Just as instructed, Homura went to wait in front of the door to the staff room right after Modern Japanese class ended, and soon afterwards, Professor Fujimori appeared in front of her.
Instead of her usual jeans, Fujimori was wearing a suit.
The tight skirt she wore suited her well, making her look like a skilled teacher.
“Sensei… are you going out job hunting?”
Fujimori’s face twitched at Homura’s joking comment.
“Go ahead and laugh if you want.”
“No, no, you look wonderful. It looks cute on you. I really admire you.”
“I’m begging you, please just laugh already.”
“If you always taught lessons looking like that, I wouldn’t doze off in class.”
“You… And after I overlooked your actions so many times…”
As Homura tried to head off towards the school gates, Fujimori stopped her while wincing in pain at having to wear pumps. Normally she wore boots.
“We’re heading to the parking lot.”
“Ah, we’re taking your car? Based on your image, you seem like you’d have a jet-black, leather-covered Harley-Davidson. Like, you’d hold a shotgun in one hand and shoot with a bang as you do a rapid turn!”
“No such execution teacher exists.”
The two of them arrived at the parking lot. The car they got into was a Mini-Cooper.
Fujimori took out a pair of driving glasses from the glove compartment and put them on, her image doing a job change from a skilled teacher to a secretary.
While putting on her seatbelt in the passenger seat, Homura spoke up.
“I didn’t think you would come help persuade my parents, sensei.”
“We made a promise, after all. You got the proper results, though it was a boxed lunch whose taste practically broke the rules…”
Homura noisily protested against the unnecessary comment Fujimori added at the end.
Smiling, Fujimori turned on the Mini-Cooper and drove off.
Their destination was the Hinooka household.
“This time, it’s my turn to act.”
Earlier that day, Fujimori had called the house and asked when would be a convenient day for her to visit, and Homura’s mother had readily agreed to do it today. After getting a call about it from her, Homura’s father had hurried his return home and was in the midst of driving home while fretting.
As they passed by the sports club members who were running around the school, Fujimori asked Homura a question.
“Are you continuing your morning training?”
“Somehow. Lately, the training menu has been getting more flexible.”
“Touya really is good at looking after others.”
“No, I was completely fooled by him. My pride has been shredded to pieces!”
“What are you going on about?”
“If he’s been watching a great beauty like Misasagi-senpai from close up every day, then of course his usual feelings towards girls would be numbed! Right!?”
“I get it. Before you start the Exploration Club’s training, I’m going to beat you into shape starting from that over-self-consciousness of yours.”
“Hah!? That’s too cruel!”
The Mini-Cooper got on the main road and accelerated.
Having leaned her body forward as she protested, Homura had her head slammed against her seat with a bang.
As they drove, Western music from FM Radio played through the car.
After looking curiously at the car’s manual shift which she had rarely seen, Homura now wore a meek expression as she asked a new question.
“About Touya-kun’s sister…”
“Yeah, it’s true. She’s dead.”
Having guessed Homura’s question, Fujimori immediately answered.
“How about you ask him about it yourself? He’d probably tell you without paying it any mind.”
“No, that’s a bit…”
To Homura, Fujimori was about the only person she could ask about the circumstances.
“Was it from… an illness?”
“……It happened… about nine years ago.”
Fujimori turned down the volume of the radio.
“Do you remember the Oosumi Incident?”
Homura frowned as she felt anxiety rise back up within her.
“I remember the gist of it.”
Fujimori silently nodded.
Even if she had no concrete memories of it, the heavy feelings associated with it still lurked within Homura’s chest. It was an accident that had carved great fear into local children and parents.
Even Homura, who hadn’t been well-informed about it, was no different.
“He was a first year elementary school student at the time. His sister was a sixth year student at the same school as him.”
One year after the photo of the two of them in Touya’s room was taken—
“The culprit, who lived nearby, invaded the school. It seems his sister was killed right in front of his eyes.”
“The culprit was arrested on site. Two children died. A teacher was also gravely injured.”
Touya’s older sister was one of the victims from the incident.
She might have tried to protect the young Touya with her small body…
When she thought that, Homura’s eyes heated up and she hung her head as the light of the setting sun through the window suddenly felt too bright.
“…What happened to the culprit after he was caught?”
“He was diagnosed as being of unsound mind and wasn’t prosecuted. Apparently he acted out of a grudge towards his parents and the middle school that was the cause of him being a shut-in.”
“Isn’t that completely unrelated to those elementary school children?”
“Yeah. It’s completely unrelated. That’s why it was so painful.”
Homura had no words to say.
“Touya apparently started kendo after that incident. He probably thought about it while he was a kid.”
Suddenly, Fujimori sighed as she loosened her shoulders.
“…And that’s everything that I heard from his father.”
“What, so you didn’t ask him directly either then, sensei.”
Hearing about losing one’s family made Homura remember that woman whose child had been abducted. For how many years had her sorrow continued without healing or having a clear target to aim her anger at?
Whether she had a target to be angry at or not, it was probably painful either way. But was the sorrow of parting without a clear end lighter than the pain of a certain death?
Unable to choose her words well, Homura asked Fujimori that vague question.
“—Anger without an outlet, huh? It’s difficult to compare the depth of different people’s sorrow.”
“I suppose so…”
“It differs for every person. There are people who get so depressed that it harms their health when their pet goldfish dies, and there are also those who don’t shed a single tear even when their own child dies.”
Causes of death were not limited to just accidents or crimes, but included illness and even old age. But even if that was common sense, people couldn’t easily agree with it.
“But, what is clear is—we have no choice but to move forward.”
“That’s true. We have to work hard as the people left behind,” Homura strongly agreed as she clenched her fist slightly.
Hearing Homura say that, Fujimori raised an eyebrow and looked at her with a sharp gaze.
“Were you left behind?”
“No, I’m sorry for asking something so insensitive, but… you’re saying the dead left for the [other side]?”
“That… might not be quite right, but they… did go somewhere we don’t know.”
“I see. Putting it that way, dying might not be all that bad.”
Of course, it was clear that Fujimori did not actually think that way.
Fujimori gripped the steering wheel while looking far off into the scenery through the front window, looking like a sailor gripping the wheel at a ship’s helm to Homura.
“Somewhere we don’t know, huh? That stretches out before the eyes of those of us who live in the now. All the way out to infinity.”
“…Those are the words of Vasco da Gama, right?”
“Then Admiral Perry, who compelled Japan to open its borders?”
“Wrong. They’re the words of Fujimori Chiayu, yours truly. You’re really fussy, you know?”
Fujimori waved her left hand angrily to hide her embarrassment.
“Chiayu? Chiayu-chan? That’s your first name, sensei?”
Homura smirked at the cute ring of it.
“What, that’s much cuter than a nickname like Mori-chan! I’ll have to tell Touya-kun later.”
“If you call me Chiayu-chan, I’ll smack you.”
Having dug her own hole again, Fujimori slumped and rested her head against the steering wheel.
“Ah, that’s right, there’s one thing I’d like to ask.”
“What, another question? Damn it, your house is far!”
“This is the last one, really. Umm, it’s about Fujimori Ameno…-san?”
“So you finally brought that up.”
Fujimori glared ahead with stern eyes.
“Could you tell me about her already? People have been gossiping about her ever since the Shinryoku Festival.”
Homura herself had mostly heard about it from her classmates, but apparently the mysterious beautiful girl who was disqualified from the [Yamato Nadeshiko Contest] hadn’t appeared at school ever since, remaining unidentified.
Fujimori, who seemed to be the only one who knew the circumstances around her, had been running around avoiding being asked about it by the students as well.
Now that Homura was hounding her inside the car with no escape available, Fujimori finally spoke frankly about it while heaving a long, resigned sigh.
“Ameno is a freeloader staying at my place. As a result, I’ve temporarily registered her as part of my family.”
“I-I-Is she your illegitimate child!?”
“Hah, I thought you’d say that. No, she’s not. And she isn’t a sister born from a different mother either! Don’t spread weird rumors.”
“But would you really register a complete stranger as part of your family? Rather, is that something you can just rent out temporarily in the first place? Is she a member of the Exploration Club?”
“What makes you think that?”
“Touya-kun seemed to know about her too.”
“You’ve really come to understand that that boy can’t hide anything.”
“And besides, a certain person said that there were ‘three’ club members before.”
She didn’t reveal that Rokujizou was the one who had said it. Back then, Homura had simply felt that there was something that shouldn’t be touched upon in her gaze. Now though, Homura’s curiosity won over.
Fujimori wore a complicated expression as she fell silent.
“I’d like to meet Ame-chan, though.”
“She seems interesting.”
“She’s a huge bother for me, as the one forced to be her guardian, though… Ah, unfortunately, she’s not a formal member. She’s still a provisional club member, and right now she’s in main… convalescence. You’ll get the chance to meet her eventually.”
Fujimori silently glared at Homura, implicitly saying, “Don’t ask any further.”
After driving through a residential area, the car arrived at Homura’s house.
Her father’s car wasn’t in the house’s garage yet.
He would probably arrive here shortly.
“Come on, general. The stronghold is virtually empty.”
“All right, let’s march in.”
Fujimori took out from the back seat a cake she had bought as a present on the way here.
“If you’re going to prostrate for permission, shouldn’t you do it Japanese style?”
“I’m not going to prostrate. I didn’t come here to take you as my wife.”
Homura’s mother came out from the front door.
Fujimori corrected her posture and greeted her courteously, every bit the ideal teacher.
…Well, in terms of appearance, at least.
With this, there was hope of making her father, who had been persistently objecting to Homura joining the club, capitulate. With the guidance of her mother sitting beside him, their success was even more certain.
Turning to face her younger sister, who was looking down from the second-story veranda to see what was going on, Homura was already showing a victory sign to her.
Chapter 8 END