Kazuya Kujou’s life as an international student was a tough one.
Oriental people were rarely seen in Europe, and the conservative students were very reluctant to have them as schoolmates. Kazuya’s earnest nature prevented him from making any friends, and was only barely tolerated because of his excellent grades.
Kazuya’s French gradually became better, and he seemed to have no difficulty in conversing and attending classes. He devoted himself solely to his studies.
“Don’t push yourself too hard,” Cecile would sometimes say. “It’s okay to relax once in a while.”
To which, Kazuya would reply with a simple, “Yes, Ma’am.”
The seasons changed once more.
One morning, Cecile left the dormitory early and was on her way to the school building when she saw Kazuya standing straight in front of the flowerbeds.
“Morning,” she greeted.
Kazuya turned, startled. His jet-black eyes narrowed, dazzled by the morning sun.
“Oh, Teach. Good morning.”
“You’re up early. What were you doing?”
Most of the other students slept until the last minute. The same was true for Cecile.
Waking up early and going for a walk sounds like something Kujou would do, Cecile thought.
Kazuya pointed at something with an extremely serious face.
It was a flower blooming quietly in a flowerbed. A small, charming, golden flower.
“A flower?” Cecile said.
“Yes.” Kazuya nodded.
“Do you like this flower?”
“Oh… It’s so tiny. I’m surprised you actually noticed it. There are lots and lots of other bigger ones around.”
Kazuya hung his head bashfully. Then with a mumble of farewell, he turned his back to Cecile and hurried towards the school building.
Weird kid… Is it really embarrassing to be captivated by a flower? Cecile wondered.
The cool, damp autumn breeze ruffled Cecile’s hair.
“Who was that?”
Weekend of the next week.
Cecile, carrying a pile of new dresses and candies to Victorique’s special dormitory, stopped in her tracks. She hadn’t heard her voice for weeks, and she hadn’t seen anything except her face, expressionless as a doll.
“What?” Cecile gasped.
Victorique exhaled sharply. “The one who came to the library today. The yellowish fellow.”
“Yellowish fellow?” Cecile mulled it over.
Victorique, on the other hand, was silently smoking her pipe, unwilling to offer any further explanation.
Pages turned at a tremendous speed. She was progressing through the thick philosophy book written in Latin in no time at all.
A moment later, Victorique lifted her head, annoyed. “Moves rather stiffly,” she added reluctantly.
Cecile finally realized who she meant. “You mean Kujou?”
She remembered that he had asked Kazuya to find a book for him from the library that evening. With much effort, Kazuya went up the winding stairs, found the book, and went back down. He was out of breath when he returned.
At that time, in the dense conservatory at the top of the library’s labyrinthine stairs, Victorique was alone as usual, smoking her pipe and reading books.
“That was Kujou, an international student,” Cecile said. “He arrived last month from a small country in the Orient.”
There was no reply from Victorique. She once again lost herself in the quiet world of her books. The soft rustling of pages and the quivering smoke enveloped her.
I wonder what’s gotten into her, Cecile thought. I can’t believe she’s interested in something other than books.
She left the special dormitory.
The season had turned from autumn to winter once again. The wintry sky was cold and dry, and the vast garden of St. Marguerite Academy had shed its foliage. Bare trees were black skeletons clawing at the skies. Withered rose branches seemed like sinister spider webs blanketing the entire flowerbeds.
Cecile sometimes saw the international student, Kazuya Kujou, standing before the same flowerbed as before, always early in the morning. As she hurried past, she would glance at him and see him staring at the desolate flowerbed with a soft, oddly gentle expression that he had never shown to anyone, not in class, not when she asked him to run an errand to the library.
The golden flower had bloomed until the end of autumn. Now there was only a bleak flowerbed with dry, thin branches intertwining like spider webs.
Kazuya stood there from time to time, silently staring at the withered twigs.
Kujou must be waiting for spring to come, Cecile realized one morning. He’s waiting for that bright, pretty flower to bloom again. He always looks so serious, but I guess he has a surprising romantic side to him too.
Gray winter skies blanketed the academy like a dark cloth.
“How old is Kujou?”
Cecile, who had hurried through the flowerbed maze to bring breakfast to the special dormitory, glancing at Kazuya on the way, was once again startled when she heard Victorique’s husky voice. She almost dropped the silver tray of fruits, rye bread, and lingonberry jam.
“Never mind,” Victorique mumbled and turned her back to Cecile.
A wisp of white smoke rose from her pipe. The little girl, puffy in her black velvet and white silk ruffles, flipped through her books, smoked her pipe, and occasionally, as though awakening from a dream, turned her small head to pick a candy from the pile of sweets and brought it to her glossy, cherry lips.
“You won’t have room for breakfast,” Cecile said.
“Also, Kujou is the same age as you. You’re in the same class, actually. Though you’ll never meet him since you don’t show up to class.”
A curt reply. Her voice was the same as always—soft and husky, like an old woman’s. But there was something in that voice that made Cecile feel uneasy, something small, like a drop of rose perfume on a lake.
A drop of sweet nectar onto a vast, dark lagoon.
Cecile stared at the cold face reading the books. There, too, she caught a flicker of something she had never seen before, something that sent her hackles rising. A faint warmth, it seemed. Cecile quickly adjusted her large round glasses to take a closer look, but it had already vanished, quietly.
What was that just now?
It bothered Cecile, but since Victorique never said anything else, she left the special dormitory without saying another word, leaving the breakfast tray behind.
A chilly wind blew, and Cecile tugged her brown overcoat closer. After going around through the flowerbed maze, she finally made it outside.
It was even colder outside the flowerbed, in the spacious gardens. Winter in Europe was somewhat ominous and gloomy. Cecile trotted to the school building. Dead leaves rustled.
The season passed slowly.
Kazuya Kujou had caught a cold once throughout the unfamiliar European winter. One day it was so bad that he couldn’t get up, so Cecile went to his room in the boys’ dormitory with a handout of that day’s lesson.
The room was so neat and tidy as to evoke lonelinesss. Fine oak furniture for the children of nobility. A large study desk, a bookshelf, and an ornate cabinet. In the corner of the room, Kazuya slept on his bed, red-faced and back straight.
The red-haired dorm mother paced the corridor, worried about the sick foreign child. Cecile gently placed her palm on Kazuya’s hot forehead to check his fever, and he mumbled something in what sounded like his own language, which Cecile did not understand.
Cecile thought he was calling for someone’s name. It sounded like “ru” and “ri”. As she wondered who it was, Kazuya opened his eyes a little. Jet-black eyes, black as the darkness of night, seemingly able to suck you in. He just stared at her blankly for a while, but when he noticed his homeroom teacher, he quickly tried to get up.
“It’s okay. Just lie down,” Cecile said.
Kazuya was reluctant at first, but eventually gave in and lay back down.
“I thought you were someone else,” he said, embarrassed. “Sorry.”
“Who did you mistake me for?”
“I sensed a woman’s presence. I thought it was my sister.” Kazuya slipped back under the covers. “I thought it was Ruri.” A muffled voice came from within. “We were together all the time back home. In our language, my sister’s name means a jewel. She cried her eyes out. She didn’t want me to go, but I left her behind anyway. I hope she’s doing fine.”
“I’m sure she feels the same.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” Kazuya poked his head out of the covers.
Cecile called the village doctor and had him examine Kazuya. He gave him a big injection in the arm. Kazuya was unfazed; he did not even look in pain. He kept his face hard, clenched his teeth, and tried his best to look fine.