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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:32 pm

Chapter 6


My mother packed us a couple of bentos to take with us on the train, even though the trip was barely two hours long. At least it would save us from having to buy lunch, which was nice. We hugged both of my parents good bye early in the morning before they headed off to work, and a while later we headed to the train station.

Once we arrived at Hanako’s home town, we checked into the small hotel I’d found listed on-line. Affordable, clean, but a bit run-down and shabby. Perfect for college students on a budget. We left our bags and set out for the cemetery, getting directions on which bus to take from the desk clerk. There was an Aura Mart by the bus stop, and Hanako went in and bought a large assortment of flowers, as well a small scrub brush and some paper towels with which to clean the tombstones.

Once we got to the cemetery where Hanako’s parents were buried, it took us a while to find their markers. “It’s been over f-five years since I was here last,” she said defensively. “I…think they w-were near a stand of bamboo.” The only problem being, there were many such stands in the cemetery.

We wandered for a while, systematically working our way up and down the long lines of stones. I passed a marker for someone named Hisashi Nakai, and shuddered. That was too close to home. At least he had lived to a ripe old age of seventy-seven. Maybe I could take that as a good omen. I doubted we were at all related, but I paused and gave him a brief bow, just in case. As I continued searching, I tried not to think about how soon I might be residing in a place like this. Then another marker caught my eye.

“Hanako?” I called. “I think I’ve found—oh. Never mind.” I’d found a pair of markers with the name Ikezawa, but the dates were wrong, much too old to be Hanako’s parents. But Hanako came over to me, drawn by my call, and she stopped and drew in a sharp breath. I turned to her, and she was standing at the plot next to me. Another pair markers engraved Ikezawa, these the right ones.

Hanako stared at her parents’ graves for a long moment, then tore her attention away and looked at me and where I was standing. “Oh. Yes. M-my grandparents. I b-barely remember them, th-they died when I was very young.”

“Ah. Well, now it’s a good thing we bought so many flowers. We can spruce up their graves, too.”

Hanako nodded. “Yes. Th-that would be good.”

Apparently Hanako’s parents had pre-purchased their plots and stones, because they were fairly nice ones. I was surprised to see how tidy they looked. The cemetery grounds keepers did a nice job of keeping everything generally neat, but it seemed to me that someone had paid some personal attention to the grave sometime in the last few months. It was much neater than the grandparents’ grave, and did not have five years worth of moss or dirt on it.

After we had tidied both pairs of graves and placed fresh flowers on them, Hanako and I knelt in front of her parents’ stones. I bent forward at the waist and bowed deeply. “Mr. and Mrs. Ikezawa. We’ve never met, but I shall be grateful to you every day of my life for giving Hanako her life. Not only once, as most parents do, but twice. I want you to know that your great sacrifice has been rewarded, for she has grown up to be a wonderful, strong woman, with a kind and generous heart. I promise I shall always do my best to care for her, just as she cares for me.” I paused for a moment, trying to think of what else to say, then simply added, “Thank you.”

As I sat back up, I looked over to see Hanako looking at me with a gentle smile on her face and brightly shining eyes. “Thank you,” she said quietly. Then she wiped at her eyes, and also bowed.

“Mama. Papa. I love you and miss you. But I want you to know that I’m finally happy, now. And although I’ll always wish you were with me, I am grateful to you for your sacrifice, for giving me my life. Twice. For giving me a chance to meet Hisao, and Lilly. For giving me a chance to live. And love. Thank you.”

As she sat back up, my cheeks were wet, too. I put my arm across her shoulders, she slipped an arm around my waist, and we knelt there for a while, just being there.

________________________

Eventually, I stood up, my knees protesting a little at kneeling for so long, and I gave Hanako a hand in getting up too. I put an arm across her shoulders as we continued to regard the grave.

“Did you know the Ikezawas?” came a voice behind us.

Hanako flinched slightly, and we turned around to see a slim older woman, her short black hair shot with silver, regarding us with a friendly, curious smile. Her smile disappeared and her eyes went wide when she saw Hanako, and I felt Hanako tense under my arm in anticipation of the stares and pity her scars sometimes engendered. But the woman’s next word put that worry to rest immediately.

“Hana?”

Hanako froze entirely for a long moment, staring at the woman, then she stammered out incredulously, “M-mrs. M-matsumoto?”

“Oh, Hana, it is you! I’d recognize that beautiful face anywhere.” Mrs. Matsumoto beamed at her. “Good heavens, how you’ve grown.”

Hanako swayed slightly under my arm, and I gave her a worried look. “Do you need to sit down, Hanako?”

“Yes, I th-think I’d b-better,” said Hanako faintly, and she plopped down on the ground, looking stunned. She stared up at Mrs. Matsumoto.

Mrs. Matsumoto frowned, looking worried. “Are you all right, dear?” She crouched down beside Hanako, and rested a concerned hand on Hanako’s knee. I joined her, kneeling beside the two of them.

Hanako nodded mutely, just staring at Mrs. Matsumoto. Since it didn’t seem I could count on Hanako to make introductions just now, I bent forward in a brief bow and said, “I am Hisao Nakai, Hanako’s boyfriend.”

Mrs. Matsumoto took her attention from Hanako, and nodded to me. “I’m Mrs. Matsumoto. I lived next door to the Ikezawas for years. Until that dreadful fire.” She turned her attention back to Hanako. “I never could find out what happened to you, after. Because I wasn’t family, they wouldn’t tell me where you were sent.”

“Oh. I…I spent most of n-n-nine months in the h-hospital. Before b-being sent to an, an orphanage.”

“An orphanage? You had no other family to take you in?”

Hanako just shook her head mutely, then closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She sat up straighter, and gave Mrs. Matsumoto a hesitant smile. “Y-you used to b-babysit me. I remember p-playing with y-your cat…Momo?”

“Why, yes, dear old Momo. She died long ago, but I still have one of her kittens—now an old cat himself—named Reo.”

This exchange of commonplace memories seemed to steady Hanako, and she stood up. “I’m s-sorry for my behavior.” She bowed to Mrs. Matsumoto. “I was j-just surprised t-to see someone…I knew. From before.”

Mrs. Matsumoto smiled as she rose to her feet too. “That’s quite all right dear.”

“Do we have you to thank for the care of the Ikezawas’ graves?” I guessed.

Mrs. Matsumoto nodded. “I come here regularly to visit my husband’s grave. It seemed a shame that no one was taking care of their grave, so I clean it up a little when I have the time.”

“Th-thank you. Very much,” said Hanako, bowing again, deeper this time. “I ap-preciate your care and c-concern.” She glanced guiltily at her parents’ graves and explained, “I’ve been at s-school, too far away t-to visit regularly.” Then she frowned. “When did Mr. Matsumoto p-pass away?”

“Almost five years ago. Of karōshi.” Her smile faded. “He worked so hard to provide for me and the boys, and he never got to enjoy the fruits of his labors.”

The notion of working oneself to death, usually by heart attack, sobered me. There was more than one way my heart might betray me, if I wasn’t careful. Apparently Hanako had similar thoughts, because she took my hand in hers and squeezed it.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said, and Hanako murmured the same.

Mrs. Matsumoto shook off her brief gloom. “Thank you, dears, but it was a while ago, and I’m used to it by now. At least he had enough foresight to invest wisely, so that I might continue my work as an artist.” She smiled. “It is rewarding work, but more so emotionally than fiscally.”

“What kind of art do you do?” I asked, thinking of Rin.

She put her hand behind her and pulled a fancy camera on a shoulder strap around to the front of her body. I had assumed the strap over her shoulder was for a purse. “I’m a photographer.”

“Th-that’s right. I re-remember you let me watch you d-develop photos in your d-darkroom a few times.” Hanako smiled. “It seemed like m-magic, the way the pictures b-blossomed on the page.”

“Hah. Blossomed on the page. I like that,” said Mrs. Matsumoto. “Alas, these days, I’ve given in to the march of progress, and I work digitally. A different kind of magic. Though I do miss the darkroom, now and again. Seeing peoples’ faces peering up at me as they ‘blossomed.’ ”

Hanako’s hand suddenly clenched my hand tighter. I glanced at her, and she had gone pale. “Mrs. Matsumoto. D-do you think…might you have…any old pictures of…my p-parents?”

“Oh, yes, I'm certain I do somewhere. And of you. From neighborhood parties, or festivals.” She noticed Hanako’s stunned stare, and asked “Would you like to see them, dear?”

________________________

Perhaps fortunately, Mrs. Matsumoto had moved to an apartment shortly after Mr. Matsumoto’s death. I’m not sure how Hanako would have reacted to visiting her childhood neighborhood, even though her family home had, of course, been replaced by a newer structure. But the prospect of finally having some decent photos of her parents was probably shock enough for one day.

“This may take a few minutes. When I moved into a smaller place, I had to compact a lot of storage. My formerly tidy archive files are now packed into stacks of boxes.” She led us to what would probably have been a second bedroom for most people, revealing a room lined with shelves on two walls, stacked high with boxes. The third wall held a large window and filing cabinets, and the fourth wall was taken up by a large desk with a computer system and three huge monitors.

The boxes were all neatly labeled and dated, and I noticed that they were all marked “Archival and Acid-Free.” If these orderly ranks of boxes were her archives in disarray, I could only imagine what they had been like in her previous residence.

“I may miss the darkroom at times, but I must admit that storage, search, and retrieval are much easier in the digital age. Provided that I label and tag everything properly. Now, let’s see, your family moved here just after you were born, so we should start looking around twenty years ago.” She scanned the labels on the boxes, then nodded.

“Young man, would you be so kind as to bring down that box up there?”

I reached overhead and pulled down the indicated box. I was surprised at how heavy it was. I set it on the desk where she indicated, and she folded back the top lid. Hanako just stood silently by, staring intently at Mrs. Matsumoto.

The box was filled with a mixture of photos and plastic sheets, which I realized were filled with rows of negatives. Tabbed cardboard dividers organized everything. Mrs. Matsumoto pulled out a stack of black and white photos from the front of the box, each page covered with many tiny pictures.

Noticing my puzzled look, Mrs. Matsumoto explained, “These are contact sheets, a single roll of film printed on a single page. A way to index what’s in the box.” She flipped through the pages rapidly, too quickly for me to get more than a general impression of what she was looking at. Most of the photos seemed to be of people. “No, not this box.” She returned the contact sheets to the box and closed it. “If you would replace this and take the next box below it down?”

It took five boxes before Mrs. Matsumoto paused in her quick flipping through the contact sheets to examine something closer. The images were so small, I was amazed she could make out any details at all, but I supposed it was partly a matter of experience. “Ah. Yes. That’s right,” she murmured. She replaced the contact sheets and began to flip through the rest of the box, referring to the index tabs with dates and notations written on them. She at last pulled out a single photo, glanced at it and nodded. “Here you go, dear. This was shortly after you all moved in next door.”

She handed the photo to Hanako, and I moved beside her. I watched her face instead of looking at the photo, alert for any sign of impending breakdown. She stared hard at the photo for several seconds, and then she slowly smiled as her eyes filled with tears. “Papa. Mama,” she whispered.

I shifted so I could look over her shoulder. I had always assumed that Hanako’s mother would look like an older Hanako, and her father like a typical salaryman. But as it turned out, Hanako favored her father. He was a tall slim man, with long hair tied in a tight braid. The braid was clenched tight in the chubby hand of baby Hanako. Her mother was a full head shorter than Mr. Ikezawa, and round of features. They both looked a touch tired, as the parents of a baby might, but also happy.

Hanako wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her wrist. “I d-don’t remember Papa having l-long hair.”

“He cut it off shortly after this photo was taken. Part of trying to look more ‘respectable,’ I think.” Mrs. Matsumoto sighed. “The sacrifices we make for our careers. It was lovely hair.”

Hanako looked up at Mrs. Matsumoto. “Could I m-make a copy of this?”

“You can have it, dear. I still have the negative, after all.”

Hanako stared at Mrs. Matsumoto like she’d just given her a million yen. “Th-thank you,” she whispered, her voice thick with unshed tears, and she bowed deep.

Mrs. Matsumoto looked puzzled at this reaction. “You’re welcome, Hana.”

As Hanako straightened up, it looked like she wasn’t going to be capable of speech for a few moments, so I explained, “All of her family photos were destroyed in the fire. The only pictures she has of them are a couple of blurry newspaper photos from their obituaries.” Looking at the photo in Hanako’s hand, I would never have recognized her parents from those grainy old newspaper photos.

Mrs. Matsumoto looked shocked. “Oh, my poor dear.” She glanced around the room. “If there’s one thing I have in abundance, it’s photographs. Let us see if we can’t find you some more.”

________________________

After a half hour of searching, Mrs. Matsumoto had found another two photos, and an additional dozen or so images on contact sheets that she hadn’t printed. Hanako and I peered at the tiny pictures, but the faces were so small on some of them that I wondered how Mrs. Matsumoto could be certain who they were.

The first photo was taken at some sort of festival, and Hanako’s parents were sitting on a blanket in front of a tree. Her father had short hair. Six year old Hanako was little more than a motion blur in front of her parents, as they laughed at her racing past them.

“You never walked when you could run. Unless you were stopped to ask an adult innumerable questions, you were running.” I had a hard time imagining such a thing, but Hanako looked wistful as if she were remembering running like that. Running like Emi, the fastest thing on no legs.

The second photo wasn’t of Hanako’s parents, but of Hanako at around age seven, cuddling with Momo. It was odd to see her without scars, looking joyous and carefree. Innocent. Momo looked like she was tolerating being adored, just barely.

“You were adorable,” I said. Hanako shook her head, but she was smiling.

“I’m just s-sorry that Lilly won’t be able to s-see these pictures,” Hanako said. I nodded in agreement.

“Who’s Lilly, and why won’t she?” asked Mrs. Matsumoto.

“She’s our b-best friend, and roommate. But she c-can’t see the photographs b-because she’s blind.”

“Oh.” Mrs. Matsumoto shuddered. “I must confess, of all the possible injuries or disabilities in the world, blindness scares me the most.”

“Well, you’re a visual artist. That only makes sense,” I said.

“Lilly has been b-blind since birth, so…I can’t say she doesn’t miss sight, exactly, b-but…she’s used to it.”

“How did you meet?”

“We m-met at Yamaku, a high school for students with v-various physical disabilities. We were all s-students there, and met there.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of it.” She shot me a curious look. “You were a student there also?” Unspoken was the obvious question.

I tapped my chest. “I have a defective heart, an arrhythmia.”

“Ah. I’m sorry for prying, that was impolite.”

I shrugged. “It’s only natural curiosity. I’m not offended.”

Mrs. Matsumoto turned to the stack of contact sheets she had accumulated as we looked for photos. “For these images on the contact sheets, I just need to scan the negatives, then I can print them out for you. They won’t be archival quality prints, but they’ll be good enough for memories.”

“Would it be possible to have—could we buy”—I was keenly aware that she was a professional photographer—“the digital files after you scan them? Then we could get them printed more permanently.”

Mrs. Matsumoto waved aside any question of payment. “Good heavens, you have no pictures of your family. I couldn’t charge you for these. Besides, most of these photos are more of the nature of snapshots, not professional work that I would ever exhibit or sell.”

I didn’t know enough about photography to be able to articulate what it was that made her photos look different from standard family snapshots, but something about the composition and lighting made it clear that they had been taken by a professional, despite the casual subject matter.

Mrs. Matsumoto offered us tea, and we adjourned to the living room. She refused our offer of assistance, and as she worked on preparing the tea, we wandered around her living room, looking at the photos on the walls. Reo, Momo’s “kitten”, woke from his slumber in a sunbeam and weaved around our ankles as we walked around the room.

The photos on the walls were mostly black and white images, and most of them were of people. Not formal portraits, but more in the nature of candid images, from all over the world, by the looks of it. There were a couple of more formal looking portraits, including one by a small shrine, bordered in black, that I assumed was Mr. Matsumoto. He had been a handsome man, but even smiling in the picture, he looked tired. Or maybe I was just projecting, from what I knew of his death.

Mrs. Matsumoto brought out a tray with tea and cookies on it, and we sat down to drink. Reo immediately jumped into Hanako’s lap, and Hanako laughed. “Hello, h-handsome. You d-don’t look much like your mother.” She scratched his ears, and he rewarded her with a loud purr.

Mrs. Matsumoto smiled. “No, he’s definitely his father’s son. But he’s a good boy.” She poured the tea, and we spent a couple of minutes just drinking. Hanako and I told Mrs. Matsumoto about what we were doing in University, our studies and plans. Hanako in journalism, myself and Lilly in education.

After we finished our first cup of tea, Mrs. Matsumoto began to talk about her memories of her neighbors, the Ikezawas. Hanako sat petting Reo and she drank in every word, nodding from time to time as if something that Mrs. Matsumoto said sparked a memory in her. Listening to Mrs. Matsumoto, the impression I got of young Hanako was of a sweet, slightly spoiled, energetic little girl, who was always curious and asking questions.

After we’d finished two cups of tea, Mrs. Matsumoto glanced at her watch, and said, “I’m afraid I don’t have time today to scan and print all the negatives we found, but we can do at least one. I’ll scan the rest later this week and send you the files.”

“We d-don’t w-want to be a b-bother,” Hanako said. “We can wait and g-get them all at once.”

Mrs. Matsumoto smiled. “I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t actually have the time.” We went back to her studio office. She picked up the handful of contact sheets she’d found and held them out to Hanako. “Do you have one in particular you think you’d like to have right away?”

Hanako looked through the pages, peering closely at the tiny images, then said, “Th-this one, please.”

Mrs. Matsumoto looked at the frame Hanako was pointing at, and nodded. “Yes, that’s a nice one of the three of you.” She went to the box the contact sheet had come from, and pulled out a page of negatives. She pulled a pair of white cotton gloves out of a drawer by her computer, and put them on before pulling the proper strip of negatives out of its protective sleeve.

She mounted the negative in her scanner with the ease of long practice, and opened a scanning program. I had no idea what all the multitudinous on-screen controls did, but Mrs. Matsumoto made short work of scanning the negative, giving us a preview of the image to come.

Hanako and I stood by the printer, and watched as the photo slowly emerged. When the page finally dropped into the paper tray, Hanako carefully picked it up and looked at it more closely, smiling gently. I put an arm around her as I looked at it too.

The picture showed Hanako and her parents sitting on a couch, Hanako on her mother’s lap. It looked like Hanako and her mother were talking to each other, and her father was watching them, a loving smile on his face. I glanced at Hanako, to see her reaction to the photo. She looked happy. Which made me happy.

I heard a soft click, and looked up to see Mrs. Matsumoto with her camera pointed at us. “I hope you don’t mind, but you looked so beautiful, smiling at that photograph.”

Hanako put a hand up to cover her facial scars, an old gesture that she had mostly stopped doing. We had been standing with our right sides towards Mrs. Matsumoto, and Hanako’s scars had surely been visible. “I d-don’t usually l-like having my p-picture taken,” she said, sounding apologetic.

“Because of your scars?” Mrs. Matsumoto asked bluntly. Hanako grimaced and nodded. “But you’re a beautiful young woman. Those scars can’t change that.”

“That’s what I keep telling her.”

Hanako frowned. “You’re d-different. You l-love me.”

Mrs. Matsumoto held up a hand. “I’ll tell you what. Let me load this picture up on the computer, and we’ll look at it together. If you don’t like it, I’ll delete it. But I’m hoping you won’t ask me to do that.”

“I suspect I’ll want a copy of it,” I said. I didn’t have many photos of Hanako, a fact that I sometimes regretted.

Hanako grimaced again, then nodded reluctantly. “Okay.”

“Don’t make any snap decisions just yet,” Mrs. Matsumoto said as the image first appeared on the screen. “Let me tweak this a bit, first.” Hanako frowned and made a quiet pained sound at seeing herself on screen, but she refrained from comment.

Watching Mrs. Matsumoto process the image was a bit like watching Rin paint. The image as uploaded from the camera was in color, but most of Mrs. Matsumoto’s work that I’d seen had been in black and white. She pulled up some dialog boxes that changed the colors of our image to ridiculously garish colors, then she did something else that converted it to black and white. The garish colors vanished, and a startlingly vivid portrait remained. Something about the way she’d adjusted it minimized Hanako’s scars. They weren’t gone, but they weren’t as prominent or obvious as they had been in color. Without their reddish color to give them contrast to undamaged skin, they just looked like slightly darker textured skin.

Hanako’s smile was warm and loving as she stared at the photo in her hand, and I was surprised to see that I was looking at her in much the same way. Mrs. Matsumoto rotated the image a couple of degrees, straightening it out, then cropped the picture in closer to us, getting rid of a lot of the distracting background. She did a few more mysterious things which slowly turned the image from a quick snapshot to a professional portrait.

Mrs. Matsumoto clicked one final button, and the editing program toolbars vanished, leaving just the picture of the two of us taking up the whole center monitor. “There. It’s not exactly finished, but I don’t have time to do a full edit just now.” She smiled at the image. “A portrait of young love.”

“That’s amazing,” I said. “I don’t think either of us has ever looked so good.” I glanced at Hanako. “Do you like it, too?”

She was biting her lip as she stared at the screen. “I…” She blushed. “I l-like the way you look. Are looking. At m-me.”

“And I love the way you look.”

Hanako gave a minuscule nod and continued to just stare at the monitor. “D-do I r-really look…like that?”

I put an arm around her shoulders and squeezed her for a moment. “If anything, you’re more beautiful. But it’s the best photo of you I’ve ever seen.”

That earned me an eye roll and a small smile. “Flatterer.”

“No. He’s not,” said Mrs. Matsumoto firmly. She smiled at us. “Hana. I knew you as a young child, and you were beautiful then, and you are beautiful now. Your life has marked and changed you, but that beauty remains. I’m sure your parents, wherever they are, are proud of the young woman you’ve become.”

Hanako closed her eyes took a deep breath. She opened them and smiled shyly at Mrs. Matsumoto. “Thank you.”

I wasn’t sure what Hanako was thanking her for—the photo, or her comments, or both, but Mrs. Matsumoto just nodded back and said, “You’re welcome.” She gestured toward the monitor. “So, does it meet with your approval? May I keep it?”

Hanako glanced at the photograph again, then nodded. “Yes. But p-please…could I—we—have a c-copy, too?”

“I was planning on it. I want to edit it more, when I have the time, but I’ll send you a copy of it with the scans of the other images in a week or so.”

Thus reminded of her earlier comment about needing to be somewhere else soon, Hanako and I made our farewells. I wrote out all of our contact information for her, and we thanked her profusely for all she’d done for us before we left.

As we walked away from Mrs. Matsumoto’s apartment building toward the bus stop, I said, “I never imagined our trip here would be so fruitful.”

Hanako nodded in agreement. She looked tired—the day had undoubtedly been emotionally draining, in many ways—but she also looked relaxed and happy. She hugged the envelope containing the four photos we had been given, and smiled.

________________________

Less than a week later, Mrs. Matsumoto proved good to her word, and we received a large package in the mail from her. In addition to the dozen images we’d seen in miniature before, Mrs. Matsumoto had found another half dozen images of Hanako’s parents. She’d sent a CD with digital files, and prints of them all. Most were 6P-sized, about the size of a piece of notebook paper, but one was larger: the picture of the two of us. I couldn’t tell what additional edits Mrs. Matsumoto had applied to the image, but it was a stunning image of Hanako. And, I had to concede, it made me look pretty good, too.

Hanako kept flipping through the photos, stopping now and then to examine some detail, until finally she stopped and spread them out all over our living room table so she could see them all at once.

“It’s…an emb-barrassment of riches,” she said, sounding a bit overwhelmed. “I f-feel like I’m…meeting my parents all over again.”

“And I’m grateful for this picture into your past,” I said. Most of the photos had young Hanako in them somewhere, too.

“B-back when I was st-still pretty.”

I cleared my throat sharply and glowered reprovingly at that self-deprecation. “You were cute back then. You’re beautiful now.”

Hanako sighed, and leaned against me. I wrapped an arm around her and we stood beside the table, looking down at her past spread out before us. “I know y-you love me as I am,” she said quietly. “B-but I can’t help but w-wonder sometimes, what if…”

I kissed her cheek, and tried to find a way to express what I felt to her. “If there’d never been a fire, you’d never have come to Yamaku, I never would have met you. If that meant you’d still have your parents, well…that would be a worthwhile trade-off, because I want you to be happy. But…” I trailed off, uncertain of how to express how glad I was to have met her without making it sound like I was glad her parents had died.

She smiled at me. “I kn-know what you m-mean. I’m so grateful to have you in my life. I c-can’t honestly say for certain that I wouldn’t trade you and Lilly for my p-parents, but…since that isn’t really an option, I’m g-glad I found you and her.”

“Yes. My heart attack sucked, but you and she are the best things to come out of it.”

Hanako nodded. “No more what-ifs. Th-things are what they are, and I’m so l-lucky to have you both in my life.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

I stared at the scattered array of photos. “We need to buy some picture frames, so we can hang these up.”

“That’s a l-lot of frames.”

“Maybe we can find something at the hundred yen shop? They wouldn’t be pretty, but they’d at least protect the photos until we could afford something better.”

“Th-that could work. We also n-need to send Mrs. Matsumoto a th-thank you gift.”

I felt momentarily overwhelmed, imagining what almost two dozen large prints from a professional photographer would have cost. Traditionally, one would have sent a thank-you present of approximately a third of the value of her gift, but I wasn’t sure we could afford that.

Hanako looked at my dismayed expression, and said, “She knows w-we’re college students. It d-doesn’t have to be extravagant. Just nice.”

I reluctantly nodded. “I hope so. Maybe we can ask Lilly for a suggestion. She always has impeccable taste.”

“Yes. I can’t wait t-to see her again.”

“Me neither.”
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Lap
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:32 pm

Chapter 7


Lilly returned the Monday a week before the new school year began, “So I’ll have time to recover from the jet-lag,” she said. I wasn’t able to meet her at the airport because of work, but Hanako did.

I hadn't been fully aware of how much I'd missed Lilly until I got home from work to find her and Hanako sitting at the table drinking tea together. Something inside me relaxed at the sight. The apartment felt more like home now than it had just that morning.

Lilly got to her feet, then swayed slightly on the spot. I stepped forward hastily to take her arm, and she gave an embarrassed laugh. “Sorry. The jet-lag always hits me pretty hard.” She gave me a hug.

“It’s wonderful to see you again,” I said, hugging her back. “Welcome home.”

“It’s wonderful to be back.”

“But why are you still awake if you’re so jet lagged?”

“I’m trying to stay up until at least nine o’clock to try and get back into this time zone again. And also, I wanted to see you before I slept.”

“Well, sit back down before you fall asleep on your feet,” I said, letting go of her. She smiled and complied.

“Have you told Lilly about Mrs. Matsumoto and the pictures yet?” I asked Hanako as I sat down next to her.

“We were j-just talking about them.”

“It sounds as if it were a very rewarding trip,” Lilly said. “Sometime when I’m more awake, I’d like to go through the photos with you, have you describe them in more detail for me. Tell me what memories they evoke.”

“Yes. I’d l-like that too.”

“Did you mention the photo of us?” I asked.

“No.”

“Of you?” asked Lilly curiously.

I glanced at Hanako, but she didn’t look like she wanted to describe it, so I said, “Mrs. Matsumoto took a picture of the two of us while we were looking at one of the photos of Hanako’s parents. It’s one of the best pictures of Hanako I’ve ever seen.”

“And it’s a w-wonderful picture of you, too.”

I shrugged, “Yeah, I look okay, too.”

“More than okay. The way you’re looking at m-me…so lovingly.” Hanako gave me a loving smile herself. “I love that part of the p-picture the most.”

Lilly smiled at us. “I rarely waste time regretting not being able to see things, but I do wish I could see that.”

“J-just imagine Hisao smiling at me…the way you’re smiling at us right now,” Hanako said.

“Oh! Ah…” Lilly’s smile faltered, and she looked—sheepish?—for just a moment. Then her smile returned, and she said, “I’m sure it’s quite lovely.”

We chatted for about another half hour. Lilly also giggled mightily at my mother’s sleeping arrangements, and the comments pertaining thereto. We tried to ask her about Scotland, but, aside from a few remarks about some day trips she took with Akira, she didn’t have much to say and kept turning the conversation back to Hanako and me.

Eventually she conceded she couldn’t keep awake any longer, and headed off to bed. “Well, at least I made it to eight thirty,” she said wryly.

Hanako and I stayed up and read for another couple of hours before turning in ourselves.

“It’s n-nice to have Lilly back,” said Hanako, as we curled up together in bed.

I nodded. “It makes the apartment feel more like home, having us all here.”

“Well, home is w-where the heart is,” she quoted.

“Yeah. ‘My home is not a place, it is people.’ ”

“Is that a quote?”

“Yeah. From a book called Barrayar. I think you might like it. Even though it’s SF, it also has a bit of romance.”

“Maybe I’ll ch-check it out.”

I thought a bit about what that quote meant as I drifted off to sleep. What did it mean, that my home felt like Hanako and Lilly?…

________________________

By the next day, Lilly was caught up on her sleep enough to function semi-normally, and she made a lovely dinner that was waiting for Hanako and me when we got home from work that evening.

“Thank you so much,” I said afterwards, as Hanako and I worked on cleaning the dishes and kitchen. “I’ve missed your cooking.”

Hanako stuck out her lower lip at me. “My cooking isn’t g-good enough f-for you?” she teased.

“Your cooking is wonderful,” I said, honestly. She had improved greatly under Lilly’s tutelage over the years. “But…you have to admit, Lilly’s oknomiyaki is something special.”

Hanako was unable to maintain her pout as she smiled at that. “True.”

After we finished cleaning up, we went to sit down around the low table with Lilly. But before I sat down, Lilly said, “Hisao, there’s a shopping bag just inside my bedroom door. Would you be so kind as to bring it out here?”

“Sure.” It was a white plastic bag, emblazoned with the logo of an athletic supply store. I took it to Lilly, who was sitting on the floor by the table.

“Thank you, Hisao.” She slid her hand into the bag and felt for something, then pulled her hand out empty. She smiled toward us, looking oddly nervous.

“I have a favor to ask.” I glanced at Hanako, who shrugged and shook her head at me. I wondered if the athletic supply store had anything to do with the favor, or if it was just a random bag.

“I've just spent ten days in Scotland, where it rained almost every single day. Cold rain. I understand you both have the four days before classes start off from work?”

“Y-yes,” confirmed Hanako. I wondered what rainy Scotland had to do with our long weekend.

“Did you have any plans for your long weekend?”

“Sleep in. Read. Play some games. Maybe see a movie or two.”

“So, no planned trips to Mount Fuji or anything.”

“Uh, no…” I exchanged a puzzled glance with Hanako.

“All right.” Lilly sat up straighter, and smiled again at us. “I want to put forth a proposal for weekend plans.”

“Sure.”

“I would like to take us to Ishigaki for the weekend.”

“What?”

“W-what?”

Hanako and I stared at her, confused. “Ishigaki. As in, the island? In Okinawa?” I asked.

“Yes. I know it’s short notice, but we could have three days on the beach. Drying out and warming up. The forecast says it’s supposed to get up above twenty-eight there this weekend.”

“It’s not a question of the weather, Lilly,” I began slowly, but she held up a hand.

“I said I wanted to take us there. I fly often enough to Scotland that I have sufficient frequent-flyer miles to get us all there for free. If I went by myself, I would be stuck with whatever is easily accessible from the hotel, but if you were to come with me, we could explore more widely. You would be doing me a favor. I want to go somewhere to thaw out.”

I ran a hand through my hair, considering. I had made some extra money with my extra shifts the past couple of weeks, but I had been hoping to save it towards getting Hanako a new laptop for her birthday. The nicest thing that could be said about her current machine was that it worked. Usually. Surely a journalist needed better tools than that.

“It’s n-nice of you t-to offer this,” Hanako began. “B-but our finances are a little…tight.”

“Too true,” I said.

Lilly buried her face in one hand for a moment, then lifted her head and said, “I know we don’t often discuss the fact that my family is wealthy. I know it is not a comfortable subject. For any of us. But…I can afford this. I don’t want you to have to pay for anything this weekend.”

“Lilly—”

She cut me off again. “I want to give you this gift. I want to give me this gift, of getting to do something fun with the people I love. I have only gone to Ishigaki a couple of times, but I’ve loved it both times. I’m sure you’d love it too. The beaches are wonderful. And having your company would make it even better for me.”

“B-but I’ve never gone to the beach. At least, n-not since… I d-don’t even own a b-bathing suit.” Hanako looked dismayed at the very idea.

“Ah. Yes. I had considered that, and I took the liberty of purchasing one for you.”

“You what?” Hanako looked utterly taken aback.

I had a momentary mental image of Hanako in a bikini, but that pleasantly erotic notion was disrupted by my knowing just how incredibly self-conscious that kind of attire would make her feel.

Lilly reached into the bag beside her and pulled out a large bundle of cloth. It didn’t look like any swim suit I’d ever seen. It was long and mostly dark purple, with panels of bright tropical flowers. As Lilly shook it out, I realized it was a full-body suit, with arms and legs, something like a wetsuit, but made of cloth instead of neoprene.

“It’s called a surf suit, or a rash guard swimsuit,” explained Lilly, holding it out toward Hanako. Hanako just stared at it, not taking it from Lilly’s hand. “Snorkelers and surfers sometimes wear them. It will cover you from neck to ankles, with an SPF of more than fifty, so you won’t have to worry about issues of sun exposure on most of your scars.”

Seeing that Hanako wasn’t going to take the suit from Lilly, I took it from her, asking, “Can I see that?” There was a product tag that was several pages long attached to the wrist, and I skimmed it. The sizing chart seemed to indicate that she’d gotten the right size for Hanako, and it touted its UV protection capabilities. “She’s right, Hanako, it would protect you. And also…hide most of your scars from the public eye.” Saying that made me think about my own scars, and the notion of displaying my chest in public made me grimace. Maybe I could keep on a t-shirt the whole time.

Lilly reached into the bag again and pulled out two more surf suits. “I also got ones for Hisao and me. So that you wouldn’t have to be the only person on the beach wearing one.”

“Oh. Thank you. I was getting self-conscious thinking about displaying my scars in public, too.” Lilly’s was blue and white, with floral panels similar in style to Hanako’s. I took my suit, which had short sleeves and legs, and was solid black with gold colored sleeves. It was still a little intimidating, since it looked like it was skin-tight. Though I was currently in the best shape I’d ever been in my life, thanks to my running.

Hanako seemed to come out of her freeze with a shake of her head, and said, “Th-thank you for th-thinking of me, but…it’s not about the suit, Lilly.”

Oh. Right. I was letting myself get side-tracked. I sighed. “This would not be an inexpensive trip, Lilly, even with free flights. I confess I would feel a bit like I was taking advantage of you.”

Lilly frowned. “But I’m the one who offered it. You did not ask me for this. You never ask me for anything like this, which I appreciate. I want to give this to you. To us. It’s for my own pleasure and enjoyment, too.”

I frowned, and was about to open my mouth to offer further objections, when Hanako said, “Hisao. Let’s d-do this.”

I turned to Hanako, surprised. “What?”

“It would be rude to r-refuse such a fine gift. And it is to Lilly’s b-benefit as well as ours. You know she c-can afford it. She would not offer this if she c-couldn’t.”

“Well, no, I’m sure she can—”

“Yes, I can. And it’s not just that. I want to do something nice for you. It would make me happy, to make you happy.” She smiled at us, but it seemed that the smile was also a touch sad. “I just spent almost two weeks with my…biological family in Scotland. Aside from Akira, it was…well, that’s irrelevant. Now, I want to spend four days with the family of my heart, doing something frivolous and fun. And warm.”

God, what had her visit with her parents been like? I was pretty sure that if I asked, I wouldn’t get a straight answer. At least, not yet. So I said, “Well, since you put it that way.” I looked at Hanako, and she nodded at me. “Thank you, Lilly, for this kind and generous gift.”

Lilly’s face lit up with a broad smile, one of the most open and happy expressions I’d ever seen on her face. “Wonderful! Thank you so much, you two. We’ll have a wonderful time.”

I passed the long-sleeved swimsuit to Hanako, and this time she took it. “It looks pretty,” I offered, gesturing at the floral panels that adorned the suit. “Do you want to try it on?”

Hanako held the suit up, examining it, and bit her lip. “It l-looks…skin-tight.”

“Well, yes,” said Lilly.

“That sounds…uncomfortable.”

“It’s no more uncomfortable than a leotard and tights,” said Lilly. “I tried mine on while shopping for them.”

“I d-didn’t mean physically.”

“Ah.”

“Why don’t you try it on,” I urged. “See how it fits.”

Hanako grimaced, then said dubiously, “All right.”

She disappeared into our bedroom to change. Given that Lilly couldn’t see her, and I saw her undress every day, that seemed a little silly to me, but I guess it made her more comfortable.

Hanako remained in the bedroom so long, I finally called out to her, “Do you need help getting it on?”

“No…” Hanako slowly opened the bedroom door. Her face was as red as a beet, and she was staring at the floor. She stepped into the living room in her bare feet.

“Ohhh, my,” I breathed. Despite the empathy I felt for her embarrassment, I couldn’t help but smile at the sight she presented. “Oh, Lilly, you chose well. She is gorgeous.”

At that, Hanako looked up at me. “G-gorgeous? I’m p-practically n-naked!”

Lilly choked back a small giggle. “And don’t you think your boyfriend should find that gorgeous?”

“B-but it won’t b-be j-just him seeing me l-like this. It will b-be everyone on the b-beach.” She grimaced, and gestured towards her chest. “Everyone will see…this.

“Oh. Right.” I was used to Hanako’s breasts—well, to be more accurate, I loved them—but she was self-conscious about the fact that her right breast was smaller than her left. “Can you wear—do you think your inserts are waterproof? Can you wear them with a suit?”

“What inserts?” asked Lilly.

Hanako grimaced, then sighed. “B-because of my scars. My r-right b-breast is a lot smaller than m-my left. I wear a p-padded insert in my b-bra to…even things out.”

“Oh.” Lilly looked startled. “I…had no idea.”

At that, Hanako managed an embarrassed giggle. “Well, it’s not as if y-you’ve ever felt my naked b-breasts before.”

Lilly smiled. “This is true.”

“S-standing here in this…surf suit almost f-feels like I’m standing naked in f-front of you.”

“People wear much less than that at the beach all the time,” said Lilly.

Hanako rolled her eyes and dropped down onto the couch. “I know th-that. I know that th-this isn’t a string b-bikini”—

“Unfortunately,” I murmured.

Lilly giggled, and Hanako glared at me, but the corner of her mouth also twitched up a little at my comment. —“b-but I’ve never worn anything so r-revealing in my life.”

“So…do you not want to visit the beaches on Ishigaki? I asked hesitantly. It seemed like that would defeat the purpose of going there in the first place.

Hanako buried her face in her hands for a moment. “No. I want to v-visit the beach,” she said, her voice muffled by her hands. She lifted her face and sighed. “I just…I’ll j-just have to get used t-to being looked at.” She frowned. “Usually, when s-someone s-stares at me, it’s…because of my scars.”

“Trust me, that won’t be the first thing people notice in this outfit,” I said.

Hanako scowled at me. “Th-that’s not…helping.”

Oops. “Sorry,” I muttered.

Hanako stared down at her body in its skin-tight covering, a pensive look on her face. She looked up at me. “D-do I really look…okay?” she asked me hesitantly.

I shifted up to sit on the couch beside her, and took one of her hands in mine. “More than okay. Sweetheart, even if I didn’t love you, I would find you attractive. You’ve got a beautiful face and a luscious body.”

“All lop-sided,” she grumbled.

I shrugged. “So? It’s part of what makes you uniquely you. You may be different—heck, we’re all different—but you’ve got delicious curves.”

“Most women are somewhat asymmetrical,” Lilly said. “My right breast is a touch larger than my left, though not so much so that I need a special bra.”

“And maybe we can make one of your inserts work with the suit, if that’ll make you feel less self-conscious,” I said.

“I’m sorry I can’t reassure you the way Hisao can,” Lilly said, “But you’re truly beautiful in every way that I know you. If your visual beauty comes close to matching the beauty of your soul, you indeed have nothing to worry about.”

Hanako bit her lip and stared at Lilly for a moment, then asked, “Do you want to look at me, too?”

“Pardon me?” Lilly looked startled, almost as startled as I felt.

Hanako took a deep breath. “If the whole world is g-going to get to see my body…it only seems f-fair that my best friend should, too.” Her face was a bit red, but…not as much as I might have expected.

“I…Hanako, I…” Lilly seemed to be utterly at a loss for words, her face redder than Hanako’s.

Hanako’s face fell. “Y-you don’t have t-to if you don’t w-want to, of course,” she said.

“No, I want to, it’s just…are you sure?” Lilly asked.

“I’m not really n-naked, I just feel that way. Haven’t you ever w-wondered what the rest of my b-body looks like, aside from my face?”

“Well…yes…I mean, I have some sense of it, from hugging you, or cuddling in bed, but still…” Lilly paused for a moment, then she nodded decisively. “Yes, thank you, Hanako, I’d be honored.”

I looked at the two of them, utterly flabbergasted. Hanako stood up and walked over to where Lilly was sitting. “W-where do you want to s-start?”

Lilly considered for a moment, then stood up as she said, “At the top. With your face.”

Hanako nodded. “Okay.”

Lilly reached out a hand, and Hanako took it and guided it to her face. Lilly raised her other hand, so she was cupping Hanako’s face in her hands. Her thumbs gently stroked Hanako’s lips and cheeks.

Lilly smiled in response to feeling Hanako’s smile. “You’re smiling.”

“Yes. I’m happy.”

“You’ll tell me if anything is too uncomfortable, or intimate?”

“I will.”

Lilly visibly relaxed at that, and her hands began to trace Hanako’s features in the familiar way, outlining her eyes, nose, mouth, pressing in lightly against her cheekbones. She stroked delicate fingertips across Hanako’s eyebrows, and then eyelids.

Then her hands wandered further than normal, tracing the shell of Hanako’s ears, causing her to giggle. She brushed Hanako’s long hair back behind her ears, and ran her hands behind her head, feeling the shape of her skull under her long hair. The maneuver pulled their faces closer together, and I could see Hanako staring into Lilly’s half-lidded sightless eyes. I found the intimacy of their closeness somewhat…distracting. This is just how Lilly looks at things, I scolded myself. But I didn’t fully believe it.

Lilly ran her fingers through Hanako’s hair, brushing it out. “You have such lovely hair,” she said. It wasn’t as if Lilly hadn’t brushed Hanako’s hair for her before, but it seemed like Lilly was intent upon capturing every tactile aspect of Hanako in this “look.”

She returned her hands to Hanako’s head, and let her fingers slide down her neck. Her left hand moved no differently over Hanako’s scarred neck than her right hand did over the unscarred flesh. Her fingers moved to the back of Hanako’s neck, then to the front. Then they separated and stroked down the length of her arms. When she got to her hands, the two of them joined hands, palm-to-palm between them for a moment.

“Is this still all right?” asked Lilly. She wasn’t able to see that Hanako’s smile hadn’t faded.

“Oh, yes.”

“I…” Lilly paused for a breath. “I must confess that now you’ve told me about them, I’m curious about your…breasts. May I—“

“Of course,” said Hanako. “I was assuming you’d l-look at all of me.”

I watched as they unlinked their fingers, and Lilly let her hands slide back up Hanako’s arms. She stroked the curve of her collarbones, then hesitated. I found myself holding my breath for a moment, watching this, and tried to make myself look away, but I couldn’t.

Maybe I made some small sound, or maybe Hanako just knows me that well, because she glanced over at me. Her smile sharpened just a touch as she looked at me, and then—she winked.

Her attention was drawn away from me as Lilly’s hands hesitantly slid down to cup Hanako’s breasts. She was incredibly tentative and gentle, looking slightly uncertain. “Huh,” Lilly said, sounding surprised.

Hanako giggled. “L-like I said. There’s almost a f-full cup size difference b-between the two.” Lilly nodded.

The suit didn’t have much in the way of padding. I was surprised to see Hanako’s nipples were rather erect, and I swallowed hard at the implication. There was no way that Lilly’s sensitive fingers, used to reading small dots on a page, could have missed that biological Braille.

Lilly bit her lip, and moved her hands down Hanako’s rib cage. She dropped to her knees, and let her hands trace the contour of Hanako’s belly and hips, and down the length of her legs. She avoided Hanako’s sex, but other than that she touched her everywhere.

Once she was done with Hanako’s feet, she ran her hands back up the outside of her legs, her hands boldly cupping Hanako’s buttocks for a moment, then she steadied herself by holding onto Hanako’s hips as she stood up. She let her hands go around to Hanako’s back, wrapping her in a hug. Hanako lifted her arms to hug her back, and they ended with a long hug.

“Thank you, Hanako,” Lilly said quietly. “Hisao is right. You are quite beautiful.”

Hanako had a sweet and gentle smile on her face as she hugged Lilly back. She looked more than happy—she looked content.

As they broke apart, Hanako gave a happy little sigh. “All right. I th-think I can bear to wear this in p-public, now. As long as the people I l-love think I’m beautiful, everyone else d-doesn’t really matter.”

“I don’t just think it, I know it,” I said.

Hanako’s gentle smile shifted to a grin. “Flatterer.”

“But no less true,” said Lilly.

Hanako took one of Lilly’s hands in hers, and reached out to where I was sitting. I reached up to take her hand. “Thank you. B-both of you,” she said quietly.

“My pleasure,” I said.

“Mine too,” said Lilly, and then she blushed. Hanako and I both laughed.

As Hanako released our hands, we all sat back down. Lilly found the bag and reached into it again. “I also got us beach wraps to wear over the suits. I asked the clerk for two pretty ones to go with our suits, you can pick whichever you prefer.” She pulled out two bundles of light cloth, both with floral prints, one predominantly blues and greens, the other purples and reds.

“I…like the purple one. And I think the b-blue one would go nicely w-with your eyes and hair.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“Thank you for the s-suit. And wrap.”

“And vacation,” I added.

Lilly smiled. “Thank me when we’re baking on a beach.”

________________________

We only had Wednesday to pack and prepare for our trip. Fortunately, Hanako and I both worked morning shifts, so we were able to take the afternoon to run around getting odds and ends we thought we might need, like suntan lotion and flip-flops. Hanako visited the lingerie store where she usually bought her bras and inserts, and found something that would work with a swim suit, much to her relief. It turned out, logically enough, that it wasn’t an uncommon request. Lots of women who’ve had mastectomies or other breast surgeries still liked to swim.

As we prepared for bed that night, Hanako kept opening our suitcase and pulling things out, then putting other things in. “Sweetie, it’s just four days. We’re not going to the jungles of Brazil.”

Hanako sighed, and sat back on the edge of the bed. “Yes, b-but it’s the furthest I’ve ever traveled. And it’s m-my first flight. What if I f-forget something important?”

“As long as I have my meds, you have your lotions, and Lilly has her cane, everything else can be purchased when we get there if we forget it. It’s not the wilderness, it’s a tourist destination.”

“Yes…” she said dubiously.

“Come to bed, silly woman. We’ve got to get up early to catch the train to the airport.”

She stared at the suit case, then resolutely zipped it shut. “All right.”

Hanako was unusually quiet on the train ride to the airport the next morning. Lilly was sitting next to her, and I was sitting across from them, facing them. After several attempts to draw Hanako out in conversation produced only monosyllabic responses, Lilly asked, “Are you nervous about the flight?”

Hanako shrugged, looking embarrassed. “M-maybe. A l-little.”

“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Statistically speaking, it’s far safer than driving,” I said.

“Or walking around a city blind,” added Lilly drily. “I’ve been in three accidents just walking, but none while flying.”

“I know th-that. In my head. B-but my heart is s-still in my throat.”

I reached across and took her hand in mine. I squeezed it firmly for a moment. “We’ll be with you, Hanako. It will be fine.”

She gave me an unconvincing smile, and said “Th-thank you.”

“This will only be the third flight I’ve ever taken,” I told her. “But I really enjoy it. The view from the air of the countryside is amazing. I hope the sky is clear for most of our trip, so you can see the ground.”

Lilly sighed. “For me, it’s just a few hours in a cramped seat, the price I pay to get to where I want to be. At least this flight is less than three hours. It’s over fifteen to Scotland.” She smiled. “And there are no changes in time zones. I hate jet lag.”

Since we were traveling with Lilly, we boarded the plane early, which was convenient. We were on the right side of the plane, and Hanako habitually sat down first, next to the window, so she could keep her right side away from prying eyes. I had been planning to offer her the window seat in any case.

As the plane slowly filled up, I noticed Hanako had closed her eyes, and was doing her breathing exercises. I debated asking her if she was all right, but decided to let her meditate uninterrupted for the moment. Lilly and I quietly talked about what we wanted to do once we landed.

As the the plane pushed away from the terminal and the flight attendants began their safety demonstration, Hanako opened her eyes. She listened intently, having never heard it before. Afterward, she closed her eyes again and resumed her breathing exercises. I squeezed her hand, and she opened her eyes to glance at me briefly. “It’s n-not just the flight…it’s all th-these people, so c-close, with n-no place to escape,” she said softly. I nodded in understanding.

As the plane’s engines revved up, and we began to roll down the runway, Hanako’s hand gripped mine even harder. I didn’t have anything new to say to reassure her, so I just squeezed back, and smiled at her. She tried to smile back and failed, then turned to look out the window at the runway flashing past.

It was a smallish plane, so when we left the ground we did so quickly. Hanako gasped as the ground fell away from beneath us, the rough vibration of the wheels on tarmac giving way to the sensation of being pushed back in our seats as we angled up into the sky. We had taken off facing north, so the plane did a slow half circle to get us heading south, giving us a lovely view of the city below as it did. Hanako let go of my hand and turned to face the window more fully, her face pressed up against it, drinking in the sight.

“It’s…beautiful,” she said quietly.

“Yeah. It is.”

She continued to stare out the window, entranced, and I turned to Lilly and murmured, “I think the view is distracting her from her anxiety.”

“Oh, good.” Lilly smiled.

Hanako turned to us and smiled. “It’s not just d-distracting, it’s w-wonderful.” I guess I hadn’t been as quiet as I’d thought. She looked relaxed, her shoulders down and her hands no longer balled into fists. She turned back to the window. “It’s like being a b-bird, or a giant, and having th-the world spread out b-beneath you.”

I relaxed too, my tension from worrying about Hanako fading away. I took her hand in mine again, and lifted it to my lips to kiss it. She glanced at me and flashed me a smile, a real one this time, then returned to looking out the window.

After an hour or so, we left the main body of Japan, and were flying over the East China Sea. Hanako turned her attention to the Ishigaki travel guide she’d checked out from the library yesterday, still looking out the window at regular intervals.

The Ishigaki airport was surprisingly nice, for such a small island, and we easily retrieved our bags. The warm air hit us like a promise of beaches to come as we exited the airport, and Lilly sighed happily. We found the bus to our hotel, and the first part of the brief trip was through farmland before we got to the city, with palm trees lining the sides of the roads.

“I’ve never s-seen real palm trees before,” Hanako said, staring out the window. “Everything here is so green.”

“Have you ever seen—felt a palm tree, Lilly?” I asked curiously.

Lilly smiled. “I tried to climb one once when I was a little girl. I couldn’t believe there were actually trees that had no branches for climbing.”

“Y-you climbed trees?”

“Oh, yes. I used to love that when I was a child. Climbing up was easy, I just felt for handholds over head. Climbing down was…sometimes a bit more problematic. But I never fell.” She looked wistful. “It’s been over ten years since the last time I did that, though.”

“Wow.” I stared at Lilly. “I must admit, I never would have guessed that part of your childhood.”

Lilly chuckled. “Well, we all have our little secrets. Someday I’ll have to tell you about the my…less than successful attempts at snow skiing.”

When we checked in, I had to suppress a gasp when the clerk told Lilly the room rate for our visit. Lilly seem neither surprised nor dismayed, she just smiled and handed over her credit card.

“Thank you again for this vacation,” I said, as we rode the elevator up to our room. The cost of the hotel had rattled me.

“It’s only just begun,” she said with a smile. “If you want to eat anything while I’m asleep or not around, just charge it to our room.”

“All right,” I said, while resolving to never do such a thing.

The suite we had consisted of a bathroom with a large shower and tub, a large living room area with a futon couch that folded flat for sleeping, and a separate bedroom with a large bed. The view out our window was of the city, not the ocean, which I suspected meant that the room cost less. I shuddered to think how much more a room with a view cost. Since the view meant nothing to Lilly, it made sense to be on the non-scenic side of the building.

“I’ll take the futon,” said Lilly.

“Don’t be silly, you’re paying for all this, you should get the bed. We’ll be fine on the futon.”

Lilly sighed. “The bed is larger than the futon, and makes more sense for a couple. And if you two should desire any…private time, it would be easier for you to be in the bedroom than the living room.”

I did feel a touch guilty about taking the bed from her, but the idea of privacy was valid. And enticing. I glanced at Hanako, and nodded. “All r-right,” said Hanako. “If you insist.”

“I do.” Lilly smiled. “Now, let’s get into our suits and visit the beach. There are still a few hours of afternoon left before dinner, and I want to warm up.”
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Lap
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:33 pm

Chapter 8


I stared at myself in the bedroom’s mirror, and suddenly I sympathized more with Hanako’s reaction to first donning the surf suit. In the past when swimming, I had always worn baggy swimming trunks, not the skin-tight briefs that some men favored.

But now, I was on full display. The suit wasn’t quite tight and thin enough to see my scar through the fabric, but it was a close thing. And below that, well…I slipped a hand into my suit to adjust myself a little, trying for a less conspicuous arrangement. To no avail. I just had to hope that I didn’t see anything too arousing on the beach. Which, given that I was traveling with two of the most beautiful women I knew, was a slim chance. I sighed, and considered just going with my usual loose trunks and a t-shirt. People swim in t-shirts, right?

The bedroom door opened, and Hanako came in. “Hisao, are you—oh!” Hanako looked startled at first, but her expression slowly shifted to an appreciative smile. “That’s very nice.” She already had her suit on, and the pretty purple beach wrap over top of it.

I sighed. “To quote you: I feel naked.”

She giggled at that. “Now are you g-going to show Lilly what you l-look like?”

I glowered at her. “I don't think so.” I tried, and failed, to suppress the mental image of Lilly running her hands all over my body. Not a notion I needed running through my head while wearing a skin-tight outfit.

Hanako sighed dramatically. “Y-your loss. L-Lilly’s too.”

Well, I guess making me blush kept the blood flowing up my body instead of down. “Maybe I'll just wear my regular swim trunks,” I said dubiously.

“That w-would be rude, to not wear your gift. B-besides, if I have to wear this, it's only f-fair that you do, too.”

“I suppose.” Lilly had said she’d bought the suits for herself and me partly so that Hanako wouldn’t be the only person on the beach wearing such extensive covering.

“Come on, Hisao. It’s n-not that bad. And at l-least you have sexy legs to show for it.”

I had to smile at that. “Thank you, dear.” By and large I wasn’t terribly vain, but I did have a sneaking bit of pride at the way my regular workouts had shaped my legs. I pulled a T-shirt on over my suit, and said, “All right, let’s go.”

Lilly was waiting in the living room, also attired in her suit and wrap, and she had a large floppy white sun hat on her head. She was holding a second such hat in her hand, which she held out towards us when she heard us emerge from the bedroom. “Here. This will keep the sun off the scars on your face and neck. And I’ve got sunscreen in my bag.”

“Th-thank you, Lilly.” We’d of course brought sunscreen as well, but Lilly liked to take care of us now and then.

As we rode the elevator down to the lobby, I said, “I can’t believe I’m just now thinking of this, but, Hanako—if you haven’t been to a pool or beach since you were a child, do you know how to swim?”

Hanako nodded. “Yes. I used to s-swim a lot. Before. I th-think it’s like riding a bicycle? I hope it w-will come back to me.” She smiled at me. “D-don’t worry, I w-won’t go deep-sea d-diving until I’m sure I won’t drown.”

I glanced at Lilly, who was holding my arm, as we exited the elevator. “And you too, Lilly? I’ve just been assuming you can swim, since you’ve been to the beach before.”

“Oh, yes. I manage fine in the sea with a companion to keep me from swimming away from shore.” Her smile sharpened a bit, and she asked sweetly, “And what of you, Hisao? Can you swim, too? Or we can rent you a life jacket if you need.” Hanako giggled.

I snorted. “Sorry, Lilly.” She could be sensitive at times about other people’s assumptions regarding the limitations her blindness placed on her. Those limitations were real, but they were nowhere near as extensive as I’d believed before I’d met her. “I won’t win any medals, but I can do a few laps.”

“Good.” As we exited the cool lobby onto the veranda leading to the beach, the warm salt-scented air washed over us, and Lilly paused for a moment, taking a deep breath. Since she was holding my arm at the moment, I stopped too. I looked at her, and her smile and posture relaxed in the warmth.

“Oh, I’ve needed this,” she said. “Can you find us three beach chairs together near the water?”

“Sure.”

There were a fair number of people on the beach, but the resort seemed to have a more than adequate number of chairs and umbrellas set up. At Hanako’s request, we headed for the far end of the row, away from most of the other sunbathers and swimmers.

After we set our towels and bags down on our chairs, Lilly untied her beach wrap and slipped it off, and I got to see her in her suit for the first time as she draped the wrap over her chair.

Wow.

Lilly usually wore trim but loose fitting clothing. I was well aware that she had, to quote Hanako, beautiful large breasts and nicely rounded buttocks. But they were usually more…camouflaged. Discreet. The full-body surf suit was skin tight and left little to the imagination.

“P-put your tongue back in your mouth, d-dear,” Hanako murmured, sounding amused. I blushed and looked away from Lilly, checking to make sure that my mouth wasn’t really hanging open.

“Sorry,” I muttered. “She just…caught me by surprise.”

Lilly, of course, heard everything. “I trust I’m not too unpleasant to look at?” she asked with a smirk. I didn’t think I’d ever seen Lilly smirk before.

Hanako laughed. “Quite the op-p-posite.”

“Truly.”

“Do you want to sunbathe first, or go swimming?” Lilly asked.

I definitely wanted to get into the water, in hopes of cooling off. “Swimming sounds good.”

Hanako stared at the water. The waves were small and gentle at the moment, perfect for wading and reacquainting herself with the water. She took a deep breath. “Sure. S-swim first.” She bit her lip, and looked up and down the length of the beach, her hand on the tie of her beach wrap.

I rested a hand on her left cheek, and she looked at me, giving me a nervous smile. “Hey. You’re beautiful. The main thing you have to worry about is me getting into fights with all the guys hitting on you.”

At that, Hanako relaxed and gave me a more genuine smile. “Silly man.”

“Not about this I’m not.”

She shook her head, and, still smiling, untied her beach wrap and tossed it onto her chair. “Come on. L-let’s see if I can still r-ride this bicycle.”

As it turned out, swimming was like riding a bicycle, at least for Hanako. In fairly short order, the three of us were floating and splashing around in the pleasantly cool water.

“I c-can’t believe I’ve…avoided this for so long,” Hanako said, as she floated on her back next to me. “I’d f-forgotten how much fun this is.” With her hair floating in the water around her, her full face was exposed, and I drank in the sight of seeing her in daylight. Normally I only got to see her like this, fully exposed and smiling, while we were alone in bed. I smiled and shook my head, which Hanako noticed. “What?”

“I just can’t believe how beautiful you are, that’s all. I’m so lucky.”

That earned me a splash of water to my face. Totally worth it, though.

After about a half an hour of splashing and swimming, we waded back to shore to stretch out on the beach chairs. I put up the umbrella next to Hanako’s chair. Her body reacted poorly to overheating, since her scar tissue didn’t sweat, so she stayed out of the direct sun. But the air was warm enough to dry her off.

Lilly and I opted to toast in the sun. I had brought a book with me, but had trouble focusing on it in the warmth. Eventually I gave up and settled into a half-dozing state for a while.

I was roused from my somnolence by the sound of Lilly standing up from her chair. “Going somewhere?” I asked.

“I just wanted to get wet again to cool off,” Lilly said. I glanced to my other side, to see Hanako asleep.

“Mind if I join you?”

“That would be nice. We can go out further than I might on my own.”

I offered her my arm, and we waded into the water. It felt chillier, to my sun-warmed skin, but we eased into it slowly. Eventually we were fully immersed, and we ended up just bobbing around and chatting for a while. I shamelessly took the opportunity to admire her figure in a way I wouldn’t with Hanako around. She was amazingly sexy, and I was grateful I was immersed in cool water to control my reactions. She stretched out on her back to float for a few moments, and I was glad her ears were submerged so she couldn’t hear the involuntary sound of appreciation I made at the lovely sight.

Something grabbed at my ankle, and I yipped in startlement, flailing and falling flat on my face in the water. I surfaced and got my feet back under me, only to find Hanako laughing at me, and Lilly saying “What happened? Is that Hanako?”

My heart was pounding a little from the unexpected submersion, but not enough to worry me. “You scurvy wench! Sneaking up on a man all unawares,” I growled at her, then dove toward her, intent upon ducking her underwater too. She fell over backwards while evading me, and resurfaced a moment later, coughing but still giggling.

I glanced over to where Lilly had been, checking on her, but I didn’t see her at first. Then I noticed the lightness of her blonde hair under the water, heading toward us, and Hanako yelped in startlement too as Lilly grabbed her legs and pulled them out from under her. The two women surfaced a moment later, and they wrestled for a moment before they both succumbed to laughter and just stood there, holding each other up.

I waded over to them, holding up my hands in surrender. “Truce?”

“Truce,” they agreed.

“I guess you weren’t as asleep as I thought you were,” I said to Hanako.

“When I w-woke up and you weren’t there, it t-took me a moment to find you in the water.” I realized we were a fair bit south of our chairs, having been pushed in that direction by the waves, gentle though they were. “Then I s-saw my opportunity, and I c-couldn’t resist.” She grinned at me.

“How did you find Hanako?” I asked Lilly.

“The two of you were making enough noise that Shizune could have tracked you without sight,” said Lilly. “Although I was aiming for you, Hisao.”

I laughed. “Well, you still hit a target.”

“Just you wait. Next time, for sure.”

“Yikes.”

We waded out of the water, and back up the beach to our chairs. The sun was getting lower on the horizon, and wasn’t as hot as it had been earlier, so we decided to head back in.

When I came out of the bathroom after showering the salt water off, Lilly was on the phone. “Yes, three for seven o’clock. Thank you. We’ll see you then.” She hung up.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I was just making dinner reservations for us. There’s a lovely little French place a few blocks from here, we can easily walk there.”

“French? How fancy are we talking?” Lilly had asked us to bring a few “nicer” outfits for dining out, but I wasn’t sure if our definitions of “nice” were totally congruent.

“Slacks and something not-a-t-shirt would suffice.”

“All right. The bathtub has one of those retractable clothes line thingies, and I’ve hung all our suits on it to dry,” I told her, habitually informing her of changes to our communal areas.

“Thank you.”

Lilly and Hanako had donned summer weight dresses, and they both looked stunning. Hanako even wore one of the few short-sleeved dresses she owned, much to my delight. She would normally only expose so much skin if she were feeling relaxed and confident. I was glad an afternoon of being “almost naked” hadn't made her more self-conscious.

It being warm out, I opted for just a striped blue button-down short-sleeved shirt and khakis. As I stepped out of the elevator, a gorgeous woman on each arm, I felt like a million yen.

I felt Hanako’s hand tense as she saw a few people staring at us. I murmured to her, “They’re not staring at you, sweetie, they’re staring at me.”

That got a small laugh out of both of them. “How d-do you figure that?”

“They’re all wondering how such a goofy-looking nerd ended up with the two most beautiful women in the hotel.”

Hanako’s grip on my arm relaxed, and she smiled.

“You did it by being you, Hisao,” Lilly said. “And none of them can hope to replicate that.”

“Indeed,” agreed Hanako. “And I d-dispute the ‘goofy-looking’ part of your assessment.”

“But not ‘nerd’?”

She shrugged and smiled sweetly at me. “You are w-what you are.”

Laughing, we headed out to dinner.

________________________

Around three a.m. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. Insomnia was less of a problem for me than it had been when I had first gotten out of the hospital, but it still struck me from time to time. It had been a few weeks since I’d last had a sleepless night. After an hour of lying in bed, trying not to toss and turn and disturb Hanako, I gave up on sleep as a lost cause for the moment and slipped out of bed. Perhaps reading for a while would lull me to sleep. Then I hesitated—where to go? Hanako was easily woken by light. Lilly was sleeping in the living room part of the suite, and the only other space was the bathroom.

Then I shook my head. Light wouldn’t bother Lilly, and she was a heavy sleeper. The sound of turning pages shouldn’t disturb her. I picked up my book and slipped out of the bedroom, closing the door as quietly as I could behind me. I hesitated for a moment before flipping on the lights. Even after living with her for years, it felt odd to turn on the lights around a sleeping person. But reason prevailed, and when I turned them on, Lilly of course did not stir.

I looked at Lilly, asleep in her bed, and smiled. Even when she was relaxed around us, she had a slight edge of control and poise that never went fully away. Asleep, that tension was gone, and she looked even more beautiful. More at peace. More vulnerable.

As that thought occurred to me, I looked away from her, suddenly abashed at violating the privacy of her slumber so. I sat down in the armchair and resolutely opened my book, trying to give Lilly the illusion of privacy, even if she wasn’t awake to appreciate it.

I was only partly successful. My attention to the text kept flagging, and I found my gaze drawn inexorably back to the sleeping beauty before me. I briefly contemplated getting up and turning the chair around so I wasn’t facing her, but the notion of expending that much energy was just enervating. Eventually, I just gave in and let my book fall to my lap, and I gazed at Lilly, my eyes at half mast as my brain plodded wearily along in that gray, sleepless fog that was an insomniac’s demesne.

I was just beginning to contemplate rejoining Hanako, feeling like I might finally be able to fall back asleep, when Lilly whimpered. It wasn’t a loud sound, but it made me start. I set my book aside and stood up, then paused, looking down on Lilly. I wasn’t sure if I should just return to bed, to give her her privacy, or if she might prefer to be awakened from a bad dream. Her previously peaceful face wore a small frown, and even as I watched, she whimpered again and flinched. She rolled onto her side and pulled her knees up, curling into a ball. Her lips moved, as if speaking, though no words came out. The scientist side of myself was fascinated to note that her eyes were flickering under her eyelids, indicating REM sleep, despite the fact that she was blind. Her frown shifted to a sadder expression, and she made a few other quiet sounds. Her head twitched from side to side, as if she were shaking her head in her dreams.

I wondered if she often had nightmares, but was so quiet about it that Hanako and I had never heard her before. Or perhaps this was the result of some recent stress, such as her visit with her family?

I took a few steps around her bed and turned off the lights, planning on returning to my own bed to give her privacy, when she began softly speaking. “No no no no no,” she whispered, and her whole body jerked slightly. I watched her in the dim city-light that came in through the window. I bit my lip, then sat down on the bed beside her. I laid a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Lilly?” I said quietly. Her shoulder twitched at my touch, and I ran my hand up and down her back, trying to soothe her if not wake her. She was normally a deep sleeper, hard to rouse, but I hoped my touch might at least prove comforting.

She continued to twitch and whimper, and I increased the pressure on her back, now trying to wake her. With a final startle, she stopped moving and vocalizing, rolled onto her back, and her eyes fluttered open part way. “Toh—Toshiko?” she murmured sleepily, looking wary.

I felt a surge of anger at his name; if Ogata was the cause of her nightmares, I had just one more reason to dislike him. I said, as gently and quietly as I could, “No, it’s Hisao.”

“Hisao?” She looked confused for a moment, then relaxed. “Oh. Hisao. Wha…what are you doing here?”

“I was reading because I couldn’t sleep, when I heard you cry out. I woke you because you sounded like you were having a nightmare.”

“I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”

I smiled. “No, I was already awake. Insomnia.” I brushed her hair back off her forehead, and stroked it gently. She relaxed against my touch. “Are you okay?”

“Sorry,” she repeated. “Just bad dreams.” Although she was relaxing, her eyes stayed opened, and her unguarded expression was bleak. It saddened me to see her looking so.

“Would you like a hug?” I asked.

She hesitated a moment, then nodded. I slid into bed next to her and slipped an arm under her head. She curled up against me, head on my shoulder, hand over my heart.

I asked quietly, “Do you want to talk about it?”

She shook her head. “It’s nothing. Just dreams. I get them sometimes.”

“Okay.” I considered pushing for more details, but, honestly, I was too tired for an intense personal conversation, and I also wasn’t sure if pushing was the right thing to do. So I just stroked her hair, trying to comfort her. Eventually, her breathing slowed, and she relaxed further, indicating that she’d fallen back asleep. But before I could slip out from under her head and return to my own bed, I joined her in slumber.

________________________

I woke up slowly, the light from the sunrise shining through my eyelids. I felt warm and cozy, lying up on my side, with the warmth of—

Of Lilly curled up against my back, I realized. Snoring quietly. The events of last night came flooding back into my memory.

Well, at least this time I didn't wake up groping her, I thought wryly. Her arm was wrapped around my chest, pulling me close.

Then I realized that it wasn't just the sun that had awakened me. I could also hear the shower running. Which meant Hanako was awake, and had walked past us to get to the shower. I was suddenly nervous about her reaction. We had discussed the possibility of one of us sleeping with Lilly alone, when the other one was out of town or some such, but this wasn’t quite that same situation.

I took a deep breath, and slid out from under Lilly’s arm and got out of bed. She snorted quietly—a delicate, lady-like snort—and rolled over, still asleep.

I headed towards the bathroom, determined to face the music as quickly and quietly as possible. I was sure Hanako would understand my actions, as long as I had a chance to explain them to her. Lilly slumbered on as I entered the bathroom and quietly closed the door behind me.

“Good morning,” I said, to let Hanako know I was there. She stuck her head out around the shower curtain and smiled at me. I relaxed immediately at that smile, and smiled back.

“Good morning t-to you,” she said. “D-did you sleep well?” There was a glint in her eye that I had trouble deciphering. I decided to ignore it for the moment and plow forward.

“Not really. Had a bout of insomnia, and I sat up reading in the living room for a while. Lilly had a nightmare, and I woke her, then I fell back asleep while giving her a hug.” There. Everything out as quickly and plainly as possible.

Hanako’s smile vanished. “Is sh-she all right?” she asked.

I shrugged as I peeled off my pajamas. “I think so? She didn’t want to talk about it, she just said that it happens sometimes.” I grimaced. “Though she thought I was Ogata at first, when I woke her.”

“Oh.” She scowled for a moment at Ogata’s name, then smiled at me again. “Well, I’m g-glad you were there to c-comfort her. The two of you l-looked very cute together.”

I stepped toward the shower, and she stepped back, pulling the curtain open for me. I loved the large hotel shower, which was big enough for two people. As the warm water ran over my body, relaxing me, I took Hanako into my arms and hugged her tight. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too.”

“Not many women would be so…sanguine about waking up to find her boyfriend asleep in her best friend’s bed.”

Hanako smiled and gave me a kiss. “Well, not m-many women have such a wonderful boyfriend and b-best friend.” I snorted at that. “T-truly, Hisao. I love you both. The two of you couldn’t…hurt me.”

I thought that was a remarkably broad statement, but it warmed me nonetheless. I smiled at her. “How did I ever get so lucky?”

She smiled playfully at me, and slid a hand between our bodies. “You haven’t gotten lucky yet,” she said, and she grabbed my cock. I gasped as she gently squeezed me.

“Hanako! Lilly is in the next room!” I hissed. I bit my lip, willing my body to not respond to her blandishments, but that was a futile effort.

“So? She’s always in the next room when we m-make love. And you know how deeply she sleeps.”

“Not exactly…” The bathroom was between our bedrooms at home, but her hand was making it difficult for me to coherently verbalize that objection. My wavering resolve disappeared completely as she lowered herself to her knees in front of me. She licked me, then grinned at my gasp.

Shhh. If you don’t want to wake her, you’ll have to be very, very quiet.” I clamped my teeth on a moan as she slid the length of me into her mouth, her lovely violet eyes locked on my face.

I mostly succeeded in staying quiet.

________________________

After breakfast, we spent the morning exploring a botanical garden that was just a short bus ride away. It being early spring, a lot of the flowers weren’t yet in bloom, but there were more in bloom than there were back home. And since the gardens weren’t in full bloom, it wasn’t terribly crowded, which worked to our advantage.

There was enough variety of scent and sound to hold Lilly’s interest as well as our own. We crossed over a pretty wooden bridge that arched over a small stream, and Lilly came to a sudden stop. She inhaled deeply, and smiled.

“Do you smell that?” she asked us.

I sniffed the air, and was rewarded with a delicate sweet scent. I looked around for the source, but there were no large flowers nearby, just some tiny white dots among the ground cover.

“Th-that’s lovely,” said Hanako. “But what is it?”

Lilly chuckled. “It’s my namesake. One of them, anyway.”

“I don’t see any lilies nearby,” I said.

“Not lilies, lily of the valley,” said Lilly. “Look for a tiny white flower at ground level.”

“Really?” Hanako sounded incredulous. “B-but they’re so small, for such a s-strong odor.”

I bent closer to the ground, and realized Lilly was right. The scent grew stronger as I approached the tiny flowers. “They’re beautiful,” I said. They were delicate pure white bells, maybe a half centimeter in diameter each, hanging in clusters from their stems.

“And poisonous,” Lilly said. “Don’t eat them.”

I stood up. “I hadn’t planned to.”

“Is there a bench near here?” asked Lilly.

“Yeah. You want to sit for a while?”

“I think this would be a nice spot to relax for a moment.”

Hanako was currently guiding Lilly, so she lead her to the bench and they sat down together. Lilly was in the center of the bench, so I sat on her other side.

“Thank you for coming with me on this trip,” Lilly said. “This garden excursion is the kind of thing that would have been difficult for me to do on my own.”

I laughed. “You don’t need to thank us for this. It’s wonderful for us, too.”

“Is there enough beauty to look at as well as hear and smell here?” Lilly asked.

I looked at Lilly and Hanako sitting next to me, and smiled. “Most definitely.”

Hanako was looking around the garden and missed my glance. She said, “It’s like g-getting a preview of spring, a month or two early. It’s w-wonderful.”

I stared at the two of them, Hanako engaged and looking around, Lilly sitting with her head motionless, but still taking in the environment. Curious to know what she was experiencing, I closed my eyes and tried to focus on my other senses.

The sound of cars and the city was a faint but constant background noise, unescapable even in this peaceful oasis. But over that was the sound of the stream next to us, and the birds chittering amongst themselves in the trees. The wind rustled the leaves lightly.

The scent of lily of the valley was the dominant olfactory presence, but even under that was the green growing scent of the trees and other plant life around us, and the smell of the rich earth. And there was also the scent of Lilly, beside me, and as I concentrated, I could even pick up a faint hint of Hanako, next to her.

I rubbed my fingers over the warm wood of the bench we were sitting on, feeling the grain worn smooth. There was the pressure of Lilly’s thigh against mine where we sat, and the faint tickle of the breeze blowing across my face. Although we were mostly shaded by the trees overhead, I could feel a warm spot on my left arm where the sun shone through.

As I focused on these sensations, it occurred to me, This is how Lilly lives all the time. It was hardly a new thought; I had done similar “experiments” in the past, but somehow the intensity of the smells around us drove the point home more vividly this time. Without thinking about it, I put my arm across Lilly’s shoulders, with my hand resting on Hanako’s shoulder. Hanako made a small “Hm?” noise of inquiry, then said, “Ah.” I felt her arm slip around Lilly’s waist, her hand resting against my hip.

The three of us just sat there for a time, listening, feeling, smelling. Being.

________________________

On our way back to the hotel we found a small conveyor-belt sushi joint at which to have lunch. The seafood, not surprisingly for an island, was wonderfully fresh. I ate too much, and couldn’t regret it.

When we got back to the hotel, I wanted to take a nap, but the sun and surf called, so we donned our suits again and returned to the beach. I figured I could sleep as easily on the beach as in our room.

One nice thing starting the day with a blowjob in the shower—well, one of several nice things—was that I wasn’t as concerned about my reactions betraying me while at the beach. Although I found the scantily-clad women around us to be of aesthetic interest, Hanako had managed to temporarily quench my libido to a remarkable degree. I smiled contentedly at her as I recalled yet again just how she had accomplished that.

I still had a few hours of lost sleep to make up for from last night, as well as a full stomach, so I chose to nap first, while Lilly and Hanako went into the water to swim and play. I really did want to sleep, but the sight of the two of them kept my eyes open, as I watched them in the water. They were so different, and yet both so beautiful. I found myself just smiling for the simple joy of watching them. I was so lucky to have them in my life. I felt like I could happily sit there just watching the two of them indefinitely.

I must have dozed off eventually, because I’m reasonably certain they didn’t actually lose their suits in the sea before coming back out of the water. Looking like a pair of complementary goddesses, blonde and black hair flowing down past their ankles around them like cloaks and dripping as they strode powerfully out of the sea. Jiggling nicely as they came. But it was a lovely image.

“Hey, you got a swimsuit like mine.” I was pulled from my torpor by a young girl’s voice. Judging by the sun, I must have been asleep for about an hour.

“I do?” asked Lilly. I looked over to see a girl standing by Lilly’s chair. She was maybe seven or eight (I wasn’t terribly good at estimating children’s ages), and she was also wearing a full-body surf suit.

“Yeah. Does your mommy make you wear yours, too?”

Lilly chuckled. “No, I bought it for myself. To protect me from the sun.”

“Yeah, that’s what mommy says, she doesn’t like putting lotion on me all the time.” The girl tugged at the fabric covering her arm. “But sometimes sand gets inside and it’s really itchy.”

“I’m glad that hasn’t happened to me yet,” said Lilly.

“Your suit is really pretty. I like your flowers.”

“Thank you,” said Lilly.

“Do you like my suit?” She spun around in a circle, showing off.

“I’m sure it’s lovely, but I’m afraid I can’t see it.”

“Huh? Why not?”

“I’m blind. That means I can’t see anything.”

“I know what blind means.” The girl looked thoughtful for a moment. “You can’t see anything?” She waved her hands around, as if to test Lilly’s claim.

“No, nothing. But I’m sure your suit is pretty too. Can you describe it to me?”

“Oh, it’s pink with all these slanty purple stripes all down the sides which makes it look like it’s really fast, ‘cause I’m really fast when I run, and I’m getting faster when I swim.”

“That sounds lovely. It sounds like you swim a lot.”

“Yeah, I’d swim every day if I could but Mommy says she can’t spend her life at the beach and sometimes I gotta go to school and stuff and our school doesn’t even have a pool, not like my friend Mikki, her school has a pool and she gets to swim for gym class, which sounds like super cool, and I want to go to Mikki’s school but Mommy says I can’t which just isn’t fair.” This monologue was interrupted when she noticed me watching her. “Are you blind too, mister?”

I laughed. “No, I’m not. What’s your name?”

“Oh. I’m Yuki.” She bobbed her head in what looked like a vague sketch of a bow. “Pleasedtomeetcha.”

“And I’m Miss Satou, and my friend is Mr. Nakai,” said Lilly.

“Is the other lady in the long suit your friend too?” Yuki peered curiously past me at Hanako.

“Yes, that’s Miss Ikezawa.”

I looked over at Hanako to see her sitting up, apparently drawn in by the mention of her name. She smiled at Yuki. “Hello, Y-yuki.”

“Hello.” Yuki cocked her head, looking curious. “What happened to your face?”

“That’s not a polite—” Lilly began to reprove, but I put a hand on her shoulder, cutting her off.

“Wait,” I said quietly.

Hanako didn’t look offended. She often found children easier to deal with than adults, finding their directness preferable to plastic smiles and pity.

“I was caught in a f-fire when I was a little girl. I got b-burned.”

Yuki’s eyes went wide. “Wow. Did it hurt?”

“Yes. B-but it was a long t-time ago.”

“My cousin Shinji got burned on his arm once, he’s got a big red scar.”

Hanako ran her fingertips down her cheek. “Well, th-that’s what these are. Scars.”

“Will they ever go away?”

“No. Scars are f-forever.”

“Oh.” Yuki frowned for a moment, then said decisively, “But you’re still pretty anyway. I like your suit, too.”

Hanako’s smile blossomed bright. “Th-thank you. Your suit is pretty too. It m-makes you look very fast.”

Yuki beamed at that assessment. “I’m the fastest swimmer in my family. Even faster than my brother.”

“You’re probably faster than any of us, too,” I said.

“Really? But you’re grown ups.”

“Well, we don’t swim as much as you do,” I said. “Practice helps.”

“Do you want to race me?”

“Ah…” I was uncertain how to respond to that one. The thought of getting near this tiny powerhouse in the water sounded like an invitation to getting kicked in the chest.

“Shouldn’t you ask your mother before you go into the water?” Lilly asked.

“Oh, yeah, I guess,” said Yuki, sounding unconcerned. She turned away from us and yelled, “Mommy! Can I go swimming with Miss Setou and her pretty friend?” Apparently I didn’t merit a mention. Lilly winced slightly at Yuki’s volume.

“Yuki, stop bothering people,” called back a woman, sitting on a beach chair a half-dozen seats down from us. She stood up and walked over to us. “I’m sorry, she can be aggressively friendly at times.”

“Look, Mommy, they got swim suits like mine!”

“Yes, dear, I see.”

Lilly smiled at Yuki’s mother. “She’s fine, she was just telling us about what a good swimmer she was, and wanted to demonstrate.”

A look of realization crossed Yuki’s face. “Oh, but you wouldn’t be able to see me swim,” she said, sounding disappointed. She turned to her mother and explained, “Miss Setou is blind.”

“Miss Satou,” Lilly corrected.

Yuki’s mother’s face acquired the slightly frozen smile I was all too used to seeing from people sometimes when they first encountered Lilly or Hanako. “Come along, Yuki, let’s leave Miss Satou and her friends to enjoy the beach in peace.”

“But Mommy…” Her mother took her hand and pulled her away from us, quietly lecturing her about bothering strangers at the beach as they went. Yuki looked back over her shoulder and waved her free hand at us.

“Bye, Yuki,” I called, and gave a little wave back.

Lilly sighed. “Did I scare her mother off?” she asked me quietly.

“Eh. I’m not sure how much was her being weird about us, and how much was just her trying to rein in Yuki. I suspect we’re not the first strangers Yuki has struck up conversations with.”

Hanako chuckled. “I suspect the issue f-for Yuki would be g-getting her to not talk.” I glanced at her, to see she was still smiling. Yuki’s compliment had really cheered her.

“Cute kid,” I said. “And she had impeccable taste in swim wear and women.” Hanako laughed at that.

“I’m going for a swim now,” I said, figuring that I’d gotten as much sleep as I was going to. “Anyone else want to come with me?”

________________________

Dinner that evening was in a small restaurant that Hanako had found in the guide book, under the heading of “Underappreciated Gems.” The decor was so-so but the food was excellent, and there was an outdoor patio facing west, where Hanako and I, at least, could enjoy the sunset. Lilly appreciated the breeze, and turned her face towards the sun for warmth, smiling.

The cuisine was European, skewed towards Italian, and Lilly ordered a bottle of red wine for us to go with dinner.

I know there’s some evidence that occasional red wine consumption is good for the heart, but there haven’t been any studies done for people with my particular condition, so I took that notion with a grain of salt. As a general rule, I limited my alcohol intake to the equivalent of a couple of bottles of beer a month, a limit my cardiologist gave grudging consent to. So I sipped my glass slowly over the course of dinner, letting the ladies share the rest of the bottle.

We talked about our day, and we laughed as we recalled the particularly persistent street vendor who kept trying to interest Lilly in his paintings. He seemed to assume that since she was blonde that she was American, and he spoke in a horrible pidgin English as he hawked his wares. Lilly had played along for a while, responding in English, until finally she couldn’t keep it up any longer and told him regretfully in Japanese, “I’m afraid I have no use for your wares, kind sir, inasmuch as I am blind.”

“I’m n-not sure if he was more shocked that you were b-blind, or that you spoke Japanese,” laughed Hanako.

“Either way, at least it got him to leave us alone.”

Lilly laughed. “That reminds me of the time Tosh—” Her smile froze for a moment, then fell off her face. I looked at Hanako, and she was looking at Lilly with a concerned frown on her face. Lilly sighed quietly, drawing my attention back to her.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to bring that…cad…into our conversation.”

“That’s all r-right, Lilly. It s-sounded like it was a…g-good memory,” said Hanako, showing more charity to Ogata than I could have managed.

Lilly smiled a little. “Yes. There were good times.” She tilted her head down, looking lost in thought for a long moment. “I…think I sometimes need to remember that there were also good things, good times. If all I remember are the bad parts, then I feel even more…foolish for having stuck with him as long as I did.”

“Oh. Yeah, I guess I can see that,” I said. That had never occurred to me. I suddenly felt guilty for all the times I’d badmouthed him around her. But then I remembered how he’d broken up with her, and that guilt mostly faded away.

“What were some of the th-things you liked best about him?” asked Hanako quietly.

Lilly looked thoughtful for a moment. “He was well read. We had a lot of good conversations about literature. That was how we first started talking, actually. He was funny, and witty, and bright. He’s a…fairly good writer.”

I snorted. “That story he published in the school literary journal was…well, it struck me as kind of self involved. Adolescent. And it felt as if he used a thesaurus to excess.”

Lilly smiled wryly. “I didn’t say he was an excellent writer.”

“Not as g-good as you,” Hanako said.

“That…may have also been a sore spot for him. Although he never said so, of course.”

She shook her head. “Good things, though. He had…gentle hands. He had a light touch, even while guiding me, never shoving or pulling me around.” I winced a little at that one. It had taken me some time to become proficient at guiding Lilly without manhandling her when we walked together.

Hanako groaned a laugh. “Oh, god, do you r-remember the first t-time you let me guide you as we w-walked to town together?”

Lilly chuckled. “It would be hard to forget.”

“Have the b-bruises faded yet?”

“They didn’t last that long,” Lilly said. One hand came up to rub at her arm as if in memory.

“I was t-terrified that I would steer you wrong, and you’d w-walk in front of a car and die and it would b-be all my fault.” Hanako shook her head, smiling. “Th-thank you for not dying.”

“My pleasure.”

“And thank you f-for giving me more explicit directions on how best to guide you b-before the next time we went to town.”

“Also, believe me, my pleasure.”

“I find it hard to—” I cut myself off.

“Hard to what?” asked Lilly.

“Never mind. We’re focusing on the good things.” I did my best to keep my distaste for Ogata out of my voice.

“What do you find hard?” Lilly asked.

I sighed. “I find it hard to reconcile the notion of someone bright and witty and gentle with the cad who would treat you like he did.”

“We all have…multitudes. Different sides to ourselves.” Lilly frowned. “We all do things that are…not our best selves. Maybe the way he treated me at the end was…him at his worst. Or maybe it was his true self finally coming to the surface. I can’t know.”

“Based on other things you’ve said about him…I think it was his true self coming to the surface.”

Lilly nodded reluctantly. “You may be right. Either way, I can’t help but wonder—if I am such a bad judge of character as to stick with him for almost five months, what does that say about me?”

Hanako reached out and took Lilly’s hand in hers, and I took her other hand. “It’s n-not that you’re a bad judge of character, Lilly. If you have a f-fault here, it’s that you’re too good.”

Lilly made a soft scoffing noise and shook her head.

“No, r-really, you’re a good person, and you expect other p-people to be as good and kind as you are.”

“You are one of the nicest people I know,” I added.

Lilly squeezed our hands, then let go of us. She reached for her wine glass. “Thank you. But I think I may require another glass of wine if we’re going to continue this conversation.”

I grimaced. “I’m sorry, this is my fault. I shouldn’t have distracted us from talking about his good qualities.”

“Perhaps we can find something more pleasant to discuss?” Lilly asked.

“Y-yes, that’s a good idea.”

Lilly took a sip of her wine. My mind was running a complete blank for new topics. I stared helplessly at Hanako and shrugged. After almost a half minute of awkward silence, Hanako started to giggle, and Lilly joined her.

“So…do you think the Yomiuri Giants will beat the Tigers this year?” I asked, provoking more laughter.

“The idea of you d-discussing sports…” Hanako sputtered.

“Hey! I’m a manly man! I love talking about soccer.”

“Yes, Kenji,” said Hanako placatingly.

Lilly laughed. “Even I know the Giants and Tigers are baseball teams.”

I chuckled. “Busted.”

As the laughter wound down, Lilly smiled. “Thank you, you two.”

“For what?” I asked.

“Making me laugh.” Her smile grew warmer. “And for being here for me.”

“We’ll always be here for you,” Hanako said firmly.

“Yes,” I agreed. “Just like you’ve always been here for us.”

Lilly lifted her wine glass in a toasting gesture, and Hanako and I raised ours to match. “To dear friends.”

“To being there for each other,” I added.

“To family,” said Hanako.

Hanako and I clinked our glasses against Lilly’s and each others’, and we all drank to that.

________________________

The two of them finished off almost two bottles of wine, less my single glass, before we headed back to the hotel. Lilly, when she got tipsy, tended toward being even more poised and precise, but also more giggly. Hanako got more relaxed and physically affectionate, to the point where she was grabbing my ass as we walked back to the hotel. I was glad Lilly couldn’t see what Hanako was doing. As I had one arm supporting Hanako and my other arm held out to guide Lilly, I didn’t have a hand free to disengage Hanako’s affections.

Thankfully, the hotel lobby was almost empty, and I think we only amused one desk clerk as we made our way to the elevators. Lilly pulled out her room key and very seriously unlocked the door, succeeding on her third attempt.

“Are you okay from here, Lilly?” I asked as we entered the room. I thought we’d been here long enough that she could navigate the hotel room on her own by now.

Lilly waved a languid hand. “Oh, I’m perfectly fine, thank you. You go pour Hanako into bed.” She giggled at that, then covered her mouth. “Pardon me.” She stood up straighter, and walked over to the sofa. I was about to call out to her before she ran into the coffee table, but she took a neat side-step around it, her navigational memory coming through despite her alcohol consumption.

“I’ll be back out in a moment to help you unfold the futon,” I said, as I guided Hanako into our room.

“No rush, I’m sure you have your hands full,” said Lilly. She sat down on the edge of the couch, posture erect, hands folded neatly on her knees.

“N-not as full as they’re about to b-be,” said Hanako, then both women giggled.

I sighed as I gently untangled myself from Hanako’s arms. Somehow it seemed like she suddenly had six of them, and it took me a minute to do so. “I’ll be back in a minute, sweetie, I just need to go help Lilly.”

“Oh, you go help Lilly all you want. I’ll b-be right here if you need any other help.” She flopped back on the bed, and started pulling her skirt up, exposing her lovely long legs. I hurried out of the bedroom before she could grab me again.

I found Lilly standing by the sofa, struggling to reach the zipper on the back of her dress. “Hanako, would you be so kind as to unzip my dress for me?” she asked. Hanako had helped her get into that dress before dinner, I recalled.

“Ah, Hanako is…getting ready for bed. I can help, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh, of course not. What’s to mind?” She lifted her hair off the back of her neck, presenting me with a lovely view of her long slender neck. I gingerly reached out and grabbed the zipper and edge of the dress, and slid the zipper pull down to the small of her back.

“There. Just give me a second to unfold your bed, and you can—” I froze as Lilly dropped her dress to puddle around her ankles. Her lingerie was lacy and a lovely shade of blue, a little darker than the color of her eyes. I absently wondered if Akira or Hanako had helped her pick out the color. She stepped out of her dress and bent over to pick it up, displaying her ass to wonderful effect as she did so. She carefully draped it over the back of the arm chair I’d sat in the previous night, her hands drifting over it for a moment as if to set into memory where she’d placed it.

When she turned around, I snapped out of my frozen state and turned back to the sofa. But not before getting a lovely look at her from the front. Her lingerie wasn’t as translucent as her peach pajamas, but it was a close thing. My heart was beating fast, and I closed my eyes and took a moment to take a calming breath or three. When I opened my eyes again, I saw Hanako through the bedroom door, watching us and smiling wide as she slid her panties down her legs. I hurriedly turned my attentions to unfolding the futon.

“I. Am going to go brush my teeth,” Lilly said, making a carefully enunciated pronouncement of it.

Thank god, I thought, and quickly made up her bed for her before she could return. I called out “Good night, Lilly,” and beat a hasty retreat to the bedroom without waiting for a reply.

Where I discovered that Hanako had started without me. Her skirt was up around her waist, her panties were dangling off of one ankle, and her hands were…busy. “There you are,” she said, a little breathlessly. “What took you so long?” Then she giggled. “Did you have fun unzipping Lilly?”

Oh, dear lord, these women are going to be the death of me…but what a way to go…

________________________

Perhaps not surprisingly, we all slept in late the next morning. I woke up first and slipped out of the bedroom to use the bathroom. Lilly was still asleep, now attired neatly in her dark blue pajamas. Being a merciful boyfriend, I brought a full glass of water and two ibuprofen tablets back for Hanako. I left them on the bedside table where she could find them when she woke up, and I dug out some clean clothes and went to take a shower.

By the time I emerged from the bathroom, smelling much less interesting than I had a half hour ago, Lilly was sitting up in bed, hunched over slightly and holding her head. I did an immediate about-face and got a second glass of water and set of painkillers for her.

“Good morning, Lilly,” I said quietly. I walked over to stand beside her. “I’ve got ibuprofen and water for you, if you’d like.”

“Yes, please,” she croaked, and held out her hand. I placed the pills in her hand, then after she’d tossed them into her mouth, I placed the glass into her hand. She washed down the pills with a gulp. “Merciful Mother of God, what was I thinking…” she muttered, then she finished the rest of the glass of water. I chuckled and took the glass from her, taking it back to the bathroom for a refill. She drank that one down too, and mumbled, “Thank you, Hisao. You are truly a saint among men.”

I coughed as I remembered some less-than-saintly thoughts I’d had last night, then said, “I’m going to go check on Hanako.”

“Mmm. Okay.” Lilly swayed slightly where she sat, as if trying to decide between being vertical or horizontal, then she opted for the vertical and headed toward the bathroom as I re-entered the bedroom.

Hanako, clad in the t-shirt I’d been wearing at the beach yesterday, was awake, and almost perfectly echoed Lilly’s earlier posture, holding her head in her hands.

“Good morning, love.”

“Wha’s so good about it?” she muttered.

“The existence of water and painkillers?” I suggested. I picked up the pills that she apparently hadn’t noticed, and handed them to her. She whimpered gratefully, then took the glass and washed them down. “Oh, my aching head,” she moaned. She moved to swing her legs over the side of the bed, and winced. “Oh, my aching…privates,” she added. She glowered weakly up at me. “What did you d-do to me last night?”

I snorted. “Nothing you didn’t ask of me. Rather insistently, I might add. I honestly had no idea that I could…perform…three times in such a short span of time.” And without killing myself, at that. Mind you, even drunk she had taken care of me—for round three, she had insisted that I just lay still and do nothing. Which had proved to have its own set of challenges and rewards.

Hanako buried her face in her hands, and moaned quietly. “Oh, god. I hope we weren’t t-too loud…I n-never meant f-for Lilly…I mean…oh, bother.” Hanako finished the glass of water and closed her eyes. “I hope w-we didn’t offend her, I wanted her t-to…to…” she trailed off and shook her head slowly.

“You wanted her to what?”

Hanako opened her eyes and looked up at me. She gave me a weak smile. “Never mind. N-not important just now.” She sat up a bit straighter and her smile grew more sincere. “Last night w-was quite special. Headache and vagina-ache n-notwithstanding.”

I smiled and sat on the bed next to her. “Yes, it was. Thank you for a most memorable night, you sexy thing.”

Hanako snorted, and threw back the covers. The sheets blew a fragrant gust of air at me. Our exertions had created some rather interesting scents.

Hanako stood up and stretched. Since she wasn’t wearing any panties, the view as my t-shirt rode up on her body was rather lovely, and I leaned forward to kiss her hip-bone. She snorted a small laugh at that, then she winced, putting a hand to her forehead. “I th-think I need more water.”

“Ah…Lilly is in the bathroom at the moment, so you’ll have to get it yourself, I’m afraid.”

Hanako sighed. “Oh, v-very well.” She took her empty glass and shuffled out the door, bouncing off the doorframe as she went.

I shook my head, feeling slightly smug about the advantages to my not being able to drink much alcohol. I’d only experienced one hangover in my life, after the first time the three of us got drunk together.

I smiled as I recalled that night. Hanako’s birthday party. Back when I’d had no idea of where I was going with my life, if I could have a life after my heart attack, or even if maybe one of these lovely ladies might want to have something more to do with me. As I thought about it, it seemed to me that that evening could have gone quite differently, leading to other possible outcomes—

I shook my head and banished the speculation. Things had turned out for the best, as far as I was concerned. I had Hanako, and we still had Lilly in our lives. Things could have hardly worked out any better for us, I was sure.

Hanako reappeared in the doorway, glass of water in one hand, room service menu in the other. “L-lilly wants to order in this m-morning. She said she’s not up to b-braving the real w-world just yet.”

“Oh.” I’d looked at the room service menu yesterday, and been appalled by the prices. “Uh, sure. I just need a cup of coffee, really.”

Hanako pursed her lips for a moment. “And she said that if you d-don’t order a full b-brunch, she’ll just order one of everything on the menu f-for you.”

I snorted. “Busted. All right, let me look.”

The prices may have been ridiculous, but the hotel made up for it somewhat with the quality of the food and service. It made me feel a little pampered, to have nice linens, pretty china, and fresh-cut flowers with our meal.

As we finished our brunches, Hanako and Lilly both looked a little less cadaverous, and decided that they could now face the world again.

“What do you want to do today?” I asked.

“I am open to suggestions,” Lilly said. “Hanako, you’ve been reading that tourist guide. Did anything jump out at you as something you wanted to do?”

“Um… Most of the things l-listed are either scenic vistas or dives—”

“Not so good,” I said.

“—or restaurants. But th-there were a couple of things that sounded like…well, super-touristy things to do, b-but…still fun things w-we could all enjoy.”

“Such as?” Lilly asked.

“Well, one was a marine park where you c-can swim…with dolphins.”

“That sounds cool,” I said.

Hanako nodded. “B-but they require reservations, so we might not be able to g-get in at this late date.”

“Well, it never hurts to call and ask. Someone may have canceled at the last minute,” said Lilly.

Hanako nodded. “True. Another t-touristy thing is a historic v-village called Yaima Mura—”

“Oh! I went there with Akira,” said Lilly, smiling. “With the little monkeys you can pet?”

“Squirrel m-monkeys, yes.”

“Squirrel monkeys?” I asked. “Aren’t they a South American species?”

“Yes, but there is a c-colony here, where you can feed and p-play with them.” Hanako smiled. “They’re incredibly c-cute.”

“Well, then. Let’s go pet some monkeys,” I said.
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Lap
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:33 pm

Chapter 9

The warmth of Ishigaki kept us warmed and cheered for a couple of weeks after the start of the school year. I’d never taken a vacation like that before, and was pleasantly surprised at how it truly did help to restore and reinvigorate me, allowing me to dive into my new courses, and new course of study, with a fresh will.

A month after the start of the new school year, Hanako and several of her classmates attended a journalism conference in Shinjuku. She was only going to be gone for one night, Friday to Saturday, but for some reason, she seemed more nervous about this trip than she had about previous trips she’d taken on her own. Which didn’t help my own nerves any. I always had to quash my anxiety about Hanako venturing out into the great big world without me when she travelled. Not only would she not appreciate the sentiment, but, honestly, my concern was far less needed than it had been a few years ago. It wasn’t her first trip without me or Lilly, nor would it be her last, and every trip she took she handled more smoothly and confidently than the last. Which made her nervousness this time all the more puzzling, but I put on a confident face and wished her well.

Because of classes, we said our goodbyes at the apartment Friday morning. I didn’t have time to go with her to the train station to see her off. “I’ll be there to pick you up tomorrow night,” I promised, as I gave her one final kiss.

Hanako smiled. “That’s not n-necessary, but—it would b-be nice.”

“A sweet romantic reunion on the train station platform?” said Lilly with a smile.

Hanako nodded. “Yes.”

Hanako gave Lilly a goodbye hug. “Take good c-care of Hisao while I’m gone,” she said with a smile.

“Hey! I can survive on my own just fine,” I protested, mock indignantly.

“I’ll make sure he eats something other than instant noodles for dinner,” Lilly said with a small grin. It’s possible that they know me too well.

“And you t-take care of Lilly,” Hanako added, soothing my ruffled feathers.

“That I can do.” I glanced at Lilly. “We can do. We’ll take care of each other.” For some reason, that made Hanako blush as she smiled back at me.

“Good. I’m c-counting on it.” She grabbed the handle of her small rolling suitcase, and we all headed out to the elevator and our respective busy days.

I received a handful of texts from Hanako throughout the course of the day, letting me know she'd arrived safely. She called around ten thirty that evening to say good night, and we talked for a while. I was reassured to hear how well her day went, and to hear about what sessions she was looking forward to the next day.

A half hour after we hung up, I realized I had been aimlessly browsing random web sites instead of studying for the past fifteen minutes. I closed my laptop and gave up on studying as a lost cause for the rest of the night. It certainly wasn’t too early for bed. I stood up and stretched, then glanced at Lilly. She had her headphones on, listening to some class notes. I touched her arm to get her attention, and she paused the recording and pulled her headphones down.

“I’m going to turn in. Do you need anything before I go?”

She shook her head, and pulled the headphones completely off, setting them carefully on the corner of the table. “No. Thank you. I probably should do the same.”

“Okay. Do you mind if I use the bathroom first?”

She gave me an embarrassed smile. “Actually…I think I’ve had one cup of tea too many this evening. Would you mind if I went first?”

I smiled at her delicate phraseology. “Of course not. Ladies first.”

A sighted person would probably have rolled her eyes at that, I think, but she just shook her head with a sliver of a smile, and got up to perform her nightly ablutions.

I took the time while she was occupying the bathroom to wash and put away the tea set, and tidy the living room and kitchen so that everything was in its proper place. I had never been a horribly sloppy person, but living with a blind roommate had instilled in me new habits of tidiness and order, doubly so since the incident with my backpack full of bricks. I wondered absently if I would maintain those tidy habits after graduation, when we all moved on to our separate lives.

The thought gave me pause. Hanako and I planned to stay together after graduation, of course, but the thought of living without Lilly in our lives was…disturbing.

I stood still in the middle of the living room and stared at Rin’s painting as I contemplated the notion in greater detail. Hanako and I were a couple, Lilly was our friend, and yet—the thought of her not being in our daily lives just felt wrong. Painful. Almost inconceivable.

We had been apart at times, of course, once even for a full month when Lilly and Akira took a vacation together in Europe. But although we had missed her, at the back of my mind had been the knowledge that she would return. That the separation was temporary.

Lilly was our friend. But friends frequently parted ways after university, that was the normal order of things. Expected. But…certainly not desired.

Lilly was our friend, but more than that, she was family. Hanako and I were both only children, with no experience of siblings. Maybe this was just what it felt like to have a beloved sibling? Heaven knows Lilly and Akira were close, texting frequently and talking via Skype a couple of times a month, when their schedules allowed. Would that become the kind of relationship we had with Lilly? Texts and phone calls? Seeing each other at the holidays?

The thought made my stomach ache. My eye traced the lines of the purple and blonde hair that snaked around the portrait, tying us together, twisting around the heart in the center of us all. Had Rin seen something that we hadn’t?

I realized I had been standing in the middle of the living room for several minutes, staring at our portrait and thinking gloomy thoughts, when Lilly’s voice snapped me out of it. “Hisao? I’m finished in the bathroom.”

I shook my head, chiding myself. You’re just getting gloomy because Hanako isn’t here. Even though she had only been gone for fifteen hours or so. We’ll be fine. I looked over to see Lilly standing in the doorway to her bedroom, looking lovely in her dark blue pajamas. “Thanks,” I said, and walked over to give her a hug. “Good night, Lilly,” I said, and hugged her tight.

Perhaps my mood made me hold on to her a little longer than usual, because when we pulled apart, she asked, “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah…I was just…” I shook my head and gave self-deprecating laugh. “I was just getting gloomy. Thinking about graduation. About…all of us moving on.”

She was silent for a moment, her hands still resting on my shoulders. I studied her face and watched as she also acquire a slightly sad expression. “About us not living together?” she asked quietly. I was unsurprised by how on-point her question was; she was remarkably sensitive and astute about emotional matters.

Dammit, I hadn’t meant to depress her too. I sighed. “Yeah,” I admitted. I forced a smile, even though she couldn’t see it. “But that’s a couple of years in the future. We’re together now, right? And…maybe we’ll all do graduate school together or something.”

Her smile was about as convincing as mine. “Right.” She paused, as if about to say something else, but simply added, “Good night, Hisao.”

“Good night, Lilly.” She turned and closed her bedroom door behind her, and I headed to the bathroom to prepare for bed.

As I turned back the covers to my (lonely) bed, I was unsurprised to find an envelope resting on my pillow. I smiled. Hanako and I usually left each other little love notes when one of us had to be away for a few days. I had tucked one for her into her suitcase before she left. What did surprise me when I picked it up was discovering that there was a second, heavier, cream-colored envelope underneath the first. I glanced at them both. The one that had been on top was simply addressed “Hisao,” with little hearts drawn around my name. The second envelope was addressed, “To Hisao and Lilly, Open Only if Needed.”

What the heck? I stared bemusedly at the second envelope, wondering what it was about. If needed? What does that even mean? I contemplated going to Lilly’s room to open it with her—it was addressed to both of us, after all—but then I shrugged and put it down on the bedside table. It could wait until morning. Or whenever it was needed.

The note to me was short and sweet, and lifted my spirits. I loved reading notes from Hanako. With no evidence of her stutter, and her word choice more considered and exact, she somehow sounded like a more concentrated version of herself in writing. Her Hanako-iest self, as Rin might have put it.

Since no one was there to see me, I gave the note a gentle kiss before putting it aside, and burrowed under the covers, pulling Hanako’s pillow to me so I could smell her scent. A lightly floral shampoo mixed with the scent of the lotions we applied daily to her scars.

I was debating whether to read a while or just turn off the bedside light and go to sleep when Lilly tapped on the door. “Come in,” I called.

“Hisao?” She said softly from the doorway.

I controlled my first impulse to make some crack like “Who else would I be?” and instead said, “What's up, Lilly?”

She stepped a little further across the doorway, and smiled tremulously. “This might seem odd, with Hanako gone, but…could I sleep with you tonight? Do you think she would mind?”

I smiled, and moved Hanako’s pillow back into place. “No, she wouldn’t mind. We’ve talked about this possibility. It’s fine with her. And me.”

“Oh. Thank you.” She crossed the room and felt for the bed. I lifted the covers and she slid in under them next to me. I wrapped my arms around her, and she snuggled in against me, her head resting on my shoulder.

“You and Hanako really talked about this?” she asked curiously.

I chuckled. “A couple of months ago, actually. When I went home to visit for my mother’s birthday.”

“Oh.”

“Not that you joined her, then, but we did talk about the possibility, both ways.”

“Hm. Thank you.” She fell silent, but it wasn’t the silence of sleep. After a couple of minutes, I echoed her earlier question to me. “Is everything all right?”

She shrugged and was silent for a few moments more before responding. “I guess your melancholia was contagious. I began thinking about what life would be like after graduation. Imagining life without you and Hanako, and…” She trailed off and sighed.

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. It’s silly, I guess. As you said, we have a few years yet before that happens.”

“That doesn’t alter the fact that the thought of our life without you in it is…depressing.” I considered the notion in more detail. “Maybe even scary.”

“Scary? How so?”

I stopped to think for a long moment, trying to find words for my gut reaction. “Scary because…losing you would be like…another injury. Another handicap we would have to learn to live with and endure. Not that we couldn’t, we’ve all learned to live with our handicaps, but…that doesn’t mean I look forward to it.” I squeezed her tighter for a moment as I realized something that I had never put into words before. “You’re a part of our hearts, Lilly. Hanako’s heart, my heart. And my heart is damaged enough as it is. I don’t want to cut out another part of it, even if it is just metaphorically.”

“Hisao…”

“Hanako and me…I like to think we’re a good couple. We’ve had our issues, but we’ve worked through them. I think we can make our lives work together in the long haul. I even hope that someday…she might consent to marry me.”

“Oh, Hisao, of course she’ll—”

I place a finger across her lips, cutting her off. “But my point is…as good as Hanako and I are together…we’re better, with you in our lives. Happier. More whole.”

“Your live-in couples’ counsellor?” she asked, and I could tell from her teasing tone that she was trying to lighten the mood. But I refused to take the bait.

“If you think that that’s all you are to us, you’re even more dense than…than I am.” I took a deep breath. Good God, am I ever dense. I can’t believe I’m only just now realizing… “We love you, Lilly. I love you. You’re kind, and generous, and gentle, with a core of indomitable strength that you hide behind your proper facade. You’ve become an integral part of our lives, interwoven in our hearts, and I can’t honestly picture my future without you in it, any more than I can envision a future without Hanako. I don’t want us to move on to separate lives. I want us to be together. Forever.”

There was a long silence following this statement, and I could feel my face burning, my heart pounding in my chest. Lilly had pressed her palm flat against my chest, and I was pretty sure she was monitoring my erratic heartbeat.

“Hisao…did you just…confess to me?” She sounded incredulous.

I gave a nervous laugh, and was shocked to realize I had tears in my eyes. Tears of nervousness, and also relief and happiness, for having finally said what I had just said. An incredibly bizarre mix of emotions swirled through me, relief and elation mixed with nervousness and dread.

“Yeah. Yeah, I think I just did,” I admitted. “I love you, Lilly, and—”

Lilly pulled away from me and sat up, her face gone utterly blank and unreadable. “I should go, Hisao. This isn’t right. This—I don’t—I won’t come between my two b-best friends—” Her expression may have been blank, but her voice was choked with emotion.

I grabbed her arm as she started to rise. “Lilly, please, wait—” My gaze fell on the pale heavy envelope sitting on the bedside table beside her.

“Please let go of me, Hisao,” she said tightly. “This is not right. Restraining me is not…gentlemanly.”

I maintained my grip on her arm, although it pained me to ignore her wishes. “I will, in just a moment, but there’s something I think we need to read, first.”

That statement was incongruous enough that she stopped pulling against my grip. “We need to what?”

I released her arm, hoped she wouldn’t take the opportunity to flee. I counted on her curiosity to at least hear me out. “Hanako…she left us a letter.” I laughed nervously, the sound jarring with the tension in the air between us. “I think…she may have anticipated us.”

“A letter. Are you serious?”

I picked up the heavy envelope. “Nope. Honest, it’s address to both of us.” Even as I said that, I noticed something that I had missed before. Under the hand written address was a line embossed in Braille. I recognized the Braille characters for our names. I pressed the envelope into her hand, and placed her fingers on the raised dots. She quickly read it.

“Open…if needed?” She looked as puzzled as I had felt earlier.

“I think…maybe now it’s needed?”

She hesitated, then nodded and handed the envelope back to me. I opened it, and discovered the reason for its weight. There were four sheets of paper inside, one in Hanako’s handwriting, three in Braille.

“There are two letters,” I said, placing the Braille copy into Lilly’s hand. “One for each of us.”

As Lilly’s fingers stroked the salutation, she softly read out loud, “ ‘My dearest beloved Lilly’…” She paused, and took a shuddering breath. Her blank mask slowly slipped away, and I could see that her emotions were as mixed as mine. She bowed her head for a moment, then said, “Very well then. Let us read.” She slid down towards the foot of the bed, away from me. I sat up and leaned back against the headboard, and angled the bedside lamp so that I could see the text more clearly.



My Dearest Beloved Hisao,

I hope that you and Lilly have come to the correct time to open these letters, because otherwise I am going to look very foolish indeed. But if you aren’t both hanging at a decision point and having many doubts, please please put this letter back in its envelope now, and I will explain it when I get home.

Most important things first: I love you. You are the best thing in my life, and I am so grateful every day that you love me too. I love you now, and I will love you always.

Secondly: I love Lilly. And I know you do too. We three have always spent a lot of time together, but that time has increased over the past few months, and I’m not referring solely to the nights she joins us in bed.

And, over the course of these last few months, I have watched you falling in love with Lilly, and she with you.



I paused and closed my eyes for a moment, and shuddered. I was terrified of where this letter was going.



It was hardly a surprise to me. You’ve always been half in love with her, and she with you. But you are, as Lilly once joked, a perfect gentleman, and she is a wonderful friend, who too often puts the needs of others before her own. I know that neither of you has acted in any way on these feelings, that indeed you may even now be denying that you have these feelings. But although Lilly may not be able to see the way you look at her, I can.



Oh, shit.



And you may not fully appreciate the way Lilly lets you see her vulnerable side, but I do. She has opened herself up to you more in the past three months than she ever has to anyone other than myself or Akira. I don’t think you realize just how rare this is, perhaps because it is similar to how I relate to you, and how she relates to me, but it is rare. And precious.

Yet even as your love grew, I have felt no diminution of love from you, or her. I do not believe that either of you are growing away from me, and I hope you feel the same way too. And so, I want to share our love.

I am happy, Hisao. Happy for you, happy for Lilly, happy for me. Happy that the people that I love, love each other.

So, these letters are my confessions. I love you both. I want you both in my life, forever. I want you two free to love each other, as you and I do. And just so there is no room for misunderstanding, I mean carnally. Physically. Make love with one another, joyfully. And know that I am with you in spirit. Seeing you two together—imagining you two making love—all my “training,” all the love stories I have read over the years, tells me that this should make me jealous, unhappy, and insecure. But it does not. It makes me happy, imagining you both happy, taking joy in each other’s arms.

So, go, make love to your new lover, my love. And when I return, I will be in your arms once again too.

All my love, now and forever,

Hanako




I read the letter through once, quickly, then a second time, more slowly.

Then a third time. Just to make sure it actually said what I thought it said.

I finally looked up, to see Lilly sitting at the foot of the bed, tears trickling down her cheek, one finger gently stroking a line of text near the end of the third page over and over.

Were this one of Hanako’s romance novels, this would probably be the point at which Lilly and I fell into each others’s arms and proceeded to make mad, passionate love all night long.

This wasn’t a romance novel. Alas.

I cleared my throat.

“Well. That was…unexpected,” I offered lamely. “I had wondered why she seemed so nervous about going off to this conference.”

Lilly gave a little hiccup of a laugh at that, and wiped at her cheeks with the cuff of her sleeve. I pulled a tissue from the box on the night stand and bent forward to place it in her hand. I sat back against the headboard to give her space as she wiped her nose.

“Thank you,” she said automatically.

“Well,” I repeated. “It seems Hanako…knows me better than I know myself, in some ways.” Because, try as I might, I couldn’t come up with a counter-argument to her assertion that I was in love with Lilly.

Lilly nodded. “Me too, apparently.”

We sat there in awkward silence for another minute before Lilly folded her letter neatly, rose, and headed towards the door. “I think I had better return to my bed.”

“You…don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” I offered awkwardly.

She stopped in the doorway, and shook her head. “Believe me, I don’t want to, Hisao. I would love nothing more than to take Hanako up on her…unorthodox offer. But…not before talking to her face to face. Not before we all talk. I need to know in my heart that she truly means, in her heart, what she wrote.”

I nodded. “Yeah. That seems wise.” She started to leave, and I called out, “Lilly?”

She paused and turned back, her unfocused gaze turned mostly towards me. “Yes?”

“I…don’t want this to come between us. No matter how this settles out, you’re my friend. Our friend. I’m sorry if my confession made you uncomfortable.”

She gave a small sad smile. “Hisao. You should never have to apologize for loving someone.”

I snorted. “In an ideal world, maybe, yeah.”

“True. I do love you, Hisao. And Hanako. But…I’m afraid I can neither accept nor refuse your confessions at this time.”

I sighed, relieved that she wasn’t outright rejecting me, disheartened that I would have to wait.

“Good night, Hisao.”

“Good night, Lilly.” She quietly closed the door behind her.

It wasn’t until after she’d left that I realized she had said confessions, plural. Meaning Hanako’s letter to Lilly had been very similar to mine.

Of course it, was, she wouldn’t give us mixed messages. Not about something this important.

I looked at the time. Almost midnight. I picked up my phone and hesitated, staring at the picture of Hanako by her speed-dial listing.

What could I say? “What the heck?” “Are you kidding?” “Really?” “How could you drop this bombshell on us when you’re not here?” I had a hundred questions to ask her, but, like Lilly, I wanted to be able to see her when I asked them. After staring at the phone for several minutes of indecision, I sighed, and settled for sending her a brief text.

I love you, now and always and forever.

I waited for a few minutes to see if she would respond, but apparently she’d already gone to sleep.

I turned out the light and settled into bed, once again pulling Hanako’s pillow to me to breath in her scent. But now her scent was overlaid with a touch of Lilly’s scent, too. Which just seemed too appropriate. Hmm. She did say she wanted to take Hanako up on her offer. I smiled at that, feeling both reassured, and…just a touch smug.

Suffering from a case of emotional as well as physical blue-balls, I eventually settled into an uneasy sleep.

________________________

Although I sometimes took Saturdays off from my running regimen, when I woke up at too-darn-early o’clock the next morning, I decided that a run would be a good thing to help clear my mind. I pulled on running gear, downed my morning ration of pills, and headed out, determined to get some blood flowing through my sluggish brain.

When I finished, my brain wasn’t really working all that much better, but at least it didn’t feel as if it was stuffed with cotton any more. As I opened the door to the apartment, I was greeted by the scent of coffee and natto. Lilly was moving around in our small kitchenette, preparing breakfast.

“Good morning, Hisao,” she said, her voice sounding normal. “Did you have a good run?”

I slipped out of my running shoes and hung up my jacket. “It was fine,” I said. “Did you…have a good night’s sleep?” I winced at the inanity of my question.

She gave a delicate, lady-like snort. “Not really. It was a tad unsettled.” Looking at her, I realize she had dark circles under her eyes. Mine probably matched.

I sighed. “I know what you mean.”

“I’m almost done here. Would you bring the food to the table, please?”

“Of course.” Most mornings, I just grabbed coffee and bread before rushing out the door to class. We tried to have slightly more pleasant breakfasts on the weekends, even if it was just simple fare.

Lilly had prepared two bowls of natto with rice and an egg on top, slowly cooking from the heat of the food below. Two small bowls of miso soup with cubes of soft tofu and slices of daikon rounded out the meal, and, of course, tea for her and coffee for me. I placed the food on the table, automatically describing their locations for Lilly’s sake: “Natto in the center, tea at ten o’clock, miso at two o’clock.”

“Thank you, Hisao,” she said, for all the world as if it were a perfectly normal Saturday breakfast.

We began eating, and I was surprised at how hungry I was. Even more than I normally would be after a good run. We ate in silence, and I did my best to not gobble everything down in a mad rush.

I kept wanting to speak, to say something about last night, but the words just wouldn't come. Lilly was likewise quiet, so we ate in slightly awkward silence.

I finished my food before Lilly was even half done. I got up and headed to the kitchen. “I’m going to get some more rice. Do you want anything?”

“No, thank you.”

“Thank you for breakfast,” I added belatedly. “It was delicious.”

She chuckled. “Yes, I can reheat rice and natto with the best of them.”

I sighed, and didn’t bother pointing out that she had done considerably more than that. She often downplayed her skills in the kitchen, despite being a better cook than either Hanako or I.

As I sprinkled some toasted sesame seeds onto my rice, I finally worked up the nerve to say, “So. Are we going to talk about this?”

Lilly sighed, and set down her chopsticks. “Without Hanako here, what is there to say?”

I stared at her, a bit taken aback. “Ah, everything?” I sat back down, but didn’t start to eat.

She grimaced, but relented. “What did you wish to say?”

“I’m going to assume our letters were…basically similar, aside from a few personal touches.” If not, I was really about to put my foot in it.

Lilly nodded. “That seems a safe assumption.” A touch of her normal humor peeked through as she offered, “Would you like to read mine, to compare?”

“Heh. Thanks, I’ll pass.” I knew the basics of the Braille alphabet, but decoding a letter of that length would be the work of a couple of hours or more, for me. “Unless you wanted to read it out loud to me?”

She shivered. “I…do not think I have the courage to do that. Just now.”

I nodded as I contemplated doing the same with my letter. “Yeah. I—yeah.” But I took my courage in hand and, ignoring the thumping in my chest, got right to the—heh—heart of the matter. “Hanako said…she’s watched the two of us falling in love, these past few months.”

Lilly nodded slowly, but said nothing. I stared at her, a little frustrated by her silence. “What do you think of that?” I finally prodded.

Lilly sighed. “What is there to think? For all that she is emotionally reserved at times, she can be a remarkably astute observer of other people’s emotions.”

It took me a moment to interpret that as Lilly’s confirmation of Hanako’s statement. I was simultaneously relieved and terrified that she agreed with Hanako’s observations.

“Well. At least we all three agree with that…assessment,” I said.

Lilly gave me a small smile, lightly tinged with sadness. “Yes. I do love you, Hisao. But I also love Hanako. And I won’t do anything to hurt her.”

“Or me?” I asked, without thinking.

She tilted her head. “Yes, but…I have known her longer. Not that you aren’t dear to me, but…she is dearer. If I had to choose which one of you to hurt…” She shrugged, looked uncomfortable, and didn’t finish the sentence.

Her sentiment didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was that it didn’t bother me. “Good. I don’t want to see her hurt, either.”

We resumed eating for a few minutes, then Lilly said, “I must admit, the tone of the letter struck me as a bit odd. Not quite like Hanako.”

“More forthright? Forceful?”

Lilly nodded. “Yes. Among other things. But she included some details known only to herself and me, so I was sure it was her writing.”

I smiled. “There are certain things about Hanako that I—we—have never been comfortable sharing with you. But you probably should know. If this unorthodox relationship is going to move forward.”

“I do not want you to violate Hanako’s or your privacy.”

I shook my head. “No, it’s all right. It’s actually a source of pride for her, but it’s not something one normally discusses in polite company.” I laughed. “But I think we’re past the point of being polite company, if we’re going to proceed in an honest fashion.” I looked at Lilly, who was looking a bit nervous, but also curious.

“One of the areas of her life where Hanako feels most confident is…in bed.” I swallowed, a blush beginning to form, but I pushed on. “I think it’s because we were both fumbling virgins when we first became intimate, and so were on an even footing. After our…awkward beginning in sexual relations, we took things slowly. Learned together. And, I must admit, she found her confidence more quickly than I did. She, um, took charge. Ostensibly, she did so in order to protect my heart, to keep me from over-exerting myself, but in reality, ah, being on top, being in control…suited her. The bedroom is the one place where our shrinking violet comes fully out of her shell.”

I trailed off, my nerve finally deserting me. I looked up at Lilly to find that she was as red-faced as I felt.

“To mix a metaphor. I think I understand,” said Lilly. “She has hinted at such things, in some of our ‘girl talks’, but I had not quite realized the extent of it.”

“Yes. Well. In any event, the tone of the letter sounded very much like Hanako to me, just—the private Hanako, not the public one.” I smiled. “She almost never stutters while we’re making love. I think you’d like to see—experience—that confident Hanako. She’s something truly special.” Then I blushed again as I considered exactly what “experiencing” Hanako meant, in this context.

Lilly nodded, and reached a hand across the table towards me. I reached out and gripped it gently, feeling the delicate bones of her hand in mine. “I do love you, Hisao. I love Hanako. It is an unorthodox situation, but I’m not sure we can come to any meaningful resolutions about it without Hanako’s presence and input.” She gave my hand a gentle squeeze, then pulled it back out of my grip. “So for now, let us proceed with our day as usual. I know my classical literature paper isn’t going to wait upon the convenience of our hearts.”

I groaned at this level of pragmatism, but had to agree. “All right. Until Hanako gets home, then.” I chuckled. “I had better make sure all my homework is done before then.”

Lilly picked up her chopsticks and resumed eating her breakfast. “Indeed. That seems like a good plan.”

We finished the meal in silence, and I was pleased that it was once again a comfortable silence, not as tense as things had felt before. It gave me hope that we could survive this unorthodox situation with our relationships intact. Or maybe even improved.

Since Lilly had cooked breakfast, it fell to me to clean up. As I was clearing the dishes off the table, she said, “Hisao. At the end of the letter. When Hanako enjoined…” She trailed off, blushing. “When she encouraged us to make love, she said that when she returned she would…join us. Do you think…is her intention…” She seemed unable to finish the sentence, tongue-tied with embarrassment.

“Do I think she has sexual feelings towards you?”

Lilly nodded.

“I wondered about that myself,” I admitted. “I do know she loves you deeply and dearly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her evidence any interest in other women, but, by the same token, I’ve never seen her evidence any interest in other men. Her preferences seem to be more based on emotion, than simple physical attraction. I think…if she does have any interest in you…it may not be so much that she’s bisexual as that she’s…Lilly-sexual. That she’s attracted to you, because she loves you.”

“Oh.” Lilly frowned and looked pensive.

I cleared my throat diffidently. “If I may be so bold as to ask—”

Lilly gave me an awkward smile. “I am…uncertain, myself. I have rarely felt any attraction to girls, or women. I received a few confessions from other girls when I was at that Catholic girls’ school, and never felt much in return for them.”

My heart sank on Hanako’s behalf. Which was silly, since I didn’t even know which way her desires flowed at the moment. “That doesn’t sound very uncertain to me.”

“Yes, but…I think I like the way you phrased it. I do not believe I am very bisexual, but rather say, I am open to the notion of being Hanako-sexual. Those other girls did not offend or repulse me, I just did not return the intensity of their feelings. But when I try to imagine myself being, ah, intimate with Hanako…” She gave me a slightly embarrassed smile. “It is an oddly…agreeable notion.” She lifted her hands in a helpless shrug. “It is all rather confusing.”

“Well, in science, when something is confusing, often times an experiment is called for.”

Lilly looked startled at that, then she burst into giggles. “Spoken like a true scientist,” she said. “I think I shall have to think upon this some more. And we will discuss it with Hanako. And…perhaps there will be some experiments in our future.”

I smiled at that, even as I firmly repressed the flurry of mental images that her words evoked. Down, boy, I scolded myself, as I began washing the dishes.

After I showered and dressed for the day, I glanced at my phone, only to realize I had missed several texts from Hanako over the course of the morning. They all seemed innocuous enough, but they could also be read as having an undercurrent of rising tension in them, given our current situation.

Hanako: Good morning <3

Hanako: Are you sleeping in?

Hanako: I hope you slept ok

Hanako: Say good morning to Lilly for me

Hanako: I can’t wait to see you both tonight :-)


I checked my phone’s settings, and sighed as I turned the ringer back on.

Hisao: Good morning, beautiful. SOrry, my phone was on silent. Cant wait to CU2

Her reply was almost instantaneous, which was rather telling, given that she should be in a conference session right now.

Hanako: Did you have a good night?

I smiled, and decided to let her off the hook quickly, instead of dragging this out.

Hisao: Yes we read your letters and we have a lot to talk about when you get home. No, we were not intimate. Not w/o talking w/you first. We both love you vey very much. <3

I was certain Lilly would not mind my speaking for her in that respect.

Hisao: Now pay attention to your confrence!

Hanako: ok. I love you both very much too <3<3<3<3

Hisao: <3
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Lap
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:34 pm

Chapter 10


It was somewhat ironic that in physics class we were studying relativity at the moment, because time had never seemed more relative than it did that day. Hanako was due back on the seven o’clock train. Approximately twelve hours after breakfast. So I was unsure how it was that it felt like a solid week had passed before it was time to head to the train station. But at least it gave me time to finish most of my homework, and even get in a brief nap.

We were just cleaning up from dinner when Hanako texted us to let us know that she had made her train and would be arriving on time. Lilly asked, “Would you mind if I came with you to meet her?”

I hesitated for a moment, considering. Normally I would have gone alone, for that romantic reunion on the train platform that Lilly had mentioned yesterday. But now it seemed like Hanako was urging us towards an…expanded definition of what a romantic relationship was. One which included Lilly.

“Of course not,” I replied. “That would be nice. I was planning on leaving in about fifteen minutes, if that’s okay.”

Lilly nodded, rose, and headed towards her room. “I’ll be ready in ten.”

She had been wearing her usual weekend stay-at-home clothes, a loose floppy t-shirt and soft pants. But she would never go out in public so casually dressed, so I was unsurprised when she returned a few minutes later in a blouse and black slacks, her hair brushed out and pulled back in a pretty headband. “I’m ready when you are,” she said.

Since I would be with her, she folded her cane up and placed it in her handbag, and we headed out, her hand on my arm as usual.

The bus ride to the train station was uneventful, if crowded. The seats reserved for the elderly and handicapped were all filled, and although Lilly had no qualms about evicting able-bodied teenagers from those seats, the occupants all looked old enough to be our grandparents, or older. So I stood with one hand grasping an overhead strap, and my other arm around Lilly, bracing us both. It wasn’t an unusual thing for us to do when sharing a bus ride, but I was more aware than usual of her physical proximity, of her scent and the feel of her body pressed against mine. After a few minutes of riding, I heard her sigh quietly, and she relaxed against me, her head dipping to rest on my shoulder more intimately than usual. I smiled and felt myself relaxing in response. It was both surprising and not surprising just how natural that casual intimacy felt.

It was a cool spring evening, and as we waited on the platform for Hanako’s train to come in, we huddled close together for warmth. We waited at the far end of the platform, because Hanako liked to ride in the first car of the train when she could.

Hanako wasn’t in the first rush of people crowding off the train, of course, but nor was she the last one off anymore. As she came out, her head was turned to the side, and I could see her talking with someone I vaguely recognized as one of her classmates. Hanako turned and scanned the platform, and I could tell when she spotted us by the way her face lit up and her posture straightened.

“Hisao! Lilly!” she called. She darted over to us, let go of her suitcase, and wrapped her arms around us both, squeezing us tight. I managed to get a small kiss from her before she loosened her grip on us. “Oh, it’s so g-good to see you.”

Lilly and I both laughed. “It has only been a day and a half,” Lilly pointed out.

“Although it did feel much longer,” I conceded, recalling how today had felt like it was destined to stretch out forever.

Hanako pulled back from us and examined our faces, looking concerned. After a moment, she relaxed and smiled, apparently happy with whatever she saw there.

I heard a gentle cough, and looked over Hanako’s shoulder to see her classmate looking at the three of us curiously. “Ah, I’ll see you in class Tuesday, Hanako?” she said.

“Oh! I’m s-sorry, Megumi,” said Hanako. “This is my b-boyfriend, Hisao Nakai, and our r-roommate, Lilly Satou. Lilly, Hisao, this is my c-classmate, Megumi Narada. We shared a hotel room at th-the conference.” I let go of Lilly and Hanako, and we exchanged brief bows.

“Nakai. Satou. So pleased to finally meet you,” Narada said. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

I shot a quick glance at Hanako, who was blushing at that revelation. “Only good things, I trust,” Lilly said, with her usual gentle smile. Narada didn’t seem put off by the fact that Lilly didn’t directly face her while speaking, so apparently Hanako had told her that Lilly was blind.

“Oh, yes. I don’t think you have anything to worry about in that regard,” said Narada, grinning slightly. “In any event, I’ll see you in class, Hanako?”

“Yes. Of course. Don’t forget to b-bring those papers.”

“Righty-oh.” She gave us one more speculative look, then turned and headed towards the station exit. Narada’s look made me stop and think about what we must look like to outsiders. Although I had been introduced as Hanako’s boyfriend, I had been waiting arm-in-arm with another woman on the platform when she arrived, and we all three had hugged, not just Hanako and me. In truth, our behavior was no different than it had been for years, but now it felt different.

Huh. Well, if we move forward with this “unorthodox proposition,” we may be gathering more strange looks over the years. The prospect of being with Hanako and Lilly for years, even if we were gathering strange looks along the way, lifted my spirits.

I grabbed the handle of Hanako’s suitcase, and we turned to follow Narada towards the exit, albeit a little more slowly.

“Let’s get a taxi,” said Lilly.

“Really? That seems a bit extravagant—”

Lilly waved away my concern. “My family gives me a travel allowance that far exceeds my needs. I do not wish to spend the next forty-five minutes crammed in a bus when we could be home, and talking, within fifteen.”

Hanako and I exchanged a glance, and she shrugged. “Yes. That s-sounds good to me.”

Hanako rode between us on the ride home. The conversation was mostly Hanako relating what she had seen and done at the conference, since none of us had any desire to get into more personal issues in front of the cab driver. I felt both more relaxed, for having Hanako back at our sides, and more tense, in anticipation of the conversation to come.

When we got home and shed our shoes and jackets, Hanako went to start a kettle for tea. I dropped Hanako’s suitcase in our room, so as to not be in Lilly’s way, then, upon further consideration, I moved it into the far corner of the room where she wouldn’t trip over it. If she happened to be in our bedroom for any reason in the near future.

When I returned to the living room, I found Hanako and Lilly assembling tea for the three of us with practiced ease. I sat down on the floor between the couch and the low table, leaning against the couch as was my usual practice.

Hanako brought the tea tray over to the table as Lilly sat down opposite me. To my surprise, Hanako didn’t sit beside me, as was her usual habit, but instead she sat at the side of the table, so that she was between us. She reached out and placed a gentle hand on Lilly’s wrist. “I’m here, Lilly,” she said softly, so as to let her know of her change in position.

If Lilly was surprised by Hanako’s change of seat, she didn’t show it, but simply nodded, and she poured the tea for all of us.

We all picked up our tea cups at the same time and sipped, a coincidence of timing that made me smile. I looked back and forth between the two women, uncertain if I should dive in to the conversation that was weighing on all of our minds. Or should I let Hanako lead the way, since she instigated this whole affair? Or perhaps Lilly would prefer—

Lilly and Hanako both started to speak at the same time.

“Hanako, why—”

“I just—”

They both broke off, and I found myself chuckling at the pair of them. Admittedly, my reaction was partly just nerves. But my laughter had the benefit of uniting them, as they both turned their attention to me.

“Why are you g-giggling at us?”

I gave Hanako an mock affronted look. “That wasn’t giggling. It was a masculine, manly chuckle.”

Hanako snorted, and Lilly said, “Be careful of that manly man talk, Hisao. You don’t want to end up sounding like Kenji.”

I glowered, ineffectually, at Lilly. “Low blow, Lilly.”

She smiled, took another sip of tea, then gently set her teacup down. “Hanako, I believe you started to say something?”

“Yes. I—yes.” Hanako took a calming breath, and sat up straighter. She leaned over to take Lilly’s hand in hers, then extended her other hand to me. I grasped it and gave it a gentle squeeze. Lilly held out her other hand to me, and I pushed my tea cup aside and reached across the table to take it. I had to suppress a chuckle at the thought that we looked like we were about to conduct a seance. Around a tea set.

“I have a l-lot to say, but f-f-first, would you mind telling me w-why you opened my letter?”

I looked over at Lilly. She didn’t look like she was about to speak, and she gave my hand a gentle squeeze. I thought about it for a moment, then gave a (manly) chuckle. “It started with me washing out the tea pot, actually.”

“Pardon?” Lilly looked puzzled, as did Hanako.

“While I was cleaning up before going to bed, it occurred to me how much tidier I’ve become since we began living with Lilly. And I wondered if I would continue being so tidy when we graduated and moved apart. Which got me depressed thinking about it. Which I shared with Lilly, and made her depressed, too—sorry, Lilly—and because of that she asked to join me in bed. And as we talked about it, and I thought about losing her, I realized I didn’t want to. Lose her, that is. Nor you. I wanted us all to stay together. And when I confessed that to her, she got upset—”

“I had—I have—no desire to come between the two of you,” Lilly put in. “I would never hurt you like that. This…unorthodox arrangement that you have proposed would never have occurred to me.”

“Nor me,” I said. Then honesty compelled me to mutter, “Not that the…fantasy of it hasn’t occurred to me before.” I blushed, and was relieved to hear Hanako and Lilly chuckle at that.

“So, that’s when it seemed like it was ‘needed’ to open your letter,” I concluded.

“I did not trust myself to sleep…platonically with Hisao after that, so I returned to my own bed. Until we could speak with you. Heart to heart.” That reaffirmation of Lilly’s desire for me cheered me, and I gave her hand a gentle squeeze.

“I…see,” said Hanako thoughtfully. She paused for a moment, gathering her thoughts, then said, “If you’ll p-pardon the repetition. First things first, I love you. Both. Very much. And don’t want to l-lose either of you.”

“And I love you too,” I said with a smile.

“As do I.”

“Writing th-those letters was one of the most…terrifying things I’ve ever done. But…I could see the handwriting on the wall. Something was going to b-break, soon, and the thought that it might occur while I wasn’t here to…midwife the birth of this new r-relationship was…distressing.”

I was floored by the notion that Hanako had seen this coming. I certainly hadn’t. Was I truly that dense? That emotionally oblivious?

Never mind. I knew the answer to that one already.

Hanako closed her eyes for a moment before continuing. “I spoke of w-watching the two of you f-fall in love. But I’ve been in love with b-both of you…for years.” Now she was blushing. She stared at the table. “I know you d-don’t th-think of m-me that way, Lilly, b-but…” She paused and let go of my hand to run her fingertips over her lips for a moment, a technique she sometimes used to help get her stuttering under control.

“I’m not so certain of that, Hana,” said Lilly gently. Hanako looked at her, a startled expression on her face. To the best of my knowledge, it was the first time that Lilly had used that affectionate nickname with her. “My feelings are complicated, but—” She shook her head and smiled wryly. “I have always tried so hard to meet social expectations that I don’t think I’ve allowed myself to fully realize the depth of my feelings for you. For you both. Your letter…” She swallowed, looking nervous. “It broke a dam inside me. Part of my distress when Hisao confessed to me was the realization that my feelings…had been returned in kind. Which meant I could no longer hide from them. And when your letter let me know that you had returned my feelings in kind also, well…” She gave a weak smile. “Let us just say, I did not sleep very well last night. I had a lot to think about.”

“Me too,” I said.

Hanako looked at Lilly, then me, then asked quietly, “Can we all m-move to the couch? I’d like a, a, cuddle. From both of you.”

I smiled. “I’d like that.” I released their hands and stood up. I looked at Lilly. “Lilly?”

Lilly still sat, looking pensive. “A cuddle, Hanako? And where do you foresee this cuddle…going?”

I blushed at the implications of her question, but Hanako said, in a reassuring tone of voice, “Nowhere that you d-don’t want it to go, Lilly.” She smiled slowly, and there was a heat in the smile that I was sorry Lilly couldn’t see. Or maybe that was for the best, at the moment. “As for where I want it to go…well, I have my hopes. B-but never with unwilling partners.”

“Oh. Yes. Of course not,” Lilly said, sounding both embarrassed and relieved. She extended a hand towards me, and I helped her rise. She stepped around the low table to the couch, and I guided her to a seat between myself and Hanako.

Lilly gave a nervous little laugh. “I said I didn’t want to come between you two…”

I draped my arm across Lilly’s shoulders, my hand on Hanako’s shoulder, and Hanako curled up so she was leaning against Lilly. Lilly looked like she didn’t know what to do with her hands, so she just sat there with them folded in her lap.

“You’re not coming b-between us, Lilly. You could never do that. Say rather, we are around you.”

With my free hand I picked up one of Lilly’s hands, and pressed it to my cheek. “I don’t know about you, but…feeling you close feels so good. And right.”

“Yes,” said Hanako.

“Yes,” said Lilly, quietly.

I kissed the back of Lilly’s hand, and she sucked in a sharp breath. “Just so we’re explicitly clear,” she said, sounding a little breathless, “We are talking about…beginning an intimate three-way relationship. A ménage à trois, as the French would say?”

I shivered to hear it addressed out loud, even though I had been thinking about it for the past day.

Hanako said quietly, “I don’t know what the French say about it, b-but, for me, I want…whatever my lovers are comfortable giving me. If that does not include…physical intimacy from you, if that’s t-too outré for you, as long as I have your heart, I will be content.” She chuckled. “Though I will c-confess I covet your body, too.”

“Oh, my,” said Lilly softly, and this time I thought her flushed face was not solely from embarrassment.

Hanako took Lilly’s other hand and also kissed it. I was shocked to see tears form in Lilly’s eyes. Hanako also noticed and we both tried to let go of Lilly’s hands, but she gripped us tighter, pulling our hands together in front of her chest. “What’s wrong, Lilly?” I asked gently.

She shook her head, a tremulous smile on her face. She opened her mouth as if to speak, then paused. She tried again to speak a couple of times before words finally came out. “I’ve always…tried to do what’s right. What’s proper. But this—this relationship ventures into territory that is so far beyond what is proper and socially acceptable…” she trailed off, shaking her head. “But, God help me, I still want it,” she whispered. She lifted Hanako’s and my hands to her lips and kissed them, then clasped our hands to her chest, over her heart.

“It is, as you so aptly put it, an unorthodox relationship,” I said. “But I want it too. My heart wants it.”

“As does mine,” said Hanako. Then she added, with amusement in her voice, “In c-case my letters f-failed to make that clear.”

At that, Lilly made a sound that was half laugh, half sob, and she turned and buried her face in Hanako’s shoulder, wrapping her arms around her. After only a moment’s hesitation, I wrapped my arms around both of them, sandwiching Lilly between us. She cried for just a few moments, then relaxed into our arms, her body going limp.

“I—I’m sorry,” Lilly said. “But…I’m both so very very happy that this is happening, and also—terrified. This is so beyond the pale…I can’t help but wonder…” She sighed and said, almost too softly for me to hear, “What will my parents think?”

Oh. Yeah. That. I considered my own parents for a moment, and shuddered. And my parents were much less uptight and traditional than Lilly’s parents were—well, than her father, anyway. Her mother might cheer us on.

Hanako gave a bleak little laugh. “I’d n-never thought…that there could be an advantage…t-to being an orphan.”

I suddenly recalled the odd look Narada had given the three of us at the train station. “I think some of the outside world already sees our friendship as…peculiar. It might not be as big a change as you think. We already address one another by our first names. As long as you don’t start calling me Hisao–chan in public, no one should know the difference.”

Both women chuckled. “I’m afraid Misha has forever ruined for me any affectionate chan form of your name, Hisao,” said Lilly.

Hanako nodded in agreement. “Too true.”

“It’s like I said, when you slept with us the night Rin was here. What we do in our apartment behind closed doors is nobody’s business but our own. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, you’re our roommate.”

Lilly turned to face me, and I could see a sad smile on her face. “So, am I to remain the blind unmarried spinster friend, who lives with the two of you from the kindness of your hearts, for the rest of my life?”

“Oh…” I felt stupid. “No…of course not…” But I had no better answer for her. The more I thought about it, the less I liked my previous answer. I didn’t want to introduce Lilly to people as my roommate. I wanted to introduce her as I would Hanako, as my girlfriend, my partner, eventually, perhaps…as my wife.

“I…do not have a p-perfect answer f-for these…larger social issues,” Hanako said quietly, as she stroked Lilly’s hair. “Not tonight. B-but I do know I don’t want to miss the opportunity for the k-kind of happiness I think we c-could have together, just from fear of…others’ disapproval.”

“Yes. I can agree with that,” said Lilly quietly.

“Perhaps…” I said tentatively, feeling my way through unfamiliar territory, “For now, we focus on building our relationship. And we address other social issues as they come.”

Lilly nodded. “We can work on…defining what our relationship is. Will be. What we hope it will be.”

Hanako kept stroking Lilly’s hair. “What I hope is t-to love you both. And have you love me. And each other.”

“Carnally?” I asked, recalling the somewhat old-fashioned phrase she’d used in her letter.

Hanako smiled. “That, too.”

“On that topic, I…hesitate to bring up a delicate subject, but…we need to…” I bit my lip, feeling remarkably awkward. It was just biology, a scientist shouldn’t be embarrassed to address biology…

“Yes?” Lilly asked encouragingly.

I sighed. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Lilly, it’s more that I don’t trust…Ogata.” And I never did, I didn’t add, although I suspected they could hear the thought in my tone of voice.

Lilly frowned for a moment at the mention of her ex, then she smiled wryly. “As well you shouldn’t, but to address the issue you are so delicately dancing around—I’ve had a physical since we broke up. I am disease-free, and can show you the lab reports if you wish to see them.”

I shook my head. “That won’t be necessary. I trust you.” I glanced at Hanako, who nodded in agreement. “We trust you,” I amended.

“Thank you. And as you two were ‘blushing virgins,’ as I believe you put it, with no other outside sexual experiences?…” she let the question hang in the air.

“No, not me,” I hastily assured her.

“Nor me,” Hanako confirmed.

“Then that addresses any concerns I might have in that regard.”

“Oh. Good.”

“But as long as we’re discussing…the practicalities of intimacy,” Lilly began, then she too hesitated.

“C-contraception?” Hanako asked.

“No—well, I mean, yes, of course, but that’s not what I was thinking of. I was more concerned with…not killing one of my new lovers.”

I smiled at that. I loved hearing her call us her lovers. “We may joke about sex killing me, but, honestly, my medications and work-out regimen have strengthened my heart well.”

“Our love-making t-tends to be…slow paced.” Hanako smiled. “Which can have its own rewards.”

“I’m not up to acrobatics or sprints, but as long as I pace myself, and you don’t punch me in the chest, I should be fine.” I nuzzled her hair, enjoying her scent. “Even with the added excitement of having the two most beautiful women in the world in my bed.”

Lilly looked relieved. “Oh, good.”

Hanako said, “He has had s-small heart flutters on t-two different occasions since…we became lovers. But none in the past year.”

Lilly suddenly looked less relieved. “Are you certain it’s worth the risk?”

I chuckled and pulled her close. “Lilly my love, I would risk much more than a flutter to be with the women I love. Don’t worry, I don’t have a death wish. I’ll take it slow.” A sudden inspiration came to me and I gave Hanako a sly grin. “If you ever feel a strong need for violent, energetic sex, well…there’s always Hanako. I’d love to watch.”

Hisao!” they exclaimed, in near-perfect unison, both turning charmingly pink. I started to laugh.

“Is it safe to tickle him?” Lilly asked Hanako, with a little growl in her voice.

“No! It’s deadly!” I exclaimed, though I suspect my laughter gave away my lie.

Hanako didn’t answer with words, but with actions, and I collapsed in fits of helpless laughter as she lunged across Lilly’s lap to get her fingers into my ribs. I convulsed as they both tickled me. We all slid off the couch onto the floor, laughing together. I endured it for as long as I could—almost five whole seconds, at least.

“Stop! Mercy! I yield!” I laughed, and they desisted. Lilly and I ended up leaning against the front of the couch, and each other, with Hanako draped across our laps, We were all panting a bit from our brief exertions, and still giggling quietly as we calmed down. I looked down at Hanako’s head, resting in my lap, and I smiled as I brushed her long hair out of her face where our tussle had disarrayed it. One of Lilly’s arms was behind my back, hugging me, and she rested the other hand on Hanako’s stomach, slowly rubbing her.

“Well. That is good to know,” Lilly finally said.

“What, that sex won’t kill me?”

“That, and what your ticklish spots are.” Hanako and I chuckled.

Lilly rested her head on my shoulder, and I kissed the top of her head.

“As for c-contraception,” Hanako said, continuing our discussion of the practicalities. “We just use c-condoms.”

“Ah. That…will not be necessary, for me,” Lilly said, sounding unaccountably shy.

“Oh? Why not?” I asked.

“I had…extremely irregular menses when I was younger. I’ve been taking oral contraceptives since I was fifteen, to regulate them.” She chuckled. “It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was able to enjoy their more usual benefits.”

“Oh. That would explain why you’re so regular.”

Lilly snorted. “You mean to say you’ve been tracking my cycles?”

“Not….deliberately, but—I’m a guy living with two women. I need to keep track of when it’s necessary to stock up on extra chocolate ice cream.” Thankfully, that got a laugh from both women, instead of offending them.

Lilly sat up straighter, pulling away from me a bit. Hanako sat back up on Lilly’s other side. “This may be enough emotional work for one night. Despite getting these practical matters out of the way, I am not sure if I am ready to take the leap to a more intimate physical relationship just yet.”

Look, I’m male; I have to confess I felt a moment’s disappointment at the notion that we wouldn’t be sharing a bed with Lilly right away. Hanako shot me a knowing look, and said, “Of c-course, Lilly. As I said earlier, we w-want nothing from you that you are n-not willing to freely share.”

Lilly gave a breathless little laugh. “Oh, I want to share with you, believe me I do. But…I can’t help but feel it might be…prudent to proceed slowly.”

“That…makes sense,” I said, trying to keep any disappointment out of my voice. “You shouldn’t do anything you’re not comfortable with,” I added, with more honest conviction. “I don’t want to risk damaging our friendship by rushing things.”

“Good. Thank you.” Lilly reached up, found my face, and leaned in to give me a gentle kiss on the cheek. Then she turned and repeated the gesture with Hanako. “I think…I would like some time to think. And I suspect you two have some things to discuss between you, too.” She shifted and stood up. “We can talk more tomorrow.”

“All right.”

Lilly headed, not for her room, but the wall to the left of her door. I was about to open my mouth to give her guidance, but then I realized she meant to go there when she reached out and stroked Rin’s painting. She traced a lock of Hanako’s hair as it twisted and turned, intertwining with Lilly’s hair and the heart in the center. She shook her head slowly, then turned toward her room. “How did she know?” she asked quietly. Without waiting for an answer, she entered her room.

“Good night,” I said.

“Good night, Lilly,” said Hanako.

Lilly paused in the doorway to her room, and turned her head to the side so we could hear her more clearly. She smiled. “Good night, my loves.” I smiled to hear her address us so. Then she gently closed the door.

It wasn’t even nine o’clock yet, but the previous night’s poor sleep combined with the emotional exhaustion from our conversation made going to bed an attractive proposition. We quickly cleaned and put away the tea set, then brushed our teeth and retired to our room. Hanako pulled a full-length flannel nightie on. I gave her a puzzled look, and she smiled. “I…want you, Hisao, but…we n-need to talk, undistracted, first.”

I considered that for a moment. “I would be less distracted after taking care of some basic biological urges, first,” I countered with a smile.

She giggled. “No, you would be asleep,” she said. Not inaccurately, alas. I sighed, conceding the point, and pulled on my pajama pants.

Hanako curled up under my arm, resting her head on my shoulder, one hand placed habitually over my heart. She draped a leg over my legs, holding me close, and I kissed the top of her head. “Okay. We need to talk. I…agree with the sentiment, but I don’t know where to start.”

“Well, first things first…”

I smiled. “I love you. Now and forever.”

“And I love you. N-now and forever. And I love Lilly, too, now and forever.”

I nodded. “Yes. That too.” I shook my head wonderingly. “I can’t believe how lucky I am.”

Hanako smiled. “Not lucky. Lovable.”

“I have to say, I’m surprised you came up with the notion of this three-way relationship.”

“Given how we all f-feel about each other, it seemed only l-logical. And besides, we haven’t yet f-finished listening to Moonrise over Lake Biwa,” she said.

“Pardon?” I didn’t understand what the romance novel we’d been listening to had to do with our situation.

“The novel’s resolution is…unorthodox, to use Lilly’s phrase.”

It took me a moment, then I laughed. “You mean, instead of Chiyoko having to choose between Jiro and Takumi…”

“They all three end up t-together, yes.”

“Ah. Well, now I really want to finish that book. So you’re saying you found inspiration for this relationship in a romance novel?”

“No. Not exactly. Say rather, I sought out n-novels where the three lovers end up united in order to encourage and inspire us. If…the t-two of you hadn’t…come to your senses b-before we reached the end of the novel, I thought it might…p-provoke some interesting discussions.”

I snorted. “That it would have, I’m sure.”

She said, sounding slightly aggrieved, “You would not believe how hard it was to find a p-polyamorous romance novel in audio book form. It doesn’t appear to be a p-popular sub-genre. I was beginning to think I would just have to read one out l-loud to you myself.”

“I think I would have enjoyed hearing you read some of the…spicier sections out loud,” I said with a smile.

“Oh, you enjoy hearing descriptions of ‘h-h-his h-hot th-throb-b-bing m-m-m-mem-b-b-ber’, do you?” she asked, exaggerating her stutter. I snorted. It was true Hanako’s stutter got worse when she was embarrassed, and I couldn’t help but imagine that reading erotic passages aloud would have been embarrassing for her.

“Maybe we could have taken turns reading those passages out loud,” I said.

“Hmmm. I might like that,” she mused. “Hearing you, or Lilly, r-reading erotica out loud…” She smiled and gave a little shiver.

I snorted, and kissed the top of her head. “But, seriously. Do you think a, a, three-way relationship between us could work out, long term?”

“I would not have s-suggested it if I didn’t.”

“I guess not…”

“And, also, to a c-certain extent we already have been l-living in a three-way relationship. Just one without the…sex.”

I thought about that for a long moment. “There’s a certain depth of emotional intimacy that comes with sex that we—the three of us, that is—haven’t experienced, yet. But…”

“But there’s an additional l-level of affection and c-comfort we’ve developed with each other since w-we restarted sleeping to-together occasionally.”

“True. So why didn’t this all happen two years ago, when we were sleeping together before?”

Hanako snorted. “Well, I for one certainly w-wasn’t ready at that point. T-too neurotic and insecure. I c-could only conceive of sharing you…with Lilly…once I was fully secure in your love.” She smiled and turned her face up to kiss me. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” I kissed her back, and nodded. “Yeah. I…probably wouldn’t have been ready then, either.”

“Everyth-thing in its time.”

“You said in your letter that imagining Lilly and me…being intimate…made you happy, not jealous. Did you really mean that?”

“Again…I would n-not have suggested all th-this were it not so.”

“Hmm.”

“I’ve…done some research on p-polyamory. Th-there’s a word in English that I haven’t f-found the Japanese equivalent to, yet. ‘Compersion.’ ”

I frowned. English was Lilly’s specialty, not mine, but I thought the word sounded familiar. “Doesn’t that mean to…compare two things?”

Hanako giggled. “No. That’s ‘comparison.’ ‘Compersion’ is…f-finding joy in another’s joy. S-such as when seeing your l-lovers…making love.”

“Oh.” I thought about that for a moment. Tried to imagine Lilly and Hanako making love. I smiled slowly. It wasn’t just the prurience of the mental image that was attractive. The thought of how happy the two of them could be together…made me happy. “Compersion. I like it. Yeah, it fits.”

Before I could say more, I heard a single knock on our bedroom door. Lilly opened the door and stepped in before either Hanako or I could respond. She was dressed in a long silky robe of midnight blue, one hand clenching it closed over her chest.

“Hi, Lilly,” I said.

She paused just over the threshold, then said, in a voice that trembled only a bit, “Prudence is overrated. I’m not that patient.” She dropped her robe to the floor. She was gloriously naked, and she looked like some kind of goddess in the dim light, her pale skin and golden hair emphasizing her almost otherworldly beauty.

I heard Hanako give a small gasp, a sound that was equal parts shock and desire. “Ohh, Lilly,” she breathed. “Oh, my love…”

At least she could manage speech. I was stunned to silence.

“May I join you?” Lilly asked quietly.

I finally found my voice. “Always, my love.” I turned back the covers, and Lilly slid into our bed, just as easily as she had slid into our hearts.

________________________

It was wonderful. It was awkward. It was arousing, and amusing, and embarrassing, and educational. It was Lilly’s and Hanako’s first time with another woman, and my first time with a woman who wasn’t Hanako. I was pleased and relieved that Hanako and Lilly seemed to enjoy each others’ bodies, even if they were hesitant at first.

We all had a lot to learn. We enjoyed the learning process—fumbles, mis-steps, laughter and all. I had some humbling lessons on how not all women were alike—some things which Hanako adored did little for Lilly, and some things I would never do with Hanako, Lilly loved. Lilly adjusted to the somewhat slower pace of lovemaking that my heart required. We had more learning ahead of us, but we made a respectable start on it, and we looked forward to exploring each other more.

Yet for all the newness, discovery, and delight that came with making love for the first time, there was still a deeper warmth and feeling of familiarity, as if we had all done this before. It felt timeless, and perfect, and right that we should all be together like this. Social issues, problems with fitting our unorthodox relationship into the larger, public world, were still outstanding, but all doubt that this was the right thing for us faded away.

Lilly’s hands never stopped moving, constantly exploring our bodies, delighting in finally getting to feel all of us for the first time. She seemed intent upon committing our entire physical geographies to memory in one night. Not that Hanako and I weren’t similarly enthralled by her, but our measure of her was visual as well as tactile. And we all relished the chance to smell and taste one another in detail.

Lilly was especially fascinated by Hanako’s and my scars, a fact that disconcerted Hanako at first until Lilly convinced her that to her, they were beautiful. Beautiful because they were part of what made us unique. Just as Lilly’s blonde hair made her beautifully different to us, Hanako’s scars made her beautifully different to Lilly and me. Uniquely Hanako. The fact that I had been saying something like that for over two years allowed Hanako to believe it of Lilly, although the fact that Lilly expressed it far more eloquently than I ever had certainly helped.

Love and passion drove us long into the night, exploring and learning and loving, puzzling out the complicated geometries of love with three partners. I found myself laughing in delight at one point, just giddy from the joy of us being together.

And after all passion was spent, and the sweat was cooling us off, and we pulled the covers back up to keep us warm, we had each other. I lucked into being in the center as we all started to drift off to sleep, flanked on each side by my lovers. They curled up under my arms, and their joined hands rested on my chest over my scarred heart.

I didn’t know how much longer I had on this Earth. Exercise and modern medicine willing, I might live for a respectable fraction of a “normal” life span. Or I might drop dead tomorrow. But I would do everything in my power that I could to make sure I had as much time as possible with these two wonderful women.

And although I would never say as much to them, I took solace in the knowledge that, after my probably inevitably early demise, they would have each other to help carry on. I was glad I wouldn’t be leaving anyone completely alone when I died. It was a morbid thought, but one which I found strangely comforting nonetheless.

“Good night, my lady loves,” I breathed quietly. There came no answer, as they were both already asleep. Smiling, I joined them.

We were finally home.


Image

—————————Fin————————————

Table of Contents
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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