Part 97: Days of Trial II
From far away, I could hear someone calling to me. But it was a very strange sort of distance. Though it felt very far away, the voice also seemed to be coming from right beside me.
"It's okay. It's just a fight between a boy and his father. And I'm sure the rumors blow everything out of proportion. Everything's just being exaggerated."
"Indeed. There are none who can say with certainty that Battler will not return to this island. You would do well to remain strong."
...Where... is this place...? I seem to remember it somehow. It's like it reminds me of the scenery of a strange dream I once saw. Then, this must be another dream... I was there, under an arbor in a golden rose garden, and two witches in white and red dresses were showering words of encouragement upon me...
"You can be sure that those rumor-mongering young servants are embellishing the story however they please. So, he has changed his name, they say?! Surely, this can be nothing more than a family quarrel."
"...Thank you. I wish I could believe that..."
"Of course that's true. He's a boy, after all. You can hardly be surprised that he's had a few arguments with his dad."
"Precisely, as you say. Clearly, they will make it up to each other once they cool their heads."
"When men argue, it's always fiery at first, but they burn out quickly."
"In contrast, an argument between women burns like a steady flame, but the fuel never goes dry. Men's arguments are fierce but short! Quick and easy."
"...You're right. I hope Battler-san and Rudolf-sama... make up soon..."
"Oh, they will! Haven't you heard all the times Battler has spoken of it? He always fights with his father! This is just another of those fights. The death of his mother and his father's remarriage have merely upset him."
"It sounds as though he's gone to live with his mother's parents, but after he's cooled his head for a few days, he'll come back. It's like a kid running away from home, see?"
The two witches kept saying that Battler's fight hadn't been anything huge. If it had been a mere family quarrel, the rumors wouldn't have started in the first place. Taking an optimistic view here isn't likely to prove useful...
"And either way, this is a problem between Battler and his father. If you're patient, time will heal all wounds! There's no point in you feeling bad over it."
"Just because Battler happened to be absent today doesn't mean we can be sure he'll never come back. All this means is that Rudolf came alone today."
"True. Of course, he will be at the next family conference, as energetic as ever! By then, Rudolf will probably bring that Kyrie here too. Battler may be sulky about it, but I am certain that he will come too!"
"...You're right. Yeah. I'm sure... you're right."
In fact, if I could, I'd like to flip through the calendar until autumn right now and check to see whether he does come to the next conference. If he does, then all of my fears are groundless. It would mean the rumor-mongering family members and servants had just blown things out of proportion...
If Battler-san were right here, I'd like to question him right away... Hey, it isn't true that you'll never come to Rokkenjima again, right...? And then, if he said that of course he would come again, it would be such a relief...
I don't know the phone number for Rudolf-sama's house, but I could probably look it up if I tried. However, as a servant of the family, I have no excuse for making the call. And anyway, I had no way of knowing the phone number at Battler's grandparents' house... I couldn't do anything except wait for Rudolf-sama's family to come visit and hope that my fears were groundless... However, will I be able to make it through the day feeling like this...?
No way. I doubt I'll sleep a wink tonight. Just waiting around, feeling like this, when I don't know when my next chance will come... I can't do that... Will it be next month? Or the month after? ...In the worst case, I might have to wait until the next family conference. And I have to wait that long... while holding back this suffocating feeling...
...I can't bear it...
I... made the decision to start a new life. I didn't want keep on being a servant by force of habit. I made the decision to step into a new life, and to leave my old life as a servant behind.
"And Battler promised that he'd come here on the day of your decision, right...?"
"Tact is not one of my strong points, so I shall speak frankly. You made the decision and resolved yourself to starting a new life with Battler, correct...?"
"...A new life... with... Battler-san..."
"You are afraid that Battler will not come for you on the day of your decision. However, there is more to that day of decision than just Battler coming to see you."
"It's also the day for you to show your resolve to spend the rest of your life with Battler."
"That resolve resides within you yourself. It is not something that requires Battler's visit to become complete, correct?"
"...Shannon. Do you now have the resolve to spend the rest of your life with him? You decided to put it off until the next family conference because you didn't have that resolve the last time, right?"
"What does it mean to live life with Battler? Have you ever thought seriously about it in detail?"
We're both underage, so it's too early to talk about... umm... marriage. However, if I quit working as a servant, I should have many more opportunities to meet him. Once I quit work here, I'll return to the Fukuin House. I have my wages for serving the family, so I should have more than enough to travel to Battler-san's house to play. And when I graduate from school, I can rent an apartment near to Battler-san's house.
Then, well... I can work while going to school. That life would be a lot more difficult than I first thought. However, I'd be able to see Battler-san much, much more often. If not every day, then every week. I won't be a servant anymore, so there won't be any difference in class. I can call him whenever I want. And I'm already doing both school and work. Thanks to my experience here, I know more than enough to do simple housework...
"...Doesn't that sound like a fun life? You can rent a humble abode, and once you've built up your own home, you can invite Battler over."
"And then, the time you spend together, the world the two of you make, will begin. Doesn't that sound wonderful?"
"...Y... yes. It does sound a bit... wonderful..."
This was the first time I had ever imagined that future clearly. My love for him, and my honest desire to live my life with him. Earlier, I was able to consider both of these deeply. However, now that I'm clearly imagining the future I plan to choose, I finally understand. I must be aware of how much determination will be needed to reach that future.
"You dream of marriage, eventually, don't you?"
"Hoh! Hoh! Girls these days, dating with marriage in mind at such a young age...!"
"W, well, that's a bit, umm..."
"Don't deny your dreams, okay? There's no point in taking a first step if your eyes are closed and you don't look to the future."
"If a girl's in love with a man, there's nothing wrong with thinking 'I wanna marry hi~m'! That's a young girl's natural right."
My face had turned bright red. Earlier, I thought that considering marriage really was a bit premature, so I tried as best I could not to think about it. However, now that the witches had encouraged me to imagine it, that image was both exciting and fresh. I felt an indescribable feeling of refreshment and awakening, like the gentle breeze that washes over you when you go outside during a brief spot of sunshine on a rainy day.
Certainly, I didn't have determination on that level before now. I need to create that determination by the time the next family conference comes around. If I can't do that, then sticking around as a servant on this island is no more than I deserve.
"True. A trial to be overcome."
"...A trial...? Why is that...?"
"Fool. Battler promised that he would come for you at the next family conference, did he not?"
"He said he'd come on a white horse, right?"
"You are thinking that Battler will not come anymore. In other words, you have no trust in Battler's promise."
"That's why this is a trial. To pass through this trial, you'll have to show that you can trust him and wait."
I hadn't thought of it that way. Since he promised to come for me in a year... Then I must believe that he will come for me in a year. If I doubt that, I don't have the right to wait for him in the first place.
"Oh, why would that be?"
"If he knows that you will live together and eventually exchange marriage vows, having the name Ushiromiya would cause problems, since Shannon is a servant of the Ushiromiya family."
"Ah, I see! He realizes that there'll be all kinds of trouble if he decides to marry a servant girl, so he's abandoned the Ushiromiya name beforehand...!"
"What do you think, Shannon?! That way, everything makes sense! Battler has abandoned the Ushiromiya name for your sake! This sudden argument with Rudolf was just an excuse."
"What splendid reasoning! Nice going, Riiche!"
"Wahahahahahahahahaha...! What do you say, Shannon? There's no reason to feel down! On the contrary, it's as though Battler has shown his determination first!"
A smile had finally returned to my face. Of course, I hadn't taken the witches seriously and let myself be reassured. It was closer to the opposite. It was almost funny that they could think up such ridiculously convenient explanations for everything. However, they had made all of those ridiculous theories to cheer me up. The witches are right when they say that I must trust Battler-san... and that there's no point moping about just because I've heard a few rumors.
And, I believe that he'll accept my feelings and come for me. The idea that Battler left the family so that he could be married to me some day... was laughable, of course. But right now, I should try and feel confident enough to accept even crazy ideas like that.
"...Thanks so much. I feel a little better now."
"That is well. I cannot stand watching you cry yourself to sleep."
"Thanks for coming into my dreams to encourage me."
"Yes. It will be morning soon. This is all a dream. You won't remember any of it when you wake up. However, your heart will be at peace."
"...Yes. I'll believe in him... and wait. So, I won't listen to every little rumor."
"Very good. Wait until the next conference while improving yourself. If you think of it as training to become a wife, all of your everyday chores will grow more meaningful!"
"*giggle*. Thanks a lot."
"...Riiche. It'll be morning soon."
"Is that so? Then so long, Shannon. You may not remember me, but I will always be by your side, watching over you..."
"Thank you... Thank you..."
"I've known your name longer than I've known Asumu-san's. I hear you're Rudolf's old girlfriend."
"*giggle*. Yes, we've known each other for quite a long time..."
"...Welcome to the Ushiromiya family. I hope you find it easy to grow comfortable here."
"Yes. I'd like to grow comfortable quickly, so that I can support my husband."
"But look at how cute that little girl is. What's her name...?!"
"This is Ange-chan. What a cute name."
"I thought this would be the perfect chance to bring him back, but... He's as stubborn as Dad."
"Will Battler-kun ever come back...? I'll miss him."
"Nothing wrong with a man having enough backbone to find his own way in the world. I'm sure he'll have made it big by the time he comes back...!"
"You think so? Right now, Battler-kun's home isn't home for him. There's no reason for him to go back there."
"...Enough. This concerns Rudolf's family only. It is not our place to meddle."
"Thank you, Krauss nii-san. This is an issue for our family alone. However, I intend to do all I can to see that Battler-kun and Rudolf-san can live together again someday. After all, he's Ange's one and only big brother."
"...Yep. When that kid gets stuck on something, anything you say to him will have the opposite effect. Asumu's father has a bit of a short temper. Looks like he's been adding fuel to the fire."
"It'll be okay. I'm sure he'll understand your feelings before too long."
"We can't do anything except cheer you on. Even if he doesn't come back, we're all prayin' that the two of you will make up quickly."
"Yeah. I hope he and Uncle Rudolf can make up soon."
"...If you think about how Battler-sama feels... it must be painful."
"It's like his family's suddenly changed around him. It probably doesn't feel comfortable at home anymore."
"All men need to go out into the world one day or another. It might just be that Battler-kun's time has come."
"Do you think so...?"
"I do. It's not cool for a guy to hang around at his parents' for too long. You've got to leave the nest in a flurry and make your name in the world. I planned to do that eventually, but it looks like he's gone and done it first."
"A, and when he makes his name in the world and everything, will he come back?"
"It may be... that he never comes back. After all, this might be leaving the nest to him."
"...Leaving the nest..."
BGM: White Shadow
"Oh, how terrible. And I kept telling Shannon that he was sure to come. I'm sure she feels very upset about Battler not coming. And it's all because I got her hopes up...!"
"She's been looking forward to this day... It pains me to think of how she must feel."
"...Thanks, you two. I'm... okay."
I had been reunited with the witches once again in that dream world. Though I could never remember anything during the day, now that I was in the dream world, I somehow knew that this was a reunion. The witches both looked apologetic. Though they had tried to cheer me up by saying that Battler would come today, now that he hadn't come, it was like they had been lying, and they seemed to regret it heavily.
"Shannon, umm... well..."
"...Thanks for your concern. It'd be a lie to say I wasn't sad, but I'll be okay."
"A, are you sure? Really sure? That would be splendid, but..."
"Clearly, Battler's fight was so over-the-top that he couldn't bring himself to back down so soon. Men are so stubborn."
"Y, yes, that is true...! He tried to act tough before running away, so his stubbornness is preventing him from taking back what he said so easily! He'll probably regret not coming today. Yes, that must be it...!"
For some reason, they seemed nearly desperate in their attempts to encourage me. It was almost funny to watch. I couldn't help but giggle.
The truth was, I couldn't really fool myself so easily. When will he come back? When will he come for me? When... isn't the question. Will he come for me, ever?
If I start moping right now, the uncertainty and sadness will probably tear me apart. But they've taught me. This is... a test to see whether I really believe in him or not. The very fact that I feel uncertain and anxious is a betrayal of my resolve... and of his promise to come for me someday.
"George-sama said something about it. He said this might be the same as leaving the nest for Battler-san."
"That's right. This is his chance to leave behind the Ushiromiya name and spread his wings as his own man."
"If you really think about it, we're still very young. Even if we want to be tied together, we're still lacking many years of social experience and trust. If Battler-san is really and truly taking this seriously, then it's too soon for him to come for me now."
"Well done. Yes, that's the right attitude...! You have done well to reach this understanding."
"...I haven't reached anything... However, I've decided to think of it that way for now. This is a trial... to see whether I trust Battler-san or not."
However, was I really prepared to do that? Last night, I kept worrying about whether Battler-san would come or not. Thanks to that, not only did I not have the resolve to quit my job, I hadn't even started on the paperwork to do so. In short, I still don't have the 'determination' that I promised him that day. I'm sure that God knew that.
Battler will come for me when I've found my determination. I wasn't determined, so it's only natural that he didn't come today... Yeah. It all makes sense now.
"So, I'm sure Battler-san didn't come today... because I wasn't determined enough. It's only natural, since I couldn't even truly believe that he would come..."
"I'm sure Battler was the same way. He did not yet have the determination and resolve to come for you."
"...God is not heartless. When your feelings truly do draw close, I'm sure they'll draw the two of you together."
"Just like Orihime and Hikoboshi...!"
"Yes, it's as though the weather just happened to be bad during this year's Tanabata, keeping those lovers apart for another year... That's how I'd like to think about what happened today."
That's how... I'd like to think about it. I have no other choice.
BGM: L&D Circulation
"Six years. Still a long way to go until then."
"...So, you had to wait six whole years feeling like that...?"
"When one waits every year for something to happen the next, and then the same thing the next year and the next, it becomes similar to waiting for an eternity."
"...Pretty pathetic, don't you think? After all, this promise you thought you made with Battler seems to be something Battler knew nothing about, right?"
"Battler-kun does tend to use melodramatic phrases, just like Uncle Rudolf. His roundabout way of putting things might have led to a misunderstanding..."
"Some girl's gonna stab Battler in the back someday. Well, that's more or less what this tale is."
"...When words can mean different things, they can turn a person's life upside-down. There are times when careless talk costs lives."