Lilly shut her door behind her, closing off the sound of her talking clock announcing ten o’clock. She had to force herself not to rush, to pause before knocking on her hallmate’s door. Inside, there was a stumbling crash, a rush of feet, then the door swung open.
“Oh! S-sorry, Lilly! I was r-ready to go th-then I started brushing m-my hair and lost track of t-time,” Hanako explained in a rush. “Give me... a second.”
She went back into her room. Lilly heard the rustle of plastic and the scrape of metal on ceramic, then Hanako returned and shut the door tightly behind her. "R-ready to go."
"Oh my, Hanako." Lilly was amused and couldn't keep it from her voice. "When you said you wanted to go for a walk, I didn't think you'd be bringing supplies."
"It's just… some tea and s-sandwiches," Hanako replied earnestly. "I also br-brought you a book. It's… th-the same one I'm starting."
"I hope we aren't going far. Is the bag heavy?" Lilly fussed.
"Not rea-really." Hanako seemed flustered by the question. "I'll manage," she reassured her friend, who let it drop.
Lilly and Hanako left the dorms arm-in-arm. On school grounds, Lilly didn't need the guidance but after weeks apart, it was nice to have someone familiar, someone trusted, at her side. She’d also left her cane behind, bringing only her wallet.
"I-I thought we might go… up into the forest and… read today," Hanako revealed as they approached the first fork in the path. "Th-they say the storm isn’t… until tomorrow and it might be a nice c-change of... pace from Edinburgh. I mean…"
She had trailed off because Lilly was hiding a giggle behind her free hand. When she was done, Lilly waved off Hanako's concern. "I wouldn't say wooded hills are a big change from my parents' estate but that sounds like a good plan."
"H-how was... Scotland?" Hanako asked. She kept Lilly talking about her trip as they made their way up the wide, paved trails behind Yamaku Academy.
Eventually, Hanako gently interrupted Lilly. "I d-don't know if you want... to keep going b-but th-there's some tables we can... sit at just up ahead."
"They will do just fine," Lilly said. She cocked her head to one side. "It's very peaceful up here."
There was the slight sound of a person nodding. "Not m-many people c-come up here."
"How did you discover it?" Lilly wanted to know.
"The N-Nurse says Hisao n-needs to get... more exercise a-and we found it on one of our walks," Hanako explained. "We come here w-when it's... nice out to sit and... read a-and talk."
"That sounds nice."
"It is nice." Lilly could hear a smile in Hanako's voice and smiled back.
"I'm glad you've found someone who makes you so happy," Lilly said honestly. She hoped Hanako could hear all the warmth and affection she had for her friend.
"h--thank you," Hanako said in a small voice. For a few steps, Lilly sensed Hanako’s hesitation as she seemed to grope for something else to say. In the end, she returned Lilly’s honesty with honesty of her own. “Th-that… means a lot… from you.”
Lilly was forced to take the compliment silently because Hanako kept going. “Th-the benches are… right in front of you, Lilly. About a half-meter away fr-from your left hand.”
Lilly thanked her friend, got her bearings, and sat down heavily. She was more out-of-breath than she'd realized. More exercise would probably do her as much good as it would Hisao.
A thought struck her and Lilly turned towards Hanako, who was unpacking the contents of her bag and laying them out on the table.
"I must admit I'm a little surprised Hisao didn't come with us," Lilly commented. Hanako sat down across from Lilly before answering.
"H-he had an… appointment today and besides, w-we haven't done anything t-together since you got back," she explained. "I'm… sorry about that."
"You've had good reason to be busy and I didn't give you much time to prepare for my return." Lilly waved off Hanako's apology. "Now, would you like some tea?"
"Yes please," Hanako said. To help Lilly find it, she gently tapped her fingernails on the thermos, then did the same for the teacups.
While Lilly poured, Hanako unwrapped several small curry buns and placed them on napkins. "Th-there's some… buns on the table, if you w-want them."
"They smell good. Where did you get them?" Lilly asked. She might have been away for weeks but she hadn't forgotten about Hanako's cooking.
"I've been… cooking a lot n-now that the dorms are… quiet." Lilly briefly wondered if she'd have the energy to make it back down the hill before Hanako continued. "T-these ones I g-got from the vending machine. Hisao ate a-all of the ones from the last… batch."
"They must have been good." That, or Hisao was a very good boyfriend, Lilly thought. "I might wait a bit before having any. What book did you bring for me?"
“S-something called Wuthering Heights. A... c-classmate recommended it to me. She’s in the… Literature Club so h-hopefully it’ll be good.” Hanako sounded apologetic, as though she didn’t think it would be worth reading.
“That’s a good choice,” Lilly said, hoping to put to bed Hanako’s worries. “I’ve heard it’s an excellent book and I’ve been meaning to read it myself.”
“O-oh.” Hanako seemed surprised, then slid something across the table. “I got y-you a copy in English, too…"
Lilly thanked Hanako and picked up the books. She ran her fingers across their covers, reading the title with a smile. It was a new setting but Lilly had missed reading with her friend.
"I think I'll read the Japanese edition," Lilly decided. She didn't want to fall too far behind Hanako.
"O-ok," Hanako said. After a sip of tea, she opened her book and Lilly did the same. Within minutes, they were both immersed in the story.
Time seemed to become irrelevant as Lilly left Yamaku’s hills for the marshes of Yorkshire. She had to ask Hanako what a moor was but after that, it was easy to imagine the unsteady wind that passed through the trees was actually rustling across swamp-grasses and bracken. Bird-song added to that impression.
The only sounds that didn’t fit into Bronte’s world were the wind-chimes someone had hung somewhere in the forest. They were an unsteady heartbeat, starting and stopping at the wind’s command. Lilly found their halting noise relaxing and to its tune, she and Hanako read steadily.
The whine of a distant bus labouring up towards Yamaku brought Lilly back to reality. It must be around eleven, and she realized she was hungry. Keeping one hand on the book so she could keep reading, Lilly reached for a sandwich. A few seconds later, she heard Hanako do the same
“I think we’ll be able to stay here until we run out of tea and snacks,” Lilly said, smiling slightly.
It took Hanako a few seconds to pull herself from the book and answer. “H-hopefully I br-brought… enough.”
The hours melted away in peaceful, contented silence as the women read. The sandwiches lasted them until the second bus had left and Lilly poured the remains of the tea into her cup as the third bus pulled up.
Shortly after that, Hanako made a dismayed sound. Lilly instinctively turned towards her friend then she heard the empty thermos set back onto the table.
“I’m sorry, Hanako! I just finished the tea,” Lilly said. She had to speak a little louder because the wind had picked up a little.
“It’s… ok,” Hanako replied. “W-we should probably head back in… soon anyways. It looks l-like it might rain a-after all.”
As soon as she said it, Lilly realized the wind had gotten chilly. She could smell rain on it, too. It was definitely time to go so Lilly asked if Hanako wanted help packing.
"N-no," she answered. "I'll… take care of it."
A couple of minutes later, Hanako had everything tidied up and ready to go. She took Lilly's arm and the two started walking.
"You haven't told me how you've been, Hanako," Lilly observed after a few minutes. It had been bugging her since before they started walking but she only brought it up now because she'd enjoyed her time reading.
Hanako nodded, almost inaudible in the wind, but said nothing at first. Then, when she realized Lilly was waiting for an answer, she spoke. "I've been… ok."
A three week absence, exams, a new boyfriend and that's all she's got? "How did you and Hisao do on exams?" Lilly asked.
To her ears, the question sounded plaintive and desperate, probably because it had always been hard to get stuff out of her friend.
"Mutou s-says I did… well on most of t-them." For a moment, it seemed like that was all she'd say, then Hanako kept going. "I d-didn’t think I would on the… science exam."
"Even with Hisao helping you?" Lilly thought she imagined a slight break in Hanako’s steady pace. Wind and shaking wind-chimes filled the silence until she decided she should try again. “Hanako?”
“He… was studying for h-his own exams.” Hanako said it through gritted teeth and Lilly immediately regretted further prompting her. She also couldn’t help wonder why the topic was so touchy.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Lilly replied mildly, then realized what she’d said. “Sorry, Hanako! I don’t mean I was glad he wasn’t helping you! Just that he was focusing on his own future for a change.”
“His… own future?” Hanako repeated. There was something in her voice that Lilly didn’t recognize, something slightly intimidating. It made Lilly feel like she was playing a game she didn’t know the rules to and that she’d already made a wrong move.
“Yes, his future,” Lilly said slowly, trying to think her way out of whatever she’d gotten herself into. “Hisao seemed to spend a lot of time thinking about his past instead of thinking of his future.”
“B-but you said ‘his own future,’” Hanako accused after a long pause. “You meant... th-that he was worrying a-about me and my future instead... of his.”
Lilly frowned, slightly disappointed her misdirection failed. She had a sinking feeling this conversation wasn’t going to go well. “Can you blame him for worrying?” she asked mildly. “You’d locked yourself in your room and you weren’t eating. Hisao didn’t know what to do.”
“I don’t n-need him... to worry about m-me,” Hanako muttered, barely audible over the sweeping wind. “Not unless I-I’m worrying about him too.”
“I know, and that’s what I told him,” Lilly said. She tried to sound soothing but Hanako stopped in her tracks and Lilly heard her companion’s head whip around and felt the slap of hair on her shoulder.
“You c-called him to talk about me?” Hanako sounded shocked and Lilly knew she’d made another misstep.
“No, no! He called me!” Lilly backpedaled furiously, uselessly: Hanako pulled her arm free from Lilly’s and took a few quick steps away.
“What did you tell him?” Hanako asked it quietly but Lilly heard the anger coursing through her voice. She recoiled from it, not understanding where it came from, then Hanako shouted the question at her. “What else did you tell him?!”
Lilly had to swallow hard a few times before she felt she could get words out of her dry mouth. “I-I told him that you were strong than he thought you were and that you’d get through this,” she said quietly.
“W-what else?” Hanako demanded. Her desperation and anger made Lilly want to sink into the ground. Somewhere, a mistake had been made and Lilly suspected it was her fault and that judgement was coming. It scared her.
"I also suggested that he think a little more about h-his future." Lilly's subdued admission was followed only by the wind-chimes' urgent warning.
Then, with a suddenness that made Lilly jump, Hanako swore. "Fuck!"
She started walking away, and snatches of what she said to herself floated back to where Lilly swayed in the rising wind.
"...know what… she's done…"
"Shit!" Hanako swore again and Lilly realized just how far her friend - were they still friends? - had gotten. She felt a stab of fear and wondered if she was about to be abandoned here, without her cane.
It scared Lilly almost as much as the thought of losing her friend did, but Hanako turned around and started walking back.
"Do you know what you did?!" She was sobbing now as she shouted at Lilly.
"N-no," Lilly answered. She had no idea. She couldn't even start to imagine what she'd done because her heart was breaking for her heart was breaking for her friend.
"Oh my god." Hanako was angry again, walking away again.
Lilly wanted to follow but was rooted to the spot. Raindrops pattered onto the asphalt and onto her face, mixing with her tears. "W-what did I do?" she asked. If this was her fault, she had to know, even if that meant bearing Hanako’s anger again.
But her friend didn’t stop walking, nor did she answer. Lilly stood for a few seconds in the rain that fell hot and hard, wondering if Hanako had heard her over the wind. “Hanako?”
“Exactly wh-what you always do: you tr-tried to fix us. You… tried to make us better. I-I don’t even know if you c-cared about us as you m-meddled in our lives," Hanako said. It didn’t make things any more clear but Lilly couldn't say anything she was so struck by Hanako's rancour and besides, Hanako kept going.
“You probably even th-thought you’d s-asucceeded when you found out Hisao a-and I were together,” she said with venom. “Except you didn’t. You- you almost broke us! We’re together in spite of you, not because of you!”
Hanako’s voice cracked with despair and frustration and a thousand other emotions. Lilly heard her turn away, then slowly turn back around. “I’m going to... walk you back d-down the hill,” she said in a low, thick tone that Lilly strained to hear. “I-I can’t leave you here.”
She didn't have to say what would happen after that; Lilly's aching heart already knew. "I'm-I'm sorry," she said uselessly as Hanako linked arms with her.
Her apology went unacknowledged, adding to the ball of hurt Lilly felt in her stomach. Hanako’s clear unease cut her too. She walked stiffly and as far away from Lilly as she could without breaking contact. There was no warmth in this trusting gesture anymore and Lilly wished she’d been left to find her own way down. It would be easier than putting up with Hanako’s dutiful yet hostile attitude.
Still, Lilly thought, swallowing her tears. I'm not giving up this easily. This is my last chance to show Hanako that I do care. Before she could do that though, Lilly had to calm herself down.
For several minutes, she tried but for once found she couldn’t relax, couldn’t centre herself. Every time Lilly got close, Hanako’s voice, alternatively despairing or raging, came to mind and in would come thoughts of the unknown consequences of her actions.
It took Lilly awhile to realize that her fear of those consequences should be where her pleas come from. She was dealing with a beloved friend, not a stranger. She should be emotionally involved. Lilly took a ragged breath.
“Hanako, I tried to help you because I care about you and I don't want anything bad to happen to you.” She spoke quietly, not caring anymore if she kept the emotion from her voice. “You know that, right?”
Lilly heard Hanako take a few deep breaths of her own. “Th-that’s what my th-therapist says… a-and th-that’s what I know b-but sometimes it… doesn’t feel true!” Hanako admitted sadly. She sounded like she had more to say and Lilly waited for her to keep going.
“A-all you ever do is... protect me and it’s a-all you’ve ever d-done. It's... like I'm not e-even a p-person! I'm j-just an object that can be thrown away when you're done with me. I hate it! I-” Her voice rose in speed and volume until Hanako cut herself off suddenly.
More rain fell as Lilly wondered what had gone unsaid. Then she thought about what was said and felt a terrible sadness building in her. “I can imagine. I-I can be overbearing and I shouldn’t have treated you the way I did and I’m sorry. I won’t do it again if you give me ano-another chance.”
Lilly had barely gotten the words out when she stopped and burst into tears again. These ones flowed freely and Lilly didn’t try to stop them. There was nothing else she could say, anyways. She just had to trust that Hanako believed her because the alternative was too much to bear, though it seemed close, terribly close.
Hanako had let Lilly’s arm go when she stopped and without that hostile contact, Lilly’s world shrank until it was filled by the deadening sound of falling rain and the pain of hurting someone she loved and the fear of being abandoned. She sank into the misery until Hanako’s arms, warm despite the rain, wrapped around her and pulled her free.
“I kn-know you’re sorry.” Hanako held Lilly close and whispered hoarsely into her ear. “I hate th-that I hate not... wanting your help. I shouldn’t... be like this, I shouldn’t... act like th-this when others... want to help me.”
She was crying too but her tears were bitter and angry and full of self-loathing. “No…” Lilly sobbed. She swallowed hard, trying to clear the lump from her throat. “I think- I think you were right to get upset. I don’t know how my actions hurt you and Hisao but I can hear in your voice that they hurt you badly.”
To Lilly’s surprise, Hanako snorted, then stepped away so she was facing her at arm’s length. “S-stop making... excuses for me,” she said in a surprisingly firm tone. “Getting upset shouldn't... involve screaming at p-people... who care about me.”
“I guess I'm doing it again, aren't I?” Lilly asked as lightly as she could. “It'll take some getting used to.”
Hanako moved to Lilly’s left and linked arms with her. Lilly had a moment to savour the sensation of knowing she was in good hands before they started walking again.
Her clothes were soaked through, as Hanako’s surely were, and water ran from her hair like it would from a faucet but Lilly felt as light as a feather. The terrible future she’d imagined for herself, a future without her friend, seemed far less real than it had minutes ago,.
“I'm sorry... for y-yelling at you. I probably sc-scared you,” Hanako said after a few minutes.
“No-” Lilly started, then thought better. “Yes, you did. I was worried I would lose you.”
“Were you?” Hanako’s surprise hurt, but not nearly as much as Lilly had hurt earlier.
“Of course,” Lilly said emphatically. “You said you felt like I might throw you away but I never would. I love you. You and Akira and Shizune are my family here in Japan.” She smiled at the thought. “Why do you think I came back?”
“O-on bad days, I th-thought it was because... you wanted to f-finish what you'd started with me…” Hanako admitted, causing Lilly to shake her head violently.
“I came back because I missed you,” Lilly assured her. She hesitated a moment, then made her own admission. “My parents… they wanted me to move to Scotland. Permanently.”
“Yes. I thought seriously about it before I left, too,” Lilly confessed. “I spent a lot of time wishing I had my parents back, like things used to be before they moved.” She paused to think. “Then, when I got there, I realized how… different we were. They weren't used to me the way you and Akira are and I don't think they could get used to me. I still… wanted to stay though…”
Hanako nodded. “We all... want th-the past. We can't... make things the way th-they were th-though. We can only... make peace wi-with it and move forwards.”
“I'm discovering that,” Lilly said. “It's hard though, without people you can rely on.”
“Yes it is.” Lilly heard Hanako’s smile and smiled back. Despite the rain, she slowed down so she could enjoy walking with her friend a little longer. Things would be ok.