Chapter 3 — The Chimes of Midnight
《Sorry to call so late,》 the call from Eina came on the Friday night, the night before my birthday, 《I wanted to talk about tomorrow.》
《First are the things you need to take…》
“I need to take things? Don’t I just need my phone?”
《A spade is just as important.》
《Fufufu, it’s a secret. And as far as when goes, would the afternoon be okay?》
“That’s fine, let’s go after we’ve both eaten.”
《Eating while we were on the phone would be a little rude,》 we laughed together, 《So for the place… would in front of C Station be okay? That’s not too far from you, is it?》
“Yeah, that’s fine. Why a spade though?”
《I already told you that it’s a secret.》
“That just makes me more curious.”
《You’ll understand tomorr… Ah, happy birthday!》
“Eh?” I looked at the clock and saw that the hand had ticked past midnight, “Thank you.”
It was the first time I’d been speaking with someone when my birthday arrived. When the date changed, I was normally lying dreaming in my room.
My chest feels kind of warm.
And thus, I turned seventeen.
As I stood in front of C Station the next day, my phone buzzed in my grip.
“Hello,” I said into the headset microphone.
My heart began to race as I heard her voice from the earphones. I was already used to her voice, but hearing it directly in my ear made it seem like we were huddled together.
“…Hey,” I calmed myself so it wouldn’t show in my voice and gave a simple greeting.
We set off about the town. We went to a bookstore first, we’d chosen a famous place, on the top floor of a big department store.
“You read fairy tales, right, Eina?”
《I do, I love them!》
“Do you have any recommendations?”
《Let’s see, one that I can think of that would still be sold in five years is…》 she recited the name of a famous fairy tale picture book, 《but you’ve already read it, right?》
“I might have read it when I was small. Well, since I’m here, I’ll buy it.”
《Then do you have any recommendations?》
“Maybe The Door into Summer?” I suggested.
《Ah, I haven’t read that! I haven’t heard of it either,》 that was unexpected, 《I wonder if it’s in the library…》
“It’s famous, so they should have it?”
I wondered why she wasn’t buying it.
《Ah, I do know that buying it is better, but, um, I don’t have much money I can use freely…》
“Ah, that’s fine, right?”
Everyone had their own circumstances, so I didn’t ask any more than that.
We carried on and were going to go and look at clothes.
《Let’s go to Proca then!》
Proca was a chain of fashion boutiques that were spreading throughout the country.
I tilted my head, questioning if there was a Proca around here and then immediately realised that there was in Eina’s time, but not in mine.
“Ahh, it’s a bit hard to say, but there’s no Proca here.”
《There’s not? Eh!? They closed down!?》
《No way… I dreamed of going to Proca to buy things with my friends…》
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for crushing her hopes.
《No, it’s okay, I can go to a different town to go to a Proca. But… what a shame… I really wanted to go to Proca with you and look at the clothes, have some tea in their cafe and do a lot…》
“That’s a shame… let’s go for some tea for now.”
I was slightly uneasy that the cafe would have gone as well.
We went into a suitable cafe chain. We went to the same place, but the name had changed. I bought a coffee to go and sat on a bench in a nearby plaza.
“A lot changes in five years, huh?”
《Everything changing makes me feel a bit lonely.》
“There are things that haven’t changed.”
“Hmm, C Station’s name?”
《That changing wouldn’t really matter.》
《Ah, that’s right. Speaking of things that don’t change… Shuu-san, why was Cinderella’s glass slipper left behind?》 I didn’t really know what she was asking, so I was slow to reply, so Eina explained, 《It was because the spell would break with the chimes of midnight, right? Cinderella was always wearing tatty clothes, so wouldn’t her glass slipper have turned back into a normal one?》
That’s right actually.
“I’d never thought about it.”
《I’ve always been curious about it. I’ve got a feeling that it wasn’t by chance.》
“Maybe the prince’s feelings kept the magic?” That was my first, simplest thought, “From the point of view of the prince, Cinderella suddenly disappearing would have been a tragedy. Right? The person he thought was the only one for him vanished, so his feelings of wanting to meet her again might have reached the glass slipper?”
However, when I finished, I began to think that that might have really been the case. I mean, if I was the prince… Eina would have been my Cinderella then.
I’m sure it was painful. If I couldn’t message and talk to Eina, I’m not sure I’d recover.
《You’re surprisingly romantic, aren’t you?》
《No, it’s wonderful. Hmm, the prince’s feelings huh? Cinderella would be happy to meet someone that loved her so much.》
We wandered around the town for a while. Walking around and talking to Eina was fun, but I ended up thinking about what would happen if we really met…
We’d meet in front of the station, I’d say ‘Hey,’ and she’d reply with ‘Hello’. Then we’d walk off together, we’d walk around town for a while and go to a cafe. Eina likes sweet things, so she might ask for a parfait or something. It might be nice to go to karaoke after that. What kind of songs would she sing?
I want to go around bookstores and talk about popular books with her. Not over the phone, but with the girl in front of me.
All of that is far away from us though.
《Shuu-san? What’s wrong, you went quiet.》
Eina’s voice brought me back to myself. We’d come to a high spot and were looking over the view.
“Ah, sorry, I was just thinking.”
《Jeez, don’t go off on your own, it makes me lonely,》 she was pretending to be angry, but it wasn’t scary at all, 《if you do that, I won’t give you your present.》
“Yeah… Wait, how?”
《Fufufu, dig under that tree, by the base of the biggest one.》
I followed her instructions and used the spade to dig.
The spade hit something with a dull thunk.
I moved the dirt aside and found something that looked like a sweet tin. I picked it up and opened it to see a phone strap inside, with a little, stuffed figure on the end.
The stuffed figure was the demon I had played.
“Did you make this yourself?”
《I did. I’m clumsy, so I’m sorry it’s not very good, but…》
She spoke like she was ducking her head. It was a little misshapen and the stitching was rough. But I could tell this was a gift from the heart.
“Nah, I’m really happy with it. Thank you, I’ll look after it.”
There were five years between us. But even so, we lived on the same planet.
“Shuu-kun, that strap’s cute, huh?”
It was about a week later on the Friday. I was sitting in the clubroom waiting for any new applicants that would never arrive, reading sluggishly. Ruka-senpai was across from me, studying.
We’d been there for about an hour. Suddenly, she had seen my phone on the desk and asked about it.
“It was a present, from Eina.”
“You mean that writer?” I nodded, “Do you meet her often?”
She put her pencil down and leaned forwards, completely in gossip mode. I put my book down and looked at her.
“We’ve never actually met.”
“Eh? How do you know her then? A social network?”
“Yeah, something like that,” I admitted.
“My, you younglings sure are amazing nowadays, this little old lady is ever so surprised.”
“What’s with that ‘little old lady’, you’re only a year older than me!”
“Ahaha. Well, jokes aside… haven’t you thought of meeting her? You seem to get on pretty well, wouldn’t it be more fun to talk in person?”
“We… can’t meet. There are reasons.”
“By that, you do want to meet.”
She’d caught me off guard, how did she know?
“If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have said you can’t meet, right?” She smiled gently.
“…Yeah, if the circumstances weren’t an issue, I’d want to meet her.”
We’d actually tried, but we couldn’t.
She tilted her head in consideration with a thoughtful noise before suddenly asking.
“Shuu-kun, you like her, don’t you?”
She spoke casually, as if it was just a continuation of the conversation.
But the moment I heard her words, my heart froze.
Do I… like Eina…?
The instant I put it into words, I was conscious of everything about her, and my head went white. I couldn’t say a word. Ruka-senpai looked at me in amusement and then let out a small sigh.
“I see, so I lost to someone you haven’t even seen.”
“…Lost?” I managed to get out. I couldn’t follow the conversation.
“Don’t worry about it, I was talking to myself. Hey, if you like her, you need to meet her and let her know how you feel. You’ll definitely regret it if not.”
“There’s a lot of reasons we can’t.”
“But you like her, right?”
“…I do,” I admitted.
I thought it would be nice to have her at my side when I was preparing for the cultural festival. When we were talking on my birthday, I really did want her beside me, and when I received my present, I really wanted her to have given it to me in person. I’m sure I thought like that because I liked her.
“You want to be sure who she is, right?”
“…I do,” I said again, after a longer pause this time.
“Right, then your wonderful Senpai will help. So, why can’t you meet?”
“Will you listen without laughing? I’m… going to say something that sounds unbelievable,” I’d already given up, I’d tell her everything. I might have lost my normal judgement, but impulses are an important part of life, “Eina doesn’t actually live in the present, she’s from five years ago. I don’t know how, but my phone is connected to that time and I can talk with her.”
Her expression was amazing at my words, her mouth was slightly agape and it looked like her mind had shut down.
“Sorry, can you say that one more time?”
“I’ll say it over and over, Eina lives in the past. I live in the present, so we can’t actually meet.”
“I’m just checking, but that’s not just an excuse you’re giving me, right?”
“See, you don’t believe me.”
“Oi, don’t sulk. Who’d believe something like that right away! Ah! I don’t mean I don’t believe you, just let me think,” she said, and folded her arms. “…Well, it fits I guess. You’re hiding the truth about Eina because you don’t think anyone will believe you if you said anything?”
“That’s about right.”
“Got it. I believe you. You’re not one to make up strange lies anyway,” she said and smiled at me, and it felt like a load had been taken off my back, “then why can’t you meet her from now? Though it does mean making her wait for five years.”
“That’s because Eina doesn’t want to meet me five years from when she is, she doesn’t want to know her future.”
“Hmmm, I’d just be interested in what happened to me in the future.”
“Eina is pessimistic so she thinks her future might be worse and is scared of knowing it. She thinks I wouldn’t hide it if something terrible had happened to her, so she asked not to meet.”
“And so, I really respect her for it, but…”
“But you want to meet her, right?”
“Then our goal is to find out who Eina is without her knowing, and go and meet her,” then she slumped, “but how do we do that?”
“I don’t know either.”
“We need some help.”
I only knew one person knowledgeable about things like that. The newspaper club’s ace, Sakai. He was skilled at gathering information, so he should be able to find her.
“Finding someone? Leave it to me,” Sakai nodded once we went to his clubroom and explained things to him, “I have a condition though, I’d like to print an interview with Eina-chan.”
“Eh, I can’t say yes without her permission.”
“That’s impossible, right? We’re searching for her without her knowing after all,” Ruka-senpai supported me.
Sakai paused for thought before continuing.
“Then promise me that you’ll persuade her. Obviously I don’t want you to pressure her, she doesn’t need to give a picture, just the interview is fine. She’s so famous after all, her debut work captured the gossip of the entire school and her play made the cultural festival what it was! If we can get an exclusive interview, we’ll be known throughout the world!”
Sakai was practically frothing at the mouth and I was lost. The interview would be dependent on Eina, so…
“Shuu-kun, you can just say okay for now,” Ruka-senpai gave me a strained smile, “you’ve got a serious personality, so you might worry about it.”
“Okay, I’ll try and persuade her.”
“Ta, ta, then let’s get while the getting’s good, let’s start,” Sakai put a tablet on the desk, “‘Eina’ is her internet handle, right?”
“Then let’s check places like Twitter.”
I was surprised I hadn’t thought of it myself actually. I’d rushed off wanting to meet her, but hadn’t thought things through myself.
Sakai put ‘Eina’ in the search field and about ten accounts showed up on the screen.
“Huh, there’s quite a few,” Ruka-senpai muttered in wonder.
“Roughly half of them are foreigners, so it’s probably one of these two,” While Sakai spoke, he opened tabs for both users’ timelines, “So? Anything look familiar? Or anything that matches something she said?”
“Ah!” I pointed at the one, “This might be her. She wrote about last week.”
I’m going out with S-san tomorrow.
I got his present ready.
“S-san is you?”
I scrolled a little further.
I can’t… write the script… Ｉｔ’ｓｏ ｖｅｒ.
S-san praised me for the script! I’m so happy!
I saw the play! S-san was so cool!
“Eina-chan’s so sweet.”
“I’m sort of jealous.”
Sakai and Ruka-senpai said respectively from my sides, and I knew my face had gone red as well.
“Anyway, this is most likely her account. What do we do next then?”
I feigned calmness and asked.
“We analyse her tweets and look for personal information,” Sakai slid his finger over the screen, whizzing through the timeline, “Oh, she uses a normal blog too, let’s have a look.”
He opened it up in a separate window and several entries, more detailed than the tweets, were shown on the screen.
“Rejoice, Yagi. Eina-chan is awfully net illiterate.”
“Why would I rejoice about that?” I grew uneasy.
“It’s good news for finding her. For example, take this picture…” he expanded a picture of a cherry tree, it was a pretty picture, with the tree in full bloom with pink flowers, “this picture still has GPS data in it. And the title’s ‘A snap from near home’. That lets us know that she lives near a cherry tree. The address is…” he pulled up the location on a map, it was one station down from C Station, and seemed rather rural.
“So that’s how a stalker finds someone…” Ruka-senpai backed away from him.
“Hey, Ruka-senpai! I won’t abuse this! Right, Yagi?”
“Sorry, I think it’s stalker-ish as well.”
“So mean! You’re the same then!”
“Shuu-kun is different! They’re in love!”
“Kuh… What’s with this discrimination!?” Sakai ground his teeth. “This won’t stop me… This is all for an interview with Eina-chan…!”
He really was putting the effort in, and I decided to do my best to ask her for an interview as well.
“There’s a lot of pictures, let’s text-mine her tweets… Oh, a sports day at elementary school? There’s only one school with a sports day then, so… Oh! She uploaded a picture from a window!!” Sakai left us behind for a while, immersing himself in the internet, and then…
“This is probably where she lives,” he pointed at a house on the street view. It would take about half an hour to get there, we could probably check it out. “It looks like it’s the Yokota family’s house. Five years ago, they had a middle schooler and an elementary schooler. I don’t know about now though. Eina-chan doesn’t have any posts since October five years ago, so I can’t narrow it down any more. Maybe she got better habits after that.”
“This… is Eina’s house…” I shook as I looked at the picture, “Thank you, really. I didn’t think you’d find her so quickly.”
“I’m going to be a journalist, so that much was a piece of cake,” Sakai proclaimed proudly.
“Careful not to get killed if you stick your neck too far into some politician’s corruption…”
“I’d be happy to be involved in something so big!”
Ruka-senpai seemed genuinely worried, but Sakai brushed her concerns aside triumphantly.
“So, what do we do next?” I asked.
“We go and check. We haven’t done anything to be guilty of.”
Sakai declared confidently.
No, we really have though, I thought worriedly.
It was the next day, Saturday, and Ruka-senpai, Sakai, and I were headed to the Yokota residence.
I bought some sweets in front of C Station.
“What’d you buy in the end?” Asked Sakai.
“Eina likes sweet things, so some dorayaki,” I answered him.
“You really love her,” said Ruka-senpai, and my cheeks flushed.
We got off the train at the next station and walked for five minutes through the quiet suburbs before arriving at the Yokota house.
I stood in front of their intercom and took a deep breath.
Ruka-senpai and Sakai both took a step back and waited for me, not urging me to push the button.
Slowly, I stretched out my finger to the button.
I wonder what she looks like?
What shape are her eyebrows?
What colour are her eyes?
I wonder if she’s pale or tanned.
Is she tall or short?
How long is her hair?
What colour is it?
She was always smiling, what was her smile like?
I pushed the button.
A pleasant chime rang out.
An adult woman’s voice answered.
“Is there an Eina-san there?”
The woman seemed confused.
Was it pointless asking after her handle? She might not have told her family the name she used.
Or do we have the wrong place?
Maybe she’s already moved because five years have passed.
《Did she write a story?》
“Yes! She did!”
I leaned forwards.
However, the speaker fell silent. 《I’m sorry to say so, but she isn’t here.》
“She’s not? Did she move?”
《Umm, wait a moment.》
The speaker buzzed as it turned off, and after a while, a woman came out. She looked to be around twenty. Her gaze was sharp, and she seemed like a rather cold woman.
She gave a small bow.
“I’m Eina’s cousin. It’s nice to meet her friends.”
“It’s good to meet you too.”
I greeted her in turn, wondering to myself if this was the cousin that had bullied her.
“Please, let’s talk inside.”
She invited us in, and all three of us entered the house, she showed us to the living room and we sat down on the sofa.
“To put it bluntly, Eina is dead.”
What did she…?
I tried to ask her, but all that came out was a strangled sound of questioning.
The shock had closed up my throat, and I couldn’t speak.
“Eina went up the hill at the back of our house during a storm five years ago and didn’t come back. She’s still missing. But there’s probably no hope after five years, and we’ve given up,” said her cousin with a grave expression.
I was just aghast, staring at her face.
“Thinking about it now, I think I did something I shouldn’t have. I was always treating her badly… But she was always just shutting herself away in her room, and just using other people’s things. Then there were the arguments with mama and papa, and the worry…”
She began to cry as she spoke.
Ruka-senpai said something to her, and Sakai gave some kind of response as well.
I watched it all dazedly, their voices sounding distant.
A single phrase was just repeating itself in my head.
Eina had died.
《But I’m scared. Scared to know my future. I mean… What if I’m dead after five years?》
I remembered Eina’s words.
“It can’t be true…” made its way from my mouth. “It can’t be true…!!”
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