* 52 *

With all the trees and store fronts lit up, Christmas songs playing everywhere you went, and the huge fir tree at the train station, the town was turning the colors of Christmas.
It had been four days since my talk with Tokiwa on the bridge. I continued to stalk him as usual; I was having coffee at a café at the station, waiting for him to show up.
I could get a good view of the plaza from there, you see. Which Tokiwa and Tsugumi often used as a meeting place.

Many of the people sitting around me were either couples or pairs of women.
Every single one of them was deeply entrenched in conversation. I seemed to be the only loner.
I pulled my mug up to my lips and took a sip. The coffee had gone cold and tasted like detergent.

Just what was I doing?

To be blunt, nearly all my reason for tailing Tokiwa had been annihilated. I'd been completely found out.
It would be fair to say it was impossible for me to act out against him now.
So then why did I let my stalking drag on? "To remember."

My memories of my first life, already so fuzzy, seemed to get even hazier around this time.
It was bad enough that if I wasn't paying attention, I could even forget that this was my second time living these years.
To be honest, tailing Tokiwa and seeing him with Tsugumi was useful for strengthening my memories.

If I hadn't done that, by now I'd have become convinced I was always like this from the start.
Or perhaps I would have been happier that way. When I had a point of reference, it made me keep seeing my second life as so much worse.

If I could look on the bright side, even my life now wasn't bad enough to throw it all away. The college I went to wasn't so bad, and there were lots of books to read and songs to listen to.
And while she could be hard to understand, my sister seemed to care for me as well.
So what if I was a shut-in for a year? I could just think of it as a gap between high school and college.

Alas, it was impossible for me to think that way. If I could just forget my first life, it would be easy.
But on the other hand, even knowing the pain those memories brought me, for whatever reason I couldn't bring myself to forget.
No matter what, I wanted to remember that the world, my life, had had such wonderful things in it.
I honestly felt it would be better to die cradling the memories of my first life than to try and live my second life happily, if the latter meant forgetting.

Tsugumi arrived at the plaza before Tokiwa. She sat on a bench with a green paper bag under her arm, and looked up at the station clock.
Double stalking... I wondered if the "friend" Tokiwa had asked to follow me could have been Tsugumi.
That would have meant the worst - that the day we met at the library, Tsugumi knew that I was stalking Tokiwa.
Even the way she cordially talked to me could have all been to hide her intentions, I considered.

In a few minutes, Tokiwa appeared on the plaza. When Tsugumi saw him, she held up the bag and proudly showed it to him. Tokiwa reacted with exaggerated surprise.
The contents of the present could have been an early Christmas gift, or a birthday present.
If Tokiwa's birthday was the same as mine, December 24th, then it wouldn't be odd if Tsugumi gave him a birthday present a week early to prevent overlap.

After taking the present, Tokiwa looked in some direction as if noticing something. Indeed, it was in my direction - it seemed he'd noticed I was here standing guard.
And then he waved at me, of all things. Such innocence.
I hurriedly lowered my head, hiding in their blind spot. My face was hot all of a sudden, and I clutched my head.

Truly, what on earth was I doing?

Chapter 53

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