Unavoidably came summer.
The strong sunlight makes you squint reflexively.
A fresh green scent flows out from the woods.
If you walk down the streets, it would seem that a summer in Japan is essentially a whirl of heat and humidity, but that urban hustle has no connection with this school located deep in the mountains. Seeming a bit too much like a scene from a summer resort, a great morning debuted.
This modern prison, or rather, school – which can even make a weeping child separated from everyday life to start feeling doubtful – is the Reien Girls College. An all-weather bastion that runs on self-motivation and little excitement, meant for those young women of high pedigree, gradually becoming a rare breed.
“Seo, you’ve been here since middle school? You’ve seriously lived like this for three years?! …Well, I guess I’ll be living here too starting this year. But seriously, what do you guys think?”
And so forth, coming from the tired and worrying face of Naomi-chan, having been admitted here from the senior high department Like her, most of the new entrants were despairing over Reien’s strict regulations.
The basis of Reien is a boarding system. Forget about leaving school grounds, even in the dormitories, going next door to hang out must be thoroughly reported. Half of the day in the classroom, the other half in the dormitories; this merciless managerial system makes day-to-day living difficult for those who like to have their fun.
The ones who suffer are doubtless those already in an enviable position gifted with freedom. Spending half your day in a room fit for a princess, having a cup of tea brewed by a stylish steward, saying stuff like, ‘oh dear, Gravetaker (8-year-old golden retriever) is quite a bother to the guests,’ and laughing like so: “oh ho ho ho.”
The rich and the famous, we have both here. Between the two you have those who, well, just followed through on their interests regardless of pedigree or financial flexibility and, before you know it, became rich men.
The house of Seo, famous in Hokuriku for our wine cellar, is that sort of troubling people.
As a well-established store with over two hundred years of history, these wine-brewing fiends have a severity which can be matched by the coldness of winter. Anyone who is useful or has a hand free will be worked hard. I’ve been on friendly terms with alcohol since childhood, so I can confidently say I won’t lose to anyone at Reien in holding my liquor, though actually saying that will land me a one-week correction course for sure, but anyway. Before I came to Reien I had no such thing as free time. Oh, how nice it would be to spend some time with a hobby, even if there was no one else in the house. That dream continued every day; maybe the wish was granted, though I now spend half a day caged in my room, so it’s just the sa– well actually, by sitting at this desk, I have finally obtained sweet freedom!
On top of that, my room is a leftover from Class A, so for now I have no roommate. All by myself in a room meant for two! My own room! This is important, I have to say it twice! Basically, as long as I take care around the Sister, I can stay in this most ideal, hidden environment.
…Well, while personal problems do occasionally fall into this ideal Reien Girls College life, I am usually cheerful.
Usually. I stepped down the dormitory hall with a sigh, the Sister having summoned me.
From one side of the long hall came bright sunlight.
I passed through the old, creaking wooden hall with melancholy. Not because I’m heavy, but because of the luggage I’m carrying.
“Seo Shizune of 1-A. Your father has contacted you and is on hold, please come to the office on the first floor -”
My shoulders dropped when that PM echoed through the dormitory.
Rather than melancholy, maybe it’s more resignation, “so it really did end up like this,” that sort of disappointment.
Here we go – and getting a better grip on the bag, I walked down that empty summer hallway.
A morning from a barely-begun August. And so, with no forewarnings, I had a conversation with my parents.
It went something like: ‘We know we promised to let you stay at Reien for summer vacation this year, but your father changed his mind, so come back before the end of this week.’ To something so incredibly tyrannic, having to go against my own wishes to meet my father’s expectations, for once I wanted to say, with a voice dripping with dissatisfaction, ‘Father can drown in wine-making Hell’; understanding this, I reached a personal agreement, and handed the receiver back to the Sister.
“Seo-san, are you going home?”
“Yes, it seems the arrangements have changed. Sorry for your troubles.”
“No no. This is troubling for Seo-san as well. You need time to prepare -”
The famously cool-headed Sister Einbach stared blankly at around my feet.
My Boston bag, packed with luggage, sat there, as I promptly submitted my filled-in Summer Departure form.
“You surprise me, Seo-san. To have prepared so thoroughly…”
“Not at all. That’s the only thing I’m good at.”
‘Excuse me,’ and after a curtsey for the Sister, I relocated to the lounge.
The salon is the only place in the dormitory where students can talk privately. Gathering here to chat for an hour is the only entertainment in Reien. Of course, with the Sister standing next to the door, you can’t just come and go as you please.
As it is still a summer vacation morning, the Sister is nowhere to be seen. Over half the students have gone home, so the Sisters are probably taking a break, too.
“…Geez, still thirty minutes till the next bus…”
Even the bus schedule is lying to me.
August 3rd, a Monday. I should stay until Obon, but oh well. I know better than anyone that disobeying them is pointless.
After all, I’ve been trying to find some possible error with this resulting future since last night.
“Ah. There’s a lazy cat on the sofa. What are you doing here, Seo? Sure is nice to be able to go right back to sleep in the morning without a care.”
I raise my sunken, languid body from the sofa.
It was Naomi-chan, anarchistically disposed yet a diligent student, coming from the study room next door. The tea in the study room is free but it’s delicious, or something. A high-spirited girl who, bored with Reien’s dorm lifestyle, enjoys life in her own special way.
“Correction, I guess Seo is more like a dog than a cat. Anyway, what’re you doing here, really? Waiting for someone?”
“That be not the case. At this time, I am returning to my familial home.”
So I said with a gloomy sigh.
Naomi-chan, who I’ve told the gist of what the Seo family is like, griefed as though praying to the heavens.
“Seriously? That’s terrible, you wanted to go to the beach so badly, too! Can’t you just stay there for a day then leave?”
It’s because I can’t just leave the house that I’m a lazy cat on the sofa.
And Naomi-chan misunderstood something. The thing I’m looking forward to isn’t the summer sea, with swimsuits or sandy beaches or yakisoba, which completely clashes with the empty, greenless seaside.
“You really are depressed, aren’t you? Why don’t you try running away? You can do a fund-raising if you need money, and besides, you can just ignore what your parents are saying. This place would be really lonely without you, Seo. Look, can’t you just say to your dad that you’re sick, or you have a promise to keep, or something?”
Unfortunately, there is no lie that would work on my father.
The view I saw was one of Seo Shizune, crying in the middle of the workshop stinking of alcohol, wearing clogs and getting along dandy with the brewing rice. Once I saw that, I knew that the general outline can’t be changed. At most, I can come back to the dormitory one or two days early.
“It’s fine. Really, I just don’t care anymore.”
I sank back down on the sofa.
As though she couldn’t just leave the lazy cat – or to her, the lazy dog – alone, Naomi-chan sighed and sat down in a chair close by.
“You sure give up easily, even though you’re not the type to think ahead, Seo… well, once you’re like this, you’ll just ignore whatever I say. Are you leaving on the next bus?”
“If I don’t hurry, I’ll get home really late. By the way, Naomi-chan, is it coffee today?”
“Hmm? Um, it’s tea. Why?”
“No reason. I don’t know why I asked.”
Naomi-chan nodded her head to the side in confusion, and she’s not the only one. I sometimes ask about pointless, meaningless things. It’s been a bad habit since childhood, but it’s never gotten any better.
“Anyway, if you’ll be lonely by yourself, can’t you just go home too? You live in Hong Kong, right? Sounds fun.”
“I’m not the same as you. I didn’t sign up to leave, it’s just too normal. Anyway, this is a good opportunity for Father, so I’ll just head right into a lecture on proper upbringings.”
She shrugged with a sigh.
Naomi-chan’s dislike for Reien’s regulations is exceeded by her dislike of her own father. From my perspective, they seem to the type who get along by arguing, but in any case, she listens to her father’s words and heads in the opposite direction.
For someone like Naomi-chan to return home, it’s all about condition, condition, condition –
Having said that, she will leave the dormitory behind four days later, turning her bleached hair back to normal out of a sense of respect.
Leaving, because her ■■ brother was ■■.
Carrying a single bag, she left the dormitory quickly.
Without her makeup, no matter how you looked, she was an unembarrassed young lady, full of elegance.
What I heard and what I’m hearing.
What I saw and what I’m seeing, slowly coincided.
As I held back the inhuman sense of vertigo, Naomi-chan, hair still bleached, gave a painful smile.
“Thanks to the newcomer, my ranking dropped. Even if I can’t make the top, if I don’t at least get in the best three the Sisters will get annoying. I’m really studying hard, you know.”
Naomi-chan’s test scores keep the Sisters – or for that matter, the entire school – quiet about her bad behaviour. The one who was endangering her was a newcomer who was admitted in the last days of June. I don’t know her name, and besides, she’s in a different class, so I haven’t even seen her before. Though I’ve heard that she’s ‘difficult’.
“The newcomer, you mean the one who got the top place in the nationals? Why did someone like her enroll in a place like this?”
“Who knows. Apparently, she really wanted it. She was originally from Nagano. Though she’s still living in the dorm mistress’ room because of how sudden it was.”
Maybe it’s because I haven’t met her directly, but I hadn’t picked up on any of this… a flawless girl like that who is impervious to rumours, and a fake princess like me, are probably destined to never meet until never.
“Oh, by the way. Are you going home wearing your uniform, Seo? Why don’t you change into something casual?”
“…It’s fine. I don’t have any other clothes. My father never sent me any.”
As though I was so miserable to look at that she could no longer endure it, Naomi-chan jumped off the chair with a shocked face.
“You should’ve said that earlier, idiot! I’ll give you some of my clothes, here!”
She pulled me away from the lounge.
Of course, as expected of Naomi-chan,
“That’s that, and this is this. I’ll lend you the clothes, so there’re a few things I want you to buy for me.”
‘Here’s the money,’ and Naomi-chan gives me ten-thousand yen.
I think she means it’s okay to spend the change.
Naomi-chan gave me the album title of an overseas band, the name of which alone would cause the Sister to faint. It’s about a Rank A on the list of Reien’s smuggled goods, but the condition of trade is pretty good.
“Well, all right. Though it’s probably pointless.”
“Why? The Sister is nice with you. She won’t check your luggage.”
“Um, it’s not that… but whatever. I like that band anyway.”
That’s just how lavish Naomi-chan is. If she couldn’t resist and bought the album before even heading out, she probably would just give the rest of the money to a friend.
As I sighed again at my petty bourgeois cunning, I hurried down the dormitory hall.
August third, nine-thirty A.M.
The future of the present me was exactly what I had seen three days before, an everyday without novelty.