It's the Sunday before summer break, and I've spent most of it in the library reading. It's been raining for most of the afternoon, which means I'm the only one here besides Yuuko. This is usually the time when I'm most comfortable with reading, but today my mind is drifting more than usual.
Lilly and Hisao are on their mysterious second date, and I briefly wonder where they went. For a few days, Hisao raved about their last date, and bemoaned the fact that he'd never top it. Lately, though, he'd been unusually quiet during lunch. On the rare occasions I'd seen him here, he seemed to be thinking more than studying. I pushed back my concerns at the time, knowing that we were all under a lot of stress. Now, I just hope they're enjoying themselves, whatever they're doing.
By the time the library closes, the rain has stopped. There's a chill in the air, which is echoed by the dampness of the ground as I walk back to the dorms. As I open my door, I hear a soft voice from just off to my left.
"Hanako, is that you?"
"Yes, Lilly, it's m-me," I reply. There's something off about my best friend's voice, but I can't place it. "I just got back from the library."
"I'm glad you're here, Hanako...can you come to my room for tea when you have a chance? I've got something I...I'd like to tell you."
I don't know that I've ever heard that hitch in Lilly's voice. She doesn't often get upset, at least not visibly, but I've spent enough time with her to recognize that something is wrong. Did something happen on her date with Hisao today?
"O-okay. Be there in a few minutes."
After changing into my nightgown, I go next door to Lilly's room and knock.
"Is that Hanako?"
"Please come in."
I slowly open the door, and I can see right away that something is wrong. While Lilly has her usual calm smile on her face, her eyes are obviously red. I can only remember having seen Lilly cry once, and that was when Hisao...Oh, no...he didn't have another attack, did he?
I close the door behind me, and I sit down on the floor while Lilly goes about her ritual of pouring our tea. Once she's finished, I know I have to say something. I try my best to steady myself, but in the end I can't keep the dreaded stammering from my voice. "L-lilly, what's wr-rong? Did s-something h-hap-"
"Hanako, don't worry about Hisao." Lilly had anticipated my question, as she does so often, and moves to ease my concern. However, she adds something unexpected: "He's fine, I think...at least, physically."
"W-what do you m-mean?"
"I'll answer that later. There's something more important that I need to tell you first."
Lilly's wearing one of the most serious looks she's ever worn, and she's telling me not only that there's a problem with Hisao, but that there's something more important than that to tell me, something that obviously isn't good. My mind is rushing to places I can't bear for it to go, but I do my best to prepare myself for whatever is coming. I wrap my arms around my knees, and Lilly helps a bit by coming around the table to sit next to me, leaning back against her bed.
"Hanako, you know that Akira will be leaving for Scotland soon."
Lilly lets out a heavy sigh. "What I haven't told you is that when she was asked to come to our family's home, I received a summons to join them as well."What
her? They have no right to do that, not after all this time! Wait...if she's telling me this, that means she's actually...
Her shoulders slump, her body finally betraying her efforts to maintain her usual brave face. "Yes, Hanako. I've decided to go."
I turn to Lilly with a gasp, my head spinning with confusion. A thousand thoughts run through my mind, most of them bad, some of them downright terrifying, but ahead of all of them out of my mouth is the simplest and most direct.
Lilly puts a hand on my shoulder, her small smile making its best effort to cover her face again. "Because they're my family, of course."
"L-lilly, I'm n-not stupid. Y-you've known about this for w-weeks. If y-you...knew you were g-going...if that w-was all there was to it, then you would have s-said something before now. S-something else m-must have happened." Lilly's face clouds again, and I know that I was right. "What's ch-changed?"
She pauses, trying to put whatever it is into a form that will be least painful, I imagine. After a long moment, she lets out a breath and starts. "I suppose I can't keep this part from you for long, either. Hisao found out about the summons from Akira. He asked me about it while we were at the Shanghai, and...well, it didn't end well."
"Y-you had a fight?"
Now a smile does return, but it's a sad one. "That, I think, would have been easier. At least it would have shown me that he's willing to fight. Instead, he just...accepted it, and we...parted."
This sets my mind reeling.How is that even possible? Hisao loves Lilly! He would never let her go like that! That sounds like something...
Like something I would do.
I barely even hear her continuing. "I suppose it's kind of a taste of my own medicine." She chuckles wryly, a strange sound coming from Lilly. "After all, I've been accepting where my life has taken me for as long as I can remember. The one time I think I might just be able to break away from what I'm supposed
to do, because I finally have someone for whom making that decision is worthwhile, that someone is..."
Lilly's voice catches again, and her head sinks into her hands. "That someone decides he's not even going to let me
make the decision!"
broke up with Lilly
? What kind of insanity is infecting my friends today? I can feel my anger rising in my chest.
"What did he s-say to you?"
Lilly picks her head up. Her expression is a twisted mix of anger, despair, and that nearly ever-present smile. I don't think I could ever say I'd seen Lilly look ugly, but if she ever could, it would look like this.
. He told me he knew about the summons, then he asked what I intended to do. I was...taken off guard, so I tried to gather my thoughts and explain the decision. I began to tell him how much being with my family meant to me after all this time, and...apparently he took that to mean that I'd already decided to go."
Lilly opened her mouth, then closed it again. Her expression cleared somewhat. "When I went out this afternoon, I thought I hadn't. I thought I was still open to being...influenced. However, I suppose that, in a way, I had. I love Hisao very much, no matter what happened tonight. As I'd been considering my decision, though, I began to have...doubts."
"Lilly, Hisao l-loves you! I kn-now he does!"
"I believe he does too, in his own way. However, there is still too much about himself that he's unwilling to tell me. Maybe if we'd had more time, he might have been able to reveal himself more, but without knowing
that he would, or could, I can't give up this chance to reconcile with my family. If I reject this opportunity, I might never have another."
She'd mentioned her difficulty in getting Hisao to open up to her before, but at the time I thought it was just a fleeting concern. Had I known she had this decision to make looming in the background, maybe I could have said something to Hisao...Who am I kidding? I knew how much it bothered her, so I could have done that anyway, but I never did. I'm still useless.
"I offered the possibility of...trying a long-distance relationship, but he rejected that out of hand. I know it wouldn't work, but I think...I was grasping at any chance I could not to say goodbye. I apologized, and we made some small talk. In the end, we just...sat there while the time slipped away. When I finished my tea, I walked away. I'm not even sure if he noticed."
I move in to wrap my arms around Lilly, saying "I'm s-sorry, Lilly. S-so...so, sorry." I bury my face in Lilly's breast as she wraps her arm around my shoulders. By now, the weight of everything that's happening truly hits, and tears are flowing down my cheeks. Focusing on Lilly and Hisao's breakup allowed me to push all of the fear and insecurity aside for a little while, but now...now my insides just feel empty
"Hanako," she says in a small voice, "are you...crying...for me?"Yes... How can Hisao do that to you...
No...how can you leave me just when I was starting to feel like a whole person again? Just when I was feeling like I was ready to show you that I didn't need you to protect me any more...
I don't even know why I'm crying any more. There's just too much!
In the end, I can't even say anything. I just sob uncontrollably into her pajama top while she holds my head in her hand. I can't raise my head to look at her.
"Don't worry about me, Hanako. I'll be fine." She softly kisses the top of my head. "And so will you. You'll see. You're stronger than you give yourself credit for being. Besides, you're still going to have Hisao."Oh no...I hadn't even thought about that. Will I REALLY still have Hisao? I can...sort of talk with him without Lilly around. Small talk over games of chess...idle chatter in the library...working together in class, but never anything IMPORTANT. Not like Lilly. Yes, he's shown me great kindness, and I'm...fairly sure he doesn't pity me. But...what if what happened between him and Lilly comes between us? What if the only reason he's been kind to me was for Lilly's sake?
My stomach just keeps sinking, I think it's got to be underground by now.
"And...Hisao will still have you, too."What.
"Hanako, you may believe that I think you depend on me too much, but that's not true...at least, not any more. You've begun to blossom, and I can only take a small amount of credit for that. In fact, sometimes I think Hisao may even have a greater claim to that credit than I."That's not true, Lilly...
"But the one who deserves the most credit for that is you, Hanako. In fact, of late, I've begun to think that there's someone else who has been more dependent upon me than you have been in quite some time."She can't mean...
I finally find my voice, if only for a moment. "S-someone else?"
I look up at Lilly, and her placid smile has returned once more. "Yes. Besides you and I, who does Hisao have here? When the President isn't running him ragged..." Lilly allows herself a brief chuckle at the thought, "...he spends almost all his free time with us, or in the library. He rarely even talks to Emi these days, and...well, I don't really think I even need to mention Kenji."
For a moment, I have a brief flash of the strange boy who lives across the hall from Hisao, the one we helped with painting the stalls for the festival. I'm not sure it's possible to be friends with him, but if anyone could, it's Hisao. He just doesn't...He just doesn't try. Does he?
"He's going to need you, maybe even more than you'll need him."Oh, Lilly...those are dangerous words. I need to change the subject, quickly.
"He's going to need to spread his own wings soon, but he's not going to be able to do it on his own, at least not at first. He's going to need support, and I believe that, as his friend, you can do that for him."
I sigh in relief.His friend...right, of course. That's what I've been to him these last few weeks, after all. All I need to do is to...keep doing that. That should be easy.
If anyone else had asked this of me, I don't know that I could ever do it. But for you, Lilly...
Lilly's smile becomes warm again, a sight that brings joy to my heart. "That's all anyone can ask you to do. Hanako, I love you dearly, and I know you want to help me through this..."Do you? I AM your friend, too, Lilly, even if you never let me be a real friend to you. You certainly sound sincere, but I really wish these words had come before now. At least you're saying them, and maybe there's still enough time.
"I-I'll always be there for you, L-lilly."
She squeezes my hand a bit more tightly. "I know that, too..."
For this moment, I allow myself to believe that maybe, she really does see me as a real friend. It's the first thing she's said tonight that lets me smile, even if it's just a small one. It just feels a little bit...hollow.
"...but everything that's happened today has really worn me out. Besides, I need some time...time to think about everything. We'll talk tomorrow at lunch, all right?"
"Are you s-sure?"
Her facade is now truly back at full coverage. "Yes, I'm sure. I think you could use some rest as well."
"A-all right. C-can I ask you...one question?"
"W-when will you be l-l-..."
"I'll be leaving in a few days with Akira. The day after summer break begins. We'll spend the night at the Hakamichi residence, and then our flight will be the following day."
"I...understand." I know it's selfish of me, but I really don't want to leave right now.If I do, I'll be alone. Alone for the first time since Hokkaido. Our little family is truly broken now, isn't it?
Lilly gently moves her hand from my head to my shoulder and, ever so gently, pulls me to my feet as she rises as well. She leads me to the door, with me clinging to her arm for support. With every ounce of strength I can muster, I separate myself from Lilly, and she retreats into her room.
"Good night, Hanako. I'll see you tomorrow."
As she closes the door, I collapse against the wall beside it for a moment. I'm too drained of emotion even to cry any more. There's nothing left inside me but the knowledge that all this happened, and as always, there was nothing I could do to stop it. After a few moments, I drag my useless self back to my room, lock the door, and curl up on my bed, not even sure if it's worth trying to sleep.What will be waiting for me there after this?
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