It had been Tamao's idea to organize a surprise farewell party for Miyuki two weeks before graduation.
"She's done a tremendous number of things not just for Miator, but for all of Astraea Hill as well. I believe it's only fitting we recognize her in our own small way."
Her suggestion had been met with much enthusiasm. Even the former president of Spica and Miyuki's erstwhile rival Tōmori Shion had happily agreed with the proposal. However, the incumbent Council had also made it clear that it was up to Tamao to figure out a way to get Miyuki to the party's venue.
"Honestly!" Tamao had thrown up her hands in exasperation. "Do I need to get everything done around here?"
The subsequent snickers around the table had told her that the answer was a resounding yes.
In the end, Tamao decides that the simplest excuse to give Miyuki is a half-version of the truth.
"Amane-sama and Hikari-san want to give a surprise farewell party for Shizuma-sama at the greenhouse tonight. Sort of like a new Etoile says goodbye to a former Etoile, kind of thing."
Miyuki nods, but looks at Tamao wistfully.
"I understand...but I was hoping to spend the time alone with you. There's so little time left..."
The sadness in Miyuki's eyes knifes through Tamao's heart. Tamao takes the older woman's hand and cradles it to her cheek.
"Then we won't stay long, I promise."
The first thing to surprise Miyuki is the sight of Shizuma, the supposed party celebrant, standing in the crowd in front of her and grinning like a Cheshire cat. The second-third-fourth-and-fifth things to surprise her are the yells of "Surprise, Rokujō-sama", the dozens of flickering candles, the tables of tea and biscuits, and the entire party committee. All of them - Shizuma, Nagisa, Hitome, Mizuho, Shion, Momomi, Kaname, Amane, Hikari, Yaya, Chikaru, Kizuna, Remon and the incumbent student council members of all three schools - are grinning at her like idiots. And standing slightly behind her, with the biggest grin of all, is Tamao.
Shizuma is the first to break the post-greeting silence.
"Honestly, Miyuki, you should just see the look on your face. It's priceless!"
The surprise party goes even better than Tamao had hoped. The guests make genuinely touching speeches about Miyuki, with the most eloquent coming, surprisingly, from Shion. Although an undercurrent of sadness runs through the room (felt especially by the soon-to-depart sixth years), the atmosphere remains jovial for the most part. Eventually, however, the guests leave one by one, until finally only Shizuma, Nagisa, Tamao and Miyuki are left. The four women spend half an hour in companionable silence, gathering up the trays and tea things. Then Shizuma turns to Tamao and hands her the greenhouse keys.
"Would you mind doing the locking up with Miyuki, Tamao-san? Nagisa-san and I will be going on ahead with the other things."
Tamao nods. For a brief moment, grateful gray eyes look into smiling green ones. Then Tamao notices the small note attached to the keys. Good luck...and thank you. By the time she looks up, Shizuma and Nagisa have disappeared down the path to Strawberry House.
Tamao and Miyuki go about extinguishing the candles in the room. Miyuki is about to put the last ones out, when Tamao calls out softly behind her.
"Don't blow them out yet, Miyuki-sama. There's one more surprise left."
Miyuki turns to find Tamao holding out a large brown enveloped tied with a red ribbon. She gives it to Miyuki with a hopeful yet apprehensive smile, then turns around to leave.
"When you're done, Miyuki-sama, I'll be waiting outside by the steps."