held onto that boy’s hand. Her face again looked ready to break into tears, looking straight at Koremitsu with guilt in her eyes.
Aoi too noticed at the the woman was the same as the one they met at the shop Sora’s sister was working at, and she too cringed nervously as she stood beside Koremitsu.
Koremitu frowned hard, causing his face to stiffen as he continued to look at his mother.
(Why…why do you have to come? You said you don’t know me, and you’re giving that teary face. Are you going to say sorry to me again?)
The inside of his throat became bitter as his body ached all over. His mind was boiling hot.
He was so infuriated, so vengeful, and his clenched fists were quivering. However, rising up his heart was not rage, but the desire for his mother in his childhood.
This person never loved him.
She did not fine him cute, and she did not know how to love him. She just kept crying and complaining to Koharu, sobbing away and apologizing to her son, repenting over and over again…and she’s so thin and lethargic as a result. And then as a result, she abandoned her duties as a mother, leaving Koremitsu as she left home.
She was such a feeble, despicable mother, so cruel, so inept as a mother…
(But I like this mom.)
He hope she could smile and turn back to look at him.
He loved his mother, and thus, he hoped she would be able to stop crying, and tell her ‘I’ll protect you, so please stop crying’.
After his mother left him, Koremitsu was obsessed about not getting any love from her. His eyes are so savage, and he was just a brat, not cute at all. He could not smile even after pulling faces. That was why mom worked so hard, and suffered so much. No matter how she cried, he could not make her love me.
It was like Sora who said that she was the shed skin of a cicada, saying that she was just a boring woman, not a match for Hikaru, and despaired over it. Pondering hard over it, Koremitsu too struggled and brooded over it, before finally giving up.
However, was not what he really needed was not to be loved, but to love others?
Koremitsu repeated the words Hiina said in his heart.
—If there is a choice to be loved by others or to love others, I’ll definitely choose the latter,
—Because I’ll be happier this way.
She concluded with a sweet smile.
She was a family member who could not profess her love for her beloved brother, but if she really had a blood relation with that sort of an outstanding person…it was fine for her to simply be with him, so blissful that she would be rendered breathless.
(I really, really love her.)
His hatred and rage were no longer within him.
The burning sensation surging his throat continualy lingered there, and that was left.
The more important things were, the more likely it would be impossible to see them after being too close.
And thus, he would pray to be loved, to be treated gently. When all that became impossible, and when he despaired, the more he could not see what was important to him, and he remained in the darkness of the hole, lost within himself.
But after separating, he finally understood, and finally saw it.
(I want mom to be able to smile.)
While they separated, he kept wondering if his mother was berating and torturing herself. Whenever he thought of how his mother was crying, his heart was in so much hurt it felt it was going to split.
The boy holding the mother’s hands had a blue felt bear tied to the bag slung diagonally, and it dangled in the air.
“Mama, I’m hungry. Let’s go back.”
And he looked at his mother, smiling innocently.
(Ahh, looks like that guy’s able to smile properly.)
That was an unrestrained smile that firmly believed in the mother, and Koremitsu felt conflicted emotions all over.
Thank goodness, mom’s definitely able to smile properly in front of him.
Surely she loved him well.
And lived on happily.
Thus, Koremitsu’s brother was holding his mother’s hand firmly, giving a big grin.
That little thing alone caused Koremitsu such unmatched happiness.
The happiness accompanied the surging tears, causing the throat and eyes to feel spicy and painful.
Mom, you don’t have to show such a crying face again.
You don’t have to show guilt for me again, or suffer because of me.
Even if we don’t meet again, even if you’re never able to love me, I’ll continue to love you forever, mom. As long as you remain happy and smiling.
Go get your happiness.
Go smile brightly,
And never show any hatred or despair. That was his only wish from the bottom of his heart.
The voice was stuck in his throat, and he was unable to convey it into words.
And so, he gathered his strength in his mouth, trying his best to raise his lips.
And he realized Aoi beside him was watching, startled.
She was watching him look at his mother, looking ready to break into tears, and suddenly widened her eyes, before she looked ready to break into tears again.
I really love you, mom. Really.
Am I smiling now?
Did my feelings reach you?
The facial muscles he forcefully lifted were numb. Tears fell as he exerted too much strength.
But he was smile.
For the one important to him.
What else was he supposed to do other than to smile?
(I’m fine here. Even if mom isn’t around, I’ll continue to smile and live properly. I made friends.)
Koremitsu continued to snivel and smile.
And slender fingers quietly grabbed Koremitsu’s frozen stiff hand.
It was Aoi.
And in response to that warm, tender hand, Koremitsu instinctively grabbed it back.
His mom frowned hard, tears forming in her eyes as her lips moved. However, the words could not be formed as she simply lowered her head deeply, very deeply.
“What’s the matter, mama? Why’s that big brother crying and smiling? Why are you crying too, mama?”
And while the boy felt inexplicably skeptical, his mother patted his head to calm down, held his hand, and turned to leave.
The street lights shone on his mother’s slender back.
He would no longer pray for that back to turn.
Replacing that was a prayer, that his mother would continue to be happy and smile with that boy with her.
And a slender figure, accompanied by a small figure, slowly vanished into the other end of the street lights.
Aoi’s hand, which he was holding so firmly to, was so warm, and the tears sliding down his face felt so warm.
Koremitsu held Aoi’s hand with his own trembling hand, and Aoi tightened her grip on his hand.
Their hearts were trembling in unison.
If one were to notice, Hikaru too was watching over the duo with a tragic, beautiful smile at that point.
♢ ♢ ♢
Koremitsu, do you know about the ‘starry time’?
In his story ‘Momo’, Michael Ende mentioned that,
“At certain junctures in the course of existence, unique moments occur when everyone and everything, even the most distant stars, combine to bring about something that could not have happened before and will never happen again.”
This special instance is truly a miracle.
To me, Sora was that sort of a person.
When I was in such unbearable pain, she miraculously appeared in front of me, giving me a hug..
There was the one I admired, the one I could not get.
There was the one so distant from me.
And the one who purified me from such despair and pain was Sora.
At that moment, the one who embraced me and redeemed me was Sora.
I viewed her as being too sacred, and neglected the delicate parts of Sora as a female. It is because of my neglect that Sora kept suffering, and left you much tragic memories.
Perhaps the more important that thing is, the more people dared not to look straight at it.
But even after knowing that Sora is so feeble, so timid, I still find her cute.
No, perhaps it is because I witnessed her weakness that I became increasingly in love with her.
I suppose others too were attracted not only by her will and beauty, but also by her weakness.
Humans are supposed to be weak, who need others to lend them a hand.
Back then, Miss Aoi held your hand firmly, and you held back hers.
At that moment, did the stars in your hearts not mee?
Stars resonate with each other, letting out a pretty, crisp sound. Did that not cause your heart to tremble?
Even if that emotion was for just a fleeting moment, it was a special moment, truly unforgettable.
Back then, when I saw both of you supporting each other…
Surely both of us will slowly change.
Surely there is not a lot of time for me to stay on this Earth.
Right now, I can be certain that like the changing positions of the stars, all sorts of changes will occur.
You smiled for the one important to you.
That smile showed your thoughts for your mother, so brave, so tender, a warm, determined smile.
The practice finally paid off.
Truly, it was a heartfelt smile, and if I had a physical body, I would surely embrace you, praising you, telling you it really is a good job.
After many years, your mother will be redeemed thinking about your smile.
And you too will continue to change, continue to grow.
After 10 years, who will be standing by your side?
No matter who stands beside you.
No matter who stands beside Miss Aoi.
I shall love both of you from the skies above.