Threads and Bonds

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“Claire-cha~n.”
“…”
“Claire-cha~n?”
“…”
“Absolutely nothing.
Seems she’s completely down for the count…”

Catherine’s carefree words barely registered.

I was in my room at the dormitories.
After officially dismissing the commoner, I didn’t quite know how, but I somehow managed my way back to my room.
I hadn’t realized it at the time, but at some point it had become the next day.

I just barely remembered that Catherine gave me a bewildered stare as I entered the room, but everything after that point was blank.
I didn’t feel like doing a single thing.
Without even changing out of my academy uniform, I curled up into a ball on my bed.

“…”

I disappointed her.

I was abandoned.

Thrown away.

―Those words repeated, spinning round and round within my head.

In truth, I didn’t think that those words were all that far from the truth.
Over and over, I tossed and turned, writhing in agony as a torrent of emotions prevented me from settling into slumber.

“Claire-chan really can be fragile when it comes to certain things~ But for it to be this bad… I guess it must be about that Commoner-chan~?”

Strangely, the word, “commoner” seemed to linger in my ear.
Commoner… I wouldn’t be calling her that anymore, would I…

“Hmm… I’d really like to ask her just what happened, but it’s like she’s wrapped herself up in a cocoon~ What to do, what to do~”

Anyone and everyone important to me has left, or will leave my side.

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I’ve had enough.

It’s all just too much…

If this was how things were to be, then I’d much rather―

“Hm? Commoner-chan? What was your name again… Rei-chan? Why the sudden visit?”

Just as my train of thought was about to take a dangerous turn, Catherine’s words snapped me awake.

“The commoner!?”
“You’re finally up! Morning Claire-chan~ It’s technically still night though.”

I looked toward the door, but the commoner was nowhere to be found.
Instead, I saw Catherine sitting in her wheelchair with a mischievous smile.

“I’m sorry to trick you like that, Claire-chan… But it didn’t seem as though you’d talk to me otherwise.”
“… There’s nothing… To talk about.”

That’s right, I just exhausted her good will, her patience.
Everything that had happened up until now was like some sort of miracle.
Someone like me couldn’t possibly deserve her affections, and that’s all there was to it.

“Ah~! There you go again, trapping yourself within your head and forcing your own conclusions…! Come on, try and calm down a little~ I mean I don’t know what happened, but I don’t think anything’s truly over yet, okay~?”
“…”
“Come on, just tell me what happened.
I’m sure I could find some way to help~”

Even though I’m sure she could tell that I was not my usual self, Catherine still forced a sense of normalcy.

“… I mean after all is said and done, you’ll disappear from my side too, won’t you?”

In response to my words, that in retrospect could not have been anything more than a weak whimper, Catherine laughed and said,

“Well, yeah.
With my body like this, there’s no way that I could stick by you forever~”
“Ah…”

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“But… I guess I would like to stay by your side for as long as possible~”
“… I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine~, don’t worry about it.
Here, a candy.”

Catherine took a piece of candy from her jar and passed it to me.
I wasn’t fond of the taste, but somehow, the smell of licorice calmed my heart.

“… I dismissed the commoner.”

My account of the recent events spilled out little by little.
At certain parts my emotions overflowed and my words failed me, but Catherine very patiently offered occasional nods and intently listened.

“―So, that’s what happened.”
“I see~ That sounds like it was really tough… For both Claire-chan and Commoner-chan.”
“The commoner too…?”
“Yes, don’t you see~? Sure Manaria-sama might’ve spurred things on, but the fundamental issue here is in the attitude you’ve taken with the both of them~”
“???”

I sought an explanation from Catherine.

“Hey, Claire-chan.
I honestly think you’re a little too indulgent in your relationships, you know~?”
“Indulgent?”
“Yeah.
Normally, no matter how much you wait, it’s not very often that others will go out of their way to meet you where you’re at~”

According to Catherine, I was far too passive when it came to my relationships with others.

“Just think about that Commoner-chan~ Her pursuit of you was so intense that you found her appalling, right~?”
“It’s not as though that commoner was pursuing me in that―”
“Shuddup! We’re having a very important conversation right now, don’t you understand there’s no time for your usual deflections~?”

Catherine cut my grumbles off and tossed them aside.

“… Continue.”

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“Sure her advances were rather extreme, but in terms of how relationships ought to work, Commoner-chan’s approach is much more wholesome, you know~? I mean, it makes sense that people generally won’t pursue someone that doesn’t reciprocate.”
“You’re calling her approach wholesome…?”
“Yes, don’t you see~?”

Using her wheelchair, Catherine moved toward the sewing table.
There, she grabbed a piece of thread and showed it to me.

“If you pull on a normal thread like this, it’ll snap, right?”

Catherine pulled at the thread from both ends causing it to snap all too soon.

“But you know, bonds are different.
Bonds are the opposite! They break apart if both sides aren’t pulling their weight.
That’s why, Claire-chan, just as Commoner-chan did, you need to reciprocate.”

Catherine insisted that such was necessary if I wanted to maintain or even strengthen my bonds with someone.

“… But… No matter how much I may regret it now, it’s too late.
Whatever was between me and the commoner, it’s already all over.”
“No, it hasn’t even begun!”

I was surprised at Catherine’s uncharacteristically loud exclamation.
With an equally uncharacteristic anger, she continued.

“Don’t you understand? What you and Commoner-chan just experienced was nothing more than an argument.
Something as simple as her employment can be fixed up if you both just agree to sign another contract.”
“You know it’s not that simple.
As a noble I have appearances to―”
“With your current relationship with Commoner-chan at stake, is that really all that important?”
“…”

As a noble, maintaining one’s appearances was not something to be taken lightly.
However, as I was now, repairing my relationship with the commoner did feel far more important.

“Rotten as they are, I’m part of a noble family too.
So I intend to be understanding of how important appearances are… But, I’m absolutely certain that you should treasure your relationship with Commoner-chan.
If you lose her too, I don’t think you’ll be able to recover from it.”
“That’s such an exaggeration―”
“As if it were! Claire-chan, you pretend not to have noticed, but especially now that Lene-chan is gone too, deep down you should know just how important she really is to you.”
“…”

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Was that really the case? Was she really all that important to me…?

“Catherine, I… What do you think I should do…?”
“That’s an answer that you have to come up with yourself, Claire-chan.
That may sound cold, but this isn’t something that you can rely on others for.
You need to be able to secure your bonds with those precious to you yourself.”

Catherine made it clear that I should put my best effort forward before relying on others.

“…”
“Yup! Claire-chan, that’s already much better~ Back on your feet~?”
“… I don’t know.
However, it’s clear that curling into a ball and sulking in bed won’t resolve anything.”
“That’s right.
Yup, yup.
Seeing Claire-chan back to her usual confident self makes your big sister very happy~”
“Just who are you saying is my big sister!”
“Hahaha~”

Despite my aggressive snapback, I still felt that Catherine’s words, as well as her relaxed disposition had saved me.

“Thank you so much, Catherine.”
“Don’t even worry about it, this is nothing.
We’re friends, aren’t we?”
“You’re wrong.”
“H-, huh?”

Catherine gave an exaggerated reaction.
I laughed and said,

“After all, Catherine, you and I are best friends.”
“So that’s how you want to play~ Putting it to practice and reciprocating already, huh~?”
“Why yes, as you know, I’m a very fast learner.”
“You’re not wrong there~”

That said, I still didn’t know what I specifically needed to do.

I didn’t know, but I started to think―that it would be best to put an end to my blind pessimism.

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