8S-Lights Out for Craftyatom (Updated for Part 0)

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8S-Lights Out for Craftyatom (Updated for Part 0)

Post by StilesLong » Tue Jan 02, 2018 12:40 am

A bit of context because you’re not all in my head (fortunately) and (apologies) I didn’t explain this as well I should have: Lilly, Hanako, Hisao, and Kaonashi are in university. Hisao never went to Yamaku (alt universe and all that jazz) and he met Hanako at school.

Ok, I might have lied about where Hisao and Hanako met for the first time. They actually ran into each other at the hospital first and you can read about that here! The Lights Out prequel is out!

Shout-outs to Scratchyboi for helping with proofreading and my GF for sharing her experiences with anxiety so that Hanako can be a properly nervous wreck!

Anyways, enjoy, you Crafty Atom!

The lights went out, taking with them all the noise in the room. The familiar, comforting gurgling of the fridge, the electric hum of the ventilation system and all the other noises of home disappeared into a thick, blinding blackness. I couldn’t even hear anyone else breathing and for a single crazy moment, I wondered if I’d died.

The moment passed quickly, broken first by footsteps nearby and then by something that fell to the floor with a frightening clatter and set my heart racing. Lilly gasped, then Hisao mumbled an apology.

Once everything was silent again, Lilly spoke up, a disembodied voice tight with nerves. “The power’s gone out, hasn’t it?”

“Yes, i-it has, Lilly,” I said miserably.

“Nobody move until I’ve got the flashlight.” Lilly sounded calm and firm and if you didn’t know better you would think that tonight had gone well, which it hadn’t. First Hisao’s late, then I burn dinner, then my present from Hisao gets broken, and now this! Everyone’s probably had an awful time and having a Christmas party was my idea in the first place so it’s all my fault! If only the darkness could swallow me up like I’d thought it had...

Except I shouldn't think like that, not now, not ever. I tried to focus on something positive that had happened tonight and the sound of Lilly’s dress as she came into the kitchen- like dry leaves on an empty road- is what I clung on to.

The dress was my present to her and she’d tried it on right away once I’d told her what she was holding. I had made her happy by giving her a beautiful dress, just like I’d made Hisao happy by giving him a hand-knitted scarf and hat, just like I’d made Kaonashi happy by giving him a furred, dog-eared old copy of On the Origin of Species. I can make people happy, but even as I told myself that, another part of my mind was wondering if they weren’t all just being nice.

A cupboard door opened, a reminder that I’m not alone in the dark with just my thoughts, then “So you girls don’t keep candles for blackouts?”

Unseen by the others, I cringed away from Hisao’s words-normally his voice is so comforting to me- as though I’ve been slapped, but my shock turns quickly to outrage. What kind of question is that? my mind screams and I could barely keep myself from yelling at him, though I knew I shouldn’t because he doesn’t know how I got my scars but he should still know not to say that-

“No, Hisao, we don’t have candles,” Lilly said forcefully, more forcefully than she had to and I wondered if she’s going to tell him about my scars even though I know she wouldn’t do that to me and my heart starts to race again. “We have a flashlight and a battery-powered radio. They’re much more reliable.”

She said it with a finality that ends any further discussion and I take the time to remind myself that Hisao meant nothing by what he said. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s put his foot in his mouth tonight- Hisao’s already apologized twice to Lilly for poorly thought-out comments about seeing things- and in a way, it’s endearing.

His faux pas mean he doesn’t treat me or Lilly any differently, despite my scars and her blindness. I love that about him, even if it sometimes means he says things that I really, really wish he didn’t, because now the memories are tugging at me, pulling me into the past to a bad place of pain and disinfectant and so much sadness I hadn’t been able to breathe.

I needed to distract myself, to get myself out of my head and to live in the now, not the then so I took a deep breath. “Kaonashi, t-the cactus you gave me, where is it f-from?”

Before he could reply, Lilly clicked on the flashlight. I closed my eyes tight against the sudden, blinding brightness and when I opened them again, the room was dark again.

“Um, Lils, did you turn the flashlight off?” Kaonashi asked.

“No, why?” Lilly replied, clearly confused. “Is it not working?”

“Not anymore,” Hisao said. He sounded closer than he had been before.

The button clicked a few more times as Lilly tried to turn it back on again but the flashlight remained stubbornly dead. Should I be saying something right now?

“Could we use the batteries from the radio in the flashlight?” Hisao asked after Lilly had given up.

The silence stretched out awkwardly and I wondered why Lilly hadn’t answered, then I realized she’s waiting for me to answer. I had bought the radio and flashlight, after all. “I-I don’t think t-they use the same type of batteries, Hisao.”

“Cross-compatibility is important,” Kaonashi said after another awkward silence. “I was doing tests in the field when the batteries in my-“

“Sorry to interrupt, Kaonashi, but I’m going to get the flashlight from Hanako’s room,” Lilly said. “It’s in the same spot, right?”

“Before you go, could you turn on the radio?” Hisao asked quickly, then I started when his hand, warm and soft, grabbed mine. Once I got over the surprise and began to relax at his touch, I realized just how tense I was: shoulders bunched, chest tight, heart racing. I’m a mess.

“What, you don’t want to hear my story?” Kaonashi asked before I can think any more about myself. Despite the darkness, I knew Kaonashi was joking but Hisao must have thought he was serious because Hisao sputtered adorably as he tried to explain himself. I couldn’t help but smile, automatically hiding behind my free hand despite the darkness. It’s good to smile again, even though it doesn’t last long.

Lilly left the radio with Hisao, who tuned it blindly to a news channel. Bouts of static quickly coalesced into a voice, “-treme weather and the blackout, city bus services has been cancelled until further notice. Local authorities expect that the roads will be passable by tomorrow morning at the earliest, obviously depending on how long the snowstorm lasts.”

“Looks like you’re spending the night here, Hisao,” Kaonashi said. Then, as they started talking about plant ecology for the umpteenth time tonight, I started thinking about where Hisao was going to sleep.

I knew Kaonashi would be spending the night with Lilly and I wondered if Hisao would want to do the same with me. The idea both excited and scared me. It’s only been two months and though my feelings for Hisao have only grown stronger, I’m still always worried he doesn’t feel the same way. What if we’re just friends? Also, he’s never seen my scars, not all of them and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that yet, especially not after what’s happened tonight.

No, tonight I just want to curl up into a ball, alone, and cry. As soon as I thought it, I could feel the tears filling my eyes like a brewing storm. The darkness suddenly seemed to weigh a hundred thousand pounds and the very idea that anyone could have had fun tonight was being crushed beneath it. This party was a disaster, and Hisao, Lilly, and Kaonashi were all too polite to tell me. Hisao was probably wishing he'd gone to Takumi's party instead; Lilly and Kaonashi were probably wishing the same...

Just then, Hisao gave my hand a squeeze. I’m so grateful that he’s here. He probably doesn’t even know that I’m on the verge of tears but he’s managed to accidentally make me feel better, just by being here and being close.

After so many years of being stuck in my own mind, I was amazed that someone can have this effect on me, especially when he goes out of his way to cheer me up, like when he’d asked for seconds of the curry I’d burnt. Nobody could eat that stuff and possibly enjoy it, but he’d bravely asked for more when Kaonashi and Lilly couldn’t even finish their first bowl and he’d done it for me and I smiled to myself again and squeezed his hand right back.

I squeezed it again, harder this time, when I thought about the present he’d bought me: a CD of Oscar Peterson’s Ballads, Blues, & Bossa Nova, my favourite, impossible-to-find album. It was a thoughtful present, one that must have taken him a lot of time to get for me because Hisao cared that I’d like it. Even if it had been broken while he’d been trekking through the snow to get to the apartment, I should be grateful that he’d gone through the trouble of getting it for me.

The weight of the darkness seemed lighter now. It wasn’t crushing anymore: instead, it would make what I now wanted to do easier. I had someone who cared deeply about me and he’d earned my trust, and my story. I pulled on Hisao’s hand, tugging him into a tight hug. He was tense at first, probably surprised because we didn't hug often, but before long, Hisao was hugging me back and I felt at peace for the first time tonight.

It felt like an eternity that we stood there in silence but soon, all too soon, Lilly was coming back. The flashlight’s beam split apart the blackness, but I didn’t need it anymore.
Last edited by StilesLong on Mon Nov 12, 2018 10:16 am, edited 5 times in total.

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Re: 8S-Lights Out for Craftyatom

Post by Mirage_GSM » Tue Jan 02, 2018 8:17 am

Nice story. Was the AltUniverse part of the prompt?
What exactly WAS the prompt?
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

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Re: 8S-Lights Out for Craftyatom

Post by StilesLong » Tue Jan 02, 2018 8:34 am

Mirage_GSM wrote:Nice story. Was the AltUniverse part of the prompt?
No it was not. I just thought it would be more interesting if I didn't pick up where the route had left off.
Mirage_GSM wrote:What exactly WAS the prompt?
"Hisao and Hanako (who are dating at this point) are visiting Lilly late in the evening when the power goes out due to a winter storm outside, leaving them in pitch blackness. Lilly is obviously unfazed, but the other two can’t see until alternate lighting is found (Hanako’s phone, which she left in her room?), and even then it’s a struggle. Eventually, they have to figure out sleeping arrangements for Hisao, who can’t just walk home in deep snow with no light. Take that as far as you want, anywhere from sleeping in the hallway to sharing Hanako’s body heat (or beyond) is fine by me!"

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Re: 8S-Lights Out for Craftyatom

Post by Craftyatom » Fri Jan 05, 2018 10:18 pm

Excellent work! I'll admit, I was a bit worried by the universe changes when you first mentioned them, but they proved to be a nonissue.

You did a really good job setting a bad scene that led up to a good ending, which always plucks at my heartstrings - no shame in saying I enjoyed this one!
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Re: 8S-Lights Out for Craftyatom

Post by Oddball » Sat Jan 06, 2018 5:35 pm

The alternate universe thing was an odd choice, but the story itself worked. I'm curious as to how Hanako and Hisao's relationship has worked so far if he doesn't know her past though.
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Re: 8S-Lights Out for Craftyatom

Post by StilesLong » Sun Jan 07, 2018 5:38 pm

Oddball wrote:
Sat Jan 06, 2018 5:35 pm
The alternate universe thing was an odd choice, but the story itself worked. I'm curious as to how Hanako and Hisao's relationship has worked so far if he doesn't know her past though.
I'm curious too, to be honest. It was a risk choice to use an alternate universe, I'll admit, but I felt that I could say more that way than if I'd stuck with the existing universe. Also, I haven't played the game in a while so I didn't want to make any blatant errors. Within an alternate universe, I've got more freedom to change things up while still working with the characters we know and love.

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Re: 8S-Lights Out for Craftyatom

Post by StilesLong » Mon Nov 12, 2018 9:38 am

Misako’s hand seemed smaller and bonier today, though she still clung to mine as tightly as she could as I led her out of the Oncology wing on the eighth floor. “R-ready to go back to y-your room?” The pom-pom on her toque bobbling more violently than the tiny up-and-down motion of her bald head called for. Not for the first time, I felt a pang of pity for her and a surge of anger at her parents. They should be the ones here with her, not me.

“I-I’ve made you something, if you want to see it,” I offered, hoping to brighten this girl’s day. 8 years old, she weighed as much as a girl half her age. Poor parenting then a bout of leukemia were the causes, from what I’d seen on her charts.

Misako’s smile saved me from any grim thoughts. “What is it?” she asked with the excitement a girl her age should show. It wasn’t often she did so I couldn’t help but smile back.

“Do you want m-me to spoil the surprise or c-can you wait a little longer?” I asked her seriously as we walked past the nursing station towards the bay of elevators. Sugai nodded companionably to me, then reached for a phone.

She’d be calling the Pediatric Inpatient ward to let them know we were on our way-a part of the arrangement that allowed Misako and I to walk back unsupervised by one of her many, many doctors. I had even asked for and received permission to wear street clothes instead of the nurse’s uniform when I was with the her, all in the hopes of helping her forget we were in a hospital. I knew from experience that things would get overwhelming for Misako otherwise.

We stood waiting for a few moments, Misako deep in thought and myself playing nervously with loose strands of hair with my free hand-my left one. Misako had the right and she was gently stroking its burnt skin, skin that would have crawled if it could.

If my body is disgusted by her touch, I was disgusted by my body’s unconscious reaction: I should be used to this kind of contact by now; General Wellness’ pediatrics division is a touchy place. Moreover, I couldn’t reject her affection; Misako didn’t have anybody but me and her doctors and nurses and I reminded myself of that to keep from pulling away.

“I think I can wait,” she said earnestly as the doors to two elevators slid open. One was crowded and the other empty-a miracle in a hospital this big- and Misako led me into the latter. Without thinking, I gravitated to the middle of the elevator, marveling at how big the cabin actually was. I’d never seen it like this before.

Shortly after Misako pushed the button for the fourth floor and we were on our way to the Pediatrics ward, she tugged on my hand, wordlessly asking to be picked up. I indulged Misako, 8-year old ward of the state like I’d been, though I shifted her to my left side-the muscles there are stronger, less damaged by the fire.

We rode past two floors in silence and solitude, then the slow, downwards motion started to grow even slower as we approached the fifth floor: Cardiology and Gastroenterology. I wondered briefly who would get on- probably some poor old person who’d let their body get away from them. That, or a stressed salaryman who’d pushed it to within an inch of breaking.

I didn’t often consider myself lucky, but sometimes I couldn’t help but feel grateful that my condition isn’t as potentially lethal as some others. Working in a hospital was an excellent way to remind yourself of how fragile we all are and how much misery we can experience.

I hitched Misako’s slipping body up a bit so she was resting more securely on my hip, skinny legs wrapped around my body and twiggy arms around my neck. She loosened my ponytail as she buried her face in it and sighed contentedly once she was settled. Instinctively, I drew her closer to me and pressed my cheek to her head and I filed the moment away as near-perfect, something to reflect on next time I was feeling down.

When the doors opened again, I was surprised to see that my predictions were wrong: the only person waiting was a man who, despite the silly-looking sweater-vest he was wearing, couldn’t have been more than my age.

He carried a paper folder, the type we used to put handouts and pamphlets in for patients to review later. It looked heavy in his arms, like it contained bad news. Before I could guess at what might have Sweater-vest looking so upset, another thought intruded : I was exposed!

Misako had undone my carefully-arranged wall of hair when she’d made herself comfortable and now, despite the deadened nerves, I was acutely aware of cold hospital air on my burned face. I wasn’t even standing to the right side of the elevator, where nobody could out-flank me and see my scars. This was a disaster.

I forced my hand, unconsciously moving upwards to hide my face, back onto Misako’s back. The small act of self-control drove the chorus of anxious voices in my head to an even greater volume. He’ll see your scars then he’ll either look pityingly at you (bad) or he’ll try to talk to you (worse) and you’ll stutter because you’re too worked up to talk properly (and because Sweater-vest was kinda cute when he’s upset) and then-

He hadn’t even noticed you.

There was silence in my brain for a brief, blessed moment as I confirmed my rational mind’s observation but sure enough, Sweater-vest was still in his doctor’s office, replaying the bad news. Misako and I might not have even been there. It was refreshing, in a way.

The anxiety, temporarily checked, mounted as Sweater-vest moved to my right to request his floor -ground level- from the panel of buttons. Move, my mind screamed at him but it was in vain: he propped himself up in the corner with a groan, then thankfully closed his eyes.

The elevator started moving towards Pediatrics, directly below us. It would feel like an eternity, even if Sweater-vest didn’t look my way- just knowing that he could look over and see my scars at any moment was enough to keep my anxiety high and my eyes surreptitiously on the Threat.

The threat. What a silly way to think of Sweater-vest. The guy was too busy thinking of his own failing body to notice my scarred one. Poor guy, I thought before looking away quickly: how many people have looked at me with eyes full of pity, the same way I was looking at Sweater-vest?

An apology formed on my lips but I managed to swallow it down before I had the chance to complicate a simple situation. What Sweater-vest didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, I told myself uselessly. The platitude didn’t absolve me of the sin of hypocritically pitying him the way I hated to be pitied.

The sinking feeling in my stomach fell away as the elevator approached Pediatrics. I’d be free of Sweater-vest soon but not of the guilt I felt for looking at him. It would follow me around all day, wearing at my nerves. What a stupid thing to be stressed about! I should be focusing on Misako, who seemed to have fallen asleep while I was worrying about nothing.

I decided against waking her for the walk back to her room- Misako needed the rest- so I readjusted and tightened my grip on the girl in my arms. She raised her head, looking at me with sleepy, green-brown eyes. “Are we there already?”

“We are, Misa-chan, but I’ll carry you to your room if you’re tired,” I whispered into her ear.

“Thank you Hana-chan,” Misako said, slowly settling back into my shoulder before starting suddenly. “You won’t forget my surprise, will you?”

“Of course not. If you’re asleep, I’ll leave it on your bedside table,” I said reassuringly.

“Hana-chan?” Misako said after a moment’s pause.


“You’ll come again soon, right?” She said it in a small tentative voice, as though scared I’d say no.

A small smile formed on my lips though Misako couldn’t see it. “Of course,” I said as kindly as I could. Just then, sudden motion to my right drew my attention involuntarily. It was Sweater-vest, who’d come out of whatever shell he’d retreated into, and now our eyes met.

I searched them for pity and saw only amazement before Sweater-vest looked away, colour rising in too-pale cheeks. His thoughts were almost painfully transparent to me: how could twiggy little girls and women with burns still think about presents and promises about later when later might not come?

“L-l-life goes on, you know,” I said without thinking. “It d-doesn’t end just because s-something has ch-changed.”

He had it easy, anyways. If it were really bad, Sweater-vest would be in the inpatient wards right now. Instead, he was walking out of the hospital, the line between his old life and his new one marked only by a short trip to a doctor’s office, not by dragging months in a sterile ward with nurses for company and doctors for visitors and recycled air that always smelled faintly of burnt meat and disinfectant no matter what they did to mask it...

“Thank you.” I opened my eyes, unaware that I’d even closed them. It was Sweater-vest’s voice that had cleared the smell of artificial roses from my nostrils, that had brought me back to reality.

He’d noticed my momentary absence so I widened the smile that was still frozen to my face as though nothing had happened. “You’re welcome. H-have a nice day,” I said, then stepped forward off the elevator, too conscious of Sweater-vest’s gaze following me out.

I didn’t relax until I’d heard the doors close behind me and even then I was so on edge, I didn’t hear Misako at first. “Sorry, Misa-chan. Can you say that again?”

“Who were you talking to?”

“Just someone in the elevator,” I replied, hazarding a glance into the brightly-painted playroom as I carried Misako past it. A small group of parents was there under the careful supervision of a nurse, all of them trying their best to look happy as they played with their sick children.

“Is he your friend?” Misako sounded slow and tired-she’s always tired these days- but I could still detect the curiosity that was driving her questions. Kids don’t change much, even when they’re riddled with cancer.

“No, I’ve never seen him before.” I half turned and used my right side to push open the door to Misako’s room. “Anyways, we’re back in your room now.”

Room 4293 was originally bare, with only the same animals painted on its walls as were painted in every room in every pediatrics inpatient ward in the world. A large window brightened the room and offered a view of the forested park behind the hospital. It had been as bright and as cheery and as impersonal as could be.

I’d gotten to see it like that when I first came in to visit her. Misako had been staying in the room for weeks by then and it looked as unlived in as it had before she’d moved in. When we were done in the playroom, I’d been reluctant to return her to room 4293. She hadn’t even called it “my room”, which had hurt more than it should have.

Now its walls are a mosaic of drawings and magazine cut-outs and origami of all kinds, their clashing colours set ablaze by the sun’s last light that streams into the room. Some of my classmates found out about my “special project” and brought in some stuffed animals that now lived in Misako’s bed. A few trips to the library turned up some excellent books that now rested on her bedside table.

One of the doctors had even commented on how nice Misako’s room was looking now. It had been gratifying to hear and the first time I’d even thought of it, but her room was still depressingly like countless others around the world.

Misako’s eyes were closed as I laid her down on the bed and tucked her in among her stuffed animals. It looked like she’d fallen asleep so I wrote her a little note on some spare origami paper I tugged out from beneath a pile of books to tell her I’d be back soon.

From the pocket of my denim jacket, I took out her present, a folded paper bookmark, and replaced the one in The Philosopher’s Stone with it. Next time, I’d show her how to make one. They could be decorated so it looked like it was biting the page. Misako would like that.

Then, as I was leaving, Misako stirred and spoke, her voice sluggish and thick with sleep. “Why were you talking to him if he wasn’t your friend?”

The question was innocent enough, as children’s questions tend to be, but it got me thinking: why had I said anything at all? I stammered out an answer- something about how talking to people who aren’t our friends was how we made new friends- then changed the topic.

“Should we get you into your pajamas, Misa-chan?”

She shook her head slowly, eyes still closed. “Do you think you’ll become friends?”

I shook my own head, though Misako couldn’t see me. “I don’t think so. I probably won’t see him again.”

“That’s too bad,” Misako said. “He sounded nice and friends are nice things to have.”

I smiled at that, then brushed her forehead gently with my fingers. “Good night, Misa-chan. Sleep tight, ok?”

“I will, Hana-chan.”

I stopped by the nursing station on my way out. “Misa-chan fell asleep before I could get her changed into her pajamas. She was very tired tonight after treatment.”

“I’ll make a note of that.” The nurse, an older woman named Erina, looked up from her paperwork and smiled at me. “You’re all dressed up tonight, Nurse Ikezawa. Are you going somewhere?”

I felt my cheeks redden slightly but I didn’t hide the blush. Erina’s always been good to me and she doesn’t deserve that. “Nowhere except home.” Visiting Misako was generally the last-and most enjoyable- duty of my shift.

“That’s a shame,” Erina tutted. I wanted to say something more, maybe to ask her how she was, but she dismissed me. “Have a nice night, dear.”

I wavered for a moment longer, then walked past the elevators to the stairs. I had my locker in a tiny “staff office” located in a converted janitor’s closet in the General Wellness wing on the third floor. It wasn’t worth the stress of riding a crowded elevator for such a short distance.

My footsteps echoed through the deserted stairwell as I descended into thought. Misako’s question absolutely could not be pushed from my mind and my replies to the greetings of other nurses I passed in the halls were perfunctory at best. It was probably painfully obvious to them that I wasn’t all there but nobody commented on it. Working here, they’ve probably all felt something similar at some point.

I took the stairs to the ground floor too and stepped out into the cool fall air, still without an answer. It was irrational and I knew it but I felt annoyed with Misako for doing this to me. I apologized to her mentally (and again irrationally) and resolved to think of something extra special to do with her next time I visited.

As for what she’d asked, I don’t have a proper answer by the time I reach the bus stop but I’ve got an idea of why I’d spoken: guilt. First, for treating him like the enemy when he’d done nothing wrong, then because I’d pitied him. Telling him that life would go on was some way of making amends.

It’s a tenuous explanation and probably more of a rationalization than anything. The real reason is probably that if I hadn’t said anything, my brain would have been beating me up all day. Social anxiety in a nutshell.

Whatever the case may be, I’d never see Sweater-Vest again. It’s a shame because he was cute, in a nerdy sort of way. Even so, there’s no point on dwelling on him. Just then, my bus pulled up and I shook my head to clear it of thoughts of work and got on. It was time to go home.

Even in the peace of the library, the word comes to mind.

Arrhythmia. It had been a week since I’d first heard of it and it was still strange to me. The idea that my heart wouldn’t always beat properly was still foreign and alien but I didn’t have much choice in the matter; the condition would follow me around for the rest of my days.

After I’d experienced some odd sensations in my chest, my doctor had referred me to a cardiologist at the hospital. The cardiologist had taken one look at my EKG results and had turned to me wide-eyed. She’d told me it was a miracle that I was able to go so long without anything serious happening.

When I’d refused to be admitted into the inpatient ward, the poor cardiologist (who’d looked like she was going to have a heart attack of her own) had talked my ear off for what had felt like a long time, detailing all the changes I’d need to make to stay healthy. It had been overwhelming.

“Everything is on these handouts,” she’d said, handing me a stack of printouts. “These are your prescriptions,” another stack of papers, “and this is a referral to an outpatient program.” As if the loose-leaf novel she’d just given me hadn’t been enough, she’d also given me a final warning. “Your life is in serious danger and has been for a long time. It doesn’t have to be, and won't be if you take your condition seriously.”

I had been, too: I was exercising more and eating as well as I could on a student’s budget. The dark-haired woman in the elevator with scars on her face was right after all. What she’d said was the best advice anyone had given me since the diagnosis. My life had changed, not ended. The cardiologist hadn’t told me to stop living; she’d just told me to live differently. Very, very differently.

Even so, my routine had barely been interrupted by my condition which is why I found myself alone in the library today. It turns out, however, that friends aren’t as reliable as potentially fatal medical conditions. Takumi and I were supposed to meet up for our weekly “study session”. Not much studying happens when we get together but it was always nice to see him. Naturally, I was a little annoyed when he’d texted to cancel for the second week in a row.

I’d called him immediately. “Is it your new girlfriend what’s-her-name again?” I’d said, ignoring pleasantries.

“Her name is Akane, and yes it is,” Takumi had said with a fragile dignity. It had been easy to imagine him squirming on the other end so I’d decided to let him off the hook.

“I’m not that upset, Takumi. Just don’t let this keep happening. We barely hang out as it is,” I’d chided him gently.

“I know. I’ll talk to her,” Takumi had promised. "How are you feeling today, man?"

He'd asked the question the question as casually as he could but I knew the real reason he was asking. "I can feel myself going into ventricular fibrillation right now because my friend bailed on me to see his girlfriend," I joked.

Takumi didn't laugh. "With your condition, you're more likely to go into A-fib, not V-fib," he said shortly. Having a friend in pre-med makes medical jokes harder. "Also, you would do the same if you had a girlfriend."

"I would not," I replied. "I value my friendships too much for that."

"You keep telling yourself that, Hisao. Girlfriends eat time and money like an overweight kid in a ramen shop," he said. "Anyways, I've got to run."

“Sounds good. Tell what's-her-name I say hi. Enjoy yourself and use protection.” I had hung up before he could reply. I had laughed, then quickly sobered up. I now had an hour and a half before class started.

I had brought my textbooks with me but I also knew that I didn’t need to study; I had a pretty good understanding on the coursework and was actually a little ahead on the readings. I was at a loss for a second before remembering where I was : a library.

I’d never been a huge reader but one of my classmates had once mentioned that there was a fiction section somewhere amid the volumes of non-fiction publications and journals and I set off in search of it. Maybe I could find something to read there.

The university library was huge and sprawling but I quickly found a sign that listed its many floors. Apparently, the fiction section was on the top story. I took the stairs all the way and started browsing the shelves.

I pulled a few off here and there to read the blurb, eventually settling on the Life of Pi. I’d passed some couches in the central common area of this floor but they had been crowded and I didn’t want to sit there to read. I delved deeper into the library, eventually finding a small, quiet corner. Large windows let in lots of light and offer a nice view of the city.

I glanced around and saw someone I recognized sitting on one of several beanbag chairs. It was the woman from the hospital, the one carrying the little girl. Her dark hair hung straight today, thick bangs drawn like a curtain across the burns on her face.

She looked really into her book, so much so that I was tempted to turn and leave as unnoticed as I’d arrived. I decided to approach instead. I felt I should thank her for her advice, and the fact that she was cute in spite of the scars didn’t hurt either.

The dark-haired woman peeked up over the rampart of her book-Dune- when I got closer. Recognition flashed in the only eye that was visible to me. That eye widened and the colour seemed to drain from her already-pale cheeks. I could sense the tension in her body. Maybe I should have made some more noise on the way over?

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” I said, carefully keeping my eyes on hers.

“It… it’s ok,” she replied in a quiet voice I had to strain to hear. It didn’t sound ok but I pressed on nonetheless.

“I, uh.” Suddenly, I found it hard to work out how to say a simple thank you, something I’d been saying since I was a toddler. The dark-haired woman stared at me wordlessly. “Do you mind if I sit here?” I asked instead, hoping to buy some time so I can think of a way to thank her.

It seemed for a moment that she would admit that she did mind that I sit there but eventually she shook her head. “N-no…go ahead.” Her voice is a little louder now.

I plopped myself down, book in hand. I could see her glancing at it and I was about to ask whether she’d read it when she beat me to the punch. “T-that’s a good book.”

“You’ve read it then?” I asked, immediately regretting it. Of course she’s read it! What a dumb thing to say, I thought to myself, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“Y-es… in high s-school.” She paused and lowered Dune. “My… my name is Hanako, by t-the way. H-Hanako Ikezawa.”

She dipped her body into an awkward, seated bow and I did the same. “Hisao Nakai. Um, I…”

Hanako turned towards me, waiting patiently for whatever it was I had to say. Once more, however, I’m struck dumb by how hard it is to say thank you. Should it be said sincerely? Casually? I doubted that she knew how much her words had meant to me. How much would I need to explain so things make sense to her?

It was enough to trip up my tongue and all the while, Hanako’s deep-blue eye stared at me intently. There was no good way of doing this so I took a breath. “Thank you for your kind words last week, Hanako. It was exactly what I needed to hear,” I said simply and humbly.

Hanako blinked a couple of times, her hand twitched upwards, and then she smiled. It was a small and shy smile, different from the one I’d seen in the elevator. I missed it as soon as it was gone. “Y-you’re welcome. I’m… glad they helped.”

“How is your daughter doing, by the way?” I said, hoping to get her to smile again.

Instead of a smile, she looked blankly at me for a moment before hiding a giggle behind her hand. “I-I don’t have a d-daughter, Hisao,” Hanako said in between giggles.

Huh? “But you were carrying…?”

“She’s… s-someone I work with at the h-hospital,” Hanako corrected me, still amused by my mistake. I decided then that I liked her laugh as much I liked her smile.

By the time three o’clock rolled around, I hadn’t opened Life of Pi. Hanako and I had talked the whole hour away, growing more and more comfortable in each other’s company. A quick glance at my watch ruined the moment. It was time to go to class but I didn’t want to leave.

“D-do you have… somewhere to be?” Hanako asked. I thought I’d been subtle when I’d checked but apparently not.

“Yeah,” I said, then asked the question I’d been thinking about for the past half-hour. “Would you want to get dinner sometime?”

Hanako blushed and covered her face. For a figuratively heart-stopping moment, I thought I’d asked too soon, then she nodded her head. “S-sure.”

Relief and elation coursed through me. I tried not to let either show. “My class ends at 6 so why don’t we meet a little after that?”

“S-six-thirty then?” She suggested.

“Sure. Do you like curry?” I asked.

“I l-love it. I make i-it for my r-roommate and I a lot,” Hanako said brightly. “Were you thinking of the kare-ya near 12 street?”

That was exactly the place I was thinking of and I told her as much.

“I-I’ll see you there then,” she said, smiling again.

“See you,” I replied, standing up to leave. I checked Life of Pi out, then rushed to class. For the first time this semester, I was going to be late but I didn’t care. I was too distracted by a certain dark-haired girl with burns on her face and a shy smile that was utterly endearing.

Back to Part 1

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