Kyousuke shot a quick peek at Madoka’s face.
“Hey, don’t talk so loud. People will think we’re strange.”
The two of them were in a corner of the college cafeteria. At the next table a previously arranged reading circle group looked up at Kyousuke with questioning faces.
“But, Madoka was saying ‘Ghost’?” Kyousuke questioned. “You surprised me, saying such a bad and pretty thing.”
“Bad?” Madoka shot back. “That’s going overboard, don’t you think?”
Kyousuke saw Madoka let out a puff of air and felt a bit cross. Madoka seemed a bit irritated.
“What now? Like I said, ‘Ghost’. Don’t you believe me?”
“Mou! Right here is a ‘superman’, so I don’t think that a ghost or two would be so strange.”
“Damn it, don’t confuse the Kasuga family power with ghosts. But why do you all of a sudden bring up ghosts? Surely you’re not saying it’s someone you met…” As he said it, Kyousuke looked at Madoka’s face once more and for some reason she gave a shrug of her shoulders, which could be takes as a “Yes” or “No” or just smoothing things over.
That Madoka would try to keep up her own appearances was a surprise.
Why would I…. Why couldn’t she tell Kyousuke about that person?
From the time she had heard the voice of the man that might be Shuujirou, Madoka next became aware of herself upon hearing the blaring of the horn of her sister’s car. Her sister’s dark gray Audi was already right in front of her on the street. Madoka realized she had been frozen there for a while as her sister was beckoning her over from the driver’s side window.
Her sister seemed to be urging her on, and many other car horns were now blaring away, so she ran in the direction of the red zone (the actual translation is “red slope”. A no parking zone, perhaps?). Seeing she was saved from the hustle and bustle under the eaves, she took the cart and ran for the cover of her sister’s car.
“Hey you!” the man shouted at Madoka’s back. Once again his voice didn’t seem dishonest. Even if he was only trying to ask for directions… yes, that was certainly all it was. However, for a man not to have an ulterior motive for Madoka was an eerie feeling. Because of this she began to think more and more that this man must be Mishima Shuujirou.
Madoka took the contents of the cart and roughly put them in the Audi’s trunk, then slid into the backseat. After that Madoka didn’t see the man. No… COULDN’T see him.
The rain started falling even harder. Likely as not, even if Madoka had turned to look back, she surely wouldn’t have had a clear look at his appearance. Still, thanks to the rain not allowing her to see him or to go back and ask, Madoka didn’t have the self-confidence to be sure.
At Kyousuke’s call Madoka came back to herself.
“What’s up? You suddenly spaced out.”
“A, um, it’s nothing.”
“You just didn’t seem to be yourself. This Kimagure Angel, when she blanked out, didn’t seem like your usual self.”
“Yes, so!” Kyousuke said a bit seriously. Then they both shrugged their shoulders and laughed. “I don’t know why Madoka would be concerned about ghosts, but next time you should ask Ojiisan.”
“Okay.” Madoka allowed a smile to float to her lips.
“However…. Ghosts huh… Madoka, did you meet the ghost of someone you know?”
If she tried to tell him it would sound foolish. Nevertheless, those words pierced her heart. Madoka shrugged her shoulders twice, and said in a small voice “It’s nothing…” and nothing more.
Pretending not to know she had said anything to Kyousuke didn’t make her feel good, but she had a reason she couldn’t talk about that man with Kyousuke.
Mishima Shuujirou, for Madoka, was the first man she had ever allowed to see her nude body.
No, no… I don’t know that.
Kasuga Kyousuke, 22 years old. He was still in her heart even though it had been shaken up.
I didn’t notice it though.
As usual, I was interested in the carefree lifestyle of being a student, getting ready for the annual festival and studying for exams, and after school every day I had an easy part-time job I went to.
However, I soon forgot about Madoka’s ghost.
At that time, a picture postcard arrived from Hikaru-chan.
“No! Hikaru-chan’s returned to Hokkaido?”
As there was no lecture today, we were in my room teasing Jingaro. Kurumi and Manami had brought the postcard they had received from Hikaru-chan.
“Yep! For Oniichan from Otaru (a city in Hokkaido)”.
“Thought she would. Hikaru-chan has returned from America.”
When I said that Manami handed me the postcard. The picture was of an antique handmade lamp in a shop. The sepia ink gave it a good, feminine feel (talking like a photographer, isn’t he?).
“Do you suppose Hikaru-chan has an audition in a musical there?” Manami asked.
I haven’t yet told my loud younger sisters all that happened in New York.
“If Hikaru-chan is successful we absolutely have to go give support she said.”
“Right! And she’s really going to ‘get’ it too!” Kurumi added.
“Hmm? ‘Get’? What’s that?”
“Decided. I learned it from Hikaru-chan’s New York boyfriend.”
Ah, ‘get’ in English it seems. “Um…”
“Hey hey, you know what she said? Too all her friends? If in the future I become a big star what will everyone think? Kurumi-chan might be a pro baseball player or own some rice fields or something…”
“Kurumi! What the hell are you talking about?”
“Come on, she wants to see Madoka-san and the cute guy she liked if she can.”
“Huh? Ah… well…” (doesn’t feel good)
“Manami-chan and I couldn’t do it alone, but there’s more than enough Kasuga family power to get us there.”
“Kurumi! Absolutely not!”
It’s unheard of to use the Power in this way. Sometimes I just want to wring Kurumi’s neck.
But at that instant…. Fugyaa! Suddenly my field of vision was filled by a twitching Jingaro, swing his sharp claws at my forehead.
Thanks to Kurumi’s power, the air was filled with the pitiful screams of me and Jingaro. I grabbed the wildly flailing cat. “Kurumi! Manami!”
The twin girls fled the room, forgetting the postcard.
Man… those two…
It reminded me that they were the same age as Hikaru-chan.
While still holding onto Jingaro, I fell back to my bed. I looked at the reverse side of the sepia photograph and for the first time in a long time saw Hikaru-chan’s writing.
I often saw it during high school, strange little girl-type words, and in truth they made me break out in a cold sweat. But Hikaru-chan’s words clearly felt like an adult’s.
This past summer, when we met in Tokyo… That body… how mature she’s become (what am I saying!) All of that I began to remember.
About two months ago when we left Hikaru-chan in New York somehow it wasn’t with the feeling that we had become close friends again.
Hikaru-chan’s letter was well written, about recent bright times, looking like from a girlfriend.
“Thank you for your recent help in America,” she began formally. “At the end of January I returned to Otaru. I left my apartment in New York pretty much the way it is. I hadn’t seen my parents and how they live in a while, and it’s been fun, but having them worry about me is leaving me numb, so I’m writing.
“However… lately when I try to write to you casually, my chest begins to tighten up…
“Hikaru is okay. So don’t answer. Bye!” Is how it ends, the last of it in English.
“Don’t answer,” she said… In other words, don’t send a reply. She’s fine… well, because she’s fine now her intent is to set me free.
But that’s a strange thing for me to say. As usual, the whole situation between me, Madoka and Hikaru-chan is unresolved in Hikaru-chan’s heart. But I may be reading between the lines.
Until the audition for the musical “The Legend of Atlantis” it had been a good time for Hikaru-chan. But then she had been caught up in the complications of its promotion, and her life had become in danger. When Madoka found out, she flew to America to rescue her.
Hikaru-chan had been kidnapped, and once it became known that it was on the orders of a famous actress named Anita Brussel, it raised quite a fuss in the Americas. After that, “The Legend of Atlantis” which had had Japanese sponsors, upon hearing the extraordinary fate of Anita east-west cultural relations had suffered some friction.
What’s more, on a personal level, because of Anita’s manipulations Hikaru-chan received a huge shock about one of her closest friends. Anzai Shiyuri, who had the same dreams as Hikaru-chan, had devoted herself to lessons and they had become close friends. (You need to read the second novel to understand this part – it doesn’t get explained here).
Unfortunately, the Japanese companies, in the interest of U.S. relations, immediately decided to discontinue their sponsorship. After that, Hikaru-chan’s dream vanished.
Hikaru-chan found out when she was in the hospital in New York. Her parents had rushed there from Japan. Upon hearing the news about the cancellation of the musical, she clamped her lips shut and fell silent. Her parents left the room and I thought I should too, so Hikaru-chan clung to Madoka’s chest and cried her eyes out. Her parents and I could hear her cries from the corridor for quite some time. At that time, Hikaru-chan’s mother spoke as if this were all my fault.
“For that girl, at this time, only Madoka-chan is this important.”
The reason those two are separated… Kyousuke, isn’t it you?
Madoka and I left New York a few days later, before Hikaru-chan’s parents.
When she saw us off at the airport, Hikaru-chan’s bright smile was back. Whatever it was, after that moment, she seemed to me to be one or two steps closer to being an adult. To me she felt radiant.
“Hikaru, will you be coming home?” Madoka asked.
Hikaru-chan lightly shook her head and shrugged. “My dad’s about to confront me about it. He wants to go home by tomorrow.”
“That’s what parents do.”
Me, I couldn’t say anything… I laughed foolishly with an empty smile. However…
“Kasuga Sempai, Madoka-san? How is Shiyuri doing?” We had trine to mention it as little as possible, but Hikaru-chan had dared to ask.
Anzai Shiyuri. She had been enticed by Anita Brussel as well, but she wasn’t the perpetrator who had brought Hikaru-chan into all of this – of that I’m sure. Although the police had arrested her, because of her awareness of what had been done to Hikaru-chan, her state of mind seemed to fall apart. We had hear she was now being treated by a psychiatrist.
“The police said that if she gets treatment, then they can start to investigate,” Madoka said simply. Hikaru-chan hadn’t seen that Shiyuri’s situation wasn’t very good.
“As always, a bit slow. That kid double-crossed you. It would certainly be okay to hate her.”
“No way, Madoka san!”
“’It would certainly be okay to hate her’.”
“Ah… If you say so… it would seem a bit strange…” I said.
“Okay then, just Kyousuke.” Madoka said.
Madoka began to pout, then let out a long exhale. Hikaru-chan did to, and let out a boisterous “Ha ha ha” laugh, like old friends again. However…
“All right Madoka-san, all right. If I absolutely have to return to Japan I think I will be mad at Shiyuri. However…”
“Yes. However… This is New York. There’s a reason it’s a place of huge successes and bottomless ravines. This is where I first met Shiyuri, after all. The idea was to realize or not realize the end of the dream together. Therefore… I…”
“Hikaru-chan?” I started.
“Therefore I… fell sorry for Shiyuri. Not good huh?”
“Hikaru. Are you saying you forgive her?”
“No way. Hikaru’s not that kind. I absolutely can’t forgive Shiyuri. Won’t forgive.” That’s what Hikaru-chan said, and her face was having trouble keeping that smile.
“But you know, for her sake, I think I want Shiyuri to keep living here.”
Madoka and I didn’t have a good response for that and we just exchanged glances, but Hikaru-chan still had that same smile.
“Maybe there’s a special kindness that floats in the air here in New York.”
“Yes… everyone lives with the inevitableness of death – and that can’t be changed. At least here this brings out kindness… so I believe.”
Madoka looked Hikaru-chan square in the face. Right then her eyes were like a gentle goddess. But soon she deliberately returned to her sharp glance, just like old times, and spoke with her old authority. “Hey… so that’ what you’ve come to say, Hikaru.”
“Ha ha! I apologize for my impertinent words, Madoka-san.” Like old times, Hikaru-chan bowed her head to Madoka. But this was the limit of Madoka’s old front. Hikaru-chan’s name was blurted out softly, and as if that were the signal she was waiting for Hikaru-chan abruptly raised her head and held her tight. Like a dam bursting they both began to cry.
Hikaru-chan’s voice began to sound as if she had come undone, and then she couldn’t stand it any longer and held on to Madoka with all her might.
The two of them stood like that until we heard the final boarding announcement, in a tight embrace.
Hikaru-chan… as I thought she would, at least for now has come home.
While laying down on my bed I set Hikaru-chan’s picture postcard in a stand. That way if Madoka came across it by change, she would wonder if it came from Hikaru-chan, I thought. I knew that she was always getting these postcards from Hikaru-chan. But maybe if she saw one for me another must also be coming for her.
I grabbed hold of the cordless phone next to the stand and called Madoka. Probably today she would be working on a composition at home. Although she said she didn’t like writing pop tunes, a very popular artist had asked, and she certainly couldn’t turn that one down.
Madoka is never one to sponge off her parents. While saying that due to her talent and hard work she had sold a few songs, it still bothered her.
The phone rang 4 times, than the answering machine picked up.
Did she go to town for a diversion? She had said that this new composition was due quickly, so I suppose she’ll soon be home.
I said “Suppose so” and got myself up, picked up Hikaru-chan’s picture postcard and headed out. Anyway, I don’t have anything more important to do. I thought I’d show it to Madoka to keep her encouraged. Besides, Madoka will be under the impression that I went to class.
I have a duplicate key (sorry, I carry a key of the Ayukawa residence!) and I’ll let myself in the back door to surprise her.
That this would cause me such a shock… if I can speak plainly, I have never dreamed.
Relying on Madoka… I know almost everything about her, but my confidence in this crumbled…
I snuck into Madoka’s house, but she hadn’t come home yet. But apparently she was in the middle of working – the Macintosh she used when she composed was still on. The monitor was showing her favorite 3-D screen saver. It was an animated, egg-shaped rocket that flew strangely.
But nearby, this pretty girl I love – she had out a bunch of old pictures and albums.
Who is this?
As I picked up the photograph, I touched the mouse with my forefinger. The egg-shaped rocked quickly disappeared, and Madoka’s usual screen returned. When the screen came back, I took a deep breath.
Mishima Shuujirou. Why was that name written countless times on the screen? Madoka had never mentioned that name. Madoka had spaced out at the monitor, probably pressing one key that repeated the entire name over and over – it hit me like a body blow. Rather like a violent shock wave.
Again, I picked up one of the scattered photographs. A sailor-suited Madoka had an older man holding her shoulder, but when this was or what she was thinking I couldn’t tell.
This is Ayukawa Madoka? I knew that long ago Madoka had been a rebellious one. When I met her and her protégé Hikaru-chan in junior high they seemed to say “we’re tough!” But because of this demon-like or thug-like attitude (lately, that’s not a phrase I’ve wanted to hear) so-called skirt-chaser wouldn’t chase them, and they seemed to stay out of that world.
Although… the Madoka in the photo was the same girl?
The man had a hand on her shoulder, but she seemed self-conscious or not all together there…
Hey, Kyousuke, this isn’t the place for moaning!
But all I could do was stare at Madoka’s photograph… For a very long time… ‘till the end of time.
After a while I noticed that the Mac’s screen saver had returned. But now, in my state of despair, the things it did and the comical electronic voice just made me annoyed.
To Part 2