* 61 *

When we returned to a dusty meeting room for break time, we were distributed bento boxes.
The outside was all decorated in Christmas colors, but it was just a regular lunch on the inside.
I left about half of it, tossed my garbage into a cardboard box, put my pass in my pocket, and walked around the store.
It wasn't my first time working here, so I knew they were pretty lax. Walking around as I pleased wouldn't get me in too much trouble.

It being Christmas, the store was crowded, yet the instrument shop on the fifth floor had hardly anyone in it.
There wasn't anything I particularly wanted to buy, but I found myself naturally drawn there.
As I gazed at guitars and organs, I recalled the music preparation room I often visited in high school.
That was also where I met Hiiragi the day of the graduation rehearsal, I remembered, which warmed my cheeks slightly.

As I walked from one corner of the store to another, something caught my eye: a Hohner Marine Band.
It was a ten-holes harmonica made of wood, and I actually kind of liked the design. Same way you can admire the functional beauty of a pistol. I even liked the ring of the name, "Marine Band."

All of a sudden, I decided I'd buy it for my sister as a Christmas present. Whether she had any interest in instruments or not, I'd be alright if she just pretended to like it for the day.
It was just a little expensive for a harmonica, but I bought it without hesitation and even had it wrapped.
I only realized after leaving the store, but a harmonica seemed like a perfect fit for my sister.
It was easy to imagine her little hands holding a harmonica and skillfully playing it. In fact, I felt like she must have actually played the harmonica in my first life.

After that, I headed for the smoking area outside.
I hadn't noticed while inside the building, but it was horribly cold. I didn't know when it started to snow, but it there was up to ten centimeters of it in places.
The clouds were so thick, the darkness made it feel more like night despite being afternoon. A ton of cars had their headlights on.

I casually looked out over the parking lot, and saw a familiar blue car parked there - and my head twitched.
It was a car I'd seen often in my stalking days; that is, the car Tokiwa and Tsugumi rode around in. Being a fairly rare model, I knew it immediately.
So maybe I should have given that schedule Tokiwa gave me a closer look after all, I lamented. I definitely wouldn't have taken the job if I'd known those two would be here.

After I finished my second cigarette, I leisurely returned to the break area. I got the schedule out of my bag and looked it over.
According to the schedule, they were planning to get dinner at a fancy restaurant after this. Oh, joy.

You can probably guess what happened next; Tokiwa and Tsugumi came by the little raffle Hiiragi and I were running.
The moment I saw them, my eyes immediately darted around looking for a place to hide. I'd rather have died than meet Tokiwa at a time like that.
I knew, with all certainty, that when he saw me in a place like this on a day like this doing this, he'd wring some happiness for himself out of it. I wasn't going to be his fodder today.

I fled for the first place I saw, behind a Christmas tree up against the wall. It was a big tree, about five meters tall, so perfect for hiding behind.
However, when I went around the back of the tree, there was already someone coming from the other side, and I skidded to a stop. It was almost a head-on collision.

I don't think Hiiragi and I met eyes for more than a second.
Still, we knew. We squatted together behind the tree and waited for Tokiwa and Tsugumi to leave.
Thankfully, we succeeded in them not seeing us, though it gave us a start when a kid came along and saw us, shouting "Mommy, Santa's hiding! Two of them!" Gimme a break, kid.

After Tokiwa and Tsugumi left the raffle, I thought about what they were planning to do next. Perhaps Hiiragi, who sighed beside me, was thinking the same.
Yeesh, it's not often I feel this awful.

Five o' clock came, and the end of the raffle approached; the visitors were petering out, too. Hiiragi and I idled together in the break room.
In the corner of the room was an old radio. It was wooden with two huge knobs, and played music very faintly.
There was nothing else to look at or listen to, so I focused on listening to the radio.

It was playing a song quite familiar to me.
John Lennon's "Starting Over."

I started to casually and quietly hum along.
On this day in my first life, I thought, I'd done this too, hummed this same song.
It took a few seconds to realize I was remembering things I certainly shouldn't be able to.

Immediately, I noticed a flood of memories from my first life coming back.
A huge influx of information filled my brain so quickly that I almost fainted.

And that was when I remembered that Tokiwa and Tsugumi were about to die.

Chapter 62

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