Christmas was upon us again this year as well. That being said, it was actually still Christmas Eve, but today was the day the Christmas event collaboration, coordinated by the respective student councils of the schools Sobu High and Kaihin Sogo High, was finally being held.
The day before yesterday was a half day due to the closing ceremony and we were blessed with a national holiday along with more time to work. Our state of progress wasn’t bad at all.
And since the event would be held starting from the afternoon, we were able to spend today’s morning on work as well. In the morning, as per Isshiki’s instructions, we were focusing our efforts on baking cakes and cookies. Because of spending most of yesterday preparing, even I felt there was a sweet aroma of the sort coming from all over my body.
Still, even with the sweet aroma, you couldn’t say the same of the atmosphere at all, evident by the busyness enveloping the cooking room of the community center.
And the person who ascended as the master of this cooking room was working at the kitchen counter, Yukinoshita.
Although Yukinoshita called my name, she didn’t say anything further. Well, she probably meant to hand over the fresh cream at my hands. Wait, at least tell me directly… As I thought that, I handed her the bowl.
After taking it, Yukinoshita began coating the sponge with the fresh cream and then called out to Yuigahama who was working on the side.
“Yuigahama-san. Are you all done with sealing the finished cookie bags?”
“Uh huh, I just finished. Should I bake the cake too?”
Yuigahama stood up as she spun her arms around seemingly having stiff shoulders and asked Yukinoshita. When she did, Yukinoshita immediately answered without halting her working hands.
“That’s all right. So absolutely make sure not to touch anything okay? And I mean absolutely.”
“Don’t you sound kind of mean!?”
“Never mind that, would it be okay if you went and picked up the resting dough in the refrigerator at school?”
Without hesitation, Yukinoshita warded off the crying Yuigahama and spoke without stopping her working hands.
“Okay…! C-Can it really sleep?”
“It’s a figure of speech. It should be inside the fridge, so could you go get it?”
There wasn’t any room for Yukinoshita to accompany Yuigahama today evident by how occupied she was. Gahama-san was so, so pitiful. But truthfully, it really was busy and with the oven ringing just now, the cooking room was fully operational.
Yuigahama was going to leave the cooking room as she muttered things like “is it sleeeeping?”
And then, the doors of the cooking room creaked open shyly.
The face that popped out from through the door was Totsuka’s.
“Huh? What’s wrong, Sai-chan?”
“Oh, when I asked the student council, they said to go here. I was wondering if I could help out and stuff. Right?”
Saying that, Totsuka turned behind him and furthermore, Komachi’s face popped out and she waved her hands at me. I did mention to her to stop by to relax and apparently she did. Moreover, I could hear some weird coughing like “gefun, gefun, okopooon” from behind those two, but let’s pretend as if I didn’t hear anything.
“Onii-chan, should Komachi help out too?”
Komachi entered the cooking room along with Totsuka as she said that.
“Oh, Totsuka-kun, Komachi-san. Hello.”
When Yukinoshita greeted them, the two said their hellos with a smile.
“Both of them said they’ll help.”
When I said that, Yuigahama clapped her hands and turned to Totsuka.
“Okay, Sai-chan, can you come with me to school? It looks like it’s resting so I might not be able to carry it by myself.”
“Okay, sure… What’s resting?”
Totsuka left the cooking room together with Yuigahama while being confused by her unnerving explanation. Could they really make it back here with the dough…? I was kind of worried as if this was their very first entrusted task.
“Well, could I ask Komachi-san to help me over here then? Cookies or cakes, which are your specialty?”
“Komachi can do either!”
Yukinoshita was getting Komachi to help her with making sweets in her own way.
“I see. That’ll be a big help. In that case, please take care of the ginger cookies. The recipe’s over there as well.”
“Okaaay! To be making sweets with Yukino-san, Komachi’s so happy with how much progress there is!”
What progress were you talking about, huh? Once Komachi cleaned her hands, she quickly got started on making one thing or another with Yukinoshita.
As I was nodding and watching those two girls having a friendly chat with each other while making sweets, this time, I could hear a “gefun, gefun, morusa” cough very close by. Was that really a cough?
I couldn’t really ignore him given how close he was now, could I…? I gave up and turned in the direction of where I could hear the coughing. Directly behind me was Zaimokuza.
“Zaimokuza, carry these boxes of cookies with me.”
“R-Right… Perhaps you could explain the reason why I am present?”
“Nope, not interested. Ah, also, help me carry that set too.”
Unexpectedly, Zaimokuza obediently carried the box and we did some group work for a while.
× × ×
And then, the curtains were raised on the Christmas event collaboration
When I peeked out from the wing of the stage, there was a considerable amount of guests. Komachi, Totsuka, and even Zaimokuza were in the audience. I also spotted Kawasaki, Hayama, and the others close by as well. There was no doubt Kawasaki was here to see her little sister. As for Hayama and the others, Yuigahama and Isshiki probably called them.
Presently, Kaihin Sogo High’s program was occupying the event hall.
As for what their schedule was, they had band performances done by students from Kaihin Sogo High and the classical business concert which compared to what they had planned at the beginning, the volume was rather lower, but even so, the audience was showing a good response.
For what they squeezed out, coupling the differences of the band and classical musical together looked like it was seeing some enjoyment. The performing musicians were all given a loud round of applause.
And it was almost time for Sobu High’s program to start.
This time, my job was currently known as a super sub, not a particularly special position, but there wasn’t all that much to do. As such, I was loitering about.
While Isshiki and the others were going through some mishaps and the like, they looked like they were getting them sorted out thoroughly.
I was doing nothing at the wing of the stage since I had no tasks to do and I could hear a very deep breath nearby. Upon taking a look, Isshiki had a nervous expression as she peeked at the audience.
“How’re things going?”
When I called out to her, Isshiki turned around and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Ah, senpai. Gosh, it’s definitely baaad!”
“The scenario was nicely written and the only hiccups during the rehearsal were just the planning portions. You don’t need to fret over it so much.”
When I said that, Isshiki looked boastful as she puffed up with pride.
“The scenario was written by our secretary-chan after all. Besides… You senpais taught me a lot too… Ah, that’s right. I need to get going to the others, okay!”
Isshiki spoke her last words quickly as if trying to hide her embarrassment and noisily ran off. And when she exited the wing of the stage, she turned around.
“Ah, as for the timing to the final, please check with the vice president. Also, please take care of the cake as well.”
“Roger that, prez.”
I answered briefly and watched Isshiki off as she headed to the other officers.
× × ×
And then, the curtains of the stage were raised.
The audience lights went out and the stage lights were still off.
“One dollar and eighty-seven cents… That was all…”
A narration could be heard from the darkness. Following that, the stage was lit and Rumi, wearing a blonde wig, was lamenting as she counted her small change. The narration continued further.
“But, as I thought, it’s still one dollar and eighty-seven cents. The next day is Christmas too.”
I recalled this opening scene from somewhere.
Amongst the numerous books that were given to Isshiki from Yukinoshita, the one she chose was called “The Gift of the Magi”1.
Not only was it short in length, but the number of characters was low. On top of that, the story was constructed from primarily narration, so there wasn’t that much individual responsibility for the actors and there wasn’t a need to break up into two groups of onstage and line reading actors. Considering how much time there was to prepare, this was probably the best choice. I was honestly surprised at the choice that went beyond what I suggested.
Compared to Kaihin Sogo High from earlier, the stage was adorned with a homemade feeling in a plain way. The costumes and other things were chosen with a lot of care, but even so, it didn’t come off as something from a school arts festival.
On the stage, Rumi unfastened her tied blonde hair and stood before the mirror, but she eventually wore her coat, put on a hat, and disappeared to the wing of the stage.
The stage blacked out and when the light returned to the stage once again, the stage was set up as a city in Christmas. The cardboard and plywood were painted, papers were posted, and backdrops that resembled buildings made of brick were created, and a tree that was carried was at the center of everything. With the backdrops surrounding the tree, it looked very big.
And then, the scene changed with the spotlight focusing on the signboard indicating “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds”. On the stage along with Rumi was one more person, a girl acting as the landlady of the shop.
Rumi took a step inside and gulped. And with her throat shivering, she mustered her courage and called out.
“…Will you buy my hair?”
She spoke those lines. I knew it. She definitely had the qualities of an idol… I wanted to watch this until the very end, but I couldn’t.
Once I saw that the scene ended, I left the hall.
× × ×
When I returned to the cooking room, Yukinoshita was sitting in exhaustion while Yuigahama was tearing apart a cookie. Um, those cookies were presents for the end, you know… Well, if those were just extras, then it’s fine.
“Good work. Did you finish all the cakes?”
When I asked, Yukinoshita pointed at the kitchen counter.
“We managed somehow… How’s the stage?”
“Looking good. It’s almost the end, so we should get going and carry this out.”
I said that and lifted up the last cake. When I did, Yuigahama finished her cookie, clapped her hands, and stood up. Yukinoshita stood up following her as well.
“I really wanted to see the play too.”
“You’ll be able to watch the last scene, that’s good enough isn’t it? Let’s go.”
And then, with the last cake in hand, we climbed the stairs and carried it to the hall. The other cakes that were finished were already carried over.
At the front of the door to the hall were numerous kindergarteners along with their school teachers. And glued to the door with his ears to the intercom was the vice president.
“It’s about time. We’ll leave the preparations to you.”
I answered and when I entrusted the cake to Yuigahama, the vice president and I placed our hands on opposite doors. This door was to be opened at a particular scene at the same time.
When I peeked through the slightly open door, it looked like they were approaching the last scene.
“Now, put the chops on.”
The elementary school student who was forced into labor spoke his line and on the stage was the opening of a Christmas dinner. And then, a relay of narration by the elementary school students continued on.
“Of all who give gifts, these two were the wisest.”
“Of all who give and receive gifts, people such as these two are the wisest.”
“No matter where in the world, these people are the greatest magi.”
“…That’s why from us, we will give them. And then, we will give to everyone. A gift containing only the heart.”
At the very end, all the numerous narrating voices combined together and descending from the stage was an angel.
Appearing from the wing of the stage was Kawasaki’s little sister, Keika. Keika was adorned in an angel outfit and was carrying out a cake. When I took a glance at the audience, Kawasaki was cheering on Keika as she watched her. Are you a mom or something?
The audience loudly cheered to the appearance of the adorable angel.
Matching that timing, the vice president and I threw open the door without a moment’s delay.
Similarly to Keika, kindergarteners donned in angel outfits entered the hall with cakes in hand. Kindergartners were angels.2 The kindergartners carried cakes to the older people in the audience.
The faces of the older people softened to the adorable kindergartners.
But the play wasn’t over yet.
On the stage, Keika, Rumi, and the child in forced servitude lighted candles. And then, the angelic kindergartners provided candlelight service of lighting the candles on the cakes they distributed.
The candles on stage and in the audience almost simultaneously illuminated at the same time. The only lighting right now was only on the pin spot of the stage. Following the angels, small flames began to expand to the audience one by one and the entirety of the hall was illuminated with a warm and soft light.
The stage and the audience were connected by the light and when the audience became one with the scenery, the audience let out a breath of wonder. That also applied to the three of us who were watching at the back of the hall.
“…Well, I suppose I’ll give it a passing grade.”
Watching next to me, Yukinoshita muttered. Despite saying that, she was making a sweet smile. Gosh, you sure weren’t honest, really.
The true nature behind the service was for customer satisfaction. One time entertainment aimed for satisfaction at just that moment. It’s exactly because it was something you couldn’t enjoy by doing it over repeatedly that it was fine as long we managed to capture the mood at that instant.
This was something implicitly suggested by Yukinoshita and this was the answer given by Isshiki.
She was quite something to come up with an answer like this. Was it the Destinyland effect? Yeah right…
“Heeeh, this sure is amazing, it’s like, FIRE!”
When Yuigahama spoke while going “whooaa”, Yukinoshita answered calmly.
“It’s called candlelight service.”
“Did you mix campfire together or something?”
“I-It’s kind of the same thing, jeez.”
When I wryly smiled at Yuigahama who said so indignantly, a curtain call was being conducted.
After the performers and narrator were called on stage, they were introduced followed by a bow.
When Keika who performed as the angel appeared, Kawasaki was taking tons of pictures. Like I said, are you a mom or something?
And lastly, the main actor, Rumi, came out. Rumi looked bewildered from the large round of applause, but when she joined hands with everyone on stage, she made a big bow.
In the far back of the hall, I was watching the illumination of the audience, on the side where the light reached. Reflexively, I got emotional from Rumi’s big moment on stage. This was a blessing more than I could ask for as a producer, really.
I won’t forget okay! About today’s stage!3
After that, we had cakes, ginger cookies, and tea cakes, and the area transitioned to a Christmas tea party.
The people at Kaihin Sogo High as well as the people at Sobu High were eating cake while having friendly chats.
We alternated turns as the staff to serve the kindergartners and older people, assimilating in the party. I visited the hall to check if there were any empty cups and tableware.
When I looked around, my gaze met with Tamanawa who was eating cake. Tamanawa flicked his bangs and turned away. Nearby Tamanawa were Orimoto and her friends doing a toast with paper cups and laughing loudly.
Next to the stage were Hayama and the others with a crowd of people around them. It looked like the elementary school kids spotted them. Continuing from the camping trip, they were seemingly popular.
And surprisingly, Rumi was in the middle of it.
I didn’t know what Rumi and Hayama and the others were talking about.
But the smile that Rumi was showing at this moment didn’t hurt my chest and was dimly, yet warmly glowing like the faint glow of the candles.
× × ×
I walked on the grounds of the school.
It became late since we had to clean up after the Christmas event collaboration ended.
As part of the cleaning, the tools and miscellaneous things used during the event were carried to the student council room, but since it was already filled to the brim with Isshiki’s personal belongings, we were stuck as to where to store the items.
I tried to throw the tinsels and ornaments away, but I was denied the chance because Isshiki suggested that they might come in handy again in the future. That’s called being a hoarder, you know… Since there was no helping it, it was decided the Service Club would hold onto the things temporarily in the club room and the rest was left up to Yukinoshita and Yuigahama.
After that, I was brought along to organize the student council room since a while ago, but I was finally released from there.
What’s left was to report the completion of the request to the two who went ahead to the club and call it a day
Since we were now in the middle of winter break, there was no one else other than me walking in the hallway of the special building. In this quiet hallway, my footsteps reverberated considerably loudly.
I placed my hands on the door to the club room. In that instant, there was a whiff of a faint, but good fragrance. Upon entering the room, it was slightly warm.
“Ah, welcome back.”
Yuigahama sat in her usual seat and Yukinoshita was just starting to pour tea. When I sat at my own seat, I stared at the tea set on top of the table. The warmth and smell probably stemmed from there. It felt very nostalgic, not having seen this very scenery in the past month.
“Yuigahama-san, I poured the tea.”
When Yukinoshita finished pouring the tea, she called to Yuigahama.
On the top of the table, there was a mug with a printed picture of a lethargic dog and a pretty teacup resting on a saucer. The respective owners picked up their cups.
And the last remaining one printed with “Panda Pan-san” was a teacup.
A puff of steam drifted upwards from the teacup that was picked up by no one.
“Eh, what’s this all about?”
It was probably my portion of tea, but usually it was supposed to have been poured in a paper cup. When I asked, Yuigahama and Yukinoshita’s voices overlapped as they answered.
“It’s a Christmas present!”
“It’s quite a waste if only a single person was using paper cups.”
The reasons these two gave were clearly different from each other… What’s the right answer, huh? I looked at Yuigahama and she looked excited as she gave an explanation seemingly having fun.
“We both bought it for you! I picked the shape and Yukinon picked the design!”
I thought so… The fact that a teacup with Pan-san printed on it was chosen just for drinking tea was enough to tell me what the deal was. Still, what I didn’t get was their holding of a present exchange party without me being aware of it. I never got an invitation though?
“Wait, you said present, but I didn’t prepare anything myself…”
I said that as I scratched my cheeks apologetically to this one-sided exchange, but Yukinoshita placed her cup on the saucer and spoke calmly.
“You don’t have to worry about it. It’s just replacing the paper cups.”
Right, so you’re going with the paper cups explanation in the end, huh…? Well, that’s fine too. It may be just a replacement for the paper cups, but I wasn’t perverse enough to be stubborn about it and accepted it.
“…Thanks. For giving me the teacup.”
When I thanked them with words that were rather honest coming from me, Yuigahama returned a smile with a giggle. Also, if I was giving my gratitude, there was one more thing as well.
“Also… For the request too. Aah… Thanks. You really helped me out. I was able to finish it safely without much trouble thanks to you two.”
I quickly bowed my head and stayed like that for a moment.
The event that I thought I couldn’t see ending or rather, the event that I thought would end in a way that didn’t take responsibility was able to be finished safely due to requesting the help from these two. I wasn’t sure if I had personally owed up to the responsibility, but even so, I bowed my head because I wanted to properly thank them.
“The request still isn’t over, right?”
Yukinoshita spoke to me with my head still bowing. I lifted my head in response to the reply that didn’t consent to what I said.
When I did, Yukinoshita traced the rim of her teacup with her fingers and smiled with a slightly troubled and surprised expression.
“…I said I accepted your request, remember?”
“No, that should’ve ended already. What’s this, a riddle?”
When I asked her, Yukinoshita made an abrupt, cheerful laugh.
“I suppose so, it might be a riddle.”
That smile and her teasing-like voice were innocent. It was in complete contrast to her typical adult image and I felt that I came to know another side of her that I was unaware of. However, her riddle answer was something I still didn’t understand.
Watching our exchange in a daze, Yuigahama went “ah” suddenly with a small voice. Then, with a gaze that wasn’t looking anywhere, she slipped out a murmur.
“I think… I kind of understand… It might be okay if Hikki doesn’t though.”
“Well, putting that aside!”
When I tried to ask about it, Yuigahama energetically hit the desk and stood up from her chair.
“What should we do about our Christmas? Like, afterwards! Ah, or like tomorrow! It’s still Christmas too! Let’s have a party!”
“No, we’re not doing that…”
Although I said that, Yuigahama didn’t look like she was listening to me and faced Yukinoshita.
“Yukinon, do you… have any plans?”
Her anxious voice was probably from being worried about that one time when she asked about her Christmas plans in those nonchalant, superficial conversations. Yukinoshita returned a gentle, faint smile.
“…If we’re going to do it, I’ll open up my schedule.”
In response to that, Yuigahama’s face instantly brightened up.
“Really!? Yay! Okay, it’s decided then.”
“So you’re not going to ask me about my plans then… Or could it be that you’re trying to indirectly say I wasn’t invited?”
“I mean, Hikki’s definitely going to have nothing to do anyway… Ah, so like, the party! I want to eat Yukinon’s cake!”
“The cake you were eating just now was the one I made though… Also, I don’t want to. I don’t want to make things like that for a while…”
Apparently, it must’ve been really difficult as Yukinoshita showed a fed up expression. Uh, I got the feeling you were really into it when you were making them though…
Looking at the reluctant Yukinoshita, Yuigahama groaned.
“If Yukinon’s not going to make any… T-Then I can make it instead?”
Yuigahama pointed at herself as if it was “the most amazing idea!” and spoke, but Yukinoshita’s expression sank.
“If you’re going to say that, even if I don’t want to, there’s no choice but for me to make it then…”
“Isn’t that kind of mean!? Ah, then we can make it together or something!”
Yuigahama peeked at Yukinoshita with a smile and Yukinoshita choked on her words. She then let out a short sigh as if she gave up and smiled.
“…I suppose so. That might not be out of the question then.”
She fell… Seeing them reciprocate their smiles, I made a wry smile and looked away.
In that instant, I looked outside the window and the setting sun was bright. Before the evening sun sank into the sea, it showed its final brilliance and just for a very slight moment, the room was enveloped in sunlight. Even so, eventually night would come and it would get cold.
But today was Christmas and I was optimistic about the current nights still being somewhat warm.
If what I wished for was granted to me, if what I wanted was given to me.
Then, as I thought, I wouldn’t wish for anything nor want anything.
Because the things you were granted and the things you were given were surely shams that would one day be lost.
The things you wished for had no shape and the things you wanted were untouchable. Or possibly, they might be the most wonderful treasures ever that would become nothing if you were to touch them.
On that shining stage, what my eyes laid upon was the conclusion to that “story”.
Here I was, not knowing what happens beyond it.
That’s why I will surely continue to search for it for a long time.