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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."

Chapter Text

~~~~~~~~~~Toomi Yuna~~~~~~~~~~
[4]
Nagatani Megumi
"Where are we going?"

...Megumi asked me groggily, a cranky pout on her face. Yuki-san had sent me to get her and Sachi-san for our trip after I had come downstairs to the kitchen with my hair a mess and head pounding, saying something about how getting my blood running would help. I had entered their room with a little wariness that turned into apprehension when I saw their bodies tangled together, but thankfully they were both still fully clothed when I got there.

Toomi Yuna
"It's Obon."

...was all I had in response. Come on, Megumi. I'm not feeling too hot today, either.

Nagatani Megumi
"So?"

Toomi Yuna
"Day 2 of Obon, Megumi."

Enoki Sachi
"Ah!"

Aha, Sachi-san gets it.

Nagatani Megumi
"What? What about day 2? I, uh...I don't really remember…"

I was about to make another barb, but a wave of nausea hit me and it was just about all I could do not to vomit right there.

Enoki Sachi
"That's the grave cleaning! Yuna, is this why you've come to wake us?"

Toomi Yuna
"Y-Yeah…"

Now even Megumi had shaken off her sleepy air.

Nagatani Megumi
"G-Grave cleaning?! Are you...are you taking us…"

Toomi Yuna
"Yeah, I am."

Oh, who am I kidding. Annoying or not, these two are still my friends.

Toomi Yuna
"Hina, Ano, and I did some research. You two were both cremated in your ancestral homes. Megumi, yours is in Nagoya and Sachi-san, yours is in Hiroshima."

Nagatani Megumi
"W-What?! How did you even find that?"

Toomi Yuna
"Lots and lots of searching. Maybe I'll tell you next time."

...Next time? ...Yes, next time. I believe even when Obon is over that we will still see each other again.

Enoki Sachi
"Hiroshima, you said? I didn't even know that. Are these places where we are going?"

Toomi Yuna
"Well…"

Not quite.

Toomi Yuna
"We're definitely stopping by Nagoya, because Yuki-san told me that's where they erected your gravestone, Megumi, but Sachi-san, Hiroshima was destroyed in the war. The entire cemetery was leveled, and we couldn't find your name in any of the records we looked through."

Enoki Sachi
"A-Ah…"

Oh, damn, she looks like I physically struck her.

Toomi Yuna
"S-Sorry. I didn't mean-"

Enoki Sachi
"It's alright. I suppose these things do happen…"

Toomi Yuna
"But your family, thankfully, was still living around Shirojo at the time. In fact, we realized that your family actually never left."

Enoki Sachi
"E-Eh? Never left? You don't mean…?"

Toomi Yuna
"I do. We found one of your relatives in Shirojo. That relative is…"

I couldn't resist a pause for effect, even in my slightly inebriated state.

Toomi Yuna
"Sasa."
[6]
"Whaaaat?!"

Megumi and Sachi-san both exclaimed at the same time.

Toomi Yuna
"Yeah, Ano and I couldn't believe it either, but we traced the Futano name back some sixty years, where Sasa's great-great-something-or-other-grandfather married one of your...I guess one of your great-nieces? Cousin some times removed? A-Anyway, she married into the Futano family. From that we were able to backtrack to basically right after the war, where we were able to find a number of Enoki gravestones that were suddenly erected in a cemetery - in fact, the very cemetery right next to Yatsugishi apartments."

Nagatani Megumi
"H-Huh? You mean, Sachi-san's gravestone...was basically right next to the school?! The whole time?!"

Toomi Yuna
"That's right. It seems that your relatives re-erected as many of the destroyed gravestones as possible, Sachi-san, yours among them."

Enoki Sachi
"Is that so…"

I couldn't really tell what was going through Sachi-san's mind. I mean, it's literally an experience I've never had in my life. ...and for good reason…

Toomi Yuna
"A-Anyway, we're leaving for the airport in an hour and a half. We'll be going to Nagoya first, then taking a train to Shirojo and then flying back."

This should work. Hopefully, the second day of Obon meant that fewer people would be flying, and we'd be able to sneak Megumi and Sachi-san onboard, if need be. Of course, I don't think anybody else can see them anyway, but it'd be nice if they had places to sit.

Enoki Sachi
"Air...port…?"

Oh, that's right.

Toomi Yuna
"Oh, it's where you go to take planes to places."

Enoki Sachi
"I...see…"

Toomi Yuna
"A-Ah, you'll see when we get there."

I kind of wish the two spirits had retained some of their abilities when they were wandering ghosts. Possession and transient bodies would have made this trip a little easier to deal with. Though it is nice to see them engaging in otherwise normal activities instead of experiencing them through my body.

Toomi Yuna
"Anyway, get ready. We don't want to be late. I dunno what spirits need to do to get ready, but clean up, shower, pack, make out, whatever."

Enoki Sachi
"Ah, Yuna…"

Nagatani Megumi
"W-Wait a minute!"

Oh, they're both a little red in the face now.

Toomi Yuna
"I'm kidding. Seriously though, don't be late, alright?"

Enoki Sachi
"Right. Thank you, Yuna."

Toomi Yuna
"Mm, you're welcome. Breakfast is in half an hour, okay?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Okaay~!"

It looks like Megumi's excited to see her gravestone. I suppose that might be because she's with her family right now…? Or maybe she just wants to go see Shirojo again. This is when the summer camp occurs, after all. I usually cooked for it, even after entering college, but this time I left some of my most trusted assistants from last year with what I hoped were plenty of instructions.

Toomi Yuna
("Hm...what happens to the camp's food when I actually need to leave for good and find a job…?")

Enoki Sachi
"Yuna-san? Why are you still standing there?"

Toomi Yuna
"Huh?"

Whoops. I guess I blanked out a little.

Toomi Yuna
"S-Sorry. I'll get going."

~~~~~~~~~~Enoki Sachi~~~~~~~~~~
[11]
Enoki Sachi
"...Oh…"

...was all I could say upon seeing the plane. In my time, planes were loud, small, and fragile-looking, and most of them were armed for combat. The behemoth in front of me, however, was anything but.

Enoki Sachi
"It...looks like a whale."

Toomi Yuna
"More like a fish, I think."

Yuna-san exited the driver's seat of the car we came in on - she can drive now? Another reminder of the time that had passed - and stood next to me and Megumi as we waited for Yuki-san and Granny.

Komano Hina
"Mm...I think it looks like an angry bird. Or a bored one."

I guess that makes sense, considering that both are flying objects.

Nagatani Megumi
"I think it just looks like a plane."

There was a smattering of chuckles at that. I'm technically old enough to have seen through the development of air travel, but all I know of planes is from my perch on the roof, gazing above me as they took off and landed from the nearby airport. Yuna-san must have read my mind, because…

Toomi Yuna
"There are bigger ones than this, Sachi-san."

Enoki Sachi
"Huh?"

Toomi Yuna
"We're only flying domestic, so it doesn't have to be that big. If you have to go to the United States, or even to Europe, you need a larger plane to carry enough fuel for that distance."

Enoki Sachi
"Wow, you can fly directly to Europe now?"

My, things have changed.

Nagatani Megumi
"Yeah! I loved flying when I was alive! Well, I liked the actual flying part. But I always got sick on planes…"

Toomi Yuna
"But you can fly without assistance, now, can't you?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Well, yeah, but it's different, you know? There's no wind in your hair in space, Yuna."

Toomi Yuna
"...Fair enough."

Komano Hina
"Fwaaaaah~"

As Yuna-san and Megumi went back and forth, Hina-chan pattered up to me, a huge yawn on her face.

Enoki Sachi
"Get enough sleep, Hina-chan?"

Komano Hina
"Mm...I think so. But Yuna-nee kept me up."

Enoki Sachi
"Really? That's a little unlike her. She's usually so responsible. What happened?"

Komano Hina
"...It's a secret. But she was drunk, too, so I also wanted to make sure nothing happened during the night."

A secret, huh? I think I know what that means, so I won't pry. ...Though it is nice that even Yuna-san has her passionate times, too.

Enoki Sachi
"You've become very responsible, haven't you, Hina-chan?"

Hina-chan cocked her head in the way she always did when she was thinking.

Komano Hina
"Maybe. I always try to help if I can and I feel bad when I can't. Like when I told Yuna-nee I loved her, because at that time it was me who put her in an awkward position for so long. Or when Seina said she hurt someone close to her."

Enoki Sachi
"Oh? Maki Seina-chan?"

It slipped out before I could stop myself. I didn't know how much Yuna-san had told Hina-chan about what we did throughout the year. Somehow, I never considered that Hina-chan would have known some of the others, despite knowing they were both in the same year and I've seen them talking together.

Komano Hina
"Hm? Yeah, Maki Seina. You know her?"

Well, I guess it can't hurt anymore.

Enoki Sachi
"Y-Yes. Has Yuna-san tell you about how she helped us during her second year?"

Komano Hina
"Mm."

Oh, so Hina-chan already knows about Yuna-san's efforts for us.

Enoki Sachi
"Maki-chan was the first girl we helped."

Hina-chan's eyes went wide.

Komano Hina
"Hm? Oh, that explains why Yuna-nee wanted to know about her. ...So, Seina...was in love with another girl?"

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, that's right."

Hina-chan cocked her head again and closed her eyes, thinking.

Komano Hina
"Hm…"

I waited a few seconds, not wanting to interrupt whatever train of thought Hina-chan was on.

Komano Hina
"...Is it Aihara-san?"

Enoki Sachi
"Eh? Yes, yes it is. How did you figure that out?"

Komano Hina
"In our first week, Seina wanted to know about my childhood friend who made me lunch everyday. She said something like, 'it's like you have your own personal senpai' and how she wanted to get close to senpai too. Then she joined the beautification committee and became the class president, so her senpai must have been someone very responsible. The only four people I know who can handle that much work are Yuna-nee, Aki-san, Miyu-senpai, and Aihara-san. I'm dating Yuna-nee, Miyu-senpai's about to get married, and Aki-san's dating Youka-san, so it has to be Aihara-san. I also know that Aihara-san had a kindred heart-"

That part's not entirely true, but only a select few know about it.

Komano Hina
"-and that she was president of the beautification committee at the same time Seina joined, so she was doing a lot of favors. Seina mentioned how her senpai was so kind and helpful, so it makes sense that Aihara-san probably ended up heling her. I guess she was feeling down that one time because she hurt Aihara-san somehow, but they made up. She also mentioned to me and Shiori during our group project how she was dating someone older than her, so they must be still dating now."

...I'm quite impressed. I think it's fairly easy to assume Hina-chan's a little dumb, or simple because of how little she speaks and how blunt she is with her words, but it's more like she doesn't say more words than necessary to get a point across. In that sense, she reminds me of Miyama-san, where their exterior personalities hide something more than meets the eye.

Enoki Sachi
("...In that sense, they're my opposite.")

No. No need to bring that up. Both of the people dearest to my heart listened as I bared my soul and accepted me for who I am. I existed eighty years with regrets; there is no need to bring up the past again.

Komano Hina
"...So Miyu-senpai and Matsuri-senpai, and Aki-san and Youka-san, you knew about them too?"

Enoki Sachi
"Huh? E-Er, yes, we did. I can read emotions in somebody's heart if I stand very close to them, and besides that as ghosts we were able to, er...observe."

Hina-chan just nodded. Apparently, she doesn't care as much as Yuna-san did about privacy and such, though I suppose that might be because she hasn't made the connection yet to Megumi and I wanting our first time together.

Komano Hina
"Mm...what about Kiri-san and Sonou-sensei?"

Damn. Again, Hina is surprisingly sharp. But Tsurugimine-chan and Tsukuyo-chan are a more special case. What should I say?

Enoki Sachi
"A-Ah, well…"

Komano Hina
"Don't worry. You can't help who you feel love towards, right? It's okay that they were teacher and student, if they were in love."

In that case…

Enoki Sachi
"Then yes. Those two, as well."

Toomi Yuna
"What are you two talking about?"

Behind us, Yuna-san and Megumi walked up, still elbowing each other in the sides from whatever conversation they were coming from..

Enoki Sachi
"Just reminiscing about the past. Remember your game of tag?"

Yuna-san rolled her eyes.

Toomi Yuna
"Yeah. Not fun, you know. And Hina, you scared me half to death, jumping out the window."

Komano Hina
"I know, I know…"

Enoki Sachi
"Haahh…"

I let out a sigh of content as the four of us moved onto more inconsequential subjects. It felt nice, being able to chat about meaningless things like this. A few minutes went by, and Hina-chan and Megumi were in a serious discussion about eating lamb when I heard Yuki-san calling over to us.

Nagatani Yuki
"Over here! Sorry we took so long."

Otsuka Hikari
"That's because of your terrible driving."

...muttered Hikari-san from beside him.

Nagatani Yuki
"Anyway, Megumi, Sachi-san, I honestly have no idea how this going to work. I don't know why I've never heard of spirits before you two, and I don't know why after coming back to Earth you have somewhat physical bodies. In fact, I don't even know if anyone else can see or hear you. Until we can figure that out, the two of you stick with me, and keep quiet, okay?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Okay~!"

Enoki Sachi
"I understand."

What a novel experience this was turning out to be, pretending to be normal, walking among family and friends. ...Novel? No, not novel. It's familiar. Nostalgic. Forgotten, maybe, in the last eighty years, but a sensation I did not realize I missed.

Toomi Yuna
"Our flight's soon, so let's get going."


Even though we were supposed to be on a normal trip together, I couldn't help staring at the things around me. It had occurred to me many times that what I knew of the world was limited to the grounds of Shirojo, but standing in a building some dozens of meters high with lighted screens, electronic announcements, and automated processes everywhere felt almost like walking into another world. As we walked down the concourse to our check-in aisle I heard Yuna-san come up behind me and Megumi, muttering under her breath. It was an action that was made so familiar to us when we met her in Shirojo that for a minute I felt a little disoriented.

Toomi Yuna
"Okay, so we'll be in this aisle. Stay in between Hina and me when we're in line, and when we get up to the counter, let Yuki-san do all the talking."

Nagatani Megumi
"'Let Yuki-san do all the talking'? Been watching too many movies, Yuna?"

Megumi stuck her tongue out at Yuna-san.

Toomi Yuna
"Shut up. This will basically determine whether or not others can see you. I'd like to find out whether or not they can feel you, too, but since you're able to interact with objects in the real world I think it's safe to assume that they can."

Enoki Sachi
"Okay, makes sense. How does Yuki-san talking with the receptionist determine whether or not people can see us?"

Toomi Yuna
"We'll be travelling as a group, but we purposely did not reserve any seats. If the receptionist gives us four tickets, then people can't see you and that becomes a problem. If she gives us six, then people can see you, and presumably feel and hear you."

Enoki Sachi
"I see…"

Nagatani Megumi
"Huh, I guess you did think of everything."

Yuna-san's mouth twitched as she fought a smile.

Toomi Yuna
"Come on, Megumi, why do you still sound surprised every time?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Because it's surprising every time!"

I shook my head in mock admonishment.

Enoki Sachi
"Now, you two. Behave."

Nagatani Megumi
"Heheheheheh…"

Toomi Yuna
"Haha...yeah, yeah."

I absently wondered if Megumi and I looked weird as we stood in line between her parents and Yuna-san and Hina-chan. I think spirits can project whatever form they wish in the ethereal plane, but apart from some...intimate...times, neither Megumi nor I had elected to change our sailor uniforms, though I have considered projecting Shirojo's current uniform just to see how it looks. Perhaps it was just more normal for us to continue using them, but in hindsight maybe it would have been better to change into something more casual. Yuna-san must have had the same thought, because…

Toomi Yuna
"Shoot, I didn't consider your uniforms. ...Maybe we can pass you off as just getting off school? Hopefully nobody asks, though I suppose it would be a little rude to do so…"

I could sense her darting glances around the massive room as the line inched forward. I snuck a few glances of my own. Nobody seemed to be paying attention, but I wasn't sure if it was because nobody cared or if nobody could see us. I started praying that it was the former as our mismatched group finally made it to the front of the line.

Receptionist
"Good morning! Where are you headed?"

Nagatani Yuki
"Good morning. Nagoya, please."

Receptionist
"Alright. Are the six of you together?"

Ah. Six of us. That means others can see us. Though, that raises a number of questions. I heard Yuna-san start muttering to herself behind me.

Toomi Yuna
"So they're not invisible...which makes sense, because Hina and I aren't part of the Nagatani family and we can still see them...but why…?"

She trailed off, but I knew what she was asking. Why are we the first spirits that...well, that we know? If it's Obon, and spirits are able to return to Earth, and spirits are able to interact with the real world, then why have none of us heard of anything until now? In fact, looking around, it appears we're the only spirits around, and I know we're not the only ones to come back; I've met others who regularly return for Obon.

Enoki Sachi
"...Interesting…"

Toomi Yuna
"Yeah…"

Hina-chan just shrugged a little.

Komano Hina
"I don't think we'll ever know the answer."

Enoki Sachi
"Probably not."

Toomi Yuna
"But it's certainly interesting to think about."

Nagatani Yuki
"...thank you. Let's go."

Yuki-san beckoned us over, this time directly addressing Megumi and me now that we could pretend to be human.

Nagatani Megumi
"Wow! This is exciting, isn't it? We're going home!"

Yes. Home. We may be going to Megumi's ancestral home, but I knew what she meant by home. Shirojo. Where so many memories were created.

Enoki Sachi
"Yes. We're going home."

~~~~~~~~~~Nagatani Megumi~~~~~~~~~~
[8]
I...don't really know what to think. I guess I was pretty excited at first - after all, how often do you actually get to see your own gravestone? And now that our group has accepted the reality of death and spirits, it's actually a little funny in a strange, detached sort of sense that four humans - two of which who are younger than me chronologically but older physically - myself, and my hundred-year-old girlfriend who still looks like a high schooler are standing in a cemetery looking at a carved piece of rock meant to mark my passing. In that way, it really is funny.

It's the other things that make it less so.

Nagatani Megumi
"Hm…"

Enoki Sachi
"Hm? What's wrong?"

Sachi-san, as always, was quick to pick up my mood.

Nagatani Megumi
"Well…"

I kept my voice down. It only seemed appropriate.

Nagatani Megumi
"That family, over there."

I glanced towards an elderly woman with what I assumed to be her two children and their families crouching at a headstone in a neighboring plot. Sachi-san casually turned in a way that allowed her to observe without seeming to.

Enoki Sachi
"Ah, yes."

Nagatani Megumi
"I just...it reminds me, you know?"

Enoki Sachi
"I understand. This is where hopes and dreams were raised and crushed."

Yes, that's exactly it. I realized I was feeling guilty. Here I was, holding hands with my eternal love, among my friends and parents, while another family affected by grief were kneeling nearby, mourning the death of a loved one. It just didn't seem...right.

Otsuka Hikari
"Don't worry, Mimi. People have to handle grief differently. It may hurt now, but unfortunately we need to allow these people to grow together."

Nagatani Megumi
"But…"

But...I caused my parents' divorce! I mean...they never blamed me for it, and they never blamed each other, but…

Otsuka Hikari
"Shh...it's alright. The things you experience dictate who you are. Your friend, Yuna-san. Was she perfect?"

Nagatani Megumi
"No…"

No, definitely not.

Otsuka Hikari
"From what you told me, it was her imperfections - her fears, her trauma and her background - that ultimately led the three of you to become friends for life - and beyond. Would you have wanted her to be any different?"

I thought about that. Had Yuna been fine...had she been okay when she met us, without the darkness in her heart, would she have seen us? Would we still be waiting on the roof, frustrated at our inability to help girls in love? Would she have responded to Hina-chan?

Nagatani Megumi
"No. I'm glad Yuna's my friend."

Otsuka Hikari
"Then worry not about this family. Death is a part of life, after all. Your father and I are close to death. Are you worried about us?"

Nagatani Megumi
"No. Because I'm waiting for you."

I realized that was the important thing. Death really is a part of life. Maybe it hurts to be apart for any amount of time, but ultimately, at the end of life, you exist together with your loved ones for eternity.

Nagatani Megumi
"...Phew. I feel better now."

Mama smiled at me and held my hand.

Otsuka Hikari
"That's good. Now. Would you like to have the very unique experience of cleaning your own gravestone?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Sure!"

~~~~~~~~~~Enoki Sachi~~~~~~~~~~
[12]
"Hi, Hina, Yuna-senpai!"

Toomi Yuna
"Hm? Oh, hello. Are you ever going to call me Yuna-chan?"

"Probably not!"

I turned to see a bubbly young girl of about college age - which would make sense, considering she somehow knows Hina-chan and Yuna-san - bounding over to our place in front of my re-erected gravestone. Yuki-san and Granny both declined to join us, saying that they felt that the cleaning should be limited to my close friends, so it was only four of us preparing the water and washcloths. As the girl approached, I realized there was something familiar in that bright smile and small figure, but it wasn't until I saw the tall, elegant woman behind her that it clicked in my mind.

Enoki Sachi
"Maki-chan? Is that you?"

Toomi Yuna
"Ack-!"

Komano Hina
"Uh…"

Nagatani Megumi
"A-ah!"

I mentally slapped myself. Shoot, I did it again. Spending eighty years as a ghost nobody can hear or see made it hard to remember to filter some things that shouldn't have been said. Like saying hi to somebody that has no idea who I am, for example.

Maki Seina
"Eh? I'm sorry, do I know you?"

Enoki Sachi
"Er...ah…"

Shoot, what do I say? Megumi was looking at me with a face that was equal parts alarm and amusement. Yuna-san wore a look of panic. Hina-chan...was Hina-chan, I suppose. But before I could respond, Miki-chan stepped in, eyes furrowed as she recalled some memory.

Aihara Miki
"Excuse me for this, but...you do seem rather familiar, though I'm certain we've never met."

Enoki Sachi
"Ah, you must be mistaken…"

Maki Seina
"Nope! Miki-san can memorize faces and names like nothing! That's how she became so popular in school!"

Aihara Miki
"I did do other things, you know, Seina."

Yes, Miki-chan, I know. We know, Megumi, Yuna and me. But you don't know that we know; how could you?

Aihara Miki
"See, I was on the beautification committee for Shirojo. I guess I overworked myself a little too much-"

That's a bit of an understatement.

Aihara Miki
"-but it allowed me to explore the school as a first-year. I guess I picked up the ability to remember names and faces easily, and that, um...gave me the title 'Saint of Shirojo'."

Miki-san finished with a small blush and a shrug.

Maki Seina
"It's a good thing! I never would have met you otherwise, Miki-san."

Aihara Miki
"I-I suppose, but evidently it's not as good as you're hoping, love. I'm sorry-"

She turned her attention back towards me.

Aihara Miki
"-for some reason I don't remember you attending Shirojo at the same time I did, yet for some reason I want to associate you with it."

Enoki Sachi
"Th-That's alright."

I had to make something up quickly and hopefully divert attention away.

Enoki Sachi
"I, uh, wasn't really that popular, or even, well...outgoing."

I guess my actual school experience would work here.

Enoki Sachi
"I'd, uh, just go out to where the enoki tree was during the breaks and wander around betw-"

Aihara Miki
"Ah!"

Enoki Sachi
"A-Ah…?"

Miki-chan let out a little exclamation and started inspecting my face even closer. Then she stepped back with a bewildered expression.

Aihara Miki
"You couldn't possibly be Enoki Sachi, could you?"

Enoki Sachi
"Ah…"

Damn. She figured it out. It must have been me mentioning the enoki tree. I guess it'd just cause more trouble to not tell the truth at this point.

Enoki Sachi
"Haahh… Yes, I am."

Maki-chan blinked and cocked her head. Apparently, her following Miki-chan around campus for half a year had taught her a lot about Shirojo's history.

Maki Seina
"Enoki…? Miki-san, that can't be right. Wasn't that an accident from eighty years ago?"

Aihara Miki
"Yes, that's what I thought. Tell me, how could you be the same Enoki Sachi, unless you're...oh."

Miki-chan's confused and suspicious face suddenly turned into one of understanding.

Aihara Miki
"...I see."

Maki Seina
"Eh? Miki-san, did you understand something?"

Aihara Miki
"Yes, yes I did. It's Obon."

Maki Seina
"Mhm. And?"

Miki-chan gently poked Maki-chan in the forehead.

Aihara Miki
"Seinaaa~, Obon. What is Obon?"

Maki Seina
"The festival for spirits? What, I don't get i- Oh."

Looks like Maki-chan made the connection, too. Obon, spirits, an accident eighty years ago…

Maki Seina
"So...you're dead?"

Immediately, Maki-chan covered her mouth in embarrassment.

Maki Seina
"I'm sorry! Did that sound rude? I mean, like...are you a spirit?"

I stole a glance towards Megumi. She just gave me a helpless shrug.

Enoki Sachi
"That's alright. Yes, I'm dead, but technically...I'm not a spirit. I existed as a spirit for eighty years, and Megumi for thirty, but we both achieved peace three years ago. Now, we exist in the afterlife, but since we're on Earth for Obon we have physical bodies. Though, it's easier just to refer to us as spirits."

Maki-chan and Miki-chan's eyes were big as saucers. I'm not surprised, honestly. The first time Yuna-san met us, she ran away, after all. All things considered, these two are taking the existence of spirits quite well.

Maki Seina
"Three years ago...so that would explain the giant beam of light!"

Toomi Yuna
"Huh? You saw that, too?"

Maki Seina
"It was kind of hard not to! A massive beam of light, going towards space, you know. I guess that was your release from this world, huh? But wait, how do you know Yuna-senpai and Hina?"

Toomi Yuna
"Well, they scared me to death."

Nagatani Megumi
"Not literally."

Toomi Yuna
"Not yet."

Er, is this something you should be joking about, you two…?

Toomi Yuna
"For some reason, they appeared to me when I was eating lunch on the roof one day. I've never quite figured out why, though I have some theories, none of which I can prove."

Aihara Miki
"What do you mean, 'appeared'?"

Toomi Yuna
"I mean, before that, they were invisible to me. And I couldn't hear them."

Yes, I remember those days. Despite having Megumi all to myself for the better part of thirty years, it was lonely and frustrating, being a ghost, especially with all of the seemingly arbitrary limitations that the universe placed on us.

Maki Seina
"On the roof...oh, wait! I thought I heard clapping behind me once. It was-"

Nagatani Megumi
"The day you confessed to Miki-san! Yeah, I remember that day. Me and Sachi-san were both really proud of you!"

Maki Seina
"Ehehehehe...so you saw that, huh? Don't praise me like that...it's a little embarrassing now that I know you were watching…"

Enoki Sachi
"Oh, but you were absolutely stunning, Maki-chan, standing at your proudest like that."

Aihara Miki
"You really were, . Even in the face of my not understanding of you and your feelings...you held true to your own even while I struggled with myself. And not just then - you managed to so for the entire year, and since then."

Miki-chan turned towards us.

Aihara Miki
"But...I have to ask...how much did...did you watch us?"

Oh, shoot. I know exactly what she's implying. The fact that we were once spirits, with incorporeal bodies, and that nobody could see or hear us. Though they seem to be accepting of the existence of supernatural beings, maybe now is not a good time to inform them of our initial goal of observing two women becoming one in body and soul. I was struggling with how to form my words when Yuna-san saved me.

Toomi Yuna
"Not all the time. There were other couples at school to keep track of."

Miki-chan and Maki-chan's eyebrows, which had finally settled after their owners' initial surprise, shot up again upon hearing Yuna-san's statement.

Maki Seina
"Yuna-senpai? What do you mean?"

Toomi Yuna
"Er, well...these two approached me for a favor, asking me to help them help girls at school who harbored well...yuri feelings. I didn't want to at first, but they managed to convince me otherwise, and-"

She turned away with a small smile, blushing slightly.

Toomi Yuna
"-it was because of meeting them that I found love in Hina."

Komano Hina
"Mm!"

Maki Seina
"And what a great couple you are!"

Maki-chan effectively tackled Hina-chan in a bear hug. It was a little bit of a strange sight, seeing these two polar opposites, but judging by Hina-chan's big smile they had become good friends.

Aihara Miki
"Helping them?"

Toomi Yuna
"Ah, not obviously. They both died because of regrets from untold love in their hearts and didn't want other girls to leave school without acting on their feelings. I told them I'd help from the shadows. If you remember, Miki-san, we, er...had a discussion about other people's perception?"

Aihara Miki
"Some discussion. You helped me realize what it means to understand somebody else, but you looked like you were hurting over something terrible. I felt that you had experienced something similar to what I had."

Toomi Yuna
"Yes, that's true, but since then I've made peace with my past. Anyway, at the time I didn't want anybody to know, because...well...I didn't want anybody to think I was...meddling."

I think that fear still remains, Yuna-san. I think you've just figured out how to deal with it and move on.

Aihara Miki
"And now?"

Miki-chan's tone was gentle, as it always has been, but Yuna-san flinched as if struck.

Toomi Yuna
"Now...I just feel like you deserve to know the truth. M-Meddling or not."

Maki Seina
"Yuna-senpaaai~"

Miki-chan just laughed quietly while Maki-chan let go of Hina-chan and hugged Yuna-san.

Aihara Miki
"I'm not going to scold you, Yuna-chan. It's not as if you know of some dark secret - I told you about it, didn't I? - and if you did you seem to be the type to keep it anyway. Besides, it's all in the past now."

Maki Seina
"And apparently I have you to thank for helping me be happy with my girlfriend!"

Toomi Yuna
"I guess… A-Anyway, the first thing I did was distracting those third-years with a fake dog. Remember, Seina? When you were delivering your love letter?"

Maki Seina
"Huh? Wait, that was you? Wait, you know about it?! Aaahhh, it's so cheesy, though...and a little embarrassing..."

Aihara Miki
"I think it was cute. You know...I still have it."

Maki Seina
"Eh? Really?! B-But why? I thought I would have creeped you out with it, Miki-san…that you would have thrown it away as soon as possible..."

Aihara Miki
"Not creeped out, necessarily. Just surprised. And maybe a little hurt because I thought you were pushing yourself onto me - not that it was ever true. But I kept it for some reason I don't know, and now…"

Miki-chan let a shy smile spread across her face as she unzipped her purse and pulled out a small, thin wooden box. She opened it gingerly, as if handling glass, and inside…

Maki Seina
"Huh?! Is this my letter?!"

Miki-chan just nodded. In her hands was indeed a pink, crumpled, and fairly worn-looking sheet of paper that I recognized as the letter that Maki-chan had spent weeks trying to deliver.

Aihara Miki
"I've...been carrying it with me for a while. Ever since September or October of our first year together. It's my favorite possession. Sorry it's so wrinkled, though...I do like to reread now and then."

Maki Seina
"N-No! It's...it's totally...fine…Miki-saaaan~"

Now Maki-chan let go of Yuna-san and flew into Miki-chan's arms, on the verge of tears.

Maki Seina
"You should've told meee~"

Aihara Miki
"Heheh...I'm sorry. I do feel very possessive of this, even though you wrote it for me."

Yuna-san coughed. That's right; she's not like me. I guess she still isn't comfortable with seeing affection in front of her.

Toomi Yuna
"Er, anyway. We also helped with finding you a hideout."

Oh, their faces went red at that. No surprise there, considering what...memories...they have there. I pretended not to notice.

Toomi Yuna
"I have to say, finding a place for you and making you think you found it yourself was tricky."

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, I was worried you wouldn't follow my poltergeist noises."

Maki Seina
"Wait, wait. The reference room...that was you, too?! Er...how much did you see?"

Nagatani Megumi
"We didn't watch you all the time. I couldn't even go into the inner building! Besides, there were other couples to watch over."

Technically, Megumi didn't exactly answer the question, but it served as a suitable distraction.

Aihara Miki
"Er, you couldn't go into the…?"

Toomi Yuna
"Ah, I'll tell you some other time, Miki-san; it's a little complicated. I think that's basically where our - meaning my - interference stopped, more or less. The rest of the story with Sachi-san and Megumi is a long one, and I'd like to tell it in its entirety sometime."

Aihara Miki
"I see. Also...ah...never mind…"

Toomi Yuna
"Hm? What is it?"

Aihara Miki
"Oh, I shouldn't, but...now I'm just curious…who else?"

Toomi Yuna
"Huh? Who else did we help?"

Aihara Miki
"Yes. Oh, if you're at liberty, that is."

Toomi Yuna
"Well...have you checked your mail recently?"

Aihara Miki
"Eh? Y-Yes, I have, though I've been on vacation, so most of last week's mail is still sitting on my desk…I think Miyu and Matsuri sent me something…"

Toomi Yuna
"Ah, they'd be one of them. They may have sent you a wedding invitation."

Aihara Miki
"Oh? A wedding invitation?...Suddenly a lot of things make sense now…"

Miki-chan shook her hand in amazement.

Maki Seina
"Ooh! What about Ariu-senpai and Koba-san? I heard that they kissed onstage during, ah, the festival I was suspended from! Oh, I would have loved to see that…"

Aihara Miki
"Heheh...don't be so voyeuristic, love."

Maki-chan just stuck her tongue out at that.

Toomi Yuna
"Yes, them too, though that's not really a secret, is it? There are two more in my year, but I don't know if they want me saying anything, and of course, there's me and Hina."

Maki Seina
"Who confessed?"

Toomi Yuna
"E-Eh? Er, Hina did."

Aihara Miki
"Heheh...from what I heard from Miyu and Matsuri, it took you over a month to respond."

Toomi Yuna
"W-What? Ugh, they could've kept that quiet…"

Aihara Miki
"Don't worry about it, Yuna-chan. I do remember that month, too. I could tell you were beating yourself up over something."

Toomi Yuna
"M-Mm. Er, anyway, what are you two doing here?"

Maki Seina
"Huh? Oh, we're on a date!"

...What?

Nagatani Megumi
"...In a cemetery."

Maki Seina
"Oh, it sounds bad when you put it like that!"

No, I think it sounds bad no matter how you put it…

Aihara Miki
"I've come to learn that Seina's family holds a very positive outlook on...well, on about anything."

Maki Seina
"Yeah. My dad always said that death is part of life and not to dwell on it too much - that it's okay to be sad, but that it's better to celebrate who people were and not focus on how they're not here anymore."

Nagatani Megumi
"That's like my family!"

Toomi Yuna
"I-I get that, considering that two of my closest friends are both spirits, but still...a cemetery? Not everybody shares your optimism, Seina."

Aihara Miki
"That's just Maki Seina for you."

Miki-chan ruffled Maki-chan's hair, much in the way I've seen Yuna-san and Hina-chan interact.

Maki Seina
"But what about you? Why are you here? Are you here to clean something?"

Enoki Sachi
"Yes. We flew to Nagoya from Hokkaido for Megumi's, then took a train here. We're here to clean my second gravestone."

As I said that, I made sure to focus on their faces, knowing it would be an expression I would cherish for eternity. Maki-chan kind of opened her mouth slightly in confusion, while Miki-chan cocked her head as they both processed my words.

Aihara Miki
"...Your gravestone."

Maki Seina
"...Your second gravestone."

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, that's right."

...I said, purposely keeping an innocent smile on my face.

Maki Seina
"Are you going to give us any context?"

Enoki Sachi
"Probably not."

But I did gesture to the headstone that our group was standing at. Maki-chan and Miki-chan both knelt down to read it more closely, noting my name, date of birth, and date of death.

Maki Seina
"I don't get it...did you die twice?"

It was such an unexpected question that I relented and burst out laughing."

Enoki Sachi
"Hahahaha...no, no, nothing like that. My ancestral home is Hiroshima, according to Yuna-san, but my family fled after the bombings. Apparently, my first headstone was destroyed so a second was re-erected here."

Maki Seina
"...I understand that sequence of events. But…"

Aihara Miki
"It's strange to hear them with...first-person pronouns…"

Toomi Yuna
"You kinda get used to it after a while."

Aihara Miki
"I suppose...well, I guess we'll be seeing you...at the wedding, huh?"

Toomi Yuna
"Yes, I suppose so. Though, you won't see these spirits there. They'll have to go home tomorrow."

Ah...that's right. Tomorrow...we'll have to say farewell all over again.

Aihara Miki
"Oh, that's a shame. I would so love to talk to you two more about your experiences and what comes afterwards. Though, Seina, I guess this proves your family right: death really is just another natural part of life."

Maki Seina
"Mm! I can't wait to die!"

Aihara Miki
"Eh? Hahahahaha...don't say it like that!"

Laughter rang throughout the group.

Maki Seina
"Whatever! Bye, Yuna-senpai, Hina! And it was nice to meet you, spirits! ...Though I suppose we already have, technically…?"

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, it was nice to meet you in person. I hope we see each other again."

Nagatani Megumi
"Yeah! Maybe we can come back again in a few years…"

Come back…? Maybe. I hope so. If the laws of the universe will allow it.

Komano Hina
"Mm. Take care, Seina."

Aihara Miki
"Yes, we'll see you two at the wedding."

Toomi Yuna
"Mhm. See you then."

I waved as Maki-chan and Miki-chan left our plot, thinking once again how much things have changed in the last three years.

Enoki Sachi
("I guess I'm really starting to sound my age, huh?")
[8]
Yes, I'm definitely sounding like an old woman now.

Nagatani Megumi
"Maki-chan's all grown up now...it's kinda sad, isn't it?"

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, it is. I'm glad she kept the pigtails, though."

Nagatani Megumi
"Yeah, they're like her trademark!"

Toomi Yuna
"Seina's in college now, I think for architecture or some sort of engineering. She's actually at the same school as me and Miki-san. I've been trying to get her to call me Yuna-chan outside of school ever since she started coming over to hang out with Hina."

Enoki Sachi
"I don't see that happening any time soon, Yuna-san. She seems to be the type that will give her wholehearted respect to anyone that deserves it, and judging by how much you've helped her through study sessions I think you've earned it."

Toomi Yuna
"Haha...I suppose. I guess that isn't so bad. I kind of prefer having her call me senpai than being known as the Black Princess, or the White Secretary. It feels more...personal. Now I know how Miki-san feels about having titles applied to your name."

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, you and Miki-chan are quite similar in several regards. I guess when I consider it that way, I'm not entirely surprised at your surge in popularity."

Toomi Yuna
"Haahh...thanks, I guess? Anyway, shall we move on? Officially invite you back home to Earth?"

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, let's. This will be a very unique experience."

Chapter Text

~~~~~~~~~~Toomi Yuna~~~~~~~~~~

It was time. I could already see the lanterns from high up on the path leading down to the beach. Toronogashi...seeing off the spirits.

It was time for Megumi and Sachi-san to go home.

Toomi Yuna
("Haahh... It was a fun three days.")

It truly was. Catching up with my friends, saying some things I had wanted to say to them...I thoroughly enjoyed the borrowed time we had together. The night before, after flying back to Hokkaido, we had explored the surrounding areas to watch the various Bon dances. Megumi and Sachi-san were very enthusiastic about them, but part of me thinks it's because these dances are known as great matchmaking events and they were probably hoping to find more yuri couples. Hina and I even partook in some of them, me only after ingesting a little alcohol (though not as much as I did the first night). I had fun even doing that, despite myself.

And this last day…

Enoki Sachi
"Thank you again for this, Yuna-san."

Toomi Yuna
"Mm. It was nothing."

It wasn't anything. It really wasn't. My two friends...I'd do anything for the two of you.

Nagatani Megumi
"It wasn't nothing! You brought back my family...and we got to have more fun with you, Yuna. Today, especially. It...it was like just hanging out after school."

Yes, for our last day together we had decided not to plan anything. The four of us had just gone out to the surrounding towns together, doing whatever we wanted and eating whatever looked good.

Toomi Yuna
"It was. In fact, I don't think I've ever really done that with any of my human friends."

Nagatani Megumi
"No, you're certainly not the type to waste time doing meaningless things like that!...Haahh...it's almost time to go. I promise: this time I'm not going to cry. I know we'll see each other again."

Toomi Yuna
"Heheh...that's good. This is certainly not a farewell - it's another 'see you later' sort of thing. Maybe someday you can come back again."

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, perhaps. I'd like that. Maybe when you graduate from college, Hina-chan."

Nagatani Megumi
"Ugh...that'll be so weird! Yuna'll have to be a functioning adult member of society."

Komano Hina
"Me, too. I know Yuna-nee can do it. Me, I don't know. I won't be able to wear tracksuits anymore…"

Enoki Sachi
"No, Hina-chan, you could try to become a coach. Then you could make tracksuits a required uniform."

I chuckled inwardly at that thought. Yes, I could definitely see that happening. If Hina received so much attention from her upperclassmen, who knows how much admiration she'll draw from her students.

Nagatani Yuki
"Megumiii!"

We turned to see Megumi's father hurrying to catch up with us. Behind him, Granny looked on and waved. Earlier, they had said their private farewells to Megumi and Sachi-san, mentioning how they knew their lives were ending and that it wasn't as important to have an extended goodbye as it was for me and Hina. Especially me.

Nagatani Megumi
"Hm? What is it, Papa?"

Nagatani Yuki
"Haah…haah...good, I made it here. I just want you to know, your mother and I will remarry."

Nagatani Megumi
"Eh?! Really?!"

Nagatani Yuki
"Mhm. Again, nothing's changed in our love for each other, but...somehow it seems right to be legally bounded when we pass. She's decided to move in with me, and we'll spend the last years of our lives here on the farm."

Nagatani Megumi
"Snif...Papa~..."

I watched as Megumi gave her father one last hug, and turned, smiling at her mother. I felt a familiar clutch at my heart, but seeing the Nagatani family's acceptance of death and its real meaningless in the grand scheme of things helped me find my strength.

Nagatani Yuki
"Heheh...depending on who passes on first, we'll greet the other, right?"

Nagatani Megumi
"O-Of course! Though, I think Mama should come first. You'd be too lazy to get up and greet her if it were the other way!"

One last jibe, then.

Nagatani Yuki
"Perhaps. ...Haahh...go on, now, Mimi. We'll see you soon."

Nagatani Megumi
"Mhm...bye, Papa. I love you."

Nagatani Yuki
"And we love you, too. Now go. Go be with your friends."

Yuki-san walked back up the path, allowing the four of us to continue on our way down.

Toomi Yuna
"Well...shall we?"

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, let's get moving."

I gripped Hina's hand as Megumi gripped Sachi-san's, both actions completely natural to the four of us. Somehow, as we got closer to the beach, I felt in my heart our time together ending. Somehow, I knew that at midnight I would have to say goodbye again.

Toomi Yuna
("Mm. I'm not going to cry, either.")

No, I'm not. Of course, I'll be hurt. I'll miss my friends all over again. But I can find comfort in knowing that they're up there, waiting for me, watching over me. Maybe I'll see them in five years, maybe I'll see them in fifty. Regardless, I'll always be thinking of them. In that sense, we won't really be separate; not really. They'll always be a part of me.

Nagatani Megumi
"Hmm...let's just sit here."

She gestured towards an area of the beach that had managed to support some grass. Without saying anything, the four of us got onto our backs in a cross formation, our heads on the inside so we could still talk with each other.

Komano Hina
"Wow...the sky's so clear."

Enoki Sachi
"Yes. I've always noticed that the stars shine brighter at the end of Obon, and that the tug home feels stronger. I could always sense them, even if there were rainclouds on this day."

Nagatani Megumi
"I've always thought that each one's like a friendly spirit, welcoming you home!"

Toomi Yuna
"It must be somewhat true, then. I wonder how many of them are watching over me…?"

Enoki Sachi
"Heheh...in your twilight years, Yuna, you'll find that Megumi and I will be among them."

I felt my heart warm towards those words. Yes, I'd like that. I'd like that very much.

Komano Hina
"What's the afterlife like?"

Enoki Sachi
"I'd rather not say. It's...really quite indescribable. Enough so that you must really experience it for yourself. Besides, if I tell you now, then there will be no great mystery in your life anymore."

Komano Hina
"Mm...okay."

Nagatani Megumi
"Concentrate on your life, Hina-chan! Make sure you take care of Yuna, and make sure she takes care of you!"

Toomi Yuna
"Come off it, Megumi. You know I'll always be there for Hina."

Nagatani Megumi
"Maybe so, but it's my duty to remind you!"

Toomi Yuna
"Haahh...whatever you say."

We lay there for another few minutes, before…

Nagatani Megumi
"Yuna?"

Toomi Yuna
"Yeah, Megumi?"

Nagatani Megumi
"There's a package for you on the kitchen table. Open it after you get home, okay?"

Toomi Yuna
"Huh? For me? What is it?"

Nagatani Megumi
"Heheh...you'll see."

Toomi Yuna
"Hmph…"

I let it slide. I was in too good a mood to let anything bother me. What a peaceful night it was. We drifted off into silence, lost in the vastness of the great beyond. I drank in as much of my senses as I could - the different timings of my friends' breathing, the gentle splashing of the waves, and the wind along my face. I willed time to stop, hoping to stretch the moment into eternity, but…

Enoki Sachi
"...It's time."

Toomi Yuna
"...So it is."

Somehow, despite not carrying my phone or my watch, I could feel it in my heart. Midnight had approached, and now Megumi and Sachi-san must return home. With a heavy but steady heart, I stood, pulling my three friends up.

Komano Hina
"Megumi-san, Sachi-san, you're glowing."

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, it seems we are. I also feel...light. Like air."

Nagatani Megumi
"Like we're spirits again! But it's...different."

Enoki Sachi
"Yes...I still have control over my senses. Heheh...another mystery of the universe. Perhaps we could leave this one unsolved."

The two spirits walked towards the ocean, drawing surprised and awed gazes from the various onlookers. Hina and I kicked off our shoes and socks, rolling up the legs of our pants, wading into the warm water, but Megumi and Sachi-san merely kissed the surface, as if walking on solid glass. A few meters in from the shore, they turned.

Enoki Sachi
"This is where we part, Yuna-san."

Toomi Yuna
"Mhm."

I could feel that, too. My heart felt weighted down with the desire to hang on to them just a little longer, yet inexplicably light with knowing that they'd be waiting for me at the end. I took each one of them in a tight hug, mentally bracing myself for their departure.

Toomi Yuna
"Megumi, Sachi-san...I love you both. You two will always be special in my heart."

Nagatani Megumi
"Heheh...of course we are, Yuna."

But she said it with a gentle smile almost unbecoming of her that for once I couldn't think of a comeback.

Enoki Sachi
"Yes. You are special to us, too. You, too, Hina-chan. I only wish we had more time to get to know each other."

Komano Hina
"Mm. But if you're Yuna-nee's friends, you're my friends too. And...we'll have plenty of time to get to know each other"

Hina. So straightforward and honest.

Enoki Sachi
"Heheh...that's very true. But the two of you...live long, happy lives. We'll be friends forever - there's no need to hurry and see us."

Nagatani Megumi
"Yeah! The next time we come back, I want to see both of you living up to your true potentials!"

The next time…?

Toomi Yuna
"...I'd like that. Thank you Megumi, Sachi-san. Take care."

Enoki Sachi
"Yes, we must be off now. Take care, Yuna-san. Take care, Hina-chan."

Komano Hina
"Mm. Bye bye. It was nice getting to know you better."

Nagatani Megumi
"Yeah. Bye, Hina-chan. Bye, Yuna. See you later."

"See you later"...that's what we said last time, too. And it came true. We'll see each other again.

Toomi Yuna
"Yes...see you later."

As the kindred spirits turned away, walking off to where the hundreds of lantern boats sparkled in the moonlight, I kept my head high and my chin up. The smile on my face was natural as the two spirits slowly disappeared into the lantern light. Then, slowly, they glowed brighter, and their figures less pronounced.

Toomi Yuna
("Safe travels...to wherever you go.")

Then, finally, the light faded, and they were gone.

Chapter Text

Epilogue

 

~~~~~~~~~~Toomi Yuna~~~~~~~~~~
[4]
Toomi Yuna
"Hina? Can you zip me up?"

Komano Hina
"Mm...here."

Toomi Yuna
"Thanks."

I checked Hina's outfit, making sure her hair was drawn tightly enough into a bun and making sure she was visually flawless. Though, I suppose neither Miyu-san nor Matsuri-san would have really minded; in fact, if not for everyone else dressing up, I think they would have preferred her to wear her normal tracksuits.

Toomi Yuna
"Hm...you look great, Hina. How do you feel?"

Komano Hina
"Hm...itchy. And hot."

Toomi Yuna
"'Hot' is one way to put it."

Hina smirked at me.

Komano Hina
"You know I meant temperature-wise."

Toomi Yuna
"Haha, yes, yes, I do. I don't like makeup either, you know, but it is Miyu-san and Matsuri-san."

Komano Hina
"Mm, I suppose. I'm going to go downstairs now, okay?"

Toomi Yuna
"Okay. Wait for me by the receptionist, alright?"

Komano Hina
"Mm."

As Hina went down to the ground floor of our hotel, I checked myself in the mirror one last time. Hair, check. Makeup, check. Dress and shoes, check. Purse. ...Purse?

Toomi Yuna
("Where did I put it…ah.")

I snatched it off its place hanging on the chair.

Toomi Yuna
("...I guess it's not so bad.")

Yes, all modesty aside, I do like what I see in the mirror. I had considered wearing some sort of tuxedo for women, but decided to show off a bit. Not enough to outshine the two brides, but enough to turn some heads.

Toomi Yuna
("I must really be spending too much time around Umi and Sasa...hm?")

As I pirouetted in front of the mirror, I heard a clinking from inside my purse. I opened it to find…
[8]
Toomi Yuna
"Oh."

Megumi's package. In the hectic scramble of getting to the airport, saying our goodbyes to the Nagatani family, catching up with homework, and the flight to the US right after classes yesterday, I had forgotten about it. It was an unassuming cardboard box, but when I opened it I realized that inside was a velvet case containing…

Toomi Yuna
"Oh, my…"

In my hand was one of the most beautiful necklaces I'd ever seen. There were three precious stones set in an inverted triangle formation: some sort of agate marble in the center, flanked by sapphire on one side and topaz on the other. I recognized it as representing the colors of my eyes and the two spirits' will-o-wisps sitting in our old on-the-roof-eating-lunch formation, and recalled Megumi visiting the same store twice when we went shopping to pick up a custom order. Inside the box was a note written in her signature bloody writing:

"Dear Yuna,
It wouldn't be a reunion without this type of writing, now, would it? This is for you. I'm not too great at writing things, especially soppy things, and besides, we've both said all we need to. Thanks for being a great friend. Keep Hina-chan happy, live a long life, and we'll see you on our side one day! We love you too, you know, even me. I know you're not one to accessorize, but it'd make me and Sachi-san happy if you were to wear this for special occasions, okay? Okay!
Love, Megumi"

Toomi Yuna
"Special occasions, huh…?"
[9]
I put it on and looked in the mirror one last time.

Toomi Yuna
"Huh, it suits me."

It really did. The topaz and sapphire complemented each other perfectly, and somehow the three stones together didn't seem to clash with any of the colors on my outfit.

Toomi Yuna
"Okay."

I picked up my purse, taking just another second to admire myself in the mirror. I made sure I had the wedding gift in my other hand, and as I walked out of the room I thought about my interactions with my friends, the spirits, and, most importantly, with Hina.

Toomi Yuna
("A wedding, huh…? Maybe I can learn something from Miyu-san and Matsuri-san…")

I couldn't stop a giddy smile from crossing my face. Such a thought just made me so happy. Megumi and Sachi-san were right; I have been thinking about it. And as the door closed behind me, I made a promise to them.

Toomi Yuna
"Soon."

Yes. Soon.