The Blank Slate - (Updated 12-26) A Christmas Council

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Blank Mage
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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by Blank Mage » Mon Oct 05, 2015 8:53 pm

Net Gain

---------------------------------

I really do hate losing a game of chess to someone who professes to dislike chess. Although Shizune never brags about it, it's almost insulting to be regularly beaten by her, knowing that she isn't even particularly invested in the outcome.

But I know her well enough by now not to hold it against her; unlike me, Shizune really doesn't spend any time worrying over what people must think of her, and most of her failings can be chalked up to simple benign thoughtlessness. She makes an exemplary roommate, offering just the right amount of support without pressuring or smothering me with forced affection. She's also content paying most of the bills while I try to establish myself as a novelist, minimizing the amount I have to pull from my savings. She claims to see it as 'an investment'.

Shizune rolls a bishop idly across her knuckles as I try to decide which of my pieces will take the bullet for my checked king. My spare hand unconsciously finds its way back to my hair.

[Worried about something?]

I look up from her hands, only to look away; Shizune's analytical stare is as intense as the noonday sun. Seeing my reaction, she turns her attention back to the board, a momentary look of apology flitting across her face.

I simply shake my head 'no'. I decide to save my knight at the expense of my rook, receiving only a pawn for my trouble. Playing against Shizune is always like this. I usually take an early lead, using whatever strategy I last looked up online. Eventually, the game stabilizes, and Shizune slowly turns it around, almost without my noticing. As the game drags on, I find myself at a greater and greater disadvantage. By the time she begins taking pieces without trading, I know I've lost. A few moves later, she manages to shepherd my king into checkmate, unenthusiastically pumping a fist in routine celebration. As we begin pressing the pieces back into the sides of the soft foam case, Shizune signs some of her usual post-game advice.

[You lost because you worry about keeping every piece safe. You're so reluctant to take a loss that you never force one on your opponent. Don't get me wrong, your defense is great, but whenever I fall back, you don't push a counter. So I have all the time in the world to get my bearings and try again. Any time I'm willing to force a trade, I'm sure it's to my advantage.]

It's advice I've heard before, and I try to act on it, but during the games themselves, I never see any trades that I'd find beneficial. I shrug in response, signing a simple 'sorry'.

Shizune matches my shrug with one of her own, lightly slashing a hand through the air as if to say 'it's not important'. She turns her attention back to her phone, doubtless checking her innumerable texts for work updates and information. Shizune doesn't really have time off, so much as time spent working from home between shifts. I would worry about her burning herself out, but she's surprisingly adept at pacing herself.

As I move to place the chessboard back on it's shelf, I notice that she's not so much 'reading' her phone so much as staring through it, a look of unhappy consternation on her face.

Well, this is unusual.

[Worried about something?] My signs are slow, but steady, and I don't 'stutter' like I used to. I'm not confident enough to translate back and forth in public like Misha used to, but in the privacy of the apartment, I can relax enough to sign freely.

Shizune glances sidelong at my words, a barely perceptible look of surprise lurking beneath her usual attitude. She considers it for a moment, before nodding. [Yes.]

She turns to face me, settling into her seat as though preparing an official statement for the cameras.

[I was thinking about my advice. I understand that your mindset isn't uncommon; it can be difficult losing pieces that can't be replaced. You second guess yourself, waiting for some perfect opportunity that will likely never present itself. It's a little naive.]

I level a flat glare, to which Shizune smiles a little apologetically.

[Sorry. I know it's naive, but... you always look so happy when you're playing.]

[...I do?]

Shizune nods again. [Very. But to me... it's just a game. It's just formulae. Offense, defense, counters, feints... whatever strategy fits whatever circumstance. It's just a procedure, at this point. It's no fun at all, even if I usually win. And if I don't enjoy the reward, then what's the point in winning?]

[...sorry], I sign, only to have her wave dismissively.

[That's not my point. I don't mind spending a few minutes of my week on you, and I'd like to think that you're not bothered by my occasional selfishness. What bothers me is that somewhere along the line, I put the cart before the horse. I used to play because I enjoyed winning, but it seems like these days I'm only playing to win, even when it's not enjoyable. My priorities changed, and I didn't even notice it until recently. But that by itself isn't all that surprising.

[What caught my attention was actually my contact list. I have almost a hundred entries already, and I haven't used the majority of them in years. Of course, I had a reason for entering each one at the time. My family is a given. Misha translated for me at Yamaku. Hisao and Lilly for Student Council activities. Sonohara for assignments and advice. Kumiko was my translator at college. Kirie was my career adviser, Kurogiri recorded many of the spoken lectures in exchange for notes. Daisuke was the manager who hired me into my first job, Hiyori taught me the ropes.

[Each one served a purpose, and the moment they stopped being valuable, I lost contact, simply because I no longer had a reason to keep up with them. There was nothing malicious about it, I just... had more important things to attend to. It's my foolproof guide to 'Winning at Everything'. Use what you can, lose what you can't. Minimize risk and maximize gain. Focus on what matters, forget what doesn't. It's all just a matter of prioritization.

[It's been my compass all these years. Everything broken down into simple steps, everything going exactly as predicted. I'm exactly where I wanted to be, my future is looking bright. But what have I given up to get here? Am I just winning for the sake of winning? And if I'm willing to burn all my bridges without a second thought just to get what I want, what does that say about me?]

Finished with her sudden bout of philosophy, Shizune's hands fold in her lap. I know better than to think this question is rhetorical. Shizune doesn't bother asking questions she knows the answer to, after all. I also know that she's looking for my genuine opinion, and not some placating but meaningless encouragement. I think for a moment before signing my response.

[I think you're being too hard on yourself. It's not unusual to lose contact with people you don't see everyday. Besides, aren't you going to be a philanthropist? In the end, helping people has always been your ambition. And if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be able to pursue my writing. There are plenty of times you've been selfless.]

Shizune smiles ruefully.

[I wonder if someone who can't be selfless is capable of selfless acts? I'm certainly fine with paying for your food and board, but isn't that only to improve your opinion of me? Ultimately, I'm just weighing the cost of supporting you against the benefit of your company. I shouldn't have to incentivize myself into treating you better, but I can't stop thinking about it.]

Shizune tents her fingers, glaring into the floor hard enough to burn a hole in the hardwood, and I'm a bit incredulous at how seriously she seems to be taking this. I try to wrap my head around her logic.

[You're saying you're only nice to me... because you want me to like you?]

[You're just phrasing it differently. I'm saying it's inherently self-centered.]

[Shizune... think about it. You're saying you're manipulating me into liking you... and your devious plan is supporting me, treating me well and spending time with me? Why are you upset about that?]

[Because it's something I have to think about. It doesn't come naturally to me like it does to you. You're someone worth supporting, you're kind and selfless even without the recognition, whereas I only act when I know I have something to gain, even if the reward is one I give myself.]

[Everyone does that, though. Even me. I don't even talk to people I don't care about. I'm only nice to people who like me already.] And even then, my track record is almost as scarred as I am. [...No one is really altruistic.]

[You're not getting it,] she signs harshly. [That's not my point. I'm saying that your company has a set value. How long do you think it will be before I find another objective to pursue? Until I change my tactics, until I switch my priorities, until I trade you like another chess piece? Eventually, I'm going to have to choose what's important to me, and chances are you'll just end up as another contact on my phone!]

Shizune finishes her outburst with a violent slash, before pressing a hand to her eyes under her glasses, holding it there as she collects herself.

...Okay, I think I understand, now.

Shizune knows that she only has a finite amount of time to spend freely, and she chooses to spend it on me, but that's only because the situation allows it. What if her company asks her to relocate? Or work longer hours? If she starts a relationship, does she kick me out? How long will she be comfortable supporting me? How long will I be comfortable relying on her support? She knows that one day, she'll have to answer these questions. Maybe she already has.

Shizune has too much invested in her future to start making exceptions for others now.

Although there was never really sound, the lack of sign is silence of a different sort, both of us brooding on our own thoughts. The more I think about it, the more upset I become... although not for the reasons she believes. I wouldn't ask Shizune to make sacrifices to make me happy. That's the last thing I want. I know how hard she's worked for what she has, how difficult her life has been to get here. She shouldn't have to throw that away just to spare my feelings. That was why I ended things with Lilly and Hisao, because they were too worried about hurting my feelings to give me a chance to show them my dependable side. They never trusted me with anything.

...She shouldn't have to make sacrifices.

...Wait, who's to say she has to? This isn't chess. She's not the only one playing here. To hell with that!

I tap Shizune on the shoulder to get her attention, and she splits the fingers over an eye to read what I have to say.

[You won't trade me. No, you can't trade me...]

[You don't know that,] she responds wearily. [I'm always-]

[...because I'm not giving you the option.]

Shizune's hands freeze in mid-air, her eyes widening at my sudden intensity.

[That's right. You're not in charge of me. I am. It's my decision, and I say you're stuck with me whether you like it or not! I don't care about your plan, I'm here because I want to be, not because you tricked me into it, and I won't drop you the moment it stops being convenient. So what if you can't afford to compromise? I can. If you have to move, I'll just go with you. If you have too much to do, I'll help out where I can. If you don't have time, I'll wait. I literally have nothing to lose. So go ahead, change your priorities, if you have to. It won't change mine, and I'll trade whatever I have to. You're not the only one with ambition here.]

Shizune flails panicky nonsense for a minute before regaining herself. [But... wait, that's not fair to you! I wouldn't ask you to do any of that, when I'm the one who isn't...] She trails off into nothing, hands coming to rest in her lap, a desperate, hopeless expression on her face.

[But I want to,] I sign gently. [Because I'm selfish, and I want you to like me. And I'll be as nice and supportive as I have to to get what I want.]

Shizune's glasses are fogged, and she takes them off to clean them against her shirt. By the time she returns them to their rightful place, her expression is almost back to normal, albeit with slightly wetter eyes.

[Okay, okay, I get it. I had no idea you were this good at playing aggressively, Ikezawa. At this rate, I might have to take lessons from you. I haven't lost that soundly in years.]

I shake my head. [This isn't a competition, Hakamichi. We're playing co-op.]
Last edited by Blank Mage on Fri Oct 09, 2015 1:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by strange desire » Tue Oct 06, 2015 12:15 am

You have utterly sold me on IkeMichi.


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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by Alpacalypse » Tue Oct 06, 2015 4:51 am

Sharp-O wrote: The choice of Hanako as her chess opponent was a master stroke.
Blank's been doing Shizune & Hanako pieces for quite some time now. I spotted it pretty much immediately.

Speaking of which, more Shizune & Hanako, yay! :D
A good addition to their little tale, methinks.
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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by Mirage_GSM » Tue Oct 06, 2015 7:49 am

That was brilliant on several levels.

This is the third installment of this "one-shot", isn't it?
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by brythain » Tue Oct 06, 2015 7:55 am

Mirage_GSM wrote:That was brilliant on several levels.

This is the third installment of this "one-shot", isn't it?
It's a trinity device. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by AntonSlavik020 » Tue Oct 06, 2015 10:08 am

I've always loved this pairing, rather it's friendship or romantic. Their dynamic is just really interesting. This piece is no different. I didn't pick up it was Hanako until she mentioned her scars, but then again more subtle hints tend to go right over my head.
Best girl
Hanako=Shizune>Misha>Lilly>Rin>Emi

Best route
Hanako>Lilly>Rin>Emi>Shizune

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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by Mirage_GSM » Tue Oct 06, 2015 11:48 am

Well, it is a rather big hint that this is already the third story in this continuity...
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by Blank Mage » Tue Oct 06, 2015 12:06 pm

I figured that between the whole 'third in a series', 'chess game', 'aspiring novelist', 'stutter', 'living off savings', and 'nervous hair grabbing', that it was always pretty obvious.

Also, I have one more Shizune Hanako piece I'm working on, and then I swear I'll stop. Probably.
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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by AntonSlavik020 » Tue Oct 06, 2015 1:07 pm

Well it had been so long since I've read the previous updates that I completely forgot what had been established, so I effectively was going in blind. That combined with the fact that I don't pick up on something unless it's blatantly obvious led me to not realizing it was Hanako until her scars were mentioned. I'm sure I would have figured it out faster if I remembered anything about the previous updates.
Best girl
Hanako=Shizune>Misha>Lilly>Rin>Emi

Best route
Hanako>Lilly>Rin>Emi>Shizune

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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by Alpacalypse » Tue Oct 06, 2015 3:06 pm

Blank Mage wrote:Also, I have one more Shizune Hanako piece I'm working on, and then I swear I'll stop. Probably.
I'd be okay with it continuing. :wink:
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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by Silentcook » Tue Oct 06, 2015 3:31 pm

Blank Mage wrote:I figured that between the whole 'third in a series', 'chess game', 'aspiring novelist', 'stutter', 'living off savings', and 'nervous hair grabbing', that it was always pretty obvious.
It abundantly was, all considered. If there is widespread forums paranoia about unexpected POV, then maybe somebody has been messing with readers' heads a little too much... :mrgreen:
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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by Blank Mage » Tue Oct 06, 2015 10:05 pm

'Ooh, another comment, it's always nice to see s- OH GOD SILENTCOOK WHAT DID I DO, WHAT DO I DO.'

Every time.
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Re: The Blank Slate - (Updated 10-5) Net Gain

Post by AntonSlavik020 » Wed Oct 07, 2015 7:43 am

Haha, I have the same reaction every time I see him comment soon after I did too.
Best girl
Hanako=Shizune>Misha>Lilly>Rin>Emi

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Hanako>Lilly>Rin>Emi>Shizune

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The Blank Slate - (Updated 5-28) Tea and Company

Post by Blank Mage » Sat May 28, 2016 3:08 pm

This prequel piece didn't really fit in with the Shizune/Lilly theme of Sight and Sound, and it's pretty lengthy, so I thought I'd throw it in here. It has, under the metric system of weight, a f***ton of sappy feels. Unusual for me, but versatility is the hallmark of the Blank Mage. (I can say that because no one can contradict me.)

Tea and Company
----------------------

Why is our history teacher so soothing?

Don't get me wrong, I love history, all the more so when it's narrated by someone like Nagamine-sensei, his rich and textured voice giving life and impact to stories centuries old. I'd like nothing better than to immerse myself in the trials and triumphs of the past, allowing it to play out in my head like a grand stage.

As it stands, however, I am going to fall asleep at any moment, and it's only through a supreme effort of will that I'm able to sit upright. Doing my best to ignore the lesson I ought to be listening to, I bite down on my tongue in a final effort to refocus. Somehow, I've managed to keep my posture and expression steady. How much longer? Five minutes? Ten? Twenty? This class has never seemed so long.

I'm startled into awareness as the bell rings, pulled back from the brink of unconsciousness at the last possible moment. I don't even remember Nagamine-sensei having summarized the lesson. Doing my best to act casual, I manage to extricate myself from the crowd, and head back to the dorm with unsafe haste, my cane clicking urgently against the wooden flooring as I navigate around and through the cacophony of students as they pour into the hallways.

I have had almost no sleep these past two nights, and what I have managed has been fitful and infrequent.

It's not the noise of the dorm, although I admit that it was initially quite distracting. I was never really a fan of 'white noise', and up until now, I had never shared a house with more than a half dozen people. I can hear fragments of conversations from down the hall, echoes of laughter from some other dorm, idle gossip from the common room. The sound of a hundred lives intersecting, colliding, parting again. None of that concerns me.

That's not what's keeping me awake.

---

Tonight, again, my neighbor is crying.

It's not loud, by any stretch. Even I would have trouble hearing it if I wasn't listening closely, but these days, it's all I can focus on. Is she being bullied? Is she homesick? Is she in pain? Depressed? Lonely? All I know is that she's crying, the soft, halting sound of chronic suffering, and each sob stabs at my heart like a knife.

I can't stand it. The idea of this girl, drowning in her sorrow not five meters away, while I sit here, unable to so much as offer her a shoulder to cry on. It's driving me crazy. I want to tear down this flimsy wall and hug her. I want to know why she's crying, and fix it. I want to remind her that there are people who care about her, who want her to be happy. I want to help her find reasons to smile. I don't want to have to listen to this. I'll break.

Throwing off whatever thoughts of sleep I might still have held, I march into the hall, and knock on the door next to mine.

"Hello? Is anyone in there?" I think I hear a startled sound, a quickly drawn gasp as the crying stops immediately. I expected that much, but I'm not leaving without at least attempting to right this situation. And I suppose I have a captive audience. I take a moment to listen, and the hallways seem clear, at least for now. What background noise there is will only help to keep this private.

"You don't have to respond if you don't want to. My name is Lilly Satou, and I'm in the room adjacent to yours, 246. I... thought I heard you crying, and I wanted to make sure you were alright." Of course, if she was alright, she wouldn't be crying in the first place, but at this point I want nothing more than to hear her voice, and after what feels like an eternity, I do.

"I.... I'm f-fine." It's barely audible through the door, and from the sound of it, little more than an attempt to get me to leave.

"...I understand. Then, I'll leave you be." She doesn't trust me, that much is obvious, and I suspect I know why. I've had my fair share of people trying to help me for the wrong reasons, people who mistake pity for compassion, the condescending tone of those who want nothing better than to alleviate their own guilt. If I want to get through to her, I might have to be on her level. "I..." I take a moment to steel my resolve. "I know what it's like, crying in an empty room." I say it with confidence, proud of my weakness. "And my door will always be open to anyone who needs it. Always."

I wait, hoping that my display of vulnerability might have cracked her armor, but I'm met with only silence. I know when to relent, though. The rest will be up to her. All I can do now is wait, and hope.

Returning to my room, I find that I'm no longer in the mood for sleep, my heart still racing from emotion. Unpacking my history book, I try to find the segment that I most likely missed. It's only after running my fingers over it a half-dozen times that I realize the futility of it. My attention is still focused on my neighbor, listening intently for the slightest movement.

I jump at the knock, as quiet as it is. Did I miss even the sound of her leaving her own room?

"It's open," I say quietly, and I hear the door crack open the barest amount.

"..."

I glance up to be polite, my eyes still closed. My neighbor stands motionless in the door frame, apparently still unsure of her own intentions. I close my Braille book, placing it back into my pack, spine facing upward, and fold my hands in my lap. "...Would you like some tea? I was just about to make some."

The silence is painfully tense, and won't be dispelled so easily.

"...I'm afraid tea is all I can offer. Tea and company."

The door inches open further, and the girl takes an almost inaudible step over the threshold. The door closes behind her with a soft click, muffling the sounds of the dorm outside. I can hear her heartbeat, thundering and frantic. She doesn't even seem to be breathing. After a distressingly long time, she gasps in a lungful of air, and forces herself to talk.

"Are... are you r-really...?"

"Blind?" I finish. "Yes. Does that bother you?" I say it politely, with a gentle smile, and listen for the response. The only answer is 'no'. After all, an honest man accepts people honestly, and a dishonest man will never admit to his dishonesty. But after a lifetime of listening, I've found that I can hear far more than what is said.

"N-no. It d-doesn't." Although she stutters, her words are simple and direct. They aren't hurried or forced. It came to her as naturally as a breath. It was a wonderful response, and my heart swells at the sound of it.

"I'll go ahead and make that tea, then."

"Can you... r-really make t-tea... with your eyes c-closed?"

I give a soft chuckle, opening them and turning to face her. "I can make it with my eyes open, if you'd like."

Her breathing stops again as my eyes 'meet' hers, before she releases it in a shakey sigh. It's a little saddening to get that reaction, but it's something I'm accustomed to by now. Even so...

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you. Just a little joke I like to make."

"N-no! It d-doesn't b-bother me a-at all! I j-just... a... b-bad habit..." She trails off, and takes a few deep breaths to calm herself. After a few seconds, I get up to fetch my tea set, my companion content to watch me from her place at the small table. The motions are second nature by now, hands running smoothly over worn porcelain, a finger placed on the lip of the teapot as I fill it, the high-pitched hum of the electric heater as I switch it on.

As the tea begins brewing, I sit on the floor across from her. "It will be a few minutes. I'm sorry, but I don't think I've introduced myself. My name is Lilly Satou. It's a pleasure to meet you..."

"I-Ikezawa... Hanako." With a halting breath, "H-Hanako is f-fine."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Hanako. Thank you for accepting my offer. I can't drink an entire pot of tea by myself, and I hate throwing out what I can't finish."

Hanako remains silent, and after letting it stand for a minute, I decide to take a more direct approach.

"I said you didn't have to talk about your troubles, and I meant it. I know how comforting it is simply to have a friend, and if tea is all you need, then that's fine."

There's a pause, and a quick intake of breath. "-Oh, I, uh, s-shook my h-head... just now, I m-mean..." She takes another deep breath before continuing. "I... I want-ted, to know... a-about y-you... and why y-you were c-crying."

I give her a genuine smile; there isn't a hint of dishonesty in her voice. It's obvious that she's pushing herself just being here, she was crying mere minutes ago, and even then she puts others before herself. I doubt even I would be as selfless, if I were in her position. I take a moment to arrange my thoughts, and start from the beginning.

---------------------

"When I was young, which is to say, younger than I am now, my parents moved to Scotland. I was left here, with my older sister Akira. And though my older sister loves me dearly, and spent her every spare moment helping me, she still had to work long hours. Much of my childhood was spent by myself, and in those days, even running errands was far beyond my grasp. A city is no place for a lone child, especially one without sight."

"....Have you... always been b-blind?"

"Yes, since birth. Although I've earned some measure of confidence through practice and patience, that was not always the case. I was surrounded by frightening, unfamiliar sounds, and I had no one nearby to reassure me. I was scared of the world, for a time. Was that noise a squirrel on the roof, or a person breaking in? What if I tripped over a misplaced item and hurt myself? And if something happened to Akira, would I be notified? How long until someone remembered I was here? Hours? Days? Longer? If a fire broke out, would I notice in time? I spent every day with these thoughts, lonely and scared."

Someone knocked on our door, once. I locked myself in the bathroom until Akira came home, three hours later.

"That sounds h-horrible."

"It was. But worst of all were the times when I had to impose on Akira. I hated it. It was frustrating, asking for help with such basic things, things that any sighted person could accomplish with ease. It hurt, knowing that I was such a burden. I worried that she might come to resent me, always a lead weight around her neck, dragging her down, stealing what little time she allowed herself." The silence settles back in, as she weighs what I've said.

"I did everything I could to be independent. I learned how to cook and clean. I organized the house, memorized the layout, so that I could find my way around quickly and easily. I even kept an inventory of things to buy from the store... but it wasn't enough. Eventually, I broke down and admitted how I felt. I said I was sorry that I couldn't manage to support myself like most people. Akira was shocked; she had no idea that I felt that way. She thought I was going out of my way to be independent because she wasn't reliable enough. She felt guilty that I was working so hard, because it made her feel like a terrible guardian, someone who couldn't provide me with the level of care I needed. She was scared someone might take me away, back to Scotland. Neither of us felt like we were good enough for the other, and both of us were too ashamed to bring it up."

I can still remember clearly the sound of Akira's voice: "You're the only one I give a damn about, if I can't take care of you then what good am I?!" ...It was one of the few times I've heard her cry, in fact.

"So, w-what happened?"

"We came to an agreement. I taught Akira how to arrange things like I do, to give her a better understanding of what I need help with. She learned to focus on the tasks I couldn't accomplish, and trust me with the ones I could. Once she learned how to keep the house stocked and organized, I could cook and clean while she was out."

She spent a week blindfolded. She called me 'Sensei' the whole time, and stubbed her toe once every few hours.

"She realized that I wasn't just someone she had to look out for, that she could rely on me despite my disability. We both felt needed, and we became closer as sisters."

She left Braille messages embedded into walls and furniture all over the house. I was always finding new ones, and she'd always pretend not to know anything about them. A leg on the coffee table wants me to do my best. The banister on the stairs tells me it's proud of me. The doorframe in the kitchen reminds me I'm not alone. And every night before I went to sleep, my headboard said; 'Goodnight, sis. I love you.'

"The reason I brought it up, is because I learned something valuable, something I wanted to share with you: relying on someone doesn't make you a weaker person. No one will think less of you for needing help now and again, especially here. What's important is that you can provide something in return, even something as simple as a kind word... or a cup of tea. When you try to deal with all your problems alone, you hurt more than yourself. You hurt everyone around you."

Please, let me help you.

There's a lengthy silence, but none of the tense atmosphere from earlier. Her breathing is as steady and calm as it's been since she entered. With a deep breath;

"I... I h-have some s-scars."

I only smile at her, this brave, compassionate girl across the table from me, for being someone I want to help, for crossing that threshold and trusting me with her sadness.

"I'll just have to take your word for it, Hanako. You sound lovely."
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."

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