“Ack, it’s cold out here!”
“Looks like it might start snowing again!”
“Seriously? There’s still snow in our yard from last weekend…”
As the classmates exited through the front door, they each looked up at the sky in turn, their gripes venting out with white breaths.
Their number increased by one, then two, and finally more than ten, bringing the crowd in the street in front of the Ogiso house to an almost unmanageable level.
“None of you have forgotten anything? All right, great. And thanks so much for today, really.”
And once the last person had stepped out, the day’s leading actress looked out and thanked them all.
Setsuna’s combination birthday party and graduation celebration party had gone off without a hitch.
“See you, Setsuna!”
“See you tomorrow!”
“Ugh, I don’t want to go to school tomorrow…”
“Well, you have to. Today’s Thursday.”
“I guess I could just skip it if I want to. It’s not like anything’s gonna be happening in class.”
“I’m definitely going… There’s only so much time left to spend with Ogiso-chan, you know.”
“You don’t get to complain. You screwed around so much you couldn’t even get a recommendation.”
“Ah, ahaha… Well, anyway…”
She had called up her friends.
Lots of them.
Just like in middle school, she called out to every single one of her classmates.
Just like in middle school, the Ogiso house was filled with people.
It may have been the first time this year that Setsuna had sincerely, genuinely laughed.
“Phew, it’s finally over…”
“I haven’t eaten anything…”
“We did it… Seriously, thank you, Io, Takeya-kun.”
And those who, in both a good sense and a bad sense, were in the center of the ring, combination promoters and assistants, exchanged some last words with Setsuna.
“I mean, it was basically like a graduation party, so we should be thankful to you for letting us use your place.”
“No, you can have your graduation party with your own class. Why would you choose now to start hitting on all the girls from our class?”
“Well, I just finally realized how many other high-level girls there are in class A. They just don’t get as much attention because of how incredible the number-one is…”
“Thank you, I mean it…”
“Hey, you don’t have to get that serious…”
“We really just barged in and partied it up however we wanted.”
“No, really. Thank you.”
With a smile that held greater sincerity than any bow of the head could have shown, Setsuna offered the two of them her boundless thanks.
After all, the fact that today’s party went so smoothly…
Indeed, the fact that today’s party happened at all… was because of their encouragement.
“Good night, you two!”
“We’ll see you next month for skiing, Setsuna-chan. Skiing! How about that!”
“I’m trying snowboarding this season, so it’d be cool if we found a place where you can do either.”
“Should we have a strategy meeting right now, then? At some diner somewhere?”
“Uh, with just you?”
“Is that a problem?”
“Mm… Nah, yeah, you know what? Let’s go.”
“…Wow, who would’ve seen that coming?”
“Don’t be weird. You’re the one who invited me.”
Even after the two of them disappeared around the corner, the sound of their chatter echoed through the neighborhood for a little while.
And, after their voices had vanished completely, Setsuna looked up at the sky, letting a white sigh out into the air.
Today had truly been a blast.
It brought back faint memories of the days in middle school when all of her classmates, boys and girls alike, called her “Setsuna.”
And so, starting tomorrow…
“Congratulations on your acceptance… Kazusa.”
She swore that winter would shut away that final, major regret, and she would manage these next few days until graduation, somehow.
Because being “the three of them” was still painful.
They were still in that most enjoyable, and most painful time.
But, in the spring…
In a new season, on a new campus, with new friends, surely…
If she could be in a pair again, and the group of five coming up, and with even more people…
Blowing a final white breath up toward the night sky…
Setsuna, turning her thoughts to what a chore cleaning up after the party was going to be, opened the front door.