Hindsight (5 Epilogues - Complete)

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QuietlySomething
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For Better or Worse

Post by QuietlySomething » Thu Feb 23, 2017 11:24 pm

---

Before anyone can come up with a suitable response, all the noise in the room is abruptly interrupted by awkward microphone feedback. My attention jolts to the set of tables closest to us, where an oily looking man in a sweater vest stands fidgeting with a microphone. "Uh, hi- uh, hello everyone… good evening."

"What the hell is this?" whispers Miki somewhat loudly.

"Someone is giving a speech," says Lilly. "Shizune mentioned something like this to me earlier."

"…Er, so, thanks for coming out," he continues. "I didn't teach when you all went here ten years back, so… I know you all probably don't much care to hear from me, heh… heh heh…"

He wipes sweat off of his forehead and adjusts the microphone. He's so awkward that it makes me uncomfortable just to listen to him speak.

"Uh, s-so, anyway, we just wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on things, uh, a little bit. I- uh, we got in contact with one of the graduates from your year, and I know he has a speech prepared; just a little something to, eh… to do that. So I don't want to hold that up any longer. Without further ado, um… Kenji Setou, everybody. I'm sure many of you remember him… so…"

Right on cue, a scrawny man in a bold white tuxedo slips into the foreground, and he has a muffled exchange with the man in the sweater vest.

"Kenji… Setou…" I repeat quietly. Hanako shoots me an amused glance, but I'm too distracted to address her.

Of all the people they could have chosen…

The tuxedo man- black, slicked back hair and frameless glasses… I suppose it must be Kenji, but the dissonance is hard to get over.

"Thanks, thanks; alright, take a seat, buddy," Kenji laughs, patting the sweater vest man on the back and moving further from the door. "So, yeah, hi, everyone. I'm Kenji; you may remember me, you may not. Either way, welcome back to Yamaku. I'd say you all look well, but according to my optometrist I think that would probably just be a 50/50 guess."

Most of the room chuckles at his joke, which is more disorienting than funny. As I remember, he didn't even seem to acknowledge having vision problems most of the time, so either he's made some serious social improvement or he's playing some kind of long game to infiltrate the system. I'd bet a lot of money on the latter.

"I know what you're all thinking," he declares with a dismissive hand wave. "What's with this asshole in the suit? Why are we trapped here listening to this? Nobody came here for a lecture, right? We graduated so we could be done with them." He shakes his head dramatically, chuckling to himself. "Well, this is only going to take a couple of minutes; I know we're all still catching up. I just want to make a little statement, maybe create a little perspective. Because this is about more than just catching up, isn't it? This isn't just some party. And God knows we don't need an excuse to get drunk with our friends."

He holds out his hand, and the sweater vest man passes him a bottle of water, which he takes a long drink from. "No, no, there's meaning behind this, right?! This represents something. Something more than, 'look, we're all still around.' We didn't just graduate from high school, we graduated from Yamaku. And that means something." He takes another drink. "Alright, alright, do me a favor. I want you to picture, just for a second, your first day at Yamaku. It's something I'm sure everyone can remember, right? Does an image strike you? There was- is- an atmosphere here, a distinct one. No matter what your background is, no matter how you ended up here, there is a reaction that I'm sure we can all share. Canes, and dark glasses, and bandages, and prosthetics. It's a strange feeling to become a part of a place like that. Even if you yourself are 'healthy', so to speak, you became enculturated. It's the structure of this place. It's how engrossed you felt in everyone's health, and in trying to pretend to be 'normal'. For some, it was new, and for some, I'm sure it had followed you your whole life. But it was there, right?"

He shrugs and takes another sip of water.

The funny thing is, whether he's bullshitting this or not, he's not wrong. As he talks, I find myself more and more fixated on Hanako. She keeps fidgeting, insecurely fixing her hair like she has something she needs to hide. It hurts to watch, just a little. I wish we weren't in such a public space right now.

"Now think on your first week," Kenji continues loudly. "Your first month. The people you met. People that you're probably surrounded by right now!" He does a broad gesture with his arms. "How long did you spend thinking about all that other nonsense before you had to start stressing out about a test, or getting to club meetings, or making friends? Think about how quickly it turned normal for you. You may have had to go to the nurse every day. You may have had to take three dozen pills before every meal. Who knows? But that's got nothing to do with your memories of this place, or of your education, does it? You did make those friends, you did take those tests, and at the end of the day, you got along fine. And here we are, ten years later, and, well, damn, there's canes and dark glasses and bandages and prosthetics here, too, but that's got nothing to do with it, does it? That's not why we all came tonight."

He shakes his head a little neurotically and hands the water back, gripping the microphone with both hands. "Okay, where am I going with this…? Listen. They called me up and asked me to give a full-fledged speech. They wanted me to talk about my organization and the charities it gives to. Rattle off names, do some gloating. They wanted me to talk about the kids I'm giving a second chance, because those charities are paying their tuition here. But I thought that would miss the point. 'Cause, shit, who am I giving a second chance? Who is Yamaku giving a second chance, for that matter? That's not what this reunion is about. Not second chances. It's not about making up for our 'problems'. Playing catch-up. It's about… adapting."

He sighs loudly into the microphone, leaning back on an unoccupied table. Dramatically removing his glasses, he makes a serious face as though to seem down-to-Earth. "I don't want people to look at my achievements and say, 'Wow, look at how Kenji overcame the odds. Look at how much a Yamaku kid was able to accomplish.' No, that's the wrong mindset altogether. Because, say what you will about what I've done with my life… the real accomplishment is one that everyone here has done. I adapted. I'm a part of the world. A regular guy. It's not because I got a second chance, and it's not because I played catch-up. It's just because… I adapted. And everyone here has done that. That's what we should be commemorating tonight. Commemorate all the little things in your life you have to be proud of. The normal things. Your husband or wife. Your kids. Your career. That's the point of this. Be glad that Yamaku gave you the space to do it, but don't give anyone credit for what you've done. Because you adapted, too. That is the point of this. And the only thing I want to do is make sure everyone here realizes that."

He puts his glasses back on and takes a dramatic pause. I'm clapping along with the rest of the crowd without even realizing what I'm doing. Was I just emotionally moved by Kenji? I think I need another drink.

Hanako is going to be alright, of course. She always is. That said, I hope she took some of this to heart. I really am proud of her- if there's anyone in this room that should be commemorated for adapting, it's Hanako. It's almost ridiculous how much I admire her for that, come to think of it.

Huh. That's a nice feeling. I should tell her that more often.

Hanako doesn't look at me. Apparently she is lost in thoughts of her own. I think I'm really starting to sympathize with her desire for a bit more privacy.

Kenji throws up his hands guiltily at his applause, chuckling to himself. "Okay, okay, that's my cue, right? Yeah, my fault for saying 'a couple minutes'. Fine, fine, I'll just say this. It's a beautiful night out, so if you want to get some air, the grounds are completely open for the rest of the evening. High elevation here, so it's good for your lungs. And if you're worried about students… well, most of the kids are gone for the summer, but if you see one, just give 'em a dirty look and tell 'em it'll be their turn next decade." He raises an arm to gesture toward the bar. "Enjoy the open bar; that's totally on me. Be nice to the poor kid, he's been in that suit for four hours now. Aaaand… that's all. Have a good night, everybody!"

So Kenji is the one that paid for the bar. …Well, whatever scheme it is that he's planning, I hope it works out for him.

The lights flicker back on over the rest of the room as the sweater-vest-wearing man takes the microphone back from Kenji, tapping on the mic and letting it screech through the speakers again. After a few minutes of getting back to normal, everyone gathers up again and gets back to fraternizing, though I notice a handful of couples heading out the double doors, presumably at Kenji's recommendation to walk around the campus.

"Hm. Kenji Setou. I remember him," Lilly says quietly. "He was always nice. Good for him, having his life work out like that."

"Yeah, crazy, isn't it? I always thought he was a weirdo," Miki replies. "And yet here he is, making everyone else look bad. Life is funny like that."

"It really is."

Lilly fidgets with her empty glass, apparently distracted by something. I take it from her hands as gently as possible.

"Anyone else getting a little bit stifled by the crowd?" I ask, trying to transition as smoothly as possible. "People are starting to move outside…"

Hanako looks up at me for the first time since Kenji stopped speaking, excited. "Do you want to go into town?"

Miki raises an eyebrow at her. "Town? You guys are heading out of here?"

"J- just for a while. We were going to see if the Shanghai is still open…"

"Oh! Neat. Let me know if it is; I love that place."

"You're welcome to come, if you want… Naomi, too…"

"Nah, not tonight. It's getting kinda late…"

Naomi nods sternly, her face exaggeratedly regretful. "Thanks for the offer, Hanako, but I'd rather not stray too far. I- er, I'm kind of tied to a designated driver…"

"Oh, well… that's okay, too." Hanako flashes a tiny smile, just enough to save Naomi from embarrassment.

Lilly clasps her hands together, her expression blank. "You want to go so soon? I feel like we just got here. I suppose we did come a bit late…"

Hanako and I, having the same thought, exchange a brief glance.

"It would be better to go sooner rather than later, don't you think?" I reply.

"You're right. Best we are able to come back early. I wanted to have a few moments with Shizune and Hideaki, if possible."

"Really? Why's that?"

"Oh, I just… I feel like I should make plans with her. I want to get the chance to say a proper goodbye this time."

She bites her lip. To be honest, I have no idea how to respond, and I never like injecting my personal thoughts on their relationship. Judging from Hanako's silence, I assume she has relatively the same feeling.

"Well, in that case, I guess this is goodbye for now, huh?" Miki interrupts, jabbing me on the shoulder. "Want me to return those glasses for you, Hisao? I was thinking about getting something to drink myself…"

"Oh, thanks." I pass them into Miki's outstretched arm, and with finesse that can only come from years of practice, she balances all three of them in the fingers of her right hand.

"I'm right behind you, Miki," Naomi says wryly, ambushing Hanako with a hug before turning her back. "Hanako, gimme a call sometime! We don't hang out enough."

The proposition, despite being basically just a formality, makes Hanako smile with genuine appreciation. "Sure; I'd love that."

"Great! See you, later, guys!"

"Hm… it was nice to meet you, Naomi. Miki…" Lilly calls out as they walk away, uncharacteristically quiet.

Hanako frowns anxiously, studying Lilly's guarded expression. There's nothing to make of it, though, as far as I can tell.

"I haven't gotten to meet many of your friends," Lilly says after a brief silence. "Are you close?"

"I'd like to think so," Hanako responds cautiously. "As close as we can be…"

"Hm." Lilly's face softens into a pretty smile.

It's kind of frustrating- her layer of formality sometimes feels like a suit of armor, protecting her from people who want to know what she's thinking. It seems like something is wrong, but she keeps me just uncertain enough to stop me from saying something about it… for all I know, she's just still recovering from jet lag.

---
Last edited by QuietlySomething on Thu Feb 23, 2017 11:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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For Better or Worse

Post by QuietlySomething » Thu Feb 23, 2017 11:25 pm

---

Without further ado, Hanako takes her arm, and the three of us make our way onto the cafeteria and back onto the campus grounds. After an unreasonably long search through the dark finally sets us through the gate in the right direction, we set off down the hill on the route to the Shanghai.

It's funny how, even after all this time, the little things like this still feel so familiar. Somewhere in the back of my mind, there's a hapless teenager that is still expecting to buy his groceries from a convenience store. The nostalgia is overpowering.

The walk is a little more of a strain than I remember, or at least than I'd like to admit- I know I should really be taking better care of myself. I guess it wouldn't hurt to take more walks, hard as it is to find the motivation sometimes. It would certainly make Hanako happy to know I was bothering with it, if nothing else.

Once we actually get onto the road in town, navigating becomes much easier, as the walk is dotted with streetlights all the way down. There are a few people out and about, but for the most part it's quiet and lonely out here, a clear reminder that this is definitely a good distance from the city. I like it better like this, though.

"Do you remember exactly where the Shanghai is?" Lilly asks, her expression still enigmatic.

"Mhm, not too far down," Hanako says absentmindedly, her eyes trailing up the road.

It's a familiar place- very familiar indeed, even compared to the rest of the road.

"You know, this is where Hanako first kissed me." I take a second glance around to affirm it.

Lilly laughs out loud with surprise, raising an eyebrow. "Is that so? Where Hanako kissed you?"

"Well, yeah, I mean, we kissed, but Hanako-"

Hanako immediately turns beet red, not that it matters, as I'm the only one that can see her. "Hisao…"

"Yeah, it was right along-"

"-oh, gosh, Hisao-"

"-right along here. What? It's not that embarrassing, Hanako. I think it's kind of romantic."

"It sounds like an interesting story," Lilly goads.

"For another time…" Hanako says hurriedly, though unable to hide her grin. "At least let us sit down first…"

I tug Hanako gently on the arm to direct her attention, taking a few steps. "Fine; well, the Shanghai should be at the end of… so… oh…"

Lilly's face sinks, her earnest smile fading. "Oh… what?"

"Oh… it's gone."

"…Oh…"

"Wow, that's… too bad…" Hanako murmurs, suddenly taking a depressed lilt.

The building that used to be the Shanghai sits at an awkward crossroads between the other tiny storefronts. There's nothing in the space; just a small, empty, abandoned shop. I don't know why, but it's sad to look at. I knew the shop might not still be around, but the idea bothers me now a lot more than it did before. It's all still so familiar, which makes it sort of melancholic.

We stand in front of the abandoned storefront for a few minutes, having not made any plans in case the place actually did turn out to be closed.

Eventually this gets a little tiresome, and I take a glance further up the road around the corner. "Well… is anyone still in the mood for tea?"

"If it means a place to sit down, then sure," says Lilly.

"There's a Starbucks up the road."

"Well, that's a little prosaic, but I suppose it…"

"…sounds comfortable," Hanako finishes.

She takes a breath and sets off past me, leading Lilly behind. Like any coffeehouse chain, it's lit twice as brightly as any of the surrounding storefronts, making it pretty easy to spot along the road. We don't waste any time getting inside, as I think the other two are as tired of walking around as I am by now.

To my honest surprise, we aren't the only ones to get in line at this hour, and the store is populated by two small gangs of early-twenty-somethings. College students like their coffee, I guess, weird as it is to me that anyone would actually want to drink it late at night.

Rather than a pot of tea for the table, we end up with three drinks in paper cups. Less nostalgic, maybe, but it's practical, at least. I order some weird thing with cinnamon and vanilla in it. It tastes more like dessert than tea. It really is a shame to see small businesses die out, although I guess the Shanghai never really did attract enough customers to stay open this long.

We seat ourselves at a few chairs in the corner of the store, just by the window.

"Well, not exactly what I had in mind," I sigh, "but it's…"

Hanako flashes me an affectionate smile, making direct eye contact. "It's close enough."

"Sure."

Lilly smiles placidly, opening the lid of her tea to help it cool. I wish I knew what she was thinking about right now.

Well, now that it's just the three of us…

"Is everything… alright, Lilly?" I ask tentatively, trying to play it off casually.

She looks alarmed by the question nonetheless. "Hm? Why do you ask?"

"You seemed like something was bothering you earlier. You weren't really acting like yourself."

"Oh, no, I don't think so… not really… I've just had a lot on my mind. And I'm a bit tired."

She smells her drink cautiously, making some kind of face at the scent of it, before returning the lid to it.

Hanako frowns a little, suddenly cognizant of my concerns. "What have you been thinking about?"

"Oh… the trip. And what I'm going to do next. And… I have some work to get back to once I return."

"It must be nice to get time off for the summer."

"It is, though I have to ration it carefully. There's plenty I need to prepare for before the next trimester gets started, and I'm a little more behind than I'd hoped right now."

"Hm."

Lilly raps her fingers along the side of the cup, biting her lip like she's refraining from talking about something. I take a sip of tea, which actually tastes pretty good once I start to get used to it.

"Hanako, Hisao… do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

Hanako furrows her brow, giving me a serious look. I shrug, having no idea what to expect. "Of course not; go ahead…"

"Have the two of you thought about children?"

I choke on my tea, playing it off as coolly as I can, hopeless as that is. Hanako giggles at my awkwardness, but it seems to genuinely concern Lilly a little.

I open my mouth to dismiss her question, setting down my tea, but Hanako preempts me.

"Mm… yes," Hanako says quietly, smiling impishly.

Thankfully I'm not drinking anything, because that time I almost certainly would have actually choked.

I give Hanako as puzzled of a look as I can muster. "Er- we…"

"Oh, goodness, I'm sorry; I didn't mean to bring up something that might start a conflict," Lilly says hurriedly. "It was just something I was curious about."

"No, I mean, we've talked about it… a little," I emphasize. "But… I… we definitely haven't made any plans to… to do anything like that…"

Hanako shakes her head, apparently quite concerned about my reaction. "No, no, of course not… I just meant… it- it's come up before…"

"Purely hypothetically. Because I definitely don't know if that's something that- that we-"

"No, of course, we don't know if we're… ready for that… yet…"

Lilly fails to suppress a laugh, covering her mouth politely. "Please, please, I'm not asking you to come to any life-altering decisions over tea. It was just a meaningless question."

I take another sip of my tea, hopelessly embarrassed. "Can I ask- er… why do you ask?"

"I'm not sure, really. I thought the two of you might be coming to that kind of decision… I'm feeling a bit sentimental, I suppose. Like I said, I've had a lot on my mind."

Hanako rubs her arm nervously. "About… us…?" Her expression harkens back to the conversation we had in the car on the drive to the restaurant.

"Oh, about everything. Yamaku, and Japan. I've just been thinking about things." She sips her tea gracefully, still completely unfazed.

"It just, um… seems like an odd question," I say.

"I'm sorry if it was alienating. I was just thinking that you seem very happy together, and it made me wonder whether that was part of it. It's something that I think sounds nice, so I was thinking it might be nice for the two of you."

Hanako thinks on this seriously for a moment before coming to a decision. "…That's sweet."

"Is… that something you and Roy have been thinking about…? Children…?" I ask cautiously.

"Oh, no, certainly not Roy and me," she laughs. "No, I just meant it sounds nice to me in a general sense… I'd like to have something more… permanent… in my life. Do you know what I mean?"

"Sure." I sip my tea, trying to read Lilly's expression. "Is that what was bothering you?"

She frowns thoughtfully, taking a few moments to drink. "…I think that… maybe I'm a little bit jealous."

"Jealous? Of what?"

"I just know how comfortable and happy you both are around each other, and how you depend on each other. You're very secure. And… I am a little jealous of that, I think." She closes her eyes and blushes slightly, laughing self-consciously. "Oh, it sounds so childish to say it out loud like that…"

"What about Roy, then…?" Hanako asks, fidgeting in her seat.

"Roy is… a wonderful person, but I don't know if I really think we have a future together, in the long-term. Our lives aren't really lined up at the moment."

"Lilly, you're crazy if you don't think you can find someone you'll be happy with," I say with a small shrug. "You're a wonderful person, too, you know."

"Thank you, Hisao. But I'm not really worried about that. It's just that… I wish I were able to keep my life on track a little better." She pauses for a moment. "Every time I come back here, I find myself wondering what things would have been like if I had stayed in Japan. It's not the right way to think about things, and that's what makes me uncomfortable, I think."

Hanako frowns solemnly. "Do you regret it…? Moving…?"

"Regret it? No, absolutely not. It's not right to think back on decisions like that with regret. For better or worse, this is where I am now, right? And I have so much to be thankful for in my life right now."

"That's a good way to think about it…"

"I just think that it is important to be secure. I feel like I have too many things up in the air right now. It bothers me not knowing what my future is going to be like. So I think that's the reason I like being around the two of you so much. You have that. Maybe it gives me something to aim for?"

She smiles faintly, a little troubled and a little happy at the same time. That seems to be the whole tone of the conversation, come to think of it.

"Hisao and I were talking earlier," Hanako says quietly. "I may be able to come up and visit you in Scotland for a little while, if you wanted to do that…"

"Really? Is there any particular reason?"

"Just that it doesn't seem right that you're always coming down to visit, and we never come to see you instead…"

At that, Lilly folds her hands on her lap, suddenly smiling broadly. "It impresses me sometimes, how concerned you are about tending to my feelings, Hanako."

"I… I just thought that it might be a nice thought."

"Of course it would be nice. But don't do it because you think you are obligated to." She hesitates for a moment. "Besides, if it is something you wanted to do, you should both come up together. I would be happy to help pay for-"

"Lilly, you really don't have to do anything like that," I interrupt suddenly, trying to stop her unreasonable generosity.

"Well, of course I don't have to. I want to. Shouldn't that be enough?" Lilly raises her cup to her lips again, amused with the two of us. "Your friendship is important to me. That's all there is to it."

Hanako glances between Lilly and me for a few seconds, looking as happy as I've ever seen her. It's a truly heartwarming moment, if a slightly surreal one.

One of the gangs of kids shuffles out of the place for too long, and the building quiets down a little. I finish my tea, though admittedly that's using the word 'tea' loosely.

I have a good view of the night sky through the window next to where I'm sitting. It makes me especially nostalgic for some reason.

I can't help but notice how comfortable it is in here. And how comfortable Hanako is, as well. It's one of those serene moments that you have to take care to appreciate.

It's a funny thing.

I've been having a lot of those lately.

---

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Delaying the Inevitable

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:34 am

Chapter 4: Delaying the Inevitable

5:00.

My wrist watch buzzes shrilly, and I smack the off button almost instinctively. I've come to associate that alarm with this tiny corridor in the apartment building, considering how often I'm here at five o'clock.

I reach 615 at the end of the hall and lean against the door for a moment, shifting the small bag of groceries in my arms to allow me to knock on the door.

I do, but get no response in return.

"…Rin!"

Nothing.

I knock again, louder this time.

"Rin, I know you're home! You could at least say something!"

Still nothing.

"If you're not going to- oh, screw it. Alright, I'm coming in! Hope you're dressed!"

I fish through my pocket and pull out Rin's key, fidgeting to get the key into the lock with my free hand. The door creaks open, and I am greeted by the old-but-familiar scent of paint and stale coffee.

"You know, we don't have to go through this every time!"

Still no response.

The main entrance, normally bright with natural light, is dark and shady. I realize as I set down the grocery bag in the kitchenette that all the curtains are shut. As in, every curtain in the entire apartment.

It's puzzling, but hardly the strangest thing I've seen walking into Rin's place in the afternoon. My hands in my pockets, I make my way to the entrance to Rin's bedroom, finding the door already open a crack. I push it open the rest of the way and am greeted by a familiar sight.

Rin lies face-up on the floor, parallel to the bed- fully clothed and fully conscious, but in an almost hypnotic trance. She doesn't even react when I step into the room.

I flicker on the overhead light, and she flinches at the sudden intrusion on her personal darkness.

"So, what's this? What did I walk in on?" I ask wryly.

"I was thinking," Rin says quietly, still lying unmoving on the floor.

"Oh yeah?" I loom over her, hands square on my hips. "What were you thinking about?"

Now that my face is directly in her line of vision, she finally gives up and makes eye contact with me. "The ceiling is funny. Have you ever noticed?"

I'm not sure if that's a response to my question, or if she's changing the subject. It could easily be either.

I look up at the ceiling, which I have never paid much attention to. "Funny how?"

"It's all bubbly. Like beer foam. Or sea foam. Or… I dunno. Foam foam."

"It's a popcorn ceiling. Do you remember what the guy said when we first looked at this place? It's stucco, or something," I move away, propping myself up on the bed with a knee so I can feel the texture of the ceiling. "It's a western architectural thing. They blow up little air bubbles all over it to hide the imperfections in the plaster."

"Oh… that's too bad. Maybe the ceiling looked nice before."

"It looks nice now, though, don't you think?"

"Hmm." She squints a little, sitting up and leaning against the foot of the bed so that she can more easily stare at the ceiling again. "It looks like clouds."

"Probably what you liked about this place, huh? You'd kill to look at the clouds all day."

She half-nods. "Maybe. It would depend on who I had to kill."

"Just any generic person."

Frowning thoughtfully, she pauses for a second before coming to a conclusion. "I'll have to think more about it."

I stand from the bed, walking across from it and slumping onto the floor to sit across from Rin. "Did you hear me calling? I waited at your door for you to invite me in."

She snaps her head down suddenly to look at me. "I heard you."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"I knew you'd come in even if I didn't. And I was in the middle of thinking."

"Fair enough."

Squinting, Rin focuses on my face, but doesn't say anything.

"So. I've been thinking about something, too," I continue, waiting for a response.

She tilts her head to the side a little, but remains silent.

"Have you heard from our landlord yet?" I ask tentatively. "I talked to him last week. He wanted to know whether I had plans to renew the lease on my apartment."

"I did talk to him, but he didn't say anything about that." She takes a breath, apparently making a great effort to recall the conversation accurately. "He wanted to fix my sink."

"Your sink is broken?"

"No, but it was broken, before he sent a plumber in. Now I am supposed to watch that space to make sure that mildew doesn't grow there."

"Has any?"

"I don't think so. But I also don't think I know what mildew looks like."

She bows her head, evidently contemplating mildew quite seriously. I smile at her, which she only barely seems to register.

"This place is messy," I say quietly, sliding slightly closer towards Rin on the floor. "And poorly maintained. And small."

She nods, just a little bit.

It's pretty obvious that she knows where I'm going with this, but I continue anyway. "You could afford better than this. You still have a lot of money left over from the commissions."

She closes her eyes, letting out a tired, drawn-out breath. "Don't talk about the commi-"

"'Don't talk about the commissions.' I know. Well, you're too late, Rin, because I'm already talking about them."

Her eyes flicker open, and she cranes her neck up to make eye contact with me. After studying my face for a few moments, she nods again. "I guess I can't argue with that."

"Stashing your money and pretending it doesn't exist isn't going to make your past go away."

"It can help me not think about it," she says with a pained frown.

"Or you could just spend it. You can get a nice place. You won't have to think about it then, either."

She raises an eyebrow, leaning her head back against the bed. "And then you can move in with me, right?"

"Is that an offer?"

She throws her head forward suddenly. Her hair falls cutely over her face, and she doesn't seem to care enough to fix it. "I'm still thinking about it."

"Well, I haven't stopped thinking about it."

I pull myself closer towards her until we're nearly face-to-face, brushing her hair out of her eyes for her.

"Do me a favor," I say after a moment.

"Okay, but you have to promise to help me wash my mouth out after," she says firmly, totally sincere.

…Yeah, I'm just going to ignore that one.

"Close your eyes."

"Why? Are you going to try something? Because if you are, I want-"

"I'm not. Just do it."

"Okay." She closes her eyes and takes a breath, leaning patiently against the bed.

"Okay. Now picture this."

"I don't know what 'this' looks like."

"I'm getting to that." I take a breath, my mind running through the various apartments and housing complexes I've been sifting through lately. "So. We get a big place. A really big one, in an apartment in the city, or maybe further out. Or we buy a condo- that way we might be able to make renovations."

"Picturing," she says expectantly.

"We get a place on the top floor. One with a broad balcony out on the side, and an awning or a roof on top, so we can go out on it when it rains."

Eyes still closed, she opens her mouth to say something, but stops herself for some reason. Her breathing is a little loud, and very controlled.

"The balcony goes straight into the kitchen. Cut right through it, and you have a guest bedroom lined with windows all on one side. Or… an art studio."

She leans into the foot of the bed a little, and it briefly occurs to me that she might be falling asleep.

"Are you picturing it?" I ask gently.

"Yes."

"You can see the whole skyline from that room."

She gives a relaxed sort of smile, vaguely conscious of how close we are to each other.

"That's a private space, but… if you go out the other way from the kitchen, there's a wide-open living space in the center. And on the other end of that… bedroom."

"What about the bathroom?" she asks suddenly.

"Uh. One by the kitchen. Master bath is connected to our bedroom."

"Okay. That's important. I don't want to have to go far if I have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. I tend to bump into things. And there's doors, and in the dark that might complicate things-"

"-Well, there is one attached to the bedroom. So it's not a problem. So… just picture it."

"Picturing."

I glance over Rin's head for a second, resting my hand on the bed just to the side of her head. "What is this bed? It seems kind of small… is it a king?"

"Yes. At least, that's what they told me at the mattress store, but I don't think they had any reason to lie about it."

"Well, we'll get a bigger one. You can do that, right? What can you get above king size?"

She purses her lips, thinking. "You could get a California king. It's like a regular king, but it's American, so I think that makes it bigger."

"We'll get that, then."

Her eyes are still closed; she seems committed to my little scenario. Our faces are so close that they're nearly touching, but somehow there's a kind of humor in the intimacy of it.

I move my hand off the bed and place it over the side of her head, pulling her into a kiss as smoothly as I can. She doesn't really do much to reciprocate it, though; instead she just relaxes herself and leans against me. I pull away after a long few moments.

As soon as I do, her eyes suddenly fly open, like I've done something very grave. She stares at me forcefully, her piercing green eyes filled with an uncharacteristic amount of energy. It feels very passionate, and I'm stricken by it, at least for that brief moment.

"You said you weren't going to try anything," she says matter-of-factly.

"…Sorry."

I realize that I'm still hunched over her, so I slide backwards to give her some breathing room. She continues to watch me, her breathing as firm and controlled as my own. We make rather tense eye contact for an awkward couple of seconds.

"…I didn't say you shouldn't," she adds, finally.

"Okay, well, still, I wasn't finished talking yet."

She relaxes her gaze, slumping back into the side of the bed. "Okay."

It actually is true that I had more to say, but looking at Rin I realize I've completely lost my train of thought.

I know this situation is strange- in fact, my entire situation with Rin in general is pretty strange. It doesn't bother me. I feel overwhelmingly… content, just for this brief moment.

I look her directly in the eye. "I love you, Rin."

She smiles, but her expression is muted and ambiguous. I wonder what's going on in her mind right now. I would give anything to know.

Her lack of verbal response is a little embarrassing, and I can feel myself blushing a little bit, not that it matters one way or the other. I know Rin doesn't care; she probably isn't even paying attention.

I place my hands down on the floor and lean in a bit closer towards her. "…How are you feeling right now?"

She takes a breath, staring at my collarbone while she contemplates my question. "Pretty good. I'm warm. And the weather is good. And I like this sweater."

Slumped lazily against the bed, she wags her arms under her shirt, and her free-hanging sleeves dangle in the air in front of me. I grab one of them and hold it in my hand, interested that she would choose to wear something so hot in the summer. When you're limited to shirts that you can slip on without opposable thumbs, your options are pretty scarce.

"What about in general? How are you feeling about your life right now?"

She thinks for another minute or so. "…Still good."

"Yeah?"

"I think so."

"Are you happy, Rin?"

"I… think so."

"Really?"

She closes her eyes, throwing her head back so that it rests on top of the bed. It's a hard question for her.

…She can be really disheartening sometimes.

I crawl a bit closer towards her and wrap an arm around her back, kissing her on the neck. She shivers a little bit at my touch.

"Rin…"

"I'm tired…" she murmurs.

I wrap my other arm around her, hoisting her up off the ground. With a small sigh, she leans into me, folding her legs behind my back, and nuzzles her face into my neck.

Her breathing is uneven and shaky, which is easy to tell with her pressed up against me.

I set her down on the bed, and she sinks backwards, falling like a brick onto the mattress. As soon as she does, her eyes open and she looks me right in the eye, as I'm still looming over her on the bed. Her legs fall away from me and hang off of the bed behind me.

"Were you up late, or what?" I ask quietly, trying to break the tension a little.

She makes an unreadable expression. "Couldn't sleep."

I'm probably more troubled by that than she realizes… I wonder how much my expression is letting on. Or how much she is reading into it, I guess.

I climb off of Rin and roll onto my back, lying face-up side-by-side with her. We both just lie there for a long time, staring at the ceiling.

The strange pattern of the stucco is entrancing somehow, like staring at an optical illusion. Maybe I'm deliberately making myself more susceptible to that kind of thing? I wonder how long she was doing this by herself before I arrived.

My thoughts drift back to our little hypothetical home. Talking about it with Rin just makes me realize exactly how much I want it. Though, admittedly, I think it's more just that I want some semblance of a normal life with her. Badly.

"Picture this." I raise my arms above us, making a rectangle with my hands to carve out a shape in the ceiling.

"Picturing," says Rin.

"This is the reason we get a place on the top floor. Right above the bed, in the ceiling, we put in a… skylight. Then, whenever you wake up before me, you can just lie here in bed with me and just… watch the clouds. All morning, if you want."

She lets out a quiet hum, almost inaudible- like a whimper. After considering my proposal for a minute, she asks, "What if you wake up before me?"

"Then… I can watch you."

I turn my head to the side to look at her, and she does the same with me.

"You can go back to kissing me now, if you want," Rin says seriously.

"I know." I shoot her a look. "You know, Rin, I would prefer your encouragement to your permission. If you want me to do something, you could just ask me to."

She frowns thoughtfully. "I never know what I want you to do until you do it."

"…Fair enough."

"So… are you going to do it?"

"No. Not right now."

"Oh. Okay."

She looks at the ceiling again, genuinely indifferent.

"You know, I'm here for a reason, today, Rin."

"I assumed that. You don't usually do things for no reason."

"Does anybody?"

I already know the answer to that before she responds.

"I do things for no reason all the time. Sometimes I just do things and as soon as I'm done, I have no idea why I did them. Sometimes I don't even know why I'm doing them when I'm doing them. But… maybe not having a reason counts as a reason in and of itself?" She pauses, pursing her lips a little. "You should try it sometime. Maybe it will help you clear your head."

"Another time, then. We have somewhere to be tonight."

"We? You mean both of us? And not just you?"

"…That would be what 'we' means, yes. You promised me we would go out tonight. Multiple times, in fact."

"I did?"

"Yes. You did."

She squints, evidently having no recollection of it.

Honestly, I'm hurt by that. She knew it was important to me. Really important, actually.

I try not to sound too upset. "Did you seriously forget?"

"When did you mention it? I probably wasn't paying attention."

"Like… two days ago. But we've talked about it multiple times. You promised me, Rin."

"Sorry."

A sigh escapes me, despite my best efforts. The last thing I want is for us to fight tonight. "It's a class reunion. At Yamaku. I thought I could take you as a date."

"Oh." She squints suspiciously. "You want to go to the class reunion?"

"Obviously…"

"I guess you're right, it is obvious. But why do you want to? I thought you didn't make any friends there."

"That's not true; I just…"

I just… can't think of anyone besides Emi at the moment. I don't want to start with the most obvious person… Shizune and Misha maybe? We did schoolwork together. That counts, right?

I wonder if they still hang out. When's the last time I talked to them? Was it before or after graduation?

…Yeah, I don't think they count.

"Emi will be there," I mumble, defeated.

"Are you trying to convince me to go?"

"Well, yeah."

"But you said I already promised you I would go."

"You did. But you don't remember doing it, so I don't think the promise still stands."

"I don't know if that's true. If I did make that promise, then I must have had a reason for it, right?"

"Of course not. You just said that you do things for no reason all the time."

"That's a very good point. Very, very good point." She closes her eyes and considers my logic. "Okay, in that case, I will make the promise again. We'll go to the reunion. But this time I definitely have a reason."

"That reason being…?"

"You asked me to." She blinks once. "Come to think of it, that was probably the reason I agreed the first time, too, if I had to guess. But I don't have to guess, so I think I will leave it as a mystery."

"But you just guessed."

She widens her eyes, looking confused if not mildly surprised. "So I did. It must not be a very mysterious mystery, then."

"I've really been looking forward to tonight, you know." I finally sit up, happy to have that resolved.

She shuffles restlessly on the bed, and her leg brushes harshly against mine. "I do now. What time is it?"

I check my watch again. "Five."

"No, I was asking what time the reunion was. Or. Will be."

"Oh, uh… sometime after six, I think. We just need to show up around then. It's not strict."

"Is it formal? Because I really don't like big formal events. I don't want to run into anyone that might recognize me."

"That's kind of the whole point of a reunion, Rin."

"Hm. That is very troublesome indeed."

"Why wouldn't you want to be recognized?"

"I don't want people to ask me questions. Especially because if someone recognized me, they would recognize me from before. And then they would ask me the worst kinds of questions. Ones that I can't answer."

"You mean they'll recognize you from back when you did the commissions."

I turn over my shoulder to look at her face. She nods solemnly and forces herself up to sit next to me.

"Yeah, of course…" I run a hand through her hair and wrap my arm around her shoulder. She sighs quietly, closing her eyes again. "Well… I don't think anyone will really recognize you in that way; it's been a long time… I was just thinking of people recognizing you, y'know, from the high school class."

"I see."

My head feels heavy. I want to say we don't have to go, but after all the effort I've gone to planning the trip and arranging to have Rin there, I don't think I can will myself to make the suggestion.

Eventually I take the coward's choice and change the subject, distracted by my growling stomach. "I'm hungry. Have you eaten?"

"Yes."

"…Have you eaten in the last six hours?"

Her eyes snap open, drifting toward the ceiling again. "…I don't think so."

"I'm going to go put some food on."

"What are you going to put it on?"

"…The stove."

She nods eruditely, looking somewhere at the wall in front of her. "I thought you would say that."

"You must be psychic."

"I don't think so; I'm pretty sure that psychics discover their powers around puberty. I'm just a lucky guesser."

"Then you should play the lottery. That's a good skill to have."

"You may be right. I've never considered it before."

I pull myself off the bed and swing Rin's bedroom door open, still disoriented by the shade covering the apartment. The sunlight that pours into the living room when I open the drapes makes me cringe, even though the sun is already starting to go down.

After a minute, Rin stalks into the living room behind me, standing partially in the sunlight in the center of the room. I can't help but notice that she looks raggy, like she tends to if she has hasn't had my help to dress in a few days.

I look her up and down a couple of times. "Do you want me to help you change your shirt, or are you just planning to go everywhere in sweaters now?"

She looks down at her chest with a slight frown. "I already go most places in sweaters. Sweaters are the best kind of shirt. They are comfortable and not complicated."

"Well, do you want me to knot up the sleeves, at least?"

"…Okay."

She stands there wordlessly as I tie the ends of her sleeves, her gaze drifting somewhere out the window. She seems more… out of it than usual, but I understand that I may just be imagining it. I find that if I think about her too much, I start to worry for no reason… which is probably the worst way to be when it comes to thinking about Rin. Sometimes not thinking is the best way to think, but unfortunately I am not nearly as good at it as she is.

Thankfully, there are plenty of other things for me to think about to distract me, instead. Without even being totally conscious of it, I wander towards the kitchenette and begin absentmindedly sorting through the groceries I brought. May as well make stir-fry again, as it's one of maybe three things I'm confident I can cook without going horribly wrong somewhere.

Rin's always said she wanted to learn to cook. As long as she could do it without burning her heels on the stovetop, I would love to have someone else able to do the job. I have to admit, the longer I'm with her, the more I start to suspect there's nothing that can't be done with just your feet if you're flexible enough.

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Last edited by QuietlySomething on Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Delaying the Inevitable

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:34 am

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Minutes pass in silence as I go through the motions making dinner. Rin paces in half-circles in the living room for no apparent reason, only occasionally glancing over to see what I'm up to. Neither of us feels the need to speak, but I appreciate the comfortable break in conversation. I need some time to collect my thoughts right now as it is.

Eventually I end up with something halfway between bland and awful, which should make for a pretty decent dish by my standards. I don't have the energy or motivation to make it look pretty, so I just scrape the contents of my pan onto two plates and set them on the low-lying table outside the kitchen area.

I grab a pair of chopsticks and a fork for Rin out of the drawer and drop them on the table. Without waiting for me to sit, Rin rests her foot on the table and dexterously grabs the fork between two toes, shoveling food into her mouth with impressive speed. I take my time to sit and join her, resting an elbow on the table to lean on my hand as I eat. Speaking objectively, there's not a table manner between us.

"Is it any good?" I ask for some reason, even though I already know the answer, as I tasted it already.

Rin shoots her head up to look at me, her cheeks puffing out like a chipmunk's. "I fink baffer fweek."

"Swallow, then talk."

She swallows hurriedly, shrugging slightly. "I think it's better than last week's."

"Think so? I had shallots in it last week, which I liked, but I didn't bother with anything like that today."

"Of course I think so. I just said that I think so."

"I was being rhetorical."

"But you didn't ask a question."

"…Never mind."

"Okay."

She turns her head back down to the table and returns to eating. I poke a piece of chicken on my plate, which is black around the edge as the result of being visibly overcooked.

…She probably wishes I would just shut up, but I'm starting to feel too anxious to sit in silence. This is not doing any wonders for my self-confidence.

"Penny for your thoughts?" I posit, not expecting much of an answer.

"I don fwan-"

"-swallow, Rin."

"…I don't want one."

"What?"

"I don't want a penny. You offered me a penny."

"Well, how about you just tell me because I want to know what you're thinking?"

"That's even less than you offered me before. And since you offered me a penny before, that's probably the lowest offer you could have given me."

"That would depend on how much value you place on my preference, wouldn't it?"

She shrugs thoughtfully, in a way that only Rin could. "…The Eiffel Tower."

"…What?"

"I was thinking about the Eiffel Tower. Among other things. Three other things, to be precise."

"The Eiffel Tower…? Like… the building?"

"Are there other Eiffel Towers that aren't buildings?"

"No, I don't think so." I take a few moments to eat, holding up a hand to make her wait for me to finish talking. "But what were you thinking about it?"

"I was thinking that it looks like it's not finished yet, which I was also thinking was pretty fitting. What's the word for a building that you build so that you can build a different building around it?"

"I don't think I really know what you're talking about."

She frowns with consternation, twirling her fork around with her foot and flinging a few scraps of food onto the floor. "It's like a skeleton for a building, except that when the building is finished you take the skeleton off and the building doesn't turn into jelly because there's also skeleton parts in the building that are different from the main skeleton. Like how bugs have their skeletons on the outside."

"An exoskeleton for a building."

"Yeah. Like an exoskeleton. Except that you can take it off, and after you do it stays together because there's also an in-do-skeleton."

"Are you talking about scaffolding?"

"I don't know. Maybe that's what I'm talking about. Is that an exoskeleton for a building?"

"Eh… sort of?"

"Then sort of that. That's what the Eiffel Tower looks like. Sort of."

"I've never thought about it before."

"They should finish working on it."

"I'm pretty sure the Eiffel Tower is a finished project, Rin."

"They still paint it."

"What?"

"They still paint it. There was a thing about it on TV. Every seven years they paint it again. It can't be finished if they are still painting it."

"You watched a TV special on this? Is that why you were thinking about it?"

"Why else would I be thinking about it?"

"I don't know. Maybe you were thinking about it for no reason."

She hesitates, then reflexively smiles. It's cute, and it takes me completely by surprise. It makes me watch her more closely, which she is clearly conscious of.

"That's true," she says eventually. "But I wasn't thinking about it for no reason."

"Because you saw a thing about it on TV."

"Exactly."

"Did they say on TV why they repaint it every seven years? I don't think it's exactly an art project; the paint wears off with time. Especially with a big structure like that, you'd expect rain and wind and stuff to ruin the paint. They're not still trying to finish it; they're just trying to preserve it the way it was when it was finished the first time."

"But they still keep going back and painting it again. They even changed the colors. You can't change the colors on it if it's already finished."

"Why not?"

"Because it's not finished until you aren't adding to it anymore. If they're going to keep adding paint to it, then it's unfinished."

Something about this argument feels completely wrong to me, but it's hard for me to think of a valid counterargument. For someone that speaks so obtusely, Rin can be a pretty damn good debater.

"Can't you go in and make changes to something that's already finished?" I ask after a minute of thought. "After all, the people that would change the color aren't the same people that originally painted it."

She squints at me as though she doesn't really understand what I'm saying.

"Say, for example, I was to, without your knowledge or permission, take a painting that you've finished and then add another brushstroke to it. I've changed it, right? But as far as you were concerned, it was finished before. So, based on what you're saying, that painting was never really finished to begin with, even though you, the artist, said it was. And it never will be finished, because anyone else could later go in and make changes of their own. So no art could ever really be finished." I pause to reflect on my own words, then nod, satisfied with my evaluation. "God, I sound like an art teacher."

"But if it was already finished…" she says slowly, struggling to find the right word. "…why do they keep going back to work on it?"

"…Because they're still getting use out of it?"

"If it is already finished, then it seems like a waste. That's just delaying the inevitable," she says harshly, with an odd change in tone that is enough to give me chills. I don't think I want to talk about this anymore.

She drops her fork on her plate, which has been cleaned for a while. I'm surprised she didn't have anything negative to say about it- she's not exactly the type to spare my feelings. Maybe I've just lowered her expectations for my cooking to the point where this is nothing to complain about.

With a quiet sigh, I grab both of our dishes and deposit them in the sink, which is starting to become crowded with dishes that I am definitely going to get around to cleaning at some point.

I take a look at myself in the mirror to straighten my clothes out. I have to admit, considering the flak I was giving Rin, I look like a mess myself. It's been a long time since I went to any sort of big social gathering outside of work. I don't really even know why… I've just had my priorities in other places lately.

Rin appears behind me in the mirror, frowning dully. "Are you okay?"

She looks like she only asked me that because it seemed like what she was supposed to do.

I furrow my brow in the mirror. I don't even really know the answer to her question, to be honest. Am I anxious? I can't put it into words.

"I think so," I say hesitantly.

"…That's good, I think."

I turn to look her in the eye, rather than stare at her reflection. There's something between us… tension, or sadness, or… something. I don't know if it's her or me- or both of us- but it feels very unnatural.

"Rin."

"What is it?"

…She narrows her eyes a little, looking dim. For some reason I find myself acutely conscious of our height difference, as Rin has to tilt her head up very slightly to look me in the eye.

I didn't actually have anything to say. I just wanted to take a moment to gauge her, I think.

I decide that my nerves are just getting the better of me and absentmindedly mutter, "Nothing," without looking away.

She seems unsatisfied, and at the same time disturbed by her inability to come up with a fitting response.

"Are you ready to go?" I follow up, brushing past her to make my way into the hallway by the entrance.

"Yes."

Without even looking down, she slips her feet into a pair of sandals strewn on the ground of the hallway alongside a few other assorted, unpaired shoes.

I open the front door, and she wanders out ahead of me, not waiting. I trail behind her as we make our way to the stairwell, fixating on the number plates in front of each apartment.

608. That's my apartment. It's just a walk across the hall from Rin's, but it's a distance that I feel pretty strongly nonetheless.

We live on the sixth floor, and yet Rin virtually always takes the stairs. As usual, I take the elevator and beat her to the parking lot, but it's an empty victory, because the only thing I can think about is how that's exactly the kind of thing my doctor wants me to do. Rin practically never leaves her home unless I make her, and yet she still manages to get more exercise than me.

So, this is it. Back to Yamaku for the first time since I graduated. Even I get the feeling this is going to be a long night, and it was my idea in the first place.

In an impressive act of balance and flexibility, Rin opens my car's passenger seat door by herself using her sandaled foot. I'm sure by now that door is so permanently scuffed up that it wouldn't even be worth paying to get it refurbished… although the paint job was pretty crappy to begin with, to be fair.

I enter the destination into my phone and place it haphazardly in my cup holder. I know that the place isn't far out from the city, which should make it a simple enough drive, but it's been far too long for me to remember anything resembling an exact route.

Rin stares out the window for most of the trip, either intently thinking about something or intently not thinking about anything- either way, it would be rude to interrupt. Small talk for the sake of small talk is inane anyway, and driving through the city requires my attention.

As it turns out, our apartment is much closer to Yamaku than I thought. Even still, though, we don't arrive until a while after sundown, which I attribute to my own time wasting. The parking lot is mostly full when we pull in, which I assume means I got the specific arrival time wrong, but seeing as we don't have anyone to meet here, I don't think it really matters.

Signs plastered to the walls point us in the right direction, and we set off towards the cafeteria in no particular hurry. Rin in particular really takes her time, gazing all around the campus with some unwarranted degree of amazement. It's too dark to see very far in front of me, and the only reason I can get around at all is the beautiful moonlight blanketing the grass.

I point nonchalantly upwards, thinking out loud. "The full moon is really noticeable tonight."

"Be wary of werewolf attacks," she advises, frowning grimly.

"Why? Have you ever been attacked by a werewolf?"

"No, but if they were going to attack, tonight would be a good night to do it."

"Hm, especially in a crowded area like this reunion…"

"A crowded area also means that there would be a lot of good people to use as werewolf bait, though."

I take a glance around, and it occurs to me how few good hiding places there are spread out over the campus. I was feeling anxious before, but you really have to put everything in perspective. When you're standing next to a person for whom werewolves are a genuine concern in the back of their mind at all times, worrying about relationships feels kind of… trivial.

"We should hurry up and find Emi, then," I add. "She's fast and she has good endurance, so she would make good bait."

"I didn't think you would say something so heartless."

"I'm just being pragmatic, that's all."

We reach the entrance of the cafeteria, which seems to be the focal point of all the noise in a mile-wide radius. I open the double doors, and Rin steps inside in front of me, planting herself firmly at the entrance and turning lazily from side to side to take stock of the crowd. There's far more people here than I would have expected for a reunion like this, and it's a bit stifling.

Rin doesn't budge from her spot. I walk up behind her, spotting the bar at the other end of the room. "Do you want a drink?"

"No."

"Yeah, me neither."

We sigh simultaneously.

I'm not sure what to do now. Rin obviously isn't going to go and socialize with me, and I wouldn't know where to begin even if she was. I can't really remember anyone from my class that well- certainly not well enough to try and make small talk. Rin's approach to parties has always been 'stand still and try not to make any noise', which is admittedly feeling pretty tempting right now. But I'm never going to find Emi just standing around, considering she's too small and short to stick out in the crowd.

"C'mon, Rin," I say gently, tugging on the end of her sweater's sleeve.

"Where are you going?"

"Anywhere."

That seems to satisfy her, and she wanders off into the crowd alongside me.

A few people decide to be so bold as to smile and wave at me, which I awkwardly return. For the most part, though, people are together in their own gangs and don't pay Rin and me any mind at all. It's interesting how well Rin fits into this crowd, visually speaking, since there are so many other clearly physically disabled former students. Usually the girl with no arms draws everyone's attention, but here it's like she's invisible.

The crowd is sparser towards the back. We find a small collection of tables, most of which are occupied by people in suits and fancy clothes. My eyes wander over to the bar, where the young and unfortunately overdressed bartender is getting chatted up by one of the few women that seems to be alone here. My first thought is that it's a little bit amusingly pathetic, and then she turns her head.

And then I look down. …She's got on prosthetic legs.

I don't know whether I should feel guiltier for laughing at her in the first place or for the fact that I think it's even funnier now that I know who it is.

Then she spots me. I raise my hand helplessly, feeling awkward for not recognizing her immediately, even from behind.

"Hey! Hey, guys!" she cries out, suddenly jumping up from her seat at the bar.

In one rather graceless movement, she swerves around the counter and dashes up to Rin and me, her face both shocked and excited.

"Hi, Emi," I say quietly, trying to draw less attention than Emi seems determined to. Rin thinks for a moment after my greeting and decides to simply nod in acknowledgment.

She's beaming at first, but apparently she remembers something, and her expression immediately morphs into one of pseudo-anger. "I can't believe you guys came!"

"It was Hisao's idea," says Rin.

"Oh." Emi shakes her head, distracted. "…You two. You two are on my shit list!"

Rin seems completely unimpressed by this.

I do my best to look like I'm taking her seriously to make up for it. "What? Why?"

"Why do you think?" cries Emi. "Where the hell have you guys been? I've barely heard from you at all lately!"

"We've been… busy. Doing stuff."

"Oh, bull shit. Everyone has been doing stuff! I at least expect a Christmas card, goddammit. " She pouts, which is unfortunately quite cute and thus probably counterproductive to the point she is trying to make.

"You never sent either of us Christmas cards."

"I don't know where either of you live!"

"Touché."

She crosses her arms, now looking a little more sad than angry. "I thought we were closer than just fake high school friends! I've kept in better touch with Miki-freaking-Miura, and I'm pretty sure she hates me!"

"I don't know who that is."

"She's one of my fake high school friends. Case in point."

"Ah."

"Hmph." She softens a little bit, looking over Rin with curiosity. "You guys came together, then?"

"I am his date," Rin says matter-of-factly, like she's recalling a piece of trivia.

"Coulda guessed that… you guys are cute together," she says reluctantly, just to communicate that she was almost angry enough to consider not saying it. She really is pretty awful at being mean.

Rin yawns contentedly. "Are we cute separately?"

Emi is disarmed by the question, but rolls with it. "Yes to you." She glances at me briefly and adds, "No comment on Hisao."

"Hey! What is that supposed to mean?" I ask incredulously.

"It means I'm still mad at you. Comb your hair once in a while."

"Screw you." I run a hand through my hair self-consciously. It's not that bad. I hope. "…Where's your date?"

"I haven't found him yet," she says with a mischievous smile.

"Did you lose him?" asks Rin.

"No, he's just not my date yet."

"Is he the kid tending the bar?" I ask, standing on my toes to look over Emi's head, which clearly irritates her. Serves her right, anyway.

"I dunno, do you think I have a shot?" She smiles confidently, puffing out her chest a little. "I think he's kinda cute."

"Kinda young, isn't he?"

"He's 21!"

"You're 29."

"Semantics."

"I thought you were swearing off men for good," says Rin, flapping her arms as though her interest has suddenly been piqued. "Or does he technically count as a boy because he's so young?"

Of course, it's not a joke, but I laugh anyway. Embarrassed and irritated, Emi throws her fists toward the floor, her face red.

"Would you two shut up?" she hisses. "When did I say I was swearing off men? I don't remember saying anything like that!"

"It's true, you did," I say with shrug. "You said you were going to swear off men for good and move to Somalia so you could finally live out your dream of being a pirate."

She thinks on it for a moment, then nods, amused with herself. "Well, what can I say? Maybe I'm just not pirate material. I was more thinking of the fun, swashbuckly kind, not the scary, AK-47y kind."

"True, you definitely couldn't scare people enough to be a real pirate."

"I- would you stop it?! Geez, with friends like these…" she trails off, failing to hide a smile. "…Hm… I've missed you guys. I wanna start hanging out again."

She frowns a bit more seriously, looking a little pensive. It makes me feel a little guilty, even though I know I shouldn't. It's not as though we've been deliberately ignoring her, after all.

"Look, I know it sounds like bullshit, but we really have been busy with stuff," I explain. "I mean… personal life stuff. It's more complicated than you'd think. But I'm sorry we haven't spoken more."

I glance over at Rin, who shrugs uselessly.

Emi just seems pleased to have an apology, and waves me off as I explain. "It's alright, it's alright! You really don't have to explain yourself. It's none of my business." She scratches her chin, leaning to the side to look at Rin. "I was just worried about you! You were in the news, you know that? And then you just kinda… disappeared. That's pretty unusual."

"That was a really long time ago; I haven't been… I haven't talked to any of the art people in a long time," Rin says uncomfortably, staring somewhere at the floor. This is one of her least favorite subjects, but I get tired of avoiding it, and despite what Emi says, I think she is owed some kind of explanation anyway. Against my better judgment, I decide not to cut in and change the subject.

"I know! Years, even!" Emi puts her hands on her hips, giving a disapproving frown. "And if I had never been able to get in contact with Hisao, I'd still be worried you were out lying in a ditch somewhere."

Rin tilts her head to the side. "Well… here I am."

"Here you are." Emi purses her lips, hands still at her sides. "So does that means you're not still painting? That didn't pan out…?"

"It didn't pan out," I reply quickly. "I don't think that's really a good environment to work in."

Emi is a little stricken by that response, but rebounds quickly. "…You know, I went to one of your exhibitions, ages ago. Told all the visitors there that I knew the lady who painted them, but nobody believed me." She sticks her tongue out playfully.

Interestingly, Rin fixates on me for a moment before turning her attention to Emi, whom she then focuses on very intently. "…What did you think?"

"Uh. Oh, I dunno. I mean, it was good! Really, really good!" Emi flails her arms around dramatically to make her point, though it makes her reaction seem kind of fake. "…I mean… you know I don't really get the whole art thing, but I just think you're so talented… I'm really sorry it hasn't worked out for you."

"Why did you apologize? You didn't do anything wrong."

"I just meant that it's too bad. I really thought that… um…" she trails off, evidently noticing the hesitancy on my face. "Well, I just thought being able to paint for a living would make you really happy. I thought it was a super cool opportunity."

"You shouldn't worry about it. It isn't practical to dedicate that much energy to things you don't know that much about," Rin says coolly, after a moment of thought. "There is nothing for you to be sorry about. I'm… happier now."

…Or so she thinks?

When Rin makes a statement like that, one that should be positive, it comes off as a question, like she's not even really sure why she's saying it. Damn it, what I wouldn't give to have her figured out.

I realize after a moment that I probably look as frustrated as I am, and so immediately begin to stare at my shoes. Nobody seems to notice, but it's embarrassing nonetheless.

"I'm happy to hear that," Emi says brightly. "I didn't know you were such an optimist, Rin!"

"I didn't say anything about optimism."

Emi giggles loudly. Rin makes the same confused face she makes every time anyone laughs at something she says. There is an odd moment of dissonance between them.

I notice a few people at the table nearest us whispering to each other as they look in our direction, and it occurs to me that Emi has probably been bothering all the other visitors with her noise. I guess she's a little overexcited.

"Emi, no offense," I say gently, "but I think you're bothering people."

Predictably, she looks startled for a moment before glaring at me defensively. "What? What are you talking about?"

"I think you're making too much noise."

"I am not!" She narrows her eyes and turns to my side. "Rin?"

"You're usually making too much noise," Rin replies, closing her eyes seriously.

"…Damn. Sorry."

Trying to be subtle, she turns over her shoulder and glances at the small group of people behind her, all of whom immediately notice her. Embarrassed, she lifts a hand and waves weakly to them, which apparently prompts their interest. A well-dressed man in the front raises a hand in greeting and approaches, and Emi snaps back to face me, now filled with regret. "…I… didn't think he would come over here."

---
Last edited by QuietlySomething on Tue Feb 28, 2017 3:46 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Delaying the Inevitable

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:34 am

---

Fixing his jacket very coolly, the man slips his way into our triangle, trying not to look imposing. "Excuse me- sorry, excuse me?"

"For what?" Rin asks immediately, not missing a beat.

"I- wh- sorry?"

"What should we excuse you for?"

"…What?"

The man fixes his glasses, as though he can't believe his eyes. He and Rin stare each other down for a few moments, both utterly lost.

"Sorry, can we help you with something?" I interrupt.

"Yes! Yes, sorry." With a flourish, he pulls his hand into the pocket of his tuxedo and pulls out a small black business card, placing it delicately between two of my fingers. I shoot him a strange glance before looking at it.

Beneath a complicated logo is a word I absolutely can't make out, followed by what I think says 'Enterprises' in English, along with a few other names, all emblazoned in gold in an extremely messy cursive font. I have no idea why he gave me this or what I am supposed to do with it.

He wastes no time in introducing himself. "I'm Kenji Setou; you may recognize the name if you-"

"Pardon?"

"Er. Kenji Setou. You may recognize-"

"-Kenji?"

"…Setou."

He fixes his glasses again, looking concerned. Now that I'm looking for it, it is clearly him, but he looks so neat and well put-together that I never would have realized it without hearing his name first. It's bizarre beyond words.

"Kenji, it's Hisao! From school! I didn't know you were going to be at the reunion."

He freezes as though I've caught him in a lie. This encounter went from awkward, to strange, to surreal in the course of about five seconds.

"Hisao."

"Yes."

"…Hisao."

"…Yes."

His face slowly morphs into an odd grin, and he snaps his fingers loudly. "…Hisao!"

"…Yes?"

"Hisao! Of course! I'm sorry; I didn't recognize you at first! It's just been a long time, and there's a lot of context to these meetings, you understand, and I… er… you know…"

…He doesn't recognize me.

What.

"Kenji, did you come over here for a reason? You're sort of interrupting… these are my friends. Female friends. I was in the middle of a conversation."

"Friend and female. Can confirm," says Emi, somewhat flirtatiously.

"Charmed. You would be?"

"Call me Emi."

They smile warmly at each other.

…And, time to pull the plug on this conversation.

"Kenji, I'm sorry, but we were really in the middle of something," I say brashly.

"Oh! Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I… got distracted."

He adjusts the cuff of his sleeve, smiling confidently at Emi, who just giggles girlishly in response.

Then he turns to Rin, who seems genuinely surprised to suddenly become the center of attention. "I was speaking with a few of my friends over there, and I just… couldn't help but overhear a bit of your conversation."

I glare at Emi, who shrugs guiltily.

"Alright, what about it?" I ask.

He glances back to me for just a second, then back to Rin. "Well, I don't mean to pry, but you wouldn't happen to be Tezuka, would you? Rin Tezuka? It occurred to me that, well, with the, uh… the…"

"The what?" Rin asks dryly.

"The… you know." He points haplessly to his forearm.

"Missing arms."

"Er. Yes."

Rin's mouth gapes a little, and she looks past him, directly at me. "You recognized my name from an exhibition I did."

"Yes, I believe I did! I'm glad it's you!" Kenji exclaims, clasping his hands together eagerly.

I glance over at Emi, who is apparently out in her own little world right now. Rin watches me desperately.

So… definitely, definitely time to pull the plug on this conversation.

"Listen, Kenji, if this is about painting or something-"

"-Look, I don't mean to impose," Kenji interrupts, "but we were just having a debate about whether someone of your… stature… would be interested in coming to an event like this! They… er, all of us are big fans, especially considering you're a product of Yamaku, and I was just hoping we could take a moment of your time to-"

"Kenji!" I shout, probably a little louder than I should. He turns to me with a look of genuine shock, and Emi seems suddenly concerned that I'm going to scare him away.

"What?" he challenges.

"Rin is here as a former student, just like everyone else. She's not on display. Get lost." I take a breath, feeling a little proud of myself. I know that was probably ruder than it needed to be, but considering how Kenji is, I'm pretty sure he needed something direct like that to get the message across.

And it seems to work, as he immediately scoffs at me and fixes his tuxedo again, apparently unable to come up with anything appropriate to respond with.

Rin blinks once. I thought I did the right thing, but… for some reason she looks even more agitated than before? She steadies herself, flapping her arms once and cracking the knotted ends of her sweater's sleeves out like whips.

All of a sudden, she looks serious. Deadly serious, like she's about to go into battle. She takes a step forward and looks Kenji dead in the eye. "No. It's okay. I'll go."

Kenji seems surprised by the news, and takes a moment to sneer triumphantly at me before turning to her. "Oh, thank you so much! I promise we won't take up too much of your time." Then he marches off towards his group of minions.

Rin slumps forward a few steps to follow him, but stops when she gets next to me. She turns on her heel to face me, takes a breath, and then lunges forward and forces her lips against mine- less like a kiss, really, and more like she needs my oxygen to survive.

It's the most passionate kiss we've had in a long, long time, and I curse every god in the heavens that it had to be in the middle of a crowd at my god damn high school reunion. It also wouldn't hurt to understand why it was happening, but honestly that would probably be asking too much.

With great force of will, I grab Rin by the shoulders and pry her off of me, and she stumbles backwards, looking a tad disoriented. We make eye contact for another split second, and then she dashes off in the other direction to finish following Kenji.

I take a deep breath and run a hand through my hair, winded from the whole experience.

Emi does a double take- no, a triple take- and then takes a step closer to me, looking more lost than I think I've ever seen her before. "…What the goddamn shit just happened?"

"If I knew, I would tell you."

She blinks, frowning a little bit. "Is everything alright with you guys?"

"Yeah… I mean… I think so. I don't know what that was about."

"You seem kind of anxious about something."

"…Nope."

She glances back toward Kenji's gang. Gesticulating wildly, Kenji puts his hand on Rin's shoulder and pushes her into their little crowd, no doubt harassing her with questions.

Emi turns back to me. "You guys are so freaking weird."

"So what?"

"So nothing! More power to you. I'm just saying, I don't get you at all."

"I don't think I'm that hard to get."

She puts a finger on her chin, looking over me carefully. "…Why Rin?"

"Huh?"

"Why Rin? Why'd you pick Rin?"

"'Pick'? I didn't 'pick' anybody. We just kind of… I don't know. This is what feels right."

"It's just. Back then- and I mean this in the most loving way possible- I always kinda figured Rin would… you know, stay single. Stick to herself. She's always been a certain way with people, and… but… I dunno, it seems like you really got through to her in a way nobody else has."

"I'd really like to think so."

She smiles gently at me, crossing her arms. "Look, don't get me wrong, Hisao, you were pretty cute in high school. But if there was one person I never considered that you would end up with, it was Rin."

"…Are you coming on to me?"

She scoffs to hide her obvious embarrassment. "Shut up! I'm being serious."

"Well, I don't know what to tell you. You can't always explain the way you feel. Rin just makes me happy, I guess."

"I'm happy for you."

It occurs to me- very abruptly- that Emi is jealous of me. She certainly does seem very eager to hook up with someone before the end of the night, and while I am still adamant that it be anyone else but Kenji, I can't help but feel bad for her. She's funny, personable, charming, and damn good-looking, too- in a totally platonic way, of course. It's hard to imagine how she could possibly be having boy trouble, and she doesn't seem to be able to understand it, either.

It's not like her confusion about Rin is unwarranted, either. I mean, just mathematically speaking, it really doesn't make sense that of the two of them, Rin is the one with a long-term boyfriend, while Emi is totally and hopelessly single. It's like a cosmic imbalance.

I feel like I should pat her on the back and say something encouraging, but that would probably be extremely patronizing, so instead I just smile awkwardly and stare at a spot on the wall, which is probably the next best thing.

"What a weird night." She takes a long sigh, thankfully ignorant of my social inadequacy. "You know, Hisao, I still remember the days that Rin and I were just a couple of innocent, bleary-eyed schoolgirls."

"Bleary-eyed schoolgirls?"

"Yeah…"

"…There were days like that?"

"Oh, sure," she says with a dismissive hand wave. "We would just sit around thinking about the future… I'd say something all cute and girly, like, 'I wish I could just find the perfect man, who really understands me,' and then Rin would say something all cute and girly, like, 'when you shake your head, your twin tails look like the fins of a large fish that's slowly trying to eat your brain.'"

"…That's a real conversation you had, isn't it?"

"Like a week after we met. Kids, right?"

Emi snickers to herself and smiles nostalgically, which makes me smile in turn. Her concern for Rin's well-being can be really touching, even if she can be a touch naive sometimes. I feel guilty for treating her like a stranger. I really should be making more an effort to be a good friend.

"Okay. You're right. I am anxious about something."

She raises an eyebrow expectantly. "I thought so! If you want to talk about it, I'm all ears."

"Fine, but I need you to promise me something first."

"Sure," she says tentatively, suspicious.

"Promise you can keep a secret."

"Yes. Absolutely." She nods gravely to cement the point.

"I'm serious. I need you to stay completely tight-lipped about this. Don't make a fuss."

"I won't, I swear."

"Fine."

I glance around briefly to make sure Rin is still completely out of earshot. Emi watches me in suspense.

Then I lean in slightly, keeping my voice quiet. "I'm going to propose tonight."

She blinks once, her reaction delayed. And then…

"Oh my god!"

Her sudden shriek makes me jump backwards in surprise, and the small circle of people on the other side of us, including Rin, all simultaneously turn to see what happened. It's officially a scene, the exact thing I was trying to avoid.

I glare at her incredulously. "Emi!"

"Sorry, sorry…" she says, red with embarrassment. "But… oh my god! Hisao!"

"'Oh my god' what?"

"That's just amazing! That's so great! I'm so happy for you!"

The onlookers, realizing there's no conflict, seem to mostly become bored and turn back to their conversations, to my great relief.

"Thanks, Emi. I just… I'm trying to wait for the right moment. It's really important to me."

"Do you have a plan? Gosh, this is so exciting!" She shakes her head like she's reeling from a punch, clenching her fists tightly in front of her. "Can I see the ring?"

Yeah, could have seen that one coming.

"I don't have a ring."

Her grin immediately shatters into a look of horrified disbelief. "…What?!"

"I said I don't have a ring. Keep your voice down."

"What do you mean you don't have a ring?"

"I mean, I did not purchase a ring. There is no ring to speak of."

"How do you not get a ring?! Are you kidding me? How are you supposed to propose without a ring?!"

"…With my words?"

"You can't be serious right now, Hisao. You need a ring. Everybody knows that."

"Seems like kind of a waste, if you ask me…"

"I- I can't even take you seriously right now. I don't- it's definitely too late to get one tonight… this is-"

"Emi, it's fine, seriously. She doesn't even have fingers; what the hell would she do with a ring?"

"I don't know! Put it on a necklace? Are you serious?! You really don't understand women at all, do you?"

"To be fair, this is Rin we're talking about. She doesn't really generalize to women overall."

She thinks on that for a second. "…Alright, fair enough. But still!"

"'But still' nothing. Trust me, I thought about this already! There's no point in getting a ring. Rin would probably just want to pawn it anyway."

"…man proposed to me without a ring, his ass would be on the curb…" Emi grumbles.

"Well, I'm not proposing to you, now am I?"

She rolls her eyes, pouting theatrically. "Answer me this. If you're not gonna get down on your knee, do that whole bit… then what are you gonna do? Don't tell me you're just gonna, like, super casually bring it up over drinks or something. 'Cause that would totally kill my excitement."

"No, I'm not. I have a plan. Don't worry about it."

"Okay. Then let's hear it," she goads, cracking a smile.

"It's none of your business."

"Then why'd you tell me about it?"

"Because you were prying."

"I was not prying! You offered this information up out of nowhere."

She crosses her arms expectantly. I guess I did kind of dig myself into this one.

"You'd think it was stupid."

"Bet you I wouldn't."

"It's embarrassing."

"Hisao." She takes a long breath and glares at me disapprovingly. "You do not get to just bring up 'two of your closest friends are about to marry each other' as a throwaway conversation topic and then try to bail on it when you're pushed for details. You may as well dangle a steak in front of a starving person. That is unspeakable cruelty."

She raises an eyebrow, daring me to challenge her on this. Her uncharacteristically cold and rational approach to this puts me off just enough to get me to budge.

I glance over my shoulder and watch Rin for a moment or two before responding. "You know that little path in the woods around the back of the campus?"

"Yeah?"

"Well, there's- ah, it's stupid."

"I will throttle you, Hisao."

"…There's a clearing if you walk far enough, where they don't cut the grass. Overlooks the school. It's a really good view of the whole surrounding area, actually."

"And what about it?"

"Well, you know. Rin and I used to go up there together, when we went here, way before… things got all complicated. It's like… our spot. It means something to me… and to her as well, I think."

"See, now, was that so hard?" She smiles triumphantly, clearly amused with me for being embarrassed, which definitely can't be helped. "So that's why you wanted to do it at the reunion? 'Cause you guys met here? Man, that's really cute."

"Wild dandelions grow up there. It's kind of amazing… it's one of the most beautiful spots on campus. It seemed like the only place where it would really feel right."

"Awwwww…!"

"Yeah. Thanks."

"I hope Rin appreciates what she's got going for her." Emi nods approvingly, apparently finally satisfied with this topic. "…When you guys have babies, I want to be Aunt Emi!"

"Emi, we aren't even engaged yet, for God's sake."

"Hey, I'm just staking my claim on that territory now. I would make a great aunt! It's like a personal ambition of mine."

"…Being an aunt is a personal ambition?"

"Yes, but I don't have siblings, so you guys are gonna have to do."

"Why don't you go have kids of your own?"

"There's a difference between being an aunt and a mom, Hisao. I would make a godawful mom. Never in a million years is that happening. Aunthood is where it's at. All the fun stuff without any of the responsibility."

"Gee, I sure am glad to know you're willing to make that sacrifice for us, then."

"Yep, you're lucky to have me." She pauses for a moment to appraise me, apparently still running down an endless mental list of questions. "What do your parents think about all this?"

Which is an irritating one, albeit one I should probably be concerned about anyway. "Who cares? It's not their decision; I haven't even told them my plans yet."

"Wow, really? Don't you think that might lead to a fight later? I know my mom would kill me if I did something big like that without bringing it up with her first."

"It will definitely lead to a fight. They don't approve of Rin. They think she's unmotivated, and that makes her a bad influence."

"Bad influence? That's silly."

"Tell me about it."

"What about her parents? Do they like you?"

"I don't know what they think of me… to be honest, I've only spoken with them a handful of times. They're sort of distant, you know? I think they're just happy that I'm around for Rin."

"That's better than disliking you, right?"

"Nice way of looking at it, I guess," I say with a shrug. "Look, there's still a lot I need to figure out from here, right? I'm trying to take it one step at a time. The family stuff can come later. I just want to friggin' marry her first."

"That's kind of sweet, if you think about it."

"That's what I think, too."

She smiles cheerily for a moment, but before she speaks again, her face sinks and she clams up.

I raise an eyebrow at her. "Emi, do you-?"

"-You're talking loud," says Rin.

…Says Rin, who is apparently standing directly behind me.

I jump with surprise, and Emi cringes as I whip around to face her. "Rin!"

"Hey," Emi says quietly.

Rin narrows her eyes a little and leans past me to look at her. "Hello."

Kenji and his gang watch us suspiciously for a few moments until they catch me looking at them, at which point they immediately get back to their own conversation. Judging from their expressions, Rin didn't give them what they wanted at all. Good for her.

"Rin, those guys… are you alright? Did you… could you figure out what to say…?"

With a start, Rin snaps back to me, staring at some arbitrary spot on my face. "Yes. …No. Yes. Wait. Something else. Hisao." She closes her eyes and takes a long breath. "Were you going to ask me to get married?"

"Oh."

---
Last edited by QuietlySomething on Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Delaying the Inevitable

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:35 am

---

Oh. Oh, shit.

I glance back to Emi, whose eyes look like they are about to bulge out of her skull. Immediately I'm pissed at her for being too loud, but that goes away quickly, considering A. this was probably my fault, and B. there are a million other, stronger emotions cluttering my head right now anyway.

Oh, shit. Oh, shit. What now?

Rin opens her eyes halfway, like she just woke up. She looks painfully indifferent, especially odd considering the small panic attack I believe I am in the middle of. If I said 'no', she would no doubt believe me- but then, I hardly want to lie just so I can postpone this until it's at a better time. Shit, shit, shit.

Okay, screw it.

"Wait, Rin. Give me a second," I say quickly.

She nods tentatively, making an uncomfortable frown. "…Okay."

"So. Yes."

I clench my fists, suddenly feeling like there's a swarm of eyes on me. I've never really been the type to get stage fright, but considering the circumstances…

I shake my head and look Rin in the eye again. "Yes. I was. And I was going to wait until I could bring it up in private… I had more of a plan than this, but it doesn't really matter, I guess."

She stays very still. I'm very hot; I must be blushing pretty noticeably. That's embarrassing.

I take a small step towards her, opening my arms a little. "Listen. I've been thinking about it for ages. It just seems like time. I love you so much, Rin. More than anything in the world. And with all the thinking I've done lately, I've just realized that the only thing I really want is to-"

"No. No, you can't."

"I… what…?"

"No." She shakes her head vehemently, making the eye contact she was apparently too anxious to make before. "No. You can't do that."

My face feels cold suddenly. "Just… okay, Rin, just listen, please-"

"No. No, no, no, no…"

"Rin…"

"Stop it."

I run out of words pretty quickly, and I find myself completely speechless as I watch her. She slumps her shoulders a little bit and takes a step backward, looking wholly overwhelmed.

"No, no. You can't ask something like that." She shuts her eyes painfully. "No. Never mind. I'm going. I don't want to be here."

Emi takes a step forward, and Rin opens her eyes forcefully, startling her.

"Wait. Don't," Rin commands. "I'm going. Sorry."

Breathing unevenly and looking on the verge of a mental breakdown, Rin brushes past me and storms off into the crowd, disappearing out of the double doors. Obviously my first instinct is to follow her, but I think I am physically unable to move from my current spot.

It's not what I wanted. I never wanted to corner her in public like that. It's just wrong in every conceivable way. Aside from what I wanted, even, I didn't want to do that to her.

The room seems very quiet, and it takes me a moment to realize that it's not just me- the conversation around me actually has died down, as everyone nearby is now intently focused on what just happened here. It's really just insult to injury, and I can't will myself to say anything about it.

I stay frozen there for a while, which seems fitting. After the initial shock wears off, I feel something ram into me from the side and realize that Emi wrapped her arms around me. It's funny; with her head pressed into my ribcage, she really seems especially small in comparison to me.

"Hisao?" Emi whispers. It sounds like her voice is echoing from somewhere else.

"Yeah?"

"That was…"

"I know."

"Are… you gonna be okay?"

"I don't know."

With a dramatic sigh, Emi lets go of me, shooing my confused spectators. I feel nauseous.

She shifts a little closer, tiptoeing as if too much noise will frighten me. "I wonder where she went…"

"I know where she went."

"…Are you gonna go after her?"

"No. She needs space."

"Yeah, maybe…"

"Yeah."

"So, what are you gonna do?"

"I don't know."

Having to do anything sounds like a lot of work at the moment.

I glance across the room, laying eyes on the bar again. A drink sounds much more enticing than it did when I first got here. "Wanna do shots? It's free."

"No," Emi sighs, "and neither do you. You don't want to get drunk right now."

"You know what? Believe it or not, I kinda do."

She bites her lip, evidently torn between scolding me and pitying me, though I'm not fond of either. "…Fine. Then I'll spot you."

"Fine."

She starts off toward the bar, tugging on my arm, and I am finally able to move my feet off the ground, though they feel like they weigh fifty pounds each. The bartender sees Emi coming and becomes visibly apprehensive, but relaxes when he notices a man at her arm. She must have been coming on pretty strong to the poor kid.

I slump into one of the stools, and Emi props herself up in the seat next to me.

She sighs and rests her head on her arm, gesturing to the bartender. "Heya. Two beers please. Something that won't send my friend home in a body bag if he drinks a shitton of it."

What an irritating thing to say.

I shoot her a glance. "That's not what I…"

She rolls her eyes at me.

…Whatever.

The bartender seems very off-put by the two of us, but complies with the request. The beer tastes like crap, which is funny because most of the stuff behind the counter looks hilariously overpriced and aristocratic.

I lift my glass in the air, raising a toast to my own failure. "You know, for a month and a half I've been telling myself that the worst case scenario was that she would just say 'no', and we would figure it out from there. But I was wrong; this is so much worse."

"How so?"

"What do you mean, 'how so'?"

"How is it worse than that? What's stopping you from figuring things out with her now?"

"I just… she doesn't even want to look at me right now. I never thought she would do something like this. I didn't think it would go like this. I never anticipated this."

"Well, hey, this is Rin. We don't know what's going through her head, right?" Emi sighs and takes a sip of her beer, making a face at the taste of it. "You had to have been prepared for her to do something weird and off-the-wall, right?"

"Don't do that. Don't talk about her like you know her better than me."

She glares for a second and throws up her hands. "Fine. You're right. Sorry. I'm just saying, nothing is ever easy and straightforward with her."

"Well, it's not like I expected her to freak out and break down with tears of joy or anything. I knew it might be more complicated than that. I expected that we might have to talk about it… or… I just… I just didn't think she would just… flat-out reject me like that. You don't understand what…"

"-You're right, I don't understand. I'm really sorry, Hisao."

She raps her fingers on her glass and frowns with sympathy, and it's so sad and genuine that I forget for a second how much she's annoying me. I focus on stewing instead.

"…I really think you should go talk to her," Emi says after a few minutes.

"I don't want to make things worse."

"How can you possibly do that? You don't even know what's going on right now. At least talking to her will help you understand your situation a little better."

"I didn't ask for your advice."

"Well, you're getting it."

"Why?"

"Because you're my friend, and Rin is my friend, and I'm trying to be a good friend myself."

She huffs self-assuredly to make it clear that she has no intention of leaving me alone. I'm still not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

"…Thanks, I guess."

"You're welcome." She sticks her tongue out at me light-heartedly. "'…I guess.'"

There's something especially unpleasant about being unable to be mad at someone when you have nothing to do with your misplaced anger. Emi, of course, is particularly good at weaseling out of it.

"Sorry. I'm sorry," I say tiredly. "I'm… taking this harder than I thought I would, I guess."

"Of course you are! How couldn't you?"

"It's just that I think this is my fault, in a sense. If I had paid more attention, I would have seen it coming. I never wanted to put her on the spot, and I think part of that is because I knew she would do something like this. I guess I just told myself that I was overthinking it."

"Have things been good with you guys up until now?"

"I really thought so. But maybe not. I mean, sometimes she gets kind of distant. But Rin has always had a hard time with relationships, you know? I've just been trying to make this work for her. I want her to be happy."

The conversation Rin and I had in her apartment a while ago floats to the top of my mind. So much has happened tonight; it's hard to believe that it was only a few hours ago.

"Wow, you're really in love with her, huh?" Emi asks, almost impressed.

"More than I think I have any right to be. Oh, you have no idea, Emi." I lay my hands down on the counter, suddenly feeling frustrated with myself. "I'm not just in love with her. My goddamn life revolves around her. I daydream about her. I surround myself with her. I can't even- she's like a parasite in my brain, taking over my thoughts."

"That's a Rin analogy."

"…Yeah, I guess it is." I can't help but laugh, even though it's kind of depressing.

"Well, look, I don't want to be the one to say this, but… you know the expression." She shrugs casually, pursing her lips. "'If you love something, set it free'… right?"

"Pft. Easier said than done. Besides, it's more complicated than that. It's not as though Rin wants me to just bail out of her life… I certainly don't believe that."

"I don't know what she wants. I'm just saying, you both obviously miscommunicated about something… if you need to sort it out, sort it out, but… maybe what you guys need right now is just to spend some time apart from each other?"

"That's rich, coming from someone hounding people for a date like her life depended on it."

That was mean… I really shouldn't have said that.

Well, too late now.

She scowls a little and glares at the table. "…I'm not hounding."

"You're hounding a little bit."

"No, I'm not."

"Just a little."

"I don't have to do this, you know." She gestures to the crowd behind her. "I have other friends. Miki Miura is very talkative."

"Fine, point taken. But I'm not giving up on Rin that easily."

"What do you call this, then?"

"Contemplating."

"I call it moping."

"When Rin is ready to talk to me, she'll find me."

"Are you sure about that?"

"Yes…"

She shrugs and takes another drink, then pushes it forward and taps on the counter to get the bartender's attention. "Hey, can I get a screwdriver?"

He sighs very quietly and takes her beer away. Watching him makes me kind of uncomfortable.

"…Maybe not," I say quietly, after a few moments of thought.

The bartender sets Emi's drink down with a loud clink, to make sure he gets her attention.

Emi smiles cheerily at the bartender before turning to me. "You can't spend your whole life waiting for somebody else, Hisao."

"Oh, God…"

I'm thinking of my landlord again. I'm going to have to tell him something, and soon. I'll be stuck in apartment 608 for another couple of months, at least. How long am I going to keep waiting?

I feel myself growing steadily angrier with Rin, for stringing me along if nothing else. Feels like déjà vu. But I know that's not fair.

Somewhere along the line it all just hits me, and my eyes get blurry with tears that come out of absolutely nowhere. Emi notices this and rests her hand on my shoulder, which startles me.

"Hey, hey, no!" she scolds with a sad smile. "I'm vetoing that. If you cry, I'm gonna cry, and then you'll be responsible for making a pretty girl like me break down in tears in public. You don't want something like that on your conscience, trust me."

"Fair enough," I chuckle, wiping my eyes rather pathetically. "Sorry I'm such a goddamn mess right now."

"Eh, caring about people does that to you sometimes." She hesitates for a second, trying to choose her next words carefully. "Can I tell you something? I have never had a steady boyfriend. Not once in my whole life."

"Really? You?"

"Yes, me. And thank you for being surprised; that's the closest thing I've gotten to a compliment since I showed up to this damn thing." She laughs wryly, like she really is a little bitter. "The number of failed relationships I've been in is larger than your phone number, and yet almost every single one has been my fault."

"Well, why do you keep bothering with them, then?"

"Because I'm lonely. I'm extremely lonely. And I hate that about myself, because it makes me feel weak."

Her expression is hauntingly sincere. It makes me wonder how I ever chalked her up as immature or naive, since I'm not sure I'm even capable of being that honest or insightful with myself.

She shrugs depressingly. "Sometimes I think I'm not even capable of honestly connecting to people. That kind of closeness really scares the crap out of me, you know? But I'm gonna keep trying anyway."

I'm a bit speechless at first, but eventually something worthwhile to say does come to me. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I think you have a really special relationship. You're lucky that way. And you've got no excuse for squandering it."

She downs her nasty-looking drink in one go and spins around in her stool, setting the glass upside-down on the counter behind her. She's finally got me- I can't think of any response at all.

---
Last edited by QuietlySomething on Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Delaying the Inevitable

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:36 am

---

Thankfully, I don't have to. The lights dim a few moments after Emi spins around, and someone taps on a microphone to silence the conversation in the room. I turn in my stool and mimic Emi, facing the front of the room to get a better look at what exactly is going on.

"Uh, hi- uh, hello everyone… good evening," says a portly man near a set of tables at the entrance. "…Er, so, thanks for coming out. I didn't teach when you all went here ten years back, so… I know you all probably don't much care to hear from me, heh… heh heh…"

He wipes sweat off of his forehead and adjusts the microphone. Emi rolls her eyes with anticipation, which makes me wonder whether she knew in advance that there was going to be a speaker.

"Uh, s-so, anyway," the man continues, "we just wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on things, uh, a little bit. I- uh, we got in contact with one of the graduates from your year, and I know he has a speech prepared; just a little something to, eh… to do that. So I don't want to hold that up any longer. Without further ado, um… Kenji Setou, everybody. I'm sure many of you remember him… so…"

There's that name again. It seems like Kenji is just determined to inject himself into my evening as much as possible, as much as I detest the idea. He seemed so obnoxious and fake before; I can only imagine what kind of speech they got him to prepare.

As soon as he's called, Kenji appears from behind the man and grabs the microphone, adjusting his frameless glasses and throwing out one of his hands like he's greeting an old friend. "Thanks, thanks; alright, take a seat, buddy." He flashes a quick smile and turns to the crowd. "So, yeah, hi, everyone. I'm Kenji; you may remember me, you may not. Either way, welcome back to Yamaku. I'd say you all look well, but according to my optometrist I think that would probably just be a 50/50 guess."

Light chuckles echo throughout the room. I wonder when he learned to play a crowd like this. It's like he's always performing… what a way to live.

"I know what you're all thinking," Kenji declares with a dismissive hand wave. "What's with this asshole in the suit? Why are we trapped here listening to this? Nobody came here for a lecture, right? We graduated so we could be done with them." He shakes his head dramatically, chuckling to himself. "Well, this is only going to take a couple of minutes; I know we're all still catching up. I just want to make a little statement, maybe create a little perspective. Because this is about more than just catching up, isn't it? This isn't just some party. And God knows we don't need an excuse to get drunk with our friends."

He holds out his hand, and the sweater vest man passes him a bottle of water, which he takes a long drink from. "No, no, there's meaning behind this, right?! This represents something. Something more than, 'look, we're all still around.' We didn't just graduate from high school, we graduated from Yamaku. And that means something." He takes another drink. "Alright, alright, do me a favor. I want you to picture, just for a second, your first day at Yamaku. It's something I'm sure everyone can remember, right? Does an image strike you? There was- is- an atmosphere here, a distinct one. No matter what your background is, no matter how you ended up here, there is a reaction that I'm sure we can all share. Canes, and dark glasses, and bandages, and prosthetics. It's a strange feeling to become a part of a place like that. Even if you yourself are 'healthy', so to speak, you became enculturated. It's the structure of this place. It's how engrossed you felt in everyone's health, and in trying to pretend to be 'normal'. For some, it was new, and for some, I'm sure it had followed you your whole life. But it was there, right?"

He shrugs and takes another sip of water.

The speech makes me think of Rin again, as though I needed an excuse for that. If I had never met her, I would be sure what Kenji was saying was right, judging from my own memory. But Rin has never worked that way. She's always been free from that kind of thinking. I envy that sometimes.

Kenji soldiers on regardless. "Now think on your first week. Your first month. The people you met. People that you're probably surrounded by right now!" He does a broad gesture with his arms. "How long did you spend thinking about all that other nonsense before you had to start stressing out about a test, or getting to club meetings, or making friends? Think about how quickly it turned normal for you. You may have had to go to the nurse every day. You may have had to take three dozen pills before every meal. Who knows? But that's got nothing to do with your memories of this place, or of your education, does it? You did make those friends, you did take those tests, and at the end of the day, you got along fine. And here we are, ten years later, and, well, damn, there's canes and dark glasses and bandages and prosthetics here, too, but that's got nothing to do with it, does it? That's not why we all came tonight."

He shakes his head a little neurotically and hands the water back, gripping the microphone with both hands. "Okay, where am I going with this…? Listen. They called me up and asked me to give a full-fledged speech. They wanted me to talk about my organization and the charities it gives to. Rattle off names, do some gloating. They wanted me to talk about the kids I'm giving a second chance, because those charities are paying their tuition here. But I thought that would miss the point. 'Cause, shit, who am I giving a second chance? Who is Yamaku giving a second chance, for that matter? That's not what this reunion is about. Not second chances. It's not about making up for our 'problems'. Playing catch-up. It's about… adapting."

He sighs loudly into the microphone, leaning back on an unoccupied table. Dramatically removing his glasses, he makes a serious face as though to seem down-to-Earth. "I don't want people to look at my achievements and say, 'Wow, look at how Kenji overcame the odds. Look at how much a Yamaku kid was able to accomplish.' No, that's the wrong mindset altogether. Because, say what you will about what I've done with my life… the real accomplishment is one that everyone here has done. I adapted. I'm a part of the world. A regular guy. It's not because I got a second chance, and it's not because I played catch-up. It's just because… I adapted. And everyone here has done that. That's what we should be commemorating tonight. Commemorate all the little things in your life you have to be proud of. The normal things. Your husband or wife. Your kids. Your career. That's the point of this. Be glad that Yamaku gave you the space to do it, but don't give anyone credit for what you've done. Because you adapted, too. That is the point of this. And the only thing I want to do is make sure everyone here realizes that."

As though Kenji didn't seem enough at odds with me before, his speech makes me feel oddly defensive. What the hell kind of adapting is he talking about? As though there was some reason anyone in this room shouldn't be able to make it in the real world. Everyone claps, and I wonder how much of it is just out of courtesy.

What do I have to commemorate, after all? A wife and kids-? Obviously not… is that how we're supposed to judge the worth of our lives now? Is there some kind of prescribed method to it?

I'm happier simply… being.

Kenji throws up his hands guiltily at his applause, chuckling to himself. "Okay, okay, that's my cue, right? Yeah, my fault for saying 'a couple minutes'. Fine, fine, I'll just say this. It's a beautiful night out, so if you want to get some air, the grounds are completely open for the rest of the evening. High elevation here, so it's good for your lungs. And if you're worried about students… well, most of the kids are gone for the summer, but if you see one, just give 'em a dirty look and tell 'em it'll be their turn next decade." He raises an arm to gesture toward where I'm sitting. "Enjoy the open bar; that's totally on me. Be nice to the poor kid, he's been in that suit for four hours now. Aaaand… that's all. Have a good night, everybody!"

The lights flicker back on over the rest of the room as the sweater-vest-wearing man takes the microphone back from Kenji, tapping on the mic and letting it screech through the speakers again. After a few minutes of getting back to normal, everyone gathers up again and gets back to fraternizing, though I notice a handful of couples heading out the double doors, presumably at Kenji's recommendation to walk around the campus. I hadn't even realized it was a question as to whether we were allowed to go out or not- if I had, I might have stopped Rin earlier. Then again, I probably wouldn't have been able to summon the willpower to stop her even if I had wanted to.

For some reason, I don't quite feel the same way about it now.

"You said Rin just disappeared out of the news, just like that," I say quietly, although honestly I'm talking practically as much to myself as I am to Emi.

"Yeah. It was pretty weird," Emi says with a shrug.

"It was for the best, trust me on that. She hates the work. She hates to sell her art, and she hates being forced to paint specific things immeasurably more than that."

"Why?"

"Long story."

"…Yeah, I figured."

"Do you remember the exhibition she did while we were still at school?"

"You mean the one she unceremoniously bailed on? Of course I do."

"Yeah, well, it's a little more complicated than that, but yes, that's the one."

"What about it?"

"Those people, they're insatiable… they're like the Hydra. Chop off one head, three more grow in its place."

"…What?"

"What?"

"I- nothing," she says after a moment, chuckling to herself.

"They hounded her for ages after that. I pleaded with her to do something about it, and not ignore them, and she didn't listen to me."

"But I thought she went to art school."

"She did. That's my point." I lean into the counter, which is much less comfortable of a position than I expected. "I think it's because I kept telling her to make a decision. I pushed her too hard. If I had just not gotten involved, I know she would have figured it out on her own. Every single time… I push her too hard, and she just… gives. And yet, I keep doing it. Every damn time. Because I'm an idiot."

"-Because you're worried about her!"

"I shouldn't be."

"How couldn't you be? You love her!"

"I wish I could justify it that way."

"So, what, then? You think you pushed her too far this time? You said yourself that you don't think she wants you out of her life!"

"I don't think that."

"Then what the hell, Hisao?!"

I raise one hand in the air, thinking. If nothing else, it feels good to talk to someone about this. I'm grateful that Emi realizes that. "It was four years ago that you stopped hearing about her in the news, right?"

"Uh. Sure, that sounds about right. Maybe a little less."

"The reason it was so sudden was that she just up and quit without any warning. There was this whole team of people she left behind- she never even warned them. She just left."

"Weird."

"It gets weirder," I continue. "She literally showed up on my doorstep; did you know that? She can't drive, so… on that same night, she walked- for two hours, in the cold, at night, in the middle of November- and showed up on my doorstep. After I hadn't heard from her in two- almost three years. She's lucky I was even living in the same place."

"…What did you do?"

"Well, what could I do? I brought her in. She lived with me for a few weeks after that, until I helped her get her own place. It was like she was sick- seriously ill. The life was just drained out of her."

"I never knew about this…"

"Yeah, I don't really talk about this kind of thing very often. It's… personal, I guess."

"No kidding."

"We still don't live together, but we have never really been apart since then, you know? We probably talked for hours on that first night, and she told me that I was the only thing that really made her happy. The only thing."

"Wow…"

"I know. I mean, how do you even respond to something like that?"

"Do you think she really meant that?"

"Rin doesn't say things if she doesn't mean them."

"Hisao, that's-"

"I'm just so sick of everything being so complicated, and confusing, and… I really want so badly for her to be happy. But it feels like every time I try to get closer to her, or move things forward, or do anything, I just end up making things worse somehow. I mean, what the hell am I supposed to do?"

I cough a little at the end of my spiel and follow it up with an unpleasant swig of beer. Emi watches me with distaste.

"I don't know if I can deal with this anymore," I mutter.

"Well, I know for sure that I can't deal with your depressing ass anymore, so we're going to have to figure this out, aren't we?" Emi smiles optimistically to let me know that she's teasing, and I can only imagine how unfitting the frown I give in response is.

She clasps her hands together, obviously doing her best to look supportive. "Look, this is all I'm trying to say, Hisao: Maybe you will fix things. Maybe you will move on. But either way, you owe it to yourself to do something. The one thing you cannot do is just… quit… and sit around here wallowing in self-pity." She takes a breath and sits up, giving me a firm, sportsmanlike look. "You should know this already- I don't let anyone do that, let alone my friends!"

"…I don't-"

"Please. Please, Hisao."

I make the mistake of looking directly at her puppy-dog eyes, her secret weapon. Funny, I almost forgot about that. There's a hint of sadness or desperation behind them, like this is really important to her. And I just don't think I have the energy to say no to her.

I force myself out of my seat with a titanic amount of effort. "Okay. Fine. You're right. You win."

"I do?"

"Do you ever not?"

"…As if," she says with a cute smirk.

I take a few steps forward, though I am painfully anxious about the whole thing.

Even still, it is something else entirely that compels me to stop and turn around.

"Emi."

"Oh? What is it?" she asks, genuinely surprised to see me stop.

Emi smiles at me effervescently. Strangely, it takes a few moments to find the right words. Maybe I've been letting my priorities get more out of order than I thought. "Just. Thank you. You're a really good friend. I appreciate it, and I'm here for you, if you need it."

She looks a little dumbstruck for a moment, but recovers pretty quickly and shakes her head. "Oh… um… thanks, Hisao."

"Yeah. Of course."

I'm not sure what else to say, and I just made the situation unbelievably awkward besides, but I'm still glad I did. Emi seems pretty embarrassed, but as I turn to leave I catch a glimpse of a smile- just enough to vindicate me.

Even if I end up alone, I really hope that things go better for her. Somehow, I'm pretty optimistic on her behalf.

I feel more confident the further I walk, as though every step reassures me a little bit more. It's unusually sanguine for me, so I guess Emi's attitude really did rub off on me a little. I really need to remind myself to be less cynical.

It's as dark as ever outside, but I know exactly where to go. There's a little gate out around back that leads into the woods that still feels very familiar to me. It's rusted over a bit, and I have to force it open… it must have been a hassle for Rin to get it open, but even still there's no doubt in my mind that this is the way she went. It's even harder to see in the woods, since the trees obscure the moonlight, but it doesn't give me any trouble because I already know the way.

I barely get an arm's length along the path, though, before I find another shadowy figure wandering around, same as me. I assume it's Rin only for a split second before realizing that it's about a head taller, blonde, and dressed in a distinctly un-Rin-like skirt and blouse.

The woman seems startled to hear me coming, and jumps a little as I get closer to her. "Hello?"

"Oh, uh. Hello," I say awkwardly, raising a hand in greeting.

"I'm sorry; I assumed I was the only one to go out this way in the dark. Are you one of the students returning for the reunion, as well?"

She stumbles over her Japanese very slightly- her accent is fairly strong, but I'm not exactly sure how to place it. In the dark, it takes me a few moments to realize the object in her hands is a cane- and another few after that to realize that she is blind, and using it to navigate. I blush with embarrassment, but then, I guess it doesn't really make a difference.

"Yes, I am," I say with a shrug. "My name's Hisao… I'm sorry to startle you; I was just looking for someone."

"Oh, well, it's funny you should say that, Hisao, because I'm looking for someone as well." She smiles gently, with an air of formality. "I am Lilly Satou. It's nice to meet you."

"Uh. Yeah. Good to meet you, Lilly."

Actually, she seems kind of familiar, and I get the feeling we knew each other at school. She clearly has no recollection of me, though, so it seems pointless to mention that.

She laughs very gently at my awkwardness, raising a hand daintily to her cheek. "Hisao… I wouldn't want to make any assumptions, so please excuse me if this comes across as a bit impertinent, but if we are both going in the same direction anyway…"

"Er. No. Not… impertinent… at all. Ask away."

"…Could I perhaps hold onto your sleeve for the walk? The terrain is a bit difficult here with the underbrush, and they don't maintain it very well…"

"Oh! Uh, no, that- I mean, yes, that's fine! Of course you can."

"Thank you very much. That makes things easier for me."

Lilly folds up her cane and tucks it away into some mysterious pocket as I sidle up next to her and hold my arm out. I'm blushing furiously, of course- in equal parts from the fact that I was just propositioned to walk arm-in-arm with an uncomfortably attractive blonde woman and from the fact that I have no idea what the proper etiquette is for dealing with her. She delicately places her hand over my arm before sliding it down onto my sleeve, and I watch her with discomfort. Her behavior and speech feel so stilted and formal, even for a stranger. I get the feeling she and Rin would not get along at all.

After a moment's pause, I begin walking along the path again, leading Lilly carefully along at my side. She seems very contented to have a guide, and it occurs to me that it must be exceptionally difficult to look for someone in the woods if you can't… you know, look for them.

"So you lost track of someone as well?" she asks calmly, just to break the silence.

"Uh, yeah, sort of. She came out here to be alone for a while."

"Oh, I'm in exactly the same situation," Lilly laughs. "The woods are just about the only place nobody is going, I think, so I suppose it makes sense that they are a good place to escape to. Who exactly are you looking for?"

"Rin Tezuka. You probably don't know her."

Lilly recognizes the name instantly, and makes a disconcerted face. "The painter? Oh… yes, I do know her, actually. I had a number of rather interesting conversations with her during my time at Yamaku. She is quite the personality, if I recall."

"…Yeah, I guess that's one way to describe her." I scratch behind my head with my free hand, still struggling to keep up with this woman. "What about you? Who are you looking for?"

"Oh, just a close friend of mine. Trust me, I can assure you that you definitely aren't familiar with her."

"Oh."

I am perfectly content to leave it at that, mostly because I feel extremely awkward about this, but Lilly does not seem to pick up on that at all. I have to admit, I am a little impressed by how comfortable she seems around strangers.

"She has a difficult time with strangers," Lilly continues. "I don't want to seem overbearing to her, of course, but it can be difficult to find the right balance between trying to help her and trying to give her space and autonomy."

I do a double take to look at Lilly's face, which she doesn't seem to notice. "…I know exactly what you mean."

"Hm. You sound very sincere about that," she notes with a small smile.

"I am."

"It's funny how something that should be as clearly beneficial as friendship can be so difficult and complicated."

"I guess all you can do is try to be supportive and hope for the best. I mean, she's the only one that can really say what's best for her, at the end of the day."

"I couldn't have said it better myself," says Lilly, smiling charmingly and brushing a strand of blonde hair out of her face.

…I'm not sure if I'm exactly sure what just happened, but it certainly was strange. She seems totally unaffected.

We walk for a while longer- most of the way down the winding dirt path, in fact- but the place seems totally deserted. I doubt Lilly is going to have much luck with this mystery person of hers.

I don't even really know where the Worry Tree is… probably just wherever Rin decides it is. Even still, I keep pushing forward, inexplicably confident that it will be somewhere along the way.

And eventually- quite inexplicably indeed- it pays off, and I find Rin slumped cross-legged on the ground in front of an old maple tree. Her eyes are closed, but I can still tell that she's awake. She doesn't react when she hears us approach- I think she's just trying to melt into the tree and disappear.

It doesn't work.

I realize that I still have another woman attached to me, and I slow to a stop in front of the tree without any idea of how to proceed. With an absolutely staggering amount of awkwardness, I set my free hand over Lilly's on my sleeve to get her attention, and she tilts her head inquisitively.

"It's Rin," I say curtly.

A bit confused, she pulls her hand away and holds it at her side. "Oh! I'm sorry, Hisao. I don't want to keep you. I can go alone the rest of the way."

That sounds good to me, but I'm still programmed to be courteous. "Oh? We're pretty deep in the woods; are you sure you can get back on your own?"

She hesitates for a split second, and very briefly I catch what seems to be the slightest trace of irritation. "Yes, but thank you for looking out. I will be fine on my own." She snaps her cane out to full length and taps it once on the ground with a degree of finesse. "It was very nice to meet you, Hisao. Thank you for the company. Have a nice evening."

"Yes. You too, Lilly."

I wave as she walks away, though she obviously can't see it, which makes me cringe at myself. I don't have much time to dwell on that, though, because Rin finally seems to be paying attention.

"Who was that?" Rin asks quietly.

"Lilly Satou."

"Oh."

---
Last edited by QuietlySomething on Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:52 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Delaying the Inevitable

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 10:36 am

---

I stare at Rin in silence for a little while, though she doesn't look up to make eye contact with me. Her sleeves hang just above the ground, the knots keeping them from touching the dirt. She looks less ratty than she did before. Beautiful, in fact.

Now that I'm in front of her, I can feel some of my anxiety returning to me, but I suspend it. "Do you want me to leave?"

She stares firmly at the ground, not looking at me. The green of her eyes stands out in the dark, like the eyes of a cat. "I never know what I want you to do until you do it."

It's hardly an invitation, but it's not exactly a staunch rejection, either. I need to say this- whatever 'this' is- so I take a seat in the dirt. The ground is cold and uneven, which feels appropriate, if nothing else.

For a few minutes, we just sit in silence while I collect my thoughts. There are so many different things I want to say… so many directions I want to take this… but I'm too afraid of saying the wrong thing to start talking.

Then, out of nowhere and with no real prompting, the words just start spilling out of me. "When I was in college, after you left and we stopped seeing each other… I had to work so hard to put you out of my head. It was like washing out a stain. I didn't have any real relationships; I just kind of worked for a long time to put you behind me and focus on moving on with my life, you know? I felt kind of… hollow, for a while. I don't know if that's the right word, but it feels right."

She doesn't react at all. The more I speak, the more conscious I become of how my voice is just about the only thing making noise out here in the middle of the woods. I wonder if Lilly has gotten far enough away yet to be completely out of earshot.

"After I got my degree, I met another girl, and we really hit it off, and things went really well for a while, but then… out of nowhere, one day, six months in, we were in her bed in the middle of the night, and I just looked at her and I realized… that the whole time I was with her, I was thinking about you." I sigh and clasp my hands together. I don't know if she's even listening, but I feel like I'm doing this more for myself than for Rin. "It was just a few months later that you came back. It was the craziest thing. I told myself we were… I don't know. Inevitable. You know? It's insane…"

She slumps dully off the tree, still not looking directly at me.

"I've put in so much energy to try and make things work between us, Rin. I keep telling myself that that's what I need to do, for myself, and… I don't want to give up on it. I care about you, and I love you, and the last thing I want to do is to give up on you. But you're not… we're not… I mean, we're sort of… stagnating. And I didn't really realize it… or… I haven't come to terms with it…"

I feel myself starting to crack a little bit. I just wish she would make eye contact with me, or something. I can't totally explain it, but I'm filled with a painful, foreboding dread…

"Rin, I need something from you."

"What…?" she whispers drearily, almost inaudible.

"Please look at me…"

Slowly, she cranes her neck up to look me in the eye. She looks kind of afraid, just like me.

"I just need to hear it from you." I clear my throat, forcing my own words out. "Just be honest, okay?"

"Okay," she whispers again.

"Rin, do you still love me?"

She takes a deep breath, her eyes widening a little bit. She stares through me, like she's coming to some kind of momentous, apocalyptic conclusion.

But she doesn't say anything. For over a minute, she just thinks, staring in my general direction. I wish I could say I was hurt, or confused, but I'm not even surprised by this response. It's something I could have seen coming a long time ago, if I was being honest with myself. Not that that makes it any more difficult to accept.

I shrug, asinine of a gesture as it might be. "It's okay. It's just… I'm so sorry that I tried to-"

"-Yes."

"Tried to… to…"

I trail off hopelessly, caught totally off-guard by the sudden firmness in Rin's voice. I can't help but stare at her, completely at a loss for words.

"My answer is definitely yes," she says, more quietly than before. Her expression is soft and kind of vulnerable, like she's now afraid of what I'm going to say. I'm totally flabbergasted by the sudden shift in tone.

I hesitate for a moment. "Rin…"

"I'm not usually good at explaining this kind of thing. I don't really know how to say…"

"You don't have to. Really, you… you don't have to… Rin…"

There are tears in my eyes now, which I was determined to hold back. But they really caught me by surprise this time.

I climb onto my knees and close the distance between us, pulling Rin tightly into a hug. I think it's more for my benefit than hers, but she totally humors me, resting her head against my shoulder. Her whole body trembles a little, and for a moment I think she's about to start crying, too. But she never does.

"Hisao…" she says quietly.

"Don't."

I manage to blink the tears out of my eyes without really breaking down and seriously crying. Still, it feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. There's some kind of invisible tension that's been released, and I never even realized it was there until now.

"Hisao…"

"Shh."

She shifts a little, pressing the left side of her body against my shoulder blade. "Hisao, the zipper on your jacket is stabbing me in the boob."

"Oh!" I release her immediately, and she slumps back against the tree, smiling a little bit. The brief moment of levity takes me off-guard, and I laugh with embarrassment, adjusting the zipper on my pocket. "Sorry, I didn't realize…"

"That's okay."

"Okay."

I laugh again, more loudly than before, but just for a couple of seconds. Rin's expression hasn't changed at all- if anything, she looks more distressed than before.

"I'm sorry for putting you on the spot," I say after a while. "I didn't mean to. I wanted to propose in private, but Emi asked me about it, and…"

"It doesn't matter. That doesn't bother me."

"Oh."

She holds her expression, watching me thoughtfully. I curse myself for not having anything more insightful or helpful to say.

"Damn it, Rin," I mutter, "I just wish I knew what I was doing wrong."

"You aren't doing anything wrong. That's what's wrong. No, that's not true. I mean, you aren't doing anything wrong, and that's why what you did tonight was wrong."

"I'm sorry. I just don't understand."

"I was thinking about that, too. This has been kind of an experiment."

"What has?"

"Us being together. All the time. I thought about it a lot even when we weren't, but then all of a sudden we were and I don't think I know when it happened."

"Rin, our relationship is not an experiment."

"Do you understand me?"

At first it seems like she is changing the subject, but somehow this seems like the only question she could have asked.

I stare into her eyes for a few moments. Her gaze is curious, maybe, but… distinctly content. "No… I don't think I do, Rin. Sometimes I fool myself into thinking I do, but… then you surprise me again."

"That's okay."

"It is?"

"It is." She narrows her eyes a little. "I love you."

"You're sure?"

"Yes, I'm more sure than I ever was before. And that's why it's okay."

"Why does that make it okay?"

"I don't know. And I don't like thinking about it, because it confuses me even more." She frowns harshly and leans her head back against the tree. "It's not how I think I think, or how I thought I think. And it's not just hard to talk about, but it's hard to think about, too. The only reason I don't like thinking about it is because I don't understand it, and I don't understand it because I don't like thinking about it, because it's a good thing. So it shouldn't even confuse me. But it does."

"Now you're confusing me."

"I'm confusing me, too. Everything is different, which is good, but I don't get what's different, so it's really not. It's like waking up in a world where trees are made of cotton candy, but they're still green so nobody knows you can eat them. So everything is completely different, but it's still completely the same. It's just the same world as before, but with cotton candy trees."

"That sounds really disappointing."

"I know. It's like the biggest tragedy in the world. I tried to paint it once when I was thinking about that, but even that didn't help at all, because it came out all wrong. I didn't even want to look at it, because it was like the painting was lying to me."

"You just didn't understand how you were feeling."

"I know."

She breathes heavily, a little worked up.

It takes me a moment to figure out exactly how to continue. "Do I still make you happy?"

"Yes, but also sort of no."

"Then what's changed? I haven't done anything differently from what I did before, have I?"

"You didn't try to marry me before."

"I- well, okay. But what does that matter?"

"I don't know."

…Urgh.

I slide a little bit closer to her, and she makes eye contact with me again. "The thing I want to know, Rin, is… if you're more sure you love me than ever, and you want to stay close with me, and we're as close as we've ever been, then… why? Why don't you want to take this step? Of course we don't have to; we never have to if you don't want to. But, just… why?"

She takes a dramatic pause, like she suddenly understands what I've been trying to ask. "Because you're going to die."

She nods once to affirm this answer, looking both certain and rather unfazed by it. It's the first time I've ever heard her say anything like this, and I have absolutely no fitting response whatsoever.

"…What?!"

"It's because you're going to die."

"But… of course I'm going to die! …I mean… you're going to die, too! What's that got to do with anything?!"

"You said that you were going to be dead before you reached 30."

"What?"

"You said that you were going to be dead before you reached 30."

"…When did I say that?"

"When I came to your apartment after I left the people at the art studio. You said that you were going to die before you reached 30, because of your arthrythmia."

"Arrhythmia."

"Yes."

"…God, Rin." I put a hand to my forehead, struggling to remember this conversation. It's true, I almost certainly did say something like that. And it's not even a bad prediction, necessarily… but…

"…I was exaggerating."

"So it wasn't true?"

"I- well, I don't know if it was true or not."

"So you weren't exaggerating."

"I might have been. Look, it doesn't- I don't understand! What has gotten into you, Rin?"

"That's a good question." She frowns seriously. "Something really bad, that was never there before. Like one of those worms that live in your colon and eat all your food before you digest it. Only, instead of my colon, it's in my brain. And instead of eating my food, it's eating my thoughts. And instead of a worm, I don't know what it is."

"You have a tapeworm that lives in your brain and isn't really a tapeworm."

"Yes. Exactly."

"And it makes you think about the fact that I'm going to die."

"I don't know. I guess so."

"But you already knew that."

"But I never thought about it before."

"So what changed?"

"Nothing changed. But I found you again. And then you didn't leave. And then… you never left. So, something did change." She blinks once, like she doesn't really understand it herself. "…I did."

"…Rin…"

"I didn't mean to do that."

"There's nothing wrong with that."

"Yes, there is. Because you are still going to die."

"Please don't-"

"-And when you do, it's just going to be me and the tapeworm." She takes a raspy breath, suddenly hardening and staring at me very direly. "And before, that might have been okay. But now, I can't deal with it. Because we're closer now, when that happens, I'll be more alone that I have ever been in my entire life. And the more you get close now, the more alone I will be later. And I can't live with that."

"You can't think like that. Please."

"I don't want to. That's why you need to stop doing the wrong thing. You can't ask me to get married, or anything like that."

"So, what, then? You want me to just leave? Is that what you wanted after all?"

"No. I don't know. Wait." She tilts her head down. "Please don't leave."

"I can't do everything."

"I know."

"Rin, I wish I could tell you I will live forever. But even if I could, that would defeat the whole purpose. It's not about what's going to come next. It's about what I want from life now. The truth is, I could be dead before I'm 30. I could also live for another five decades. The thing about arrhythmia is, I just don't know one way or the other." I shrug indifferently. "…And hell, forget that. I could get hit by a truck two hours from now. A meteor could crash down and kill everyone on Earth two hours from now. I can't think about all that all the time."

"I don't want to think about any of that, either."

"Then don't. Because there's nothing you can do about it anyway."

She still seems totally unsatisfied with my answer, to my dismay. I wring my hands together, trying to explain myself better.

"…I'm alive now, aren't I?"

"As far as I can tell."

"Well. If you're going to spend this time worrying about what's going to happen when I die, then it's like I'm already dead, isn't it?"

She frowns thoughtfully. "I don't know."

"I want to marry you because that's what's going to make me happy now. Our relationship is what is important to me now. And I'm not going to let it suffer just because it's not going to last forever."

"I think it's like the Eiffel Tower," she says slowly, like she's having an especially hard time putting the words together. "And you keep trying to paint it again. Do you know what I mean?"

"…You said that was just delaying the inevitable."

"…Yeah. That's it."

"…Well. That's wrong."

I get to my feet suddenly, full of some kind of Emi-like resolve. It suits me pretty damn well, too, if I do say so myself.

Rin stares dully at me for a few seconds, before I tug on her sweater by the shoulder and force her to stand alongside me.

"Here," I say with a shrug. "This is something I wanted to do anyway."

The path doesn't go on much further now. I lead Rin up the hill, but obviously she knows where I'm taking her before we ever get there.

The clearing looks incredible in the moonlight. The center, devoid of shade, is probably the brightest spot on the whole campus right now.

There are no dandelions. The whole area is cut short. I guess they finally started mowing up here. That feels right to me.

Even in the middle of this moment, a little part of me fantasizes about my silly little proposal going off without a hitch up here. But I think it's better the way things turned out. Much more… Rin-like.

There's one tree that is grown a bit further into the clearing than the rest. It's really a bit too small for two people to sit under, but I sit there anyway, and Rin slumps down next to me. There are crickets or something up here that break the silence, which is soothing in a way.

"What did we do the last time we came up here?" I ask quietly.

"I don't remember," says Rin.

"…I don't really remember, either."

The lights glare from the building way down at the bottom of the hill. I wonder what Emi is up to. Maybe she gave that bartender kid her number. I don't think he would ever call, but eh… she's out of his league, anyway.

"What happened to living in the present, huh?" I say after a while.

Rin doesn't respond. She leans into my shoulder, her breathing gentle.

"Let it go. You taught me to do that."

She lets out one long breath. "I think I want to cry right now."

"You can, if you want."

"…No, I don't think I'm going to."

"That's fine, too."

She takes a deep breath and rests her head on my shoulder, which makes me smile just on instinct.

"Listen," I say after a little while. "…I don't think it really matters if we get married or not. Whatever we do from here on out, really, doesn't matter. This, right now… it's exactly what I want. The reason I like being around you in the first place is that you let me focus on this. You have to understand… it's the only thing I want to keep. For as long as I can. We can just forget everything else, and enjoy this. That's the whole point."

I take a long sigh and rest my head against the back of the tree, which feels much less like a pillow than watching Rin would lead one to believe.

Rin doesn't answer me.

"Rin?" I ask quietly.

Still nothing. I nudge her. She doesn't react.

"…Rin?"

Still nothing.

She fell asleep.

…I can't possibly think of anything more fitting.

I laugh- it's loud, and kind of obnoxious, and scares some of the crickets away. It echoes off the trees around the clearing, but it still doesn't wake her, somehow.

I have no idea where we'll go from here.

And now I can't stop laughing.

---

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Re: Hindsight (5 Epilogues - Complete)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Feb 24, 2017 12:21 pm

Okay... It will take me quite a while to get through all of this.
Not sure how the individual stories are supposed to build up on one another if they're all based on the good endings. They are kind of mutually exclusive :-)
For now I've read through Shizune's part, and I have to say it's quite good. Objectively the dialogues are much too long for how little is happening, but somehow the pacing still doesn't seem to drag, so kudos for that.

The thing that stuck out the most to me was how terrible both Hisao's and Shizune's memories regarding their classmates are: They spent a whole year together as a class - three in Shizune's case - and still don't recognize anyone at the reunion? I think I'd probably recognize more than nine out of ten of the people from my final year if I ran into them and it's been a lot longer than ten years...

Hardly any typos for a piece that length, but I'm not going to list them anyway - not with so much reading to catch up on. Just a few comments:
Hideaki, meanwhile, doesn't say much of a goodbye to Shizune or I at all
"to Shizune or me"
[Where do you teach?]
Well, unless he teaches only one class, he will teach in a lot of rooms...
[Why would you want to have sex on a teacher's desk? It just sounds kind of uncomfortable.]
Hisao's and Shizune's memories really are bad, considering they had sex on a desk in the very room they are in right there...

And that's it for now, more when I've finished Emi's piece.
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: Hindsight (5 Epilogues - Complete)

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:30 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:Okay... It will take me quite a while to get through all of this.
Not sure how the individual stories are supposed to build up on one another if they're all based on the good endings. They are kind of mutually exclusive :-)
Thanks for your insight!

Of course the endings themselves are mutually exclusive and the stories are as well to a certain degree, however since they are all centered around the same event there are certain recurring elements, or at least I attempted to have them lead together in a sense.
Mirage_GSM wrote:For now I've read through Shizune's part, and I have to say it's quite good. Objectively the dialogues are much too long for how little is happening, but somehow the pacing still doesn't seem to drag, so kudos for that.
I'm better at writing dialogue than action so I guess that leads to the interactions being much too verbose, in hindsight. I'm glad you don't think the pacing isn't off because that was one of the biggest concerns I had.
Mirage_GSM wrote:The thing that stuck out the most to me was how terrible both Hisao's and Shizune's memories regarding their classmates are: They spent a whole year together as a class - three in Shizune's case - and still don't recognize anyone at the reunion? I think I'd probably recognize more than nine out of ten of the people from my final year if I ran into them and it's been a lot longer than ten years...
I think the main problem I faced with this whole fic is that the VN paid very little emphasis on any of the other students that Hisao interacted with. I guess overall I was afraid that if I attempted to integrate much other students too much then I would end up giving too much emphasis to arbitrary characters or have interactions that didn't really amount to anything. So poor memory is something of a copout for me there. :P
I hope that it doesn't detract from the story too much overall, because if that's a big issue for you in the first chapter it's not going to go away any time soon haha.

Anyway I really appreciate your comments. I haven't gotten such detailed feedback on this before and a second opinion is always welcome.
Cheers!

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Trial by Fire

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:43 pm

Chapter 5: Trial by Fire

"The time is… five… o'clock… PM."

The quiet, computerized voice rings out from the digital clock on the other end of the room. Surprised to hear it, I glance up to check the time, despite the fact that it was just read to me.

"Five already? I feel like I just sat down."

Lilly pauses briefly, raising a hand from her book. "There's no rush."

"Well, no, but considering our timetable I still think we're going to want to get moving pretty soon. Are you g- ow! Ow!"

Without any fair warning, I am cut off by Mitsue, who has decided to pull as hard as he can on one of my loose strands of hair. I shift backward in my seat to make enough space to keep it attached to my scalp.

"Hm? What is it?" Lilly asks with a hint of concern.

"Stop that," I say firmly, grabbing Mitsue's wrist to stop the pulling. "Do. Not. Grab."

He releases me only reluctantly, opening and closing his fist like an enraged crab. I know he's just going to do it again the next time he gets the chance, so I lift him up off of my lap and set him loose into the living room to terrorize somebody else instead. Rather than take the chance, though, he crawls straight past his mother's chair and makes his way to the doorway to stand in front of the gate.

Lilly sighs loudly when I ignore her. "Hisao, what was that?"

"Your demon was attacking me."

She laughs very softly and returns to her book, running her hand over the braille to find her place again. "Yes, well, I'm sorry to break this to you, but he's your demon as well."

"…Maybe I'll just shave my head. Get a military haircut."

"Have you considered actually teaching him to stop pulling people's hair?"

"I don't know; that sounds like it might require some actual parenting. I don't think you need to worry yourself about it."

"Oh, I beg to differ. My hair is longer than yours, and I don't have the option of shaving it, so just imagine what it's like for me."

She cracks a pretty smile, running her free hand down a strand of her own hair. I haven't thought about it often, but suddenly I find myself stricken by the fact that I don't think she has ever made any major changes to her hairstyle.

"Hey, have you ever considered cutting your hair short? Seriously."

"…I assumed you were making a joke when you brought that up."

"Well, of course I was, but this just occurred to me. I think you'd look good with short hair. Kind of chic, you know?"

"I don't think 'chic' has ever really been my style." She pauses for a moment, then smiles. "But thank you for the compliment."

"…So you haven't considered it, then?"

"Hisao, weren't you going to ask me something?"

"Oh, right." I turn around in my chair and glance at the entrance of the living room. "You said you wanted to cook tonight, right?"

She raises an eyebrow expectantly, still reading and paying the conversation only half attention. "Me, as opposed to…?"

"Hey! I can cook!"

"You… can make a very strong effort."

"That's not fair! You said you liked it last time I did…!"

She closes her eyes guiltily. "Oh, I'm just teasing you, Hisao. Perhaps I'm just trying to protect my pride."

"Yes, well, if it would bring you too much shame to have your husband cook for you, I imagine he would be delighted to have a chore off of his plate."

With an air of surprise, Lilly lets out an unrestrained laugh before covering her mouth and straightening herself out. "To answer your question: yes, I'm going to make dinner soon. I told Akira I would, so her hopes are already up."

"Okay, well, in that case…"

She sighs, then nods accordingly. "I'll get to it before long. I'm just going to finish the chapter I'm on. Don't worry."

"Suit yourself."

Satisfied by my reaction, she leans back into her chair without another word.

Before long, the silence is interrupted by a quiet clatter, and Akira wanders through the entrance of the living room, picking up Mitsue and slinging him on her shoulder on the way in. "I think you misplaced this."

"He was having a little too much fun with my hair, so I set him down," I explain with a shrug. "He thinks if he hides behind the child gate and looks like a prisoner someone will eventually pity him and let him go." Akira sets him down in the middle of the room, and he immediately wanders toward me, finding a comfortable spot on the ground near my leg. "Please tell me, Akira. When do they stop being so handsy?"

"Well, Mami was actually a pretty gentle baby, but… I think that kind of thing is supposed to stop at around two, maybe three. …And then it starts again at around fourteen or fifteen." Akira snickers at her own stupid joke, tucking her hands into her pockets and slumping down onto the couch next to me.

"Can we please refrain from making dirty jokes in front of the baby?" Lilly says with a loud sigh.

"Oh, he doesn't even know what I said, let alone what I meant."

"I just think we should be trying to get out of the habit of being inappropriate. Don't you want to be a good role model?"

"Yeah, fine, whatever." Akira grins and kicks her feet up on the ottoman, throwing her head back on the couch. "Lilly, Lilly, Lilly… so predictable."

"Well, I would rather be predictable than crude."

"And that, my friend, is the difference between you and me," Akira remarks with a cocky grin.

Lilly smiles warmly at the exchange. "It's very nice to have you around, Akira, even if only for a short time like this. I wish you would visit more often."

"I'd like to, believe me, but I've been really starved for time lately." Akira clicks her tongue thoughtfully. "I'll be damned if I'm gonna lose touch with you, though, seriously. Next time, I'd like to plan a proper vacation and bring the family down. What do you guys think?"

"That sounds lovely. You know you're welcome here whenever you like, of course."

"Absolutely," I chime in. "It would be great to get the chance to spend some time with everyone again."

"You guys really have hospitality down to an art form, huh?" Akira snickers. "Well, I appreciate it. I'd love to extend you the same courtesy, but, y'know, that would be dependent on you guys actually coming up to Inverness some time."

"To be fair, Akira, we have been a little busy, too." I place my hand on Mitsue's head, and he babbles cheerily. "…You know, if you haven't noticed."

"Point taken." She reaches out her hand to touch him, and he reels back and hides behind my leg in anticipation. With a roll of her eyes, she pulls her hand back and chuckles, "Man, he's giving me the cold shoulder already. It's going to be a long night, isn't it?"

"Seeing as it's already 5:00, so as long as you don't get any sugar in him, it's probably going to be an exceptionally short night."

"He'll warm up to you, Akira, don't worry," Lilly adds. "He always gets like this late in the afternoon."

"Trust me, it's fine. This isn't exactly my first time taking care of a baby."

"It is your first time taking care of our baby, though."

"Yeah, yeah, everyone thinks theirs is the unique one, right?" Akira says flippantly. "When do you want me to put him to bed?"

"Well, I suppose that would be up to you. But try not to keep him up late. Maybe around 6:30 or 7:00?"

"I can do that. I've got work to do later tonight anyway."

Lilly purses her lips with mild concern, finally closing her book and sitting up a little. "Will you be very busy this week?"

"Sorry to say. I'll be in the city a lot, though, so I'll be able to stay out of your hair for most of that time, at least."

"I hope you don't make yourself too scarce… I had hoped we would have an opportunity to go out and do something together."

"I'll make time for you, I promise."

"You don't need to go out of your way, Akira," I interject with a small shrug. "Business is business. We can make time when you're more available."

Lilly gives a little smirk and stands from her chair, grabbing her cane from its spot against the wall. "Well, let her go out of her way a little bit…"

"Ha! It won't be a problem, seriously. I will have some free time," insists Akira, waving her hand nonchalantly. "The suits can't keep me to themselves all the time."

"I should hope not," Lilly declares with an air of finality, finally making her way out of the room. Before she gets all the way there, though, she stops herself and makes a half-turn. "Akira, did you preheat the oven like I asked?"

"Ye of little faith…"

"I'm just checking." She cups her hands for a moment, running through a mental to-do list. "Then, before I go in… Hisao, would you mind going into my closet and getting a scarf for me? It should be on a rack in the front; I don't want to forget about it."

I stand from the couch, prompting a useless whine from Mitsue. "You want a particular scarf? Can you describe it?"

"It's the grey and blue one, I think. It should be right in the front, like I said."

"Sure thing."

"Thank you."

She taps her cane firmly against the child gate, then slips through without another word. As I make my way to the hall door, Akira snickers quietly at Mitsue and picks up him again. He resists her limply, as though resigning himself to an evening of her attempts at affection.

"What's she making, anyway?" Akira asks absentmindedly, trying to keep Mitsue's attention on her.

She stops me just as I get to the door. "Baked salmon. You didn't see it in the fridge?"

"Eh, I didn't know whether it was for tonight or not."

"We have too much not to have it tonight. They were selling it in bulk at the supermarket."

"Selling in bulk? I didn't think you guys were bargain chasers."

"What, don't you like salmon? It's better not to waste money as far as I'm concerned."

"No, of course it's not. I was just surprised to hear you say that."

She flashes me a strange look and then turns back to Mitsue. I have no idea what to make of it, and so without another word I continue through the doorway to make my way to my bedroom at the end of the hall.

Lilly's closet is a labyrinth, bafflingly organized to the point that I am usually too intimidated to ever go inside. Everything is organized and stacked strictly according to its texture and size rather than its design, which feels counterintuitive to a sighted person like me. Admittedly, when you really think about it, her way makes more sense, anyway- it seems like you should prioritize the clothes you want to wear, not the ones that look the best. Dressing to be trendy or fashionable has always just seemed like a giant vanity project to me. But even then, she still manages to be far more naturally fashionable than me, so what do I know?

I dig through a number of shelves before finding the rack with Lilly's scarves. Thankfully the one in front is grey and blue, so I can safely assume I don't need to dig through any more of them to find the one she wanted… Lilly probably owns more scarves than I do articles of clothing in general.

When I reenter the living room, I find Akira staring at her phone inattentively, having apparently sedated Mitsue with his pacifier- which was probably a smart move, in all honesty. I take a seat next to her and turn the TV on, placing Mitsue on my lap again. Hopefully this time he will be too distracted to pull on my hair.

After a while, the smell of Lilly's cooking carries into the living room, and Akira's eagerness to eat turns palpable. I find myself looking forward to being able to sit around the table and hold conversations as a family. It was exciting enough when Mitsue was able to start on solid foods, but before long he'll be walking, and talking, and then…

…It's kind of funny; I think being a parent has made me sentimental on a hair trigger. It's not a bad thing, but it is a strange feeling nonetheless.

---
Last edited by QuietlySomething on Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Trial by Fire

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:44 pm

---

"I'm ready for you!" Lilly calls from the other room, getting Akira to practically leap out of her seat. I follow her in with Mitsue over my shoulder.

In the kitchen, we find Lilly fully absorbed in her cooking and hunched over the counter, scooping tin foil-wrapped pieces of fish onto three plates. Slipping around the other end of the table so as not to get in the way, I set Mitsue down in a high chair and serve him something awful and green out of a jar. He does not look very enthusiastic to eat it, not that I would expect him to.

Akira takes one look at her sister and laughs out loud, taking the seat at the table across from me. "Oh, Lilly, look at you in that apron! If only dear old Dad could see you now; he would be so proud!"

Lilly sets Akira's plate down in front of her with a small sigh. "I will choose to take that as a compliment."

"Sure, sure."

After making a few finishing touches on her own plate, Lilly hangs up her apron and takes the last seat at the table. The food smells delicious, and nobody hesitates in the interest of politeness.

"This is amazing," Akira says after a quiet couple of minutes. "Do you guys have anything to drink? I'll get it myself, just tell me where."

Lilly looks genuinely alarmed for a moment. "Oh, I'm sorry; I forgot to put waters out."

I jump in to stop her from getting up. "I'm on it, Akira. What can I get you?"

"Got any beer?"

"No, sorry, we haven't been keeping any alcohol in the house…"

"Oh, right… I forgot you guys were doing that." She rolls her eyes and snickers somewhat childishly. "Just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you need to force everyone who walks into your house to deal with it, too, you know, sis."

"Actually, I'm surprised it didn't occur to me to get anything when you said you would be coming down for the week," Lilly notes thoughtfully. "But we don't get very many guests, so it would be a waste to keep alcohol in the house if nobody is going to get any use out of it. And for the record, I think it is a very sweet gesture on Hisao's part not to drink, and I appreciate it."

"You kids and your trends."

"It's a solidarity thing. Plenty of people do it," I object.

"Yeah, well, let me tell you something. I did my nine long months of sobriety already, and you didn't hear a single complaint out of me. And I didn't get an ounce of 'solidarity'."

"Put this in perspective, then," Lilly says energetically. "We have eighteen months to sit through. We've made it through ten and we're still going strong."

"Yes, I am well aware, and that is your cross to bear, honey."

I place my hands on the table with feigned exasperation. "…Would you like some water or not, Akira?"

"…Yes, please," she replies with a small grin. Lilly chuckles at that.

They return through their food as I rifle through the fridge to get out the pitcher of water. As I return to my seat, I notice the scarf I draped behind my seat. "Oh, I got that scarf for you, by the way, Lilly."

Lilly nods slightly and holds out her arm. "Oh, good; thank you. I'd almost forgotten."

"Is there any particular reason you wanted this one?" I ask as I place it in her hand.

With a small huff, she runs her hand along it and then wraps it around her neck like a true fashionista. "Hanako made this for me as a gift a while ago. I haven't yet had occasion to wear it, but as we'll undoubtedly be meeting up with her later tonight, I wanted her to see me in it."

"Really? So… she's… knitting now, huh?"

"…Crocheting, actually."

"Oh. Hm."

Akira chuckles quietly as I poke at my food. There's a brief awkward silence that Lilly doesn't seem to pick up on.

"…Alright, I'm just going to say it," I add, finally. "She needs a boyfriend."

At that, Akira immediately bursts into laughter, trying not to spit out her food.

"Oh, Hisao…" Lilly groans.

"What? I'm serious. I think we should set her up with someone."

"Like who?"

"I don't know. Anyone. Don't you think that sounds like a nice thing to do?"

"I think that sounds like an invasion of her privacy."

"That's not fair. It's not like she doesn't want a boyfriend."

"That's not the point. I don't think whether she does or not is really any of our business."

"Well, personally, I think she would appreciate the help. She's hardly the most extroverted person around, and God knows how long it would be before she met someone on her own…"

"I think that sounds like a good idea," Akira interjects, barely swallowing her food in time to get the words out. "You guys should bring her along on a double date or something. Hisao's right; that girl needs to get out more."

"Oh, goodness; not you, too…" Lilly sighs quietly, putting a hand to her forehead. Akira laughs boldly as usual at this and returns to her dinner.

Akira's defense inspires me enough to continue talking about it, despite Lilly's objections. "What about the library? I'll bet there's a ton of sweet, reserved guys that hang out there that would totally go for her."

"Why? You spend a lot of time at the library?" Akira asks brightly.

"Well, not really, no. We have a pretty sizeable reading selection here at home… but I do stop by occasionally…"

Lilly hesitates for a moment, wringing her hands together in the meantime. "…What's got you thinking about this, Hisao?"

"I don't know. It just depresses me to see her all lonely, I guess," I respond with a shrug. "She gets a certain way. And I feel bad that we haven't had much time to spend with her since Mitsue was born."

"Well… I suppose I do sympathize with that. Unfortunately, I don't know how much we can really do to amend it any time soon."

"That's why I said we should set her up with someone! It would make me feel better to know she had someone else to dedicate her time to, so she didn't feel like we were neglecting her. And it's something she already wants, so as far as I'm concerned it's perfectly within her grasp."

"If you think it's perfectly within her grasp, then don't you think you should have the confidence in her to find someone on her own?"

Lilly raises her eyebrows without lifting her face from her plate to face me, like she's preemptively claiming victory in this debate. I feel unsatisfied by that.

I throw up my hands, shrugging dejectedly at Akira. "Look, all I'm saying is that she tends to sell herself way too short. You know, she's kind, and… thoughtful, and cute, and… if we could just get her to put herself out there a little more I think she would have a lot of success."

"My, Hisao, you should hurry and confess to her before it's too late."

"What, don't tell me you're getting jealous."

"Jealous? No. But I have to admit, it is hard to remember the last time you fawned over me like that."

She smiles playfully, still refusing to acknowledge me directly. I refuse to be cowed.

"How easily we forget such things when we are trying to make a point, hm?"

She blushes a little, and so quickly dabs her face with a napkin to hide it. I consider that a success.

"Wow, love is in the air, huh?" Akira interjects sarcastically, reaching across the table for the salt shaker.

"We aren't bothering you, are we?" Lilly asks suddenly.

"What, you mean more than usual?" Akira is unable to keep a straight face and cracks up as she says that, which makes Lilly smile affectionately. After a brief pause, Akira snaps her fingers, coming to a sudden realization, and waves a hand dramatically in the air at me. "-What about online dating? Has she ever tried it? It's a growing market, you know. 21st century and all that."

"I don't know; I've never asked her. She doesn't talk about her love life much," I explain.

"Guess I'd expect as much. Still, it could work for her. You never know."

"I don't know how enthusiastic Hanako would be to try a service where people agree to dates based on the first picture they see of your face," says Lilly.

"…Oh, yeah. Fair point. Hm."

"People can be really shallow," I add, a little sobered by the thought.

"You said it… well, damn, whatever. Stupid idea." Akira shrugs and takes a sip of water, trying to breeze past the uncomfortable subject of Hanako's face. "While we're on the subject, you guys should see if you can't invite her over for dinner sometime this week! You said yourselves that it was too bad you haven't been able to spend much time with her."

"Oh, really? This week? That's an interestingly specific suggestion," Lilly says with a raised eyebrow.

Akira narrows her eyes defensively. "Okay, I got her a birthday present. Wanted to get the chance to give it to her in person while I'm here."

"…You are aware that her birthday is past, right? Not this week?"

"It's a belated gift, alright? Gimme a break. It's Scotch, anyway. Can't exactly mail it."

"What's Scotch?"

"The gift is. Like, whisky. It's what I got her."

"You got Hanako alcohol for her birthday?"

"Yeah; what's wrong with that?"

"A bit lazy, isn't it? Besides, Hanako doesn't typically drink on her own. Only at social gatherings… where, incidentally, she always drinks to excess."

"This coming from you of all people."

"And what is that supposed to mean?"

Lilly knows exactly what it's supposed to mean, of course, and frankly it's not an unfair criticism. If anything, it was my modest relief at a couple of years without Lilly drinking that made it so easy to give up alcohol myself for the duration of two pregnancies.

Ironically, I find myself feeling defensive on Lilly's behalf even despite this. Or at least, I'm torn enough not to add anything to the discussion, in any case.

"Doesn't mean anything; forget it. But I still stand by my gift," Akira deflects. "Besides, it seems like it should be pretty suitable in light of tonight's discussion. She's gonna want something to help her loosen up if we're going to try and get a man into those absurdly high pants of hers."

"Akira, please!"

"What?" Akira blinks and glances over at her side to Mitsue, who is relaxing in blissful ignorance in his high chair. "…Oh, right, sorry. Forgot we're being prudes in front of the baby." She reaches out and attempts to touch him, and he babbles and smacks her on the sleeve with his spoon, which is currently covered in sludge from the purée he was eating. She takes a deep breath and retracts her arm, wiping her sleeve furiously with her napkin. "God damn it; love this top…"

"It'll wash out," I say after a moment of restraining myself from laughter.

Lilly straightens up confidently. "We're not being 'prudes'. We're trying to raise our son properly. There is a difference."

"Look, would you just invite Hanako over?" Akira asks dismissively. "I'd like to see her. And besides, Mitsue could use an aunt figure that he doesn't despise."

"He does really seem to like her…" I feel obligated to add.

"If you want to do it, Hisao, I would be happy to invite her over," says Lilly. "Just not to compensate for Akira's failure to give a birthday gift on time."

Akira leans back and swirls her drink around in one hand, and it looks pretty cool even despite the fact that she seems to have forgotten it's not filled with booze. "Yeesh, has anyone ever told you how much you sound like Shizune?"

"Only you, and only when we fight."

I glance between the two of them, genuinely surprised to hear that. "Since when do you guys fight?"

Akira tilts her head and smiles at me with mocking condescension. "Oh, what a strange family you must grow up in as an only child."

"Well, say what you will, Hisao's side of the family is much less dramatic and complicated than ours," Lilly adds defensively.

"That's not exactly an impressive feat."

"In any case."

Akira snickers lightly and returns to finish the last scraps of fish from her plate. I'd finished mine already, but of course the polite thing to do would be to wait until Lilly finished to say anything about leaving. That's exactly what I intend to do, too, but I never get the chance.

"The time is… six… o'clock… PM."

The speaking clock chirps quietly from the living room, interrupting the silence we started in the kitchen.

Lilly takes a breath, surprised by how quickly time has gone by. "Goodness; I can't believe it's six already."

"I know exactly what you mean," I say, leaning over the table to look out the window. "It seems like time has really been flying today."

Akira shoots me a look and gestures out of the room. "Do you guys need to get out of here? Isn't this around when you said you wanted to leave?"

"I also said there's no rush, Akira," Lilly reassures.

"You sure? 'Cause I'd hate for you to tarnish any reputation of punctuality, especially if a certain bespectacled someone is going to be expecting to see you at this reunion."

Lilly sighs loudly at the obvious mention of her cousin. That's one former classmate that I am not particularly looking forward to running into.

"Anyway," Akira continues, "I was going to say I would be happy to stay and clean up, but…"

"You really don't have to do that."

"Hell, it's better than spending money on a hotel room. I'd like to do something to thank you guys for letting me stay for the week."

Lilly bows her head contemplatively, and the idea of not having to stick around and clean the kitchen is just compelling enough to get me to make an executive decision.

"Thanks a lot, Akira," I say, getting out of my seat rather loudly. "You're a big help."

"Any time," replies Akira impassively, using the extra leg room as an opportunity to stretch out.

Lilly smiles gently and gets out of her seat, pushing her unfinished plate across the table. "I suppose that's settled, then. Thank you, Akira."

"What time do you think you'll get back? Late? Want me to leave the door unlocked for you?"

"We'll be alright. I don't imagine we will be back until you're already asleep."

"I dunno; I'll be up pretty late working. I have to finish writing something up before I go into the city tomorrow afternoon. Still, I won't wait up if you don't think I should."

In one suave gesture, Akira slips around the table and pulls Mitsue out of his high chair, which apparently he finds fun enough not to whine about. She props him up against her shoulder, and he immediately sets his eyes on a loose strand of her hair and grabs hold, causing her to wince and shoot me a look. "Ow, man, he is really full of energy tonight…"

I reach out a hand to pull Mitsue away from her hair, trying to be as stern as possible. "No. No grabbing."

He makes a face at me and babbles something incoherent. It's disheartening; my attempts to stop him are starting to feel futile. I was really hoping Pavlov would come through for me here.

"At least you know the hair pulling isn't personal," I say to Akira with a shrug. She grins and readjusts him, completely undeterred, and before long he calms down in her arms.

Watching her try to win over my son, I find myself becoming extremely curious as to how Akira mothered at that age. Unfortunately Lilly and I didn't get to be around much for Mami's infancy, given that we were going to school in a different country at the time, and in the interim I guess I allowed myself to start thinking of Akira as flighty and unmotherly. In general, I tend to think of Lilly as the much warmer and more approachable of the two of them, but I realize I'm probably biased in that regard. Maybe having Akira around to babysit for the week will end up being a good change of pace for Mitsue.

Akira brushes past me to close the distance between herself and Lilly. With a tender smile, Lilly places her hands along the sides of Mitsue's head, gently feeling out the contours of his face, before kissing him on the forehead. He watches her obliviously, just happy to be getting attention, which is pretty much the norm for him.

I wonder what exactly is going through his head… I don't know if it's the fact that babies are enigmatic or if I'm just thinking about it too hard, but either way I really cannot wait for him to start talking.

"Are you ready to go?" Lilly asks me suddenly, taking my arm with one hand and snapping me out of my little daydream.

"Hm? Oh, yeah. Hang on a second; let me pull the car around."

I turn to leave, but just before I do, Akira leans back against the counter and waves, still holding Mitsue in one arm. "I'll see you guys later, then. Tell Hanako I said hi."

"Of course," Lilly says politely. "Good night, Akira."

I return the wave without waiting around. "Bye."

Lilly stays at my side, and I guide her to our front door by way of the staircase at the end of the hall. By now, she can clearly get there by herself just from muscle memory alone, which makes me wonder why she bothers holding onto me in the first place…

I take a certain amount of pride in being the one Lilly relies on for guidance, which she surely realizes. She usually has me walk her places rather than use her cane, if only because I'm happy to be able to help- which I know must be a sacrifice of her pride in place of mine. Still, maybe she just prefers the intimacy of it.

Come to think of it, it's flattering either way.

---
Last edited by QuietlySomething on Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Trial by Fire

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:44 pm

---

Lilly positions herself on the front porch as I shut the front door, and with no delay I slip around to the other end of the house and pull the car up the driveway. In my usual awkward fashion, I stumble back out of the car to lead Lilly to the passenger seat, but she takes my hand with enough grace for the two of us. I begin driving as soon as she settles into the car, the route well ingrained into my mind, considering it is the same route I take to Yamaku every morning for work.

With one hand, she pulls her scarf down to more adequately cover her neck, looking exceptionally comfortable.

"You looking forward to this?" I ask quietly.

"Oh, absolutely. It's been so long since we've been able to just go out and do something fun on our own as adults," Lilly responds with an air of exhaustion. "And have someone else worry about Mitsue for an evening, for that matter."

I chuckle wryly; I haven't exactly been keeping my own frustrations with him subtle lately. "I've really had my hands full with him. I feel like he has been really unresponsive with me lately…"

"You're doing the best you can, Hisao." She smiles reassuringly, folding her hands on her lap without any concern. "Try to be optimistic. At least this is good practice, right? The first time is supposed to be the hardest. It is a trial, but it's one that will be for the better of both of us."

"Trial by fire."

"How fitting for our demon."

I can't help but laugh, and she smiles with satisfaction in response. That smile alone is enough to make me feel alright about it.

Lilly doesn't seem to have much else to say; evidently neither of us has much to offer in the way of small talk. With her eyes closed and her seat back, she briefly makes me wonder if she is intending to take a nap and leave me to drive in silence. I don't care to disrupt her even if she is, though, so I say nothing.

It's funny how something as familiar as my drive to work seems strange when it's under unfamiliar circumstances. I don't think Lilly has even set foot on the campus since graduation, despite how much of my time I spend there. She wants to start teaching again sometime next year, and I know for a fact that Yamaku has available openings in the language department that would allow her to teach English there. She has opposed the idea in the past, but no doubt it would be hard for her to turn up a position on a silver platter like that after being out of work for as long as she has. And I can't deny that I like the idea of being able to spend more time with her by having us both work at the same place.

Still, maybe she's destined for bigger things than me, career-wise. I've always approached teaching as more of a passion project than something to advance my reputation or to make money, and I'm thankful to have become a part of a family that is wealthy enough to allow that. But Lilly is not as comfortable with relying on their money as I am, and that makes her a lot more career-driven. Maybe it's for the best that we become more self-sufficient… that way we can have no reservations about making decisions for our children that the rest of her family doesn't necessarily agree with.

After all, I'd like to send both of my kids to Yamaku when they get old enough, and I know very well from my time there that the tuition can be a problem for some people. It would be nice to have the money to be able to afford it on our own, even though I suspect I would be able to get it at least reduced on account of my working there. Even if we couldn't, though, I'm pretty confident that I would send them anyway. It's an experience that was very valuable to me, and I'd like for my own kids to be able get the same thing out of Yamaku that I did… assuming I manage to live long enough to see them reach that age, anyway.

Lilly would probably get upset with me for even suggesting I may not live that long. Her concern is very moving, but nevertheless I won't make promises that I can't keep. The line I walk between pessimism and realism is a fine one, but an important one- especially for someone with health as volatile as mine.

That's not a talk I'm looking forward to having with my kids, but it's something I knew I was signing up for when I committed to starting a family. God knows I don't regret my son- and perish the thought- but sometimes it is hard not to regret that I gave him a life where he may have to prematurely lose a father. It's better to look towards the future than the past, but even then it can be difficult not to be bleak sometimes. Regret is a very fickle and complicated thing, which makes me grateful to have Lilly's steadfast optimism to ground me a little bit.

…There I go getting sentimental again. This is what happens when I let my mind wander.

Eventually I do allow myself to ease up and relax a little, but by the time I've managed to do it we're already pulling into Yamaku's parking lot near the front gate. It's starting to fill up despite it being near the initial arrival time, a good sign for attendance if not for the issue of overcrowding the cafeteria. Confusingly, there is nobody else on the grounds at all, even though I had been under the impression that the campus would be open to people returning for the reunion. The nearby signs direct me us to the cafeteria, and so with no reason to wait around, I head straight for the main event with Lilly at my side.

More people do appear as we get further from the gate, though (namely, crowds and couples trying to puzzle their way around the obtusely-laid out signs to find their way inside), and I try to make it obvious that I know where I'm going so that they can follow me. On my way into the building that contains the cafeteria, I spot a few people sitting around on a bench waiting for the sun to set. I suppose this would be as nice a place as any to watch it.

The noise that builds as we approach the cafeteria itself makes it more than evident that there will be no shortage of attendants. With no hesitation, I swing open the double doors, and my suspicions are immediately confirmed. The room is already starting to fill up, and people are dividing up into cliques as though we really were in high school again. It's encouraging to see so many former students, many of whom have very conspicuous physical disabilities, all still healthy and able to convene here.

Lilly clues into the crowd immediately and pulls gently on my arm to get my attention. "See if you can find someone we know, so we don't get crowded."

"But all the fun is in running into the people you're not expecting!"

"Well, call it a hunch, but I suspect that if we start a conversation with every student we run into, we're not going to have much time to do anything else."

I scratch behind my head with my free hand, scanning through the crowd for people I know, to little avail. Lilly no doubt has plenty of old friends from school, but unfortunately for both of us I don't really know any of them well enough to recognize them after this much time has passed… so, on second thought, it might be nice to find a clique of our own.

"I'll keep my eyes open, then," I say after a moment.

Before long, more people begin to pour in through the entrance, forcing us further into the crowd and away from our spot near the door. A few people spot me and wave, but despite my best efforts to look unthreatening, almost no one seems to want to risk a conversation, which dispirits Lilly a bit. I know that she likes to think of herself as having been popular at Yamaku, or at least well-liked, and considering her distinctive appearance it is hard to believe that nobody here recognizes her. I figure that her uncommon beauty is what helped to make her seem so approachable during our high school years, and I can't help but wonder if having me at her side offsets that somehow. Maybe I'm being too self-deprecating, but it would seem to me that any ordinary-looking Japanese person like myself would probably detract from what makes her seem so exotic and intriguing. That, or I could just be making excuses for people's bad memories or introversion.

No matter the reason, before too long Lilly and I find ourselves wandering through the crowd with nobody to talk to. The crowd continues to grow behind us as more people start to arrive, which only makes it more difficult to navigate. For the first time in ages, I find myself regretting that I can't go to the bar and have a drink to help relax a little. If Lilly is feeling anxious for the same reason, though, she doesn't do much to show it.

"Maybe we came too early. To be honest, I feel like I don't know anyone here, yet," I mumble, which earns a small frown from Lilly.

"I'm sorry; is this making you uncomfortable?" she asks hurriedly. "Maybe this was a bad idea."

"No, no, of course not… I'm just blathering to myself." I laugh self-consciously, glancing around aimlessly once more.

"If you say so…"

I wish I hadn't said anything, but I guess it's too late to put Lilly at ease now. It only redoubles my efforts to find someone I know.

And sure enough, it does not take long for the universe, in its typical vindictive fashion, to answer my prayers with the one person I was the most apprehensive about running into. Near one of the tables along the edge of the room, I find a tuft of blue hair among a small crowd and identify Shizune, who is animatedly signing alongside a pair of brunette women that I barely register at first.

At second glance, though, I am stricken by something and lean over to Lilly almost automatically. "Lilly… do you know if Misha is still dyeing her hair?"

"Hm? Dyeing it pink, you mean?" Lilly asks with surprise, putting a hand to her cheek thoughtfully. "I thought she stopped doing that a long time ago."

"Yeah, that's what I thought." I allow myself a quiet sigh before continuing, now certain of her identity. "I don't think you're going to believe this."

"Believe what?"

"She's here, and she's in the middle of a conversation with Shizune."

Lilly looks about as shocked as I'd expect, though she collects herself quickly. "I… with Shizune? Really? Well… you're sure that's Misha?"

"I'm sure."

"Do… they look upset?"

"Not particularly."

She nods once, affirming something to herself. "Well, maybe now would be a good time to say hello, then."

Unsure of exactly how to insert myself into their crowd, I start off towards Misha and raise my free hand in greeting, hoping to make us noticeable without coming off as rude for interrupting. It's been long enough since I last talked to Misha that I forgot about her inability to be subtle.

She is quick to remind me, as she drops everything upon seeing Lilly and I approach in order to shout enthusiastically at us. "Oh! Hey! Hey! Over here, you guys!"

Shizune seems rightly irritated by the interruption, but her face softens with surprise when she turns and realizes that it was us Misha was yelling at. She signs something to Misha, but I assume it was something private because Misha makes no attempt to translate it.

With an odd smile plastered to her face, Misha throws her arm around the other brunette woman and gestures to Lilly and I. "This is Shizune's cousin, Lilly, and her husband, Hisao! I said that I thought they might show up tonight!"

"It's a pleasure to meet you again, Misha," Lilly responds patiently, bowing her head. "And you as well, Shizune; it really is a shame that we have been out of touch lately."

Shizune straightens her glasses approvingly and gives a small smile at that, raising her hands to sign something to Lilly in return. Before she gets a chance to finish, though, Misha turns away from her and continues brazenly with her own introductions, which is astonishingly rude and clearly bothers Shizune a lot. It comes off as unintentional to me, though- Misha is clearly out of practice as a translator, compared to how effortlessly she could speak for Shizune back in high school.

"This is my girlfriend, Sayumi," Misha explains, squeezing the woman around her arm. "Or… Sayumi-chan, you know, if you prefer!"

Exasperated, the woman runs a hand through her own brown hair, which is styled almost exactly like Misha's. "Yeah… or just Sayumi. Just Sayumi would actually be completely fine."

I'm a little dumbstruck in more ways than one at the moment.

Lilly takes it in stride, and quickly makes up for my own failure to come up with a response. "It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Sayumi- I'm sorry; I didn't realize you were here at first."

She emphasizes that last part with measured forcefulness. At first I think this is a jab at me, but I quickly realize that she is trying to imply her blindness to Sayumi to avoid anyone having to explain it. Actually, it's a pretty tactful way of doing so, which I especially appreciate considering the present company.

It occurs to me after a moment that Shizune, standing impatiently behind Misha with arms crossed, has at this point been completely excluded from the conversation, as Misha hasn't signed anything anyone has said thus far.

"Er, Misha," I say with a shrug, "not to be rude, but… shouldn't you be interpreting?"

"Oh! Sorry, I forgot!" She smiles uncomfortably and turns to Shizune, making a few dramatic gestures with her hands. "Sorry, Shizune!"

Shizune seems unimpressed by the apology, and angrily signs something in retaliation before turning to Lilly and I again and continuing. Misha flips around and scratches behind her head, blushing a little. "Um… she says it's nice to see you guys again!"

I have my doubts that that's all she said… but it's probably the gist of it, so I don't comment on it.

"Did you guys all come together?" I ask doubtfully, pausing for a moment at the end of my sentence to ensure that Misha translates to Shizune- which she does, albeit with some embarrassment.

Sayumi is quick to jump in. "Nope; Misha thought it would be fun for just the two of us to go to this. But we ran into Shizune and her little brother at the entrance as we were coming in and she decided to catch up."

She seems to be pretty strongly implying that she wants nothing to do with Shizune or this conversation, but I don't think Misha picks up on it at all. It's only a matter of time before this horribly uncomfortable reunion between Shizune and Misha comes to a head, and Sayumi certainly isn't helping things. I think it would be best to find an out as soon as possible.

"So Hideaki did come with Shizune," Lilly says. "Where is he now?"

…Apparently she is not as concerned about it as I am. She may just be relieved that Misha is distracting Shizune from picking a fight with her.

Shizune snaps loudly to hold Misha's attention before signing a response. "He ran away to the bar the first chance he could. Now he's over there flirting with older women!" Shizune clearly finds it irritating, but from the way Misha translates, it comes off more like she finds it endearing.

"I'll don't think I'll ever quite understand him," Lilly says softly. Shizune rolls her eyes.

"Okay, okay, so-! Don't keep me waiting any longer!" Misha puts her hands on her hips, still grinning but giving me an expectant look nonetheless. "Shizune says it's 'Mitsue', right? I wish I'd heard about him earlier! How old is he?"

"Ten months," says Lilly.

I shrug. "Ten and a half."

Misha seems impressed for a moment. "Wow, so he really is little! Is it hard, taking care of him?"

"Of course," Lilly answers with a nod. "Unbelievably so. But it's rewarding, too."

"Do you have pictures?"

"Hisao should."

Overexcited, Misha flips around to face me, visibly irritating both the women behind her.

Sayumi taps on her shoulder, growing visibly impatient. "Shii-chan, I was really hoping to have time to go out and meet some of your other friends, or-"

"We can, we can!" Misha dismisses with a wave of her hand. "You can go on ahead and get a drink or something! I'll catch up with you, okay?"

"…So you can stay here and talk… to Shizune…?"

Misha's face sinks for a moment, and she frowns apologetically. "Well, and… I wanted to catch up with Lilly, and Hicchan! We have all night, you know!"

Sayumi takes a breath and nods slowly, telegraphing pretty transparently that Misha is not getting on her good side. "Alright, fine. I'll be at the bar. Don't bother to wait up for me." Then she traipses off on her own.

I don't know Sayumi, but I feel sorry that she's been dragged into the middle of all this drama anyway. I wonder how much Misha has told her about her and Shizune's falling-out. Clearly there is subtext here that even I am lacking.

I gesture meekly after Sayumi. "Misha, we really won't be offended if you would rather go talk to-"

"No, it's okay!" Misha says hurriedly. "I'll catch up with Sayumi-chan in a minute! There's plenty of time to do everything tonight!"

Of course, I really don't think that's the issue here, but Misha is either ignorant of it or in denial.

"So, pictures!" Misha continues, after a brief awkward silence. "This is always the best thing about seeing people again after so long!"

I shrug, hesitant to encourage her.

Lilly smiles tepidly, having no better idea of how to handle this than me. I suppose this is better than whatever fight Shizune and Lilly could come up with, so I count my blessings and get out my phone to show Misha whatever baby photos I can find on it.

Lilly and Shizune stand by awkwardly as Misha pores over my phone, neither of them having any real way to engage with us. It's more than a little uncomfortable.

"Oh, cute!" Misha shouts, stepping away from me to repeat herself in sign language. "He looks just like his mama, huh?"

"Yeah, everyone says that, but I think it's just the blonde hair. I don't really see it. My dad says he looks just like him," I say truthfully. …Not that I don't think Mitsue would be better off inheriting his mother's looks.

"He's probably too young to look 'just like' anybody," Lilly adds.

At that, Misha snatches my phone away to get a closer look. "Hahaha! You may be right about that!"

Without asking for permission, she begins scrolling through my photos. I'm not sure whether Misha really likes kids, or if she just likes the idea of Lilly and I having one together.

Eventually Shizune's glowering starts to get to me, and I feel the urge to speak up about the first thing that comes to mind. "I was surprised to see you and Shizune together tonight." I realize almost immediately that there were probably better ways to spark a conversation than that, but it's too late.

Misha hesitates before signing this, and Shizune shrugs before responding to it. "They call it a reunion for a reason, Hicch- Hisao."

"Yeah, but it's nice to see you getting along."

"I could say the same thing about Lilly and Shizune!" Misha declares brightly, prompting a quiet sigh from Lilly. "But I'd like to think that we can all get along like adults, now that we, y'know, are!"

She grins at Shizune, who seems hesitant to respond to that. If it were anyone else, I would say that she was coming off as passive-aggressive, but Misha can be difficult to read… particularly when she's with Shizune. That said, the fact that I'm the only one she's willing to address with –chan makes the group dynamic pretty clear to everyone.

Shizune does decide on something else to say, which she signs with pursed lips. "There's no point in holding a grudge, is there? I think we should all be happy that Misha has found her way and has someone that makes her happy." Misha giggles at that, and adds, "-hey, thanks, Shizune!"

"You're right. It is hard to imagine what could possibly inspire someone to hold onto a grudge from our school years," says Lilly sardonically, her voice suddenly dripping with sarcasm even despite her pleasant attitude.

Apparently she is not pleased with Shizune for saying that. Admittedly, you could probably take 'Misha' out of her sentence and replace it with 'Lilly', and it would fit just as well… but I still find it incredibly irritating that Lilly has chosen this moment to pick a fight.

Lilly's comment is not lost on Shizune, either, who immediately rolls her eyes and prepares a response.

I couldn't be more opposed, and so against my better judgement I decide to thrust myself in the middle of it to prevent things from escalating and subsequently putting a damper on the entire evening.

"Hey, Misha; hang on a second!" I interrupt hurriedly. "Has Sayumi met Hideaki yet?"

Misha turns away from Shizune, who pouts childishly. "Oh! Just for a second… he came with Shizune!"

"If they're both hanging around the bar anyway, maybe you should introduce them! He could probably help interpret for Shizune, as well…"

She turns back to Shizune for just a second, squinting obliviously. Shizune, apparently exhausted by the whole exchange, just shrugs and signs something brief to dismiss her.

"Okay; good idea, Hicchan!" Misha exclaims. "But… I wasn't bothering you, was I?"

"Don't be silly, Misha," Lilly replies.

"Alright, alright. I just wanted to make sure!" Misha sighs and thrusts my phone into my hands, tapping on it to make a point. "In that case, Shizune and I are going to get a move on."

"Then it was good to see you again."

"Hey, don't make it a real good-bye! Stay in touch! I'd like to get the chance to properly introduce you guys to Sayumi! She's usually in a better mood than this…"

"She seems very nice, Misha," Lilly says reassuringly. "We'll do something another time. Good night to both of you."

"Okay! Another time then!" Misha claps her hands together and turns on her heel.

"Good night, Misha," I say quickly.

Shizune adjusts her glasses with an air of superiority, clearly contemplating something insulting to close out the evening with. Thankfully, Misha has already started off in the other direction, and she is forced to simply give a condescending wave to me and hope I get the message across to Lilly.

---
Last edited by QuietlySomething on Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Trial by Fire

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:45 pm

---

We're left alone again, and now that it's just Lilly and I, I feel justified in saying, "What a mess."

Lilly cranes her head down, giving me a small frown. "What is?"

My unimpressed frown is unfortunately lost on her. "Did you really have to try and start a fight?"

"No," she says unapologetically. "But can you blame me?"

"I do blame you."

She hesitates, taking a moment to articulate a response to that. Clearly she is not eager to have this discussion.

"Oh, come on," I say wearily. "Shizune is family. I just think you should be making more of an effort to get along with her."

"If she were willing to try and make amends, I would be, too. But until then, I think it is better to be honest than to pretend to get along just in the interest of politeness."

"That sounds like an excuse to me."

Another pause.

"…You think it's none of my business," I add, to state the obvious.

"I didn't want to say that."

"Look, I don't mean to nag, but you know I'm not a good mediator. And I don't like being stuck in the middle of it."

"Well, you shouldn't be stuck in the middle of it. You are supposed to be on my side."

"I am on your side…" I sigh. "Oh, Lilly…"

I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place, as I usually am when this subject comes up. I take a long sigh before proceeding, but before I get the chance to say anything else, Lilly rests her hand on my forearm to cut me off.

"-Hisao, wait. Before you feel guilted into apologizing." She shakes her head, swallowing her pride. "You're right. I should be trying harder to work things out. I know that this isn't something you should have to worry about, and I'm sorry."

I do feel like I deserved an apology, but I am still touched by the gesture. "…Thank you for saying that, Lilly."

She smiles lightly, apparently satisfied with that outcome. I suppose it could have gone worse, all things considered.

Over by the bar, I spot Hideaki for the first time as Misha animatedly tries to get a reaction out of him. I know the polite thing to do would be to say hello, but we barely escaped from Shizune and Misha the first time. Lilly stands idly at my side, apparently waiting for me to get a move on- but I'm not sure where to go, so we end up awkwardly standing around for a minute or two without anyone to talk to.

"Excuse me…" squeaks a quiet voice from almost directly behind me.

I would almost be startled, but the voice is so passive and unthreatening that all it does is make me feel guilty for not noticing it sooner.

So, naturally, I'm not at all surprised to turn around and find Hanako, bundled in a long-sleeved shirt and a scarf as though it was the middle of winter. Curiously, she has no hat, which means that her hair simply dangles unevenly over her face and fails to totally cover her scars. If that was intentional, then it's very good news for her- but if she simply forgot to wear one, then it's very bad news instead.

Overall, I'm not completely sure how to react.

"Hanako! Hello!" I exclaim uncertainly.

"Oh, Hanako." Lilly turns alongside me, adjusting her scarf rather conspicuously. "What a pleasant surprise!"

Hanako seems taken aback by our enthusiasm, and gives a very subtle but appreciative smile. I'm not sure if she has even noticed that Lilly is wearing the scarf she made; she seems to be a little distracted.

"Hello… I'm happy that you're both here tonight…" she says quietly, giving an awkward, formal bow that makes me laugh on instinct.

"What are we, strangers? How have you been?" I corner her with a hug, and she immediately blossoms into a full blush and stiffens up, patting me gently on the back.

"I've been good… really, really good, lately, actually…" Hanako says brightly, trying not to seem too embarrassed as I return to Lilly's side.

"That's so good to hear," Lilly says, folding her hands in front of her. "I was really hoping we would find you here, too. Your timing is impeccable."

"Well, I saw you while you were talking to Shizune, but… I didn't want to interrupt…"

"Oh, you shouldn't be worried about that."

"We probably could have used the excuse to get out of that conversation, to be honest," I chuckle, immediately prompting an apologetic frown from Hanako.

"Oh… I'm sorry; next time, I won't wait…" she murmurs.

Lilly laughs gently to put her at ease. "Please don't worry about that."

"Okay."

There's an incredibly brief but awkward pause. Lilly seems just a touch unsure of herself, probably owing to the fact that it's been a while since we last met up with Hanako in person.

"So you said things have been going well? Did anything good happen, in particular, or…?" I ask.

"Oh-! Yes!" Hanako's face lights up suddenly, remembering good news. "I met someone!"

…Well, how about that?

Lilly is genuinely shocked for a moment, and vindicated the moment after that. I'm happy for Hanako, of course, but I am not looking forward to Lilly's 'I-told-you-so', considering the conversation we had at dinner.

"Is that so?" says Lilly encouragingly. "When did this happen?"

"Last month… he's really amazing; you have to meet him!"

"We definitely should!" I add. "We can all get together next time we're going to do something-"

"No, no, I mean now!" Hanako interrupts, uncharacteristically hyperactive. She's enthusiastic about this guy, to be sure, but her behavior makes me wonder if she's had a little too much to drink. "He came with me tonight! We were with Naomi just a minute ago, but they were really getting along, so I didn't want to drag him away, and you were with Shizune when I saw you…"

"Well, by all means, we would love to meet him!" Lilly says animatedly.

"Good, okay…! Hang on!" Hanako clasps her hands together, and, after a moment to collect herself, scurries off in another direction.

"My, this is an interesting turn of events, don't you think, Hisao?" Lilly teases.

"Hey, I stand corrected. All the better for Hanako, right?"

She smirks affectionately. "Well, how big of you."

With unprecedented fervor, Hanako works her way into another crowd a good distance from us, and I spot Naomi, who is indeed speaking to a much taller man- presumably Hanako's new boyfriend. Though Naomi and I weren't actually friends at school, I still feel like I know her well purely because of how much Hanako would talk about her along with the other members of the newspaper club.

Within moments, Hanako talks the man into coming to say hello, and Naomi gives an over-the-top laugh as they break away from her. They approach us hand-in-hand.

"Hello!" the man proclaims cheerfully, stepping forward in front of Hanako to introduce himself. "You're Hisao and Lilly, right? It's so good to finally meet you!"

He pats me lightly on the shoulder and then takes Lilly's hand and kisses it, with a level of elegance that could be matched only by Lilly herself. It's the kind of gesture that would be extremely awkward and out-of-place if it had been done with even slightly less confidence, and Lilly seems immediately impressed by his boldness.

I'm stunned. He's exceptionally handsome, in a rugged, masculine sort of way, with the physique of an action movie hero. He's very fair-skinned- almost pale, in fact- which makes him look foreign, but his features are distinctly Asian. It is downright bizarre to see him standing hand-in-hand with Hanako, and though I immediately feel guilty for thinking that, I can't shake the suspicious feeling it gives me.

"The pleasure is all ours," Lilly says calmly, putting a hand to her face. "So you know us already?"

"I suppose I feel like I do! Hanako talks about you both all the time, so it's like coming face-to-face with celebrities." He grins reassuringly at Hanako, who has shrunk behind him with embarrassment. After collecting himself for a moment, he shakes his head and then turns back to us. "-I'm so sorry; I really shouldn't be making assumptions! How would you like me to address you?"

"Oh, no, don't be silly. 'Hisao and Lilly' is just fine. You're close with Hanako, after all; there's no reason for unnecessary formalities."

"I'm glad to hear it!"

He smiles comfortably. He's unusually good at keeping up with Lilly- most people seem to be intimidated by her formality at first, but he absolutely takes it in stride. It's clear that they're going to get along, so I'm not sure why I still feel uneasy about it.

"What about you?" I ask after a moment, realizing that I haven't said a word since he got here.

"Hm? Oh, of course. Coen is my first name, if you'd be comfortable with that."

"Sure."

"Coen? That's certainly an unusual name," Lilly notes.

"Yes, yes. It's, um… it's Dutch. My father is South African," Coen admits, stumbling a bit, as though the fact embarrasses him. After a brief pause, realizing that nobody intends to comment on that fact, he waves his hand and laughs quietly. "-But my mother is from Taiwan, and I was born here in Japan! So… this is really home for me. Japanese is my first language."

"How interesting! You must be very worldly."

"Oh, well…"

"Oh, he is, he is!" Hanako chirps, throwing herself against his arm. "He just moved here last year from America! –And he speaks four languages!"

Lilly raises an eyebrow, impressed. "Four languages, really?"

"No, no, not four," Coen laughs. "Just three. I'm studying a fourth. I barely know it at all. Hanako, you give me too much credit!"

"What do you speak, then?"

"English, Mandarin, and Japanese, of course. And Spanish is what I'm studying now."

"Well, that's still at least one more than any of the rest of us can say about ourselves."

Coen chuckles self-consciously, clearly trying to be modest about Lilly's praise. …How respectable of him, I guess.

"Hanako tells me you're from Scotland. So… can I assume that you speak English as well?"

"I do speak English, and Hisao speaks some as well. But I'm not from Scotland, really. Some of my family is, but I've lived in Japan for most of my life."

Saying I speak 'some' English is actually pretty generous, as I only barely know enough to avoid embarrassing myself in front of Lilly's parents. I take the less respectable approach, though, and choose not to say anything about it.

"I know exactly what you mean," Coen says sympathetically. "I've always seen myself as Japanese, too, though I don't have any family here. But people will project a nationality onto you if you aren't careful."

"Yes, my family is fairly traditional that way. My father is very patriarchal, so I suppose he has claimed me in the name of Scotland, in a sense. And that is in spite of the fact that we barely even have occasion to visit any of my relatives there, including my parents, as much of a shame as that is." Lilly pauses for a moment, tilting her head down. "Thankfully, the family we have here in Japan- my two cousins, and Hisao's side of the family- they are a bit better at respecting our boundaries in that sense."

Coen thinks on that for a moment, suddenly making eye contact with me. "And Hisao, you're Japanese?"

I shrug thoughtlessly. "Through and through. If you couldn't tell from looking at me, that is…"

"I thought it might be rude to assume."

Hanako, who has been beaming basically nonstop since we ran into her, suddenly looks a little uneasy as soon as I start to talk. She's barely said a word, but that's just her style. I have about as little to say as she does, but for me, it feels very out of place.

Resting his hand affectionately over Hanako's, Coen turns back to Lilly to continue his tangent. "…Either way, though, it's interesting to meet someone else with family outside the country! I can say that in my experience, my family has given me a lot of occasion to travel, which I try not to take for granted. And Hanako is very interested in travelling, as well, so it's a common interest for us."

"Hm… no, actually, we don't travel much. It's funny; my sister is constantly flying halfway around the world and returning to Japan for her work, but we've really laid down our roots in one place," Lilly says with a small pout. "We both teach, which of course doesn't take us anywhere. Aside from that, though, I feel as though I've barely even left the house since Mitsue was born."

Coen seems momentarily surprised. "Oh, there I go assuming again. Hanako never mentioned that you have children!"

"Oh, just one, for the moment anyway."

"Lilly is expecting…" Hanako says quietly, smiling again, though softly.

"You're kidding!" Coen claps his hands together and gives me a strange look. "That's wonderful! Congratulations!"

"Thank you very much," Lilly says with a nod.

"I love kids, personally. You must be so excited!"

"Oh, believe me; not being pregnant anymore is the most exciting prospect in the world to me right now," Lilly responds with an exhausted sigh, half-joking. Nothing in the world even comes close to being as exciting, or as fatiguing, as being a parent…

Coen lets out a slightly uncomfortable laugh and turns back to Hanako, who smiles at him suspiciously. She is so entranced by this guy that it makes me wonder if she is volatile (and perhaps tipsy) enough to say something about wanting kids in front of her boyfriend of barely a month. For everyone's sake, I sincerely hope she is not.

"So you just moved to Japan last year, Coen?" I ask on a whim, to change the subject.

He seems pleased by the question. "That's right! As I said, it's where I grew up, but even still… living elsewhere for a while lends itself to culture shock regardless."

"Why did you move? Work?"

"Well, sort of." He shrugs, trying to be modest. "I was taking a stipend from my family's organization for a few years so I could do charity work in the United States."

"Wow. That's… noble."

"Ha, well… nothing lasts forever, right? So I came home hoping to start a career, because, lord, is New York City ever expensive…"

"And how's that working out for you?"

"I'm… optimistic," he says with a distinct lack of optimism.

"That's probably for the best, right?"

"Yes… of course…"

Coen seems unsure of himself for the first time, but Hanako is quick to interject. "He's still hoping to travel a lot, though… he's going to take me to meet his family in Taiwan soon!"

"Really? While you're still looking for work?" asks Lilly.

"I know, I know, but we can stay with them, so it was feasible to plan," Coen replies. "And it will just be for a week or two. It should be a nice trip."

"Well, I can promise you that there is no better way to test the mettle of your relationship than a vacation out of the country."

Hanako seems a little put off by that comment, as though she fears there is some hint that Lilly may not have confidence in the 'mettle' of their relationship. I couldn't say whether or not that was true, but I do know that, ironically, Lilly would much rather Hanako not care about her approval at all.

Coen isn't similarly bothered, but nonetheless he very quickly becomes tuned into Hanako's look of concern and becomes slightly defensive as a result. "I'd like to think things have been going well so far, at least!"

"Of course. I'm sure they have. You seem quite happy together." Lilly seems to be trying to put Hanako at ease, and she knows exactly how to do it.

If only she could learn how to do that with Shizune, come to think of it, they would have a lot less conflict.

"How did you meet, if you don't mind me asking?" I ask absentmindedly.

Coen glances briefly at Hanako. "At the library, believe it or not."

"Yeah, that's not hard to believe."

…I knew I was onto something with that.

"It would probably have been my first guess," says Lilly lightheartedly. "Do you spend a lot of time reading?"

"Probably too much," he laughs.

"Well, you're not alone! Hisao and Hanako both spend almost all of their free time behind a book."

"There are worse ways to spend your time, as far as I'm concerned."

Clinging to Coen's arm, Hanako smiles optimistically at me, presumably excited by the idea that we might have some common ground. I don't like the idea of having to be friends with this guy, whom I still find rather disingenuous and off-putting, but even still I would really hate to take the wind out of Hanako's sails. It's very encouraging, and unfortunately unusual, to see her with so much enthusiasm. Besides, I am the one who thought this was a good idea for her in the first place, so I should probably try not to be the first one to discourage her.

"I hope you guys aren't leaving for your trip too soon," I say after a moment of thought.

"Not for a few weeks. Why?" Coen asks.

Lilly seems surprised that I said anything, and interjects quickly. "Oh, of course; I'd completely forgotten. Akira is here for the week, and she was hoping we would bring Hanako over for dinner some time during her trip."

"Oh… of course…!" Hanako glances briefly at Coen. "This weekend would probably be easiest, but whenever you'd like, I would love to…"

"Excellent. We would love to have you both, in that case, if you can find the time."

Coen frowns hesitantly, though he seems like he's just putting on airs to be polite. "I'm flattered by the invitation, really, but I'd hate to intrude, especially if you have other family over…"

"Oh, you don't have to worry about Akira. She's very laid-back, and she'd love to meet you," I say honestly, speaking from my gut. "She's a close friend of Hanako's as well. You wouldn't be intruding at all."

"Yes, Hisao is right." Lilly seems pleased with me, and smiles brightly in Coen's direction. "Remember what I said about unnecessary formality! You're absolutely welcome, and we would love to have you."

"Thank you so much." Coen smiles affectionately at Hanako, who herself is absolutely radiant. "I'll look forward to it, then. I hope we can keep in touch until then!"

"Of course."

Coen is relaxed for a moment, but starts after a quick glance at his watch. "Unbelievable! When did it pass seven o'clock? Time has really been flying tonight…"

"I hope we're not keeping you from anything."

"No, no, I was just thinking out loud. If anything, I was going to say the same thing to you. After all, you are the ones that went to school here. I thought you may have some other people to catch up with."

"Yes, so you would think… I would have expected someone to approach us by now. It seems everyone is keeping to themselves tonight, assuming I am not simply a forgettable person…"

"I'm sure they wouldn't mind it if you approached them first, as long as you recognized them! It is sort of the point of a class reunion, right?"

"Well, that is probably what we would be doing, but the problem is that Hisao didn't transfer to Yamaku until his senior year, so he doesn't know most of my friends from high school. And obviously, as much as I'd like to, I couldn't exactly do it myself…" Lilly laughs self-consciously, probably frustrated with herself for drawing attention to something her blindness keeps her from doing.

Coen takes a second to understand what she's talking about, and seems suddenly alarmed, looking into Lilly's eyes as though realizing her lack of eye contact for the first time. "Oh, yes; I hadn't even thought of that! I'm so sorry for suggesting something like that; how thoughtless of me…"

"Please, Coen, don't try to change your speech because of me. I'd rather not be treated differently," Lilly explains with a patient smile. "And besides, the majority of people here are physically disabled one way or another. You couldn't properly filter yourself even if you tried."

Look a bit disheveled, he glances to me with a curious expression before turning back to Lilly. "Right, of course. Forgive me."

"I'm not offended. Please don't worry yourself about it."

Coen seems a little at a loss for words for the first time. I don't know how to feel about it, but I have to admit that something about him still bothers me. He seems a little fake, I guess, as opposed to Hanako, who is so unconditionally genuine and unpretentious.

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Last edited by QuietlySomething on Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Trial by Fire

Post by QuietlySomething » Fri Feb 24, 2017 1:45 pm

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Our brief silence is interrupted when a microphone screech cuts into the room and silences most of the commotion. "Uh, hi- uh, hello everyone… good evening."

It's a familiar voice, and I turn towards the front to see Oikawa, the head of Yamaku's History department- and rival of my boss, Mutou. It occurs to me that someone was slated to give a speech tonight, but I had been under the impression it would be one of the former students. Oikawa is probably the worst public speaker I know, so I can't believe he is the one they asked to give it.

Oikawa takes a brief pause, as though he is genuinely waiting for a response. Obviously, nobody else in the room has anything to add, so he continues after an awkward few moments. "…Er, so, thanks for coming out. I didn't teach when you all went here ten years back, so… I know you all probably don't much care to hear from me, heh… heh heh…"

He wipes sweat off of his forehead and adjusts the microphone. I brace myself: knowing Oikawa, this is what the whole thing is going to be like.

"Uh, s-so, anyway, we just wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on things, uh, a little bit. I- uh, we got in contact with one of the graduates from your year, and I know he has a speech prepared; just a little something to, eh… to do that. So I don't want to hold that up any longer. Without further ado, um… Kenji Setou, everybody. I'm sure many of you remember him… so…"

A scrawny man in a bold white tuxedo slips into the foreground, and there is a brief, muffled exchange between him and Oikawa. Kenji Setou… I had assumed he would be in some subterranean apocalypse shelter or insane asylum by now.

…I miss Oikawa's speech already.

"Thanks, thanks; alright, take a seat, buddy," laughs the man who is allegedly Kenji, patting Oikawa on the back as he takes center stage. "So, yeah, hi, everyone. I'm Kenji; you may remember me, you may not. Either way, welcome back to Yamaku. I'd say you all look well, but according to my optometrist I think that would probably just be a 50/50 guess."

His joke actually gets a good amount of laughter out of the audience. He adjusts his glasses coolly- they're thin and frameless, and surprisingly fashionable. He is shockingly well-dressed, and the way he carries himself makes him seem completely normal and relaxed.

I guess people really can change.

"I know what you're all thinking," Kenji declares with a dismissive hand wave. "What's with this asshole in the suit? Why are we trapped here listening to this? Nobody came here for a lecture, right? We graduated so we could be done with them." He shakes his head dramatically, chuckling to himself. "Well, this is only going to take a couple of minutes; I know we're all still catching up. I just want to make a little statement, maybe create a little perspective. Because this is about more than just catching up, isn't it? This isn't just some party. And God knows we don't need an excuse to get drunk with our friends."

He holds out his hand, and Oikawa passes him a bottle of water, which he takes a long drink from. "No, no, there's meaning behind this, right?! This represents something. Something more than, 'look, we're all still around.' We didn't just graduate from high school, we graduated from Yamaku. And that means something." He takes another drink. "Alright, alright, do me a favor. I want you to picture, just for a second, your first day at Yamaku. It's something I'm sure everyone can remember, right? Does an image strike you? There was- is- an atmosphere here, a distinct one. No matter what your background is, no matter how you ended up here, there is a reaction that I'm sure we can all share. Canes, and dark glasses, and bandages, and prosthetics. It's a strange feeling to become a part of a place like that. Even if you yourself are 'healthy', so to speak, you became enculturated. It's the structure of this place. It's how engrossed you felt in everyone's health, and in trying to pretend to be 'normal'. For some, it was new, and for some, I'm sure it had followed you your whole life. But it was there, right?"

He shrugs and takes another sip of water.

It is an interesting point to make, to be sure, made twice as interesting by the fact that Kenji is the one making it. His constant shutting himself in his dorm room, combined with his intense, irrational suspicion of everyone else, would have lead me to believe that he would never have even attempted to think about something like this.

"Now think on your first week. Your first month. The people you met. People that you're probably surrounded by right now!" He does a broad gesture with his arms. "How long did you spend thinking about all that other nonsense before you had to start stressing out about a test, or getting to club meetings, or making friends? Think about how quickly it turned normal for you. You may have had to go to the nurse every day. You may have had to take three dozen pills before every meal. Who knows? But that's got nothing to do with your memories of this place, or of your education, does it? You did make those friends, you did take those tests, and at the end of the day, you got along fine. And here we are, ten years later, and, well, damn, there's canes and dark glasses and bandages and prosthetics here, too, but that's got nothing to do with it, does it? That's not why we all came tonight."

He shakes his head a little neurotically and hands the water back, gripping the microphone with both hands. "Okay, where am I going with this…? Listen. They called me up and asked me to give a full-fledged speech. They wanted me to talk about my organization and the charities it gives to. Rattle off names, do some gloating. They wanted me to talk about the kids I'm giving a second chance, because those charities are paying their tuition here. But I thought that would miss the point. 'Cause, shit, who am I giving a second chance? Who is Yamaku giving a second chance, for that matter? That's not what this reunion is about. Not second chances. It's not about making up for our 'problems'. Playing catch-up. It's about… adapting."

He sighs loudly into the microphone, leaning back on an unoccupied table. Dramatically removing his glasses, he makes a serious face as though to seem down-to-Earth. "I don't want people to look at my achievements and say, 'Wow, look at how Kenji overcame the odds. Look at how much a Yamaku kid was able to accomplish.' No, that's the wrong mindset altogether. Because, say what you will about what I've done with my life… the real accomplishment is one that everyone here has done. I adapted. I'm a part of the world. A regular guy. It's not because I got a second chance, and it's not because I played catch-up. It's just because… I adapted. And everyone here has done that. That's what we should be commemorating tonight. Commemorate all the little things in your life you have to be proud of. The normal things. Your husband or wife. Your kids. Your career. That's the point of this. Be glad that Yamaku gave you the space to do it, but don't give anyone credit for what you've done. Because you adapted, too. That is the point of this. And the only thing I want to do is make sure everyone here realizes that."

He puts his glasses back on and takes a dramatic pause, to rousing applause. I am left too thoroughly disoriented to participate, even though the speech itself was excellent- and kind of moving.

Lilly is not, and claps politely along with the rest of the crowd. Coen hesitates, and only claps a few moments after Lilly does. I guess he suddenly feels on edge about how he is supposed to behave in front of us.

I wonder what he's like in private, with Hanako. He must have done a good enough job at not alienating her at first, which feels ironic, considering that I would think she would be the one that you would have to tread lightest around. But then again, I don't really know what Hanako is like in private these days, either. There was a time in not-too-distant memory when someone as outspoken as Coen would barely have been able to get the time of day from her.

"Okay, okay, that's my cue, right? Yeah, my fault for saying 'a couple minutes'," Kenji laughs. "Fine, fine, I'll just say this. It's a beautiful night out, so if you want to get some air, the grounds are completely open for the rest of the evening. High elevation here, so it's good for your lungs. And if you're worried about students… well, most of the kids are gone for the summer, but if you see one, just give 'em a dirty look and tell 'em it'll be their turn next decade." He raises an arm to gesture toward the bar. "Enjoy the open bar; that's totally on me. Be nice to the poor kid, he's been in that suit for four hours now. Aaaand… that's all. Have a good night, everybody!"

The lights flicker back on over the rest of the room as Oikawa takes the microphone back from Kenji, bookending the speech with another loud screech of mic feedback. After a few minutes of getting back to normal, everyone gathers up again and gets back to fraternizing, though I notice a handful of couples heading out the double doors, presumably at Kenji's recommendation to walk around the campus.

Lilly turns slightly towards me, speaking rather quietly. "Is that the Kenji I'm thinking of…?"

"Yes. Yes, it is," I reply.

"From the way you used to talk about him…"

"I know; I'm just as confused as you. It's like he's a completely different person."

"It's strange, because in my class he was always very polite and respectful." She puts a hand to her face thoughtfully. "Maybe the way he acted around you was some kind of practical joke?"

"That would be a pretty overly drawn-out joke…"

She purses her lips with confusion. "Well, maybe he just has a strange sense of humor."

"I don't… think…"

I trail off a little, doing my best to recall my high school interactions with Kenji. All of a sudden, I'm starting to reevaluate everything I thought I knew about him, and it is starting to become disconcerting.

Anyway, it's probably for the best that he got his life on track, and I suppose I should respect him for it. It's admirable to try and become a better (or at least saner) person, and if he can do it, then anyone can.

I realize after a few moments that Hanako and Coen are completely out of the loop about what Lilly and I were talking about, and as such they seem to have moved on to some other conversation topic altogether.

Coen catches me watching the two of them and gets my attention. "Did you know the grounds were open to the returning graduates? I had assumed that they wouldn't be, since some students are staying on campus for the summer."

"Well, yeah. That's what I was told," I say with a shrug. "I do work here, after all."

"…Oh! I had no idea!" He glances at Hanako for a split second. "Well, maybe you could tell us, then! Do you know any particularly nice spots on campus, or around it…?"

"Uh, I don't know… why do you ask? You guys aren't going to stick around here?"

"Well, er, we thought we might go somewhere a bit more… private… for a while…"

Hanako looks extremely embarrassed all of a sudden, which makes Coen chuckle.

Lilly smiles firmly. "Funny, it hadn't even occurred to me, considering this is such a public event, but I suppose you two are out on a proper date tonight, aren't you?"

"I would have supposed the same thing of you both!"

They share a brief laugh, but Lilly pauses for a moment as though she is actually fond of the idea. It occurs to me that this whole event probably feels much more special to her than it does to me, considering she hasn't actually been on Yamaku's campus in ages. Thinking about it does make me kind of nostalgic, though; I have a lot of fond memories of time I spent here with Lilly.

I snap myself out of it just long enough to answer Coen's question. "Well, anyway, there's the path out into the woods around back that people almost never go to, but it may be kind of hard to navigate in the dark. If you're just looking for a place to spend some time together, though, there are shops and things in town." I look directly at Hanako for a moment, a thought occurring to me. "Although the Shanghai closed down a few years back, unfortunately."

"Oh… that's too bad…" Hanako murmurs.

"I'm sure you guys could find a place if you went into town, though."

"There's no harm in trying," says Coen. "Thank you for the suggestion, Hisao. It sure is nice to have someone who knows the area!"

"Sure. No problem."

He gestures toward the doorway, striking a confident pose. "It was so nice to meet you both! I hope that eventually you will be able to consider me as close of a friend as you do Hanako."

Lilly nods encouragingly. "I certainly hope so, as well. It was lovely to meet you, Coen."

"Have a good night, you guys," I add.

Coen nods again and takes a step toward the doorway.

Hanako hangs behind only for a second, smiling appreciatively. "Thank you so much for the invitation to dinner… I'll really be looking forward to it…"

"Of course. We'll keep in touch," says Lilly.

I smile gently at her. "Good night, Hanako."

"Good night, Hisao. Good night, Lilly…"

Hanako takes a deep breath, settling herself a little, and then scurries off after Coen, who looks very pleased to see her in such high spirits. I still feel odd about him, but I feel good about how I handled the situation. I'm curious to see how Coen will react when he meets Akira later in the week.

Lilly holds onto my arm gently, and I chuckle quietly. "Wow, he is… not what I would have expected."

"You are remarkably transparent sometimes, Hisao."

"What do you mean?"

She smirks lightly, as though I should already know, and proceeds to sidestep the question. "Regardless of how you feel about him, I appreciate that you were so hospitable. Personally, I am very impressed with Hanako. I thought he was extremely charming."

"Yeah, I could tell."

"You don't have to say it like that."

"Like how?"

"Like you're jealous."

"I'm not jealous!" She doesn't respond right away, and lets me contemplate it during the silence. Eventually, I add, "…The hand kiss was a little weird."

"I thought it was flattering. He was trying to impress us."

"And it worked, evidently."

"Oh, for goodness's sake, Hisao. You don't have to be so insecure around me."

"Well, forgive me, but I can't help but feel a little insecure when we're talking about a guy that you really like who is basically just me but well-spoken and classy. …And charitable."

…Hang on.

"…And foreign. And inhumanly attractive. Oh my God." I blink once. "No wonder you like him so much. He's not me; he's you."

Lilly seems almost at a loss for words for a moment. "Oh, dear."

"…Well, Hanako certainly has a type…"

"You're being too cynical. Just be happy for her."

"I am happy for her." I pause for a second, trying to be considerate. "I am. Really."

"Good. Then we should leave it at that, and not overthink things. I don't think it's our place to disapprove, no matter what our opinions are."

"I don't mean to… oh… alright. Fair enough."

"I realize that your intentions are good. I have always found your concern for Hanako to be touching. I just think that we need to keep our respectful distance on this." She hesitates for just a second before continuing. "And I do see the resemblance, to be fair. Although, I have to say, if he's really me, then I would certainly hope that you would like him a little more than you do."

"More like he's trying to be you. A pale imitation of you. …Literally, at that."

"…An 'inhumanly attractive' one?"

"…Okay, I guess that part was more directed towards you."

"You are truly a master of seduction, as always, Hisao," she says wryly.

"You could at least pretend."

She sighs gently and leans into me a little, looking tired. I'm disappointed that the night hasn't gone exactly as she expected. I wonder if the fact that nobody has apparently recognized her is more of a blow to her pride than she is letting on. It does seem a little strange, after all, that Hanako would have more occasion to meet up with people than Lilly would.

After a short while, Lilly straightens herself out and turns toward me, thoughtful. "Are we on a date right now?"

"Hm? I don't know. I guess so?"

"Coen apparently assumed we were. And I feel like we should be making more of an effort to do that sort of thing, especially considering how little time we get to spend alone together these days."

"I don't know, we already go everywhere and do everything together. We don't really go on dates anymore."

"Well, we should. I'd like to, anyway. Wouldn't you like to?"

"-No goddamned way!"

It's a man's voice that interrupts us, and it's loud enough to startle me just as much as it does Lilly. I had almost managed to forget we were in the middle of a crowded space.

"Who said that?" Lilly snaps suddenly, a bit irritated at being taken by surprise.

"Oh, I'm sorry to startle you!"

We are approached suddenly by a small crowd of people that are apparently stalking around the reunion as a group. The man in front waves slightly to me before turning to Lilly and continuing his introduction.

"Lilly Satou, right? It's Masaaki! Shunichi and Yuho are here, too. I hope you haven't forgotten us after all this time!"

Lilly seems marginally surprised, but catches herself quickly. "Oh, no, of course not! It's good to meet you all again!"

The two in the back- Shunichi and Yuho, I guess- simultaneously say "hello" and shrink to either side of Masaaki, who stands confidently in the front. Apparently he knows Lilly the best, or at least is the most talkative of the group.

"It's been a long night, trying to track down everyone from Student Council. So many people showed up to this!"

"You're right; I have to admit, I was surprised to find such a crowd here. I'm glad you took the time to track us down, though." Lilly gestures toward me, smiling politely. "I'd like to introduce you to my husband, Hisao. Satou is my maiden name now, so you can refer to us both with Nakai if you'd like."

Masaaki flashes me a grin. "Good to meet you, Hisao."

I get nothing but waves and inaudible murmuring from the other two people in the group. I hope I'm not coming off as unapproachable…

"Hi, everyone," I say uncertainly. "You're old friends of Lilly's?"

"That's right. From Student Council, ages and ages ago."

"Hisao is actually a Yamaku graduate, as well," Lilly interjects. "He transferred in our senior year, so we had all already left the Student Council by then."

"So this is your high school boyfriend? No kidding?"

"Yeah, yeah. Nakai," Yuho adds quietly. "That does sound right to me."

"Yes, I would hope that I would have at least mentioned that he existed back then," says Lilly with a small laugh.

I don't really have any idea of how to respond, since I don't know anyone in the crowd. They are all school friends of Lilly's, I suppose, but I never met any of them. And I was certainly never in the Student Council.

"Did you guys come here with Shizune?" Masaaki asks after a moment.

"No, we came separately, but she is here if you wanted to say hello. But I thought you had something of a falling-out with her…"

"That's ancient history, Lilly," says Shunichi. "We already spoke to her. She told us you were here!"

"Oh. Well, I'm glad you had the opportunity."

"Yeah, well, it was kind of a disaster, to tell you the truth," Masaaki says tiredly. "She was pissed about something. Did you know that she and Mikado are like, enemies now?"

"Oh, goodness, what happened…?"

"They were fighting about something. God knows what. Best not to get involved in that juvenile kind of drama as far as I'm concerned."

"Did it seem harsh? I knew it was a bad idea for them to try and act friendly tonight…"

"It seemed kind of bad," says Yuho.

"Yeah, I mean, I don't know," Masaaki says with a shrug. "It's kinda hard to tell exactly what's going on in a sign language argument. Probably just Shizune being a bitch, as usual. I totally get why you find her so grating."

For someone who apparently hates drama, Masaaki seems eager to stir it up. I am glad to be on the outside of this one.

Lilly pauses before speaking, looking suddenly offended, to my genuine surprise. "…I beg your pardon?"

Masaaki straightens out suddenly. "What do you mean?"

"Masaaki, that was completely inappropriate!"

"…What, you're telling me you don't think Shizune is a bitch? You guys have been fighting since the eleventh grade, for God's sake…"

"I… that is my cousin that you're talking about! She is a part of my family! You can't possibly expect me to…"

Lilly trails off, in disbelief. The sudden tone shift has made everybody visibly uncomfortable. Masaaki looks like a kid that just got dragged into the principal's office.

After a moment to recalibrate, Lilly shakes her head and turns a bit, trying to direct her words at Yuho and Shunichi. "I'm sorry, but would you please excuse the two of us for a few moments?"

Looking alarmed, the two of them mutter apologies and slip away. Masaaki looks very unhappy about being abandoned.

Lilly turns to me slightly, speaking much more quietly. "I'm sorry, Hisao. I'll be with you in a minute?"

"Oh. Um." I scratch uncomfortably behind my head. "Sure thing."

Then I wander off by myself, surprised. I hadn't realized at first that I was being kicked out along with the other two, and for some reason I am a little hurt, at least for a second or two.

Lilly starts on some kind of tirade, evidently furious but quiet and subtle nonetheless. I can't believe that she got so upset in defense of Shizune, of all people. It occurs to me after a moment that she is probably trying to make more of an effort to be conscious of their relationship just because I asked her to, and the sudden thought of it is very moving and makes me sentimental. Sometimes I feel like the luckiest man in the world to be married to someone so considerate of my feelings.

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Last edited by QuietlySomething on Fri Feb 24, 2017 2:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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