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Juniper Berries, vol. III

Connections

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by , 5 Dec 2017 at 3:19 pm (17 Views)
The evening was rainy and cold. Morio Sekigawa had just missed a bus after a long day.

After having entered, Morio smiled and took a deep breath. This little inn was not very far from his current workplace, but in a direction where he did not usually venture. This was his first time inside, and boy, he could feel the pleasure of grabbing a hot drink in advance!

He bought his drink at the counter and went on looking for a place to sit down. There were not so many customers, but he felt like picking just the right spot. He had deserved to enjoy a moment of relaxation.

However, before he could get himself seated in the cosiest free corner, he froze, gawking. A shiver ran through his body.

He knew the people in the photo hanging on the wall right above the table he had chosen. But he could not imagine any explanation how that photo could have ended up there.

***

After finishing his drink, which had taken a good while, Morio headed back to the counter. Walking very slowly, he took a long look at the woman who had served him. They appeared to be roughly the same age – Morio would turn thirty-two later the same month – but had he ever seen her? Probably not. And still...

"Excuse me... Might I ask about that picture on the wall? Uh, um, or rather, might it be possible to talk to the owner?"

The woman smiled.

"I am a co-owner of this inn, and I just might be able to answer your question. My name is Misa Kuragami."

"Uh, eh, my name is Morio Sekigawa. I... don’t suppose we’ve ever met?"

"Sekigawa?"

The woman narrowed her eyes, as if trying to recall something long forgotten based on Morio’s looks.

"...Is it Maehara you are inquiring about?" she asked after at least fifteen seconds of awkward silence.

Morio gulped.

"How on earth could you have known that?!"

"The person who put that photo up is called Akiko Taichi. We are friends since junior high, and bought this inn together. Does that answer your question? Also, I think I saw you a couple of times back at school. But you know, you were in a different class, and it has been well over a decade."

"So, I assumed Taichi-san has mentioned my past... misfortunes more than once."

"She did consider Maehara a precious friend. I understand that they still exchange e-mails on occasion, even if they meet up very seldom. I have not seen Shinobu-chan for five years or so myself, but I hear she is all right, if you’re wondering."

Kuragami gave Morio another long look with more awkward silence. Then her expression melted into a friendly smile.

"Hey, I feel for you, Sekigawa-san. I happen to know how it is when one gets reminded of a long-lost crush without a warning."

Morio tilted his head, then smiled back.

"A nice place you have here. Thank you for all. I think it’s about time for me to leave if I want to get home today."

"You are most welcome. And... one thing. I don’t think Akiko-chan would mind a little chat about the old days. We like this place, we really do. We’re not planning to disappear any time soon. Too bad she was not here today. She is visiting her grandma in the countryside."

Kuragami’s smile was quite warm. It made her look younger and more beautiful.

"Eh, 'Akiko-chan?' You still call her that?"

"Maybe it’s just me, but she hasn’t changed all that much since the good old days. Even though she’s a mother of two now."

Morio’s voice was unsure, but he smiled back.

"I guess sharing some nostalgy wouldn’t hurt. Anyways, give her my regards, at the very least."

"I will."

Before walking to the door, Morio threw a last long glance to the group photo.

What if Keitaro Urashima had been a little more motivated to study in the first place?

What if those crazy foreign men in black had never decided to establish a secret service to watch over Shinobu-chan?

He sighed and stepped out. It had stopped raining, and a thick fog had blanketed the neighborhood.

It felt good to feel something, even if yesterday could never return.

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