“The grounds are a little like a Western university and the mountains around us are gorgeous
! We’ve got a pool and a track and a sweet library and this amazing little café in the town below…” I list off some of our school’s highlights; each point a tapped finger on my left hand, to my captive audience — Mai and Takumi — who peek over the back of their bus seats in front of me and Hisao.
“What are the classes like? Are they separated by disability?” Takumi asks, the curious driving force behind this lesson in living at Yamaku.
specific classes for blind and deaf kids but the others are a mish-mash of others.” I explain.
“My class rep is deaf but our class isn’t specialised. She has an interpreter, another student, who isn’t disabled.” Hisao finally contributes, after letting me take the lead for far too long. Mai rightly furrows her brow at his answer.
“Wait, what’s her
deal then if she’s not disabled? Is she… y’know, special?” Mai asks in a hushed voice. Hisao grimaces, instantly sending Mai on the back foot. “I didn’t mean, like, in-the-head
special, I-I just meant-”
“Yamaku doesn’t do mental disabilities. I think Mikado wants to be a sign language teacher or something, right?” I step in, looking to Hisao for confirmation and hoping he’ll pipe up more. He nods and continues.
“Think so. Non-verbal communication classes can be taken if you want but Misha is more of a hands-on
kinda girl.” He chuckles dryly at his pun.
“She’s certainly got her… hands full
with Shizune, eh?” I grin, elbowing Hisao.
“That’s terrible.” He smirks.
“Oh, like yours was any better!” Our inside jokes and puns seem to fall on deaf ears, heh, with Mai and Takumi.
“I’d say it’s roughly seventy-thirty girls-to-guys?” I hazard a guess for Takumi, who seems way into the idea of Yamaku. Hisao left me in his friends’ care in the middle of the shopping district while he went to the public restroom.
“Really? Interesting.” He ponders just before being slapped on the back by Mai.
“Those odds ain’t gonna improve your chances of getting a date, you dork!” She laughs at the blushing guy, who’s expression turns sullen.
“It might! Especially if they’re all as cute as Rika.” He says with a small smile at me.
“That’s sweet of you, Takumi, but I think you can get girls without
having to pay an extortionate tuition fee.”
“Yeah, you’d think…” He muttered with a hushed bitter tone. He’s not bad looking and he’s been asking interesting questions so I don’t know why he couldn’t get a girl in his own school but then I really don’t know much about him or Mai.
“Cheer up, Takumi! If you guys come down for our next festival, I’ll introduce you to my friend Fuu--” I realise what I’m suggesting and screech to a halt. “Actually, you guys wouldn’t have much reason to come since Hisao would have graduated by then…”
“Shame, it sounds like it has some interesting architecture that would be fun to photograph.” Takumi says with a shrug. “He’s a big photography nerd.” Mai nudges him gently with her shoulders. Oh, cool.
“How long does it take for a guy to use the bathroom anyway?” She pouts, clearly bored by Hisao taking his sweet time. I get up off the bench and dust my butt off.
“I’ll go get him…”
“Y-you can’t go into the mens’ room!” Takumi protests and I turn to face Hisao’s friends.
“I’m not going to go in
but I can shout at him from the entrance, right?” I smirk and Mai laughs. I slip through the crowd easily enough to the partitioned entrances that separate the restrooms. Am I actually going to shout into a public bathroom though? I mean… It’s rude, right? What if someone has a shy bladder?
What if Hisao
has a shy bladder? Why am I thinking about that? Ewwww… Screw it, nothing is more embarrassing than that
mental image. Okay: three, two, one. “HI-”
“What are you doing?”
I don’t think I’ve ever yelped like that ever in my life but I’ve never been scared like that before. My heart pounds as I spin around to face the voice behind me, vision blurring into black and red for a moment and it feels like the world falls out from under me. A pair of hands grips my shoulders and my vision snaps back into focus on Hisao’s face.
“Whoa, easy there! Are you okay? I’m sorry!” He panics and I wave a hand as I find my feet.
“I’m okay… Just a little, oof… Dizzy.” I brace myself against my knees and take deep gulps of air. “The jumpscare and the spinning…” I try to explain but my head is still woozy. Like I stood up too fast.
“Crap, I’m so sorry, Rika!” Hisao fusses and I can’t help but smile. Bless.
“I’m okay, I’m okay.” I sigh, standing upright and looking at a rather pale Hisao. “Geez, you look almost as white as I am.”
“I thought I… I should know better than to do that! What the hell is wrong with me?” He frowns.
“It’s fine! Seriously, look!” I hold out my arms with a grin. “I’m a-okay! What took you so long anyway?”
Hisao goes to speak but stops himself, then rubs the back of his neck while his eyes meet the stone bricks between us.
“I didn’t need the bathroom… I just needed a breather.” He admits. “I was at the vending machines around the corner when I saw you come over.”
“Are you okay?” I ask when it’s plainly obvious he’s not.
“All the questions… I expected it but still, I thought I could be around my old friends at least a little while without my condition or Yamaku dominating the conversation… I thought… Is it stupid that I hoped things would be more like before all this?” He asks me earnestly, gesturing to his chest. I wrap my arms around his chest.
“No, it’s not stupid and I get it. Kinda.” I look up at him. “I don’t know how it feels to be in your particular situation so I can’t offer too much advice but they’re going to run out of questions eventually. Think you can hang in there a little longer, senpai?”
He breathes a sigh with his nose but gives me a brave little smile. “Sure.”
That’s my boy. I lean up and kiss him on the lips but the moment is cut short by a cough.
“Sorry. Could I get by, please?”
The wall of sound and light that hits me as we enter Taito Station is both dazzling and deafening. This. Is. AWESOME! I can’t hide my grin from Hisao, who smiles broadly back at me and hooks his arm around my shoulder.
“C’mon, Rika!” Mai calls out from near the fighting games, waving wildly to catch our attention. Hisao, Takumi and I make our way through a maze of machines to where the excitable Mai stands cockily.
“C’mon, newbie! Pick a game and we’ll see how you go.” She looks pretty confident. I look at Hisao and he tilts his head to tell me to go.
“Don’t beat her too bad, eh?”
“I mean, I’ll try
…” I roll my eyes and step out of his grip and past Mai, surveying the machines for something I know. Ah-ha! Hello, old friend.
“You any good at Tekken?” I ask, pointing my thumb toward the Dark Resurrection cabinets to my left. Mai claps her hands together and rubs vigorously.
“I was hoping you’d like an actual game and not that anime-fighter bullshit.” She laughs, taking a seat at one of the cabinets and I sit next to her. The boys of our group file in behind us as we put in our coins and start matchmaking. Luckily there’s no one else in this row so we should be matched up immediately.
“Has this version got more characters?” Hisao asks, leaning in over my shoulder.
“Good eyes, senpai! Yeah, this version is different to the home port; balancing tweaks, upgraded stages and there’s even a couple new characters.” I explain, highlighting the new characters before picking one of them; Lili in her default costume. “Haven’t played this version in a long while so I’m a little rusty with her…”
I see Mai smirk and select her character. After a short loading time, sure enough, her pick shows up on my screen. Asuka in her school girl outfit. “Don’t hold anything back.” She mimics her character’s intro, something I was about to do to her. She’s stealing from my playbook!
The first round is mostly a game of footsies. She’s testing the waters and I’m trying to remember combo strings. First blood goes to Mai and the round turns into a very basic punch-kick affair. We chip away at each other’s health until Mai finally breaks out a Whiplash to toe kick which I manage to block but her low sweep nails me hard and she takes the first round.
“I thought you were supposed to be good, Rika? Step up your game, girl!” Mai taunts.
The second round begins and I burst out of the gate with a Wing Knee and follow it up with some heavy punches. I back it off when she starts recovering, timing it just right to nail her with Shut-Up Stomp and another follow-up combo and that’s all she wrote.
“I thought you said you weren’t going to go easy on me, Mai?” I stick my tongue out at her and she bristles.
“Oh, you are so
The third and final round is an all-out brawl. Hard attacks fly and barely any are blocked. The health bars drop quicker than the other rounds and just as I’m about to unleash the Broken Heart, my fighter receives a devastating Triple Spin Kick and Mai takes the match. Damn. She’s really good.
“Whoa, that was intense — even for you, Mai!” Takumi exclaims and I feel Hisao’s hands on my shoulders, softly rubbing them.
“I think you did pretty good too.” He compliments and kisses my cheek. I hold out my hand to the victorious Mai.
“You too. Rematch?” She challenges. Yeah, I think I got a few more in me.
After two more defeats, I think it’s pretty clear that I’m not going to beat Mai with an arcade stick.
“I’m too used to a controller…” I mutter to Hisao, who hands me an ice cold water bottle.
“Don’t feel too bad, Mai was always the best of us. She’d wipe the floor with Shin so much… Salt aplenty.” He chuckled, cracking open his coffee can. We take big gulps as we watch Mai try to bully Takumi into playing Time Crisis 4 with her. She holds him by the straps of his ruck-sack and gently rocks him back and forth.
“Leave the poor guy alone, Mai! I’ll play you.” Hisao announces, much to Mai’s surprise.
Hisao guzzles his coffee and drops it into a trash can nearby, rolling his shoulders back to loosen up before stepping up beside Mai. I given him a quick side hug for luck.
“Avenge me.” I whisper in his ear and he smiles with a determined nod.
He pulls up the pink light gun and takes up something like a proper stance. He looks like and action hero. The game starts and I watch him play with a confidence I’ve not really seen when we play.
“Is Hisao good at these kinds of games?” I shoot the question to Takumi and he smirks.
“It’s pretty much the only game he has a chance at beating Mai at. She’s quick with a stick but anything that needs a prop is her weak spot. I’m pretty good at racers, personally.” He says with a hint of pride in his voice.
“I guess we’ll see you in action at some point then!” I giggle. “What games is Shin good at?”
“You know about Shin?” Takumi asks, surprised.
“Of course! Hisao told me about all you guys. Said you were inseparable.”
“Yeah, well we’re very much separable
these days. Too busy with his new girlfriend
.” Takumi responds but with something more than the hushed bitterness I witnessed earlier. It almost sounded… Angry.
Hisao!” Mai curses as she starts firing wildly and hitting half of the time. The game ends and she goes to sock Hisao in the arm before thinking better of it. “How are you still so good? They have one of these shit-heaps out in the sticks?”
“Nope!” Hisao beams, placing the gun back in it’s station. “You just suck.”
“You are soooo lucky I can’t hit you, man.” Mai sulks, crossing her arms over her chest.
As Mai and Takumi face off in Mario Kart Arcade GP, I enjoy the sensation of Hisao hugging me from behind.
“What do you want to do after they finish up here?” I ask, stroking his arms wrapped around my stomach.
“I’m actually getting pretty hungry. Wanna go grab something?” He asks while nuzzling into my neck. It tickles but feels really, really good…
“I could go for some food.” I mutter back, swaying my hips a little at the affectionate kiss on my neck. Stop it, Hisao, or I might end up hungry for something other than hamburgers…
“God, I think I used up all my energy fighting Rika earlier.” Mai groans, scratching her head furiously.
“Yeah, you’ve really been off your game today.” Takumi laughs and Mai glares daggers at him.
“We’re thinking of getting some food, you want in?” Hisao asks the pair and they agree. Hand in hand, me and Hisao lead his friends out of the arcade and into the street. He guides us, mostly me, through some side streets towards a fast food place he says he’s been desperate to visit since we arrived.
“Come on, slowpokes! I’m hungry!” Mai shouts before pushing Hisao by his shoulders, Takumi gently placing his forearm behind mine to encourage me forward.
“It’s a really nice place, Rika! The fries are so tasty!” He says with a crooked smile. Something’s…
“What’s going on, Mai? What’s the… rush…” Hisao wrestles free of her grip but stops dead. I follow his line of sight back, noticing the guilty expressions on Mai and Takumi’s faces.
“We were going to tell you, man, honest
but…” Mai sighed, avoiding everyone’s gaze by staring at the ground.
“Let’s get out of here. You don’t need to…” Takumi huffs, crossing his arms and glaring at a couple emerging from an alley we just passed. They’re teenagers, laughing and joking until the cute boy notices us. And then the black-haired girl.
“C’mon, Hisao.” Takumi places his hand on Hisao’s arm but he pulls away as all the colour drains from his face. It’s like he’s seen a ghost… Oh no. I wince as I realise who this must be to cause this reaction.
Don’t tell me…