Soon, the season would change from summer to autumn. Autumn, the season when Meiko died.
I often remembered Meiko during this season. And so, as autumn approached every year, I became more melancholic. This year in particular was the worst. I kind of disliked that I myself was going through the autumn of my first year of high school, the period of time my sister had last lived.
Two weeks had passed since I completely stopped seeing Mamizu, and the school festival was coming up the next day.
Even the students who hadn’t normally been participating in practice for the play were participating now that the performance was a day away. There was the aspect of acting as a character, and wanting to take part in such a youth-like event was probably a part of human nature as well. Everyone was fairly busy, but relatively little work had been allocated to us members of the main cast, so we were actually quite free. I didn’t really feel like offering to help, either.
“At last, it’s tomorrow, huh,” said Kayama.
I was leaning against the teacher’s lectern, and Kayama tossed ma a can of fizzy drink that he seemed to have purchased from the vending machine on the first floor.
“Okada, why are you playing Juliet?” It was only now that Kayama asked this obvious question.
“Well… Actually, Mamizu wanted to play Juliet,” I said.
“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Mamizu always tells me to do the ‘things she wants to do before she dies’ in her place, and then tell her about them.”
“So tomorrow, should I pretend that you’re Watarase Mamizu while I’m acting?”
The drink fizzed inside my mouth.
“Two more months, right?” Kayama said, in a tone that sounded like he expected me to already know.
I looked at his face in surprise. “Did Mamizu say that?”
I remembered that Mamizu had been told how long she had to live at the beginning of summer vacation. At the time, I had been too scared to ask her exactly how long it was.
“Yeah, when I went to her hospital room with her. You didn’t know, Okada?”
It was a shock to me. It was a shock that Kayama knew when I didn’t, but the figure of ‘two months’ was a blow to me as well. I felt like I’d been thrust into a pool of cold water.
“Hey, Okada. Why do beautiful people have to die while a piece of shit like me lives? That’s crazy, right? Don’t you think so?” Kayama said.
I wondered who he was talking about. Was it Mamizu, his older brother, or both? I wanted to ask, but I felt like I didn’t need to, so I stayed silent.
I tried to think of something else to say instead.
“I was rejected, too. By Watarase Mamizu.” I finally told Kayama that.
But Kayama didn’t look surprised at all. “Someone who’s always by my side, but whom I can never touch.”
“That’s what Watarase Mamizu said about the guy she likes.”
It was my first time hearing this.
“She said that herself?” I asked.
“That’s right. So, she’s probably talking about you.”
“No, that’s not right. Mamizu and I cut ties the other day, and I don’t see her anymore.”
“Cut ties… are you a kid?”
Indeed, I am a kid, I thought.
‘Hey, one day, if I said don’t come anymore no matter what, would you still come and see me?’
Finally, I remembered Mamizu’s words all of a sudden.
The night wore on. At the end, we did a careful rehearsal of the play.
First, Juliet drinks the potion and enters a near-death state.
Next, Romeo kills himself, mistakenly thinking that Juliet is dead.
Finally, Juliet feels despair at Romeo’s death.
When the ones we love die, we must commit suicide.
The phrase that Meiko had drawn a red line under floated into my mind.
It takes bravery or some kind of strength to sneak into a hospital at night. I’d already done it multiple times, and perhaps I’d gained something like courage after I met Mamizu.
With that said, it’s too good to be true for it to go well every time.
That was the case here.
With the real performance of the play coming the next day, I wanted to see Mamizu’s face no matter what, so I snuck into the hospital late at night on the way back from school. And then I was caught by a nurse. It was the nurse named Okazaki, the one I’d talked to that time when Mamizu collapsed at the store.
“Sit down there.”
She sighed and gestured for me to sit on a chair at the nurse center.
“Your name? Tell the truth.”
“Full name!” Okazaki-san said in a very harsh tone.
“As I thought.”
I didn’t know what was as she thought, but that was what she said.
“Once visiting hours are over, outsiders are prohibited from entering the rooms,” she continued.
“Yes… I’m sorry.” Now that things had come to this, I had no choice but to apologize. I hung my head and looked at the floor.
“Well, that doesn’t matter, does it?” Okazaki-san said, maintaining the serious expression on her face.
I lifted my head in surprise.
“More importantly, why did you suddenly stop visiting Watarase-san? You two are going out, aren’t you?”
I was shocked. It seemed that Okazaki-san was greatly misunderstanding something. I’d thought that she’d be too busy to keep track of who visited whom. It had never occurred to me that she’d know I’d been frequently visiting Mamizu’s hospital room.
“Did you have a fight? Or do you hate her now? Did it become painful to watch her grow weaker and weaker?”
“That’s not it. It’s just… She hates me,” I said. “She told me she doesn’t want to see my face.”
“So, that’s why you’re not showing it to her anymore. Hmm.” Okazaki-san reached her leg out towards me and kicked me lightly with the sandal on her foot. “Don’t be so half-baked about things.”
“… But I can’t help it, can I? She said she doesn’t want to see me. I have no choice but to draw back, do I? Or are you the type who feels moved by warped, stalker-ish love, Okazaki-san?” For some reason, I made a joke that was inappropriate given the situation. Even I knew that I was going nowhere with this.
“You don’t know anything. You don’t think badly of yourself for not knowing. You think you’re right. You’re just intoxicated on the sense of being right. It’s common, but nasty.” Okazaki-san said, throwing out profound sentences one after another as she stood up. “It’s time for me to make my rounds, so I’m going to go. You should go home, too. Without waking up sick patients in the middle of the night.”
I slowly stood up as well.
“While I’m on duty, I make my rounds around the patients’ beds at night. Lately, Watarase-san has been crying in her sleep. Ever since you stopped coming to visit, non-stop, you know. I don’t think she’s even aware of it. I can’t say anything about it, either. I can’t interfere with each individual patient’s feelings like that. She’s always saying, ‘Takuya-kun, I’m sorry.’ That’s your name, isn’t it? She’s apologizing to you every night. What made her like that? I don’t know the answer,” Okazaki-san said.
She said all of that very quickly. I wondered if she would have been better suited to being a comedian or politician.
“All I know is that the only person in the world it could be is you.” With that, Okazaki-san went to leave the nurse center.
“Wait!” I shouted, without thinking.
“Quiet. It’s night time.”
“I’m sorry. Umm, tomorrow, my class is performing a play. Tomorrow is the real performance. That’s why I wanted to see Mamizu’s face. I thought that I’d do my best for Mamizu’s sake. Could you tell her that for me?”
“If I feel like it,” Okazaki-san said, and then she left.
In the end, I obediently went home without seeing Mamizu.
Before the cultural festival performance, I was going through quite a painful experience.
“Don’t move, Takuya-kun.”
As I was playing Juliet, I’d been captured by the girls of the class and was being forced to put on make-up in the classroom. Wearing an oversized dress, too. I’d heard that I’d be wearing a dress, but I hadn’t heard that I’d be wearing make-up as well.
“You don’t really have to go this far, you know…” I said, feeling fed up.
But the class had already become carried away and weren’t listening to me. I could hear the guys snickering. I could hear voices saying things like, “Okada-kun looks better with makeup, doesn’t he?” “He might be prettier than me,” and, “Actually, you look pretty good, Okada,” which wasn’t comforting at all. When I looked in the mirror, my appearance couldn’t be described as anything but comical. I wanted to call it quits and run away.
“Okada, you’re feeling nervous, aren’t you?” said Kayama as he approached me, dressed like a nobleman. He looked at my makeup with a clearly curious expression.
“Not at all,” I said.
I wanted to say, “Aren’t you the one feeling nervous?” I could see a stiff expression on Kayama’s face.
“I hope it goes well, Okada,” Kayama said.
The moment I stepped out wearing a woman’s clothing, there would be no avoiding Shakespeare’s tragedy story degrading into a comedy.
“You should have dressed up as a woman as well. Romeo is a woman as well, a new, sensational yuri play,” I said.
That would have been a tragicomedy instead, though.
“So, the actors are two guys, huh?”
“That’s hilarious.” Though I said that, it wasn’t actually funny at all.
Still… Although I was already feeling sick of this, I intended to carry this out seriously.
Because this wasn’t something that I was doing for myself.
I’d been quite serious during practice as well. So, it would be alright.
“It’s alright, right?” I asked Kayama, suddenly feeling anxious.
“Yeah, you look good.” Kayama said, giving me his impression on my female clothing for some reason.
My make-up was finished, so I gave him a push and stood up.
At that moment, the phone in the pocket of my uniform that I’d tossed into the corner of the classroom began vibrating. I hastily went over to it and looked at the screen.
‘Watarase Mamizu’ was displayed on the screen.
And it was a video call.
“Oi, Okada, the real thing is about to begin,” someone said.
I ignored them and answered the call.
Mamizu’s face filled the entire screen.
I saw her face and I… laughed.
“I heard that you wanted to see my face?” she said.
There were terrible bags under her bright-red eyes. Her face looked awful, as if she had no intention of concealing the fact that she’d been crying until moments earlier. I’d never seen Mamizu’s face in a terrible state like this.
“What do you think?” Mamizu said proudly for some reason, with a self-satisfied expression.
“No matter what anyone says, you’re the most beautiful person in this world,” I said earnestly. I felt like a spell had been cast on this moment, and words like these would reach her now.
Mamizu laughed. “But your face is amazing as well, Takuya-kun. You’re like a princess.”
Shut up, I thought.
“I’m going, Mamizu.”
With the video call still going, I went out into the corridor. All of the students in the corridor turned to look at me in my full make-up and flashy dress. I couldn’t tell whether the noises they were making were screams or cheers.
It was a custom at our school for the cast to parade from the classroom that served as a waiting room to the auditorium where the play would be performed, wearing their costumes.
The students going back and forth stopped to cheer for us.
My classmates were following me in succession. Standing at the front, I walked boldly down the corridor, one step at a time. I walked while continuing the video call with Mamizu. I intended to bring Mamizu with me.
“You’re amazing, Takuya-kun,” Mamizu said, sounding impressed.
“The real thing starts now,” I said. Well, it wasn’t like I wasn’t nervous.
“Do your best!” Mamizu said.
“Yeah,” I replied briefly, and then I faced forward and continued walking.
I entered the auditorium.
I found Yoshie-sensei inside and approached her.
“What are you wearing? Wow, Takuya-kun, you look incredible,” she said as she saw me, half-laughing.
“No, I don’t need to hear that. This is connected with Mamizu right now. A video call,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter, so can you point my phone at the stage? Mamizu is a member of our class, too. I think she wants to see this.” I handed my phone to Yoshie-sensei.
Having been told that, she wouldn’t say no. She nodded silently and took my phone. I turned my back to her and headed from the spectator seats to the wing of the stage.
“Kayama, Mamizu is watching,” I said, calling out to Kayama who was waiting with a meek expression on his face.
“I know. You were on the phone with her just now, huh, Okada.”
“Well, yeah… let’s do this properly.”
And so our play, Romeo and Juliet, began.
As expected, the audience’s main reaction to our play was laughter. Well, Juliet was being played by me, a guy, so they couldn’t help but laugh. I thought it was fine that way.
But Kayama seemed strange.
Maybe because he was nervous, or maybe because of something else, he’d had no energy after the performance began, despite having enough spirit before the real thing. Is Kayama surprisingly the type who is weaker when it matters? I thought suspiciously. Already desperate by this point, I made my best effort to act as Juliet.
The play approached the final scene, and finally, all that was left was for Romeo and Juliet to die.
First, as Juliet, I drank the so-called ‘potion of false death’ and fell asleep in the middle of the stage as if I were dead.
Kayama, acting as Romeo who had discovered this, shouted the lines that he had practiced dozens of times.
“Oh, Juliet, why have you died?”
But there was something abnormal about Kayama. He seemed to be struggling with the line after that. I had to continue sleeping as if I were dead, but I opened my eyes slightly to check on him.
There was an idiot, right in front of me.
Kayama was crying.
He was bawling.
Kayama, who hadn’t cried even after falling from the second floor of a building, was crying.
He was crying so much that he couldn’t say the next line.
The crowd was stirring in confusion after noticing this. “Hey, what’s the matter?” “He’s crying.” “What is that, it doesn’t look good.” “What’s wrong?” Kayama had sounded so unmotivated during practice, but he was completely absorbed in his lines now.
‘So tomorrow, should I pretend that you’re Watarase Mamizu while I’m acting?’
I remembered Kayama’s words from yesterday.
Quite a long silence passed. It was like a broadcasting error.
Hey, hey, what are you going to do, Kayama? I watched Kayama nervously.
His tears hadn’t stopped yet.
Even so, he managed to steady his breathing and say his lines all in one go. “I’ll die as well, Juliet, and follow you.” And then he went to drink the poison.
I reached my hand out reflexively. “Wait,” I said, standing up and grabbing Romeo’s arm.
Every single person there except for me was dumbfounded.
That was to be expected. Juliet, who was supposed to be asleep, had suddenly woken up and stopped Romeo’s suicide. With that, the two of them wouldn’t pass by one another. It wasn’t a painful story at all.
“Don’t die, Romeo!” I shouted, standing tall with my eyes wide open. “Because I haven’t died yet!”
At that moment, the auditorium exploded with laughter.
“I was in a state of false death, Romeo. You don’t have to die. Because I’m alive!”
“W-w-w…” Kayama stared at me, looking completely astonished.
“This is ridiculous…” one of our classmates muttered at the wing of the stage, holding his head.
“Wow, lucky me!” Kayama said.
The audience laughed even more.
I thought that everyone in the class would hate me, but surprisingly, there weren’t many who were angry about it. Everyone was sick of the ordinary Romeo and Juliet, and my horrible ad-lib had been well-received in the end, so nobody made any complaints. In fact, there were even some who praised me, saying, “That went well!” Either way, it was over already, so nobody was going on about it.
The only complaint came from our homeroom teacher, Yoshie-sensei.
“Okada-kun, that was a bit…”
Ignoring her scolding, I took my phone from her. The video call was still ongoing, and Mamizu was smiling on the other side of the screen.
“Did you see that?” I asked.
“Yeah. It was the most interesting out of all the Romeo and Juliet performances I’ve seen!”
I headed outside the auditorium, still wearing the dress and holding my phone in my hand. I kind of felt like I was holding a miniature Mamizu in the palm of my hand.
It had already become completely dark outside the auditorium. It had become autumn before I knew it, and it was getting darker earlier these days.
“Oi, Juliet!” a voice shouted.
I turned around to see Kayama coming after me. He was still wearing his Romeo outfit and brandishing his cardboard sword. He threw me something at me, and I caught it. It was a makeup removal sheet.
“Akira-kun, you were amazing too,” Mamizu said, noticing that Kayama was there.
“It was a great performance, wasn’t it?” Kayama said.
Don’t make me laugh, I thought.
“Okada, are you going to the celebration party after this?” Kayama said, sounding like he didn’t care.
“I’m not interested,” I said, wiping my face with the makeup remover.
More importantly, right now… I wanted to see Mamizu as soon as possible. That was how I honestly felt.
“I want to go!” Mamizu said.
“… So that means…”
“Go, Takuya-kun. Give me a proper report on it next time.”
“You’re today’s hero, Takuya-kun. Ah, heroine, I mean. So, you should go.”
With that, Mamizu suddenly ended the call.
… Could it be that she was trying to be considerate?
If that was true, it wasn’t like her. I didn’t want her to do something like that. I wanted to see her.
“You know, Okada,” Kayama said.
“Are you still afraid after all that?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“She likes you, doesn’t she?”
In the end, I decided to go to the celebration party that day. At the karaoke after-party, someone sang lyrics meaning something along the lines of, “Youth goes by in the blink of an eye.” Everyone looks like they’re having fun, I thought. Eventually, I decided to find an appropriate time to slip out and go home. When I looked at the time, it was a little past eleven o’clock. I wondered whether I should visit the hospital. But I’d just been scolded by the nurse Okazaki-san yesterday. I wanted Mamizu to rest properly, too. I decided to go to the hospital tomorrow instead.
When I got home, I remembered the snow globe. Now that I thought about it, I’d bought the materials and they were just lying around. I was kind of free, so I decided to try repairing the snow globe that I’d broken while reading the book that I’d received from Makoto-san.
First, I attached the glass bottle that I’d bought onto the miniature log house with adhesive as a lid. Next, I poured plenty of liquid glue inside the glass bottle. After that, I put in artificial snow called snow powder. This was what I’d thought to be confetti.
Finally, I closed the lid, flipped the whole thing over, and it was done. It was finished in just ten minutes. It’s so simple to do, I thought, a little surprised.
However, it wasn’t a round crystal ball design like the original; I’d simply reused a glass bottle, so it was quite a misshapen product.