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Chapter 16: Nozomi’s ☆ Secret 4
When I first entered elementary school, I was a foolish child who went around saying that I could see ghosts.
Of course, everyone else thought I was pretty strange… even today, I knew that there were some people who secretly called me crazy or “ghost girl.”
Nowadays, I had learned to be a bit more tactful and keep my secret a secret. I acted like a goodie goodie honors student so nobody could complain anymore.
I guess my mom and dad weren’t the only ones who had twisted me.
I sometimes wondered whether these monsters that showed up when I tried to escape from the normal world were actually real.
Maybe it was all just my imagination running wild.
But it didn’t matter.
Right now, I just wanted to go away somewhere.
It was just as Tama-chan had said.
I wanted to go somewhere where I could flap my wings freely without my mom’s voice constantly ringing in my ears.
I was just a bit tired of trying hard.
So, right now… just for now, I wouldn’t.
“Nozomi-chan, come on.”
Tama-chan beckoned me over from her position on my windowsill.
Keeping an eye on the door while my mom kept on knocking on it (the door wasn’t even locked – why didn’t she just come in?), I walked quickly towards Tama-chan.
When I got right next to her, I still didn’t have any idea what to do, but Tama-chan wrapped her arms around me.
I felt a shiver run up my spine. For a second I felt like I was about to be eaten.
I buried my face into Tama-chan’s soft bosom.
It was so warm.
It was like I was snuggled up next to the sun.
“Here we go. If it gets too late Tsurugi-nee is going to get mad at me, so we’ll only leave for a bit, ‘kay?”
Tama-chan smiled, and then fell backwards.
We were on the second floor.
There was nothing behind Tama but the night sky.
Surprised, I let out a weird squeal.
I felt myself falling down, still held in Tama-chan’s arms.
I should’ve hit the ground by now, but no matter how much time passed this sensation of weightlessness never ceased.
I frantically looked around me, and saw that I was now floating through space.
Countless stars twinkled around me, and the darkness seemed to stretch endlessly on all sides.
“I’m sorry, Nozomi-chan.”
Seeing me cower in fear, Tama-chan took the opportunity to nestle her face into the top of my head and nibble on my hair, doing whatever she wished.
“Tsurugi-nee warned me already… everything is Tama’s fault.”
Tama’s voice was filled with regret, something I had never expected to hear from her.
“Tama, you see, Tama was jealous of Kagami-nee, and wanted a normal friend. Tama is a god, so if she wanted, anybody would like her, right? So Tama couldn’t tell. Did Tama just order you to be her friend without knowing it? Or did you really want to be Tama’s friend? Tama couldn’t tell… and Tama was always scared.”
As always, Tama-chan was going on and on about something I could neither make heads nor tails of.
But… I guess Tama-chan also had her own things to worry about.
Knowing that, I felt just a bit closer to her.
“But, Nozomi-chan was just a bit different. She was just like Tama and could fight against alterations just a little bit. So Tama was so happy and thought she could finally find a normal friend. So Tama went up to you and tried to protect you, but that just made all the other gods jealous…”
Tears leaked out of Tama’s eyes.
“Tama wanted to protect you, but like Kagami-nee, she couldn’t do it too well, and so Tama thought Nozomi-chan might get spirited away and eaten. That’s why Tama has to get away from you… we can’t ever be friends. Tama was being selfish. So, Tama will grant Nozomi-chan’s last wish and then go away.”
I wanted to say something at seeing Tama-chan getting so sad, but nothing came out.
I had studied a lot of things up until this day.
But I didn’t have the slightest clue what to do, what to feel in this situation.
I was the one who had been the idiot.
Those were my true thoughts.
“You aren’t my friend.”
I had a loud, stupid classmate who never made any sense.
She was a strange creature, and I had no idea why she had become mixed in with my life.
Tama-chan, trust me… you haven’t had much of an effect on my life at all.
So, please, Tama-chan.
A truly good girl like you shouldn’t ever be apologizing to someone like me.
The feeling of weightlessness suddenly stopped.
When I looked around, I found myself in a strange world.
It clearly was not Earth.
The sky was painted a dull silver, while countless stars and what looked like five moons glittered above.
The ground was also silver-colored, and from it sprouted many buildings that looked like they were made of emerald crystal.
I was completely bewildered.
“Umm, so, umm.”
Tama took me by the hand and began to walk, looking like she was used to this place.
“So, Tama became friends with these aliens, and was invited over to play many times… but this is the farthest place Tama knows, so that’s why Tama brought you here.”
I pinched myself on the cheek thinking this might all be a dream. Nope, the pinch definitely hurt.
“Don’t get too far from Tama, okay? The air here is really weird, so you won’t be able to breathe. And then you might die. Ah, it’s Kyupii-chan.”
Tama mumbled some terrifying things before raising a hand in the air.
Taking a closer look, I saw a table set right next to the emerald city. The table itself stood out like a sore thumb and was occupied by a surprisingly handsome man.
“Kyupii-chan is the prince of this planet.”
Tama-chan casually explained that to me, but my mind was in disarray.
Kyupii-chan (the Le Petit Prince who looked nothing like anything I would ever call “Kyupii-chan”) gave us a smile and a strange, cheerful greeting.
“It’S bEeN sO lOnG, tAmA-cHaN! YoU nEvEr CoMe To PlAy AnYmOrE, sO i’Ve BeEn So LoNeLy! Is ThAt YoUr FrIeNd OvEr ThErE?”
He looked at me, and I looked down in fear.
Rather than an alien, he looked more like just a suspicious foreigner. Tama-chan explained for me.
“This is Nozomi-chan. She’s Tama’s friend… or she was.”
Tama-chan looked sad, and the alien cocked his head to the side in confusion, but in the meantime offered us two seats.
“Also, Kyupii-chan, why do you look human now?”
“AhH, wE iNhAbItAnTs Of ThIs PlAnEt WeRe So FoCuSeD oN InTeLlEcTuAl DeVeLoPmEnT tHaT oUr BoDiEs GrEw WeAk In ThE pRoCeSs. ThAt’S wHy We CoUlDn’T PrOpErLy DeFeNd OuRsElVeS aGaInSt ThE bRuTiSh EaRtHlInGs WhEn ThEy AtTaCkEd Us. ThAt AtTaCk AlSo Is WhY wE cHoSe To ImItAtE tHe HuMaN bOdY, sO wE cAn At LeAsT BeGiN tO gAiN bAcK a BiT oF tHe PhYsIcAl StReNgTh We HaD lOsT.”
Kyupii-chan went on about something I didn’t understand before waving his hand grandly back and forth.
“Is ThIs ImItAtIoN gOoD? IT’s GoOd, RiGhT?”
“Yeah. Kyupi-chan looks really cool. Right, Nozomi-chan?”
Don’t look at me please.
“HeArInG tHaT pLeAsEs Me. It FiLlS mE wItH jOy To KnOw ThAt TaMa LiKeS tHiS nEw FoRm Of MiNe.”
Did this alien have a crush on Tama or something?
I blushed a bit as my female intuition filled my head with thoughts, and in order to hide my embarrassment I took a sip of the green tea looking drink that Kyupii-chan had brought me, but it had such an extreme taste that I spit it out.
“OhH, dO yOu NoT lIkE iT?! wE cUlTiVaTeD eArTh PlAnTs WiTh ThE hIgHeSt NuTrItIoNaL vAlUe AnD gRoUnD tHeM iNtO pOwDeR bEfOrE dIsSoLvInG tHaT pOwDeR iN wAtEr! It ShOuLd Be QuItE tO yOuR lIkInG!”
“That’s just aojiru! That disgusting vegetable drink! Nobody likes aojiru! It’s the worst!”
“Why are you laughing?! You almost sound American like that!” (1)
“Tama-chan is glad to see Nozomi-chan having so much fun~.”
Tama-chan just drank her aojiru like it was a normal drink. She seemed to have completely missed the point.
After that, I accompanied these two strange creatures as they practiced another strange earth custom by giving me a grand tour of the planet.
It’s a bit frustrating for me to say this, but looking around on this planet was way more fun and interesting than studying.
I woke up the next day, feeling as if I had had a strange dream.
Although I didn’t know how much of it had actually been a dream.
According to my parents, they had found me asleep at my study desk. My dad started saying how he felt bad about having me study so much that I got so exhausted like that, but then my mom started arguing with him. Now I had a headache this early in the morning.
Usually, I’d pretend to just ignore them, bottling up all this stress inside of me.
But for some reason, I felt incredibly lonely right now.
It was like I had said goodbye to somebody precious to me.
So, like a real child, I started bawling my eyes out when I saw my parents arguing like that.
After that, my mom and dad got really flustered and tried to calm me down, and eventually we ended up going to an amusement park as a family.
It was a weekday too.
Going to an amusement park today wasn’t actually that fun. My mom was trying way too hard to be nice, and my dad was trying way too hard to be considerate, and I also had to push down the guilt I felt for skipping school.
Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t bad either.
In the car ride back home, I mumbled in my head the words I couldn’t say out loud.
Hey, this is a secret, okay?
I didn’t have much fun today, but that’s because last night I was taken to a place that was much, much more absurd than an amusement park.
It really wasn’t because I hated my parents or anything.
During the car ride back home, we ended up passing by the side of the park.
I decided to act a bit selfish and asked my dad to stop the car.
As usual, my classmates were playing soccer in the park, and in the middle of that throng of people was Tama-chan, her beauty still as bright as the sun.
I walked straight towards them, when Satou called out to me, a bit startled.
“Ah! Nozomi! What happened to school today? It’s rare to see you taking a day off.”
“It’s a secret.”
I bluntly evaded the question and walked up to Tama-chan, who looked a bit at a loss.
She was as big as always, and I looked up at her with a hint of challenge in my eyes.
Tama-can looked a bit nervous, and her pretty eyes set themselves on me.
“It’s dangerous to be with Tama, remember? Tama already said that yesterday, remember?”
“Sure, it might be dangerous.”
I could be stubborn if I wanted to. Please don’t take me for an idiot.
“But Tama-chan will just protect me, right?”
“Tama is stupid though, so Tama will fail a lot.”
She looked like an adult, but she was younger, more fragile, and less dependable than any kid I knew.
Even then, she made everyone around her smile, and always acted so cheerful…
She was a kind and warm person, and that’s why I liked her.
She was trying to distance herself from me, to ignore her desire to be friends with me, just so she could protect me.
I couldn’t just leave such a strong but foolish person behind.
“When you fail, I’ll be there to help.”
My parents had lost their faith in each other, and now they spent every waking minute fighting.
They had loved each other once, but their hearts were filled with nothing but doubt and their lives filled with pain.
I was their daughter… but that’s precisely why I should strive not to make the same mistakes.
“I don’t really understand this kind of stuff… but we’re friends now.”
I awkwardly but desperately asserted that.
“We’re friends, right?”
I held out my hand, and Tama-chan took it in her own, her smile as bright as the sun.
I spent the rest of the day playing soccer with everyone, under the watchful gazes of my mom and dad.
I had just one big secret.
I had lived my life by escaping from reality, and worrying about – or maybe clinging to – the shred of uniqueness I found at the end of that escape. It was what made me different from everyone else.
But, I was a child who knew nothing.
I was an idiot for living this long and trying to deal with anything and everything by myself.
Strange monsters were lurking in the alleyways around town.
There was also a strange girl who had bunny ears coming from the top of her head.
Even though it was winter, there was a river in town where frogs would come out and play at night.
And at the end of the universe lay an emerald city inhabited by a prince.
There was a somewhat stupid god attending school in my class.
Actually turning off your brain once in a while and playing around in the park was pretty fun.
And living a happy life was no harder than learning to trust your feelings and hanging out with your friends.
I was an idiot.
I just didn’t know.
But there were many, many secrets lying hidden in this world.
(1) Far be it for me to claim knowledge of Japanese stereotypes on what Americans act like.