Saotome-san won’t escape

 

「Wh, why would you think that….」

The china spoon that fell from Mio-san’s hands hit the bean curd with a splosh.

「I came to know about it while talking with the people from my former company.」

「Do Tsuchiya-san and Murasaki-san know about it?」

「It doesn’t seem like they know yet.」

「Is that so…」

As I thought, she was feeling guilty and worrying about this.

For an instant there she seemed to be slightly relieved but she cast her eyes down immediately.

「Both Tsuchiya and Murasaki are only angry at the company president for causing this trouble for everyone.」

「I see.」

「Yes, and particularly they are not at all angry with Mio-san’s company.」

「Oh, that’s right. I see.」

「Yup, if you are fine with it I can indirectly talk about this with and see how they…..」

「DON’T DO IT!!」

Thunk. She abruptly stood up from her wooden chair.

Resembling herself from when we first met, she is looking at me with frightened eyes.

「Mio-san….」

「Once everything is over and has been sorted out I will meet them and take responsibility for everything by myself and properly apologise for everything. So you must definitely not do anything now.」

「Got it. If that’s what you want then I will definitely not say anything.」

This should be clearly conveyed and not be left ambiguous. Though this is the same as procrastinating the inevitable, right now, it is necessary.

Mio-san nodded her head and sat down on the chair. She continued eating while staring straight at me.

「The mediation work is already about 70% complete. Moreover, over the years I have built a steady relationship with the department head who is in charge of this project in the other company. That’s why even in this situation I am able to lend and borrow movies from him. I will definitely go well.」

「That department was actually from this company…..」

So, this was the thing that made her watch the horror movie like her life depended on it. How thick-skinned, but if it helps reduce the possibility of things turning awry by even one percent then it will be worth it.

「By this week.」

「It will get over by this week?」

「Things will be settled by Monday next week. This is not a lie or a wish but my honest opinion as the marketer Saotome. That’s why….」

「Okay, okay. Once that is done let’s call Tsuchiya. I will also be by your side.」

「…….Okay」

This is just my instinct, but I think the future will certainly turn out like this.

The end result won’t be that different. Telling them later, they will certainly forgive her for this. But Mio-san will not stop blaming herself. She will once again close her heart, go back to the room and continue living all lonely.

I have a bad premonition that it will end up this way.

 

「In the first place why Mio-san ended up like this…..」

Mio-san who was tired from all the work went to bed early. After sending her off I started doing the dishes while contemplating the situation.

It’s a cheap thing to say but Mio-san is a beauty. She is sharp, has a nice hairstyle and good sense of dressing. If you close in on a single aspect like using chopsticks, it is evident that she is a well-bred lady who has undergone strict education.

「Why would such a person come to only trust work?」

The key to tiding over this crisis should be hidden there.

Unfortunately, there is no way an acquaintance like me, who has known her for just over a month would know about such things.

「….hmmm. It’s done.」

After washing the dishes, I place them on the shelves and wipe the sink dry. They are small things to do, but if you do it properly, you can slow the process of rusting or limescale formation in the sink for a long time.

「I wonder if she is already asleep. It’s already so late today let’s think up something tomorrow….」

I went to the bedroom and put my ears on the door to confirm if she has already slept. I thought of returning if she had slept, but what I could hear was Mio-san’s voice.

「Help me……」

Probably sleep talk. I wonder who they are addressed to. Could it be a colleague, family or perhaps me?

I found the answer right away.

「Aa-chan…..」

「Aa-chan again.」

Back then too, when she was delirious because from the fever she kept searching for Aa-chan. I later found out from day mode Mio-san that it was a fox plush toy that she treasured during childhood.

She lost it somehow during the autumn of elementary grade 4.

I remember seeing it mentioned in the diary too.

「Wait is it……?」

Autumn of elementary grade 4.

It’s a thing from about twenty years back. Is it normal to remember in detail regarding a plush toy that you lost all the way back then?

I too have a memory of losing a Senkou Sentai Chibashiga doll. But I only remember that I lost it when I went swimming in the sea. I have no recollection exactly when it was.

Mio-san has a detailed recollection of the incident but she insists that she doesn’t remember the reason.

「I see.」

I can see a way to wade through this crisis albeit having little confidence

「There is no way around it, I will have to ask her.」

 

Next morning

Ittekimasu

Hai, itteirasshai

Sending off a troubled Mio-san, I immediately went to the living room and went through the bookshelf.

「Sorry Mio-san. I will be breaking my promise from last month.」

After doing this I won’t be able to complain even if I get sued for privacy infringement.

「A diary that has it’s cover replaced and … this one.」

I took out the graduation album from the other shelf. The ultramarine hardcover of the album inside the green vinyl coated case had faded a bit because of the years.

「That is…. Got it! It should be this period, October of Mio-san elementary fourth grade. This is definitely autumn.」

『Where is Aa-chan. Mika-chan, why?』

Painful words of a child in tears. The date is 24th October.

「Now, the graduation album.」

Similar to my graduation album, Mio-san’s also had the pictures of every grade from 1st to 6th of that academic year in order. I carefully flip through the pictures.

I pause at the 7th picture.

「…. Apart from the hairstyle, Mio-san doesn’t seem any different.」

I found a picture where a girl with pigtails whom you will be able to recognize at the first glance and her friend were feeding each other omelette from their bento. Looks like the school excursion from first grade.

The girl who was sharing her lunch with the young Mio-san was a timid looking girl with glasses. She looked precocious, sporting an ironed curly, that was quite rare in those times.

「It’s probably this girl.」

I went back to individual portraits of students in their alphabetic order and turned over the pages.

After the pictures of section C which Mio-san was a part of, amongst section D’s pictures I found 『Watase Mikako』. There is not mistake, it’s this girl

「So this is 『Mika-chan』」

From this it’s clear that the organiser of the alumni meet is precisely this “Mika-chan”.

「Now looking through the event photos in chronological order….」

Lucky, looking through the pictures I was able to find one with Mio-san in it.

Second year. Sports Meet foot race. Mika-chan in fifth place, Mio-san is giving her company and comforting her by placing last1.

Third year. She is smiling on the agricultural field trip with her face covered in mud.

Fourth year. They are playing by placing on top of each other’s heads the seashells that they picked up during the seaside summer camp.

Fifth year.

「…..Eh」 

Mio-san is by herself.

It’s a photo from an excursion. It’s a scene which shows a tangible and somewhat forceful distance between her and the other groups, she is seen sitting alone and eating her bento by herself.

Sixth year. Probably the biggest event during the entire six years of school life, the school trip.

Mio-san is alone here as well.

No, she has been left alone. It is clear as day from the picture that she has put some distance between herself and other people, walking ahead by herself even though it is supposed to be a group activity. Even though Mika-chan is in the same group as hers…

Going ahead I finally reached the last page of the graduation album.

「….. Hmm I guess I should stop it here.」

The last page is a white page that is used for autographs and signatures. Is there something written over there? I am really curious about it.

But then it would be stepping over the boundary of necessity. Deciding such I put the diary and album back on their shelves.

「Next step would be to….」

The problem comes after this.

Taking that envelope from the mailbox, I dialled the number written on it. After a few rings an adult woman picked it up.

『Hello?』

Fuu, gulping down some air I started speaking.

「Hello, am I speaking to Watase Mikako-sama?」

『Yes, I was called Watase before, you are speaking to me.』

「By any chance do you remember Saotome Mio-san.」

『…. Yes, she is my childhood friend from elementary school』

「I am Matsutomo and I work for Saotome-san. I wanted to ask you something about my employer.」

『She started a company? How surprising.』

「Well a lot of things happened. I wanted to ask about Mio-san’s friends in school. Particularly about her close friend called Aa-chan.」

It’s a little weird to be asking about a plush toy. That’s why I purposefully acted ignorant and asked as if Aa-chan is a human friend.

You can hear a surprised and bewildered voice from the other side of the phone. But the words that came out of her mouth were something unexpected.

『Can we meet?』

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Kernub

For some reasons, I can’t access chapter 28, I get sent to chapter 2 instead, the next button here and also the link on NU sends us there, well at least I get sent there