Ichika can keep thinking all she wants, but her thoughts always circle back to the same thing.
Ichika tells herself it wasn't love.
It wasn't love at first sight, romantic notion or not, because what ordinary person would be able to think anything beyond the immediate terrifying fact that there was a ghost! in the mirror! and Ichika was a perfectly ordinary girl who dreamed of being special and magical just like every other girl. And then afterwards she barely had time to wonder if she had really seen the strange girl in the mirror, or if the old school building was haunted before she ran off with her friends and became caught up in contemplating the end of summer.
It wasn't love at second sight, because Ichika was only a young girl with a crush, stricken with dismay at her unpardonable carelessness in having lost the precious charm Sei-san had so kindly given her, so much so that even the fact that the strange girl seemed to exist only in the mirror paled in importance beside the charm lying out of her reach in the mirror-world, and all Ichika could think of was how to get it back.
How could it be love when the girl struck her bargain with Ichika -- do my summer homework and I will give it back to you? That was added homework, and then she was half-panicked at the changed appearance of the charm, which she was sure Sei-san would notice and ask her about, and how would she explain? It wasn't love when the magic of the sun djinn wrapped her up and lifted her into the sky, and she was enraptured by the breathtaking beauty of the world bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun, all but forgetting Manatsu and her bargain in the excitement of those moments.
It wasn't love at third sight, when Ichika brought Manatsu home and saw her through her parents' eyes, bright and vivacious, so full of smiles and effervescent energy, more real and vibrant than Ichika herself, charming them just by being Manatsu. It wasn't fair, Ichika thought, that she got to leave her world, foist her homework on Ichika and be loved so easily when Ichika would have to leave behind her home, her school and her friends to start again in a new place at the end of summer.
Ichika thought she could really dislike Manatsu when she struggled to wake her that first morning, anxious to be on time meeting with Michiru and Keiko and Satsuki. Ichika was privately even angrier at the way the girl shrugged off her friends as though they were of no import, when Ichika was going to lose them in far too little time.
Manatsu had everything, Ichika thought - Manatsu was a magical girl even without the charm, born from the magical space in the mirror and able to fly without the aid of the djinns. Manatsu was pretty and brave, and she didn't care what others thought of her. Manatsu was everything Ichika wanted to be, dreamed about being and never dared to be. Ichika was jealous, terribly so. But even worse, Ichika didn't like Manatsu, and Ichika thought that was a terrible thing to discover about the ideal she had wished she could be.
And then when everything started falling apart -- even when she wasn't being terrified out of her mind by what was happening to her, the ugly feelings rising uncontrollably in her heart -- Ichika couldn't think of anything but how much she wished Manatsu had never appeared and she could spend her last summer peacefully in the company of her friends as they had planned.
It wasn't even love at last sight, because afterwards Ichika could only think of the terrifying events of their last moments, of her guilt at the shameful, petty feelings that had preoccupied her while Manatsu was around; how she would probably never see Sei-san and Kai-san again; and wonder how long it would take to drift apart from Keiko and Satsuki and Michiru after she left.
It wasn't love at all, because Ichika was too young and too inexperienced to understand what love was. Not love like her parents' -- quiet and steady, a soft, constant warmth in the background -- she didn't know what they felt for each other or for her, and what held them together, however grateful she might feel for it. Not the desperate, burning passion, or the eternal patient waiting for the beloved longer than she had lived without even knowing if there would be an end to it, that she saw in stories, in movies and in television dramas. It wasn't love.
Perhaps she does miss Manatsu, however ambivalent her feelings about that mirror-shard of herself, that cracked, distorted imaged of everything she wasn't and wanted to be.
All Ichika knows is that she is very, very alone in this new house, in this new town, and the new room is very quiet and empty without Manatsu's bright presence filling it with laughter and cheerful chatter. Everything seems flatter, duller, without the shadows of fear that had coloured all her time with Manatsu.
Even so, it would be an exaggeration to say that the air seems too thin, that she can't breathe, that she has lost all joy and meaning from her life, because finding out all kinds of new things and meeting new friends still sends a shiver of excitement down her spine; she is always tingling with the anticipation of surprises, the thrill that comes from turning her head to notice what is new and different about her surroundings.
Ichika is learning to live without Manatsu, a strangely difficult task considering how little time they'd actually spent together. Manatsu is what she wants to be -- not completely, but definitely she has qualities Ichika thinks worth aspiring to, and sometimes when she looks in the mirror and smiles, she thinks she sees Manatsu. She's not sure she likes herself or Manatsu very much yet, but she will learn to love them both.
So it isn't love. But it could be.
Perhaps, someday, Manatsu might come back.