The dark silent night dawned at last, bringing the brightness of the morning to the quiet grounds of St. Marguerite’s School, ushering in a day just like any other.
As the morning sun rose over the gardens, Kazuya came downstairs to the dormitory dining hall even earlier than his usual time, greeted the ever-voluptuous redheaded housemother, and took his breakfast. He ate quickly, then rose from his chair, said goodbye to the housemother, and left the dormitory with his book bag containing the notes he had made for his shopping trip.
Just as Kazuya began to walk toward the front gate, he heard light footsteps running in the distance. Who could it be this early, and on the weekend…? he wondered, and turned around. The other person also stopped, and gazed back at Kazuya in surprise, her eyes squinted against the brightness of the sun—it was Miss Cécile.
“Kujou…” Cécile seemed unusually agitated. She ran up to Kazuya, darting to the right and to the left.
“Really? But you look fine to me…”
“N-no, that’s not what I mean,” Cécile said, waving her plump arms frantically up and down, clearly distraught. “Not me; Miss Victorique. She’s caught the flu!”
“Victorique did…?” Kazuya was startled. Cécile returned his gaze with her own look of surprise and disbelief.
For the sedentary Victorique to catch the flu when she spent all of her time in the conservatory… It made no sense to him.
Cécile sounded just as confused as he was. “You know, last night, she had on a nightgown she doesn’t normally wear, with this big hard ribbon-looking thing. It had unraveled, and her bellybutton was showing, so I tried to cover her up again. And then this morning, she was already feeling dizzy and very sick…”
Kazuya put his head in his hands. The words “a nightgown she doesn’t normally wear” and “a big hard ribbon-looking thing” were all he needed to know.
Cécile noticed his reaction, then saw that he was dressed for an outing with his coat and bag. “Oh, that’s right; I forgot you were going to go shopping in Sauvrème. And you’re all set with permission to leave, too… Sorry to disturb you. Well, I’ll be going, then.”
“Um…” Kazuya nervously called after Cécile as she began to dash away. “That nightgown must be the one that I gave to Victorique. The way to tie the sash is complicated, and I bet she couldn’t figure it out. I can write down the instructions for her; it’ll just take a minute.”
“Well!” Cécile turned around and glared at him. Kazuya automatically shrank away from her fearfully. “Oh, Kujou. I understand that you wanted to make her happy by giving her something exotic, but you do have to explain how to use it, too!”
“But, uh, I tried to tell—”
“I don’t want to hear any more excuses out of you. Apologize to your teacher.”
Kazuya met Cécile’s eyes for a brief moment, but within seconds, he caved into her gaze, and hung his head. “…I’m sorry.”
“Now, go write a letter to Miss Victorique,” Cécile said in a clipped tone, despite the smile that had returned to her face.
Kazuya ran back to his room in the dormitory, and took out stationary and a pen. He sat at the mahogany desk and wrote precise directions for tying the obi, complete with diagrams. Just as he had finished and was about to fold the paper into three, an idea struck him. He opened up a drawer and rummaged around for some colored ink pens that he hadn’t used in a long time. And then he began to neatly color in the diagram, filling in the kimono with light blue and the obi with pink, making the letter pretty for Victorique.
After all, she was his friend who had told him and no one else that she didn’t dislike beautiful things. If he turned even a mere letter into something beautiful, perhaps that would make her happy.
Kazuya folded the paper and inserted it into an envelope made out of traditional paper from his homeland. After this, he left the dormitory, and made a detour to a certain flower garden that he had visited before. He searched for a tiny golden flower, and gently tucked it inside the envelope.
“All done.” Kazuya nodded, pleased with his handiwork.
Then he headed toward Victorique’s villa, following Cécile’s directions. He tried to picture Victorique anywhere else on campus besides the library, but drew a blank. When he finally arrived at his destination, he stared up in shock at the huge wall of flowers arranged into a maze.
“…What the heck?” Kazuya stood dumbfounded for a moment. Faced with no other choice, he gingerly stepped into the maze, but only made it part of the way in before having second thoughts. Not only was he afraid of getting lost, he might not even be able to find the entrance again. He went back outside.
While Kazuya was staring up helplessly at the flower hedges, Cécile happened across him. Understanding his dilemma, she told him that she would deliver the letter. She took the envelope from his hands and vanished effortlessly into the flower maze.
As he watched Cécile walk away with a confident stride, for some reason Kazuya found himself confronted with a strange mixture of loneliness and frustration. Unable to interpret this emotion, he descended into a sulk while awaiting Cécile’s return.
“Achoo! Achoo! Achoo!” Victorique sneezed over and over again, shuddering violently all over her tiny body.
She had awakened that morning not knowing why the ceiling was spinning, or why her face was hot, or why she was feeling too listless to get out of bed. For the first time in her life, Victorique had caught the flu.
Her small and weak body wasn’t exactly made of the sturdiest stuff. But ever since her childhood, she had led an orderly, austere lifestyle entirely within the four walls of either a room at the top of a tower, or the villa at St. Marguerite’s. Therefore, coming down with a fever and being confined to her bed was an unfamiliar experience for her, although perhaps contrary to expectations.
“Achoo!” With every sneeze, her long blond hair flew up into the air, then fell back down on top of the silken sheets. She sat for a minute in silence, an oddly miserable expression on her face.
Victorique shakily stretched out a thin hand and reached for a piece of tissue paper.
And blew her nose.
“Pffft! Pffft! Pffft!”
Tears collected in her eyes; she had apparently blown too hard. She held her nose in her hands and sat quietly, her shoulders quivering in discomfort.
The door quietly opened, and Cécile poked her head into the room.
Victorique slowly turned around. “Oh, it’s you,” she muttered wearily. Her strained voice sounded even huskier, and her bright red cheeks had swelled up to an even greater puffiness than usual.
Cécile carefully walked inside with a pitcher of water, a packet of medicine, and a small cup of milk, and set them down on the bedside table. Then she paused, seeming to remember something. “I ran into Kujou.”
“I told him that you were sick, and he was very worried and upset to hear that. He must be very fond of you.” She giggled, but suddenly remembered her errand. “Here you go. A letter for you.”
“I saw him pacing around in front of the garden, so I thought I’d deliver it for him. Try to write a reply as quick as you can. He looked like he was in a hurry.”
“Why is he in such a hurry? Achoo!” As Victorique looked up at Cécile with a puzzled expression, her head bobbed forward in a sneeze.
Cécile smiled. “He’s going to Sauvrème on a shopping trip. His relatives asked him to buy a lot of things for them. He looked rather excited about it.”
“The likes of Kujou, getting excited? …Achoo!” sneezed Victorique disapprovingly.
But after Cécile left the bedroom to tidy up the rest of the house, Victorique regarded the Oriental-style envelope in her hands, her gaze tinged with pleasure. The paper felt coarse to the touch, reminding her of the kimono that she had rubbed her cheeks against so ecstatically last night. She curiously turned it around to look at the back, then turned it back to the front. After enjoying the envelope for a few moments, she enthusiastically tore open the seal. A golden flower spilled out of the envelope, and this made her spirits soar even higher.
And then, with a wide grin across her fever-reddened face, she unfolded the letter. At first she was deeply impressed by the beautifully colored drawing of the kimono and obi, but when she began to read the first line, her emerald-green eyes immediately narrowed in anger.
The letter opened as follows:
Victorique, how are you? I heard you fell asleep with your tummy sticking out like a big dummy. Miss Cécile told me all about it. Boy, you sure are dumb, Victorique! Anyway, here’s how you tie the obi…
Victorique crumpled up the letter into a ball with her tiny hands. She sneezed, then took that very same letter and blew her runny nose into it. And then she raised her small white hand and threw the balled up paper at the wall.
“Miss Victorique, do write back to Kujou. He was so very worried about you,” Cécile called out from the other room.
“Hmph.” Victorique’s green eyes narrowed into a thin, angry line….
Kazuya was still waiting on the pebbled path, fidgeting anxiously. When he saw Cécile reemerge from the garden maze, he quickly called out to her, “How is she doing?”
“She can’t stop sneezing, and her face is bright red.” Cécile offhandedly pulled out a folded piece of paper from her pocket. It was on very pretty stationary watermarked with an illustration of roses inside a birdcage. The paper was soaked in floral perfume, and emanated a faintly saccharine scent.
This was Kazuya’s first time receiving a letter from Victorique. He patiently waited for Cécile to leave, and when he was finally alone, he eagerly unfolded the letter.
There, in shaky letters, was a single, very large word:
Kazuya’s shoulders slumped.
Now he felt like a monumental idiot for having opened it with such excitement. For a long while, he stood there dejectedly. But eventually he remembered that his train would be leaving soon, and he turned around and walked away.
Kazuya took a couple steps, but then whirled back around. He turned toward the overgrown tangle of flowers that shielded Victorique’s villa from view, and roared, “What the hell was that!? You’re the stupid one, Victorique!”
There was no answer. With increasing frustration, Kazuya added, “Someone as mean as you isn’t getting any presents from me! You hear me?!”
His shout echoed pathetically back to him.
From deep inside the flowers, he thought he heard a strange noise that sounded like an “achoo!” But all soon fell heartlessly silent….
Kazuya slowly walked away, looking over his shoulder again and again, still bothered by thoughts of Victorique.