The Snow Maiden

I was always a straight B student. Because a C made me look dumb and an A wasn't worth the effort. Scoring an A is for suckers. This pissed off the wrong people (my parents), so I was punished by being sent out here: a village in the snow country. But instead of building character, I met this village's darkest secret: the girl in the snow. She was dead and she changed my life. - UPDATES EVERY MONDAY, WEDNESDAY AND FRIDAY!

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My latest story! I think it's the best yet :)
AA

18. Chapter 18

 

I followed the footsteps of my stalker back to the village, but I could only track them to the first intersection. The steps mixed with tire tracks and ski marks and other footsteps. 


But I knew it was likely a man and he definitely was somewhere in this village. No other place to stay close by. Unless he could walk to the next village in the middle of the night. Which I doubted. 


Nothing to my left, nothing to my right. I breathed slowly, my eyes half closed, my ears straining for even the faintest sound. If someone was watching me, they were bound to make noise in this absolute stillness. 


There was nothing. 


Hands in my pockets, I walked back to Hana no Sato. 


When I arrived, I saw Miyazono. She sat in one of the lobby chairs, her cheek resting on her hand, her eyes closed, her breathing gentle. 


Was she waiting for me? Maybe. I couldn't think of any reason for her to stay here when she should be sleeping in her room. But why? Was she worried? 


I stared down at her. What was she thinking? What did she want? Her innocent sleeping expression betrayed nothing. Looking at her like this, she didn't seem like a hard worker, a supervisor, a girl who had the potential to manage country, but she looked like just another girl, at the height of her youth, her future a vast stretch of unwritten time. 


She'll catch a cold sleeping like this. I was about to wake her when something stopped me. Something to my left. I saw that the light to the dining room was still on. Which was odd. Miyazono, in her infinite diligence, should've turned off all unnecessary lights. 


If Aunt Reiko found that the light burning, she'd start talking about unnecessary business expenses. Cost cutting. Lowering overheads. I'd get another lecture. 


I took off my jacket and put it over Miyazono as a blanket. I crossed the lobby and opened the sliding door to the dining room. And found someone sitting there. 


It was the man I had walked in on. What was his name again? Takeshi-something. 


He was sitting there, typing on his laptop, a can of beer to his right, an ashtray to his left. 


He looked up. He smiled and nodded. 


Something about his expression seemed to invite me to join him. He seemed lonely, tired. I sat down in the chair across him and asked him what he was doing here so late at night.


He said, "You run from the city and hide in the mountains, but the city will always find you, one way or another." Before I could reply, he said, "Last time you told me that you came here to help your aunt over the winter...but that doesn't make sense to me." 


I said nothing. 


He said, "City youth like to have fun, I know and it's nothing to feel bad about. You should live your youth while you can." He smiled ruefully. "I don't think you volunteered to come here, am I right?" 


His gaze bore into me, searching for the truthful answer. I decided to give it to him. "Yeah, I was forced to come here," and then told him about my straight B logic and how proud I was until my big mouth caused me to be sent out for some character building in the mountains.


Takeshi-something drank his beer and laughed. He said, "I like you, kid." 


He shut his laptop and opened another can, signaling that he wanted to talk more. I wasn't feeling sleepy anyway. And I felt like talking to someone. So I stayed.  


He asked, "You have a girlfriend? Back in Tokyo?"


I shook my head. 


He said, "You will soon." 


"Why?" 


"The problem with always living in the city is that you are sheltered from the elements. You are never exposed to the harshness of nature, you grow soft, and then to make up for it in the gym." He pointed at me. "You've changed since the last time I saw you. You look a little rougher, a little tougher, more muscle and a tan. Girls will be all over you. At your age that is what matters." 


I raised an eyebrow. "And at your age? What matters at your age?" 


He laughed  and said that I will find out when I'm old enough. 


Emboldened by his laughter and the atmosphere, I decided to ask him a few questions. Wouldn't be fair if he got to have all the fun. I asked why he was out here in the mountains. Didn't he have a job or a business to manage? 


He said, "The smart man creates a business that can manage itself. And I've done that." 


"Then why are you out here?" 


“To get away from the city, the Internet, the noise, the people, the whole world.” He drank his beer and then said, “To find my youth again. This place reminds of the time when I was young. A time when life was simpler…purer. With fewer worries.” 


At that moment, his expression wasn't filled with nostalgia, but with regret. 


I asked, "And did you find your youth?" 


He shook his head. "You can never regain your youth, and I'm a fool for trying, but when you get older and your regrets start to pile up, you have no choice but to try." 


"Did you come here when you were younger?"


He nodded.


"About twenty years ago, I came here with my girlfriend." 


I asked a question that Aunt Reiko would've killed me for (meaning fire me, effective immediately), but I asked nonetheless. Because curiosity is a careless thing. 


I asked, "Did you marry her?" 


He shook his head. "It's a long story, but in the end I had to let her go." 


I looked at him and all of the sudden he wasn't a middle aged man anymore, but a boy whose heart was about to break. 


He said, "But sometimes I wonder what..." 


Before he could finished the sentence, he dozed off and fell asleep on his laptop. For a moment I just sat there and looked at him. 


I wasn’t sure what he wanted to express, what he wanted to say, but I just felt that he was seeking something, a memory that he couldn’t let go. A regret that forever scarred him. 


I wonder if this is what it is like to be an adult. No matter what you do, you can’t avoid regrets. Perhaps part of what separates a kid from an adult is that adults can’t avoid having lifelong regrets and we become adults by facing those regrets. 


Anyways. I transplanted my jacket from Miyazono to Takeshi-something. I'll explain his appearance in the dining room to Aunt Reiko in the morning. 


I tried to wake Miyazono but she refused. I guess she's a deep sleeper. I picked her up, her head against my chest and carried her up the stairs. She felt rather light or maybe I got stronger. Maybe Takeshi-something was right. 

 

I put Miyazono down into her futon. She murmured something unintelligible in her sleep. There was a slight frown on her brows. Maybe she was managing Hana no Sato even in her sleep. I wished her a silent good night.

 

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A/N: There were only 2 updates last week because I was busy editing chapters 1-5 to make them so much smoother, have a look if you want. And drop a comment, I'd love to hear from you :) 

 

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