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How many minutes have passed? I can hear the sound of her taking a deep breath next to me, which suggests that she wants to say something. I perk my eyes so that I won’t miss anything she says.
“…From the time I am aware of my surroundings, Mom has never made contact with me more than necessary. After a while, I realized the truth that she has always been avoiding me.”
Tsubaki starts to talk with much pain, so I listen to her solemnly.
“School trips, athletic meets, parents’ day, she never came to any of those events. Someone else would attend it in her stead. At first, I admitted that she had been busy with work. But, my mother never celebrated even my birthday.”
“And so, I came to understand that she hates me. But, I didn’t want to admit that, and to escape from it, I end up avoiding Mom myself without realizing it.”
She cuts off her words and clenches her fist, like she is trying to endure something from bursting out. After a short while, she painstakingly opens her mouth again.
“I was terrified. I mean, Mom is the only one I have. I was afraid that she might leave me. That’s why I didn’t want to know about what she really feels about me.”
Nobody wants to be hated. Everyone wants to be loved. Even more so when it’s their only blood relative, their own mother. Fearing to know about her mother’s true feelings—fearing that it would hurt her—I believe anyone would feel the same way.
“As long as I avoid Mom, I will never know about her feelings. It makes me sad and lonely, but as long as I can stay with her that way, I don’t mind. However…”
Suddenly, Tsubaki’s pained expression turns worse.
“…I noticed that Mom has been seeing a man lately.”
Does it mean that… the reason behind Tsubaki’s recent gloominess is because she noticed that her mother is dating a man?
“I’m sure that Mom wants to talk about her remarriage earlier. When I think that she’s finally going to leave a hindrance like me… I feel so sad, and I ran away so that I don’t have to hear it from her.”
Like she’s given up on something, she shows a dry smile. My chest hurts, as if it’s being torn in two.
“I should’ve known by now that I am an unneeded existence to Mom. But in the end, I don’t want to admit it, I don’t want to know about it…. I feel lonely.”
Her tears that have dried, start welling up in the corner of her eyes again.
I grasp her trembling hand tightly. Although she looks pale and scared, I’m relieved to know that her hand still feels soft and warm.
While it’s lacking in strength, she grips my hand back.
“Tsubaki’s mom thinks of you as precious, you know. I swear it.”
“How… can you be so sure?”
I think about how I should answer for a bit, before I open my mouth.
“Because, I just know.”
“Yup, you won’t be convinced by that. It’s difficult for me to prove it, but it’s the truth. That person would never think of her daughter as a hindrance.”
On the contrary, I believe that she really holds Tsubaki dear. It’s not really a conviction, though, since I’m actually half wishing it.
“After living together with Mom all this time, I… I can’t believe what you say is true.”
I guess it can’t be helped that she can’t believe my words, seeing that I have entered her life only for a few days.
“Then, wanna try asking her?”
“Let’s ask her directly, about what she really feels.”
“It’s scary, isn’t it? Knowing the truth is a scary thing. But, not asking and regretting it after it’s too late is much more terrifying. I know that too well.”
In the past, I was scared to ask her, thinking that she would end up hating me. That’s why I never did, I never tried to understand about what she went through, and I regretted it. Then I made excuses to myself again. I was averting my eyes from what’s important. Even though I’ve decided not to make her sad a second time.
“Wanna see her face to face? Then, you should tell her about your own feelings.”
“……Hinatsan, you’re so kind.”
With a teary, sorrowful face, she smiles a bit while saying those nonsensical words.
“Aren’t you genuinely worried about my Mom and myself? Normally, I believe there is no one who would care this much.”
I turn my face away from the embarrassment, and she giggles. Yup, it’s good that she’s recovered some of her spirits. I’m sure there is still so much worries in her heart, but at least she some space to laugh now.
“That’s why, I will believe in you, Hinatsan. I will try to believe in Mom, because you believe in her.”
The word ‘believe’ greatly reverberates in my chest. There must be no other words that feel this pleasant to hear…. Oops, this won’t do. The inner corner of my eyes is heating up. I secretly wipe it off so that she won’t notice.
“actually, it’s nothing.”
I wonder why she suddenly looks flustered, but I guess it’s not a big deal.
“I think I will go and talk with Mom. And, I will tell her the things that I have been keeping in my chest.”
“Yup, go for it.”
The rest will be for them to settle between their own. The only thing I can do is to believe in their reconciliation. Since Tsubaki believes in me, I will believe in both of them, too. From her pupils that are focusing on me, I can tell the strong will that resides in them. Suddenly, I recall a certain thing.
“By the way, do you know what tsubaki, what camellia flower means in the language of flowers?”
“Ah, yes. I believe it is pride and joy, and flawless beauty.”
“Why, it’s a really fitting name for you!”
“That’s-! T-t-that’s not true!!”
“…And, it’s not really well-known, but it also has this other meaning.”
In the past, when I was looking up the names of flowers, I incidentally learned about what they mean, too. That’s why I remember it clearly.
“‘I will always love you.'”
I don’t know what went through her mind when she decided to name her child Tsubaki. But at the very least, she must have known about its flower meaning.
In a daze, I caress her head. Her sleek hair feels comfortable. This might turn into a habit.
“Sorry, do you dislike it?”
I stop my hand and peer into her face. It’s the reddest that I’ve ever seen.
“……I don’t dislike it.”
The way she pouts while she murmurs is so cute, that I end up wanting to pat her head again. I don’t want to make her angry, though, so I decide against it. I make a wry smile and move my hand away. But when I do, she gives me a dissatisfied look for some reason.
We’re still holding our hands together, but she adds more strength in her grip. Although it doesn’t hurt, my hand starts to get sweaty because she is holding it tightly. I don’t really understand, but I don’t think that she’s angry.
How long has she been nearby? She slowly walks over to us, and stops a few steps away. Her beautiful long, black hair flutters in the air, but her expression curbs anyone from guessing her thoughts.
“Then, I’ll be going home first…… You can do it.”
“Hinatsan, would you mind listening to our conversation?”
“Although it isn’t my intention to trouble you further, I’m sorry. If you’re fine with it, please… so that I won’t run away.”
Even though she shows a strong gaze in her eyes, her nervousness is transmitted through our connected hands. Of course, I would be glad to stay with her, if someone like me can become her support.
“Thank you very much.”
She smiles, showing her relief. Afterward, she stiffens her expression and faces her mother upfront. After taking a short, deep breath, she parts her lips.
I feel so out of place, and I have no idea what to do. But in my position, I can’t really complain.
The silence continues for a while. Then, one of them starts speaking again, which is Tsubaki.
“Mom, do you hate me?”
She’s mustered her courage to say those words, but her mother says nothing in return. She only gazes at her daughter, without changing her expression.
I guess she takes her mother’s silence as an affirmation. Tsubaki can’t endure the silence, and she makes a tired up face, like she’s given up.
“Tsubaki, she hasn’t…”
“It’s okay, Hinatsan. I’m, all right.”
What part of you is alright? Your face doesn’t look okay at all, Tsubaki.
Even so, why isn’t she saying anything? What do you want to achieve by making your own daughter sad? At this rate, things will turn for the worst. That’s the one thing that we must avoid.
After watching us in silent the whole time, Tsubaki’s mother finally opens her mouth.
“Tsubaki… I have decided to leave you in Sekiguchi-san’s care.”
Just when I thought that she finally decides to talk, the content makes me utterly speechless. Tsubaki is also aghast from shock. However, she discerns something right away and faces her mother with vacant eyes.
She must have thought that she’s been abandoned.
She runs off again, and I fail to stop her in time. I want to chase after her. But first, I have something to say to the one who pushes her daughter away like that.
“Why did you say that to that child? Why didn’t you tell her the important thing?”
I’m glaring as I confront her. My voice sounds low, perhaps due to my anger. Her expression didn’t even quiver all this time, but it seems to me that she falters a bit just now.
“That, is none of your business.”
“Of course it is. Tsubaki, she’s very precious to me.”
We glare at each other. The fact that her cold, sharp eyes remain the same as the past makes me happy and sad at the same time. Feeling a bit nostalgic, my feverish head gradually cools down. I take a deep breath to calm myself.
…Yup, I’m okay.
“I apologize, I got worked up and said too much. It’s as you say, this is not a matter that I should be meddling in.”
“However, I can’t keep quiet about this. Because to me, Tsubaki is an important friend.”
“…You and that child are acquainted just the other day, aren’t you? Why do you get yourself involved so much when it hasn’t been long since you met her?”
“It’s because she looks very similar to my dear childhood friend. Her outer appearance, and her current situation, too.”
When she hears the word ‘childhood friend’ from me, her face changes to that of surprise.
“Naturally, that is not the only reason. I want to help Tsubaki if she’s worried about something. I want her to smile. And as a friend, I want to become her strength.”
When I state my intention clearly, she conceals her face, and she avoids looking at me in the eye.
“That’s not true, though.”
I only want to protect what is precious to me.
“If I were as strong as you, perhaps I would have been able to avoid bringing sorrow to that child.”
“I believe that being strong or weak doesn’t matter.”
“Tsubaki, she just wants to be loved by her mom. She wants to hear that from you, and she only wants to stay by your side. That child loves you, regardless of how cold you act around her…. Because, you are the only mother she has.”
“Hiori-san, you actually love Tsubaki, too, don’t you? …Although, it escapes me why you’re so cold to her.”
“You speak like you know everything.”
I don’t know how I should reply to that, so I make a bitter smile. But, I know how dishonest you are, how you always carry everything by yourself. And, if you really don’t care about Tsubaki… with your personality, you would’ve thrown her away a long time ago.
“I don’t… have the confidence that I can grant that child happiness.”
Although it doesn’t show on her face, her voice is hinted with sorrow.
“I don’t know how I should act around her. Out of fear that I might hurt her, I end up avoiding her entirely. Even though I love her, I can’t. All I do is to make her sad. When that person died, I’m… not confident that I can protect her. That’s why…”
“Do you regret it?”
I’m not specifying [what] exactly. But it seems that she understands the meaning behind my question. She trembles with fear as she looks at me. Her face is pitifully pale. She opens wide her narrow eyes, and her lips shivers without stopping. It’s not my intention to torment her, it pains my heart.
“No, I… don’t.”
“…Then, you only need to express your real feelings, tell her that you love her. If you have any worries, then instead of holding it in by yourself, you should try to solve it together with her. After all, you’re a family.”
It’s simple, but hard to achieve.
“Please hurry and chase after Tsubaki. Please convey your own feelings and make up with her.”
“…I can’t do that.”
She shakes her head stubbornly. Whenever she decides on something, she will strongly stick to it. That’s her strong point, but also her weakness. She’s always been inflexible since long ago. But, unlike the past, I can’t back down here so easily.
“……In the end, it doesn’t change the fact that you are hurting Tsubaki, even now. She feels sad because she believes that you have abandoned her.”
“Even so, I can’t tell her for her own sake. She cannot stay with me. It’s for her own happiness.”
“You don’t get to define Tsubaki’s happiness. That is something that she decides for herself.”
“……I don’t want to involve her in this anymore.”
Like she’s regretting something, the words that she let out are filled with emotion.
“Don’t you think that it’s heart-breaking not knowing that the person you love is in pain?”
Recalling my past regret, I bite my lips.
“If you keep avoiding Tsubaki, you will surely regret it. Both you and Tsubaki.”
It doesn’t matter even if I realize [That time, I should have done this instead.] There is no way to return to the past. There is no easy way to do it over. That’s why humans live the present to their fullest.
“You believe that you don’t have to speak about everything. That’s why, you’re running away from it all, aren’t you?”
She looks at me in wonder, so I make a vague smile to gloss it over.
“Please change Tsubaki’s sad face into that of a smile.”
“Of course, you are Tsubaki’s mom, after all.”
She is taken aback as she looks at my face. Like she’s realized something, she makes a different expression from earlier. Now, if only she would start taking action already.
It’s been some time since Tsubaki ran off, so we really need to run after her soon.
“I will help looking for Tsubaki, too. I will contact you when I find her. Ah, please tell me your contact info.”
I take out my cell phone and send my address via infrared, and I receive her contact info from the other side.
“So, I am going to search over there. I will be counting on you, too, Hiori-san!”
“Please chase after her no matter how many times it takes. That’s what Tsubaki would want you to do.”
“I am sorry for my saying all those conceited things.”
I bow with all my heart and apologize. Then, I go in the direction where Tsubaki had run off earlier. I’m sure that she will be looking for Tsubaki, as well. I believe in it.
“Wait a moment.”
She calls me to a stop just when I’m about to leave. We don’t really have time to dally, but I’m left with no choice but to turn around.
“Do you know… about Tsubaki?”
What is she talking about? Although, it doesn’t take long for me to realize what she wants to ask. But…
“…I haven’t met Tsubaki for long… so that’s about it.”
Even though I understand the meaning behind her question, I answer while pretending not to know about it.
Hearing my answer, she makes a slightly sorrowful expression. Then, she heaves a silent sigh.
“I am not in the position to say this, but I’m counting on you… about that child.”
This time for sure, I pray that the mother and child will make up. Then, I run along the road to search for Tsubaki.
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