Preceding thread: >>28753
"If you don't mind, I think there's someone you should meet." I stood to the side of the busy street with her as Auntie and her group got closer. I recognized some of the faces in the group, faces a little more wrinkled since I last saw them. It made my stomach turn. I focused on Auntie's radiant smile - it was the only thing that was keeping me from bolting.
"The festival is as great as always, isn't it?" She greeted me casually. The others stood back, probably remembering what happened last time.
"This is Reimu." I made introductions, pretending I hadn't noticed the way she was looking at us. Reimu smiled politely as Auntie made an introduction of her own. The others were trying to listen in but pretended to look around a nearby stall.
"She's as cute as a button," Auntie laughed sweetly, Her light and colorful clothes spreading festiveness as well as anyone humanly could. Reimu took the compliment well, smiling but looking somewhat unsure of what to do. "I bet if you didn't have to mind the store you'd spend all your time with her, wouldn't you?"
"Stop trying to embarrass me, it's not going to work." I tried to keep cool, but Auntie simply laughed again and ruffled my hair. She twirled a strand of her hair playfully and pulled me close, acting like she always did. If it weren't for Reimu's polite and consistent smile I could have mistaken this festival for any of the festivals in the last ten years. Auntie was always there, usually taking me around the stalls and buying candy or making me play something for some silly prize. Even if her friends insisted she go along with them, she spent most of her time mucking about with me.
"I don't think I'm embarrassing you at all - look at you, you're a fine handsome man and you know it." She turned to Reimu, "Though I bet he still can't win any of the prizes at the games. Some things never change," She winked, "but some do and for the better. So tell me dear, are you having fun?"
"I am. This sort of thing is new for me. All these people look so happy. And the food is good too."
"Isn't that nice? Tell me a little more about yourself, I'm afraid that certain good-natured daydreamers forget to talk to their family about the people they meet." She looked at me with a mischievous grin, "Even if they have almost all of their meals together
. it's not a problem, but it'd be nice if I at least got one of those fried treats for my trouble."
"Alright, alright. I get it. I'll go buy some for you. Would you like some too?" I asked Reimu. A nod and a sheepish smile meant both yes and that she was amused at how Auntie and I got along.
"That's ever so kind of you. You're a real gentleman." Auntie started to talk to Reimu, ignoring me completely. It dawned upon me that her objective was to get rid of me. The crafty loon was up to something.
I hung back for a while, braving a line to get a few snacks. The smell of greasy batter was unbearable up close, the middle-aged man operating the fryer wore a mask over his nose, and I ordered quickly in an effort to get clear as soon as possible. It was funny how something as tasty and pleasant smelling could come from such a malodorous place.
Even with crisp treats in hand I stood back, noting that the two women I'd left looked like they were getting on just fine. They were both laughing, and Auntie had placed a hand on her shoulder. I felt a uncomfortable presence looming just behind me, offsetting the scene ahead.
"What do you want?" I asked, trying to decide whether or not to walk away.
"How cold. Is that any way to treat family?" A very nasal voice replied. I imagined that the other two were right behind me.
"You're not family."
"How very childish of you to still think that after all this time. We've missed you, you know. Family gatherings just aren't the same without you. Even she knows it, she's been asking about you lately. they're not well, you know. Last month things looked very final."
If it wasn't for the festival - for the fun time I wanted to have with Reimu - I don't know what I would have done then. I looked at the smug bastard square in the eye, his weaselly face annoying me by just being there. "They can go to hell, along with you. Leave me alone now, we're strangers. I only have a single family member left."
"What took you so long?" Auntie inquired as she grabbed a snack. The others hadn't said anything else and remained tethered to the spot near the stall. I knew that Auntie had noticed what happened. I silently thanked her for acting casual.
"Line was long," I shrugged. "Getting along?"
"I was just telling her how she should come to dinner sometime. That and the story about you and the Furukawa girl at the last festival." She grinned, "No need to say anything, I even told her your usual excuse that it was dark and you could have sworn that was a-"
"You're trying too hard."
"Only because I care," She chomped into her golden treat, small flakes falling to the ground. It was remarkable how half of the time it looked like she was completely uncultured and the other half like she belonged in a grand court of some sort. She chewed quickly, "I should get going now, I promised to meet my friends. A pleasure meeting you Reimu, have fun at the festival."
She left, in her usual fickle fashion. I watched her walk off in the distance, rejoined by the unpleasant few. They talked as they walked, before Auntie went off in her own way, with a spring in her step.
"She's an interesting person." Reimu commented after finishing her snack with a determined bite. "You're lucky to have her."
"Sometimes I think that too. Sorry if she seemed a little strange or rude."
"Not at all. You know as well as I do that she's probably much better than any of the other people I associate with. And speaking of the which... one of them seems to be coming right for us."
Yes, she did seem to be coming right for us. The loud jingling of an overstuffed coin purse preceded her. But she was running as fast as her legs could carry her and only seemed to notice us in the last moment, as she passed. "Yo guys, how's it going!?" She yelled as she ran off, not bothering to even slow down to hear a reply. We couldn't blame Marisa for not stopping; a group of upset-looking villagers appeared at the end of the street, chasing the black-white blur. We watched as she zipped through the crowd, weaving in and out to avoid stalls and festival-goers.
"I see what you mean," I said dryly. I really didn't want to know what the girl had gotten herself into this time. It was obviously something not good. "Wonder if she'll be alright."
"She'll be alright." There was certainty. And I believed her.
Whiny plucking of string instruments gave their customary prelude. A lot of the villagers began to cheer and head on to the square.
"they're probably going to start the main celebration now. Come on, let's go see it.."
We followed the moving crowd back the village center. We struggled to find a crack in the wall of bodies to squeeze through but, with a little luck, we managed to get pretty close to the front to watch. A huge pile of crops, the biggest and best, lay in the middle and their cultivators stood adjacent. They smiled as they lit a bonfire and a village elder urged the crowd to quiet down. It took a good ten minutes before he was able to get the crowd under control.
"Thank you all for making this our best festival in years." He droned about this and that for a good while, and the crowd began to get impatient. "We've been blessed with a great bounty this year." On cue, the usual honored guest appeared from the crowd. Cheers came from everywhere. The old man tried to finish his speech, but all he was able to get out were a few broken phrases. He gave up, and yelled ?Drink and have fun!"
Music started up and the already vibrant festival became a frenzy of joy and excitement. The contracts the store made were paying off and I saw more than one villager drinking with no restraint. In the middle of it all, I almost Reimu. She grabbed my hand, looking like she didn't want to get lost.
It was calmest in the middle of the square, just by the bonfire. Happy villagers carted off the display crops to make space. The guest of honor smiled in my direction. It confused me. To my surprise Reimu didn't react poorly as I thought she might.
"It makes sense that you'd be here." She talked loudly over the background uproar.
"it's good to be here. It makes me feel special."
"This is a better way to show off your power."
"Isn't it? Here have one. For your friend too." The guest produced two sweet potatoes and gave us one each. She smiled and waved a silent goodbye before disappearing off into the crowd. The crowd began to disperse slightly as they once again sought to fill the side streets. This gave us an opportunity to get out of the middle where the fire made everything unbearably hot.
It was a heat that lingered. I felt that oppressive warmth in the streets full of people and with every hot snack sold. A cool drink didn't help either. Reimu looked like she was feeling it too. It was always like this. Too many people in a really small area was bound to be like that. The warmest thing, however, was the unyielding hold that Reimu had on my hand. She had grabbed it back in the square and forgotten to let go I thought. The stalls and games were fun but couldn't distract me enough from that.
"Why don't we take a little break? I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed." She looked a bit tired. With reason. All of this was a lot to take in, especially for a first-timer.
We went to take a break in the only place I knew would be quiet nearby. Unlike the rest of the village which was lit by torches and filled with cheering residents, the schoolhouse was a solemn sight to behold. It seemed to be wrapped in a bubble of calm that the noise from the festival couldn't quite pop. The building was locked, as anyone would expect, so we sat out by the entrance.
"How long does the festival go on for?"
"At this rate, forever." I joked. It felt good to be away from the loudness. Only here could I really make sure that it was still night.
"Mm." We sat in mutual quiet, probably both thinking of the same things. There was so much of the night left that it wasn't worth bothering to speculate what was going to happen next.
The quiet didn't last forever.
"What are you doing here?" The door opened.
"Geez, how many times do I have to tell you? it's just Keine. I'm not your teacher anymore." She sighed, and noticed that I wasn't alone. "Who's this? Oh. I see."
"What are you doing here?" I asked. "Shouldn't you be at the festival?"
"I could ask the same. I just came here because my clothes got dirty and I had a spare here. it's closer than walking home." In a sort of awkward way I had never seen her act before she added, "Am... I interrupting anything here?"
"We're taking a break. All that movement and noise was a bit overwhelming for me." Reimu explained. I sensed a little confusion from her. As if she felt she was intruding but wasn't sure how.
"You should go back soon, the dance is going to be starting soon. And, if you don't mind, I'd like to get a dance in with you. I've never had the chance before." Even in the dark I could tell that she winked.
"There's dancing too?" Reimu sounded surprised.
"The villagers sure a festive lot, aren't they? They go all out during these yearly things. it's part of the reason why I love this place so much. I bet you're starting to feel that way too. Come now, I'm sure you wanted to be alone for a bit, but it's not time for that now. Festivals are all about a community getting together to celebrate."
Miss Keine closed the door of the schoolhouse, locking it with a large key.
"Do you want to go?" I whispered to Reimu.
"I don't mind either way." She whispered back.
"Oh. I get it." Miss Keine said, going ahead. "I understand if you want to go alone. I shouldn't get in the way."
"Isn't she misunderstanding something here?" Reimu seemed a bit agitated. "In any case, you're my guide tonight so we'll do as you like. You know best about this festival after all."
 Go with Miss Keine
 Rest up a bit more