“…Are we done? We’re done, right?”
“We did it!
We did it, Haruki-kun!”
“I told you, didn’t I?
I knew that we could do it if we tried!”
The time was 6 a.m.
The sky outside was just beginning to grow lighter.
There in the early morning, when the only sound
was that of the newspaper deliverer’s bike, Setsuna’s joyous shouts rang out,
as though she had played through a whole song with no mistakes.
…Even though all we had done was finish packing for the move.
“Now we can leave the rest to the contractor!”
“And the contractor will be here in… three hours. Honestly…”
It really was a remarkable accomplishment, though.
On the Monday before the move, knowing we weren’t going to have any days off until then,
we both sighed and said, “This isn’t gonna be possible.”
Then on Wednesday, trouble kept us both at work,
and on Thursday that hot pot party descended upon us,
which put us two days’ worth of packing behind.
…Well, as a result of that,
here we were at this hour, I suppose.
“What now? Should we sleep until the contractor gets here?
Do you want breakfast? A bath?
“Oh, I’m so sorry.
Pretend you didn’t hear that!
Gosh, what a weird mood to be in right now!”
Of course, I had been on the verge of choosing that last option without thinking about it,
so clearly, like Setsuna, I was in a pretty wild mood.
“I’m not sure it would be good to fall asleep now, though…
There’s no way I’d be able to wake up at nine.”
“You’re probably right…”
Right now, if we didn’t keep chattering like this,
we wouldn’t be able to keep our eyes open, or stay conscious.
At this point, it felt as though an entire week’s worth of exhaustion,
not just today’s, were all blowing in at once.
At this rate, even given a weekend to spend after moving into the new place,
we would probably just collapse without unpacking anything.
…Until Monday morning.
In which case, our first real opportunity to unpack
would fall within the first three days of the New Year—the worst possible situation.
Well, we were probably doomed to that already…
“Really, though, what should we do…?
Eating or taking a bath right now would be dangerous…”
“Well, why don’t we go for a walk or something?”
“Hey, no, don’t say ‘yes’ right away.
Spend some more time wavering and thinking about it.
I’m confident that that was a pretty weird suggestion.”
As I just said,
the two of us had reached the limits of our stamina.
“No, it’s all right…
If you hadn’t brought it up, Haruki-kun,
I think I would have said the same thing myself.”
And yet, Setsuna,
without a moment’s hesitation,
agreed to my eccentric idea.
“Yeah, this is probably the coldest part of the day.”
The moment right before dawn.
A freezing chill ruled the world, beneath the cloudless sky.
The streets of Minamisuetsugu were faintly white,
standing out as though to announce the beginning of another day.
“Oh, I’m so cold, Haruki-kun…”
“I know that.”
Setsuna grabbed my hand, perfectly naturally.
Her hand, with its (as she put it) slightly low blood pressure,
felt quite a bit colder than mine.
But, by the time we finished our walk,
it would probably warm up to the temperature of my hand.
We were leaving this familiar apartment, the one we had lived in since college,
and moving to a two-bedroom apartment, five train stops away.
And, probably, once we had moved,
these frequent visits to Minamisuetsugu…
and the time we spent taking in this scenery
would also dwindle away.
So, I wanted to etch it into my mind.
So that I could call the memory back up at any time, immediately.
“Ah, I’m finally wide awake!”
The barely-risen morning sun reflected off the surface of the river,
carrying dazzling light beyond our eyelids.
The exhaustion from walking piled up on the exhaustion from staying up all night,
and my body regained just a bit of energy.
“I’m getting kind of nostalgic, wandering around here.”
“…We just started walking.”
We were only a ten-minute stroll from our apartment building.
On top of that, where Setsuna was concerned, for the seven years of high school and college,
she had walked this road practically every day.
“I never use it for getting to work.
It’s on the opposite side from Minamisuetsugu.”
“Ah, I guess so.”
Being this close,
if we didn’t try to get closer, if we didn’t try to look,
then we would never lay eyes on it, nor fix it in our hearts.
So it was necessary to look for ourselves, to touch…
No, let’s set aside the question of what that was referring to.
“When we were in high school, we walked along this road together a few times.”
Although, it was in our third year,
after starting the half-year left before graduation,
which made it a pretty short interval.
Even so, for that brief half-year,
we walked side-by-side down this road any number of times.
Keeping an awkward distance at first,
soon growing close enough that our shoulders touched,
and at last, holding hands, the way we were now.
…and, at the moment of graduation, I fled this road.
Even though I was attending the same university, right next door.
“Once we’ve moved, maybe this place
will feel even more nostalgic than it already does…”
“I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration…
We’ll be fifteen minutes away by car,
and a taxi ride won’t even cost 5000 yen.”
“Oh, you! Why do you have to be so blunt?
You don’t have any ‘sentimental,’ Haruki-kun.”
“And after saying all of that,
that still doesn’t mean you’re going to visit your family any less often, does it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“Setsuna, you love your family’s house.
You still go back two or three times a month to have dinner.”
“When you put it that way,
it sounds like I’m not independent from my parents.”
“I don’t see any real difference.”
“Well, maybe you’re right.”
And so, as we exchanged this conversation of little importance,
I took in this riverside scenery,
and slowly submerged it into the depths of my memory.
The morning sun, sparkling on the surface of the water.
The ice needles crunching under our feet with every step we took.
My many memories with Setsuna,
and just a few others…
“…Come to think of it, Setsuna…”
“‘Sentimental’ is an adjective,
so saying someone ‘doesn’t have any sentimental’ is incorrect usage.”
“Ugh! Typical quibbling chairman!”
Another five minutes’ walk from the riverside,
we reached the front of Suetsugu Station.
So, we had walked one station’s worth of distance.
The environment of this small station, early in the morning, at the end of the year,
with nobody around, completely silent,
gave me the same feeling as a few years before.
“This place hasn’t changed at all, has it?”
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one
who was feeling the same impression from long ago.
“I wonder whether that shop manager is still there?
I’m sure the older ladies who were working part-time must have changed.”
Setsuna worked at the supermarket in front of this station
for two years, up until the last half-year before graduation.
When Setsuna chose to walk along the riverside road with me,
she gave up this workplace in exchange.
“Haruki-kun, you already knew
that I was working here, didn’t you?”
Since a year before I first spoke to the braided, glasses-wearing Setsuna,
I knew that she was here,
secretly working this part-time job.
I didn’t know about her ridiculous reason—
“To protect the mistaken image that I’ve attached to myself.”
“…You were watching me
the whole time, weren’t you?”
“No, it wasn’t quite to that point back then.”
“…Only you would be able
to look me straight in the face and say something like that, Haruki-kun.
You really are blunt.”
Setsuna picked up her pace just slightly to leave me behind,
“I mean, in our second year, you were the famed school idol, Setsuna.
I never even dreamed that you would have any contact with me.”
That’s right—second-year Setsuna was the flawless idol of our school.
She was so popular, and wrapped up in so much uproar,
that it turned into a massive controversy
when she withdrew from the “Miss Houjou” race that year.
Now, if you were to ask me
why I knew this secret state of affairs…
Well, maybe in this particular matter,
it would be better for me to take it to my grave.
In any case, if I were to bring it up now,
it was inevitable that she would get irrationally angry at me—
“Why didn’t you tell me at the time?!”
there was no need to bring strife into Setsuna’s current friendship with the culprit.
…Be thankful, Yanagihara.
“I really was stupid
for falling for someone like you back then, Haruki.
It was a lot of trouble that I could have done without.”
Feel free to curse your own tastes, then.”
“And who would have thought that there were two girls with such bad taste
in the same school year, hm?”
Now that we had reached this far back in our recollections,
it was inevitable that a number of memories that weren’t just with Setsuna
would be lurking about.
“Even now, I really can’t comprehend
how you got to be that popular back then, Haruki-kun.
Not just with me, but with a gorgeous girl like her…”
“Stop deprecating yourself so transparently.
I know that, in the bottom of your heart, you consider yourself the winner.”
But, between the two of us as we were now,
the atmosphere was such that it didn’t matter
whether we talked about those memories or kept them secret.
We were both past the point of feeling jealousy over such things,
or being shaken by them at all.
“And anyway, I am still the former Miss Houjou, even if I’ve aged a little.”
“You didn’t even enter while we were in college.”
“If I wanted to,
I could have gone for the championship at any time…!”
“Would you say the same thing to Yanagihara?”
The two of us
had overcome trials that were several times greater
than most would meet before getting married.
That was why, now that we had come this far,
we weren’t about to make any decisions that led to breaking down or splitting up—
because we knew exactly how immensely we would regret it.
“Yeah, this place hasn’t changed at all, either.”
We walked around the main gate to Houjou University and the attached high school,
discussing memories of our school days
(including some more disturbing matters)…
At the moment that we stepped into this small park,
I finally began to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays.
Maybe because it was a residential area, or maybe because it was a gloomy place,
we were the only two people here at this hour.
But for Setsuna, and for me,
it was a place where deep memories slept
that we would never forget.
“This is where you found me out, Haruki-kun.”
“No, I told you, I had you figured out a year before that.
…Apart from the fact that you were a karaoke maniac.”
…Even now, Setsuna sometimes took me along
to a karaoke place in Minamisuetsugu.
“Look, the swings!
Remember how we sat in these together?”
“Probably better not to swing in them any more.
Your butt might get stuck and you wouldn’t be able to get out.”
“Hey! My figure hasn’t changed that much!”
In this place, Setsuna
freely revealed her true, ordinary self,
and gave me a great feeling of affinity, with a small, wry smile.
“That was the day I joined the Light Music Club,
and my new daily routine began.”
“Thanks to a certain arm-twisting chairman.”
“…A different life began for me that day.”
All of a sudden, perfectly naturally,
Setsuna called me what she used to call me, long ago…
“In this park, every single secret that Setsuna Ogiso once had
…Because I told you all of them.”
A hot blast of embarrassment ran through me,
causing my face to heat up in an instant.
“You remember, don’t you?”
You’re not embarrassed, saying this right now?”
“I am! Extremely!
When I think back on how I was then,
I was very much the kind who put on a ‘cute and innocent’ act!”
How could I forget?
The magic words
that should have helped me realize that she was ordinary, just like me,
but in fact drove home to me exactly what a super idol she was.
Ever since then, the girl known as Setsuna Ogiso
had been a friend, an idol,
and an alluring woman to me, all at once…
I longed for her, believed we were tied together, betrayed her, ran away,
slipped out of touch with her, tried to draw near again, slipped out of touch again,
loved her, hesitated, loved her, wavered, loved her again…
That long, long history
began with those words.
“Well, should we head back now?”
While the two of us were blushing
over this awkward, school couple-style conversation,
the time had reached eight o’clock.
Visiting all these places, talking to each other about every memory that popped up,
treading back over the old ground, reflecting on it all…
That was how we went, slowly, slowly.
“Hey, why don’t we stop by the Ogiso house for breakfast?
It’s not far from here at all.”
“Wouldn’t it be rude just to burst in without any prior warning?”
“At this hour,
Mom is probably already awake and making box lunches.”
“Is your mother going somewhere?”
“Yes, to help us move.
My whole family is going to be showing up unannounced at the apartment building.”
Now that she mentioned it…
when I tried to insist that we would be fine on the day of, since we had a contractor coming,
I received an extremely thorough scolding.
If we were to stop by that house right now,
we would probably be greeted with a mountain of onigiri that five people could never finish,
together with plenty of omelettes and sausages.
“Well, I guess that’s the sort of place the Ogiso household is.”
“That’s just what families are like.”
“Well, it’s one form that ‘family’ can take.
That doesn’t mean all households are like that.”
“You don’t like that kind of household?”
“…Well, maybe a long time ago I didn’t.”
This candid impression spilled out of my mouth, against my better judgment.
If I were to look them in the face
and say something this excessively frank,
they would probably get angry with me again.
But I wouldn’t really regret or amend it.
Because, probably, after they got mad at me
and thoroughly lectured me, they would forgive me…
I firmly believed that now.
“Haruki-kun, you’re such a busybody with everybody else,
but you really don’t like being meddled with yourself.”
“…It’s a distortion in who I am.
I’m a fundamentally mistaken person.”
in the face of my words that could be taken as disavowing her family,
accepted them with an honest attitude, different from opposition or sympathy.
She accepted my distortions,
and all the countless errors I had committed because of them,
and she still faced me in a natural manner.
“So I always wondered and worried, what with all the mistakes I’ve made,
whether it was a mistake for me to have a family.”
“You’re using the past tense.”
“So, what about now?”
Yes, what about now…?
Was I still distorted?
Or had I become a proper adult?
As I was now, could I bring happiness to the organization known as “family”?
Not through management, not through training,
but through laughing together, crying together,
growing together—could I do that…?
I really don’t know.”
From this soliloquizing answer,
it was clear that I hadn’t reached any real confidence or conviction.
“Whether I can make everybody happy, and have an enjoyable life together—
not only with you, Setsuna, but if our family should grow further—
I won’t know until I try.”
Setsuna gazed at me, smiling quietly.
…She took this roundabout struggle of a statement, as bent as it was,
and calmly, firmly picked it up.
“Yeah, I won’t know unless I try.
So, I want to try…”
Yes. It was time to try.
The new apartment we had picked out was a two-bedroom.
Apart from me and Setsuna,
there was room for one more family member to live with us.
“I want a child…
Yours, and mine. Our child.”
Setsuna answered straight away.
I had been dithering over this for ages, and it wasn’t even a question for her.
“I don’t know how well I’ll be able to raise a child,
but I want to do it anyway. I want to try.”
I didn’t know whether I could be like Setsuna’s father.
I would turn out to be like my own father.
“I know you’ll do all right, Haruki-kun.”
“I… hope so.”
But, as long as I had Setsuna to help me…
I believed that, with Setsuna and the Ogiso family pulling me along,
at some point, something was sure to work out.
Setsuna wrapped her arms around me and embraced me tightly.
“I can’t wait.
I hope we have a boy like you, Haruki-kun.”
“Another one of me would just be annoying, wouldn’t he?
I think a girl like you would be better, Setsuna.”
“But if she’s another one of me, she’ll just be selfish and strong-willed, right?”
“Then… either one, I guess.”
“Yeah… Either one will be fine.”
In this park, at this ungodly hour, with nobody around,
we held this slightly embarrassing ceremony as husband and wife.
It was so ordinary, and perfectly natural,
but we had promised not to do it outside.
“Well, let’s forget about that…”
Then, Setsuna stretched up as high as she could,
and brought her lips to my ear.
“The truth is…”
And, with one long breath,
she delivered the most timely possible news.
It was a positive.
She went to the hospital.
They confirmed it.
Yesterday, she had learned…
“I was starting to wonder.
Since the timing would be so extraordinary if it were the case,
I absolutely had to know for sure…”
She had slipped out of the office yesterday, she said,
and gone to check.
“…Did you read my thoughts?”
“Or maybe you were the one
who looked into my mind,
and brought it up first?”
I hugged Setsuna tightly.
Doing my best not to put too much pressure on her stomach, of course.
I had felt unsure for so long.
I had finally resolved myself.
And yet, in an instant, it had been granted—
it was absurd, it was ridiculous, it was laughable…
Well, all of those mean the same thing.
And, I don’t know why,
but I was so happy…
“You know, before long, I won’t be able to call you ‘Haruki-kun’ any more.
Because I’m going to start calling you ‘Dad.’”
Because, in this world, my family was about to grow again.
Because, in our new apartment, a new resident was about to join us.
“So I’m going to call you by name as much as I can, while I can.
Haruki-kun, Haruki-kun, Haruki-kun… Congratulations.
And, thank you.”
Our embarrassing ceremony continued.
Or rather, it became an even more disgraceful display.
But I no longer possessed the sense of shame
to care about something like that.
Because, right now, I was simply embracing the love of my life.
Embracing the woman I would be calling “Mom,”
before too long…
“Setsuna, we’re about to leave.
Get down here.”
“On my way!
Just a minute!”
And so, at noon…
Finally, with the whole family present, we finished stacking up all our boxes,
and the moving truck had already departed.
Now, it was simply time for the residents to leave.
“Everything is gone, huh?”
A short while ago, there had been a mountain of cardboard boxes here.
One week ago, this place had been brimming with the smell of life.
But now, it was nothing but a vacant, empty space.
Our former apartment.
After we left this place and went downstairs,
and got into the car, and headed for the new place,
we probably would never return here again.
For seven years we had been here,
but now, we would never see it again.
“Well? Ready to go?”
Maybe it was lame to get swamped with nostalgia at a moment like this,
but really, so much had happened here…
Not just with Setsuna.
Not just on my own.
So many varied hours had passed.
At last, I burned the image of the empty apartment into my eyes one final time,
and slowly shut the door.
Then, I locked it.
And, once we returned the key to the realtor…
I’m sorry to bother you, but…”
“This was sent to you,
but the address is wrong, so it was delivered to us by mistake…”
“Ah, sorry about that.”
“Thanks for taking the trouble of getting it to us.”
Somehow, right as we were bidding our final farewells,
this very kind but slightly inelegant interruption broke in.
I smiled, with only a little bit of strain,
and this time, this time, I truly put this place full of memories behind me…
And as I looked over my shoulder,
my eyes fell on what Setsuna was holding up to me… A postcard.
The photo, of traditional houses lined up on an antiquated, European-looking street,
told me the identity of the sender in an instant.
“…She says her show in Vienna was a massive success!
And she’s going to come back for the start of the New Year!”
“A postcard, after all this time…
She could have just sent an email.”
“But this is just like Kazusa, isn’t it?
That analog touch.”
“No, it’s not like her at all.
I can’t believe someone that lazy
would actually send a picture postcard.”
“Ahaha… You’re so mean, Haruki-kun.”
No, she was the mean one.
She knew our apartment number plenty well,
and yet she deliberately sent it to the apartment next to us.
That she should send something to this apartment, steeped in memories,
on my last day here…
“…Okay, now let’s actually get going.
I’d like to be able to cook something by the end of the day, at least.”
“What are you talking about? Let’s eat out.
I’m sure even Mom will let us get away with that, today of all days.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re probably too tired, Setsuna.
Well, I’ll just have to put my back into cooking up a feast for everyone…”
“No! Don’t embarrass me in front of my family!
Haruki-kun, you’re still being mean!”
And so, the two of us…
The two of us, soon to be three…
Tomorrow, in our new home, we would begin carving out our new history.