Missteps and Mistakes
Remember when I was getting better?
I had a boyfriend, my neighbor was someone I could confide in, and it seemed like each day was a little less miserable than the last. I thought, maybe, that I could claw my way back to normal. That I wouldn't have to spend every day locked in a dark, mirror-less room, ignoring the world around me and hoping that it ignored me. That I wouldn't have to be afraid of everything. Constantly.
Six years later, I find myself sitting in the furthest seat back, watching my ex-boyfriend marry my ex-best friend, and I realize that I haven't talked to either of them for five of those. What was the last thing we said? Hisao apologized, Lilly asked if I was all right, and I think I told the both of them that I was done talking. (At least I wasn't timid. Going from whispering to yelling, is that really an improvement?) They both really did care about me, I know that now, but a relationship built on pity can only ever be pitiful. I wanted something more, something warm and familiar, something...
Something like this. The crowd in front of me rises, the music starts, and God Himself descends from His heaven to bless the glorious union of Hisao and Lilly Nakai. All I want to do is slash the limo tires and cry. I hate the both of them, I hate all these happy people, and I hate myself for hating them. Coming here was a mistake. I should have known better. Now is the perfect time to leave, I'm sure Hisao only has eyes for Lilly, Lilly isn't listening for the door, and even if she was she would never know it was me, fleeing the hallowed ground like an exorcised demon of their shared past. I'm sure I've got something to go do, haha.
Everyone is already standing, I'm already the closest one to the door, and I've had enough of this. I wish them the best, and the best thing for them is never to meet me again. I grab my bag, check the camcorder's line of sight, and-
Bump directly into a woman in a stunning, dark blue dress. This pew was empty, wasn't it? When did she get here? Have I been crying? Damn it, damn it, damn it. I keep my head lowered, and it's as I'm attempting to discreetly move around her that I notice the notepad held out.
My head snaps up, confirming what I already knew.
My escape route has been cut off. By Shizune Hakamichi. God sees fit to punish me for my cowardice in His temple.
Shizune adjusts her glasses, apparently savoring my look of terror, twirling her pen triumphantly before setting it back to paper.
What are you, the Yakuza? Don't answer that. I don't want to know. Yes, I'm heading out, and it'll take more than this to stop me now. I give a stiff nod, staring at nothing somewhere to her right. It's humiliating that I can be intimidated by someone half a foot shorter than I am. The notepad is shoved into my line of sight, despite my reluctance to look in her direction.
Good. So am I.
Catering food doesn't agree with me, so I'm heading to a restaurant. Going alone is boring.
...I can't tell if she's asking me to go with her, or- wait, where's Misha?
Shizune seems to notice my gaze flick behind her.
Misha isn't here. She taps her pen impatiently against her previous sentence.
The commotion around us won't last forever, and I'm not sure what kind of trouble Shizune could cause if I turned her down. She's blocking me in because she doesn't plan on letting me go easily. That's just how she is. What was it Hisao once said? 'Shizune is like quicksand, struggling just makes your situation worse.'
I steel my resolve, and give another nod to her unasked question. Shizune's sly smile becomes a full-on grin.
Good! Let's get out of here.
Shizune leads me to her car, a sleek, black, two-seater convertible. It's not anything exotic, but it certainly couldn't have been cheap. I don't know what Shizune does for a living, but she's obviously quite good at it. I slide into the passenger seat, the leather hot from the afternoon sun. I idly touch a burn to it, seeing if the heat can penetrate the scar tissue. (It can't.) Shizune passes me the notepad and starts the car.
Feel free to use the radio. The restaurant isn't far.
It occurs to me that I never asked where we were going, or even what style of food it serves. I don't know if I have this pad to write with or simply to hold on to while she drives. I would like her to pay attention to the road, though, so I busy myself browsing local stations before turning my attention to Shizune.
She was attractive before, but here in her mid-twenties, she's as stunning as Lilly. The dark dress accentuates her incredible figure, and her hair is done up in a shimmering, loose bun, with a pair of subtly decorated pins thrust through it. Where Lilly embodies pure, white beauty, Shizune radiates confidence and sensuality. My outfit is designed to prevent people from realizing I'm the Phantom of the Opera. The only reason I'm dressed up at all is to fit in with everyone else. I can't afford to stick out in a crowd.
Eventually, I see our destination, a fancy-looking Chinese restaurant, the parking lot still relatively empty between the lunch and dinner crowds. I wonder if the Shanghai is still open. I assume they're not. Another bulb burns out, and my life is a little darker than it was the day before. Shizune parks the car. I notice she doesn't have a handicap tag, but I don't think I'd be comfortable taking a handicap spot after my years at Yamaku. I wonder if Shizune feels the same way, or if she just doesn't think of herself as handicapped. Maybe both. Shizune takes the pad from me, writing as she steps out of the car, passing it to me over the hood.
Thanks for coming. I'll foot the bill.
I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't considered it. I don't think I could afford this place if I wanted to. She stands, waiting for my reply, so I just write 'thank you' and pass it back. Shizune nods, apparently happy with that, and leads me inside. The server bows politely from behind her podium. "Welcome to the Oriental Express. Is it just the two of you this evening?" Shizune hands the server a note that she must have written on her way inside. (How can she write that fast?) The woman blanches a bit as she reads it, stammering out a reply. "O-oh! Sorry!" She hands the note back to Shizune, who rolls her eyes and crumples it, shooting it into a nearby trash bin. She churns out another note, ripping it off the pad and handing it over. "Y-yes! Sorry! Right this way!", the server manages, looking a bit like Yuuko as she scrambles to salvage the situation. I want to tell her she's doing fine, but I don't want her to look too closely at me either. She's already nervous, if she sees my scars, she might literally yelp in surprise, and grab the attention of everyone in the building. I stay quiet.
Our seat is located in a dim corner of the restaurant, either by luck or Shizune's consideration. Shizune begins writing on her pad,
I'm Shizune, I'm deaf/mute. Don't worry about it. I'll have coffee, please.
and sets it aside for when the server arrives. On a second page,
It's been a while. How have you been?
...We weren't friends back then, Shizune. We aren't now. Can we not pretend like age has made us better people? Regardless, I write a response.
The same. How about you?
I think for a second before passing it back, and add,
Shizune gives a small smile as she takes the pad back.
Still at Yamaku. She's teaching sign language there, like she wanted. She still sends me updates about the Student Council every now and then. I hear they really carried on my legacy, although that's probably just Misha's embellishment.
If you're asking why she isn't with me, that's another story entirely. I haven't seen Misha since graduation. Everyone asks that, too. It's annoying.
Although she says that, I see a hint of melancholy in her face.
I thought she might be at the wedding, but I guess she couldn't get the time off.
She turns her attention upwards as I read the last note, holding the prepared statement out to our waitress as she closes in on our table. Much like our server, she seems flustered. Yeah, I could see where that could wear on a person after a while. I keep my head down, making sure she only catches my better half as I order a soda. By the time I finish, Shizune has already produced another note.
But now it's your turn. What ended up happening between you and Hisao?
And just like that, my mood takes a nose-dive. I don't want to talk about it. Why can't we all just chalk it to stupid childhood drama and let it go? Why does everyone want to hear about the time I ruined my life? I focus my anger into my expression, doing my best to get my point across without committing it to paper. Shizune meets my eyes, unflinching, clinically, as though casually graphing my feelings on a mental chart. I forgot how easily she gets under my skin. Everyone's skin. I snatch the pad from her.
I got upset and broke up with him. He got together with Lilly. What else did you want to know?
Shizune gives me a disapproving stare as she writes back.
Even I heard the rumors. None of them were very believable. Hisao isn't the type to force issues, and neither are you, so
She hesitates, unsure of how to finish her sentence.
so I just wanted the truth. I thought maybe you'd want to talk about it.
Is that why you dragged me out here? Your idle curiosity? Fine. But I'm not the only one going under the microscope.
How about this; I'll tell you about the time I broke up with Hisao if you tell me about the time you broke up with Misha.
Now it's Shizune's turn to glower.
Misha and I were never together. I thought I made that obvious.
I take the pad back.
How about this; I'll tell you about the time I broke up with Hisao if you tell me about the time you broke up with Misha.
Shizune sits back, thinking heavily while fiddling with her glasses.
She slides the pad back to me, but I only write
Shizune seems genuinely upset, and I do my best to match her intensity. I'm dead serious on this. I'm not sure if Shizune is as good as her word, and I'm not going first if it gives her the chance to bail on her end of things. I get stabbed in the back often enough, I'm not about to start handing out daggers. Surprisingly, Shizune seems to relent, apparently not seeing any room for compromise in my face.
"E-excuse me, miss?"
I had completely forgotten that we were here for food. I snap to attention, almost revealing my scars in the process, and bury my head in the menu, scanning through options as quickly as I can. I glance up to Shizune, who easily circles an item on her menu before passing it to the waitress. Of course she knew what she was getting ahead of time. She raises an eyebrow at me, glancing down at my menu and back, as if to say 'Oh? Do you have time to look over here?'
Ugh, fine, two can play at this game. I order the most expensive item on the menu and pass it back to her. Shizune can't know what I ordered, but there must have been something in my expression that belied my intentions. She sits back, shrugging casually. I pride myself for keeping up, and chastise myself for lowering my guard in the first place. Shizune takes the pad and begins writing.
I'm not good with people. When someone is annoyed, or angry, or sad, or put out, I can tell. What I don't know is why. I don't catch gossip, I don't know who's friends with who, or dating, or broken up. I really can't go around asking each and every person I know about everyone else, and I can't get a consensus even if I did, because what people say and what they're willing to write are usually different. Words are far more permanent, after all, and somehow more final. Like you can't change your opinion once you write it down.
I take a moment to look at Shizune as she writes all of this. Seeing my attention, she provides a second pen, and goes back to writing her story. I have nothing to say just yet anyway.
It's always been my problem. It's a problem now, and it was so much worse back then. I had something to prove, you know. I had to be the best, because being ignored is worse than being abused. Speak for yourself, Shizune. If you were abused like I was, you'd wish you were ignored more often. I joined the Student Council for that reason. It's the most direct way to impose your will on others, and I was determined to use it for good. I could make every festival bigger, make classes more comfortable, more fair, and always more efficient. I could improve attendance, punish bullies, reduce accidents, anything, everything. I thought I could change the school, and everyone would like me.
It didn't work. For example, I made new rules on hallway etiquette after Ibarazaki gave someone with osteoporosis a hairline fracture. Sure, it prevented further accidents, but most of the feedback was negative, because no one likes being told what to do. Everything I did was like that. No one saw the big picture, they just thought about themselves.
...Except Misha. Misha always understood me. It was nice, having someone I could count on to always give it her all, to trust in my leadership without question. My perfect, loyal soldier, marching on my orders, enforcing my decrees, laughing at adversity and challenging the world at my side. Shizune is as miserable as I've ever seen her. I'm dreading what I'm going to have to write when she's done.
I didn't know she was in love with me until she said it. I hadn't seen someone in love before. I didn't know what it looked like. To everyone else it must have been so obvious, but I'm bad at reading people if they're not angry with me, so to me, it was sudden. I was just sitting back, enjoying the setting sun after some attendance reports, and she signed 'I love you'. No preamble, no follow-up. I thought she was kidding until she started crying, and by then I didn't know how to comfort her. I didn't love her that way. I don't think I've loved anyone that way.
Then she turned into the Misha you remember. Louder and brighter. She was trying so hard to pretend nothing had changed that she became a caricature of herself from before. And I couldn't shatter that illusion. I couldn't break her heart twice. So I let it go on, because I didn't know what else to do. Being myself is what broke Misha, but I can't change who I am, and who I am
Shizune stops, staring blankly at her half-finished sentence, as though not fully comprehending what she started writing until now.
who I am can only make things worse.
Then we graduated, and I left. It's better if I don't see her. The End.
My hand hurts, your turn. And I'm burning these notes when we leave.
I chuckle, letting out a breath I didn't realize I was holding. Shizune is red, but I don't think that embarrassment is to blame for it. In the first place, I only asked to get back at her for being unreasonable, and now that I've heard the story, I'm sorry for having put her up to it. I'm not as fast a writer as Shizune, but I can't back out after all of that. All right.
When I first came to Yamaku, I was still fresh off the boat from the orphanage. I didn't go to primary school, because by the time I was out of the hospital, there was no point. I would have distracted the other kids. And the teachers. I was still on a lot of painkillers, too, so I wasn't always too focused. I tried to get my old life back, to pick up where I left off. My friends... weren't my friends, it turns out, and for a while I gave up on people. I enjoy writing. I don't stutter when I'm writing, and somehow, it seems so impartial and distant.
When I got to Yamaku, I got by more easily. No one wanted to talk to me, and I didn't want to talk to anyone else. I was still scared, but no one went out of their way to bully me like they did back at the orphanage. By the time I met Lilly, I was about as normal as I am now, which is more than I ever thought I would be. Lilly always treated me kindly, set time aside for me, gave me a reason to leave my room and start interacting with the world again. Hisao was the same way.
It was nice, at first. But then I began to notice how similar the two of them were. Always watching out for me, protecting me, coddling me. I wanted to be strong for their sake, and they would always shove me back to where I was, never trusting me with anything, congratulating themselves for their acts of charity. They never saw me as anything but poor, broken Hanako, right up until the end. I forced myself to love them, I tried to get them to see me as something more, and I pushed myself to the breaking point trying to be the person I wanted to be. All I got was concern.
I was never a person to them. I was a pet. It's nice to have something that relies on you utterly, isn't it? To love you unconditionally. One day, Hisao refused to leave me alone. He said it wasn't healthy to shut myself in, like I didn't know that. It's stupid. It's not like I'll just stop being depressed because I'm outside, so there's no reason to make everyone else miserable along with me. I don't have the energy to keep smiling for everyone like they want me to. 'That's okay', he said, 'I'll just wait here until you do', but that just makes me more exhausted, because then he's just guilting me into being happy. Like feeling better at gunpoint.
So I snapped at him. I yelled and screamed, because in the end I was better off without them. I can focus on myself, and they can move on with their lives. Like they have. I'm sure they'll name their first kid Hana, and they'll dote over her for the next twenty years until she snaps at them. It's just how they are.
So that's what happened with Hisao and I. He was sickeningly sweet, and chances are, he didn't love me any more than he would a one-eyed puppy at the shelter.
The End. My hand hurts too. I'll leave the fire to you.
Shizune chuckles at my last note, and for a moment, neither of us really know what to say, sitting here with our collective faults and regrets in a jumbled heap between us.
Shizune takes one off the pile, writing on the backside.
Those were still the best years of my life.
...I take a note as well.
We're not that old.
Shizune gives a silent chuckle behind her hand.
I guess not. I'm sorry we never really got along back then. I was mostly just upset at
everyone for not being more like me. I was an idiot.
I wave her off.
Don't worry. In retrospect, I always appreciated that you never pulled punches just because of how I acted. You always treated me like you did everyone else.
Shizune raises an eyebrow.
I nod enthusiastically.
I laugh, and I'm shocked to hear Shizune laugh as well, a dry, coughing sound that she does her best to hide. Her face flowers into blush, and I laugh all the harder.
Shizune rolls the top down for the drive back. The breeze feels great, and I'm not concerned about people seeing my scars in the dark. Of course, there isn't any conversation, but I don't mind. I had fun, somehow, catching up with Shizune and swapping notes about Yamaku. (After all, she loves hearing embarrassing stories about Lilly.) I'm a bit sad when we finally arrive at the church, a swarm of Satous, Nakais, and Hakamichis still lingering at the entrance. Lilly delicately holds the hand of an incredibly sharp-looking Hisao as he guides her through the crowd, and I feel another stab of jealousy at the sight. A tap on the shoulder pulls me back to reality.
I'll congratulate them if you do.
Shizune looks at me seriously, and I can tell that she needs me to shove her in the right direction as much as I need her to do the same. Neither of us are brave enough to do this on our own.
Okay. Let's go do something we regret, before we rationalize it again.
Last edited by Blank Mage
on Tue Jun 23, 2015 9:33 pm, edited 3 times in total.
And we're back.
"I wish I could convey to you just how socially inept I am, but I can't."
"I think you just did."
"No, I really, truly haven't."