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A Miracle of Obon

Chapter Text

~~~~~~~~~~ Toomi Yuna ~~~~~~~~~~
[4]
Toomi Yuna
"...There."

I pushed back from the altar in the corner, catching myself on my hands and admiring my handiwork. ...Admiring? That's not quite the right word, considering the circumstances. Maybe...appraising? Whatever it was, I thought to myself, "Mm, this will do." It was a bit of a strange sight, especially for Obon, with the Italian noodles on the right and the marinated potatoes on the left in place of the usual sweets and fruit, but today was a special day.

*tap, tap*

A gentle knock at the door.

Toomi Yuna
"Ah, coming!"

I struggled to my feet, but…

Komano Hina
"I got it, Yuna-nee."

Hina, who had been watching me cook and prepare food for the altar for the past hour, rose from her perch at the corner of the table and walked over to the door.

Komano Hina
"Mm...ah, hello, Otsuka-sama."

Toomi Yuna
"Hello, Otsuka-sama."

We bowed as a woman in her sixties or seventies hobbled through the door. We had learned her name, Otsuka Hikari-sama, from our host. She looked up at our greetings.

Otsuka Hikari
"Oh my, what cute girls you are. You must be Yuna-chan and Hina-chan. Ah, but you don't have to be so formal with me. Granny is fine."

She gave a weathered smile that showed a true delight at seeing me and Hina, but I sensed a sadness behind her gaze. A sadness that I could only guess the reason for all too well.

Otsuka Hikari
"Haahh, it's been a long time since I've been here. Where is Yuki?"

Toomi Yuna
"A-Ah, Yuki-san is tending to the animals."

Otsuka Hikari
"I see. Diligent as always. Haahh… I miss him so, but he just reminded me of...of her, you see? Of...oh."
[8]
Otsuka-sama - Granny - gripped Hina's arm for support. Her compassionate eyes glazed over with pain from a life long forgotten as they landed on the flowers and cracked photograph sitting on the mantelpiece. Suddenly, I started doubting if we really should be intruding on these people and their past, fidgeting uncomfortably. Hina must have noticed, because she slipped her free hand into mine, squeezing gently.

Komano Hina
"It's okay."

Toomi Yuna
"Huh?"

Komano Hina
"I don't think you're intruding, Yuna-nee."

Toomi Yuna
"O-Oh… How can you be so sure?"

Komano Hina
"Because I'd want to know if I were in her place."

Hina looked directly at me, her gaze unwavering. I drew strength from her beautiful green eyes, feeling my discomfort and anxiety fade. She was right. If I were in Granny's shoes, I would want to know. I would want to know why she never came home for over three decades, why I had my wishes crushed every August as Obon came and went, and, most importantly… why I had to live without one of the brightest stars in my life.

For that was why Hina and I were here, on Hokkaido, far from home. With Ano, the two of us had spent the last three years looking for the family that had lived in the vicinity of the Kokonotsuboshi Girls' Academy of Commerce. We had quickly learned that the last household under that name had moved out of the prefecture some fifteen, twenty-odd years ago, and so we spent most of these three years tracking down old leads, databases, registries, and even phone books stained with food, mold, and other substances I don't really want to think about. Eventually, Ano had made a call to a farm in Shari, confirming there lived an elderly man who did indeed originally come from the Yatsugishi apartments. Our efforts had finally bore fruit, and now Hina and I were here in the middle of August.

Today, the start of Obon, would hopefully bring together a family for the first time in thirty years.


"Okay. Let's begin."

I watched as our host Yuki-san lit the candle, his hand shaking a little. I couldn't blame him. What happens today would either be the most magical moment of his life...or the most dejecting. I found myself also more than a little anxious and scared. After all…

Toomi Yuna
("No. Calm down. It'll work. It'll work. Relax.")

Yuki-san knelt back and started praying. Granny, Hina, and I followed suit. I realized I was breathing harder than normal, as if the conscious thought of relaxing had the opposite effect. Behind me, I heard the ticking of Yuki-san's old grandfather clock as the minutes slipped by, and felt a stone slowly sink into the pit of my stomach…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
[0]
"...Hm?"

That's weird. I've never seen that before.

"That light...is it...flashing?"

I looked more closely, not completely sure. After all, there are a lot of lights this time of year, and among the blackness of night they tend to twinkle like stars. It's really quite pretty, actually, but…

"Yes, it seems that way, doesn't it?"

Beside me, I felt my lovely, wonderful, and beautiful girlfriend peer into the night sky too. Her face turned into a cute mixture of puzzlement, curiosity, and wonder.

"Perhaps we should check it out."

"Okay, but…"

"I know, I know, my precious sweetheart, but this just feels...different somehow. Like it's calling to us."

"Hmmm….well, ok, if it's with you!"

I put my sad feelings aside and followed my lover through the ethereal plane and back to Earth. Today was the start of Obon. I knew that. I could feel it in the tug I felt towards the surface of the planet I had lived on until just recently, and I could see it in the many spirits that returned to their homes. The year before I had excitedly awaited its start, hoping to see my family again, but...nothing happened. I mean, they weren't at my childhood home, and...I couldn't see them from where I was. I had never considered that possibility - that they could have moved away. I guess it was because I had spent the last thirty years in the same place, more or less with a stagnant existence that I forgot that change happens… I was on the same roof, in the same classrooms, with the same people-

"Huh?"

"What is it?"

"There, over there! Isn't that a little strange for Obon?"

"Eh? Oh my, you're right. Spaghetti and…"French fries", are they called?"

"Ah, yes, but...they look sorta different from normal fries…"

"Yes, they do, don't they? Like they're marinated, or...ah!"

"Could it be…?"

"Is it possible…?"

"Oh my! It is!"

"It is! It is! It's…!"

~~~~~~~~~~Toomi Yuna~~~~~~~~~~
[8]
Toomi Yuna
("Haahh...it didn't work…")

I let out a disappointed breath. I chastised myself for getting my hopes up. After all, we had said our goodbyes, hadn't we? By the enoki tree in the courtyard. They were there, and they left in a wondrous beam of light to who knows where. Remembering that moment always brought a tear to my eye; they were both just so beautiful, but I knew I'd never see them again while I was alive. That was the day I truly appreciated their friendship and how they changed me. I knew from the beginning we would have to part, but I miss them so even now. I still sometimes talked to them, of course, or rather, where they used to be. I'd draw comfort from pretending they were there and responding to me. Hina and Ano always understood when I wanted to eat on the roof alone, even though I had gained so many friends by my third year at Shirojo. I guess… I just really wanted to see them. Just a fleeting glance, a reminder that they'd be waiting for me when it was my turn. I could still remember what they said to me when we did the candy rolling charm in my second year…

"I wish for you to be happy, Yuna-san."

"I-I… wish for you to live a good, long life, Yuna."

My friends. I don't know if I appreciated them enough while they were still… well, not really alive, because they were ghosts, of course, but you know what I mean. The two kindred spirits, Sachi-san, and even Megu-

"It is! It is! It's Yunaaaaa~!"
[5]
My heart almost stopped. I knew that voice. That annoying, loud, whiny, endearing voice. This time I couldn't keep the tears in. Nor could I keep my voice from cracking, but at this point I didn't care.

Toomi Yuna
"M-Megumi? Is that you?"

Otsuka Hikari
"Ah…!"

Beside me, I heard a sharp intake of breath from Granny as she heard her daughter's call, but as heartless as it was, I couldn't care at that moment.

Nagatani Megumi
"Yuna~!"

She crashed into me, squeezing me into a bear hug. I was too happy to notice that I had actually never seen this affectionate side of her towards anyone apart from Sachi-san.

Toomi Yuna
"Ah, M-Megumi, when did you get s-so...heavy…"

Nagatani Megumi
"Oh, come off it, Yuna, we haven't seen each other in three years and that's the first thing you say to me? You should treat your senpai in life a little better!"

Enoki Sachi
"Heheh...Megumi, dear, don't tease Yuna-san so. You can't say that with such a big smile on your face."

Nagatani Megumi
"Okaaaaaay, Sachi-san~!"

Behind Megumi was, of course, her own precious sweetheart, and...a dear friend. Sachi-san gave me one of her easy, caring smiles that I had come to miss so much, and it was as if a dam had broken. I felt my chest soar, and I was aware of my vision blurring much as it had on their last day on Earth, but this time…

This time, I welcomed the tears.

~~~~~~~~~~Nagatani Megumi~~~~~~~~~~
[9]
Nagatani Megumi
"Aw, geez, Yuna, you're crying in front of your girlfriend! Hello, Hina-chaaaan~!"

I didn't expect to see this side of Yuna. Back on the roof, I would have teased her relentlessly about it, but our time apart has only made me miss her. ...Though she should really stop crying in front of Hina-chan...

Komano Hina
"Hello, Megumi-san. Hello, Sachi-san. Long time no see."

Hmph. Unfazed as always.

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, hello, Hina-chan. You look well. Is everything alright?"

Komano Hina
"Mm...but I don't get to see Yuna-nee as much anymore."

What?

Nagatani Megumi
"Wh-Whaat? C'mon, Yuna, I told you that you should always be with the one you love!"

At this point she had regained enough composure to give me her best are-you-kidding-me look, though her eyes gave away how happy she really was.

Toomi Yuna
"Snif… It's a bit unrealistic to think we have to always be together. We still have responsibilities, you know, unlike you two."

Nagatani Megumi
"Hmph…"

I gave her a little push for that one.

Komano Hina
"Mm… Yuna-nee told me to follow my dreams first. She helped me find a college with a good track team."

What? College?

Enoki Sachi
"Oh, you're in college, now, Hina-chan? My, time has flown."

Course, that's easy to happen when you're dead.

Komano Hina
"Mm. But it's close enough to home for me to commute. Yuna-nee and I, um…"

Oh? Is her face getting a little red?

Komano Hina
"...sleep together every night anyway."

Toomi Yuna
"Hinaaa! You don't have to tell them about that!"

Ah, her face is definitely red.

Enoki Sachi
"Heheh...I think it's cute. Anyway, Yuna-san, leave it to you to put out carbonara and imonamasu for Obon. Three years later and you still remember our favorite foods. I think it was perhaps that more than anything that led us back home. Thank you for that. Speaking of home, though…"

Sachi-san looked around a little confusedly. It was cute how her nose twitched slightly whenever that happened.

Enoki Sachi
"Where...are we?"

Huh? Ah...that's a good point. We weren't in Yuna's apartment. Though we've never been in it, we could see from where we were in the afterlife what it looked like, but this place definitely wasn't it. I turned away from Yuna and Hina-chan to make better sense of our surroundings and looked past a fireplace with a photograph and some flowers when I saw two rather old-looking people - are they a couple? - staring at me, frozen stiff in shock.

Nagatani Megumi
"Ah! S-Sorry...We should have introduced ourselves! She's Enoki Sachi-san…"

Enoki Sachi
"Hello."

Nagatani Megumi
"And my name is Nagatani Meg- huh?"

At the sound of my name, the man and woman there visibly stiffened further.

Nagatani Megumi
"Ah, s-sorry, did I say something weird?"

I was a little taken aback and turned towards Sachi-san for the usual reassurance, but she was frowning. Oh, no...I did say something weird? But…

Enoki Sachi
"Megumi? These two...look rather familiar…"

...Sachi-san said, looking a little harder at the face of the woman. I did too. She was right, there was something familiar about her...almost as if...I knew her from somewh-
[0]
"Mimi?"

...Huh?

"Mimi, is that...is that you?"
[8]
Wh-What? "M-Mimi?" I knew that name. From...from a long time ago. It was...it was my nickname...one that someone really close to me gave me. My head was suddenly filled with memories, memories from when I was still alive. Precious memories, memories almost long forgotten. Memories such as…

Nagatani Megumi
"M-Mama?"

I turned towards the man in the room. He could only be...

Nagatani Megumi
"Papa?"

My eyes welled up and I suddenly felt like my heart was about to burst from my chest. I felt Sachi-san's hand squeeze mine tight before pushing me gently towards them...towards...my parents. ...My parents. How long had it been since I used that phrase? Suddenly, struck by an idea, I turned my gaze towards the photograph on the fireplace. Sure enough, I recognized it. It was a photo from my early middle school days, a few years before I died. It was one of the few times my fragile body wasn't sick during a school break, so me and my parents had taken the weekend off to the hot springs. There was a Kabuki show playing, and the photograph was just me and my parents fooling around with the makeup and wigs with some of the actors laughing in the background. It wasn't amazing quality or anything, but I always liked it because it showed a carefree, happy family. I could see why they chose it as...as my memorial.

Nagatani Megumi
"Mama...Papa…"

I found myself running the rest of the way to them and hugged them both tightly, crying freely as I felt thirty years of pain and loneliness leave all of us in one great, cathartic moment. I felt an almost physical weight lift from my own shoulders as we sank to the ground together, just wanting to let this moment last just a little longer.

Nagatani Yuki
"I...I don't believe it. It's been so long…"

~~~~~~~~~~Toomi Yuna~~~~~~~~~~
[9]
Enoki Sachi
"You did a good thing, Yuna-san."

The reunited Nagatani family had managed to get through their initial shock and crying and were animatedly catching up and reminiscing about old times. Honestly, it was a little disconcerting because I could see family resemblances in Yuki-san's dry wit and Granny's bubbly speech. Hina had left to make a phone call back home while Sachi-san and I watched as Megumi gesture wildly as she recounted the last thirty years of existence as a ghost. Seeing her with her family validated Sachi-san's statement, though, and warmed my heart.

Toomi Yuna
"A-Ah, it was nothing. I felt like I owed so much to you two, so I wanted to find your families, but… Er, yours was...well…"

Enoki Sachi
"Oh, don't worry too much about that, Yuna-san. My mother and father welcomed the two of us into the afterlife. The girl I first fell in love was there, too. I must say, I reacted much the same way in seeing them as Megumi is doing so right now."

Toomi Yuna
"I see… Afterlife, huh?"

Honestly, all things considered, that wasn't the most surprising thing I've learned or heard about since encountering these two.

Enoki Sachi
"Yes. I would describe it to you, but I feel it is best for you to see and experience it yourself when you set off on your journey. Just know that it is a wonderful place, so worry not about death and make the best out of your life on Earth. Though, when it is your time, would you allow Megumi and I to join your family in welcoming you?"

Toomi Yuna
"Eh?"

That's a little...strange...to ask of somebody, isn't it? But…

Toomi Yuna
"Uh, sure, I guess…?."

Enoki Sachi
"Thank you, Yuna-san. I must say, I have never seen Megumi so happy in my life… ah, in a manner of speaking. You did something wonderful today."

Toomi Yuna
"It was nothing. Truthfully, well… I wanted to see you too."

Enoki Sachi
"Oh?"

Gone were the days where I would have concealed my emotions. My time with the two kindred spirits on the roof of Shirojo allowed me to face my demons and the feelings I had pushed down deep within myself, and now I found speaking my heart easy and comforting.

Toomi Yuna
"Yeah. I… wanted to talk to you again. So much has happened after...after you left. I'm still in touch with all of my Shirojo friends, and Hina and I...well, we announced our relationship to our families."

I remember. I spent the better part of a month gathering the courage to do so, with blessings from Ano, Nena, Kiri-san, Umi, Seina, Miki-san...pretty much everybody we helped in that one special year of high school. It ended up being fairly anticlimactic, though. Our fathers kind of went "Oh, really," (though I swear Hina's dad muttered something like "finally" under his breath), and our mothers just kind of shrugged and smiled.

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, you became rather famous around school - the 'Black Princess', isn't it? - I daresay even more so than Miki-chan - and I could see your bewilderment at your parents' non-reactions even from where we stood. It was rather entertaining."

Toomi Yuna
"Yes, yes. It was stressful, you know… Haahh… and… there's also this."

I couldn't stop a conspirator's grin from spreading across my face.

Enoki Sachi
"Hm? What is it?"

I pulled out an envelope from my bag. It was obviously an official invitation of some sort on heavy linen paper. Ignoring Sachi-san's question for now, and deliberately covering up the name of the sender, I called out:

Toomi Yuna
"Megumi! I have something else to show you!"

Nagatani Megumi
"Okaaaaay, Yuna~! ...and then we went around the school trying all the exhibits, and then me and Sachi-san got Yuna to help us try the food! I forgot how much I missed eating food, but you know, it's nice leeching off of somebody else's body when you don't need to worry about calories!"

Megumi skipped over with her parents in tow. From what she was saying, it appeared she was telling them about my second-year school festival.

Toomi Yuna
"Come on… you had me stop at basically all the food stands. Not good for my weight or my wallet."

Nagatani Megumi
"Oh, you're fine. You're young. You have your entire life to worry about the consequences. Anyway, and then, and then, and then me and Sachi-san went to the auditorium-"

Uh-oh.

Toomi Yuna
"A-ah, wait a minute, Megumi-"

Nagatani Megumi
"-to watch Youka-san's - she's one of the girls we helped - Youka-san's performance. It was soooooooo good, especially at the end where she kissed Ariu-san onstage in front of the entire school. Yuna was there, too-"
[6]
Toomi Yuna
"Noooooooooooooooooooooo-!"

Nagatani Megumi
"-onstage with quite the sexy costume! Kinda like a backup dancer without the dancing. Or the outgoing personality. Or the sexy, really."

...Thanks.

Nagatani Megumi
"It was fun to watch her frozen stiff in place until the song was over. Y'know, Yuna, you'd probably make more friends - or more followers, anyway - if you bared more skin more often. Anyway, hi, what's going on?"

I felt my face burning in my hands as Megumi reminded me of being dragged onstage with Ano in the skimpiest outfit I'd ever worn. I tried glaring daggers in her direction, but the gaze she returned was only one of mischief and all-too-obvious innocence.

Toomi Yuna
"...You could have left that part out…"

Nagatani Megumi
"I don't know what part you're talking about! What's in the envelope?"

I shrugged off the embarrassing memory as best I could.

Toomi Yuna
"Oh...just an invitation."

Nagatani Megumi
"An invitation? To what?"

Toomi Yuna
"An event."

Nagatani Megumi
"Aw, come on, Yuna! I was just kidding around~"

Seemed like you were really enjoying it to me.

Toomi Yuna
"Fine, but let's wait for Hina first, okay? She doesn't even know what this is."

Nagatani Megumi
"Hm...okay…"

We walked over to the couches in the center of the room. I noticed how neither Yuki-san nor Granny had released their daughter's hands the entire time.

Enoki Sachi
"Hello. As Megumi said, my name is Enoki Sachi. I would...well...I would like to take this opportunity to properly introduce myself."

Nagatani Yuki
"Yes, Mimi told us all about you!"

Otsuka Hikari
"She must have said something along the lines of 'I love Sachi-san' fifteen times in the last hour."

Wait, her parents are okay with this? Just like that, with no fanfare? I guess it doesn't matter now that they can't exactly do anything about it, but still...

Nagatani Megumi
"That's still not enough! I have yet to exhaust the all of Sachi-san's amazing qualities! But...I'm sorry…"

Nagatani Yuki
"Hm?"

Otsuka Hikari
"For what, Mimi?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Well…um..."

I realized Megumi looked downcast all of a sudden. Was she thinking about…?
[8]
Nagatani Megumi
"I'm sorry for dying."

Nagatani Yuki
"Oh…"

Otsuka Hikari
"Ah-"

Enoki Sachi
"My."

I had a feeling that was coming. Something about her innate clinginess and what I know of the circumstances of her death tipped me off.

Nagatani Megumi
"I...I always went to school just to see Sachi-san. I couldn't see her for very long, though, just for a few seconds before she faded out of sight."

Is she breathing harder? I wonder if she realizes she is. After all, ghosts don't need to breathe…

Nagatani Megumi
"Th-The fever I got...the one right at the turn of the season? The one that...well… turned into pneumonia?"

Granny's eyes misted up at that memory and she became dead silent.

Nagatani Megumi
"Th-That was my fault. I pretended I was okay. I just wanted to go to school. Just to see Sachi-san on the roof. And then it got worse, and...and…"

I felt awkward sitting there, again feeling as if I were intruding on very personal issues. Suddenly I wished Hina would hurry up with her phone call and come back.

Nagatani Megumi
"...and I remember my last moment of life. I...I remember you, Mama. Y-you were crying, and...and holding my hand...and then...I was a ghost on the roof of the school."

Yuki-san let out a shaky breath.

Nagatani Yuki
"Ha~aa~ahhh~... But for thirty years?"

A small nod from Megumi.

Nagatani Yuki
"Why didn't you come home?"

She shook her head before he even finished his sentence.

Nagatani Megumi
"Mm-mm. I- we tried to go home. But...we couldn't. Both of us...we had regrets linked to the school, so not only could we not pass on, but we couldn't even leave the area. We even tried to possess Yuna and leave but we'd always detach whenever she walked through the gate. I...I wanted to come home. I was never lonely or anything with Sachi-san, of course, but…"

Tears dropped from Megumi's face and disappeared before they hit the ground.

Nagatani Megumi
"I missed you…"

~~~~~~~~~~Nagatani Megumi~~~~~~~~~~

I let the tears fall from my face, not caring that Yuna was watching. After all, it was her that arranged for this wonderful reunion. I really am grateful to her ...though I'd never tell her, of course. I was with my parents. Parents that still loved me, parents that knew of and supported my relationship, though they understood little of any of it. Sure, they were thirty years older and in their twilight years, and sure, I didn't really have a fully human body, but for the next two days I could pretend we were a family again. No...I didn't have to pretend. We were a family again.

Nagatani Megumi
"I'm sorry you couldn't watch me grow up...that I caused you p-pain for thirty years. I'm sorry-"

I felt as if a hand were gripping my heart.

Nagatani Megumi
"-that I caused you and Mama to d-divorce..."

Damn, I'm really crying now. I felt Mama grip my arm and Papa put his arm around the two of us.

Otsuka Hikari
"Don't cry, Mimi. Your father and I...we didn't divorce out of not loving each other or anything like that. We-"

Her voice cracks.

Nagatani Yuki
"We loved each other too much. Seeing each other reminded us of you, but we didn't blame each other for your death, and we definitely didn't blame you. I think...I think trying to celebrate Obon every year and not knowing why you couldn't come home made us consider our inner strengths, and...and we both decided that we had to draw from that strength separately."

Otsuka Hikari
"I still love your father, and he still loves me. That much hasn't changed in the last thirty years. And now-"

A watery smile that almost sets me off again.

Otsuka Hikari
"-now, we know you're okay. That you'll be waiting for us when it's our turn to leave this world."

Nagatani Megumi
"!...Mama, Papa...I lo-"
[0]
Komano Hina
"I'm back."
[9]
Nagatani Megumi
"Aah…"

Enoki Sachi
"Oh."

Toomi Yuna
"Huh?"

Ah...Hina-chan. She was back from her phone call, looking a little confused as to why everyone in the room was crying.

Nagatani Megumi
("Haahh...collected and composed as always…")

But that was okay. I had said what I needed to say. The heavy atmosphere in the room deflated, and I watched with delight as Yuna rose to greet her girlfriend.

Toomi Yuna
"Ah, welcome back, Hina. Here, take a seat. I have something I want to show you and the two ghosts."

"Kindred spirits."

...me and Sachi-san said at the same time. We looked at each other and giggled.

Toomi Yuna
"Yes, yes. Whatever. Anyway, Hina, your two senpai? Miyu-san and Matsuri-san?"

Komano Hina
"Mm. I haven't seen them in a while."

Toomi Yuna
"They sent us an invitation."

Komano Hina
"Hm?"

Nagatani Megumi
"An invitation?"

Enoki Sachi
"And on some lovely paper, no less."

Nagatani Megumi
"To what, though?"

Toomi Yuna
"You'll see. I want Hina to read it first."

Wait, what?!

Nagatani Megumi
"No fair, Yuna! I want to see, I want to see!"

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, I would also like to see news from Miyu-san and Matsuri-san."

Toomi Yuna
"Yes, yes, I know, but they were Hina's senpai, you realize. She deserves to see it first. Besides-"

Oh, damn, Yuna's got that smug look of satisfaction again. I'm not sure she even knows she's making it.

Toomi Yuna
"-you two were annoying me anyway."

Nagatani Megumi
"H-Hey! That's not very nice!"

Toomi Yuna
"Oh, come off it, Megumi. You know I'll show you anyway. Just after Hina's done, okay?"

Nagatani Megumi
"...Hmph."

I watched as Yuna handed the invitation to Hina.

Komano Hina
"Mm, thanks, Yuna-nee… Mm?...Mwhoa...whoa!"

Whoa, Hina's eyes became huge! And...is it just me, or does she look happier than usual?

Komano Hina
"Wow, Yuna-nee!"

I really couldn't stand it anymore.

Nagatani Megumi
"What, what, whaaaaaaat? I wanna see, I wanna see!"

Toomi Yuna
"Heheheh, all right, all right! Here, Megumi."

I felt a surge of excitement as I held the invitation. Partly due to being able to actually hold and feel things again, but mostly from seeing news from the girls we helped all those years ago.

Nagatani Megumi
"Let's see…"

Enoki Sachi
"What does it say?"

Sachi-san peered over my shoulder from behind me. I absently remembered how Miyu-san and Matsuri-san would adopt a similar position in their high school days in their time with the track team as I started reading through the invitation.

Nagatani Megumi
"Okay…'Dear Hina-chan and Yuna-san…' ooh, I like how they addressed Hina-chan first."

Toomi Yuna
"Shut up."

Nagatani Megumi
"'How are you, we hope the two of you are well...it's been too long…' oh, look, Sachi-san, they have jobs now… 'miss having Hina-chan on the team...is Hina-chan doing well in school…we miss Yuna-san's cooking…we'd like to invite you to-' huh? Huh?!"
[5]
Enoki Sachi
"...Megumi…!"

Nagatani Megumi
"Saaachi-san~!"

Sachi-san locked eyes with me when she caught up to my reading, becoming excited in a way that didn't quite fit her normally calm and collected demeanor. I quickly flipped over the invitation. Sure enough, it read:

"To Komano Hina-chan and Toomi Yuna-san, you are cordially invited to the wedding of Inamoto Miyu and Amishima Matsuri."

Nagatani Megumi
"A wedding! Oh, Sachi-san, that's so exciting!"

Enoki Sachi
"Yes! I'm so happy for Miyu-san and Matsuri-san! They've taken a major step forward in their goal of staying together forever!"

Nagatani Megumi
"We should give them advice! You know, on how to be the perfect couple. ...Of course, nobody's as perfect as we are… But we should still help them! After all, we've been together for thirty years!"

Nagatani Yuki
"Excuse me, Mimi, but technically your mother and I have been together for over fifty years. I think we would make better advisors."

Nagatani Megumi
"H-Hey! But I was with Sachi-san twenty-four hours a day! You and Mama were together like...I dunno...sixteen hours a day? We're equal in love knowledge!"

It surprised me how easily me and Papa slipped back into couch abuse, even thirty years later. I was struck by a sudden wave of nostalgia.

Toomi Yuna
"Come on, Megumi, now leave it at that."

...aaaaand, there's Yuna, the party pooper.

But she and Papa couldn't help smiles from breaking out across their faces. ...Yuna in particular looks rather pleased with herself. I couldn't resist the opportunity.

Nagatani Megumi
"Saaaaay… Yuna?"

Something in my voice must have put her on guard, because her grin became a little less pronounced.

Toomi Yuna
"A-Ah...yes?"

Nagatani Megumi
"What about you?"

Toomi Yuna
"H-Hm? What about me?"

Nagatani Megumi
"You need our love advice the most! It took you a month to respond to Hina-chan's confession!"

Toomi Yuna
"Uh...do you really need to bring that up again?"

Komano Hina
"Mm...it did take you a while, Yuna-nee."

Hina-chan's expression was the same as always, but something told me she was trying hard not to smile. Yuna's cheeks flushed slightly at that statement.

Toomi Yuna
"Wh-Wha…? Et tu, Hina? You said you'd wait for my answer!"

Nagatani Megumi
"See? Even your girlfriend's on my side! Geez, Yuna, I'm giving you advice for free! You should be thanking me!"

Yuna muttered something that sounded something like "I helped you first" but I decided to press on.

Nagatani Megumi
"You'll need my advice for when you propose to Hina-chan!"
[6]
Toomi Yuna
"!... Wh-When I…?! Eh?!"

Komano Hina
"A-Ah…"

Aha! That did it! Yuna's face flushed a deep red and she buried her face in her hands. I even got Hina-chan's eyes to go wide!

Nagatani Megumi
"Come onnnn, Yuna, you're not fooling anybody by saying you've never thought of it before."

Enoki Sachi
"Me-gu-miiii~..."

Sachi-san was trying to give me a disapproving look, I think, but the corners of her mouth were angled up.

Nagatani Megumi
"Heheheheh~ Sachi-saaaaaan, it doesn't work if you're smiling~"

I could see her expression twisting into weird faces as she shook with barely contained laughter.

Enoki Sachi
"Pft… heheh, it doesn't, does it? Still, don't tease them too much, okay? Though it is funny to think that Yuna-san could probably fry eggs on her forehead right now."

Nagatani Megumi
"Okaaaaaaay~"

Toomi Yuna
"Ugh...stop...please…"

Yuna was looking right at her feet, trying not to make eye contact with anybody.

Nagatani Megumi
("Ha! That's for all your smartass comments, Yuna!")

Komano Hina
"...I'm hungry."

Wha…? Wow, Hina-chan really recovered from that quickly, huh?

Otsuka Hikari
"Oh, yes, let's eat! Mimi? Do you still remember your baking skills after all this time?"

Oh! Sweets? Can I make sweets?

Nagatani Megumi
"Yes! I'd love to make something! Let's see...I could...no, that's kinda hard for...how many people do we have…?"

I considered what I could make for six people with little preparation before settling on cookies. I'm no Yuna when it comes to cooking, but I think even I can do well when it comes to baking.

Otsuka Hikari
"And Yuna-chan, Megumi tells me you're quite the cook. Care to assist an old lady for tonight's dinner?"

A wink towards me.

Otsuka Hikari
"You seem like you could use the distraction."

Yuna just nodded absently. She was acting much as she did during that one October - unaware, dazed, and absentminded. Me and Sachi-san both knew that was when she was thinking hardest, and there was only one thing she could be thinking about.

Enoki Sachi
"Say, Megumi...you don't suppose…?"

Nagatani Megumi
"I do, I do! I think I set her thinking about something very serious~"

Enoki Sachi
"Heheh...I think so too. Now come, let me assist you in your baking."

Making sweets with my lovely girlfriend? Yay!

~~~~~~~~~~Toomi Yuna~~~~~~~~~~
[4]
My face was on fire. Damn it, Megumi. Spouting all that stuff about p-proposing to…Hina. I mean, it's not like I have to be the one doing it. We're both women, so there's no ancient sense of chivalry that dictates one of us having to do it, though I guess me being older does kind of come with that sort of responsibility. That doesn't mean Hina can't do it, though. She could propose to me if she-

Toomi Yuna
("Huaagh, why am I still thinking about this?")

I mean, it's not like we could get married in Japan. We'd have to fly out of country to do so - in fact, Miyu-san and Matsuri-san's ceremony was taking place in Taiwan. It was to be a small ceremony, but I still can't imagine how expensive that would be. To do at least that, Hina and I would-

Toomi Yuna
("Geez, stop, please. Come on, Yuna, get your act together.")

I mentally shook myself and cleared my mind. Cooking required my utmost concentration, especially if I didn't want to make any mistakes. One time, when I was young, I got distracted and sliced open my finger. It didn't leave a scar, thankfully, but it taught me not to overestimate my ability to multitask.

Toomi Yuna
"What would you like to make, Granny?"

Of course, today I would be assisting instead of directly in charge of the menu. A little bit of a change of pace, but cooking is cooking, regardless of what role you play.

Otsuka Hikari
"Something nice and simple, to celebrate our reunion. Tonkatsu on rice, perhaps, with miso soup, onigiri and sushi, and pickled cucumber on the side? Maybe some beef teriyaki to sate Hina-chan's appetite?"

Komano Hina
"Mm!"

A fairly normal, nostalgic family dinner, with just a few modifications.

Toomi Yuna
"Mm, sounds good. What would you like me to do?"

Otsuka Hikari
"I'll handle the tonkatsu. Could you handle everything else? I'm afraid my old hands aren't as fast or as precise as they used to be."

Toomi Yuna
"Of course. Hina can help with the smaller foods."

Komano Hina
"Mm!"

Otsuka Hikari
"Okay! Come, everyone, into the kitchen."

Nagatani Yuki
"A-Ah, wait a minute, what should I do?"

"Just sit there and wait!"

...Megumi and her mother responded together, then glanced at each other and started giggling. I felt another surge of warmth at seeing this sort of familiar byplay, despite having to endure Megumi again. I decided to throw Yuki-san a lifeline.

Toomi Yuna
"Perhaps you could get some wine, Yuki-san? To celebrate? Hina and I won't be able to have any, but technically Sachi-san and Megumi are both over 30."

Otsuka Hikari
"That's true, isn't it? Besides, they're spirits. No health issues to worry about anymore."

...A little - is "insensitive" the right word? - for my taste, but I suppose she's right and neither Megumi nor Sachi-san looked like it bothered them.

Nagatani Yuki
"I suppose...although, Yuna-chan, while you are a very responsible young woman to note the drinking age, I think we can make an exception with, ah, four...adult-aged supervisors, mm? I'd feel bad if you were left out of the celebration."

I've never actually had alcohol, other than for use in the kitchen. Part of it was because of all the bad stories I've heard about it, but if Yuki-san and Granny were to supervise…

Toomi Yuna
"Sure, I guess. Hina?"

Komano Hina
"Mm. I'll have some, too."

Quick and with no hesitation. Sometimes I marvel at how Hina knows exactly what she wants at any given time. I mean, she's always been like that, but now that she's in college and has a lot more important decisions to make it's become easy for her to choose the right classes. Honestly, I'm a little jealous. It certainly makes, uh...bedtime...easier when there's no confusion between me and her, and when she tells me exactly what she wants and makes sure I'm similarly satisfied...

Toomi Yuna
("Not the time, not the time…")

Right. Cooking. No distractions if I want my fingers intact and blood to remain inside my body where it belongs.

Toomi Yuna
"Okay, Hina, go put on an apron and wash your hands. I'll start the rice cooker."

Komano Hina
"Mm. Okay."

As Hina pattered off and Yuki-san left to get a bottle of wine from the cooler, I put my own apron on and cracked my knuckles, a habit I probably picked up from Youka or Umi (or both). Tonight's dinner wasn't anything complicated or difficult. I poured in about eight or nine people's worth of rice to take into account Hina and Yuki-san's appetite, measured out the right amount of water, and started up the machine. Next, I looked through Yuki-san's refrigerator for potential sushi and onigiri toppings, picking out some salmon, chicken, egg, and nori. As I got started on finding the ingredients for teriyaki, I heard Granny come up next to me.

Otsuka Hikari
"'Yuritopia', hm?"

Toomi Yuna
"Eh? O-Oh, that was Sachi-san's idea."

Otsuka Hikari
"Yes, I know. Megumi told me about it. I was more curious as to why you were so eager to help."

In the background, I heard a sneeze and turned around to see flour all over Sachi-san's surprised face and in her normally dark hair as Megumi stood by her side, giggling while trying to wipe it off.

Toomi Yuna
"I wasn't at first."

No, Megumi first scared me half to death...twice!

Toomi Yuna
"I don't really know why I decided to start, honestly. I was going through a...not necessarily a tough time, but a...lonely time, I guess? Hurt, maybe? I was scared of being told I was meddling, so the idea of pushing these girls with same-sex attractions to realize, accept, and act on their feelings just...terrified me. Especially when I considered the potential repercussions of being discovered or otherwise known as...well, as a Cupid of some sort."

I thought back to that one beautiful half-year, more of an emotional rollercoaster than anything I had experienced since winning the national competition in middle school. It certainly did not start off, well, but…

Toomi Yuna
"...But soon I found myself unable to walk away. I thought it was some sort of...of obligation, or because I was scared of - oh, Hina, could you start slicing the fillings, over there?"

I gestured with my head as Hina came back since my hands were preoccupied.

Komano Hina
"Mm, okay."

Hina's really started helping me out since she had to learn to cook for herself for those times I couldn't, and was a little more confident in her skills now. I know I've also gotten better since then, but I think she could give middle or high school me a run for her money.

Toomi Yuna
"Anyway, first I thought I was scared of Megumi and Sachi-san - who never actually cursed me, by the way-"

I got a snort of laughter for that.

Toomi Yuna
"-but by the end of our time together, I realized I was having fun that entire time. For the first time since middle school, I was having fun just going to the roof, speaking with Sachi-san and Megumi and making plans, and following through on those plans."

Sachi-san's operation names could use a little work, though…

Toomi Yuna
"I didn't realize until it was time for them to leave-"

A twist of pain. Even now, in the presence of my two dear friends, it still hurts every time I remember that they no longer call our existence home and that they must bid us goodbye again soon.

Toomi Yuna
"-but through helping them achieve their, er, yuritopia, I had met so many people I can now call friends, and thoroughly enjoyed my time doing so."

Granny nodded as she worked the batter into the pork, and as I remembered chasing Kiri-san around school, cooking for the track team so well that it became a huge event at the summer camp, and reading as Youka's abysmal lyrics transformed into something usable.

Otsuka Hikari
"There's a saying that I like to live by: 'Sometimes the best way to solve your own problems is to help someone else.'"

I thought about that for a moment as I mixed the ingredients for the teriyaki, stirring the mixture evenly to avoid lumps. Help someone else? I'm not sure… I didn't necessarily feel...good when I helped all those people. Satisfaction, maybe, for a job well done, but not really good, or self-enlightened, or anything. Well, that's not entirely true. The first time I saw Seina's face after she delivered her letter… It was one of pure bliss and joy. I think I remember reconsidering then, especially when I saw her so happy. Still, though - definitely no self-enlightenment or any other real self-helping emotions.

Toomi Yuna
("Although…")

I did learn a lot about myself and about the people I (was forced to) interact with, and a little on how the world worked in general. I know I never would have been who I am today - I never would have found love in Hina - had I not met the two kindred spirits, or helped those without the final push to help themselves. I guess in that sense…

Toomi Yuna
"Mm, yeah. I suppose helping others, even if they didn't know about it, helped me."

Granny nodded as if she expected my answer.

Otsuka Hikari
"Mhm. That self-help comes in different forms. Whichever form it takes is up to you. Are you going to tell these girls about your involvement?

Toomi Yuna
"Am I…?"

I cocked my head. Hmm. I've never really thought about that. One of my conditions for initially helping was to do it from the shadows, so that I couldn't be hurt by any consequences, but it's certainly true that I had a hand in each and every one of my friends' relationships. I suppose part of it would be me having to reveal the existence of spirits, but unless it's a spiritually strong day like Obon it'll be very hard to convince most of my friends that they exist.

But…

Toomi Yuna
"I think so. I don't really want to keep it to myself, now that I've more or less recovered from middle school, but it does seem kind of awkward to say, 'Hey, I was a major part in your relationship!', doesn't it?"

Otsuka Hikari
"Heheh, you're probably right, and you'd likely need to explain the existence of Mimi and Sachi-chan. Pass me the salt, would you please?"

Toomi Yuna
"Ah, here. Oh, Hina, make your slices a little bit thinner, okay? That way we can make more."

Komano Hina
"Mm."

Toomi Yuna
"Yes. I'd wouldn't have to have Sachi-san ane Megumi with me, necessarily. I think just knowing about certain events should be good enough proof. Though, I don't know how they would take it. ...I suppose Umi would be fine with it...I basically helped Youka from the start...hm..."

At that moment we suddenly heard a choking sound from behind us…

~~~~~~~~~~Enoki Sachi~~~~~~~~~~
[6]
Enoki Sachi
"Ack! Koff! Koff! Kooofff!"

Nagatani Megumi
"S-Sachi-san?! Are you okay?!"

I could barely see my adorable sweetheart through the haze of flour I was disturbing, but her voice rang out clearly with hints of panic.

Enoki Sachi
"Koff! Y-Yes, Megumi, I - koff! - I'm okay."

What a strange feeling, coughing. I'm not entirely sure how it is that I'm affected. What would happen if, say, I choke to "death" now? Logically, nothing would happen, except perhaps for a very uncomfortable experience, but I don't have any urges to try it. Beside us, Yuna-san apparently had a similar thought.

Toomi Yuna
"Aren't you already spirits? Don't die again, Sachi-san."

I wondered when it was that Yuna-san became so playfully mischievous.

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, I know. I'll be okay."

I caught my reflection in the oven door. Flour was in every crevice on my face and in my hair. I certainly looked the part of a ghost, now.

Nagatani Megumi
"Sorry! I didn't mean to do that…"

Megumi grinned at me with an endearingly sheepish smile.

Nagatani Megumi
"It suits you, though. It actually makes you look scary."

I frowned, extended my arms into a Frankenstein pose, and put on my best ouija board voice.

Enoki Sachi
"Am I not scary enough for you?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Nope!"

...she said with a bright, wide-eyed smile. I dropped my arms.

Enoki Sachi
"Heh. It was never my style, anyway."

Otsuka Hikari
"Megumi, dear, do you think you have enough flour?"

I looked around our portion of the kitchen and realized that the countertop was covered with the fluffy white powder.

Nagatani Megumi
"H-Hey, it's been almost thirty years, Mama! Give me a break!"

Hikari-san raised an eyebrow.

Otsuka Hikari
"Maybe so, but dead or not, you're still cleaning up your own mess."

Nagatani Megumi
"Ahhhhh...okay…"

Oh, my, she looks rather crestfallen.

Enoki Sachi
"Don't worry, Megumi. I'll help you later."

Nagatani Megumi
"Oh, it's okay, Sachi-san! I enjoy cleaning. I-I mean...I'd like your help, too, though, of course."

Enoki Sachi
"Of course."

...I said with a smile. Oh, my sweet Megumi. Always trying so hard to live up to my standards. If only you realized that you are my standard, and yet you still manage to exceed them every time. Megumi, who listened as I bared my soul for the first time in eighty years, whose first words to me were "I love you", who wished for nothing more than to stay with me forever.

And now, we stand in her mother's kitchen baking cookies. Strange how life - death? - works sometimes.

Toomi Yuna
"At this rate, we'll be having globs of uncooked dough for dessert."

I could tell Yuna-san was trying to hide a smile.

Nagatani Megumi
"Hey! I told you, I'm thirty years out of practice!"

Toomi Yuna
"Yeah, I could tell from your misshapen onigiri."

Megumi stuck her tongue out at that.

Nagatani Megumi
"Go back to your unfairly amazing cooking skills, Yuna! I think even my dead hands can make cookies by the end of dinner time."

Toomi Yuna
"They're only amazing because I didn't stop practicing for thirty years."

Nagatani Megumi
"! Y-Yuna, you little brat!"

I found myself quite amused at watching Megumi's flustered demeanor paired with Yuna's calm teasing, and couldn't help myself:

Enoki Sachi
"Come now, you two. If it weren't that I know for a fact both of you have sweethearts, I'd say you seem like a married couple.

"We're not a married couple!"

...they said at the same time. I spread my hands in a "case in point" gesture.

Enoki Sachi
"Megumi, ignore her, okay?

Nagatani Megumi
"What! But she started it!"

I took her hand in mine.

Enoki Sachi
"I know, but-"

-and couldn't resist to get my own ribbing in there-

Enoki Sachi
"-when has Yuna-san ever really listened to the two of us?"

I felt rather than saw Yuna-san roll her eyes behind my back, but at least she went back to what she was doing.

Enoki Sachi
"Come now, Megumi, we have cookies to bake."

Nagatani Megumi
"Okay, okay. Right."

We managed to create the dough without any more major ingredient explosions, though knowing we had to clean up afterwards anyway made us less inhibitive in our practices. I could feel Yuna-san's disapproving eye on us every time I slapped Megumi with a flour-covered palm or when Megumi threw chocolate chips in my direction. I didn't really care, though. I was having far too much fun doing something normal for a change.

Nagatani Megumi
"Mama! Mama! Do we have cookie cutters?"

Otsuka Hikari
"My goodness, Mimi! You look ridiculous!"

Hikari-san laughed and shook her head in disbelief at her daughter's residue-covered clothes. Megumi grinned and twirled like a model, unabashedly flinging white powder everywhere. I could feel my heart seize up at seeing this side of her, a side that must have been locked away deep within during her time as a ghost.

Nagatani Megumi
"I'm incredible, Mama, and you know it!"

Otsuka Hikari
"Yes, it's incredible how you're still as silly as ever. Cookie cutters are in that third drawer."

Nagatani Megumi
"Okaaaay~ Come on, Sachi-san! Let's see who can make the cutest cookies!"

Enoki Sachi
"Okay, but I warn you, my sweet. I might end up eating them before the competition's over."

Nagatani Megumi
"Me too! But it's the spirit that counts, right?"

Haahh… how could I say no to that adorable face?

~~~~~~~~~~Komano Hina~~~~~~~~~~
[4]
"Let's eat!"

The six of us gave thanks to those that helped prepare this ceremonial dinner. I was next to Yuna-nee, of course, and Sachi-san, one of the - er, kindred spirits? - was next to her. Yuna-nee told me that they were usually inseparable, but today was a special reunion day, so Megumi sat in between her parents.

Komano Hina
"Hmm…"

Sachi-san and Megumi-san were somewhat curious to me. I've only known them since...that one day...but Yuna-nee's been telling me about all of their struggles for Sachi-san's, er…"yuritopia." They're a little weird, I think, but I guess that happens if you're alone for thirty years. Though, they're nice and all. I like Megumi-san a lot. She seems all self-centered and annoying, but she loves Sachi-san with all her heart. I can understand that; I feel the same about Yuna-nee, and there seems to be some sort of yearning to prove herself underneath that bubbly exterior. Besides, annoying as she is (according to Yuna-nee), the two of them helped Yuna-nee be like herself again, so I'm glad.

Toomi Yuna
"Hm? Hina? Something on your mind?"

Huh? Yuna-nee was looking quizzically at me. I guess I was lost in thought.

Komano Hina
"Ah, no. Sorry."

Toomi Yuna
"Oh. Okay. You did well on these, Hina."

"These" was referring to the sushi and onigiri I made. I knew I was nowhere near her skill, but hearing her compliment me made me feel nice and warm inside.

Komano Hina
"Mm, thanks."

I knew I had to start getting better at cooking by my second year at Shirojo because Yuna-nee was about to start college, and I didn't want her having to cook for me everyday butting into her study time. She still made her own meals, of course, but when I started really being able to help she's been able to sleep in just a little later.

Nagatani Yuki
"My, this is very good. You made this, Yuna-chan? I must say, I don't know why you're still in school. You should go professional already. You're already better than Hikari's ever been!"

Otsuka Hikari
"Hey!"

Granny punched his shoulder lightly from Megumi's other side.

Toomi Yuna
"O-Oh, well...thanks. Well, I'm not really in school for cooking itself. I don't know a lot about financing, for example, or other management things. Sonou-sensei said I could be a teacher, but for that I'd definitely need more practical training."

Yuna-nee was doing her best to be modest, but I knew her well enough to see that she was pleased. Embarrassed, certainly, but pleased. I always love it when Yuna-nee takes pride in her work, and I think I might be more proud of her accomplishments than she is.

Nagatani Yuki
"I see. You're certainly very responsible. Not many people your age would have taken that long-term perspective. Megumi, and Hikari, for example."

Yuki-san got punches from both of them for that. I decided to join in the conversation.

Komano Hina
"Mm. Yuna-nee always knows how to prioritize her things. She told me that comes from needing to know how to cook the most efficiently."

Toomi Yuna
"A-Ah, Hina, you're making me feel embarrassed here…"

Komano Hina
"But it's true. Miyu-senpai and Matsuri-senpai told me a lot how they admired you. And Aki-san always told me how she found you to be intimidating."

Toomi Yuna
"Oh? Aki? Intimidated?"

Komano Hina
"Mm. She respected your sense of responsibility and coolness, especially when under pressure. She told me once that she might have fallen for you had she met you before Youka-san."

I'm glad that I'm not the only one who can see all of Yuna-nee's good points, but I'm also happy that Yuna-nee returned my love. I'm not sure how I would have felt seeing her with another person.

Toomi Yuna
"Oh! A-Ah, is that so…?"

Oh, she's red now. But that's okay. I wanted Yuna-nee to know how much her friends and peers respect her. I feel that even though it's been years since middle school, part of her still lives in fear of being unwanted, so I'm glad to be able to share others' love of her.

Nagatani Megumi
"Wow, Yuna! You really did change after we left, huh?"

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, I'm quite surprised, and quite pleased. Ariu-san, huh?"

Yuna-nee peeked her red face out from behind her hands.

Toomi Yuna
"I thought you've been watching me for the last three years. Shouldn't you have known that?"

Nagatani Megumi
"We don't watch you all the time, you know!"

...actually, I'm kind of glad for that. There are things that, um...I'd prefer to stay private.

Enoki Sachi
"Besides, it's much different hearing it from someone close to you. I did not realize just how impactful you've been on others' lives."

Toomi Yuna
"Uwaaaaaa…"

Whoa, that sounded like Ano-chan.

Otsuka Hikari
"Well, Yuna-chan, dear, I think it's nice you've been noticed. Maybe not for the attention and all, but it does feel good to be appreciated and respected, hm?"

Toomi Yuna
"Well, yes, I suppose…"

Otsuka Hikari
"Besides, as I've been hearing all night, you are a very capable young woman. Maybe there's a pressure to live up to those expectations, but I believe you can do anything you set your mind to."

I agree. I believe that too, Yuna-nee. You've always been awesome. All your friends can see it - now, you just need to see it.

Toomi Yuna
"I...thank you. Everyone, thank you."

Yuna-nee's face was red and she was still looking down at the table, but I saw her smile a little and felt good. I love seeing her smile. I love it when she gets complimented. I love just whispering her name to myself when I'm alone, and I love waking up to one of us clinging to the other.

I reached for her hand under the table and gave it a squeeze. She squeezed back and looked away a little abashedly.

Nagatani Yuki
"Urrrrrrrrrppp."

Yuki-san suddenly let out a loud belch by accident, followed by a slap from Granny.

Otsuka Hikari
"Yuki! Manners!"

Nagatani Yuki
"Shit, sorry."

*slap*

Otsuka Hikari
"Yuki! Language!"

Nagatani Yuki
"S-Sorry, sorry…"

Enoki Sachi
"Pft…"

Nagatani Megumi
"Heheheheh…"

That certainly broke the atmosphere. The whole room broke into laughter at Yuki-san and Granny's antics. Yuna-nee managed to regain some of her composure, and I noticed that somehow in the conversations going on around the table most of the food had disappeared.

Nagatani Yuki
"Ahahaha...well, shall we move on to dessert?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Yes! Yes! Yuna, Hina-chan, you need to try the cookies me and Sachi-san made!"

Somehow, despite spending a lot of time throwing ingredients at each other and eating raw cookie dough, Megumi-san and Sachi-san managed to make enough cookies to pile up on a plate. I took one and nibbled into it.

Komano Hina
"Hm… it tastes...different, maybe?"

A little...saltier, maybe?

Otsuka Hikari
"Mm...oh! Mimi, are you using our old recipe?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Erm...y-yes. Why? Is it not good anymore?"

Oh. Megumi-san looks a little worried.

Komano Hina
"Mm. It's good."

It really was. So this is a thirty-year-old recipe, huh?

Otsuka Hikari
"Oh, no, nothing like that! It's just...I haven't made cookies in many years, so this...this really takes be back...haahh…"

Toomi Yuna
"Mm, yeah. It tastes fine, Megumi."

Nagatani Megumi
"O-Oh. Okay. Don't worry me so much!"

Otsuka Hikari
"Heheh...sorry, Mimi."

As we sat around the table munching on cookies and chatting about our lives - mostly about mine and Yuna-nee's - Yuki-san got up to get the bottle of wine. I felt a little uneasy seeing it. Once, when I was little, I accidentally drank some that Yuna-nee was using for some Western pasta. It tasted so bad I had to throw up, and it made me feel uncomfortably dizzy for hours. But today really was a special day, even though I was more of Yuna-nee's guest than anything more familiar to the ghosts or Megumi-san's parents, and I knew Yuna-nee would keep me from going too far.

Toomi Yuna
"Not too much, okay, Hina? Just like, a third of a glass to start."

Komano Hina
"Mm. Okay."

I accepted the glass in Yuki-san's outstretched hand and brought it tentatively to my nose. I could smell the sourness and the alcohol immediately, but resolved to finish at least that much.

Nagatani Yuki
"First, though, I'd like to make a toast."

Yuki-san stood, holding his glass of wine.

Otsuka Hikari
"That's a little formal, don't you think?"

Nagatani Yuki
"...shut up. I'd like to thank Yuna-chan."
[8]
Beside me, I sensed Yuna-nee stiffen.

Nagatani Yuki
"You...you brought together my - our - family for the first time in thirty years. I...never felt the same after...after Megumi died, and...it certainly affected my life, especially when she never came home for Obon."

The warm atmosphere that was present around the table had vanished. Or had it intensified? It was so quiet that I could hear Yuna-nee's breathing from next to me. I had a feeling that Yuki-san had a lot he wanted to say - a lot he wanted to get off his chest.

Nagatani Yuki
"Of course, I didn't know then that Megumi - my dear, precious little girl - couldn't come back. I didn't know she was stuck at Shirojo, unable to pass on to whatever higher presence there is, so the last thirty years have been of emptiness and pain."

Yuki-san took a moment to dab away his tears and clear his throat.

Nagatani Yuki
"But Yuna-chan, you knew of Megumi. And you took your own time to find us - to find her family. And...you've brought her back. Having to attend the funeral of our only child was the worst memory of my life, but...now I know she lives in a better place, a place waiting for Hikari and me, and when we get there, Mimi, we'll be reunited forever."

Megumi-san was crying now.

Nagatani Megumi
"Papaaaa~..."

Nagatani Yuki
"Thank you, Yuna-san. Thank you for bringing my daughter to me one more time."

With that, he raised his glass, and the rest of us followed suit. I took a tentative sip of my wine, and was immediately struck by the almost disgusting mix of sour and bitter. Strangely, though, I found the sweet aftertaste to be somewhat pleasant.

Then, to my surprise, Yuna-nee stood up.

Toomi Yuna
"I, uh...had something I wanted to say, too. I-I'm sorry, Yuki-san, Granny, but it's not that related t-to tonight. But it's something I've wanted to say for a long time."

Yuki-san gestured for her to go on. She turned towards Sachi-san and Megumi-san.

Toomi Yuna
"Megumi...Sachi-san...thank you."

Enoki Sachi
"Oh?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Huh?"

Toomi Yuna
"I...I never told you how much I appreciate you. Helping you help all those girls...and being able - or rather, forced - to talk to you-"

There were a few low chuckles at that.

Toomi Yuna
"-helped me face my inner demons, and helped me make some lifelong friends. I...I never would have been who I am today without you. You helped me find myself again, and you helped me find my own precious love."

Oh. I felt my face grow warm and my heart soar as she said that.

Toomi Yuna
"I...your departure made me realize how much you both meant to me. I missed you so much afterwards. I...I love you both, okay? You're both special to me. Always. Forever."

Nagatani Megumi
"Yunaaaa…"

Megumi-san left her father to hug Yuna-nee. I could tell that Yuna-nee felt much better after saying that, even though she was crying. I could see it in how freely she cried, holding Megumi close despite their constant crossfire of abuse.

Enoki Sachi
"...Thank you, Yuna. We both missed you dearly. I suppose this day really is Megumi's, but it warms my heart to know you wanted to see us as much as we wanted to see you. I...don't really know how to respond, though. I'm flattered you see us in such high regard."

All Yuna-nee could say was:

Toomi Yuna
"M-Mm."

Nagatani Megumi
"Snif...though, you used Ichiki-san's line."

Toomi Yuna
"Heheh...snif...I did, didn't I? I must've been spending too much time around her."


[11]
Eventually, both Yuna-nee and Megumi-san managed to stop crying. We talked about various things well into the night, until Yuna-nee let out a loud hiccup after her third glass.

Toomi Yuna
"Oh! E-excuse - hic! - me!"

Nagatani Megumi
"Pft...hahaha, Yuna, you lightweight!"

Toomi Yuna
"H-hey! Ghosts - hic! - aren't fair! Not my fault you - hic! - don't have digestive systems or anything like that!"

Enoki Sachi
"Megumiiii~, don't tease her so~"

Nagatani Megumi
"Okaaaaay, Sachi-san~ What about you, Hina-chan, how are you feeling?"

Komano Hina
"Uhm...fine, actually."

Yeah. I haven't really been thinking about it, but even after three glasses of wine I only feel a slight buzzing behind my ears. I'm definitely not like Yuna-nee, I don't think, who's swaying now and whose eyes are already kind of bleary.

Enoki Sachi
"Heheh...that's an athlete for you, I guess."

Toomi Yuna
"Hina...you're beautiful."

What…?! My heart skipped a beat as Yuna-nee blurted that out. She covered her mouth quickly, face red either from saying that or from the alcohol in her system. Maybe both. It was so unlike her that even Megumi-san took time to be surprised.

Nagatani Megumi
"Wow, Yuna, you've never been so open about these things before!"

Toomi Yuna
"Sh-Shut up."

Yuna-nee clearly didn't really trust her voice at the moment, so she was speaking through her fingers.

Otsuka Hikari
"Oh, dear, I think any more and you'll be doubled over on the ground, Yuna-chan. I think we should call it a night."

Nagatani Yuki
"I agree. Yuna-chan, Hina-chan, you can use that room we showed you. Mimi, Sachi-san...do you...sleep?"

That's a good question. I suppose spirits no longer have physical needs, huh? But wait, they can touch and taste things right now…? Hm...spirits are weird.

Enoki Sachi
"If we choose to. It's strange, really. We don't really need the sleep, of course, but I always felt weird if I didn't close my eyes, even if it was just for a few hours. We wouldn't really enter sleep, though, because our bodies didn't require it, but it was some sort of deeper consciousness nonetheless."

Nagatani Yuki
"...So, effectively, yes, you sleep?"

Enoki Sachi
"...Yes, I suppose."

Nagatani Yuki
"Alright, then. There's another spare bedroom, on the opposite end of the hallway from Yuna-chan and Hina-chan's room. I'll take you there, but first you need to help clean up."

Enoki Sachi
"Ah…"

Nagatani Megumi
"Oh...right…"

I snuck a look back at the kitchen area. Sachi-san and Megumi-san had cleaned themselves up enough to be presentable for dinner, but there was still flour everywhere - on the floor, all over the countertop - how did it even get up there…? I felt a little bad for them, but before I could say anything Yuna-nee spoke up.

Toomi Yuna
"Oh...hic!...I'll help you."

She stood up, and immediately almost fell on me. I suddenly realized that I had caught her very close to her chest and felt my blood rising.

Nagatani Megumi
"Ooh, Hina-chan, taking advantage of Yuna's drunkenness, hm?"

...Now I see why Yuna-nee always found Megumi-san annoying.

Enoki Sachi
"Megumi~ I'm not cleaning this by myself. Leave Hina-chan alone and come help me, okay?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Okay…"

Yuna-nee blinked rapidly and tried to straighten herself as I tried not to think about h-her chest right next to my...hands. Thankfully I managed to grip her arm before she toppled over.

Nagatani Yuki
"Hina-chan, just soak her head under some cold water for a few seconds. It won't get the alcohol out of her system, but it should help her retain some clarity. Also, make sure she drinks a lot of water. And I mean a lot. Regardless of what you do now she's gonna have a headache in the morning, but the more she drinks now the better she'll feel tomorrow."

Toomi Yuna
"I-I'm okay...just...hic!...a little dizzy."

No, you're a lot worse than that, Yuna-nee. Even I can see that.

Komano Hina
"Mm. Thank you. C'mon, Yuna-nee, let's get you sorted."

I slowly led Yuna-nee up the stairs and into the room that Yuki-san had set aside for us, gently seating her at the edge of the bed. I could tell she was still lucid, because she kept trying to insist she was fine and worrying about me, but I was having none of it today.
[8]
Komano Hina
("Yuna-nee, I love you...just let me take care of you for once, okay?")

It's been the other way around for so many years. She's cooked for me, helped me study, looked out for me, and been basically like a big sister to me for pretty much all my life. Sometime during my middle school years I decided that I wanted to return that love, though I didn't realize yet what it was. Even though I know Yuna-nee's only allowing me to help because she's not coordinated enough to shake off my grip, I'm enjoying the feeling of taking care of - almost like protecting - the person I love.

Komano Hina
"Just sit here, Yuna-nee. I'll get the sink full of water, okay? You don't need to dunk your head that much."

Toomi Yuna
"A-are you - hic! - sure? I-I think I can do at least - hic! - that much."

Komano Hina
"Mm-mm. You can't. Just sit."

Toomi Yuna
"Haahh...okay…"

I snuck a kiss onto her forehead to try to make her feel better. Knowing her preference for doing things herself and taking pride in being able to work through most things on her own, I think the inability and clumsiness brought on by alcohol might be taking a toll on her sense of self-worth. Of course, I don't think Yuna-nee could be bad at anything she enjoys doing if she tried, at least while she's sober. Alcohol just affects people funny.

Komano Hina
"Haahh…"

Now that I had some time to myself as I filled the sink with ice-cold water, my mind wandered to my life and future. I think seeing the ghosts and Megumi-san's elderly parents made me realize that life would have to go on for both Yuna-nee and me, and it scared me a little. I mean, Yuna-nee needs to find a job soon, and I'm already in college. I think we'll end up having to separate for a couple of years, because I want to see her succeed and not be tethered by my location. Pretty soon we'll have to think about finding a place to stay, too, especially because I want to stay by her side forever. In that regard, I think, we're like Sachi-san and Megumi-san. And now, knowing of their success, I believe we can achieve that too.

But first, though…

Komano Hina
"Yuna-nee!"

Toomi Yuna
"Ugh...yeah, coming…"

I watched as Yuna-nee slowly struggled into the bathroom. Now that we were alone, I could really focus on her - or more accurately, on how much of a mess she was. I knew she took care to make herself presentable every day, but at the moment her hair was disheveled and her clothing wrinkled. In fact, she looks a lot like after every time we-

Komano Hina
("A-Ah!")

Let's...not get into that. ...Now I'm thinking about it. This isn't good.

Komano Hina
("Whoa...whoa, whoa, whoa!)

Komano Hina
"...whoa…"

Toomi Yuna
"H-Hina? What is it?"

Did that one come out? I need to relax. There's nothing wrong with...doing it...of course, but this definitely isn't the time.

Komano Hina
"Um, mm-mm. It was nothing. Here, Yuna-nee."

I took her hands and put them to the edge of the sink. Wow, I really don't think I've ever seen her so out of it like this. Is this what alcohol does to you? It's scary...but it didn't affect me like that...I wonder…

Toomi Yuna
"O-okay...brrr, that really is cold...okay, I'm going in. Nwhoaaa...mm…! Mmmfph! Hwagh! Haah, haah, haah…"

Whoa, her eyes are wide! At least they're clearer than before, though. I guess the cold water really did work. I handed her a glass of water.

Toomi Yuna
"Phew...thanks. ...ulp…"

Komano Hina
"How do you feel, Yuna-nee?"

Toomi Yuna
"Better. I think. Less like crap. Haahh...though I know I'm still going to have a headache in the morning…"

Komano Hina
"Mm...I'll hold you till then."

Toomi Yuna
"Heheh...I know you will. ...Join me for a shower?"
[10]
Komano Hina
"Urk…!"

What? What?! What should I do? I mean...I'd love to. Of course. I love her, of course, and there are few things more pure than joining in body, but-

Komano Hina
("But nothing.")

I relaxed a little. People keep telling me they respect me or admire me - or in Matsuri-senpai's case, "love" me - because of my honesty to my feelings, and my acceptance of them. I love Yuna-nee. That much is clear. And because of that, I suppose I don't see anything wrong with joining her in the shower.

Toomi Yuna
"Well? Hina?"

Despite dating for three years, and having known each other for our entire lives, there was still excitement in all of our physical encounters, in how we discovered new ways to serve each other. Yuna-nee wore a smile that was equal parts sly and shy. A smile that she reserved only for me.

Komano Hina
"...I'd love to, Yuna-nee."

~~~~~~~~~~Nagatani Megumi~~~~~~~~~~
[8]
Nagatani Megumi
"...F-Finally…"

I had forgotten what being tired felt like. Being dead for thirty years kind of does that to you.

Enoki Sachi
"Y-Yes...maybe we did go a little overboard there…"

Sachi-san and me were finally done with cleaning the kitchen. Papa went to bed almost an hour ago, and I'm pretty sure Yuna and Hina-chan are asleep by now. Sachi-san's right - we did go a little overboard.

Nagatani Megumi
"H-How did we get flour on top of the pantry anyway?"

Enoki Sachi
"Heh...heheh...that was probably your fault, Megumi…"

Sachi-san laughed tiredly.

Nagatani Megumi
"Haahh...you're probably right…"

I collapsed onto the couch next to Sachi-san and snuggled up to her, closing my eyes. I could feel her running her fingers through my hair, sending shivers down my spine, and her heartbeat(?) through my head resting on her breast.

Nagatani Megumi
("Dying's...not so bad…")

It wasn't, really. That is, true death, without regrets. Where you ascend to that higher plane of existence, and not that in-between state that the two of us were stuck in for so long. It was like some god, some deity, or just some higher existence acknowledged the joys of living and allowed the dead to continue to have those experiences. I knew Sachi-san didn't really have a heart - at least, not a physical one, but just being able to sit here in silence, cuddled in close...it was worth more than all of the fake kisses we exchanged on the roof combined.

Nagatani Megumi
"Fwaaaaaaah~…."

I let out a giant yawn. Wow, I was beat. The emotional roller coaster, the baking, the cleaning, they all take a lot out of a girl. Now I just want to-

Nagatani Megumi
"Hm?"

...sleep?

Enoki Sachi
"...You're tired too?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Y-Yeah. I guess this is just another effect of coming back to Earth?"

Enoki Sachi
"I suppose so. ...Shall we go to bed?"

Nagatani Megumi
"S-Sure… But I really am tired, Sachi-san…"

Enoki Sachi
"A-Ah, I don't always want to…"

Sachi-san trailed off, with just a small touch of red in her cheeks.

Nagatani Megumi
"Heheh...sorry. Let's go to bed."