The fragments are side stories. This fragment focuses on Toslin and Carol for the first two chapters. Saluena and Rose for the next two. And then Iris for the last three.
Section 1: Quiet Conversation in the Sunset Part 1
Right now, I’m watching a dream.
There I am, curled up into a ball inside a hollowed out cavity of a tree hugging my tail close to my chest.
But in this dream, I emerge from the hollow without realizing it’s a dream and start wandering the forest while holding back my grumbling stomach.
It’s been a long time since I’ve had this dream. For a long time, this past has been collecting dust in the back of my head.
And the one who should be coming out about now to change all of that…….
“Oi you over there, what are you doing in my garden?”
Golden hair that falls to her shoulders. A woman with bright blue eyes that remind me of leaves covered in morning dew——I must have fallen asleep while thinking about Tosrillon F. Iriburgh.
Waking up, I found Toslin right there in front of me. She had brought a chair next to my bed and is sitting down with her legs crossed next to me. It looks like she was reading a book while I was sleeping. I gave her a glance over.
She’s different from how she was in my dream. She’s taller, has longer hair, and on the topic of things that have grown, her chest is certainly up there. And yet she has the same hair color, eye color, and name.
“……you’re hair has gotten longer.”
“Huh? What’s with the sudden…….”
Toslin’s hair now reaches all the way to her waist.
She’s also so much taller than she used to be. It’s to the point where my neck starts hurting because of how high up I constantly have to look in order to see her.
Meanwhile I’ve barely changed at all since we met.
“…..ah, here…..a hospital bed…..”
“What, are you all right? Are your memories turbid?”
Turbid? What’s that? Toslin shouldn’t be using any hard words like Saluena does. I can’t even read or write.
“……I was dreaming”
A night has already passed since I was admitted to this hospital.
Last night was the first time in a long time since I’ve spent the night away from Toslin.
I was lonely, but at the same time you could say I was saved by that.
Sleeping in the same bed or even the same room……will be tough for a while.
“What was your dream about?”
Dream……dream……why did I have to go and say that back then? Just remembering that time where I senselessly let slip about the dream that carbuncle had shown me makes me want to bite my tongue and die.
“A-About……the past. It was, the first time, I met you, Toslin……”
“O-Oh….. How many years has it already been since then? Ten? I never thought we’d be together for so long like this back then.”
I’ve always, always planned on staying together with Toslin. It’s why I’ve spent years trying to make up for the difference in our strides. It’s why I’m here now.
Rose’s bed is right next to mine with a curtain acting as a partition between us. Iris and Saluena are visiting, and the three of them have been talking about something for a long time.
Meanwhile Toslin and I have stopped talking entirely.
Even if we do try talking about something the conversation ends almost immediately, and silence settles back in between me and Toslin.
“Hurry up and get better.”
“I’m already fine. I’m being forced into staying here.”
“Well, that might be true……but it’s best to be safe. Lie back and rest for now.”
Words rise up between us like bubbles, eventually popping and breaking apart. But that’s not to say it’s unpleasant or anything. I’m actually rather comfortable with it, but right now the both of us are just trying to find the right words for each other.
We already know the reason why.
We can’t measure the distance between us.
Ever since my dream got exposed.
I don’t know what to say.
I’ve never had any problems with Carol until now, so I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.
What do we usually talk about?
I feel embarrassed just walking or breathing next to her, and it’s leaving my brain in a tizzy.
She’s always been energetic, and she even told me she’s feeling fine, but I just had to go and say something troublesome back to her. I knew it before I even said it. But I was feeling so anxious to say something that the words just flew out of my mouth.
Right now I can’t measure the distance between me and Carol. All I can feel is this growing sense of danger and frustration that almost makes me want to run away and get out of here.
You could hear the ring of the church’s bell signalling the sun’s setting through the window.
Visiting hours go on until the evening.
Iris and Saluena are already waving goodbye to Rose and making their way out of the room. Which means it’s time for me to go too…….
“So, um……I’ll see you tomorrow?”
My voice came out a timid mess towards Carol’s downturned head. I could barely understand what I was saying.
“Yeah, see you……tomorrow.”
And yet my words still managed to reach Carol’s ears.
That fact alone is an enormous relief for me even if her words drive on my anxiety all the more.
The new day rolled in after the second night of my hospitalization. Ever since that day I’ve been using each morning to try and organize my feelings.
And then I wonder just how far my feelings have been transmitted to Toslin.
After thinking and thinking and thinking some more, I somehow ended up with a fever. My head is all light and hazy. Is this because I didn’t get much sleep last night?
“What the hell are you doing? You’re the first person I’ve ever met who’s gotten sick after entering the hospital.”
Hurry up and realize I can’t explain that. My head has overheated, so it can’t be helped.
“……what is it?”
I pull my sheets over my head and avoid answering.
“Honestly, you’ve been a troublesome kid ever since the beginning. Come on, come out of there so I can take your temperature.”
Toslin placed her hand on my forehead.
“Bear with it”
“No, that’s not what……..”
When I refused to say anything more, Toslin sighed softly.
“If you don’t want me doing something, just say so.”
As an apology, Toslin gently brushed my hair with her hand.
I’ve been stroking Carol’s head for a while now.
After thinking and thinking and thinking some more, my first words to her today were “What the hell are you doing?” as if I’m trying to blame her for something.
Am I in a bad mood? Or maybe I’m just feeling depressed.
But then Carol started laughing out of nowhere.
“Oi, what are you laughing at? Is there something funny here?”
“No, nothing like that…….”
And yet Carol was still giggling to herself.
She once again threw herself underneath her covers, curled up, and just started to laugh. I had to stop myself from reaching out and petting her again.
I don’t understand what she’s laughing about though.
“…….what a weirdo.”
But, isn’t it okay if she’s laughing? When I thought like that, a smile eventually spread across my face.
And then I got a little reminiscent.
We’ve only ever had conversations and exchanges like this. And that’s why we’ve been together for a decade without ever getting tired of each other.
And once again, the ring of the church’s bell signaled the end of the day.
Looking up, the sun outside the window was set further than it had been yesterday.
“Well then, I’ll see you again tomorrow. It doesn’t look like your fever is that big a deal, but take it easy just to be safe okay?”
“Okay, got it.”
Carol’s reply is a lot clearer than yesterday’s was.
I’m very happy about that.
——I’ve been thinking about it since last night. What are my own feelings, and how well have those feelings been exposed to Toslin?
I thought about it even while I was eating my lightly seasoned food. I also talked with Rose about our preferences with food, but I spent most of my time thinking.
And in the end, I came to a decision.
“Hey hey…..hold me”
“I’m giving you a ring…….and I want an immediate answer……”
The fact that I was half-asleep isn’t an excuse. My dream is proof enough for how I really feel.
“What is it today? Are you regressing into a baby?”
Even though she knows how I feel, Toslin keeps turning her eyes away from me……..I hate it. But it’d be even worse if she tried keeping her distance from me.
“You come here every day.”
“Huh? That…….of course I’m coming. You’ve been hospitalized.”
Just what kind of obvious think is this pipsqueak making me say? is the response Toslin muttered underneath her breath.
But if she really thinks her coming to visit me is only natural, then that is more than enough to make me smile.
“I want to eat an apple.”
There’s a basket of apples sitting next to my bed that Iris brought over. She gave them to me since I’ve been complaining about how lightly seasoned the food here is. Honestly, Iris is such a good girl. I love her.
In comparison, Toslin is a lot more thick-headed. I ask for an apple, and she tries to just give me one. I’m the patient here, yet you’re trying to shove an entire apple into my mouth.
What is this? I think it’s okay to treat the other person a little more kindly when they’ve been admitted to a hospital. You’re supposed to peel the apple, cut it up into bites, and finally feed me.
It was a full minute before Toslin was able to read my sour expression and understood what I wanted. She reached down, pulling out a knife from her belt in order to start peeling it.
“Has that knife been washed properly?”
What was with that pause just now?
“Here’s your food.”
Toslin grabbed one of the slices and brought it close to my mouth. I bit it like a squirrel with my teeth and lied back down.
*MunchMunchMunch*………ah, this is really sweet and tasty.
“You look like a squirrel.”
“That’s supposed to be praise right?”
She hesitated again.
But I never expected her to agree with me, so I’m a little flustered.
Toslin has been pretty kind to me these past couple of days.
Maybe it’s okay to be hospitalized every now and then.
Is this the first time I’ve ever peeled an apple?
I used this same knife to spread some butter on my morning bread, but it probably won’t make a difference. No……this girl has a sharp nose, so she might actually notice.
“You look like a squirrel”
Carol’s cheeks swelled as she took the entire apple slice into her mouth and started to chew. I voiced my thoughts aloud, but I regretted my words as soon as I said them.
I’ve been feeling weirdly happy lately, and it’s causing my thoughts to get all muddy.
“That’s supposed to be praise right?”
Carol squinted her eyes and tilted her head. Tormented by a sense of guilt, I paused for a moment before nodding my head.
This happiness could’ve slipped through my fingers. I could’ve lost everything up at that altar in St. Noglint.
That’s why I can’t just sit back and watch everything fall apart.
“Does it taste good?”
“Yeah, it’s sweet and tasty.”
Every slice of the apple I peeled ended up fitting into Carol’s gluttonous stomach. She looks to be overjoyed to have had some non-hospital food in so many days. And now her eyes are narrowing like she’s getting sleepy.
“So tomorrow you’ll finally be discharged.”
“Yep. I wanted to be let out right away when I first got here, but with how things have been, I wouldn’t mind staying for a little longer.”
“Hmm, is that so”
……I, hate it though. I want this hospitalization to end as soon as possible.
It’s cold and lonely sleeping by myself.
“…….That was a lie. I want to hurry up and get out of here.”
Carol turned her head up towards me and said so. Outside the window, the town of Solretta is once again dyed red as dusk approaches. That very same bright red light shines into the room, filtering across Carol’s face and making her cheeks look flushed.
“…….even if it’s on a small, stiff bed, I prefer sleeping with Toslin.”
“……yeah, you’re right. Me too”
She slid out from underneath her sheets, bringing her head closer to me. Does she want me to pet her like I did yesterday?
This girl, is so cute.
“Thinking about it, what kind of gift do you want to commemorate you being discharged?”
The thought crossed my mind while my hand ran through her hair.
“Mm…….I don’t need one.”
Does she know how hard it was to work up the courage to ask her that? But well, I expected her to give me that kind of answer.
This girl has always been passionate to the point of it almost becoming an obsession when it comes to food, but she barely gives a thought to anything else.
She stubbornly refused the tortoiseshell comb I gave her a long time ago too. Back then I had to use it to comb her hair and tail every single day in order to ingrain how comfortable it is to her. It’s because of that incident that she badgers me to comb her so often nowadays. Well, not to say I mind it.
“No, but isn’t there anything? How about some clothes or……”
“You know you don’t have to hold yourself back right?”
“…….I’m not holding myself back. Honestly, I just don’t need it. I’m fine with the clothes I have……”
I moved my hand and only now noticed how Carol looked as if she were about to cry. Her long eyelashes trembled while her eyes teared up. I know she doesn’t usually want things, but where is this stubbornness coming from? Is there a reason for it?
We’ve been together all this time, but there are still so many things I don’t understand about her.
“…….then, I won’t force anything on you.”
Carol’s gaze fell down and clammed up. Silence fell around us as we ran out of things to talk about. But right now, that silence didn’t feel like a problem.
Carol’s fingers peeked out from underneath her sheets. They moved over and poked my knee. A voice in my head tells me she wants to hold hands.
She’s someone who basically doesn’t want anything besides food since she’s constantly starving. So in this case……what? Is she cold? Or maybe……
“I really like the view out the window during this time of day.”
So the two of us kept holding each other’s hands until visitation hours ended.
The last day for visitation is over, and Carol is going to be discharged tomorrow.
On the way back from the hospital. After saying good night and separating from Iris and Saluena, a store along the way to the inn caught my eye.
Carol said she didn’t need anything. But, I want to give her something. A miracle saved Carol’s life. I want to do something to celebrate that fact.
So I changed direction and entered the store.