Laughter in The Dark
“Nocturne Joker Foils Library Looting: Missing Books Found.” I read aloud, as I cross my legs and lean back in my chair, Hanako nodding enthusiastically as I do. The byline bears her name; Hanako Ikezawa. Hm. I should at least get double-billing. I look at the picture taken by Naomi of the black, non-descript scarf, which our book thief was wearing as a mask. Dumb bastard trapped it in the door as he ran away.
“Well!?” Hanako beams. “W-what do you think of it?” Despite replacing any mention of me with this Nocturne Joker character we hastily invented on the spot, it’s a very well-written, professional piece. For a first-timer. Nocturne Joker
… I laugh internally at how ludicrous it sounds. We’d caught the guy red-handed, what were we going to do? Tip off that his opponents were a cripple and a girl with social anxiety? I thought about what Taro would do and created a bullshit hero persona with some help from Hana. She’s pretty quick on the draw when it comes to words, despite her stuttering. I rambled off some cliché spiel and he panicked and ran. To be honest, I can’t believe it worked.
“It’s great, Hana! Pulitzer Prize nominated.” I smile to the raven-haired reporter who seems giddy at the positive feedback.
“Thanks, Akio. I c-couldn’t have done it without you.” She really could have. All I did was throw my voice a little.
“Right? I was carrying this assignment for you and then you take all the credit at the end. You’ve certainly got the cut-throat attitude of newspaper reporter!” I laugh, hoping she’ll follow suit. She does, but only after narrowing her eyes in displeasure. She squirms a little in place, either because she’s about to ask something or because she needs the bathroom. It’s never the bathroom.
“Listen, Akio… Lilly is d-doing this thing for my b-- For my baaah--” She’s struggling to get the words out, becoming more agitated. C’mon Hana, use your words. Lemme help.
“Biology test?” She shakes her head.
“Bowling tournament?” Again but more vigorously.
“Bat mitzvah?” I raise my eyebrows in a ‘Did I get it right?’ expression which makes her snort with laughter. Gotcha
“Do I look
Jewish?” She asks, somewhat incredulously and I continue the offence.
“I dunno, do you
?” She’ll get the word out if I keep pushing.
“It’s for my birthday, you j-jackass!” She giggles a little before her face become glum. “A-and Lilly’s farewell party…” Oh, I’d heard rumours about that. No jokes, Akio. Play it sincere.
“Well, I can’t refuse the offer of a pretty girl to attend a birthday. I’d be honoured, Hana.” I shoot her a genuine smile and she blushes a little. She gives me the time and Lilly’s room number before Taro and Ritsu walk in and take their seats. I give a sly smile to Hanako before tossing the paper across Ritsu’s desk and onto Taro’s.
“Read it and weep, ‘Hero of Yamaku’. You‘ve got competition.” I know he’ll appreciate the friendly rivalry. It’s one of his show’s favourite tropes.
Can’t believe I’m fucking late. Way to go, asshole. I’m about twenty minutes late for the time Hanako gave me. That’ll teach me for getting changed into something less dorky than my uniform. I rap my knuckles on the door a couple times and I hear muffled voices. The door slides open and I’m greeted by a blonde-haired woman in a pin-stripe suit.
“Um. Hi. Is this Lilly’s room?” I ask, confused.
“Is he a scruffy-looking sort?” The woman asks into the room behind her. Scruffy? Have you seen your hair?
“Yay! That’s him!” A cheery voice calls back. Who else is in there?
The woman steps back to allow me entrance. I’m greeted by Hanako in her familiar nightgown and Lilly with her hair down in some dark blue pyjamas. I look to the woman closing the door behind me.
“Well, at least I’m not the most over-dressed person here.” I offer a goofy grin and she offers one back as she takes a seat next to Lilly. Lilly does her usual restrained laugh and Hana loses her shit in a fit of laughter. What the fuck is wrong with he-- Oh
. I notice the two wine bottles and tea set on the small table in the middle of the room. Deep breaths, Akio. You don’t have to drink it. You WON’T drink it.
“Good evening, Akio. Thank you for joining us.” Lilly gestures towards the drinks on the table and my blood runs cold. “Can I interest you in something to drink?”
“Um, is that tea still warm?” I chuckle nervously and judging by Lilly’s terrible poker face, she wasn’t expecting that.
“I believe so…” She cups her hand around the pot and nods to my last known position, but I’d already hobbled over to take a seat next to Hanako.
“Tea would be great, thanks.” I shouldn’t find it funny when her head suddenly snaps to my new position but I do. I offer a small smile to the woman and she seems amused by it too. “I’m Akira, Lills’ big sister.” She offers a hand and I graciously accept.
“I’m Akio, Hana’s classmate.” Hanako leans over a little and points at me.
“He’s the funny guy
…” She whispers a little too loudly.
“I figured.” Akira chuckles.
“Akira. Akio. Akirio and Akioooora.” Hanako giggles to herself before taking another swig of wine.
“You’re certainly merry
.” I comment to Hanako while taking the tea cup from Lilly’s hands.
“It’s that Akira
. She’s a bad influence…” Hanako says conspiratorially. I look between Hanako and Akira, the latter shrugging in amusement.
“Well I’m glad I’m not the only bad influence on you then.” I laugh. This is really surreal. Is this what I’m like drunk?
“Oh, you’re a terrible
influence.” Hanako grins. “Making fun of me... Pushing my buttons… Making me swear
! You’re a bad boy
, Akiooo.”Okay, she’s a funny drunk, that’s something.
I nervously smile at Akira and Lilly, who seem all too amused by Hanako’s playful scolding. I’ve walked right into a trap, haven’t I?
The blonde sisters offer up their gifts. Well, Lilly does, it’s a cute little doll. Akira is apparently responsible for the wine. Bad influence, indeed. Not that I can say much… I’ve refilled my cup with coffee after asking permission from Lily to make a fresh pot. I’m pretty sure they’re all wondering why I’m not drinking the wine. Shall I be honest if they ask? I don’t see why no--
“Do you have a present for Hanako, Akio?” Crapcrapcrap
, I didn’t even think about that! Think, Akio, think
! What can you offer? What would make Hanako… laugh
“I do, indeed…” Her face brightens a little but is unaware of me picking up a ribbon off her bedside table. Akira and Hanako watch me carefully as I delicately wrap the ribbon around my neck and tie an admittedly haphazard bow. Akira seems equal parts confused and amused and Hanako is staring in wide-eyed wonderment.
“Lilly, I am wearing a neat little bow around my neck.” I explain, before turning to the grinning Hanako. “My present to you, Hana, is being present
.” There’s silence for a second. For the love of god, somebody PLEASE laugh
… Akira and Hanako both burst out laughing while Lilly looks perplexed.
“Bravo, Akio! That was equal parts corny and slick
!” Akira applauds a little and Hanako is in hysterics. Lilly seems to finally catch on and raises her hand to her mouth.
“Oh my, that is quite clever!”
“Not going to have any at all?” Lilly says, suggestively waving the wine bottle in her hand.
“Really, I’m fine. I… I’ve had issues
with alcohol in the past. Hana knows about it but I didn’t think I should stop you guys from having a good time because I can't handle my drink.” I grimly admit but with a small smile so I don’t completely kill the mood. Two seconds tick by before a small hiccup comes out of Hanako, breaking the brief second of tension. She’s definitely flagging. Her speech is slurring and she can barely sit up. As she offers up her empty glass with a grin, I place a hand over the top and Akira stops Lilly. She seems to agree with me.
“I think you’ve had enough, Hana… You’re barely awake.” I chuckle a little and she slumps onto my shoulder, leaving her glass on the table.
“You’re probably right, Akiooo~” She gives me a dumb grin. I look to the sisters.
“Which room is hers? I’ll go put her down for the night.”
“Sure you can handle it, man?” Akira asks, looking at my cane.
“Enough people have carried my
sorry, drunken ass home,” I grimly admit as I rise. “It’s about time I paid that forward.” I offer a reassuring smile to the Satou sisters and offer my hand to Hanako.
“C’mon, lightweight. We don’t want you becoming a scandal in your own newspaper.” She takes my hand and eases herself up. She says her goodbyes, clutching her doll in one hand and taking my arm with her other. She stumbles a little but manages to guide me to her room. We step inside and she lets go of my arm.
“Thanks, Akioooo~ You’re too hic
good to me.” She sways in place for a second, her eyes barely focusing on me.
“I’m really not
. But you’re welcome.” I chuckle a little as Hanako’s eyes narrow and she fumbles with the bow around my neck. I forgot I was even wearing it.
“Hana… What are you doing?” I raise an eyebrow as she struggles to untangle the simplest of knots.
“I’m unwrapping my present…” She smiles and steps closer. Oh shit, is she saying what I think she’s saying? She manages to pull the knot loose and remove the ribbon. “Yay hic
I did it…” She whispers as she leans in closer, her lips pursing ever so slightly. Stop her, stop her now
, you better fucking stop her!
I place both hands on Hanako’s shoulders firmly, my cane dropping to the ground, startling her a little. She looks at me confused. “Wha’s wrong?”
“Take it from someone who knows
, Hana… The hangover is nothing compared to remembering the embarrassing shit you do when you’re drunk.” I squeeze her shoulders gently to reassure her. “I think you should get some sleep.”
She looks dejected for a second but nods with drunken smile. She gets into her bed and I pull the covers over her.
“Good night, Hana. Sweet dreams.” I turn to retrieve my cane but I feel a warmth in my hand as Hanako reaches out to me. In more ways than one.
“Please don’t leave, Akiooo… I don’t wan' you to leave… Like Lilly
…” She sighs quietly, barely holding my hand. God, how can I go after that? It’d break the poor girl’s heart…
“Sure thing…” I ease myself onto the floor, leaning my side against her bed. I take her right hand and hold it firmly.
“I’m not going anywhere, Hana. You’re not going to be alone here, not by a fucking long shot. Not while we have cases to crack and book thieves to thwart.” I calmly explain with a reassuring smile.
Her eyes become lucid for a moment that feels like an eternity when they meet mine. Am I waxing poetic about Hanako? Should I be doing that? Hm. I shouldn’t really be here when you think about it but here I am. She’s pretty. Never really thought about it before, she was always just… Hanako
. Wow, I really am waxing poetic…
“You‘re such a Joker,
” She whispers, with bright eyes and an even brighter smile. “I’m glad you came tonight. You make me laugh.
” She laughs a little, barely audible to me, as her eyes linger on mine for a second longer before closing with a contended sigh.
“You’re welcome… Nocturne
.” I smile at the sleeping girl and grab the discarded ribbon, slowly and carefully braiding it around her right hand and wrist, tying it all together in a bow. Wow. That’s probably the sappiest thing I’ve ever done. Felt good though. Really good.
I get up toward the door and look back at the slumbering girl with the ribbon around her hand.
Happy Birthday, Hana. Glad to be a part of it.