After school as I was leaving together with Lady Sara and Lord Souju, we encountered the soccer club on their runs. Lord Ryou Takanashi was also running. Lady Yuria Sakurada and the heroine Ms. Miu Yuuki were also present.
It appeared that Ms. Miu Yuuki was the manager of the soccer club. She was dressed in a jersey and held a stopwatch in her hand. I was under the unjust suspicion that this was a ploy by Lady Yuria Sakurada to close the distance between the otome game target Lord Takanashi and the heroine Ms. Miu Yuuki. The soccer club's ace and the manager—a common trope in stories. It was a waste for Ms. Miu Yuuki to be the manager when her motor skills were that good, and my heart ached at this. On the other side, Lady Yuria Sakurada was in her school uniform. She probably met Ms. Miu Yuuki on her way home.
"Even though Lady Yuria is an internal student, you’re friends with and act kind to a new student like me."
"I'm a salon member, but my lineage isn't that impressive, so people call us nouveau riche behind our backs. That's why I understand how the new students must feel."
"You're amazing… no, Lady Yuria is wonderful!"
I could hear their conversation for some reason. It appeared that Lady Yuria Sakurada had a completely firm grip over the heroine Ms. Miu Yuuki's heart. As long as they didn't physically bully me by hiding or breaking my stuff, then I didn't particularly mind. I was already accustomed to being ignored and surrounded by gossip. Everything was because of Lady Mary. Even if it was wrong to blame it all on Lady Mary, I didn't want to admit it.
Back when I was an elementary student, I had once experienced a boy from my class suddenly striking my cheek. The reason was that I was Mary Kujouin's grandchild. Deeds said to be perpetrated by Lady Mary were most likely done by her.
"That stinky hag at your place made fun of Sis' nice clothes!"
It appeared that the coming-of-age, long-sleeved kimono wasn't made of silk but polyester or something like that. Lady Mary had apparently seen that and made the snide comment that a long-sleeved kimono was wasted on a tenant farmer, so it must be fake. That kimono was one that my classmate's grandmother bought after saving up her pension for many years. It wasn't monetarily but sentimentally valuable.
"Sis was crying and saying she's sorry to Grandma! I hope that stinky hag dies!"
Because of Lady Mary, that important day for that girl became the worst. When I considered the feelings of my classmate's sister and grandmother, my heart terribly ached. After that, I was treated as nonexistent in school.
That day, I went home crying. Crying because I felt sad about my classmate's grandmother, and at the same time, crying because I was frustrated by this outrageous criticism brought about by Lady Mary. Seeing me like this, Ms. Fuki told me about her days as a street urchin. The contents were cruel. Too cruel.
Ms. Fuki finished her story by telling me that she was envious of how blessed I was. Right, I was blessed. I mustn't cry at something of this level. Lady Mary was an elderly lady. It would probably be impossible for her to change her way of thinking. I must apologize as her grandchild. Even if it wasn't my fault, I didn't know how to soothe my classmate's anger, so I opted to remain silent and wait for him to settle his emotions. I often had those kinds of things happen.
Even when those sequence of events unfolded and I faced hardship because of Lady Mary, I strove to persevere. Of course, I protested to Lady Mary, but Ms. Fuki ended up being scolded in my stead. That scene happened over and over again, making me no longer want to protest to Lady Mary.
When I looked back at my past, the idea that the circumstances of my upbringing were abnormal came to mind, but it was scary how I hadn't acknowledged this until now. I shook my head.
"What? Were you thinking of something else again?"
Lord Souju was sharp. I felt like he could always see through me.
"Yes, that's correct. I was recalling various things."
"Uh-huh. Is it because of Yuria Sakurada and that new student?"
"…Even if that was the case, it was about my past unrelated to those girls."
Ah, I wasn't alone. I had friends who cared for me like this. I couldn't help but feel happy. How delightful.
"Sou, thank you very much for your concern."
When I thanked him, Lord Souju looked bashful! How rare! Lady Sara saw that and teased Lord Souju at this given chance.
"Fufufu, Souju, your face is red!"
Lord Souju quickly turned to the side. Those two really were close. I heard that they had lost their mother when they were young, but I was sure that they supported each other through life. How wonderful.
My mother, Ruriko Kujouin immediately died after giving birth to me at the age of 45. Her marriage registration with my father was two months before I was born. This was all information I had learned from the official copy of our family register. I had uncovered my mother's two maiden names. Before she was Kujouin, she was Yokoyama. And before that, she was Kiryuuin.
I looked up the two names, Ruriko Yokoyama and Ruriko Kiryuuin, on my beloved smartphone.
I was quick to do it. It was on a slight impulse.
I saw my mother for the first time through my smartphone. She was naked. Completely in her birthday suit.
In her late teens, Ruriko Kiryuuin painted pictures in the nude as an avant-garde performance overseas. She wasn't that talked about in Japan because the Kiryuuin family was a prestigious one. To the media, Ruriko Kiryuuin was a taboo existence. Therefore, I had found the picture of my mother on an overseas site. Afterward, the Kiryuuin family disowned their problem child Ruriko, and she was taken in by the Yokoyama family.
I wanted to cry. Because my father wasn't a decent man, I wanted my deceased mother to at least be normal.
However, she wasn't. It wasn't that I was refuting avant-garde art, but my first time seeing my mother was a picture of her in her birthday suit. Anyone would be shocked, right?
Why was I surrounded by this many eccentric characters? No one could say anything about it. I let out a small sigh.
"For some reason, you look unwell, Rei. Are you okay?"
Lady Sara looked at my face and asked. She was still concerned over me.
“I apologize. I ended up thinking about something that I would describe as unpleasant or unfortunate. Even though there's nothing I can do about it, it still depressed me."
"What was it?"
I couldn't tell them. I couldn't say that I was shocked to know that my mother had painted pictures naked.
"Something that you can't even tell us?"
I silently nodded.
"Souju. You utterly lack delicacy. Jeez. Now, now, let's all go home! I want to have another film appreciation viewing. Ufufu."
Lady Sara was considerate and kind-hearted. She was easily misunderstood because of her appearance and mannerisms, but she was a very lovely girl.
"I'm looking forward to it. What film will we be watching today?"
"I haven't decided yet. Let's choose one together!"
When we arrived at the Hongou residence, I was shown to the room I had previously borrowed. It appeared to have been remodeled as it gave off a more modern feeling last time. However, overall, it now had a lovely motif to it. The Laura Ashley fabric gave a sense of uniformity. It was so adorable that I felt like my presence in this room stood out. My life was staying in my six-tatami-mat room with the tea table and futon and dressed in my jersey. I knew that I didn't suit this room, but my heart still jumped. Just as I thought, cute things should be viewed as such.
When I told Lady Sara that, she made a delighted face.
"Sara was the one who remodeled the room."
"Is that so?! It's very lovely. I feel that it would be a waste to sleep in it. I mean, if I close my eyes, I wouldn't be able to see it anymore?"
Lady Sara's face was red. Her cute side came out. How adorable.
"Rei, you're surprisingly fond of cute things, huh. I thought you were the type who likes simplicity."
"Even if I'm dirt poor, I still like cute things. However, I simply have no luck."
Lady Mary's antique lace was nice, but I like things that were more gorgeous and adorable. I knew that they didn't match me, but I liked the things I like.
I changed into the one-piece dress prepared for me in the closet in my room. Then, I headed to the dining room where Lady Sara and the others were waiting. I had thought that things would be hectic since the party would be tomorrow, but it wasn't like that.
"It's like this every day. Although Grandmother would give us various instructions beforehand."
"Where should I be playing on the piano? If possible, I want to confirm that today."
"Yes, that's right. You'll be performing on this one tomorrow. I'll show you the way."
"I'll go too."
And just like that, Lady Sara and Lord Souju took me to the Western-style mansion. The garden along the way was amazing. Why was there such a green place in the big city? We passed through the English-styled garden and entered the Western-styled mansion.
"I will be performing here…?"
I whispered. I had completely thought I would be playing BGM in the corner somewhere, but I would be stationed in the front center and slightly over to the left. The piano was a Steinway. There must be some kind of mistake. This piano will surely stand out.
"Yeah, Grandmother grandly broadcasted that 'the return of the genius pianist Mary Shirasagi!' was the original purpose of the party."
"I'm sorry that Grandmother was acting recklessly. I also couldn't stop her."
"No, I'll do my best here. Is it fine if I try playing on it?"
I would be earning money for the first time. I would be playing on the piano for my job. If I don't play seriously, what was the point?! An acoustic shell was installed just for this piano performance.
I felt the weight of my piano performance and welled up with emotion.