Ah, the joys of finishing ahead of schedule. Integration is the most stress filled time in any game's development. If it goes smoothly, over in a few days. If it doesn't.... well let's just say we began in September and only got it working right *checks watch* 14 hours ago.
So, rewarded myself by finishing up the next section. I know I'd not wanted to do Iwanako, but then the scene wrote itself and I had to use it somehow:
“So you took a train all the way down here, just to do a weekly checkup?”
Mr. Katayama nods. “Certainly, I need to ensure Rika’s safety. And yours too Hisao.”
Behind him, the familiar scenery of the city I grew up in. I felt out of place here, and he most certainly was an intruder here.
The now routine reports get passed. I think the man gets his kicks off of paperwork. Perhaps in a previous incarnation he was a Soviet bureaucrat deep in a Kafkaesque maze of triplicate forms and mimeographs.
Once done, he throws me the curve ball.
“So, I’ve finished gathering the research on your life down here…”
I blink. “Er, research?”
He does not take his gaze off the papers he was holding in front of his face. “Yes, former schoolmates, teachers, things like that.”
He sets the papers down and looks at me over his glasses. “To help me understand where you came from. I’ve been there all of Rika’s life, but yours is largely a mystery.”
He picks up the papers again, going over the data in them as casually as someone would the sunday newsprint. “You don’t have anything to worry about. They all spoke highly of you. Well, most. I could not get ahold of one person, a girl in your class who visited you in the hospital.”
He looks at me over the papers. “She was mentioned in the guest log of the hospital 26 times over 6 weeks. Do you know who I’m talking about.”
I sigh. That’s twice in two days that she’s come up. “Yes, sir. She was there when I had my heart attack. Honestly, without her quick response, I may not have made it.”
His eyes go up. “Ah, that would make sense then.”
He closes the folder, then folds his hands on the table in front of him.
“I was afraid you had a secret romance on the side, understand.”
“Well, to be fair, she had confessed to me just beforehand. I never had the chance to respond.”
He pursed his lips. “Then it makes even more sense. Guilt combined with an opportunity lost. Have you spoken with her since returning?”
I shook my head. “No, nor do I intend to. She has moved on with her life, as have I. A meeting now would only be awkward.”
“A pity. One’s relationships tell much of a person. I would have been curious as to her responses.”
Does he not realize how intrusive this is?
Then the answer hits me. He does know precisely how intrusive it is.
He enjoys it.
No, enjoyment is too mild a word for it.
He gets off on it. It gives him a perverse pleasure to intrude on people, to put them into a position that they are forced to do as he says.
He knew precisely who Iwanako was, and her relationship with me, but went about this in order to dangle bait in front of me.
I keep the conversation light. Rika for her part once her reports were done had left nominally to get some fresh air. In the corner of my eye, I could see a familiar figure walking up and starting a conversation with Rika. Glad Mai got my message. Means I have a way to escape from this mess of a man before me.
What is it that motivates him? Not guilt over the loss of a son. Nor is it care for a daughter. Certainly not for the love of his wife.
He lost control over everything. That has to be it. I am witnessing someone who must micro-manage every aspect of his life, and those around him.
And then it sinks in a bit that I could easily fall into that same trap. Any person could. A feeling of helplessness will drive people to all sorts of extreme actions.
“And so, Hisao, have you given any thought to your post-secondary education?”
I nod. “I want to stay close to Rika, so I’ve been looking at schools near Yamaku.”
He beams at this. Of course he does, it means he can keep his daughter under control. “Well, I know most of the universities, so when you get ready, let me know and I will help you.”
Help me? My mind flashes back to his wife, and what he made her do, and I have to suppress a shudder. Unfortunately he notices that.
“Fine, fine. Think I just had a burst of the air conditioning hit my neck. Felt weird.”
“Well, it is about time I head back. A two hour train ride is not fun.”
“Indeed. Then again, we will be taking the same trip in two days.”
With that, he nods, and without another word, steps out. I see him talk with Rika, and they exchange a hug. He then shakes hands with Mai, and then I notice the other person who is standing off to the side.
If he only knew who was standing right there, this would make today even more awkward. Thankfully, she is away, and he does not notice her.
I’ll stay in here for a bit. I meant it when I said I felt it would be awkward, and I wish to stick to that.
Unfortunately, fate it seems, is not a kind mistress.
I am still sitting when the person who I guess tagged along with Mai walks in, takes a look around, spots me, and makes a path to where I am sitting. I sigh, steeling myself for this. I don’t look up as she sits down across from me.
And so I find myself facing Iwanako.
The silence is awkward, neither of us knowing how to say the first thing.
I decide on breaking it with some smalltalk.
“You’ve gotten a haircut.”
She sighs. “This is already hard. Let’s… get this over with, and not drag it out?”
“Ok,” I answer.
“I didn’t expect to hear from you again. And when I did, the letter was a bit… well, the best way was if you were rubbing my nose in my mistakes.”
I sigh. “Yeah, I’m sorry for that. I am serious when I say that there are more girls at Yamaku than boys. But, I shouldn’t have been so condescending, and for that I am sorry.”
“You are looking a lot healthier.”
I manage a dry chuckle at that. “I should hope so.”
Realization strikes her before she stammers out, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t think…”
I lean forward. “Look, it was a bad place for both of us. Today, it’s different, at least for me. I had a fresh start after my heart attack, while the rest of you were left behind in the same situation. The guys told me you had to deal with the aftermath, while I could pretend that my past didn’t happen.”
I take her hand in both of mine. “But I do owe you my life, so thank you. If you hadn’t slipped me that note, I would not be here today.”
I shake my head. “No buts. I’ve given it a lot of thought. When I was in trouble, you managed to get me the help I needed. You’re a good person.”
I let go, sit back and smile. “It is good to see you. I’m sorry I was…”
She raises a hand to stop me. “No, I need to apologize…”
“Maybe it would be better to say we both have a lot to be sorry for?”
She smiles a little. “I guess we do. So, tell me about her?” She gestures to Rika outside.
“Sizing up the competition?”
She laughs. “No. I just want to make sure you’re doing fine.”
I rub at my chest. “I have a heart which is never going to be as strong as those around me. I will never be fine, or normal. But I will survive, and that’s what matters.”
She looks outside, where Rika is sitting, talking with Mai. It seems Rika’s father had finally left.
“I only had a few minutes, but I have to admit that she is adorable. And doesn’t look anything like me. Mai was afraid you’d find the closest match and it would be a kind of rebound. I don’t know if I should be happy or upset over that.”
I just smile. “If I was going to do that, there is a girl in the back of my class who not only looks similar but even has a similar name. Her hair is longer, however, and she’s super shy. But, that’s not what happened.”
I look outside as well. “Instead I fell for the girl who is most like me. What I could have been.”
“Could have been?”
I nod. “Rika’s known of her heart for her whole life. She’s had treatment since she was a baby. I didn’t, so when it was discovered, a lot of damage had been done. Now I’ve got to live within the limits that imposes.”
“If you could go back to that winter day…” she starts to say.
I interrupt her. “You’ve done nothing wrong. I am flattered how you felt, and if things had been different who knows. But we can’t change the past, nor should we. It makes us who we are.”
I chuckle. “So you’ve taken my place in the little quartet I see.”
She smiles a bit. “I guess. After what happened, a lot of people called me bad luck. They were the ones who supported me when all of my friends stopped talking to me.”
“I heard. Iwanako, I’m sorry. You were always so popular.”
She hangs her head. “I was the girl who nearly killed her boyfriend. The stares, the gossip, nobody wanted to sit with me at lunch anymore. Then when you didn’t come back, the rumors shifted that I actually had killed you. People I thought were my friends, they were the ones leading the charge too.”
“The gang told me the same thing. I’m going to ask you the same thing I asked them. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because, I remember how you looked in that hospital room. I couldn’t do that to you.”
I smile. “Do I look that way now?”
She shakes her head. “No, but you don’t look like the shy boy who I asked out either.”
“I’m not. I mean it when I say that who I was died that day. But I’m happy with who I am now.” And I look back out to Rika. “And I have something worth living for.”
“So, this mystery girl who looks like me in your class, I feel a bit miffed that you didn’t start dating her.” She has a smile on her face now.
I laugh. “Never could have had a chance. First time I tried to say hello, she quite literally ran out of the library in a panic.”
“Still, if you had then I could have soothed my ego with the thought that you still on some deep level cared for me.”
I shake my head in amusement. “I don’t know. I’d have thought it would have been a sign that I just have a type.”
She smiles. “Well, there is that.”
I then gaze out at Rika a moment before returning back to the lady across the table from me. “If there is anything I can do to help you stop the taunting. Let me know.”
She considers a moment. “Can I get back to you?”
I nod. “Sure.”
I once more gaze out.
Iwanako says, “You really do love her, don’t you?”
I nod. “I do.”
She then smiles. “Then go to her, and don’t let her go.”
“And what about you?” I ask, curious.
“Well, I do have to get ready for my date tonight.”
I lift an eyebrow. “Oh? A date?”
“Anyone I know?”
She nods again.
“Hmm, well, I know it’s not Shin, because Mai would have killed you. You and Takumi?”
She nods one more time.
I just start to laugh. “Well, that’s good. How did you confess?”
She shakes her head. “I didn’t.”
“Wow, I thought he would have chickened out.”
It is now her turn to laugh. “Mai arranged it.”
She smiles. “You know, I should leave that story up to her.”
I laugh. “Seriously? Just going to tease the story then leave it hanging?”
We both laugh at that.
She then says, “Go on, enjoy the rest of the day with her. She’s waiting for you.”
She thinks a moment before adding on “And, I’ll let you know if there’s anything you can do to help, alright?”
“Deal.” Then I think a moment. “You guys start school on Monday, right? We don’t for another week. Want me to check on if we can stay a few extra days? Having me show up in the audience for the opening ceremony may at least stop some of the rumors. That or they’ll think I’m the undead come to enact vengeance.”
Iwanako laughs a bit.
“I’ll talk with Rika, alright?”
“You don’t have to…”
I raise a hand to silence her. “I want to. I never got to say goodbye. They were my classmates too, even if I don’t remember any of their names now. That makes me feel bad, and I want to fix it. No, I need to fix it."