Act 1-D: Old and Newpastebin: http://pastebin.com/beB2fmu1
Lunch and the subsequent walk back to campus is uneventful. We talk about people-watching more, we go over the basic introductory questions: hobbies, interests, current outlook on life.... Her reaction to my reading hobby was about what I expected, from how much I knew her: “That's a hobby?”
“Yeah, I think it is,” I respond. “Isn't a hobby something to do to spend time? Besides, there's a literature club, so it has to be -somewhat- legitimate, right?”
“Still, just how do you get in on something like that?” Her head cranes toward me. “Seems kinda boring.”
“I read a lot when I was in the hospital this winter,” I answer solemnly.
“Didn't you have friends come visit you?” Her eyes look almost worried, brows slanted downward. For someone with such an upbeat attitude, she's doing a good job of - at least - putting up a mask. If I didn't know better, I'd almost say she... cared about me?
“Not really.” I could tell her about what happened over those few weeks, before they stopped coming to visit. But I'd rather not, at this point. She's worried about me enough today already, with my episode at lunch. She definitely doesn't need to worry about me now. “We just kinda... drifted apart during the time away. They had school to take care of, and I was focused on getting better.”
Her gaze turns from me back straight ahead. “Alright. That makes sense, I guess.” Phew, guess she bought it. I'd rather not talk about it. I mean, I'm a little resentful of why I'm here. Of the heart condition, of being alone after my 'friends' left me behind. I'm not sure if it's more my fault for seeming so distant or their fault for giving up so easily. Even Iwanako, who supposedly cared about me, just walked off, never to be heard from again.
“You okay?” Hm? Ah, Miki. Right, she's still here.
I stuff my hands in my pockets. “...yeah, I think so. Just... thinking.”
“Well, lighten up a bit, man!” She smacks me on the back with her good hand. I lurch forward, gripping my chest, but not out of fear of an attack. She throws her arm around my neck, thrusting her stump to the sky. “Running tonight, festival tomorrow, lots of good times to be had!”
“Right...” I mumble, pinned in her deathgrip.
“Don't be such a debbie downer.” She releases me, walking ahead and turning around, propelling herself backwards. “There's a lot to life, Hisao. Too much to sit on your ass and feel sorry for yourself.”
Is there, though? I've got this thing called a heart condition, Miki. Even with whatever exercise I go through, I probably won't live past my 20s. That's not encouraging, in case you haven't heard. But should I be thinking this way around a girl I barely know? I'm not sure.
[Speak for yourself.]
>[Yeah, you're right.]
On second thought, I definitely shouldn't be. I smile at her. It feels like one of the few genuine smiles I've given out recently. “Point taken. I should probably do a bit more with myself, huh?”
“That's what I told you this morning, and it's what I'll keep telling you. I'm hoping you'll catch on eventually.”
“Just hoping?” I inquire. There has to be more to it than that.
“Okay, I'm putting a pretty big bet on it.” She turns back around, walking face-forward again. “But don't tell anyone I said that, got it?”
So... she has some ulterior motive. I'm not quite sure what it is. But I don't think I need to worry about it just yet. She seems innocent enough, caring about my well-being and making sure I have at least one friend. That alone might be all I needed. I haven't connected that well with many of the other people here. She's likable enough that I could get used to hanging out with her on a regular basis.
The rest of our walk continues in relative silence. She asks a few more questions, but tip-toes around my past. I kind of wonder what her story is. But, if she's going to be considerate enough to bounce around mine, then I'll pay her the same courtesy.
We don't talk again until we re-enter the campus gates, making a beeline for the dorms. “Hey, Hisao,” Miki says before I head off to my room. “You heading back up?”
“Yeah. Wanted to get some work done before running.” There's that assignment due Monday, and I'd like to fully enjoy my day off.
She nods. “Got it. Just don't be a loser and bail on us.”
“Duly noted, ma'am.” I give her another salute, and she starts walking away to her own dorm. I rush inside and up the stairs to my room.
As I fiddle with the keys, I hear the sound of unlatching locks. Lots of them. The door behind me opens, and Kenji steps into the hallway. “Sup,” he says, that cocky grin on his face.
“Nothing,” I reply quickly. “Just getting back from lunch.”
“Getting back?” he scowls. “You went -out- for lunch? Do you know what they could have put in that food? Toxins, carcinogens, radioactive waste... God only knows what kind of sludge you actually had for lunch.”
“It was just a street-side deli,” I shoot back. “Nothing to worry about, I promise.”
“Alright, I'll follow along. But only because I trust you.” He edges closer. Almost uncomfortably so. “We're two of the last sane men in the world, and we brothers in arms have to stick together, got it?” He presses his index finger into my chest.
“Good. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more business to attend to.” He starts back to his room before I cut him off.
“Business? What business?”
He cranes his head back at me, the overhead light glaring off his glasses. “Top secret. Super confidential. Can't tell anyone else right now.” He puts on an almost creepy smile before finishing his thought. “You'll find out soon enough.”
As quickly as he came out, he disappears back behind his impenetrable barrier of locks, accompanied by the sound of metal tumblers collapsing into place. A strange man, really. I wonder if I'll ever understand him.
I toss my bag at my bedside, collapsing onto the mattress with outstretched arms. What a day. Exhausting already. Wake up early, meet Miura the enigma herself, go to lunch with her, and then almost have a heart attack while running after her? Talk about stupid. Still, it was fun. She's definitely right, it beats sitting around feeling sorry for myself.
I chuckle to myself. It's kinda funny. I've known her for less than a day and she's already starting to have an influence on me. I'm actually excited about running tonight. I think I might have found someone I can actually talk to, even though all we did today was the standard intro conversation. And I'm interested to see where this takes me.
My bedside clock chirps five times. Wow, it's that late already? It'll be time for dinner here soon. I expected we spent a good amount of time outside, but not almost five hours. The real extent of my physical exhaustion starts to set in. Am I ready to go running in just a few hours?
I can feel my eyelids becoming heavier. An early morning combined with today's events... I could really use... a nap.
The darkness consumes my vision, and I drift into sleep.
Colors start falling all around me. Neutrals, mostly, browns and whites forming into snow-covered trees, melding with the dark gray sky. I'm standing amongst the blankets of snow, the chilled air stinging against my skin. This sensation... this scenery... it all feels familiar somehow. Like some twisted sense of deja vu.
My hands in the pocket of my hoodie, I can feel a slip of paper. It crumples easily as I unfold it. The individual kanji flow together, a regular, illegible mess of characters. Somehow, I manage to make out some meaning from them. As I read over the note again, I start to develop some sense of where I am.
“Hi... Hisao?” Her voice. Still. Quiet. Familiar. It's been months since I last heard it. “You came?”
I turn, note clutched in my fingers. The girl is shorter than I am, but roughly the same age. Same year in school and everything. I don't think I've ever spoken to her before now. “Iwanako?”
She nods, nervous. It's disturbingly obvious in the way she fidgets her hands. Her feet twist and turn in the snow, carving out little crevices in their wake. “Y-Yeah.” She covers her face with the collar of her coat, attempting to hide the red in her cheeks. Her eyes drift to the note in my hand; it seems to brighten her mood. “I'm... I'm glad you're here.”
“Yeah, I...” I've never done this before. I can feel a lump in my throat just thinking about it. Am I really as timid as she is? “I found this note in my locker. Was it yours?”
Another nod, weary from the long day at school. “So... you read it then.”
Isn't that implied? She can be kinda dense sometimes. I mean, I've never talked with her one-on-one. Except that one time in the snow. But this is
that time, isn't it?
This can't be real. Why am I reliving this, and why so vividly? I look down at the ground, crunching the note in my fist. The action is nothing more than a divergence, something different than the way things actually happened. I just need something to show that I'm in control, anything to wake up from this perverted reality.
“Um... Hisao?” She sounds a bit frightened now. Her words quiver in shock as I destroy the note. “Is... is something wrong?”
She's not real, Hisao. You can break her.
But it's so hard. I cared about her. We had a chance, I thought; there was a spark, however small. At least an ordinary high school relationship. As if anything could be ordinary for me anymore. This week has only made me resent my heart, broken in more ways than one. If it wasn't for this damned condition of mine, we'd be together, in some clichéd, happy teenage romance. And yet we're not. And I can't help but feel that it's all my fault.
“Yeah,” I finally reply. “Very wrong.” A tear rolls down my cheek. Humanity? Something like that. I could use a little bit of it. I lift my eyes, locking with hers. “This isn't real, is it?”
She cocks her head. “Not real? What do you mean 'Not real?'”
“None of this. The snow, the trees...” I wave my arms around mid-sentence for emphasis. Finally, they point back at her, outstretched. “You. You aren't real. Just a... just a dream.” Her outline starts to blur, fading into her surroundings. Colors start to run from between the lines, flowing like melted crayons.
“I'm more than just a dream!” she shouts suddenly, fists held against her chest.
“No, Iwanako,” I snap. “You're just a memory. Something I have to leave behind.” I start to walk away, back on the past that I want to disappear.
“You idiot!” Her screaming draws my attention again. Her mouth widens, fangs bared. “I'm more than just some memory! I'm everything you could have had! Everything we could have been!” She leaps forward, torso lengthened like an undulating snake, talons extended and racing for me.
I cringe in terror. Even knowing that this is all a dream, I still cannot stifle the fear.
Her shadow descends, and the rest of the world goes black.
I lunge forward, bed sheets thrown aside in a cold sweat. The air of my room feels thick, almost difficult to breathe. A pair of fingers come to my neck, just to be safe: quick, but normal rhythm. It's nothing to worry about, at least not yet.
A nightmare? I can't remember the last time I had one of those. What could've sparked it? I never had them in the hospital, yet this was about that day in the snow with Iwanako. Surely I would have gone through a spell of them during my recovery, of all things. Maybe I'm just tired, trying to adapt to the new environment. Maybe it's the physical exhaustion from sprinting after Miki at lunch.
That reminds me, what time is it? The clock on my bedside nighstand answers: 8:42pm. Um... wasn't running at 8?
'Don't forget, 8pm sharp!'
Shit, I'm late. I leap out of bed, throwing on a pair of gym shorts and a white shirt, lacing up my tennis shoes before racing out the door. It doesn't take me long to reach the track, covered in the dark of the night. I don't see any sign of them still there.
I lean over on my knees, gasping for breath at the edge of the track. Guess this is what I get for deciding to try for a nap beforehand. I could probably get in a couple laps before I head back... seems a bit stupid, though. No one around to help if I have an attack, and I've gotten a good amount of exercise today already.
I right my posture, taking in one last deep breath while putting my hands on my hips. Looking around, it really is deserted. I remember Emi talking about how much she loved the track once during my morning runs with her. Maybe this is what she was talking about: absolute peace.
“Tired already?” Her voice catches my ear; my head jerks to the source. Miki sits at the top of the bleachers, yanking out an earbud and stowing them in her bag. Standing up from her seat, she arches her beck, arms stretched out into the sky. A pleased groan rolls out of her throat as she throws her bag over her shoulder.
“Took you long enough,” she says, beginning her descent. She hits the ground with a short hop. “Was starting to think you'd forgotten about us!” she finishes with a wink.
I scratch the back of my head. “Not really. I kind of um... overslept.”
As I expected, she laughs. Although it feels more like a playful snicker. “Sleeping? Really, knucklehead, that's your excuse?”
She likes that nickname a bit too much. Here's to hoping that it doesn't stick. “Hey, I think it's a good excuse.”
“Nope, definitely not.” She paces around me, tapping her chin. “Now, what to do with you?”
“What the hell does that mean?” I ask, following her closely with my eyes.
“Well, you missed your run tonight. You have to make it up to me somehow.” She continues her pacing, coming to a stop after her second round. A light bulb seemingly goes off in her head. “Got it! You're coming to the festival tomorrow, right?”
I was thinking about it. I haven't really made a decision yet. “Maybe. Why?”
Her face darkens quickly, from her standard smile to a disappointed scowl. “Wrong answer, bucko.” I arch my brow, demanding an explanation. “You're going. With me.”
I can't help but chuckle. “That's my payback? Going to the festival with a girl?” Some punishment.
She nods with enthusiasm. “Exactly. And same terms as this morning: I won't take no for an answer.” She gives me another playful wink. “Not if you know what's good for you.”
Why on earth would I say no to an offer like that? Is she insane? “Sure. When do you want me up and moving?”
She adjusts the strap of her bag, making sure it's secure on her shoulder. “I have to work first shift. 8am to noon. So... meet me at the track team's stand after that.” Her stump hits the palm of her hand, mimicking a pounding fist. “Are we clear, solider?” she asks, her tone laced with military formalism.
I follow along, saluting my commanding officer. “Aye aye, ma'am!”
She giggles. At least she enjoys that I play along. “At ease, private.” My shoulders return to their usual slumped state. She walks past me, hitting me in the upper arm with her wrist. “You're free to run if you want, but I'm heading back. Get some shut-eye. And don't be late this time.” With one last wink, she starts up the hill toward the dorms.
She's quite the character, isn't she?Previous | Table of Contents | Next