* 60 *

It should go without saying that in my second life, I hated Christmas.
But that's not to say I hate the spirit of Christmas, or Christianity as a whole. What I loathed was how every time someone said the word "Christmas," it felt like an excuse.
It's a lot like how you can get disgusted by someone constantly saying "volunteer." Not that there's anything wrong with volunteering.

Of course, my first self had no doubt rather enjoyed going around saying "Christmas" like an excuse.
So I was quite aware my hatred of Christmas might just be a bias there. Plus, of course I'd come to hate a birthday that nobody celebrates.
But whether it was bias or envy, I hated it, I hated it. So when I realized what part-time job I'd signed up for on December 24th, I knew I'd screwed up.

My plan was to just apply for any part-time job I saw, only looking at the hours, never at the actual job description.
So I didn't realize until the day of that I'd be working in a crowded department store, dressed up as Santa all day, to help with a raffle.

I could've very well skipped on it and taken the day off, but thinking about it, spending the whole day holed up at home seemed even more depressing.
I could see that either way I'd be feeling awful. So I concluded that it was better to go with the one that got me money, and left the house.

When I entered the employee entrance of the department store, not feeling in any way festive, there was already a crowd of about twenty idly curious people who similarly applied for a part-time the day before Christmas.
From their faces, most of them certainly did not look like they had Christmas plans, but there were a few who brought their significant others along, which just made things awkward. I had to laugh a little.

Most of the volunteers were college students, and most brought friends. Including me, there were only four who came alone.
One was a man who looked quite accustomed to work, and another was a man with piercings who didn't seem to care about anyone else.
The last was the only girl - see where this is going?

Standing uncomfortably in the corner was that girl I knew so well, Hiiragi.
When she saw me, she bowed her head slightly. I did the same, but as ever, she didn't appear to know who I really was.

Still, to think we'd meet here. We must have had very similar thought processes. I mean, we had been lovers in our first lives.
I wondered if she had decided she'd rather pick this over holing up at home, too.

A few minutes after everyone had assembled, they began explaining the work. Then, for the first time in a while, I heard the magic spell: "get into pairs."
Sure enough, neither Hiiragi nor I had anyone to pair up with, so as the remaining two, we ended up together.
It hadn't happened since high school, so I felt bad in a nostalgic, comforting way.

Dressed in sweltering Santa suits all the way up to the hat, we had to see festive families and couples and tell them things like "Merry Christmas!" and "Happy new year!" with little to no heart in it.
There wasn't a single person on the other side of the table who didn't look happy.

I thought, looking at Hiiragi next to me, that we would have formerly been on the other side.
Hiiragi struggled to be courteous to the guests, and that was heartbreaking to watch.

Chapter 61

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