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Goodbye (and Hello)

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"No! I won't! I'm staying!"

Her yelling done (for now), Chie wraps her arms around Aki-san's legs, hugs them tight and burrows her face in the girl's hoodie. This is the first time she's been at Time of Eve. She's just been told by Shimei that they have to leave, that she should say goodbye to Aki-san and Nagi-san… and she doesn't want to.

She knows she's pouting, knows just as well the unhappy face Shimei's going to make when he sees the expression, but she can't help it. Her mouth refuses to budge out of in its current shape however much she tries—and whenever anyone says her name placatingly, as Nagi-san just did, it only makes the corners of her mouth only sink even further.

She won't say goodbye, not when it means returning to the too-quiet rooms she's tried (and never quite manages) to fill with loud talking and laughter. Not when it means going back to the eternities spent alternating between fidgeting in her seat on the couch, answering question after question from Imai-san who always smiles, and staring at the same picture book spreads, wishing—harder than she’s ever wished before—that she can play with Tomo-chan, Hana-chan, Jun-kun and even Yuuta-kun who's nicer to his robot than his friends. Not when it means not being able to play with Aki-san or eat Nagi-san's ice cream until Shimei takes her to the cafe again.

She's tried to invite Aki-san and Nagi-san to her house, so that she can show them her room and her toys and eat lots of ice cream together, but they wouldn't say yes no matter how many times she said please.

"I'm happy to hear that you like this cafe so much, Chie-chan," says Nagi-san, "but I'll have to close it for the day soon—"

"Then don't!" she yells. And feels horrible about it immediately after. Nagi-san's the owner of this very cafe, and she's been nice enough to give her two bowls of ice cream where Shimei only gives her one. If she makes Nagi-san sad she'll have to leave and never come back. She'll never be able to eat Nagi-san's ice cream, or see her shoot stars out of her right eye when she winks, or play with Aki-san who's a customer ever again!

Aki-san ruffles her hair with a hand and she's leant into the touch before she knows it. "Come on, Chi-chan, it's alright! You're not saying goodbye to us forever! We'll meet again for sure! You like it here, right? You'll come back, right? Isn't that right, Shimei-san?"

Shimei puts his hand on her left shoulder. It's a familiar weight, tells her don't worry Chie-chan I'm here but instead of feeling better and believing that everything will be okay, it makes her feel even worse.

She's only ever had Shimei, Satou-sensei and Imai-san the so-cial-wor-ker. Shimei rarely runs fingers through her hair the Aki-san does, and definitely never messes it up with a grin on her face. Satou-sensei, who always frowns whenever she tells him about the desserts she's eaten that week, would never give her any ice cream to begin with. And as for Imai-san...

"I'll take you here again," says Shimei. "I can promise you that."

Her mouth quivers, then settles back into a pout. Whenever Shimei and her play a new game or read a new book or eat something he’s made for the first time, Imai-san keeps smiling when he hears it and saying “I see, I see.” Then he’ll nod twice, ask her to go play in her room and have long talks with Shimei that (almost) always end up with them never doing it again.

"Ah,” says Shimei, hearing the question she’s about to ask before she’s even opened her mouth. “We’ll just have to keep our visit here a secret. Can you do that?"

She brightens. “Yeah! Yeah! I can keep a secret!”

He pats her on the shoulder, a proud smile on her face. "Thank you, Chie-chan. Now, as for coming here again… how about we do that tomorrow afternoon? Wouldn't you like that, Chie-chan? This way, you'll have enough time to decide which toy you want to bring here to show Akiko-san and Nagi-san."

"That's right, that's right!" Aki-san's running fingers in her hair again. If she tilts her head up, she'll see the girl with a grin on her mouth and wide eyes fixed on her hair, as though she's never seen anything like it. "Like your building blocks! I'd love to see the secret base you've been telling me about! Why don't you bring them here and build it again? And maybe I can help! Say, doesn't that sound like a plan?"

She turns the idea over in her head for a moment before frowning. To choose a toy to bring means going home, which means not seeing Aki-san until tomorrow… which is something that’ll never ever happen in the first place if she stays right here. And as for Shimei…

"Shimei bring them," she says decidedly, her grip tightening on Aki-san's legs.

"But Chi-chan, I have a home to go to, too, remember? Or else I’ll make my family worry for sure! It's the same with Shimei-san, you know. If he and I and Nagi-san all leave, then there'll be no-one else in this cafe but you! And the lights will be turned off, so you'll be all alone in the dark! Don't you think that's scary?"

Squeezing her eyes shut, she nods into the hoodie, reluctantly.

She feels more than hears Aki-san’s humming as the girls’ arms wrap themselves around her. "We all have to leave, so Nagi-san can close shop, right? But since she's not closing it forever, we can come back and play together any time! So—” And here her voice, coming from somewhere atop her head, goes soft, as though what she says next is meant for no-one else but her—“how about we look at it this way: if we all say goodbye right now, it means we can say hello when we see each other again! Doesn’t that sound wonderful? We’re going to see each other lots and lots, right? So we’ll be saying hello a lot, too!"

"We will?" she asks, uncertain. "You'll come lots and lots?"

"Of course!"

And with Aki-san’s warm arms wrapped around her, Shimei's hand on her shoulder and Nagi-san hovering close by, Chie can't help but smile.