Crashing Surf

Rift In Time

At about two in the morning, Kouko suddenly woke up.

Yusuke, who was usually a heavy sleeper, turned at feeling his wife being roused so abruptly. He moaned softly as if irritated by the disturbance. She was quite the opposite. She felt so alert in the middle of the night, and seemed to watch for signs of life in the darkness. She could hear Megumi snoring softly in the next room. What was it?

It struck her. It was blistering cold.

It was getting even much colder than it was only a week ago. She got out of bed and walked softly to the window. She drew back the curtains, and saw that snow was falling thick and fast. This looks like it will not disappear now. Winter has officially, unmistakably, arrived.

But this chill. She hardly felt anything like this, She wondered if a major cold wave was sweeping Japan, after all, there were reports of such a couple of years back, in upland areas not much different from theirs. She wanted to turn on the news, but the TV was with them in the room and she did not want to disturb anybody. Yusuke might want to sleep all the way till noon if he finds out that he will not be able to do any work outside.

She must scramble to Nagisa first thing in the morning.

"Mrs. Yoshino, I have to tell you something," said Dr. Kirishima over the phone. It was seven in the morning, and the snow kept falling.

"I'm on my way," she said dressed up and scrambling to get her fur coat.

"Hah?" The doctor was surprised that she herself was already on her way before she could even alert her of the latest devlopment, as though she knew in advance. Shall she tell her? Perhaps not. "Come over here as quickly as you could. Move right now. The news says snowfall would be thicker in the afternoon."

The snow clung fast on her coat as she arrived at the clinic. The aide took it and shook it outside, while Kouko went straight to Nagisa's room. There she found the doctor and Sanae standing by the bedside, and Mizuumi talking excitedly with her mother, who had just awakened, but is till too weak to sit up and speak with more than weak responses.

"Nagisa," cried Kouko, going to her and taking her hand. "I'm so glad! How are you feeling right now?"

The woman only smiled weakly at her. She tried to raise her hand, and Kouko reached out to take it, but Dr. Kirishima restrained her. "I'm sorry. Let her fully recover first."

Kouko complied reluctantly, but she forced herself to smile at Nagisa despite the tears. "Nagisa, just hold on right there, OK? We're all waiting for you. See? Mimi-chan's very excited to eat lunch with you again. Shio-chan will be very happy if you can stand up soon. Tomoya-kun will return very soon. I just know it."

Nagisa's eyes grew sad, as if she did not believe her. "Ushio..." she mumbled.



"Ushio... come here... Ushio..."

The doctor ordered the aide to call Furukawa Bread right away to summon the girl immediately.

It didn't take half an hour to get Ushio dashing through the falling snow, and hurrying towards the clinic and into the room. She found her mother awake but very weak and still lying flat on bed. It crushed her heart to see her mother like this. She rushed to the bedside and took Nagisa's hands before the doctor could stop her. Kouko looked at the doctor, earnestly saying "Please"; this time, it was Kirishima who grudgingly consented.

"Mama," she said tearfully, "Are you alright now? Do you still remember me?"


She wiped the tears off her face with the back of her hand. "Mama, when you get well, we will eat out. That fine, Mama? When spring comes we will have an excursion and we will go back to Grampa Naoyuki's place. You know, I still remember how to get there like the back of my pinkie. You remember when you and Papa took me there when I was smaller than Mimi." She smiled. "I don't know if she knows the place, but I will take her with me to the flower fields."

They let her ramble on and on about everything she wanted to do with her mother, and her father, after all this is over. Nagisa appeared to be very pleased and the girl very much relieved. If this keeps up, perhaps Nagisa would be able to hold a conversation of sorts, and if so, that would definitely be an improvement.



Nagisa managed a smile. "Ushio, you look... healthier now... There's a sparkle... in your eyes. What... is making you happy... dear?" She slowly closed her eyes. Ushio's widened. She couldn't believe this. Just when her mother was finally in reach. Her tears once more threatened, but she is not letting this ruin her precious talk with Mama. She held back.

"Mama!" she shouted. "I'm happy! I'm so glad you're awake! You know, Mama, I have always waited for you to open your eyes. If you... If you do that more often, Mama, I'm sure Papa will come back! That's what he always wanted. He wants you be well. For good! So Mama..." Now she was about to break down again, but she held back once more. "...wake up please. Stand up! Show Papa you're OK now. Call him! He will answer you, Mama, I know he will. Mama. Mama." She gave in.

Dr. Kirishima gently took the girl's hand off Nagisa's. "That's enough for now," she told Ushio softly. "Your mother needs to rest."

Tomoe also noticed the decided shift of Ushio's general mood. Despite her mother still being bedridden, her classmate has changed from being melancholy to being sprightly and once more cheerful ever since she returned to school. Certainly her mother regaining consciousness had something to do with it, but there was a subdued quality to such cheerfulness, as though the girl was hiding something else. She is not letting go of her classmate for this.

"Hey, girl," she insisted to her even at the cafeteria. "You must tell me what's ticking you now. Please!"

"I'm not in the mood to tell anything."

"You're not even in the mood to tell your own best friend?" she pouted. "You're so impossible!"

"There are some things which you can't tell even your closest buddies."

"No way! There's no such thing. It can't be so serious now..." A realization dawned on her. "Oh my..." she squealed. "Don't tell me! I knew it!" She embraced her laughing. "What can make my best best friend more serious than lovelife!"

"Wah! No! I-I mean, it's private, you shouldn't bother." Oops.

"Haha! A confession!" she said triumphantly. "Well, now, Shio-chan, tell me, who is it? Huh? Come on, I won't tell anyone."

How could she possibly break it to Tomoe? She knew Tomoe would kill her if she knew just who she got. She can't just say it to her. Not to her!

Tomoe did not spare class hours in her effort to pry Ushio open. Ushio was kept bothered by the on-and-off thud of the eraser at her back. There was, like, ten or twelve times she got hit in just two periods. Just how many erasers does this girl have? She looked back one time and only saw her smiling mischievously and waving at her under the desk.

And of course, there's no way Tomoe's ceasing after class. She kept nudging Ushio in the elbow all through the hallway. "I'll keep calling you at home until you spill it to me if I have to."

"There will nobody there."

"I'll call Furukawa Bread."

"Moe, can't you keep still?" moaned Ushio. At this level of excitement, however, there's no way the girl's going to. Perhaps she should just give her some crumbs and leave it up to her to chew.

"Moe, have you already gotten over Tenshi?"

"Huh? You're not ticking me off with a change in topic. You tell me first who your beau is and then I will tell you what I think of that airbag."

Gotcha. "So you don't like him, anymore, huh?" said Ushio with a victorious flashing smile.

"Heh?" said Tomoe startled. "It's not that, not that at all. Well, I guess I thought I shouldn't have fallen for somebody who would hurt my best friend."

"Well, you should get to know him better. He's really nice."

Tomoe was as one splashed with ice-cold water in the face. "You—you're supporting him?"

Ushio smirked. "I'm just getting back at you for forcefeeding him to me when I was mad at him."

"Hey, don't tell me you still have a grudge..." Wait. "When you were mad at him? Aren't you still mad at him?"

"Gotta go, girl!" She ran off. She wouldn't want to live through the moment when Tomoe finds out and she's there.

Suddenly a dictionary flew and hit Ushio's backpack, pushing her into the floor. "Ow." The next thing she knew she was flipped over and facing the enraged face of Miss Kiyomasa gripping her at the collar. "Moe," Ushio groaned, "when did Kyou-sensei teach you that?"

"You're going out with Tenshi?! How could you?! And I thought all along! Grrrr! I can just chew you alive right now!" She lifted the hapless Ushio up and shook her. "How did you seduce him, you underhanded freak? What do you know that I don't? Answer me! Answer me!"

At that point, Tenshi passed them along the hallway. He was just looking coolly at them. Tomoe was embarrassed red having him see her like this. She still has just a little leftover feelings for him.

"Tenshi-kun, save your girlfriend! Please!"

Tomoe was further incensed.



She gave Ushio an even harder shake, sending the girl into a frightful fit of pitiable yelling. Through all that, Tenshi just ignored Ushio's plight. "I don't want to involve myself in a fight with a girl. I will be waiting for you at the gate." And he walked away. Poor Ushio.

Later, when Tomoe has signifcantly calmed down, she suffered herself to walk with the two home. Before, it was also three of them going home everyday, but having Tenshi stand in for Minako was just weird. "You know," said Tomoe ruefully to Tenshi, "you were my biggest dream back in the day. I didn't even dream you would shortchange me by picking my best friend."

"No, you got it wrong," insisted Ushio. "Like all gentlemen he just came to me and I didn't do anything to attract him. It's just my own charm, I guess."

"As if I had none to begin with, humph!" She rushed in front of them and stood facing them. "But you know, Tenshi-kun, I shall willingly admit my defeat. Ushio is the best best girl a man can ever have. I wouldn't have picked her for my chum if it wasn't so. So please, stop being a bother and love Shio-chan with all your heart, you promise me?"

"Whatever," he dismissed.

To Ushio, "And you, Okazaki Ushio, promise me you will be the sweetest girl to him, so if he dumps you someday, he'll just bite his ear off when he realizes just how much he has lost!"

"What?" blurted Ushio. "Dump already?"

"One would think I was a two-timer by the way you speak," said Tenshi.

"Exactly!" declared Tomoe. To them both, "So now, I, with the powers of a heart who has loved and lost, do give my blessing to your relationship. I am giving over my one true love Sakagami Tenshi, to my best and greatest friend Okazaki Ushio."

"Hey," said Ushio uncomfortably, "you're really making it official, huh?"

"You have to have my permission before you date 'cause I was the one who was hurt."

"Do what you want," shrugged Ushio.

"And now that I have authorized your relationship, I want you to go on dates at least twice a day. And I want you to have a grand date every week, with me there to cover the event."

"Uh, Moe, I don't think we're doing that." She looked at Tenshi, seeking what he has to say. She now addressed them both. "Mama's ill as you all know, and I don't think it's right, especially now, to do something which they reminded me to put off for now. I want to show her that I'm doing well at school, and if we date, I just might lose my focus."

"Ushio?" mumbled Tenshi.

"So, perhaps, it will be alright with you if I go straight home to Mama or Sanae-san from now on after school?"

"Shio-chan," said Tomoe in disappointment. "But wouldn't he be an inspiration to your studies?"

"Precisely." She looked significantly at him. "I could have just that if he supports me at school, but not like I must go into something deep like a relationship. You see, guys, for me a relationship is very sacred because if you really love somebody you should have it in your mind to be with him for the rest of your life. I know for one that Mama never loved a man other than Papa, ever." To him, "Do you get me?"

He sighed. "Do what you want."

"You know, Mama told me how much Papa tried to help her with the drama club back then. I think you can do the same for me at school. For you, just being with you makes my day."

"N-No hugs or kisses?" faltered Tomoe.

"Mama and Papa did not kiss or hug much back in high school now, did they?"

"It's your style," shrugged Tomoe. "At least you wouldn't be copying the movies."

"Ushio," said Tenshi earnestly, looking at her. It made her heart skip a beat hearing him say her name. "I'm not taking this lying down. If you don't want a full-blown date, it's up to you. But I will make it clear to everybody that no guy other than me can approach you. Okazaki Ushio, you are mine. I will hang out with you always, on the hallway, on the cafeteria, and I will always escort you home. I'll never let anyone else have you, Ushio."

Such presence around the girl. It will make Tomoya ashamed of himself.

Ushio closed her eyes and addressed him solemnly, "Hai. There is no other man for me but you, Sakagami Tenshi."

Tomoe couldn't take any more of this. "Ohhh," she said turning away from them. And she ran off. "See you tomorrow, guys!"

A subdued uproar spread all over Hikarizaka High in the following days. The two former archenemies, who were both sent to the principal for fighting, were now as thick and fast as lovers.

For all they knew, they were lovers.

"I guess opposites do attract," whispered one of the boys in 1-B.

"Opposites?" said another. "Can't you see they are both hot-blooded?" he chuckled. "Believe me, once they get into a fight, the world will shudder to a close!"

"And he even comes into our room to talk to her!" gasped one of the girls. "Okazaki is even pleased!"

Tenshi and Ushio were blissfully oblivious to the surreptitious chatter. There was no crime in being with someone special. They defiantly carried on together, eating lunch together, doing schoolwork after class together, practicing together, looking over books in the library together. And Tomoe was with them from time to time, not too often, tacitly keeping just enough distance for the two to grow closer together.

There was one episode, however, wherein Ushio got really mad with Tenshi.

She pulled him along the hallway by his uniform tie and out to the courtyard. "Hey!" he complained. "Easy on that! Do you know how much that tie costs?"

She placed an article in front of his face, almost plastering it. "Look at this. Read it!"

"Read it?"

"Read it!"

Tenshi frowned skeptically as he snatched the paper away from her. His forehead creased as he tried to understand what she was driving at. He read out the words. " 'Less Exercise Related to Shortened Life Span.' Hah? Of course fat people get more heart attacks. What's the hang of it?"

With one swift and sweeping motion, she took hold of the hem of his uniform and lifted it as well as untucked his undershirt, showing the modest layer of fat on his abs. "Look at that! Are you going to let it creep up from there? Go get a workout."

He scratched the back of his head in dismay. "There's too little of it! I'm not in the mood for the gym right now."

"Well I am." She pulled him along to the gymnasium where the equipment stood. "What are you waiting for?"

Not in the mood for a fight, having been softened by her influence, he grudgingly went to the treadmill and slowly started to walk.

"How lame!" she reprimanded. "Come on! Faster!"

"You think I can perform max in this cold?"

"Are you nuts? Exercise makes you feel hot!"

"This is not exercise, this is exhaustion!"


As with a slave driven by his master he complied and broke into a full jog. Whenever he would slow down, she would yell and he would grumble and yell back in response, but he kept running as she wanted him to. It was somewhat hard on him, as he did not exercise for quite some time, and after just half an hour he slumped over the bars in exhaustion.

Ushio was terrified. She didn't know she would be so harsh. She carried him away and laid him out on the floor. Producing a towel, she started to frantically wipe off all the sweat off of his face, and then she propped him up and made him sip from her own canteen. "Tenshi," she said very worriedly, "wake up. Please." She kept pouring the drink into his lips, until it overflowed and sent him into a spell of furious coughing. A wave of relief swept over her as he roused. He turned a very angry face at her.

"I am not doing anymore of this! I'm through with the gym, and there's nothing you can..."

He was instantly hushed by the beauty of her smiling face, she, who was unmindful of his rage, only caring that he was alright. It put a sparkle in his eyes as with a little child that has discovered a sparkling pearl. At that moment his expression did look as if he had grown years younger in an instant.


"Tenshi, let's do this again tomorrow."

He silently assented, starting to feel himself laugh. He broke out in hearty mirth. Of course! Anything for that smile. "You got it!"

As the days began to venture deeper into winter the snowy days became more frequent and closer together. The pair spent more time at his workout or practicing their P.E. lessons in the gym, but whenever the day allowed sunshine and melted a lot of snow they practiced outside. Every time Ushio brought her specially made homemade bento, seafood on Mondays, pork on Tuesdays, beef on Wednesdays, tempura and omelette on Thursdays, and noodles on Fridays. Every night he would call her and they would chat as long as the telephone bill (something Ushio was terribly watching out for) would allow.

Sanae could not help but notice her granddaughter's vastly lightened mood. She would even tell Mimi-chan lengthy bedtime stories, something only Nagisa bothered to do before her collapse. Noticing the girl's daily load of lunchboxes, she set to make some herself for Ushio whenever she wasn't busy with Nagisa.

On particularly cold nights, Tenshi was wont to play games. These days, he calls and talks with Ushio. On this particularly wintry night, however, a letter arrived that would occupy him and make him call somebody else.

Takafumi came up to his room and delivered it. It was for him. Being perhaps the first time in his life he would receive a letter just for him, he accepted it with an air of awed curiosity, almost solemnity. He reverently tore off the envelope with a letter knife, and took out a message printed on special paper.

It was a letter of admission to a university. To it's law school. The associated forms came with it.

He was only a freshman, but his mother has already set his future career in stone. He knew that with formal correspondence in hand, his mother will go tooth and nail to urge him to accept the offer.

He is not taking this lying down.

He rushed out of the room in a fury and took the phone. Takafumi was alarmed. "Tenshi, what's happening?" He didn't mind his uncle, dialling his mother's number furiously, cursing through the busy signals and pacing up and down the living room in a harried frenzy.

He finally got through. "Takafumi?" said the voice at the other end.

"Mom! You're not going to do this! I'm not going!"

There was a momentary silence at the line, telling him that Tomoyo was absorbing his complaint and bracing to lash back at him. "So you have received the letter."

"Is there a return address?"

"Tenshi. Surely you know what is polite and what is insolent, don't you?"

"I'm not taking it, and that's my final word."

"I am the one making the final word for you, Tenshi. You are not going off to a course far inferior to a legal path."

"Photography is not inferior!" he shouted. "It's my passion! I will not be forced into what you want."

"Tenshi, enough," said Takafumi. He took the phone and talked to Tomoyo apologetically. But Tenshi could hear the muffled anger over the phone. Takafumi was saying something about the decision being too sudden, but the voice from the receiver hinted no indication of relenting.

At one point, however, though the fury of the voice was still subdued, his mother's clear and booming voice went clear across to him from the loudspeaker saying, "That boy will never be able to prove anything to his father."


His ears seemed to perk. His vision clouded and he grabbed the phone from his uncle. The pain dripped from his voice as he said, "So you only wanted me to trump Dad, huh?" He gritted his teeth and hissed forcibly. "You're the one appearing on TV, why don't you get him and leave me alone?"

The voice immediately took on a not so subtle pitch. "I am only thinking of your future."

"Think of me? What? Think of me? When have you ever thought of me? You keep yakking at me about my future, yakking at me about my safety, yakking at me about my own good, yet I knew all along you were playing me in a game against Dad! Of course! You don't want me jailed or killed?" He chuckled bitterly. "What trick would Sakagami Tomoyo have up her sleeve if she has no son to chuck as bait? What image can she project if her own son got in a brawl with a gang?"

"You shut that!" retorted Tomoyo sharply.

"I will not shut up! I will never! Not while I know the truth. Not while I have my dreams. Not while you are my mother!" He flung the phone across the room. He ran upstairs and banged the door behind him.

He stayed up until one in the morning, crouched against the bed and staring hard into nothing. The player blared loudly in his room as he attempted to drown out the world around him in the music, but he himself was deaf to it. He couldn't bring himself to listen. It was all too unbelievable. It couldn't even be real. Even now, he still couldn't believe his own mother was doing this to him.

Ushio was terribly concerned that Tenshi did not call her last night. She tried calling him in turn, but there was no answer. She thought of visiting him, but she still felt somewhat uneasy with Takafumi there.

He also didn't show up at school that day. Tomoe kept asking her if they had a fight, but she said they haven't. "Perhaps he was just snowed in," she said hopefully, looking out on the wintry landscape, but it didn't explain his being out of touch. What could have happened to him?

As she sat at the cafeteria among the throng of cold-assailed students seeking hot soup, she watched in vain as the seat in front, on which she placed her bag to reserve it for Tenshi, remained empty. She waited, having only the hot soup as the crowd thinned out. She has little appetite.

The bell finally rang out to mark the end of the school day. Tomoe accompanied her as far as the main entrance of the school building, troubled by her loneliness, but hardly able to find words to truly comfort her. It still appeared to her a private affair, and she didn't want to meddle.

At Nagisa's bedside late that afternoon, it further broke her heart seeing that her mother still showed not the faintest sign of waking up again. How long will it be like this?

This loneliness. It was unbearable. A tightening of her chest rushed up to her throat, threatening to choke her, to drown her. It can't stay like this!

Groping for a holdfast in the swirling tides of despair, she reached out to hold her mother's frail hand, taking care as if it was made of the finest porcelain, exquisite but brittle.

Outside, the dark sky laid its heavy iron hand over all, and the snow kept falling relentlessly, endlessly. But she shut her eyes, shut out the gloom, shut out the despondency.

Ushio heard it again in her head.

For a moment, the gloom outside gave way to spring warmth, to sunshine streaming through the trees, and what fell outside were endless streams of cherry petals. It was just like that day when they met, her mother, and her father, at the foot of the hill.

She was a child, and ahead of her up the hill her parents stood with their backs to her. She excitedly hurried to them through the shower of petals. "Papa! Mama!"

The couple turned at the sound of their daughter's voice. They smiled as they received their girl in their embrace...

Ushio woke up.

Her mother again lay still on the bed, unhearing and perhaps even unfeeling. It had ended. This is the reality. What did it matter if she wept at her mother's feet? What did it matter if she was alone and grieving? Would the woman know? Just the other day, it seemed, she was talking of how happy her daughter had been, but now she will never be aware of how this utter oppression of being alone crushed her little by little, slowly and ruthlessly.

The girl ran out again under the snow, not caring where she was going. Her feet like thundering hooves kicked up plumes of snow. She went off the road into the trees to where the snow was deeper and her feet sank. Every step was getting harder and harder to take. She struggled to keep walking, but in the end her strength failed her, and she slumped against a tree, making a face, struggling to keep herself from crying even as tears broke forth from her closed lids.

She tried one more time. She took a few more leaden steps, plowing through the high drifts. There had to be someplace worth walking to. She might find it.

As the trees parted aside a sharp icy gust shocked her eyes back open. She had to catch her breath as she struggled to keep from falling, holding on to something. Her heavy panting raised a furious cloud of breath that obscured her vision temporarily.

When the haze lifted, the scene presented itself before her. A small road, no, a paved path for pedestrians. She was holding onto a bench. The way was hemmed in on one side by the trees but the other side opened out on a vacant lot, and after it the brooding grayish outline of houses. The snow was now falling lightly. She sat down on the bench, dusting off the snow, relieved. But the emptiness in her was still there. Well, at least it was a quiet emptiness now. The wind was also gone. Only the sparse fall of snowflakes gave any indication of movement in this suspended world.

The streetlamps by the path had already long since lit and Ushio was still sitting there. She wasn't thinking of anything. If she did she just might lapse back into remembering what she had just left.

The soft thwack of breaking snow cut into her reverie.

Surprised, she looked up. So somebody would actually come here in this weather at this hour? Nobody would want to venture outside in this... unless they were looking for something.

"I found you," said Tenshi.

It was his familiar, beloved face. A well of hope sprang in her.

She stood up at once and ran into his embrace. She wept into the thick fastness of his jacket and it felt so good she calmed down soon enough and was better again. "I don't know if you'd believe me, but I just wished to myself you would come this way."

"Maybe you won't believe me, but I was thinking the same way, too."

She laughed. "So what do you have, some kind of homing device? Perhaps you already know how I smell and you trailed my scent?" She played her fingers on his nose. "Eh, poochie?"

"Actually, yes." He sniffed into her hair, tickling her. "I'm serious, OK? It's everywhere. Three of my hankies are doused in it."

Oh, the ones she borrowed once. "I bet you were smelling them every night before you sleep, am I right?"

"How would you know?" he chuckled, ruffling her hair. "Well, wouldn't it be be fun if it was you I was smelling in my bed every night?"

She laughed. "You're impossible man."

"I'm not!" he flared gripping her wrist. What's going on here? "I want you to come with me, to live with me!"

"Tenshi," she gasped. "What about Aunt Tomoyo...?"

"We don't need anyone else. We will go away. Far from here! What do you say?"

"How would we feed ourselves?"

"I'll get a job."

"At your age?"

"It's easy to fake. Even the name's easy to switch. I even had them thought up. I will be called Yuu and you will be Atsuko. Nobody would find us."

It's sounds fun! Faking identities. She never tried that. Nothing she ever did with Nichi was this exciting. But... "Mama. What will happen to her? I mean, Papa's not here, Grampa's not here, everybody else... I can't just leave her behind, can I?"

"Your mother will never wake up! Can't you see? She's way too sick. How would she know if you're gone? There are other people to take care of her."

"Mama will wake up! I want her to see me when she does." She took his hands. "And you, too. I want to tell her that you are the one I want to marry someday. I want to tell her I will work really hard so I can build a bright future with you. And you, too. Do it. Work hard for our future, Tenshi. I want you to do it."

He flung her hands off his. "I am only giving you one choice! Come with me! Right now!"


"Answer me now! Are you coming with me?"

"I want Mama to see you. She will wake up. I want to be there when she sees us."

He ran past her pushing her aside. She looked after her, trying to catch his quickly fading silhouette through the darkness. In a moment he was gone. But to her he was still there. She was still seeing him at the far end of the path. He was still there. Wasn't it only moments ago that his arms were around her?

In the morning, the snowfall has ceased. The streets were being busily cleared by the townsfolk as Ushio quietly trod her way to school. She was hardly able to sleep last night over Tenshi and only Sanae's rubbing her back was able to lull her into rest. But she still felt tired. Did he really leave home? He couldn't be able to make it out of town own his own, can he? Especially not in this weather. Perhaps all she has to do was talk to him again. He might reconsider. She decided to drop by their place before school, even with Takafumi there. He didn't matter to her now, anyway. He could even help.

She passed by their old apartment. It was locked and abandoned. She and Mizuumi have been living at Furukawa Bread for some time. When will this place come back to life again?

Still, she couldn't help but be further upset. Perhaps her mother will never wake up, as he said. She had heard of people who were comatose for years, and a number had died. But Mama woke up. She will make it. But if it was so, why haven't she regained any consciousness up to now?

She took the turn going to Tenshi's place. There, under the ragged skeleton of a tree, stood Yukine.

She gasped in surprise. "Yukine-san?"

The lady turned to look at her, and gave her that sleepy look and warm smile of hers. "Good morning, Ushio. Have you taken your breakfast?"

"No thanks, I'm fine," she said approaching the woman. "Why aren't you at the library today?"

"It will be closed for a short while. By the way, how is your mother now?"

Ushio's face fell. "She's quite fine," she said insincerely. "How did you know?"

"I saw your apartment, that it was closed. The neighbors told me what happened."

"Oh..." She never told her about her mother, wanting 'only to have warm memories' with her. Well, why doesn't she? More than ever, it was now that she must lean on Yukine-san for comfort in these troubled times. Perhaps it was high time she told her everything and unload all her burdens. Tenshi, how she was wondering whether he still loved her, Mama, her constant illness, Papa, whether she should approve of him working hard for them for afar or condemn his decision to leave them behind, Furukawa Bread and how long they will to have to stay there in the absence of a solid family, the chaos racking her life.

She ran into her and started to cry in her arms. Yukine was alarmed. "Come now, dear, hush," she said wiping her tears. "You shouldn't worry about your mother now."

"Everything's a mess, Yukine-san," sobbed Ushio. "I just don't know if I want to look forward to tomorrow. I don't know anything."

"Ushio, none of us knows anything." Yukine embraced the girl lovingly. Her eyes grew sad as she thought of her own tribulations. "Ushio, I also want to tell you something."

They sat down on the bench under the ragged tree while Yukine told her of what happened that fateful day in the library. "Uncle Youhei's in the hospital, too?" said Ushio in disbelief.

Yukine only smiled bitterly. "The wards have cleared out a bit, but I was just on time to have him in before the rooms got full again." She sighed. "Funny it is, Ushio, isn't it? Just when you were starting to know someone, something happens."

The girl stared at her. She knew what she felt. She didn't seem to have enough time with Tenshi, and he has suddenly decided that. "Do you have feelings for him...Yukine-san?" she asked softly.

"I wouldn't know for sure. If only I was with him more of the time. But I guess I will really have to live with it. Perhaps I could never have love. In the end, we must hold on to one another."

"But, Yukine-san, you cannot give up like that. I would know. I believe Tenshi has a kind heart and he will not really want to do something drastic, so I have hope that he willl see me again. Visit him in the hospital, Yukine-san."

She gestured a sad 'no.' "There are some things you don't know enough about yet to understand. Even if you love someone, things can happen that keep you away from who you love."

"But you must dare it all. Fight through everything that comes in the way of your love."

She smiled weakly. "Perhaps you're right." She shifted her eyes skyward, into the new flakes of snow starting to fall to them. "Ushio, is it true that if you have someone you love, a parent, a lover, a friend, or perhaps a child, that you will do absolutely anything to save him?"

Her uncertain expression belied her words. "Of course," she whispered in reply. "If you love someone, if you truly love someone, anything is possible for you."

"Do you think you can save your mother now?"

The girl gasped in surprise. It was so sudden that a puff of cold breath obscured her face for a moment, and when it lifted, the aghast expression was still on her face. "Uh... well... I want to... I desperately want to. But I don't know." She grabbed Yukine's arm demanding for an answer. "Yukine-san," she implored, "what could I do to save Mama?"

"There is nothing you can do now to save her."

"Yukine..." It's Tenshi all over again. Two people are now teling her it's hopeless.

"We only have each other now, Ushio. Your mother will never be able to take care of you. But I will always be here for you. I will give my whole life to take care of you."

"No! Mama will awake! She will see me again. Me and Tenshi. We will build our dreams and Mama will be there to see it!"

"Do you not know how weak your mother really is?"

Ushio's mouth hung.

"Your mother was never strong, Ushio. She repeated her senior year twice just because of her illness. She could not hold down a job because of her illness. She could not even give birth because of her illness!"

What did you say? "But I'm here! I'm alive! She gave birth to me!"

"Sanae-san told me

that fateful night when she brought the curtains for her,

"that she talked with your father at Ernesto Host.

"She said it was the doctor's opinion that your mother may not make it through with the delivery. Sanae-san and your father discussed whether they should carry on with the birth."

Ushio's eyes widened in shock. Whether? She couldn't be saying... She couldn't possibly be saying...

"Ushio, your mother may be too weak to care for or even have children at all, but I will take care of you. You need not fear. I will be here—"

"No!" she screamed breaking herself free of Yukine and standing up. "Mama wants me to live! Mama wants me to be born! Mama loves me!"

She ran on back the way she came.

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