"A person called Maeda Isami. It seems he was from Shimo-Sotoba, but."
"I don't know him. But when was it, another person called Maeda had died sometime here too. One the doctor was caring for. I wonder if it's a relative?"
"I wonder? ......It must be hard for the doctor too. Even without that, his wife is in bad condition already."
"That's right. To tell the truth, this isn't the time to be making house calls for other people though if you ask me. And the Junior Missus, how is she?"
"No change it looks like. Doesn't it seem like it's being drug out somehow this time? His face is looking so much more troubled."
Kiyomi sighed. "Well after all, he didn't know about it until she'd already collapsed. In terms of the disease we think it is, she's holding out well. Now I don't know if the doctor's will is going to hold out that long, though."
"That is true."
Isaki Satoko entered as Ritsuko nodded.
"Oh my, good morning."
Replying with a polite "Good morning" to Kiyomi's greeting, Satoko looked into the breakroom. "Uhm...... Has Yuki-chan come?"
"No. What's the matter?"
"Yuki-chan, she was off yesterday, wasn't she?"
Yeah, Ritsuko nodded. For the time being, Ritsuko and the others took turns having one day off every two weeks. Yesterday had been Yuki's day off.
"She said she was going to head home since it had been a while, and so she went out the night before last. Last night, she still hadn't come back. So I thought that she might have come to work directly from home, but?"
Ritsuko looked between the two of their faces.
"She still hasn't come. And she hasn't called either. But if she didn't come back last night, she must plan to come from home, right?"
"That's what I assume, but....."
With the way Satoko showed her unease, Ritsuko couldn't help but feeling a vague, hard to pin sense of worry herself. The time for the meeting game. Yuki didn't show up after all. "I wonder if she went home and found herself nostalgic?" Kiyomi laughed, but that smile was, as expected, a bit forced. As the time came for office hours to open, even still there was no sign of Yuki. Satoko wasn't able to bare it and called Yuki's house.
The one who picked up when Satoko called was Yuki's mother. When Satoko asked where Yuki was, her mother was the one to sound surprised.
"Uhm...... Yuki has gone back there, but?"
"No! She hasn't come back. And she hasn't come in to the hospital yet either."
"Impossible. I mean, she left last night---let's see, just past ten was it, I wonder? She said she had work tomorrow and so that she was going back when she left."
Satoko could feel her blood run cold. Yuki's house was near enough that she could commute to Sotoba. And so her not having arrived yet was impossible. Something had to have happened, without a doubt.
"Did something happen to Yuki-chan?" Ritsuko asked uneasily as Satoko hung up the phone. Satoko shook her head. But even she knew that she was trembling.
"Last night, she left her house. Something's happened. What should we do, Ritsuko-can?"
The blood drained from Ritsuko's face. Hearing the conversation, Kiyomi and the others nearby stiffened their faces.
"You don't think an accident......?"
"I don't know. Anyway, her parents will try to find out what happened. Then if they don't find her, it seems they'll call the police."
"My......" Ritsuko lightly gripped her own arms with both hands. She felt very cold and forlorn. She couldn't help being terrified by her unease.
While that was happening, at last Toshio came down from the second story. It was already ten minutes past opening hours.
"Ah, Doctor!" Satoko braced herself and hurried to Toshio. She conveyed the situation to Toshio.
"What should we do, Doctor? If something's happened to Yuki-chan......"
"Yeah," Toshio said, but it was completely absent-minded. Satoko was let down. Passing by Satoko who was now at a loss for words, Toshio went into the examination room."
"That's...... Doctor, that's too cold." There was a light pat on her shoulder. It was Yasuyo.
"Well, the Doctor is only human. And his wife is in that condition, it wouldn't be a stretch to say she's on the verge of death, even......"
"But what about Yuki-chan, hasn't she been working here all this time? And when she's the one to go missing, he just says 'Oh'! Is that any way to respond to that?"
"He has his plate full with his wife. And to start with, I'm sure he's worn out too. I know why you're upset, Satoko-chan, but we need to be a understanding."
"......That's true but."
Satoko didn't seem satisfied with that, and even Yasuyo who had said it to comfort her didn't believe what she said. "Cold," at Satoko said was not an unfitting word. No matter how far past the brink of exhaustion he was, you couldn't respond like that to one of your own staff going missing.
"He's worn out, I think," Ritsuko was the one to say. "I think that the doctor is already at his edge too."
"Yes...... He must be, yes." Satoko lowly replied. Of all of the nurses not a one of them could find any other words to add to the matter.