Avenues of Communication (Complete)

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Scroff
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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 2-24-19)

Post by Scroff » Tue Feb 26, 2019 11:50 am

Lap wrote:
Tue Feb 26, 2019 9:10 am
(er...hm.... "Big Tall Goth GirlFriend"?)
Umm yeah, "tall"... We were admiring her hat right? That must've made her look a couple of inches taller...

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Lap
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Chapter 13

Post by Lap » Sun Mar 24, 2019 6:11 pm

Chapter 13
________________________

It seemed like Misha’s birthday party was the last time any of us got to relax. It was the final calm before the storm, as the end of the year started rushing closer, and the specter of university entrance exams loomed ever larger.

I had hoped that having made a decision about what I wanted to study, I would feel less stressed about exams, but the reverse was the case. Now that I had committed to sticking close to Shizune, I was more determined to do well on my exams, so I could get into a university in Kyoto. Shizune, in her gloomier moments, reminded me that it wasn't guaranteed that she'd get into Kyoto University––the competition was fierce––but my faith in her ability to get in was absolute. Which she appreciated.

Our decision to stick together also increased her focus on my study habits. Now, she not only wanted to get into KU, she wanted me to be in a school near her. Whenever I got discouraged, she stared at me with a ferocious scowl and said, [If you can’t get admitted to a university near Kyoto, I will be…verydisappointed…in you.]

It was a very Shizune kind of encouragement.

I had thought that, Misha having acquired a girlfriend, we might not see her as often. But instead, our group of three became a group of four, as Takagi joined us. In fairly short order she asked us to call her Shori. She dove into her studies for exams whole-heartedly, and Misha perforce went with her. I got the impression that Misha was trying to hedge her bets. Both in case she failed to get into an American university, and also in case she decided she wanted to stay in the same country as Shori. I added Misha and Shori to my list of “students” I was tutoring in science, and Shori in turned helped me with Japanese literature.

One thing that surprised me about their relationship was that Misha called Shori Shori. Not Shochan, or some other nickname. When I asked Misha why, she just blushed, and looked at Shori. Shori arched an eyebrow at me and asked, “Do I look like a Shochan to you?” She was a big woman, taller than me, and even when dolled up in the black lace and crinolines that were her preferred garb, she didn’t look tiny. A diminutive nickname just didn’t seem right.

_________________________

I was sitting at my desk one evening, conjugating some irregular English verbs, when my brain hit its limit. I threw my pencil across the room and slammed the book shut. I don’t know if it was my motion that drew her attention, or if I’d actually slammed the book hard enough for her to feel it, but Shizune looked up at me from where she was sitting on my bed and frowned.

“What’s wrong?” If she was involved in a task that used her hand—such as writing, which she had been doing—she spoke out loud more and more often lately, as her confidence in her voice slowly grew.

I turned my face away from her and waved a dismissive hand in the air. [Nothing.]

“Would you lut at me, please?”

I didn’t want Shizune to see the frustration in my face. I took a deep breath, and tried to smooth my face. I turned to face her. [I’m just…having problems with English.]

Shizune looked thoughtful for a moment, then put down her pen. [If you are having troubles with English, you should ask Lilly for help. She’s fully bilingual, and plans to be an English teacher.]

I sighed. [I hate to bother her. She’s undoubtedly cramming for exams too.]

Shizune arched an eyebrow at me. [What did I just say? She wants to be a teacher. So helping you would be like getting some practice.]

Huh. I hadn’t thought of it like that. [Kinda like my tutoring Misha and Hanako and Shori in science.]

[Yes.] She got a distant look on her face, a contemplative expression that filled me with some unease. [You excel in science. Lilly at English. Kapur is good at math. Hayashi in literature. Kiyuba is a history buff.]

I frowned. I didn’t know Hayashi or Kiyuba well enough to confirm that, but I’d believe her. [Okay. What of it?]

She stared off into the distance for a while longer, then nodded firmly, as if coming to a decision. “We win,” she said with a smile.

[Pardon me?]

[We win,] she repeated.

[I understood you just fine when you spoke aloud, I just don’t know what you meant.]

Her smile broadened. [I mean, we’re going to make sure as many students as possible pass their university entrance exams. Come on.] With that, she stood up from my bed, and stalked out of my room, like a general striding onto a battlefield.

“We are?” I asked her retreating back. Pointlessly. Then I sighed, shook my head, and followed her out the door.

_________________________

Despite that grandiose sounding objective, her plan actually wasn’t all that outrageous. We—that is to say, the student council—created formal study groups. Plenty of students already worked together in little ad hoc study groups, usually comprised of their circle of friends. Shizune’s plan was to formalize study groups and focus each of them on a specific topic area, with each group lead by a student who excelled in that area. We found multiple leaders for each subject group, so no one person was responsible for everything, which was fortunate. We didn’t want to cause the group leaders difficulty in other areas by taking up too much of our time.

Which is how I found myself one evening after dinner attempting to explain wave-particle duality and the double slit experiment to a group of visually impaired students. Given that the experiment results were fundamentally visual in nature, this tested my nascent teaching abilities to their limit. Many metaphors were created and died in the process, and I made extensive use of a sand table for “drawing” diagrams that they could feel.

Afterwards, I went to Shizune’s room and collapsed on her bed. [That was not easy,] I said.

“I gan’t understand you when you sign while lying on your bat,” Shizune said. Were she better at emotional inflection, I’m sure she would have sounded annoyed, instead of her usual monotone.

I sighed and sat up. [Sorry. I said, that wasn’t easy.]

[Then you will have learned as much as they did,] she said complacently.

I rolled my eyes. [I’ve learned things that will only be useful if I come back to Yamaku to teach.]

She cocked her head to the side and looked thoughtful. [Would you want to do that?]

I blinked, surprised by the question. [Why? Mutou is already the science teacher here.]

Shizune waved a hand. [He won’t be here forever. He might want to move on to another school, or retire.]

I snorted. [He’s not that old. I don’t want to have to wait twenty years to get a job.]

[So, perhaps not at Yamaku. But you do have a secondary skill set that is marketable—you speak sign. There are other schools for the deaf where you could teach, if you wished.]

The thought was intriguing. I had not thought of my signing as being a marketable skill. I was still only a beginner. I spelled out with yubimoji almost as many words as I signed, sometimes. But if Shizune continued to be a part of my life as I hoped, I should become fairly fluent and proficient in a few years. By the time I graduated from university, certainly.

[Not only would you be teaching science,] Shizune continued, [You could be helping disabled students as well. I know Yamaku sometimes has problems finding good teachers who are willing or able to deal with the secondary, non-academic issues, that teaching at a school for the disabled entail.]

I was surprised to hear that. Certainly our teachers were, by and large, very good. I would be proud to be among their numbers. [It could be…nice,] I said hesitantly, thinking as I spoke, [To come back to Yamaku. To help other students, the way I’ve been helped.]

Shizune smiled and nodded. [It’s a worthy notion. Worth thinking about, anyway.]

I nodded back. [But first I have to figure out where I’m going to school.]

[You should talk with Lilly about what schools are good for becoming a teacher. She’s wanted to do that for a long time, so I suspect she has done a lot more research on the subject than you have.]

[As long as I can find one in Kyoto.]

Shizune shook her head. [Ideally. I want you near me, yes. And I appreciate that you want to be near me. But university is important. If the best possible school for you is in Sapporo, that is where you should go.]

I shuddered at the thought of being that far north. [I sincerely hope I don’t have to go that far.]

Shizune smiled. [Me too.]

[But meanwhile…] I pulled my book bag up onto the bed. [I still have history reading to do tonight.]

Shizune nodded. [Me too. And English.] So we dove into our work.

Shortly before curfew, I asked Shizune, [Do you have much more work to do?]

She grimaced and looked regretful. [Unfortunately, yes.]

I nodded, [Yeah, me too.] My tutoring session had cut into my study time. I began packing up my books. Given how uncomfortable sleeping on the floor was, there was no point in staying the night unless there were other, more amorous, reasons to do so. Alas, it had been a week or two since we’d had the time for such. As I rose to go, she also stood up, and wrapped her good arm around me, her cast an ever-present lump between us. I wondered if, when she got it off, it would feel unnatural to me to be hugged by two arms.

She lifted her face and gave me a slow, sweet kiss, that let me know she genuinely regretted having more homework to do. “We need to find an evenin’ for us,” she said. “And I don’t mean for study.”

I smiled and nodded in agreement, and kissed her again. I regretfully let her go, and slung my bag on my shoulder. [Good night. I love you,] I said.

She smiled. [Love you too.]

_________________________

The following morning, as I headed toward the pool, I bumped into Emi. She was standing, apparently waiting for me, at the intersection where the paths from the boys’ and girls’ dorms met. She looked a little under the weather, with bags under her eyes. “Late night cramming?” I asked.

She grunted. “No.” We started walking down the path. She glanced sideways up at me, and said, “Misha and Shori…” She paused, and shook her head.

“What about them?” I asked. Hoping I sounded casual.

“How long have they been dating?” she asked.

“Dating? I don’t know—”

“Trust me, Hisao, it’s not a secret. At least, not on our floor.”

Well, given Misha’s general levels of discretion, that didn’t seem too surprising. “Since Misha’s birthday.”

“Huh. Well, last night they finally took their relationship to the next level.”

“Oh.” I blushed as I contemplated that. It had been a little over a month, which, honestly, was longer than I’d thought Misha would wait. “And, uh…”

“One of the couple is deaf, and the other…”

“Is Misha,” I finished, suddenly understanding her exhausted mien.

Emi sighed. “Yeah. I’m happy for them and all that, but if this is going to become a regular occurrence, I’m going to need to buy earplugs. I don’t suppose you can ask them to keep it down a little?”

Me? Why me?” Suddenly I understood why Emi had lain in wait for me this morning.

“Yeah, you. You and Shizune are her closest friends, aside from Shori. And I’m not going to talk to either of them about it..”

I snorted. “Do I look like a natural advisor for Misha’s love life?”

“No, but I bet you could talk to her and not make her feel bad about it. I mean, really, I’m happy for them, but I need my sleep. I’ve got a meet next weekend.”

We’d come to where our paths diverged. We stopped, and I rubbed my face tiredly. “Suddenly, explaining wave particle duality to blind students doesn’t seem so difficult,” I sighed.

“What?” Emi looked baffled.

“Never mind. I’ll try.”

Emi smiled. “Thanks, Hisao. I know I’m not the only person on our floor who’d appreciate it. Shizune was probably the only person who got a good night’s sleep last night.”

“That loud?”

“That long. Damn, but that girl’s got some stamina.” She shook her head, almost looking admiring as she headed towards the track. “She should’ve been a long-distance runner.”

_________________________

<<—Previous Chapter || Next Chapter —>>
Last edited by Lap on Mon May 13, 2019 1:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 3-24-19)

Post by NelNinja » Wed Mar 27, 2019 2:22 pm

I like the relationship you've given Hisao and Shizune. When I replayed her route recently, I liked it but hit the same stumbling block as last time: the route isn't about them being in a relationship. I love Misha, and her dealing with depression and her confession to Shizune made sense, but the only time it actually seemed like they were boyfriend/girlfriend was when they had sex... People have talked about how a lot of what defined their relationship was rooted in Japanese traditions like lunch making and such, but even then it still feels out of place. It's good to see Shizune actually show affection and make clear she's actually invested in Hisao.

Not too much to say, that's what went through my mind as I read the chapter. NelNinja stamp of approval, for what it's worth.
I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing
Character Impressions:
Misha>Emi=Hanako=Lilly=Shizune=Rin
I wrote things!
The Sound of Silence - Shizune one-shot
Pilgrimage - A Subversion of Fate - Hisao sans heart attack (On-going)

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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 4-17-19)

Post by Lap » Wed Apr 17, 2019 1:36 pm

Chapter 14

______________________

Christmas was traditionally a romantic holiday, and this was the first time I’d actually have someone to be romantic with. I hesitantly broached the subject with Shizune, and was somewhat surprised to find that she was actually enthusiastic about the notion.

She poked my arm in response to my surprise. [I’m not solely pragmatic,] she said. [I appreciate a bit of romance in my life now and then, too.]

I suddenly wondered guiltily if I’d been romantic enough with her. I mean, I never bought her flowers or sent her sentimental cards. But I’d never gotten the impression she wanted such either. Had I misjudged her?

My worry and guilt must have shown on my face, because she rolled her eyes. [Now and then,] she reiterated. [If you’d been lacking in that respect, I would have told you.]

Well, that was true enough. I smiled at her. [So, what should we do?]

[Anything that gets me out of my father’s house for a few days would be a blessing,] she said with a grimace. [Winter break is far too long for my tastes.]

[It’s less than two weeks.]

[Even so. Maybe I can stay at school for the first week, tell him I need to catch up on student council business.]

I was startled. [I didn’t think we were that far behind.]

She gave me a long-suffering look. [I didn’t say we were. I said I would tell him that we were.]

“Ohhh.” I considered that for a moment. [Maybe I could stay here with you here. From what Hanako tells me, supervision over break is pretty much non-existent. We’d have most of the school to ourselves.]

Shizune arched an eyebrow at me. [Staying at school is your idea of a romantic Christmas holiday?]

[I was just building on your suggestion!] I spluttered indignantly. [And besides, Christmas isn’t until Tuesday after break starts. Maybe we could rent a hotel room in the city for a night or two. Someplace with a bed big enough for the two of us.]

Shizune smiled approvingly. [That’s more like it, Romeo.]

[Thank you.]

But what with study groups and school work and student council work, I forgot to look for a hotel room until just a couple of days before winter break began. Which was when I discovered that I wasn’t the only “Romeo” who thought a romantic stay in a nice hotel or ryokan was the perfect way to celebrate Christmas. I called almost two dozen places, to find they were all booked up, and I was beginning to panic a little.

I decided to hit the library to see if we had any local travel guides. When I explained to Yuuko what I was looking for, she smiled wistfully. “That sounds lovely, Hisao. You’re a good boyfriend.”

I groaned. “No, a good boyfriend would have booked this months ago. I’m afraid I won’t find anything at all, at this late date.”

She bit her lip, then said, “If you wouldn’t mind a suggestion…I mean, I don’t want to intrude on your personal life…”

Hope surged through me. “Please, intrude away. I’m getting desperate here.”

“Well…my aunt runs a minshuku. They’re rarely full, she says. There might still be a room available.”

I considered it for a moment. A little bed and breakfast place might not be as fancy as a hotel or ryokan, but at this point I was getting desperate. I could probably sell it to Shizune as “quaint” and “homey.”

“It’s a lovely place; Aunt and Uncle are very diligent hosts,” she added persuasively.

“It sounds perfect.” I said. “Can you call her right now?”

“Uh. Shouldn’t you call them? Since you’ll be making the reservation? I mean, I’m happy to help, but, uh…”

She was probably right. “Sure. Can I have their phone number?”

She grabbed a scrap of paper from under the check-out counter and scrawled a number on it.

“Should I tell then you sent me?” I asked with a smile. Hoping a little bit for a “friend of the family” discount, not that I’d ever be so crass as to say so.

Yuuko’s eyes went wide. “Ah, no! No, I think…I mean…perhaps it would be better to not mention…you should just…I mean…”

I didn’t understand her sudden discomfort, but I held a hand up. “All right, I won’t mention you.” I wondered if she got along with her family. Surely someone as socially awkward as Yuuko didn’t just come out of nowhere. I wondered, for the first time, what her family must be like.

“Will you be visiting your parents for Christmas?” I asked.

Yuuko shook her head. “No, I managed to get some extra shifts at the Shanghai over the holidays. I need the money.”

I nodded sympathetically, having heard Yuuko’s laments about the sad state of her finances several times.

“Well, thank you for the tip. I’m going to go call right now,” I said, as I turned to leave the library.

“You’re welcome. I hope you have a lovely Christmas.”

“You too!” I replied without thinking, then I grimaced as the library door closed behind me. Yeah, a lovely Christmas waiting on folks at the Shanghai.

As luck would have it, there was a room was available. I felt my shoulders drop a little in relief when Yuuko’s Aunt, also Mrs. Shirakawa, told me that. As I was about to hang up, it occurred to me to add, “By the way, I should probably mention, my girlfriend is deaf. Just so you don’t think she’s ignoring you when you speak to her.”

“Oh. And…how should I talk with her?” She sounded a little taken aback and wary.

“She can speechread fairly well, and I can translate when we’re together. Which should be most of the time.”

“Very well.” She recovered her professional demeanor. “We look forward to seeing you.”

Armed with the minshuku’s address, I did some research on what was in the area that we might do for fun during the day. It was about a half-hour train ride away from Yamaku, so it was in an area I’d never been to. There was a glassworks that looked intriguing, as well as a kaleidoscope museum not too far away. And I was delighted to discover that there were a couple of onsens within walking distance of the minshuku.

Then I hesitated—hadn't some doctor back at the hospital said something about onsens and my condition at some point? But I was getting stronger, my morning swims had shown that. I resolved to ask Nurse about it later, and called the onsen that listed couples’ onsens as a feature. It would be lovely to be able to share the soothing bath with Shizune, instead of having to use the more common sex-segregated public baths.

My luck with making reservations seemed to have finally turned around, because I was able to get us a couple of hours on Christmas Eve. The price made me wince a little, but I was pleased and relieved to have solidified my plans. I’d have to remember to thank Yuuko the next time I saw her.

[So, that’s three nights at Yamaku, then two nights at the minshuku,] I summarized for Shizune later that evening. I didn’t mention the onsen, wanting that to be a surprise. [From there…if you want to continue to avoid your father…] I hesitated. [Do you want to come visit my parents with me?] I asked.

She looked thoughtful for a moment, then smiled. [That could be nice. I am assuming your family is more…restful…than mine?]

I laughed. “Oh, yes.”

[Would your parents mind?]

[I’ll ask, of course, but I’m sure they’ll want to meet my girlfriend.] I smiled. [And, I admit, I want to show you off.]

She poked me in the arm. [I am not some trophy for you to display!]

I smiled at her. [No. But that doesn’t mean I’m not smugly pleased to have won your heart. Just as you won mine.]

She didn’t seem to know what to say to that, so after staring at me for a silent moment, she kissed me. Which, come to think of it, was a perfect response.

________________________

Friday finally rolled around, and the student population evaporated. It was somewhat startling how quickly the school emptied, leaving just us and a second year boy, Sachio, whose parents were in the Netherlands until Tuesday. Even Hanako was gone, traveling with Naomi. We were on our own for meals, and Nurse let us know that someone would always be available at his office in case of emergencies, though not him.

Shizune abused her presidential keychain by getting us into the dorm storage room, and we (well, I) lugged a second mattress into her room and placed it on the floor next to her mattress, making a bed large enough for us to share. As I contemplated all the nights I’d spent sleeping on the floor with just a blanket for padding, I asked her, [Why haven’t we done this before?]

[Don’t be silly. When could we have dragged another mattress through the halls without generating comment and gossip?]

[At three a.m., when I couldn’t sleep due to the hard floor?] I suggested drily.

She looked abashed for a moment, then she scowled at me and thrust her shoulders back and planted her feet wide. “It’s good for you! Builds moral garacter! You younsters these days are too soft!” Her voice was almost as loud as Jigoro’s, though higher pitched.

I shuddered at how accurately she could channel her father. [If I have to sleep with Jigoro tonight, I’m going back to the boys’ dorm.]

She laughed silently, and returned to her normal posture. [Gods forfend.]

We prepared for bed and collapsed into sleep, too tired for anything more amorous than a few kisses after all of our end of term work.

It was nice waking up next to her. Asleep, her face relaxed, she was even more beautiful. I lay there admiring her and marveling at my good fortune for a while before getting up and slipping downstairs to make us breakfast.

My culinary skills wouldn’t win me any awards, but I was capable of making coffee, rice, and scrambled eggs. I brought the food back to her room and found her sitting up in bed stretching, her good arm raised above her head. The stretch did marvelous things to her breasts under her pale lilac pajamas, and I paused in the doorway to admire the view.

She opened her eyes and saw me, standing there staring at her with a happy smile on my face. She blushed, and donned her glasses. [Breakfast in bed?]

I closed the door behind me and set the tray down on the bed between us. [Nothing but the best for my lady,] I said, giving her a little bow as I sat down opposite her.

She smiled, and stroked my cheek with her good hand. I blushed at the implied compliment.

Since there was no one present to life guard, the pool was locked for the winter break, so I had a respite from swimming for a while. I was utterly unsurprised that Shizune and I did, in fact, end up spending most of Saturday doing student council paperwork. But it was only one day’s worth of work, not a full week, and we were done with it all before dinner time.

[The Shanghai for dinner, or more cups of instant ramen?] I asked her as we left the student council room. I’d meant to buy some groceries in order to be able to make us meals in the dorm, but the last week had been too busy for either of us to go shopping.

[Shanghai. Definitely. And we can stop at the Aura Mart on the way back to buy some groceries,] she said.

We stopped talking as we came to the stairs, and she went down with her good hand on the rail. I took her hand in mine as we left the building, content to walk in silence, enjoying the opportunity for a “public display of affection” on the school grounds with no one around to comment or object.

As we passed the boys’ dorm, Shizune asked me, “What about Sachio? Should we invite him to dinner?” Ever the conscientious president, looking out for the students.

Sachio was the second year who was waiting on his parents’ return to Japan. I stopped walking so I could sign to her. [I talked with him on Thursday. He’s got a freezer full of microwave meals, and plans to enjoy unfettered access to all of Yamaku’s internet bandwidth playing WoW for the next three days. His parents may have to pry him out with a crowbar.] When last I’d seen him on Friday morning, he’d been busy setting up his system in the common room, to take advantage of the large screen TV in there. [I just hope he remembers to sleep and bathe occasionally.]

Shizune sighed and shook her head. [Boys.]

We continued on our way, holding hands as we walked down the hill to our dinner.

________________________

Monday morning, we left Yamaku early to catch a train to Taihaku, where the minshuku was. Shizune fell asleep on my shoulder almost before the train left the station, and I settled in to read for the short ride.

When we arrived at the minshuku, I was a little surprised by its appearance. The neighborhood looked like it was in the middle of gentrifying, with older, slightly shabby houses mixed with some newer construction. The minshuku stood out for being one of the old buildings, but it was also immaculate. It was practically a museum piece, brightly painted, with a formal garden worthy of a shrine. It had tall fences on both sides of it, as if to keep away the riff-raff.

Shizune shot me an inquisitive look, and I double-checked the house number I’d written down. Definitely the right place. Taking a deep breath, and feeling slightly under-dressed for the location, I opened the front gate and we approached the house. I hesitated when we got to the front door—I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to ring the doorbell, like at a house, or just walk in, like at a hotel. My question remained unanswered when the door opened without my doing anything.

An older woman, presumably Yuuko’s aunt, greeted us. She was dressed in an unusually formal blouse and long skirt. “Welcome! Are you Mister and Missus Nakai?”

I had automatically translated for Shizune. She arched an eyebrow at me with a small smile, apparently wondering how I was going to answer that question.

“Ah…I’m Nakai, yes. And this is Ms. Hakamichi.” I was facing the proprietor, but out of the corner of my eye I was relieved to see that Shizune looked pleased with my response.

“Of course, of course, welcome. I am Azumi Shirakawa, proprietor of this humble minshuku. I am so pleased you’ve chosen to honor us with your custom.” We exchanged bows, her bow seeming excessively deep and formal for someone so much my senior, even if she was a proprietor. “Please, enter and be welcome.”

She stepped aside, holding the door for us, and we entered the minshuku. Having never stayed at a minshuku, I had been uncertain what to expect. My initial expectation of a “normal” but tidy living room was quickly supplanted by the showcase in front of us. I stopped just inside the door and gaped at the living room, which could have been pulled directly from an interior design magazine. Two beautiful prints hung on the wall flanking the hallway entrance opposite us. The shōji room dividers looked spotless, with no scuff marks or patches in the paper. There was a beautiful low table in the center of the room, surrounded by immaculate white cushions. There were two small tables on either side of the room. One held a simple but perfectly designed flower arrangement, the other a lovely glass vase.

The meticulous garden outside was almost messy by comparison. The room looked like it had never seen the touch of a human hand. I glanced at Shizune, somewhat relieved to see that she was similarly taken aback by the spectacle in front of us.

Mrs. Shirakawa looked smugly pleased at our stunned reactions. “It is but a humble abode, but we do enjoy sharing it with our guests,” she said. Shizune blinked rapidly at that when I translated it for her.

I said to Mrs. Shirakawa, “It is beautiful.”

She smiled and bobbed her head. “Thank you. We have slippers here for you,” she said, gesturing to the shoe holder by the door. Sitting atop the holder was a box with an assortment of different sized white slippers, each pair wrapped in plastic. I had assumed we’d just go stocking-footed indoors, but apparently not.

“Thank you,” I said, as I selected slippers for myself and Shizune did likewise. We sat on beautiful stools in the entry way to slip out of our shoes, and we tucked them into the shoe holder.

As we rose, an older gentleman entered the living room, and crossed over to greet us. It was Mr. Shirakawa, and he, too, bowed inordinately low as we exchanged greetings. He picked up our bags and walked down the hallway, and Mrs. Shirakawa said, “My husband will show you to your room.”

I thanked her, and we followed along. I was almost tip-toeing, not wanting to scuff the spotless floor.

The room Mr. Shirakawa took us to was almost as intimidatingly beautiful, stark and simple and perfectly appointed. He pulled out a lacquered wooden suitcase stand and set our somewhat grubby bag on it. “The bathroom is the last room at the end of the hall to your left,” he said, his voice soft. “If you wish to dine with us this evening, please let my wife know within the hour so she may plan accordingly. Dinner will be at nineteen, breakfast tomorrow morning is between seven and ten.” With that, he bowed again and let himself out.

Shizune and I stood there for a moment, looking around, and I said, [I’m almost afraid to touch anything.]

She smiled and nodded. She strolled over to the window at the back of the room and slid open the shade. She gestured for me to join her, and we stood and admired the view for a few minutes. The backyard garden was a work of art even more well attended than the front yard. As we looked, Mr. Shirakawa entered the back yard with a basket and trowel in his hand, and he knelt beside a flowerbed to work.

[I have been in four-star ryokans that were less well appointed than this “humble” little bed and breakfast,] Shizune said, a wry smile on her face.

I nodded. I’d never been to a four-star ryokan, but I’d certainly never stayed at a place as nice as this. [Shall we dine here tonight? I hadn’t made any reservations for dinner,] I said.

She nodded. [I will be intrigued to see if the cuisine is as fine as the accommodations.]

We did a little bit of unpacking, then left to visit the kaleidoscope museum. On our way out, we told Mrs. Shirakawa that we’d love to dine with them this evening, an announcement which seemed to please her greatly.

The kaleidoscope museum was fun, and surprisingly educational. We wandered the town for a while after that, enjoying seeing new sights. We returned to the minshuku in time for dinner. It was a surprisingly normal home-cooked meal, with rice and soup and a whole cooked fish. Tasty and well prepared, but not as artisanal as the rest of the house. It was almost reassuring to know that the Shirakawas weren’t professionally adept at everything they touched. But we praised the food and thanked them mightily, and it wasn’t a stretch to do so.

After dinner, we returned to our room. [What would you like to do this evening?] Shizune asked with a small smile.

I smiled back. [Actually, I’ve already made plans for us.]

[Oh?] She looked skeptical.

I nodded. [We have a reservation at a small onsen down the street at nine o’clock.]

Her skeptical look faded, and she smiled approvingly. [That sounds lovely. Although it will be a shame to spend part of our romantic holiday apart.]

I smiled, feeling smug. [But we won’t have to. This onsen has a few couples’ rooms, smaller baths that can be reserved for just two people.]

She looked pleased. [It will be nice to have my back scrubbed.]

I leered cheerfully at her. [Is that all?]

She frowned at me. [We are not going to defile an onsen! How crass!]

I laughed. [I know, I know. But that doesn’t mean we can’t cuddle.]

She nodded. [True.]

We asked Mrs. Shirakawa if we could borrow towels to take to the onsen, but when we told her where we were going, she assured us that that particular onsen provided towels. She offered to drive us there, but since it was only a few blocks away, we opted to walk. Though I must admit I had some small curiosity as to whether or not her car was as neat and tidy as the house.

The onsen was beautiful and cozy, but also warm and personable in a way that the minshuku wasn’t. We were shown to a room with a large tub set into the floor, taking up a third of the room. Steaming water was flowing into the tub via a trough in the wall. The air was filled with steam rising off the water, redolent with the smell of minerals. Not at all sulphurous, I was relieved to find.

I helped Shizune undress, then placed a plastic bag over her cast and wrapped a rubber band around her bicep to help keep the water out. Naked, she was gorgeous as always, but with the bag on her arm the sight she presented was a little amusing. We turned to the low stools and buckets set beside the tub for washing.

[Shall I scrub your back?] I offered with a smile.

She returned the smile. [I’ll scrub yours if you scrub mine.]

I washed a bit more than just her back, but she shoved my hands away from her breasts when they lingered there. She turned around. [No sex in the onsen!] she scolded, her cheeks flushing.

I sighed, disappointed but not surprised. I strove to look innocent as I said, [I just wanted to make sure you were clean.]

[Right, because my nipples are always so filthy,] she replied with an arch look.

[It never hurts to be thorough.]

She laughed her silent laugh, then she motioned for me to turn around. She scrubbed my back with almost ruthless efficiency. Alas, she was able to control her roaming hands.

“Sorry, dude,” I muttered down at my semi-erect cock. “Maybe later.”

The water was hot enough to sting when I put my feet in, and we sat on the edge of the bath for a few moments, with just our legs in, getting used to the heat. Shizune leaned against me, and we snuggled, relaxing in the heat.

She slipped into the bath first, hissing slightly as she submerged herself, carefully keeping her plastic-wrapped arm above water. I entered the water more cautiously, but the sting of the heat quickly faded, turning relaxing. I smiled at Shizune, and she slid over next to me. She rested her left arm on the edge of the tub and slipped her right shoulder under mine, leaning up against me. I sighed happily at feeling her close, her smooth skin feeling even more slick and smooth in the mineral water. I turned my head sideways and kissed the top of her head. She turned and smiled up at me, her beautiful eyes not hidden behind her glasses for a change. Perhaps not surprisingly, given that almost the only time I saw her without her glasses was while we were making love, I associated her naked eyes with intimate activities. I felt my pulse quicken as I bent to give her another gentle kiss, and—

No, my pulse wasn’t quickening. It was…stuttering. I gasped, and Shizune smiled, perhaps assuming that my reaction was one of passion. Her smile faded as I gaped at her, wide eyed. I squeezed her tight with my left arm as my right hand grabbed for my chest. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to take a deep breath, trying to calm my heart, calm myself. Shizune slithered out of my grasp, slick with the mineral water, and I heard splashing as she got out of the tub. I tried to keep myself from sliding further into the water—It’s rude to submerge your head in the onsen, I suddenly remembered my father telling me when I was a little boy, during my first visit to a public onsen.

Before I could slip under water, Shizune’s right hand was under my armpit, yanking upwards. I feebly shoved my feet under me, trying to help her, and between the two of us I managed to slide my ass up to the edge of the tub, and flopped onto my back on the floor beside the tub.

Shizune stared at me for a long moment as I lay there gasping, then she started to rise. I had a sudden, terrifying mental image of her running naked through this respectable little onsen, screaming for help, and I grabbed at her wrist. I shook my head at her. “No,” I gasped. “I’m okay, I’m fine, I’m good,” I said, repeating myself in different ways to make sure she could read my words. I shakily waved my other hand in the sign for [okay,] but I wasn’t sure if I was understandable.

“You are not okay,” she snapped, tension adding some emotional color to her tone of voice for a change.

“But…I will be,” I panted. “It’s just a flutter. I’m better already.” I was surprised and relieved to realize that I was telling the truth. My heart was settling down into a steadier rhythm even as we spoke. Hooray for working out.

I cautiously tried to sit up. Shizune looked for a moment like she was going to push me back down onto my back, then she changed her mind and helped me. I pulled my legs out of the tub, and rubbed at my chest scar as I leaned against her. I took several deep breaths, focused on slow and steady breathing. After a minute of that, I looked up at Shizune and tried to give her a reassuring smile. “See? All better.”

She gave me an exasperated look. “Was that ‘all better’?” she asked. “I don’t thint so.” She moved in front of me so we could sign more easily.

I shrugged, conceding the point. [Better than I was,] I said. [I’m sorry I scared you.]

[What happened? Was the heat too much for you?]

I was already red from the heat of the bath, so hopefully my embarrassed blush wasn’t visible. [Maybe. I meant to ask Nurse if it was okay for me to visit an onsen, but I forgot.]

[You. Forgot.] Her eyes sparked dangerously as she glared at me.

I almost told her how beautiful she looked, wet and naked and her chest heaving with emotion, but then my sense of self-preservation kicked in and I just nodded meekly at her. [Sorry.]

Shizune covered her eyes with her hand. Her shoulders started to shake, soft choked noises coming from her, and I was startled to realize she was crying. Hesitantly, I reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder, but she knocked it aside and glared at me, tears leaking down her face.

[I. Am. Furious with you right now. You do not get to die on me just because you forgot to ask a basic medical question!]

I was embarrassed by my absent-mindedness, and sorry for scaring her, but I was also annoyed by her reaction. [It’s not that big a deal. I’m fine,] I protested.

She just stared at me, looking incredulous.

[Really, I’m fine,] I reiterated.

She stood up and turned away from me. She grabbed a towel off a stack and began drying off, her motions jerky and angry. She yanked the plastic bag off her cast and tossed it in the trash. She grabbed her clothes and started to put them on.

I rose to my feet, swaying only slightly as I did so. I stepped over to her and touched her arm, to get her attention. She spun towards me, still scowling. [What?]

[Will you face me so we can talk?]

She glared at me for a moment, then shook her head. [No. I’m too angry to talk right now.] And she turned away from me and resumed dressing. She yanked on her shirt, shoving her bra into her purse instead of asking me to help her fasten it.

Sighing, I also picked up a towel and dried off, getting dressed in the angry silence. I glumly reflected that I should have only booked a single hour at the onsen, not two.

Shizune exited the onsen and waited for me at the curb while I returned the room key and checked out. At least she didn’t stalk off without me.

[Thank you for waiting for me,] I said as I joined her.

She shook her head. [I need to stick with you to make sure you don’t drop dead on the walk back to the minshuku.]

I scowled back at her. [It’s not that bad.]

She held up a hand, shaking her head. [I don’t want to have this conversation here.]

[Why not?]

Her jaw rippled as she ground her teeth. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Exhaling slowly, she opened her eyes and said, [I have too much to say. Let’s wait until we’re indoors again.]

Well, at least our argument would be silent, and not disturb the Shirakawas and their other guests. Reluctantly, I nodded to her, and started to walk towards the minshuku. I walked on her right side, unsure as to whether or not I should try to hold hands with her like we usually did.

Shizune solved that question for me when she grabbed my hand, and squeezed it tight. I glanced sideways at her, startled, and she lifted our hands and planted a brief firm kiss on the back of my hand, never looking at me. Well, I guess that was reassuring, to a certain extent. She may be pissed, but she still loved me. I hoped.

Back at the minshuku, I was relieved we managed to get to our room without bumping into anyone else. Shizune sat down cross-legged on the futon, and looked up at me.

[I’m thirsty. Do you want some water?] I asked. The heat of the onsen, brief though it had been, had dehydrated me. Also, I might have been stalling, a little.

She hesitated, then nodded. I went to the bathroom down the hall and got two cups of water. I drank one, and refilled it before going back to our room.

Shizune nodded thanks to me as she took the cup from me, and she also drained it. I offered her the second cup, but she set her empty cup to the side and shook her head. While I was gone she’d pulled out her laptop. I guess she had a lot to say. Since I was out of delaying tactics, I sat down beside her so I could see the screen.

[So…] I began, feeling awkward. I’d never had an argument with a girlfriend before.

Her mouth twitched in a little humorless smile. [So,] she agreed.

[I…get that you’re angry. But…] I wasn’t so stupid as to say she I thought she was being irrational, but that was what it felt like. Instead, I just shrugged helplessly.

She took a deep breath, and typed, You really don’t understand why I’m so upset?

I shook my head.

She nodded slowly, then said, I sometimes forget that you’ve lived with your condition for less than a year. You lack certain ingrained habits that will hopefully come with time.

[Like not forgetting to ask Nurse about onsens?]

Like that, yes. But even more than that, you don’t think about how you affect others—me—when you forget such basic precautions.

I flushed. [I said I was sorry.]

She shook her head. I don’t want you sorry, I want you alive. I was startled to see tears in her eyes, but this time they didn’t look like angry tears. She stared at the laptop, not meeting my eyes. I love you, you ass, and I don’t want to lose you over a simple oversight like this. Tonight, I had a horrifying vision of you dying in front of me, and there was nothing I could do to help. Nothing. Guilt stabbed my gut at that thought. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then she wiped her tears away. Opening her eyes, she scowled at me for a moment, but it looked less ferocious than it had before. An odd mixture of angry and sad.

I just thought of something. Have you done any research or reading about your heart condition?

What? What did that have to do with anything? I shook my head.

Shizune closed her eyes, her scowl replaced by a look of resigned frustration. Opening her eyes, she shook her head. Of course not. I have. When I learned what your condition was called, I looked it up. I wanted to know what I was getting into. Just how likely you were to drop dead on me.

Morbid curiosity compelled me to ask, [What did you find out?]

That you’re incredibly lucky. Your case must be fairly mild, or you would have died your first day at Yamaku, when Emi ran into you.

I winced at the memory of that encounter. [Well…that’s a good thing, right?]

She rolled her eyes. Yes. But “mild” isn’t the same thing as “completely healthy.” Despite the fact that you’re taking care of yourself—taking your meds, working out—you’re still in denial about your condition. You haven’t done any research on your condition, you just accepted whatever information your doctors and Nurse gave you and left it at that. You didn’t explore your other options for better health until Misha and I pushed you into it. You didn’t ask Nurse about, or read about, your limitations. Like the onsen. Or other things. She paused to glare at me.

You can’t continue to live in denial of your condition. You need to address it more directly. If you had, tonight would have never happened.

I blushed, feeling a combination of embarrassed and angry. My emotions must have shown on my face, because Shizune asked me, Why are you mad?

I frowned back at her, trying to figure out what I could say. I was angry because I thought she was making a big deal out of nothing, but I was pretty sure that was the wrong thing to say just now.

Almost dying in front of her is nothing? prompted a little voice in the back of my head. I grimaced and looked down. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for her, to watch me gasping and clutching my chest, not knowing if I was dying or not. Being with her when she broke her arm had been distressing for me, and that hadn’t been a life-threatening situation. I shuddered to imagine what watching her have a heart attack in front of me would feel like.

I sighed, and rubbed my face in my hands for a moment. I looked back up at her. [I’m angry because…you’re right,] I admitted. I saw a brief flash of triumph in Shizune’s eyes, that little delight in victory she got when she won an argument, but it was almost immediately replaced by a softer, gentler expression. One of caring and concern.

[I have been in denial. It’s been hard to adjust to my new limitations. I just…] I blushed, embarrassed to be saying this to my deaf girlfriend, but I was sure she’d understand. [I just want to be normal again.]

She gave me a sad, sympathetic smile, and shook her head. She reached over and stroked my cheek before returning her hand to the keyboard. That’s never going to happen. You’re stuck with this for life.

I snorted. [However long that might be.]

Her expression hardened again. It had better be a damn long time. I don’t intend to give you up anytime soon, so you had better start taking more care of yourself. Learn about yourself, your condition, your limits. The ways you can get better, and ways to avoid getting worse.

I grimaced, still annoyed that she was right, but…well, she was right. [All right. I will. I’m sorry my…ignorance and denial gave you such a scare tonight.]

This time, she smiled at my apology. I know this is hard for you. It’s been a major life change. But Yamaku has a lot of resources to help you adjust to that change. So far, you’ve been doing the minimum you need to get by—or, no, that’s not fair. You working out is more than the minimum. But…

[But I need to own up to the facts, and start looking at my condition seriously. Learn about it. Learn how to live with it better.]

She nodded. Yes. Please. I do love you, heavens know why, and I don’t want to lose you any time soon.

I chuckled. [You sweet-talker, you.]

She smiled. How’s your heart doing?

I blinked. [It’s fine. I’ve been fine since before we left the onsen.]

No other flutters or palpitations?

I shook my head.

You’re certain?

I looked at her curiously. [Yes, I’m certain. Why?]

Her smile became a smirk. Because it is traditional to make up after an argument with sex. But I don’t want to kill you in the process. That would be just too much irony for my tastes.

I laughed out loud at that. [Indeed.] I reached over and gently closed the lid of her laptop, and put it carefully to the side. I pulled her closer, and for a while we just talked with our bodies.

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Last edited by Lap on Mon May 13, 2019 1:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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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Scroff
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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 4-17-19)

Post by Scroff » Fri Apr 19, 2019 3:10 am

Another great chapter with significant development for Hisao. "You are not an island" is an important, humbling, lesson - learning it had a profound effect on me.

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Lap
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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 5-8-19)

Post by Lap » Wed May 08, 2019 6:31 pm

Chapter 15
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The next morning we woke up in time for breakfast. Barely. It was simple but delicious fare, elegantly presented. Afterwards, we went out to explore town a little more. We visited the glass works I'd read about, and Shizune indulged my fascination with the glassblowing as we sat through an hour of demonstrations. I understood the science behind it all, but there was still an aspect of the magical in how the glowing orange molten glass was formed and cooled to a variety of shapes and colors.

After lunch, we passed by a small chocolate shop, then Shizune stopped and pulled me back. [Do your parents like chocolate?] she asked.

I shrugged. [Sure. Who doesn’t?]

[Good. I’ve been looking for a proper gift.] We went inside, and my mouth started watering from the smell, despite having just eaten lunch. The chocolates were on display in glass cases, and looked both beautiful and delicious. And expensive. I grimaced. [I don’t think I’ve ever eaten anything that cost that much per gram,] I said.

She gave me an incredulous look. [These aren’t even that expensive, for good chocolates. You’ve never had good quality chocolate?]

I blushed, for some reason embarrassed by her question. [Well, I guess not? I usually just buy it at the grocery store.]

She blinked at me, then a smile slowly spread across her face. [Okay. I’m buying chocolate for your parents and for you. I can’t wait to see you eating a chocolate truffle for the first time.]

She bought two assortment boxes, one large, one small, and had the large one gift-wrapped. I was a little boggled by the price, but she seemed to think it was reasonable. She refused to let me munch on the chocolates as we walked. [These should be savored sitting down, appreciated. The chocolatier’s artistry must be respected.]

I thought that sounded a little pretentious, but I didn’t say so. I just waited until we got back to the minshuku.

Once we returned to our room, Shizune pulled out the small assortment box of chocolates and opened it. The smell was still wonderful, if fainter than in the store. She studied the box for a long moment, as if debating something, then she pulled out a small dusty looking sphere. Setting it on top of the box lid, she said, [Let’s start you with a simple dark chocolate truffle, covered in cocoa powder. Don’t need anything fancy at first.]

I nodded and picked up the chocolate. I was about to pop it into my mouth when Shizune said, “Wait!”

I blinked, startled, wondering what had provoked her into verbalizing.

She sighed and gave me a long-suffering look. [This isn’t a Crunky chocolate bar. You don’t just eat it all at once. Bite in half. Allow the filling to melt on your tongue. Savor it. Slowly.]

“Okay…” I said dubiously. I did as she instructed.

Despite the way she’d been building this up, I was unprepared for what I tasted. It wasn’t even just the taste. It was also the feeling, the texture, the way the truffle melted and spread out on my tongue, liquifying just by body heat alone. It was not like any chocolate I’d ever tasted before, rich and creamy and subtle. The faint bitterness of the plain cocoa powder on the outside contrasted with the only slightly sweeter inside. It was glorious, in a way I’d never known chocolate could be.

My expression must have been all that Shizune had hoped for, because she actually giggled out loud, sounding gleeful. “Wow,” I said, forgetting to sign. I let the chocolate linger on my tongue for a long moment, then swallowed, floored by what I’d experienced. “That’s…” I caught myself. [That’s amazing.]

Shizune was grinning, looking pleased and smug. [So, you like?]

I laughed. [Oh, yes.] I looked down at the other half of the chocolate in my fingers, then held it out to her. Her smile broadened, and she slowly sucked the chocolate hemisphere from my fingers, sending a small electric jolt through my body at the feeling of her tongue.

She closed her eyes and appreciated the chocolate for a moment herself, then opened her eyes and sighed happily. [Yes, that should do for a gift to your parents.]

[They’ll never know what hit them,] I said. [I don’t think they’ve ever had chocolate that good either. Or at least, if they did, they never shared it with me.]

She grinned. [Why would they, if you were happy with Pocky?]

We worked our way though another three chocolates, feeding them to each other, enjoying them slowly. After the last one, Shizune closed up the box and tucked it away. [We’ll enjoy more tomorrow,] she said.

When we wanted to cuddle and also have conversation, we usually sat facing each other with our legs intertwined, leaning back against pillows. It wasn’t as intimate as having her cuddled up in my lap, but it was necessitated by needing to be able to see each other’s hands. And at least I could run my hand along her lovely calf while listening to her.

[So, since I’m going to be meeting them tomorrow, tell me about your parents,] Shizune asked.

I gave her an unamused stare. [Like you told me about Jigoro in advance?]

She covered her mouth and giggled silently. [I wanted to see how you would cope.]

Hrmph. [Perhaps I’ll return the favor, and let you find out for yourself.]

Shizune smiled and shook her head. [No, you won’t.]

[Won’t I?]

[No, because you’re a much nicer person than I am.]

Well, hell, how do you argue against that? I shrugged and gave her a rueful smile. [My parents…are boring, compared to your father. Stolid, respectable, almost stereotypically normal. They’re rarely at home, except to sleep. They work a lot.]

[Hard workers? They sound like my kind of people.]

I snorted, then thought about it for a moment. I shook my head slowly. [Not…exactly.] I tried to find a way to verbalize my objection to her observation. [You…are very driven. Goal oriented. A hard worker. But you work hard for others. You try to make sure our fellow students are doing well. And you take time out to play now and then. My parents…] I trailed off, reluctant to speak ill of them, but I was realizing some things even as I spoke.

[My parents also work hard, but honestly, I am not totally sure why. I don’t know what drives them. It seems like they feel they always need to make more money. Like what they have is never enough. But we’ve always been fairly well off, since I was a kid. Solidly middle to upper-middle class. But they never take time out to enjoy the things their money could buy them. I can’t complain, their hard work made it possible to afford my attending Yamaku, and I know they’ve set aside enough money for my university, but…I would have gladly had a few less toys and DVDs growing up in exchange for spending more time with them.]

Shizune regarded me seriously, and I shook my hands out, stretching them. I didn’t often sign that much all at once.

[Do you resent their work?] she asked.

I started to shake my head no, then thought a moment. “Maybe?” I frowned. [It feels churlish, ungrateful, to resent that which gave me a comfortable life growing up, but…]

[But you miss them.]

I gave her a sour smile. [I’m not sure I can miss something I never had. I attended after-school day care when I was young, then took care of myself at home as I got older. I ate a lot of frozen food, or junk from fast-food restaurants. Sometimes, they came home after I went to bed, and left before I woke up. Even when they didn’t work six days a week, what little time they were home on weekends was often spent catching up on their sleep.]

[That sounds lonely.]

[No, I hung out with my friends, spent probably too much time in arcades with them, or at their houses. I wasn’t alone, I just…didn’t have much in the way of parents.]

Shizune leaned forward and stroked my cheek, looking sympathetic. I caught her hand and kissed it, and smiled at her. Releasing her hand, I added, [But I can tell you one thing for sure. I’m definitely going to be a major part of my children’s lives.]

She blinked, looking startled by my talking about my future children, and I realized that I might be talking about our children. Or not. Depending upon how our relationship worked out.

But the thought having risen in my mind, I found myself hoping that they would be ours. I swallowed nervously, and asked, [Do you think…you would ever want to have children? Someday?]

Shizune stared at me, wordless, for a long moment, before nodding slowly, solemnly. [I would like children someday, yes. Although I sometimes fear I’m too selfish, too driven, to be a good mother. But you…you would definitely be a good father.]

I blinked back tears, my emotional reaction to that simple statement taking me by surprise. [I hope so.]

She smiled. [I know so.]

I slid closer to her and hugged her tight, cutting off communication for the moment. But she surprised me by saying, “Any child would be luggy to have you for a father.”

I drew a deep, shuddering breath in response, my reaction to that statement overwhelming me. I pulled back so she could see my face, and smiled at her. “I love you.”

She smiled back, and ran a thumb down my cheek, wiping away an errant tear. “I love you too.”

We just cuddled together for a while then, not saying anything. It was probably too soon to be talking about “our” children, but this felt like it came one step closer to that. I idly ran a hand up and down her back, enjoying the feel of having her close.

Eventually, we pulled back apart so we could continue our conversation. [I don’t want to give you the wrong impression of my parents. They aren’t bad people. They provide for me, they love me, and want me to do well. They’re just…]

[Absent.]

I nodded. That was a good way to put it.

[Well, I shall attempt to reserve judgement until I meet them for myself. Although I think anyone who doesn’t want to spend time with you is foolish, and missing out.]

I laughed a little at that. [You’re too kind.]

It felt like the time was finally right to ask her about something I had wondered about for a while now, but had been too shy to bring up. [As long as we’re talking about parents…] I hesitated, then drew a deep breath for courage. [You’ve never said anything about your mother. I know nothing about her.]

Shizune had stiffened at the word “mother,” then she sighed and relaxed. She stared at the floor for a long moment, then looked back up at me. [My mother died when I was nine. Cancer. It was quick, less than three months between her diagnosis and death.]

[I’m sorry. I didn’t know.]

[Of course you didn’t. I never mention her.]

[Why not?]

She closed her eyes for a few moments, brow furrowed. [Habit, I suppose. My father never wants to talk about her, or be reminded of her. So I’ve just stopped talking about her.] She looked sad. [Which isn’t fair. She deserves to be remembered. Cherished. I still miss her.]

[She must have been a saint, to put up with Jigoro.]

Shizune smiled. [She was good for him, yes. My father…] She grimaced. [He was not always as bombastic and overbearing as he is now. I think she tempered him, brought out his better qualities. He’s always been larger than life, flamboyant, but he was more caring and affectionate when Mother was alive. Less quick to judge.] She paused, staring off into the distance. [Akira once said she thought that something inside him broke when Mother died, and I think she’s right. He loved her with all his being, and when she died, she took part of him with her. Now, I think he’s so abrasive partly to make sure no one can ever get so close to him again. Can never hurt him like that again.]

[Unfortunately, that also seems to include you, and Hideaki,] I observed.

She nodded, looking sad.

I tried to turn the conversation to less a depressing track. [So, if your mother deserves to be remembered, tell me more about her. What are some of your favorite memories of her?]

Shizune smiled, her face softening in reminiscence. [I remember the first time I beat her at Gomoku. She was so proud of me for beating her. She bragged about me for days.]

[How old were you?]

[Seven.] I was impressed. [Once I graduated from simple children’s games, she never played other than to win.] She grinned. [Mind you, it was over a year before I beat her again, but that memory kept me going for a long time.]

[So, you don’t get all of your competitive nature from your father.]

Shizune shook her head. [Far from it. It was part of why they worked so well together. But she was the one who played games with me. Father took his competitive spirit to the workplace.]

[Did she introduce you to RISK?]

Shizune’s smile faltered, and she shook her head again. [I didn’t discover that game until middle school.] She looked wistful. [I would have loved to have played it with her, though. She would have given me a good fight.]

[Unlike me?] I teased, trying to lighten the mood. She grinned.

[Indeed. She would have eaten you alive. But…I also think she would have liked you.]

I cocked my head, curious. [Why?] Not that I was fishing for compliments or anything.

Shizune smiled fondly at me. [Because you’re good to me. And good for me.] She reached out with her functional hand and captured one of my hands before I could respond, and kissed it.

I kissed hers in return, then retrieved my hand and smiled at her. [So, tell me more about her…]

________________________


We arrived at my parents’ house shortly after lunch the next day. At my house, I guess, although it no longer felt like such, after nearly a year away. I almost felt like an intruder, unlocking the door and letting myself in.

My old beat-up slippers were still in the shoe cubby by the door. I slipped them on, and looked around the living room. Nothing much had changed since I was last there. No new furniture, no new pictures on the walls. It was, however, a lot tidier than when I had lived there. In some ways, it reminded me of the Shirakawas’ place, it was so orderly, but here that tidiness just felt unlived-in, vacant, not an anal-retentive’s showpiece of a perfect room. I took a deep breath, and even the scent of the place had changed. I wondered if that was due to my absence, or something else.

“Nice,” said Shizune behind me, and I realized I’d just been standing there staring. I shook my head, and turned to face her.

[It feels odd being back here. I haven’t been here since before my heart attack.]

She looked surprised. [You went straight from the hospital to school?]

I nodded. [I think my parents wanted to keep me under constant medical supervision, which I wouldn’t have had if I came home.]

She cocked her head as if considering that notion, then shook her head. [Maybe. But that must have been hard on you.]

I shrugged, a little embarrassed. [Somewhat. But after four months in the hospital, mostly I was just happy to be anywhere else.]

[No wonder you were depressed when you first arrived.]

I blushed, and decided to change the topic. [Shall I show you around?]

Shizune regarded me for a moment, then nodded with a small smile. [Sure.]

Although it was a nice house, it was nowhere near as large as Shizune’s, and our “tour” took less than ten minutes. I ended in my old room, where Shizune looked around at my cluttered shelves and walls with interest. [So you haven’t always had such a boring room as your dorm room.]

[I prefer to think of my dorm room as uncluttered and serene, like a Zen garden,] I replied loftily.

Shizune laughed. [Maybe we should take some of these posters back to school for your room.]

I contemplated the various posters adorning my wall, from games I used to play, and soccer and pop stars, and astronomical photographs. [Maybe the ones of the nebula, and Saturn,] I said. [The rest…just don’t mean much to me anymore.]

Shizune nodded.

I plopped down on my bed, automatically pulling my pillow up behind my back as I leaned against the wall. [My mother said they’d come home early tonight, which for them means around six o’clock. What would you like to do for the next four or five hours?]

She looked thoughtful for a moment, then she sat down next to me, turning to face me so we could talk. [Do you have something you wish to do? Someone you’d like to see? Meet up with your old friends?]

I shrugged uncomfortably. [I…didn’t exactly end on the best of terms with them when I left.] I’d told her of my hospital stay, and how Mai, Takumi, and Shin had drifted away, driven away by my bad moods.

[How long have you known them?] she asked.

The question surprised me. [Since early grade school.]

[So, seven to ten years?]

I nodded. [About that.]

[Do you think you should throw away that many years of friendship just because you were in a bad place after a life-altering accident?]

[Well…no, but…why would they want to see me?]

She gave me one of her flat stares. [Because you’re their friend?] she asked. [It might be nice to show them you’ve gotten better. That you haven’t just continued to sink into that pit of gloom and despair they last saw you in.]

I winced at the way she summed it up, but she wasn’t wrong. I sighed.[Yeah, but…] I trailed off, uncertain of what to say.

[But you’re embarrassed to contact them.]

Was I? I thought about it for a moment, then realized she was right. Again. Dammit. [Yeah, of course. I was a jerk to them. I didn’t appreciate what they tried to do for me.]

[So, start with an apology.]

I thought about that for a long moment. [How?]

Shizune looked exasperated. “Hey, I’m sorry I was so cloomy and rude last sprin. Would you lite to ket to’ether for tea?”

I snorted and shook my head. It wasn’t that easy.

Was it?

Shizune regarded me. [You want to see them, don’t you?]

[Yes, but…]

[Is apologizing really so hard?]

[It’s not just that.] She waited, regarding me with a patient expression. Finally, I admitted, [What if they won’t accept my apology?]

[Then they probably weren’t very good friends to begin with, so, no loss. Do you really think that’s likely?]

I shook my head. [Not really.]

She reached over and slid her good hand into my pants pocket, and for a moment I thought she was getting amorous, but she just pulled out my phone and held it out to me. “Gall them. Who should you gall first?”

I gave that some thought. I took my phone from Shizune so she’d have her hand free to speak again. I stared at it, considering, then I pulled up Shin’s number and, after a moment’s hesitation, hit call. After a couple of rings, Shin picked up. “Yo. Hisao?”

I had to swallow before I could reply. “Yeah, hey, Shin, it’s me.”

He laughed. “Hey, wow, dude, I thought you’d fallen off the face of the earth. What’s the matter, you got no cell phone reception at that katawa school?”

I winced a little at the phrase. “No, there’s phone service there. It just…I needed some time to get my head out of my ass before I could talk to you again.”

He snorted. “Yeah, that sounds like something that could take some time.” There was a hint of bitterness under his joking tone.

I took a deep breath. “Yeah. It did. I know I was an ass last spring. I’m sorry for the way I treated you guys.”

Shin was silent for a long moment. Finally he said, “Huh. Whaddya know. Mai was right.”

“Mai? Right about what?”

“She said you’d come around eventually, get your shit together. Takumi and me, we figured…well, never mind.”

I wondered what it was that they’d thought, but I was probably happier not knowing. “Glad to know at least she had some faith in me. It was more than I did, at times.”

“But now you’re calling me up to, do what, exactly?”

I sighed. “To apologize,” I reiterated. “And…I’m in town. For a couple of days, visiting my folks. I’d…kinda like to see you all. Again. Maybe apologize in person. See how everyone’s doing.”

“We’re doing fine, same old, same old.”

I glanced over at Shizune, and added, “Also, I’d like to introduce you to my girlfriend.”

He laughed. “Girlfriend? Dude, I’ve already met your right hand.”

I snorted. That sounded more like the Shin I knew. “And when will I get to meet your girlfriend?” I challenged, knowing he’d never had a date.

His laughter trailed off. “Er. Uh. Well, actually…”

Oho. “Actually?” I drawled. “Did you and Mai finally confess to each other?”

He choked. “What? Mai? Dude, she’s like my freaking sister. I couldn’t date her! Gross! Get your mind out of the gutter!”

I blinked, surprised. The two of them had been squabbling and teasing each other for so long, I had always assumed that they’d eventually end up together. I guess that’s the problem with getting your relationship advice from anime. “So…if not Mai…who’s the lucky girl? Anyone I know?”

“Uh…Oh, hell.” He groaned, then said, “Yeah, I’d say you know her. It’s, um, Iwanako.”

I froze, stunned. Iwanako? And Shin? I tried to picture brash, loud Shin with the quiet and poised Iwanako, and failed.

I must have been silent for longer than I thought, because Shin said, “Hisao? You still there, dude? I didn’t give you another freaking heart attack, did I?”

At that, I had to laugh, breaking my paralysis. “No, I’m still alive. For now. Though if you hit me with too many more stunners like that I may not be for long.” I shook my head. “Iwanako? Seriously? And you? You’re not just jerking my chain?” It would be the kind of joke Shin would make.

“Nah, not about this. She’s…well, I don’t have to tell you, she’s really special.” His voice held a quiet, gentle note I’d never heard from Shin before. “I never thought I could get so lucky, y’know?”

Wow. I shook my head. “Uh, well, congratulations.”

“Really? You mean that? You’re not pissed at me for stealing your girl?”

I stopped and thought about that for a moment. “Yeah, I mean it. She was never actually my girl to steal in the first place. Not really.” I glanced at Shizune again, and smiled, relaxing. “And besides, I found someone even better.”

Shin laughed, sounding relieved. “Well, I’d have to disagree, but to each their own, dude.”

“Yeah. Congratulations,” I repeated.

“Thanks.” He cleared his throat. “So…you really want to get together with us?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Well, Mai and I were going to hit the arcades this afternoon. I could see if Takumi wanted to join us.”

“And Iwanako?”

He hesitated. “You want to see her again, too?”

“If she’s willing to see me, yeah,” I said, hoping I sounded more certain than I felt. “I figure I owe her an even bigger apology than I owe you guys. Though I could understand if she didn’t want to see me again.”

“I’ll ask her. Dunno what she’ll say. She was pretty pissed at you for a while.”

I winced. “Yeah, I’m sure. Well, do whatever feels best. I’d understand if she doesn’t want to see me in person, just let her know I’m sorry for how I treated her, okay?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

“So, where were you meeting Mai?”

“The arcade just off Ekimae-dori. Do you remember it?”

I snorted. We must have spent hundreds of hours there. “I had a heart attack, not amnesia.”

“Ass. We’re gonna meet around two. You wanna call Takumi, or should I?”

I wasn’t sure which would be better. “Which way is more likely to get him to come? Is he pissed at me too?”

“Eh…I’ll call him,” Shin said, not answering my question. “See you at two.”

“See you.”

I put down my phone, and looked over at Shizune. [Were you able to follow any of that?]

She shook her head. [You looked down, looking embarrassed, so I couldn’t read you. Actually, at some points you looked like you wanted to curl up into a little ball.]

I rolled my eyes. [Yeah, sorry about that.] I gave her a synopsis of the conversation.

Her eyebrows shot up partway through my recap, but she waited until I was done to ask a single-word question: [Iwanako?]

I sighed. [Yeah.]

[Good.]

I blinked, surprised. [Good?]

[Yes. You owe her the largest apology. And also…] Her smile acquired a razor-sharp edge. [I want to meet the woman who could give you a heart attack just by confessing to you.]

I groaned.

Shizune changed clothes, out of her traveling outfit into something sharper and sexier. Or at least as sharp and sexy as she could get, when a cast and a sling were unavoidable fashion accessories. I wasn’t sure if she did it to help me “show off” my new girlfriend, or if she was dressing to make sure she out-shone Iwanako, and I was afraid to ask.

We caught the bus downtown. I tried to point out to Shizune various landmarks as we went, places I remembered fondly, but I was a bit distracted. We garnered some curious glances on the bus as we talked, and I was reminded that not everywhere is like Yamaku, used to seeing signed conversations.

We walked the short distance from the bus stop to the arcade hand-in-hand. When we approached the arcade, Shizune asked, “Where do you meet?”

I turned to face her. [Usually by the token dispensers over there,] I pointed. We wandered over there, but none of my friends were there yet. It was more crowded than usual for a weekday, probably due to the holidays. I took the opportunity to buy some tokens. Shizune shot me an inquiring look, and I shrugged. [Habit. We usually play a bit before going for snacks and drinks.] She nodded.

After a few minutes of nervous waiting, with me continuously scanning the crowd, Shizune asked, [Are they usually late?]

[Takumi frequently is, but Mai and Shin are usually pretty on-time.]

[If they were all meeting up together before coming to meet you, they may be delayed by Takumi, then,] she observed.

Possible, I supposed, but why would they be meeting up together before hand? Deciding who gets to chew me out for which offense?

Shizune must have noticed my increasing unease, because she said, [Let’s play a game while we wait.]

I nodded, agreeable to the notion of a distraction. [What would you like to play?]

[We should stick to one of the games near here, so we can find each other.]

I nodded, and looked around for a game which could be played with one hand, or at least, with one hand and a simple button-push for the other hand; she could manage that much with her arm in a cast. Shizune tapped my arm and pointed to a console behind us.

It was a two-person shooter, with plastic light-guns. It wasn’t one I’d played a lot, but I recalled one of the nice features of this game was that the guns had recoil, they actually jerked in your hand when you shot. I nodded in agreement, and we stepped over to the console. [Have you ever played this one before?] I asked.

She shook her head. [I’ve played shooters, but not this one.]

I fed the machine its requisite number of tokens, while Shizune picked up her gun and hefted it. I selected the simplest, tutorial level, to give her a chance to get familiar with the game mechanics. I picked up my own weapon, and she gave me a grin and a nod. I hit the start button and faced the console.

I knew she wouldn’t appreciate my going easy on her, so I played as best I could. I got in a few good shots early on, but she rapidly improved, picking up the system’s quirks and quickly copying my own tricks. I beat her, but not by as much as I’d expected.

She didn’t look at all disappointed at losing. She grinned at me, and asked, [Again?]

I looked around the arcade, but there was still no sign of my friends. I pushed down my nervousness at that, and nodded to Shizune. I again ponied up the tokens for our game. I started to select the tutorial level again, but Shizune said, “No. Do the nezt level.” I looked at her, and she nodded firmly, so I did as she asked. I thought she was jumping the gun (so to speak), but sometimes her competitive nature got the better of her.

It was a blood bath. I scored barely half as many points as she did.

“Well, at least you found someone who can properly kick your ass,” I heard Shin’s voice behind me as the game ended. I put down the gun and turned to see we had an audience. I touched Shizune’s arm to get her attention, and she turned too.

They’d all come, even Iwanako, who was hanging back a bit, behind Shin. I was surprised at the surge of relief I felt at seeing them all. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d missed them until now. Of course, that relief was tempered by the memory of how I’d treated them all when last I saw them. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but grin to see them. “Hey, guys,” I said, automatically signing for Shizune as I did. “It’s great to see you.” My three old friends looked puzzled by my moving hands, but Iwanako, oddly enough, just looked intrigued.

As they all nodded and replied with variations on “Good to see you too,” I continued, “I’d like to introduce my girlfriend, Shizune Hakamichi. Shizune, this is Shin Obara, Iwanako Koyanagi, Takumi Sera, and Mai Yasui”

Shizune bowed, and said, “I am honored and delighted to finally meet you all.”

As they returned her bow with varying degrees of formality, Shin just barely nodding his head, I added, “I should mention, she’s deaf, so I’ll be translating for her. Though she can speechread, it’s not very reliable, especially in group situations.”

Iwanako startled me by stepping out from behind Shin and signing, [I am pleased meet you. I am Iwanako.] Her gestures were slow and stiff, but understandable.

I looked over at Shizune, who was smiling broadly in delighted surprise. I was glad to notice that I wasn’t the only one staring at Iwanako in amazement. Apparently no one else had known she could sign either.

[I am most pleased to meet you, too. Please, call me Shizune,] she signed in return, slowing her hands to a pace closer to Iwanako’s. Iwanako frowned in concentration as she stared at Shizune, working out the odd mix of single-handed signs and yubimoji that Shizune was forced to use, then she smiled as she figured out what Shizune was saying. [How is it you know sign?] Shizune asked.

Iwanako paused, as if trying to remember her words, a pause I was all too familiar with from my own stumbling signing. [My sister marriage a deaf man,] she said. [I want make him welcome. Sister teach me.]

I was reflexively translating Iwakano’s signs out loud for the others, which earned me a flustered look from Iwanako, as well as curious looks from the other three.

“Ah, sorry,” I said, blushing a little. “Habit. I translate for Shizune at school sometimes, so I often sign and speak both sides of a conversation so no one is left out.” Of course, my hands were signing as I spoke, and Iwanako smiled approvingly at me.

“That’s very kind of you,” she said, then she paused and signed the same thing. She frowned. [And not easy.]

“It takes practice,” I agreed and signed. “But I have a stern task-mistress to help keep me motivated. Ow!” I jumped as Shizune punched me in the arm at that last.

The others laughed, even Shizune, with her silent laugh.

“But she spoke to us just now,” said Takumi, sounding puzzled.

“I am deaf, not mute,” Shizune said. “Though behause I gan’t hear my own voice, I know I sound odd to hearin’ people.”

“Right. Well, did you want to play more games, or should we go grab a drink?” Shin asked, his words a little loud and slow. Shizune, Iwanako and I all grimaced at the way he spoke.

“She’s totally deaf, Shin,” I said. “Speaking louder won’t make her hear you any better. And if you speak slowly and exaggeratedly, it actually makes it harder for her to speechread what you’re saying.”

“Just speak normally,” Iwanako added. “Or better yet, just let me do the talking.” Since she seemed to be trying to sign her own words as she spoke, I didn’t translate for her.

When she finished, Shizune grinned. “Indeed, the boys would be better off to let us always do all the talging,” she said to Iwanako. Iwanako giggled at that, and even Mai, who’d been silent up til now, snorted a little laugh.

“Hey!” Shin and I protested, which just garnered more amusement from the female half of our group. Though in reality, I was mostly relieved that Shizune and Iwanako seemed to be getting along instead of fighting.

Takumi just rolled his eyes and turned toward the exit. “Come on, let’s go get a snack.” We followed him out of the arcade, Shin falling in step beside him, followed by Shizune and Iwanako. That left me with Mai, who’d been almost totally silent this whole time.

“Hey, Mai,” I said, feeling a little nervous because of her stony-faced silence. “How’ve you been?”

“Fine,” she replied curtly.

“It’s good to see you,” I offered, but she just grunted in return.

I sighed. Shin had said Mai had expressed faith that I’d eventually pull out of my depression, but apparently that faith didn’t preclude her also being pissed off at me. “Listen, I’m sorry I was such a jerk last winter,” I began, but she snorted and shook her head. “What?” I asked.

She gave me a side-long glower. “Last winter? Really?”

I frowned, uncertain as to what she was getting at. “Um. Yeah? I feel like I owe you an apology for how I treated you when I was in the hospital.”

She shook her head again, a look of disbelief on her face. “Hey, ‘Nako,” she called ahead. “Do you know the sign for ‘oblivious idiot’? Ask Shizune if Hisao is still an oblivious idiot.”

What?” I spluttered, as Iwanako laughed. The four of us stopped walking, and I watched as Iwanako slowly translated Mai’s question to Shizune.

Shizune arched an eyebrow in surprise at the question, but then she smirked and said, “He’s not totally oblivious. Not as lawn as I hit him with big enough glues.”

“Oh, now, that’s just not fair,” I grumbled.

Shizune eyed Mai and me, then shook her head. “Be shentle with him, Mai. He’s cot a good heart under it all.” She paused, frowned, then added, “Metaphoritally speagin’, I mean.”

Iwanako and Mai laughed at that last. I rolled my eyes, and pointedly started walking towards the cafe. Thankfully, Iwanako and Shizune took the hint, and resumed walking too. The two of them seemed to be getting by with Iwanako signing slowly and Shizune speaking out loud in return.

Mai resumed walking beside me, her hand stuffed in her jacket pockets. She sighed. “It’s hard to be mad at you when you don’t even know what I’m mad at you for.”

“Um. I guess I really don’t. Know, I mean,” I said cautiously. I felt like I was having a flashback to my argument with Shizune of a couple nights ago. “I mean, I thought last winter…”

She looked up to the heavens for a moment, as if looking for strength, then said, “Last winter you’d just had a heart attack. Yeah, you were an ass, but it was understandable. Your whole world had been turned upside down. You’d become disabled overnight, at seventeen. No one could really blame you for getting depressed and mopey under those circumstances. Although I do appreciate the apology.”

“Thanks—er, you’re welcome—I mean—” I stopped. “I don’t know what I mean.”

“Yeah.” We walked in silence for a few more steps. “But that was last winter. It’s been eight months since then, you jerk, and you’ve never called or emailed or texted a single one of us. It was like you really had died.” She scowled. “And then you just pop up and are like, hey, wanna go to the arcade and meet my new girlfriend? like nothing ever happened.”

I could feel my face burning. “That goes two ways, you know. You could have called me any time in the last eight months.”

“Really? You made it pretty plain when we last saw you that you didn’t want us around, didn’t want us to talk to you. You never replied to the letter ‘Nako sent to you, which seemed like a pretty strong signal.” She sighed. “I dunno, maybe I should have ignored your wishes,” she conceded. “But it felt like the ball was in your court. It was your move.”

We walked along in silence, arriving at the cafe. I could see Shin and Takumi already at a table inside, and Shizune and Iwanako were joining them. Mai and I paused outside, staring at each other. She was one of my oldest friends, and, like Shin had said, almost a sister to me. And I’d just ignored her for eight months. No wonder she was angry. Maybe she could have called me, too, but so could have I. In the end, where the blame lay didn’t really matter.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s been a long and weird journey, getting my head together, dealing with this,” I rubbed my chest. I snorted. “I’m still learning how to cope with it, as Shizune could tell you. But…” I smiled hesitantly down at her. “I do know I don’t want to lose you. Or Shin or Takumi. So…forgive me? Please?”

Mai just stared back at me for a long moment, frowning. Then her frown slowly melted into a rueful smile. “Well, how can I refuse such a lovely request?” She leaned forward and gave me a hug, startling me. I could count on one hand the number of times she’d hugged me over the years. I gently hugged her back, enjoying the feeling of her in my arms, smelling the floral scent of her shampoo under my nose. She was shorter than Shizune, short enough to fit under my chin, and it was almost like hugging Emi.

“You’d better do a better job of keeping in touch, you jerk,” she said, as she pulled away from me.

“I will,” I promised. I wiped at my eyes, and gestured toward the cafe door. “Shall we go in?”

________________________


From there, I was amazed at how smoothly things went. I wasn’t sure if Mai had been the designated spokeswoman for my friends’ complaints about me, or if the other three were just less upset, but after a little while, it felt as if I’d never left. Even the addition of Iwanako and Shizune to the group felt natural. The two of them got along surprisingly well, much to my relief. They fell to talking together while I chatted with the other three, catching up on the last eight months.

Before I knew it, a couple of hours had passed. Shizune and Iwanako had started teaching the other three some basic signs, and we were all laughing at their fumbling attempts at communication.

“I’m afraid we’ve got to get going. My parents will be home soon,” I said regretfully.

Your parents? Before midnight?” asked Takumi with only slightly feigned incredulity.

“They probably miss good old what’s-his-name, their son,” said Shin drily.

“No, I think they must really want to meet the new girlfriend,” said Iwanako with a smile.

I suspected the last was closest to the truth, and, judging by the slightly nervous look that flashed across Shizune’s face, she must have agreed. But any visible doubt was quickly suppressed. “I luh forward to meetin’ them, too,” she said. “I am happy to have seen this window into Hisao’s past today. Than you all for makin’ me feel welgum.” She smiled at Iwanako. [Thank you,] she repeated.

Iwanako returned her smile warmly. [You’re welcome. I’m glad to see Hisao happy with you.]

[And I’m glad to see you happy with Shin. Remember what I said about keeping him in line,] Shizune replied. I decided that that last line didn’t need to be translated for the larger group.

We paid for our food and drinks and headed out to the bus stop. Shin, Mai and I were all on the same bus line, so we said our goodbyes to Iwanako and Takumi at the bus stop. I was charmed to see Shin, usually so bold and certain, looking awkwardly affectionate with Iwanako as they parted ways. He waved to her as she and Takumi boarded their bus.

[Do you mind if I sit with Shin?] I asked Shizune just before we boarded our bus.

She shook her head, and pulled out the pen and notebook she kept handy, presumably to allow her to converse with Mai.

“You’ve got a good thing going there with Iwanako,” I said to Shin after we sat down, with Mai and Shizune behind us.

He gave me a slightly nervous smile. “Yeah. I know. I just…”

After a moment of silence, I prompted, “You just what?”

He sighed. “I just hope I don’t mess it up, y’know?”

“How would you do that?”

He shook his head. “I…I’m not sure. But sometimes I just feel so damn lucky, and it seems like it’s too good to be true. Like I’ll wake up one day and it’ll all be a dream.”

I wasn’t sure what I could say to reassure him on that front, since I didn’t really know how they worked together. Which prompted me to ask, “So, how did the two of you end up together, anyway?”

He grimaced. “After your heart attack…Iwanako got shunned at school.”

What? Why?”

“People were calling her ‘heartbreaker’ and ‘killer.’ It was pretty ugly, for a while. Mai was the only girlfriend who stuck by her, and ‘Nako began to hang out with the three of us. Kinda taking your place in the group, in a weird sort of way.”

I frowned, thinking. “This…shunning…must have started pretty soon after my heart attack?”

“Yeah, once word got around about what happened, and why you weren’t coming back to school.”

“You mean the whole time she was visiting me in the hospital…getting the cold shoulder from me…”

“Yeah.”

“Ah, hell.” I buried my face in my hands for a moment, guilt rushing through me.

“Yeah, well, like I said, she was pissed at you for a while after you left.”

I just grunted in response. That was hardly surprising. What was surprising was that she’d even come out to see me at all today, and had been civil, let alone pleasant.

“She started spending more and more time with the three of us, and she and I…I dunno, I sometimes wonder why she didn’t hook up with Takumi, he’s more her style, but…we just sorta fell in together. Kept joking and bantering, and eventually Mai got fed up with us dancing around each other and shoved us out on a date together.” He gently nudged me in the ribs with his elbow. “And, unlike you, my heart was up to the task.”

I tugged on my lower eyelid and stuck out my tongue at him, but he just laughed. After a moment, I had to laugh too. “Well, I guess it’s true, that opposites attract.”

“Yeah. Y’know, she’s even got me studying more. My grades have come up this semester.”

I snorted, smiling. “Now there’s a miracle for you.”

“Yeah. My parents love her.”

“What about you?”

“Huh?”

“Do you love her?”

He was silent a long time, and I wondered if he was going to answer the question. “I dunno, man. I’m not sure what that really means, y’know? It’s kinda scary.”

“So I take it you haven’t told her you love her? Or vice versa?”

“No.” He shot me a curious glance. “Have you?”

“What, told Iwanako that I love her?” I teased.

“Ass. You know what I mean.”

I chuckled. “Yeah. I have. We have. Whatever.”

He glanced over his shoulder, as if making sure Shizune wasn’t listening to us. I didn’t bother pointing out that that was needless. “When did you first say it?”

“Ah…” I felt my face turning red.

“Or did she say it first?”

“Uh…in a manner of speaking, yeah, I guess she did. But I didn’t realize it at the time.”

“Huh? How can you not realize it?”

“It’s…I mean, she’s deaf, right? She talks with her hands, and her body.”

“Yeah, so? Did you not know the sign for ‘I love you’ or something?”

“No…it wasn’t that.” I coughed. “After I said I love you to her for the first time, she told me that she never would have let me inside her if she didn’t love me. So she’d already said I love you to me, non-verbally, a few weeks before that. Sorta.”

“Let you in—oh!” Shin gawked at me, and his face went as red as mine. “Oh. Uh. Wow. Congrats, dude.”

I grinned, still blushing, but also feeling a trifle smug. “There’s some advantage to being at a boarding school. Like having your own rooms. And bored security guards.”

He laughed at that, and shook his head.

“So, have you and Iwanako…” I trailed of suggestively, curious.

His face reddened even more, and he shook his head. “Nah. I’ve got two little brothers for roommates. We barely ever get the privacy for a few kisses.” His expression softened. “Though those are pretty nice.”

“Yeah, they are,” I agreed.

As the bus came to a halt, Mai stood up and tapped Shin on the back of the head. “Come on, lover boy, this is our stop.” Shin glared at her as he stood too, and Shizune and I bade them farewell as they exited the bus.

Shizune moved up to sit next to me. [Did you have a good talk?] I asked her.

She smiled. [I was about to ask you the same. Yes, it was nice to get to know her a little. To hear about some of your youthful exploits.]

Oh, boy. I glanced at the pad of paper still clutched in her hand, presumably full of Mai’s stories about me. [Can I see what she said?] I asked.

Shizune smirked. [Maybe later.] She tucked the notepad back into her purse.

Things with my friends had gone so well, it boosted my confidence for introducing Shizune to my parents. I felt more relaxed on the bus ride back home than I had on the ride out.

I heard Shizune muttering under her breath, the first time I’d ever heard such a behavior from her. After a moment of listening, I realized she was practicing saying my name over and over, “Nah-kai, Nakai, Nagai, Nakai…” When speaking out loud, she had the greatest difficulty with the sounds produced at the back of the throat, like K, G, and NG. And of course, my family name had a K in the middle of it. I guessed she wanted to make a good impression on my parents, and not mis-pronounce our name. I touched her arm to get her attention, then smiled at her. [It’ll be fine, you’ll do great,] I said reassuringly.

She grimaced, then closed her eyes and took a deep breath, visibly relaxing herself. Opening her eyes, she replied, [I’ve never met a boyfriend’s parents before. You can’t blame me for being a little nervous.]

[Well, I survived meeting your father. Surely meeting my parents can't be so terrifying?] She snorted, and shook her head. [I've never introduced a girlfriend to my parents either,] I added.

[What about Iwanako?]

[They met her over my unconscious body at the hospital, or so I’ve been told. At least this time I’ll be conscious, and with you.]

She gave me a mock scowl. [Yes, you'd better not pass out or have a heart attack before I meet them.]

[I’ll do my best,] I promised with a smile.

I pushed the button for our stop, and stood up as the bus came to a halt. After paying our fare and getting off, I said, [Well, that was my friends. Now on to my parents.] Shizune nodded, took my hand in hers, and we set off.

________________________

<<— Previous Chapter || Next Chapter —>>
Last edited by Lap on Tue May 14, 2019 7:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 5-8-19)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Thu May 09, 2019 12:16 pm

Wow, now we know what you've been doing this past month :-)

The bit at the beginning with the chocolate felt more like a Food Wars parody than like a part of this story. It was so over the top it really clashed with the rest of it. (And personally I'm also fine with Pockys over overpriced truffles.)

The second half was really good with nice chemistry between all of the characters in the dialogue.
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Lap
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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 5-14-19)

Post by Lap » Tue May 14, 2019 7:53 pm

Chapter 16
________________________

As we walked up to the house, the lights shining through the windows told me that my parents were already home from work. I gave Shizune another reassuring smile before opening the door.

“I’m home!” I called out as we entered the house. As we took off our shoes and coats, I heard movement in the kitchen, then my mother darted out, followed more sedately by my father.

“Hikkun!” my mother called, making me grimace. Maybe it was marginally better than being called Hicchan, but I still didn’t care for it.

“Hello, Mother,” I said, trying not to sound aggrieved. She wrapped me in a warm embrace and squeezed me, then she jumped back, her hand flying to her mouth, looking stricken.

“Oh! I’m sorry! Was that too tight? Your heart…”

I smiled reassuringly at her. “That was fine. I’m not made of glass. Just don’t punch me, and I’ll be okay.” I took the opportunity to gesture to Shizune, angling my body so I could sign to her too. “Mother, Father, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend, Shizune Hakamichi.”

Shizune bowed, and said, “I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Nakai.”

My mother gave her a stiff smile and nodded, then turned back to me. “Did your train just get in? How was your trip?” My father frowned slightly, looking uncomfortable, but he said nothing.

“No, we got in just after lunch. We visited with my friends this afternoon.”

“Oh! Did you see Iwanako?”

I shot her a puzzled look. “Er. Yes? Why do you ask?”

“Just wondering. She’s such a nice girl.”

“Yeah, she and Shin are dating now.”

“Oh.” She frowned. “Why are you waving your hands around like that?”

“I’m interpreting for Shizune. I told you she’s deaf.”

“Oh. Well, surely you don’t need to tell her everything we’re saying.”

“What?” I was taken aback. “Of course I do. I don’t want her to be left out.”

“That is good of you,” said my father, breaking his silence. He smiled and nodded at Shizune. “I am pleased to meet you.”

Shizune seemed to relax a little, to finally be addressed by at least one of my parents. “Thang you for invitin’ me into your home.”

My father said, “You are most welcome,” then he watched my hands curiously as I interpreted that for Shizune.

“Well, come in, come in,” my mother urged me, “Dinner is almost ready.” She grabbed me by the arm and dragged me toward the dining room.

I shot Shizune an apologetic glance over my shoulder as we went. I saw my father standing awkwardly by Shizune, looking at a loss for what to say—or perhaps, how to say it. He settled for just smiling at Shizune and gesturing towards the dining room, and they followed me and my mother.

“Can we help?” I asked, but my mother just shooed me toward a seat.

“No, no, everything is ready. Sit down, relax.”

I looked at Shizune. “She says she doesn’t want any help in the kitchen,” I told her, since I was pretty sure she’d ask.

She nodded. [Where should I sit?] I indicated the fourth seat, the one not usually set, as being hers. My mother always sat in the spot closest to the kitchen, my father on her left, me on her right, which put Shizune on my right, across from my mother.

We had just barely settled in when my mother brought out the food. I was relieved to see that the fish was prepared sashimi style. She had a tendency to over-cook fish, so raw was far preferable.

My mother twitched and shot Shizune a startled glance when she said itadakimasu with the rest of us before beginning. Then she looked at me. “So, Hikkun, how has school been going? Your letters have been somewhat lacking in details.” I tried to squash the surge of guilt I felt at the note of reproach in her voice.

“It’s going well,” I said and signed. “We’re all busy getting ready for university exams. Shizune and Misha and I have organized study groups, to help everyone get ready.”

“That’s good thinking,” said my father approvingly.

“Who is Misha?” asked my mother.

“She’s the vice-president of the Student council. Shizune is the president, and I’m…” I hesitated. If I had an official title, I wasn’t aware of it, and I doubted I would impress my mother by saying I was their chief lackey and pack mule. Though that was what it felt like at times.

“Hisao is our segretary-treashurer,” said Shizune, filling in. “He is a vital part of our studen council.” I shot her a grateful look, and she smiled back at me.

“So you’re the president?” my father asked Shizune. “That’s quite impressive.”

Shizune smiled, trying to look modest but mostly looking proud. “Thang you. It is a lot of work, but it is rewardin’ to help our fellow students.”

“Have you made any other friends at school?” my mother asked.

“Well, I already mentioned Misha. I’m also friend with Emi, who’s Yamaku’s leading track star, and I suppose I could list my neighbor Kenji. If forced.” Shizune gave a silent giggle at that last.

“Track star! I would not think a school for people with…physical difficulties…would have a track team,” my mother said.

“Oh, sure. Emi calls herself the fastest thing on no legs. If she’s in a race, the other competitors might as well give up.”

“The fastest thing…on no legs?” my father asked, sounding puzzled.

“She’s a double amputee, but she has special running prosthetics—blades, she calls them—to compete in track. She was a runner before the accident that took her legs, and she continued to run afterwards.”

My father looked impressed by that little story, but my mother looked disquieted. “How…inspirational,” she said, not sounding at all sincere.

I chose to ignore her tone of voice. “We all have our disabilities. We all cope with ‘em as best we can.” I smiled at Shizune. “And we also help each other out,” I added, thinking of her urging me to face up to my own disabilities. She smiled back at me. My mother looked at the two of us for a moment, then turned her attention back to her meal.

The rest of the meal passed in fairly mundane discussion of life at school. My mother didn’t address Shizune directly very often, but my father picked up the slack, asking her about the student council and her studies. He, at least, was suitably impressed to hear that she was applying to Kyoto University.

When it came time to clear the table, I grabbed a stack of dishes and headed to the kitchen. Shizune tried to rise and assist, but my father put a hand on her arm and smiled at her. “You are our guest. Please, just sit.” He seemed to have realized that he could speak to her as long as he was facing her directly and she was looking at his face.

Shizune settled back down and smiled. “Thank you.”

As my mother put away the leftovers, I continued to clear the table. Shizune and my father angled themselves a bit more towards each other, facing each other directly, and I heard my father asking Shizune about her student council work. I smiled, happy to see my father making the effort to get to know her.

Mother and I worked in silence for a while, before I finally decided to approach the issue head on. “So, what do you think of Shizune?” I asked.

“Well…she’s certainly a very pretty girl,” my mother said as she rinsed dishes off and handed them to me to load into the dishwasher.

“Yes,” I said, trying to be agreeable. “And she’s very bright, and very driven, too. She works very hard as the president of the student council.”

“Oh. That’s…nice.”

“If you’d actually talk with her a little, you could get to know her better.”

“But how do I do that?”

“What do you mean? You talk, she talks, it’s called conversation.”

“Don’t get sassy with me, Hikkun. How do I talk with her when she can’t hear me?”

“I can interpret, or if you face her directly and talk one-on-one, she’s pretty good at speechreading. That’s what she and Father are doing right now.” I heard my father’s low rumbling chuckle in the other room, and wondered what they were talking about. Was she telling him embarrassing stories about me?

“And her voice.” My mother shook her head. “I mean…she sounds…” She sighed and put down a bowl and faced me. “Do you really think she’s the right girl for you?”

I frowned as I put the last plate she’d handed me into the dishwasher. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“She’s just so…different.”

“Different, how?” I asked. I knew what she meant, but I was hoping she wouldn’t actually come out and say it.

My mother gave an exasperated sigh. “She’s handicapped, Hikkun. Do you really want to go through life saddled with that burden?”

I felt my body go cold, even as my pulse accelerated. “She is not a burden, mother,” I said, struggling to keep my voice even and level. “And are you forgetting that I’m handicapped, too?”

My mother waved that aside. “You’re not handicapped, you just need to be careful of your heart,” she said, displaying a level of denial that made my own seem almost non-existent by comparison. “And she may not seem a burden now, while you’re at that special school, but what about in the real world? Do you really want to spend your life translating for her wherever you go?”

Several possible retorts swirled through my head before I settled on, “She got along just fine before she ever met me. She’s not dependent upon me.”

“She’ll only drag you down, Hikkun.”

I was having a hard time believing I was actually having this conversation with my mother. “She doesn’t drag me down. She makes me better. She’s the one who urged me to start exercising, to get healthier.”

“Exercising! Is that a good idea, in your condition?”

Yes,” I snapped, then paused, trying to calm myself. “The nurse recommended it, in fact. To strengthen my heart.”

“And what if her condition is genetic? Do you want my grandchildren to be deaf, too?”

I was startled that the thought had never occurred to me. I had no idea of Shizune’s condition was genetic, teratogenic, or just some odd fluke. I didn’t even know if she knew. But as I contemplated the notion of deaf children, I was surprised to find how little the idea bothered me.

“It’s a little early to be discussing grandchildren, Mother. We’ve been dating less than a year. But in any case, I would love them just the same. I would be there for them.” The meaning of that last sentence seemed to pass right over her head, unfortunately.

“Oh! You’re hopeless. Condemning me to grandchildren who might never hear the sound of my voice.”

At the moment, that sounded like more of a blessing than a curse, but I somehow managed to refrain from saying so. Then I shook my head. “How is this about you? She’s my girlfriend, not yours.”

Obviously. I would never dream of dating a katawa girl like that.”

I froze in place, my vision going red. That kind of symptom was usually indicative of a heart problem, but this time it was purely psychological in origin. From rage. Nonetheless, I closed my eyes and struggled to keep my heartbeat steady, breathing slowly. My jaw hurt, I was clenching my teeth so tightly around the angry words that I would not, could not, say to my mother.

“Hikkun? Are you all right? Is…is your heart bothering you?” my mother asked nervously.

I opened my eyes and looked down into her worried face. “Mother,” I said tightly. “Please do not ever use that word again.” I was pleased that I managed to speak so civilly. Even if my tone of voice was cold. I focused on breathing at a slow pace. My face felt like it was on fire, and I actually did have a bit of worry about my heart, not that I’d admit that to her that just now.

“What word? Katawa? But she is—”

I cut her off sharply. “No. She is not. What she is is a brilliant, strong, kind, and beautiful woman whom I love very much, and I will not hear you refer to her in such ugly terms!” I hadn’t realized I was shouting until that last phrase echoed in my ears.

My mother just stared up at me in shock, eyes wide and mouth open, before she flushed and snapped her mouth shut, turning away from me. “That is no way to address your mother, young man,” she said sternly, grabbing another dish from the stack to rinse it off in the sink.

I just stood there, panting, grinding my teeth.

My father said from the doorway to the kitchen, “Is everything all right in here?”

I looked at him, standing in the doorway, with Shizune peering around him at the kitchen. I was suddenly very grateful that Shizune hadn’t heard our argument, although I was sure I’d have to tell her about it.

“Excuse me, Mother, Father,” I said and signed. “I’m feeling a little unwell. I need to lie down for a moment.” I wiped my hands on a dish towel and stalked out of the room. I heard Shizune say “Escuse me,” and her footsteps followed me to my bedroom.

I was so angry I found it hard to see straight. I sat down on the edge of my bed staring at the floor, trying to not remember what my mother had just said. I kept focused on my breathing, trying to calm myself. I remembered with bleak amusement that I’d promised Shizune I wouldn’t have a heart attack tonight. I regulated my breathing and my pulse steadied, but my hands kept opening and closing, clenching in tight fists. Shizune just stood looking at me for a while, before she sat down beside me and gently touched my arm.

“What happened?” she asked.

I closed my eyes. [My mother and I argued.]

She waited until I opened my eyes to reply, [So I surmised. About what?]

I studied her face, and reached out to stroke her cheek.

[Me?] she asked.

I nodded.

[It’s not unusual for mothers to take a while to warm to their son’s girlfriends,] she began, but I shook my head.

[It’s not just that.] I bit my lip. I was embarrassed on my mother’s behalf, to say what she had been upset about. [It was…] I wasn’t sure how to phrase it.

[Because I’m deaf?]

I nodded again, feeling depressed and angry and sad and, and…so in love with this wonderful woman. How could my own mother be so wrong-headed about her? I know I’d said that I didn’t understand my parents very well, but this…this…

Shizune said, [Your father seemed…a bit distracted while we were talking.]

I flushed anew. [We were perhaps a bit loud. I…I shouted at her.]

Her eyebrows went up. [At your mother?]

I pressed my lips together, my momentary shame at that disrespect overcome by my anger. [She deserved it. She called you…never mind.] I looked away from Shizune.

She touched my arm, pulling my attention back to her. [I’ve heard them all.]

I shook my head. [I won’t say it.]

She nodded understanding. After studying my face in silence for a few moments, she asked, [What are you thinking about?]

I looked at her. My brilliant, beautiful, wonderful girlfriend. The woman I loved, and that my mother had just so deeply insulted. [I am so very sorry for how my mother spoke about you,] I said.

She gave me a sad smile, and shook her head. [It’s all right—] she began.

I scowled. [No, it’s not! How dare she—]

Shizune trapped my hands between her good hand and the back of her other hand. She held me still, silent, for a long moment, then she lifted my hands and kissed my fingers. Releasing me, she said, [If you had not defended me so vigorously, if you were not so upset at her, then I might be upset. But I have your defense, and your love and faith in me.] She paused for a moment, looking like she was gathering her thoughts. She leaned forward and kissed me, gently, on the lips. “Thank you.”

I stared into her brilliant blue eyes, and was shocked to realize that I was trembling. The aftermath of my fight, the emotional impact of it, finally hitting me. Looking at her, seeing the love and pride in her eyes, I made a decision.

[Let’s get out of here,] I said.

[What?]

[I have no desire to spend the night under this roof. We can spend the night with one of my friends, or find a cheap motel. Sleep in a manga cafe. Anything would be better, at this point.]

Shizune frowned. [Running from the fight?]

I hesitated, and thought. Was I running away? It felt a little bit like it, but I wasn’t giving up. I couldn’t give up, not as long as Shizune and I were a couple. I shook my head. [It’s a retreat. I do not think either I or my mother can have a calm conversation on this topic right now. Better to withdraw, to give her—give us both—a chance to cool down. So we might talk later.]

Shizune looked at me for a long moment, then finally nodded in agreement. [Yes. I have some experience in dealing with…difficult parents]—

I snorted at that understatement, smiling for the first time since the argument.

—[and withdrawing is sometimes the wisest option. If you don’t want to say something you’ll later regret.]

I sighed. [Yeah. She’s still my mother, and I still love her. Even if…] I shook my head. Even if I didn’t understand how she could say such things.

Shizune gave my arm a reassuring squeeze before saying, [Trust me, I’m living proof that one can violently disagree with a parent and still love them.]

I chuckled.

[So, where should we go?] she asked.

I thought a moment. [Do you have a preference for which of my friends we might impose on?]

Her mouth quirked in a little smile. [Iwanako was the only one I really got to know at all well, and that might be…awkward.]

Heh. [True.] Though I would like to talk with her sister sometime, see if she had any problems getting her husband accepted by their family. And how they coped if they did.

I thought about our options. I was closest to Shin, which was why I’d called him first this afternoon, but I knew his family had little extra space; he was the oldest of four children. But Mai, on the other hand, was the youngest child, and her brother and sister had already moved out of their parents’ apartment. I explained this to Shizune, and she nodded. [That could work. If she’s willing.]

[She probably will be. And I’ve always gotten along well with her parents.] I picked up my phone and dialed Mai’s number. This time I remembered to put the phone on speaker, and set it down, so I could sign for Shizune as we talked.

After three rings, she answered with, “You know, when I said you should call more often, I didn’t necessarily mean the same day.”

“Hi to you too,” I replied with a smile.

“Hey, Hisao. What’s up?”

“I need to ask for a favor.”

She grunted. “Okay, maybe you shouldn’t call more often.”

“Very funny.”

“Wha’chu need?”

I took a deep breath, and looked at Shizune. “I was wondering if Shizune and I could sleep at your place tonight.”

“Uh. Say what?”

“We need a place to stay tonight.”

“Is something wrong with your parents’ place?”

“You could say that. My mother and I just had a nasty fight about my dating a ‘katawa girl.’” My face flushed anew just from saying that word.

Mai whistled. “Ouch. Shit. That sucks.”

“Yeah. So, do you think you could put us up for the night? I’m sorry to be asking so last minute.”

“Eh. No problem. I doubt you got to choose the time and place of your fight with your mother.”

I groaned. “Yeah, or I’d have chosen ‘never.’”

“Should be no problem. Let me ask my folks. Just a sec.”

“Great. Thanks, Mai.”

As we waited, I trailed my fingertips across Shizune’s cheek, admiring her, and making her smile a little.

Mai came back on the line, “They say, of course, they’d love to see you again, and meet Shizune.”

“Thanks, Mai, you’re a life-saver. We’ll be over within a half-hour.”

“See you.”

[Well, that was easy,] I said after I hung up.

She nodded. [Did your mother really call me katawa girl?] she asked.

I winced. [Yeah. Sorry.] A fresh wave of anger and guilt rushed through me.

She shook her head, looking somber. [Not your fault. I’ve heard worse.]

[I wonder if she even realizes that that term could be applied more accurately to me than you. I'm more broken and useless than you'll ever be,] I said bitterly, staring at the floor.

“Stop that!” Shizune said loudly, startling me. I looked up at her to see her scowling at me. [You are no more katawa than I. Do not insult the person I love like that.]

I rubbed my face in my hands for a moment. [Sorry. I…] I wasn’t sure what to say. I gave her a helpless look.

[You’re depressed and feeling guilty because you had a fight with someone you love,] Shizune observed. [But being sad doesn’t mean you should feel useless. Because you are not.]

I stared at her for a long moment, wondering anew what I’d ever done to deserve her affection and approbation. [Thank you.] I pulled her close and hugged her, and we spent a few moments just holding onto each other. I slowly felt my tension ease and my pulse return to normal, and I gave a sigh of relief.

I flinched when I heard a tap at my bedroom door, which made Shizune pull back and give me an inquiring look. I gestured with my chin towards the door, not wanting to let go of her, and she nodded her understanding. “Should you answer it?” she asked.

I grimaced. I didn’t really want to, but then I heard my father saying, “Hisao? Can we talk for a moment?”

I sighed, and said quietly to Shizune, “My father.” The mouth shapes for “mother” and “father” were different enough that I was sure she’d know which one I’d said. She nodded, and released her grip on me. I stood up and went to the door and opened it.

My father looked nervous and sad. He had never been a very emotionally demonstrative man, and I suspect just listening to my argument with my mother must have been very uncomfortable for him. “Father,” I said, with a formally polite little bow. I was relieved to see that my mother was nowhere nearby.

He nodded back, and asked, “May I come in?”

I stepped back and gestured him in. “Of course. It’s your house.”

He winced, and entered the room. His gaze fell on Shizune, still sitting on the edge of my bed. He pulled himself upright, then bowed to her. “Miss Hakamichi.”

She looked momentarily startled, then stood and returned the bow. “Mr. Nakai.”

My father glanced at me, as if to make sure I was interpreting his words, then said, “I wish to apologize for how my wife…spoke of you. That is not how I would wish guests to be treated under my roof, especially not a guest who is so important to my son.”

I bit my lip and avoided editorializing, letting Shizune handle this. She bowed and said, “It was no problem. I am sorry for being a gause of gonflict.”

He shook his head. “It was not your fault.”

He turned towards me, and said, “On the one hand, I do not wish to condone you being disrespectful of your mother.” As I took a breath to respond to that, he held up a hand to stop me. “On the other hand, I…think it must be admitted, she acted in a manner that was perhaps less than worthy of respect. I do not wish for you two to fight, and I would hope that in the future you could perhaps discuss your differences in a more…civilized…manner.”

I blushed at that, and nodded. “Yes, Father.”

“Your mother has retired for the evening, so, ah, it is safe to come out, if you wish,” he said with a small smile.

I shook my head. “I think…we might spend the night at Mai’s house. Give both Mother and me some space to cool down.”

I wondered if I imagined the flicker of relief I saw cross my father’s face. He inclined his head. “If you wish.” He hesitated a moment, then added, “You had originally planned to stay two nights. Should we expect you for dinner tomorrow?”

Shizune and I exchanged a glance, then I said, “I’m not sure. We’ll let you know tomorrow.”

“Very well.” His posture slumped a little, and he sighed. “I’m sorry your first visit home in so long has been so contentious.”

“Me too. I’m sorry I…” I hesitated. I couldn’t honestly say I was sorry I had defended Shizune. Though perhaps I could have done it a bit more calmly. I settled on, “I’m sorry I lost my temper.”

He put a hand on my shoulder. “Even so, it’s been good to see you. I’m glad to know you are doing well.” He turned and smiled at Shizune. “And I am pleased to have met you, Miss Hakamichi. I hope we can meet again someday soon, under less…stressful circumstances.”

“Thang you, sir. It was kood to meet you too.” They exchanged short bows, and my father let himself out.

Shizune had a faint smile on her face. [That was nice. I think I like your father.]

I nodded. [He’s always been the quieter one of the two. I’m just glad he’s being reasonable about…well, you.]

She nodded. [Shall we head out?]

I nodded back.

We’d barely unpacked anything, so it was the work of moments to pull things back together. Shizune paused with the beautifully gift-wrapped box of chocolates in her hand, which she hadn’t yet had a chance to present to my parents, and she looked at me inquiringly.

I sighed. [I don’t know. Maybe…wait until tomorrow evening, and if she’s being civil, give it to them then?]

[Or should we give it to Mai’s parents, for letting us spend the night?]

“Eh…” I considered that for a moment. [Her parents are more like relatives, almost. We’ve all spent so much time at each others’ houses,] I said, referring to Mai and Shin and Takumi. [On the other hand, I’ve never spent the night there.]

[Well, how likely do you think it is that we’ll be back here tomorrow?]

I scoffed and shook my head. [The way I feel right now? Not likely. It’s your gift. I’d vote to give it to Mai’s parents, if you don’t mind. They’re great people, her mother especially, and they deserve it. If we do come back here…we can pick up a bouquet or something on the way.]

Shizune nodded. [All right.]

I lugged our suitcase downstairs, and and we put on our coats and shoes. As I turned to close the door behind me, I paused, looking back into the house. When we first arrived, the place had felt a little strange, empty and almost foreign. Now, it felt even more alien to me. Unwelcoming. I wondered sadly when I would next speak with my mother again.

Shizune touched my arm, and as I turned to her, she gave me a sympathetic smile. [It’ll all work out eventually,] she said. [She just needs time.]

I nodded, then gave a little huff of laughter as an odd thought occurred to me. [Who could have guessed that I would last longer visiting with Jigoro than with my own parents?] I hadn’t even been here twelve hours, yet.

Shizune smiled. [See, maybe he’s not so bad after all.]

I waggled my hand side-to-side in a “so-so” gesture, and she laughed.

[Let’s go,] I said. [Mai’s apartment is just a few blocks that way.] I extended the suitcase’s handle and pulled it behind me, and we headed off.



________________________

<<— Previous Chapter || Next Chapter —>>
Last edited by Lap on Mon Jul 01, 2019 10:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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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Scroff
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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 5-14-19)

Post by Scroff » Wed May 15, 2019 9:37 am

Dammit Mrs Nakai, did you have to live up to every cliche about over-protective mothers?! At least our heroes are being mature about the whole situation.

I can't remember any fic where Hisao's dad is the only one unsure about his offspring's choice of partner, it tends to be his mum who is wary or hostile.

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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 5-14-19)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Wed May 15, 2019 11:20 am

“Hikkun!” my mother called, making me grimace.
Okay, I have never before seen or heard "-kun" used by parents when adressing their children. I can't swear that it doesn't happen, but it is at the very least rare an it just sounds wrong to me. A parent would rather use no honorific at all if the child is to old for "-chan".

I'm looking forward to meeting Mai's parents. I don't think I've ever read a story featuring them.

And on that note it is interesting to see where this story went from the initial premise. It has come a long way...
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 5-14-19)

Post by Feurox » Thu May 23, 2019 7:30 am

We really have come a long way since this started huh? I’m staring to think you might be incapable of sticking to the original plan Lap :lol: Anyway, whilst I’m in exam season I haven’t been able to have particularly deep readings, but I can at least comment and say how refreshing it is to see Hisao’s mother being somewhat cruel. Not detestable, but believably ignorant and frustrating because of it - a very very human character.

Remaining impressed, keep up the good work.

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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 7-1-19)

Post by Lap » Mon Jul 01, 2019 10:27 am

Chapter 17
________________________

Mai buzzed us in to the apartment building, and we crossed the small lobby to the elevators. Shizune gestured to a sign to the side of the elevators, which pointed down the hall toward a pool.

I took her meaning, but I shook my head. [I didn't bring a swimsuit.]

[Perhaps you can borrow one from Mr. Yasui?] she suggested.

I grinned. [No. I'd be swimming in the suit.]

[He's a large man?]

The elevator arrived and I pulled the suitcase on and pressed the button for Mai’s floor before replying. [Very. But also very quiet. Well, unless he's watching soccer. Mai plays, and I think he's the team’s number one fan.]

Shizune nodded approvingly. [It's good of him to support her. Not all fathers like athletic daughters.]

The elevator doors opened, and we got off. Before I could ring the doorbell, Shizune put a hand on my arm. “Wait. Am I pronouncin’ Yashui correctly?”

I hesitated. She was close enough that they probably wouldn't even notice, but Shizune relied on me to honestly correct her when she asked me to. [Almost. You slurred the “s” a little.]

She frowned, then said carefully, “Ya-sui. Yasui.”

I smiled. [Perfect.]

She smiled back, and pushed the doorbell.

Mai answered the door. [Hello,] she said with a smile, then she apparently exhausted her knowledge of sign from the afternoon’s impromptu lesson. “Come on in.”

“Thanks,” I said, and Shizune nodded in agreement. As we took off our shoes and hung up our coats, I quietly asked Mai, “Did you tell your parents why we were asking for asylum tonight?”

“Only in general terms. I said you’d had a fight with your mother.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Oh, and did you tell them that Shizune is deaf?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” We stepped from the entry foyer into the living room, where Mr. and Mrs. Yasui were sitting. Mrs. Yasui looked up first, and smiled broadly. “Hisao! It’s so good to see you. It’s been too long.” She rose from the couch, and Mr. Yasui likewise stood up, smiling but not saying anything.

I bowed to her, smiling. “Thank you, Mrs. Yasui. It is good to see you too. Mr. Yasui. Thank you for putting us up on such short notice.” I gestured to Shizune. “May I introduce my girlfriend, Shizune Hakamichi.”

Shizune bowed too, and said, “Hello, Mr. Yasui, Mrs. Yasui. Thang you for your hoshpitality.”

Mr. Yasui looked startled for a brief moment, but then he hid it. Perhaps he'd assumed she was mute as well as deaf. He smiled and said, “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

“Indeed. Mai has spoken highly of you,” Mrs. Yasui said. Shizune and I both shot Mai startled questioning looks at that, and Mai’s mouth twitched in a little smile.

“Mostly that anyone who can put up with Hisao must be a saint,” Mai said.

“Mai!” Mrs. Yasui scolded. “That's not all you said!” I couldn’t help but notice her implication that Mai had, in fact, said that. Shizune covered her mouth to hide her smile, and I rolled my eyes.

“Can we put our bags down somewhere out of the way?” I asked Mai for distraction.

“Sure, come on,” she said, heading down the hallway to the bedrooms. Shizune and I followed with our luggage. “You’ll be in Kisho’s old room,” she said to me, pointing to her brother’s room. “And Shizune can have Aimi’s bed in my room.” Mai and her sister had shared a room until Aimi had gone off to University a couple of years ago.

“Thant you for sharin’ your room,” Shizune said, when I got a chance to relay that information to her. “I hope I am not imposin’ too much.”

Mai waved this aside. “Nah, no problem. I’m sure you can’t snore as loudly as my sister did.”

“I have no idea,” Shizune said.

“She’s a quiet sleeper,” I assured Mai.

“Oh? And you know this, how, exactly?” she asked with a smirk.

I sighed. I’d walked right into that one. Shizune gave one of her silent giggles, then said, “Well, I have no idea if Hisao snores.”

“According to Shin he does,” Mai said. “Maybe you’re lucky you can’t hear him.” I tensed a little at the comment, but Shizune didn’t react.

“It does make a peaceful night’s sleep easier,” Shizune agreed amiably. Normally she’d have something biting to say about the supposed “advantages” to being deaf, but apparently she was trying to be polite to our host for tonight.

I set our bag down next to Aimi’s bed, and Shizune pulled out the gift box of chocolates.

“Should we give this now, or before we leave?” she asked.

“Now, I think.”

“Give what?” asked Mai.

“A guesting gift for your folks,” I said.

Mai gave me a funny look. “We're a few years past that kind of thing, don’t you think?”

Shizune shook her head. “Hisao may be, but I've never met them. And he's never spent the night here, either.”

“I guess,” Mai said dubiously. “Well, maybe they'll share with me. Is it something yummy?”

Shizune smiled sweetly. “You'll just have to wait and shee.”

I dropped my book bag in Kisho’s old room. It looked like Mrs. Yasui’s sewing supplies were slowly taking over his room. But the bed was still there, which was all I needed.

We returned to the living room, and Shizune presented the gift-wrapped package to Mrs. Yasui. “It’s nothin’ special, but here is a little somethin’ to thang you for your hospitality.”

“Why, thank you, but that wasn't necessary,” said Mrs. Yasui with a smile as she accepted the box. “Hisao practically grew up here.”

“But I didn't, and wished to espress my gratitude in this small way,” Shizune replied, with a little bow.

“Well, thank you,” Mr. Yasui said. Mrs. Yasui put the box on a shelf beside the TV.

Mai dropped down on the couch, and Shizune sat, more gracefully, next to her. I sat in a chair across from her, nearer to Mr. and Mrs. Yasui, so Shizune could see my hands more easily as we talked with them.

“How are things at your new school, Hisao?” Mrs. Yasui asked me.

I smiled briefly at Shizune as I translated for her. “Well, I’ve certainly met some wonderful people. Such as Shizune.” They chuckled at that. “And my classes are going well.”

“You’re certainly looking healthy,” said Mrs. Yasui. “Is your new school being helpful in your recovery?”

I nodded. “There’s a full-time medical staff on the premises, and a pool. I’ve been swimming every morning to strengthen my heart.”

“And how go your studies, Shizune?” asked Mrs. Yasui, obviously wanting to include her in our conversation. “Are you feeling ready for exams?”

Shizune, Mai, and I all grimaced at that. “As ready as I gan, I shuppose,” Shizune replied. “I’ll be studyin’ up to the last minute, I’m sure.”

“Shizune is also taking the exams for Kyoto University,” I said proudly, a bit of bragging about her that I’d not had the chance to work into conversation with my parents. “And if anyone can get in, she can.” The Yasuis looked suitably impressed.

Shizune blushed, and waved away my compliment. “Nothin’ is certain. I have my hopes, but I don’t gount on it. I will apply several other places, too.”

“Yeah, I feel like I’m planning to apply everywhere,” Mai said. “I just hope someone will want me.”

“You’ll do fine, Mai-chan,” said her father, his quiet voice firm with confidence in her. She blushed, and ducked her head.

“Do you know what you want to study?” Shizune asked Mai.

Mai glanced at her parents, then said, “Sciences. Maybe neurology. But it’s a tough area to get into.”

“You’ll do fine,” Mrs. Yasui repeated her husband’s assurance.

Mai sighed. “Well, it won’t be for lack of preparation. I’ve got tutoring sessions every morning over break. Speaking of which, I need to finish my homework for tomorrow,” she said apologetically as she stood up.

“Of gourse,” Shizune said with a nod.

“Trust me, we know how that goes,” I assured her.

Shizune sent me a questioning look as Mai said good night to her parents, and I asked, [Do you mind if we stay and chat a while with her parents? I rather like them.]

Shizune nodded. [That’s fine.] Mr. Yasui noticed our flickering fingers, and he smiled at our covert conversation.

As the elder Yasuis settled back down after bidding Mai good night, Mrs. Yasui asked, “So, do you know what you want to study, Shizune?”

We chatted amiably about Yamaku, university plans, and life in general for almost an hour. They understood immediately the implications of Shizune’s accident, and how it limited her to have both hands restrained. It was comfortable and relaxing, pleasant in a way that conversation with my parents hadn’t been. They seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say, curious about how Yamaku was different from standard schools, interested in where we planned to go from here. It made me feel a little sad, that they were better hosts to Shizune than my mother had been, but I tried to push that melancholy aside and enjoy the conversation at hand.

Later, as I showed Shizune where the bathroom was and we prepared for bed, I said, [This is not at all how I had imagined our visit home to go.]

Shizune nodded sympathetically. She paused in brushing her teeth to free up her hand to speak, her toothbrush sticking out of her mouth. [But it turned into a pleasant evening nonetheless.]

[Yes. I’m just sorry we couldn’t have had a pleasant evening with my parents. But I’m glad you got to know the Yasuis a little. They were a large part of my childhood, especially Mrs. Yasui.]

Shizune nodded, rinsed, and put down her toothbrush. [They seem like lovely people. Mai is lucky to have them for parents.]

I gloomily reflected on how different they were from our own difficult parents, and had a moment of envy. [I should tell Mai stories of Jigoro, to make sure she appreciates her parents more fully,] I said, only half joking.

Shizune poked me in the arm. [You may not hold up my father as a bad example! He may be…annoying…but he is still my father.]

I smiled at her. [Living proof that one can still love a parent while disagreeing with them,] I said, parroting her own statement from earlier in the evening.

[Indeed. Take some heart in that. Things will work out with your mother eventually.]

I sighed. [I certainly hope so.]



________________________



My medications sometimes induced sleepless nights, but I was pretty sure that my meds weren’t to blame for my inability to fall asleep that night. Despite the distraction of talking with Mai and her parents, my argument with my mother weighed heavily on me. I tossed and turned, my stomach churning, words playing over and over again in my mind. I kept thinking of things I could have said differently, or wondered if I could have made some other argument to win her over. The anger I’d felt while talking with her kept returning, disturbing my equanimity, and I spent several restless hours before giving up and getting out of bed. Sometimes a change of scenery could help settle me down enough to sleep.

I slipped out of Kisho’s bedroom and padded quietly to the living room. I was just reaching for a lamp to turn it on when Mai’s quiet voice said out of the darkness, “Leave it off, please.”

I jumped, my heart pounding at the surprise. “Shit! Are you trying to give me another heart attack?” I hissed quietly.

There was a pause, as if she were waiting to see if I actually was having a heart attack, then she said, “Nah, you said you’ve been working out. You’re tough enough.”

I took a deep breath, settling my racing pulse. I sat down on the couch opposite the armchair where she sat. I could just make out her profile against the city lights coming in through the balcony glass doors. “What are you doing up this late?” I asked.

“I could ask you the same.”

“Some of the meds I have to take for my heart give me insomnia,” I said, omitting the emotional turmoil that was also a factor.

“That sucks.”

“Eh. I’m used to it. Or at least resigned to it. It’s increased my addiction to coffee rather significantly, however.”

She snorted. “I’ll bet.”

“What about you? Why are you up so late?”

She was quiet a long moment, then said, “Don’t laugh.”

“Why would I laugh?”

She sighed. “Because it’s such a cliché. I’m awake because I’m stressing out over the university exams.”

I repressed my impulse to chuckle sympathetically, afraid she’d take it the wrong way. “Is the tutoring helping you to feel any more confident?”

“Eh. More like, it seems to point out to me just how much I don’t know. No matter how much I learn, it seems like there’s always more.”

“I know what you mean. We’ve set up study groups on different subjects at Yamaku to help us all get ready. Well, I say ‘we,’ but I mean the student council, which translates into Shizune, mostly. She’s the powerhouse behind it all.”

“Really? She takes the student council that seriously?”

At that, I had to laugh. “You have no idea. It’s how I got to know her in the first place. She and Misha dragged me into working with them on the council. Things just snowballed from there.”

“Misha?”

“She’s the vice-president, a sign interpreter, and our dear friend.”

“Sounds like a nice person.”

“Aside from her habit of nicknaming everyone something-chan, she’s great. Well, almost everyone. Her girlfriend refused to answer to ‘Shocchan.’”

“Girlfriend?”

I silently cursed my insomnia-addled brain, then sighed. It wasn’t as if Mai was ever likely to meet Misha. “Uh, yeah. Girlfriend.” I smiled into the darkness. “They actually started dating because I accidentally outed Misha to Shori. Much to Shori’s delight.”

“Shori being the girlfriend?”

“Yeah.” I shook my head. “It's kinda strange. I’ve never known any lesbians before, and now I know two.”

After a long silence, Mai said quietly, “Three, actually.”

“Eh?” I was groggy enough that I had to think about that statement for a few moments to figure out who she was talking about. “Oh. Oh!”

“Though I’d appreciate it if you didn’t accidentally out me, too.”

“Of course not. It was an…unusual circumstance, with Misha.”

“How so?”

“I was talking with Misha in sign for privacy, and I forgot that Shori was in the room and could understand me. She’s also deaf.”

“You have a lot of deaf friends.”

“Well, I do attend a school for the physically handicapped,” I said drily. “It would almost be odder if I didn’t.” I squinted through the darkness at her shadowed form, wondering if I was imagining her tense posture. I tried to think of something to say that didn’t sound too stilted or trite. I finally settled on, “Thank you for trusting me with that information,” managing to sound both stilted and trite.

She just grunted, sounding startled by my response, but her shoulders dropped a centimeter or two.

“Does anyone else know?”

“Kisho. And Shin. I think Shin figured it out before I did, actually. He was the first to say anything about it, anyway.”

“Wow. When was that?”

“Um…” Mai was silent for a moment. “About three, four years ago, I guess?”

Huh. I had never suspected. And I was amazed that Shin had never dropped a single hint or comment about her preferences. I hadn’t known he was capable of that kind of discretion.

Although Mai was a bit of a tomboy, always hanging out with Shin and Takumi and me, I’d never thought she might be inclined towards girls. She’d certainly never expressed any interest in any that I could recall. But nor had she ever shown any interest in guys, if you didn’t count us three.

“Why didn’t you tell me until now?”

She gave a bitter laugh. “Don’t be naïve, Hisao.”

“Sorry, I guess I should have phrased that, why did you choose to finally tell me now?”

“Ah. I guess…I’m tired of the hiding from my friends. And you said Misha was a dear friend. And you didn’t sound like you disapproved of her when talking about her and her girlfriend.” She chuckled. “You actually sounded kind of proud about getting them together.”

I smiled at that. “Yeah, I was extremely grateful that that turned out okay. I thought Misha was going to have a heart attack when Shori walked up to us and joined our conversation.”

“I’ll bet.”

“Have you…um…found anyone to date?” I asked tentatively.

She sighed. “Nah. I thought maybe…well, never mind.”

“Not to be stereotypical, but is there no one on the soccer team?”

She chuckled. “Yeah, there are definitely a few others on the team, but no one I’m interested in dating.” She shrugged. “Maybe I could have found someone if I spent more time with other girls, instead of always hanging out with you three idiots.”

“And Iwanako.”

“Yeah, but she’s neither an idiot nor gay.”

I chuckled. “Lucky for Shin.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Shin said you pushed them together.”

“Yeah, well, I guess I can’t blame her for being gun-shy about dating after what happened with you, but watching the two of them trying to flirt-not-flirt with each other was just…painful. I had to do something. For my own sanity, if nothing else. And it’s nice to see two of my friends happy together.” She sounded a little wistful.

“You’ll find someone someday. You’re too nice a person not to,” I said, trying to be encouraging.

“Thanks. Maybe at university.” She yawned. “Well, at least you’ve managed to distract me from my exams by making me brood about my love life. Or lack thereof.” She stood up, and patted me on the shoulder as she walked past me. “G’night, Hisao.”

“Good night, Mai. Thanks again for letting us stay here.”

“No prob.”

After she left, I just sat in the dark a while, distracting myself from thoughts of my argument with my mother by thinking about Mai. Years of her hanging out with me and Shin and Takumi, her always being just ‘one of the guys,’ suddenly took on a different cast. I’d always assumed that her teasing and arguing with Shin hid a romantic core, but upon reflection, there had never been any flirtatious elements to their banter. Just joking around, much as the rest of us did. I wondered about her playing match-maker, hooking up Iwanako and me, or Iwanako and Shin. Was she living out her frustrated romantic impulses vicariously?

I shook my head. Now I was getting silly. She just liked her friends to be happy, like she’d said. I heaved myself up off the couch, and staggered back to bed. I felt like I could finally sleep, and maybe get a few hours of rest before the new day.



________________________



I’d planned to wake up in time to say goodbye to Mai before she set out to her tutoring session, but I awoke a couple of hours too late. I pulled on clothes and staggered out, to find Shizune and Mrs. Yasui sitting in the living room. Shizune was sitting cross-legged on the couch, writing something on her laptop, and Mrs. Yasui was working on some needlework while watching TV. “Good morning,” I said to Mrs. Yasui, feeling abashed at rising so late. Shizune must have noticed some motion out of the corner of her eye, because she looked up, and I repeated my greeting in sign.

“Good morning. Mai said you’d had problems sleeping last night, so we let you sleep in,” Mrs. Yasui said. She put aside her needlework and rose. “Would you care for a cup of tea?”

“Yes, thank you, but I can get it,” I protested. I’d spent enough time at Mai’s house over the years to know where things were in their kitchen.

“I was just about to get up and prepare a cup for myself,” she said. “Could you ask Shizune if she’d like some?” she asked as she entered the kitchen.

I sat down on the couch next to Shizune and relayed the question to her.

She closed her laptop and glanced towards the kitchen. [Would it be polite to accept, do you think?]

I shook my head. [I don’t think it matters to her one way or the other. She’s always been a very informal and comfortable person. The easiest parent to get along with, in our circle of friends.]

[Then, no, thank you.]

“Shizune says, thank you, but no,” I called to Mrs. Yasui.

“All right.”

[So you had problems sleeping?] Shizune asked.

[Yeah.]

[Your medications, or the argument?]

I sighed. [Both. Well…mostly the argument, I guess.]

[Understandable. Did you come to any conclusions or have any insights about the conversation?]

I shook my head. [Mostly just brooding, wondering what I could have said better. Mostly…just wondering how my mother can be so wrong-headed about this. About you.] I nodded toward her laptop, wanting to think about something else [What were you writing?]

[Just working on some practice essay questions.] I felt a little stab of guilt, realizing that I hadn’t studied as much over break as I’d virtuously planned.

Shizune tilted her head toward the kitchen. [I think Mrs. Yasui has a question.]

I turned to see her standing in the kitchen doorway, watching us with curiosity on her face.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see you there,” I said and signed. “Did you need something?”

“No, I just wanted to ask you if you like furikake on your tamago gohan.”

“I can prepare my own breakfast,” I protested. “You don’t need to wait on me.”

She smiled and shook her head. “It’s no trouble to crack an egg into some rice. I’m happy to do it for you.”

I hesitated, feeling awkward. I was in an odd sort of liminal state, of being a guest but also not quite a guest. I’d spent so much time at the Yasuis’ apartment over the years that it was practically a second home in some ways, and I felt like I should fend for myself instead of making Mrs. Yasui cook for me.

Shizune seemed to sense my unease, because she said, “Would you mind if I helped? It sheems everyone maze tama’o gohan a little differently. I would lite to know how you do it.”

Mrs. Yasui smiled and nodded, and Shizune and I joined her in the kitchen. I'd thought that Shizune was making a somewhat feeble pretense, but I was surprised to find that Mrs. Yasui’s recipe was different from my own simple “crack an egg over hot rice and stir.” She separated the egg first, and beat the whites and yolk separately before adding them to the rice with dash of soy and a pinch of MSG. She handed the completed dish to me along with a container of furikake for seasoning.

As I sat at the table, there was also a cup of miso soup and a slab of delicious looking bread already set out, and the cup of tea appeared moments later.

“Itadakimasu,” I said, sincerely grateful for the meal.

Mrs. Yasui smiled and sat down with me, and Shizune joined us. “It is no problem at all,” she said.

My hands busy with eating, I wasn’t able to sign for Shizune. Mrs. Yasui seemed to recognize this, because she touched Shizune’s forearm gently to get her attention before speaking. “Did you have any plans for today?”

Shizune glanced at me, and shook her head. “Nothin’ formal. I mostly wanted to shee more of where Hisao grew up. Wander the city.”

When initially planning this trip, I’d had vague fantasies of spending most of the day with Shizune, making love in my old bed where so many imaginary trysts had taken place in my past, but that didn’t seem like it was going to happen. And that certainly wasn’t something I could share with Mrs. Yasui. “We might see if Mai or any of the others want to join us,” I said.

“And do you think you’ll be joining us for dinner? You’re most certainly welcome, I just need to know how many I’ll be cooking for.”

I hesitated, taking another mouthful of food to give myself time to think. Shizune kept silent, leaving the question to me.

Mrs. Yasui gave me a sympathetic smile. “Arguments with one’s parents can be difficult. And it can be hard to know when it’s better to speak, and when it’s better to give people space to think.”

I nodded, appreciating her understanding.

“Mai implied that the difficulty stemmed from your mother’s lack of…acceptance…of your relationship.”

I looked at Shizune, wondering if she would mind my discussing this with Mrs. Yasui. But her expression was neutral, giving me no hint. Once, I would have thought that meant she disapproved, but I’d come to realize over time that it was her way of letting me make my own decisions, without her input. So, since she had no strong objections, I opted to open up a little about what was troubling me. Or rather, us. Mrs. Yasui had always been easy to talk with, and understanding, for an adult. I put down my soup spoon, and resumed signing as I spoke.

“Not so much the relationship, I don’t think. It was more…” I paused to take a breath, still upset enough that speaking it out loud was difficult. “It was Shizune herself. Or rather, the fact that she’s deaf.”

“Ah.” Mrs. Yasui nodded, looking a little sad. “That is unfortunate. It shows a certain…lack of vision.” Which I was pretty sure was the most polite way of saying “small minded” that I’d ever heard.

I grimaced. “Yeah. I don’t know if it’s…I’ve never seen her being prejudiced against deaf people, but…” I glanced at Shizune and shrugged. “But I’ve never seen her interact with any before, either, so what would I know? Actually, I’ve not seen her interact with many people of any sort. I don’t know how accepting she is of peoples’ differences in general, not just handicaps.” That thought just depressed me even more. I was realizing that I didn’t know my mother all that well.

Mrs. Yasui said slowly, “I cannot claim to be a close friend of your mother’s. But from the little I know her, she’s always struck me as fairly…traditional. Conservative, in many ways.”

“I would thing a traditional woman would have stayed at home, not work,” Shizune observed.

“Well, no-one can be described by one word. If we did, I might be described as traditional, simply because I don’t work outside of the home,” Mrs. Yasui said with a small smile.

I grinned at that. Shizune, who didn’t know Mrs. Yasui as well, arched an eyebrow at my reaction, but didn’t argue.

“But I’m certain that I don’t have to tell you that people can often be…uncomfortable with, and unaccepting of, people with differences. Especially visible differences.” She looked down for a moment, then said softly, “My brother had cerebral palsy. His life was difficult enough because of his condition, but…it was even harder when he tried to venture out into the world.”

I was startled. Mai had never mentioned an uncle on her mother’s side, and I couldn’t help notice that Mrs. Yasui referred to him in the past tense. But I didn’t feel comfortable asking for details.

After a moment of silence, Shizune said, “One of the possible gareer paths I’m gonsidering is working in disability advocacy. I know there is much that needs to be done in that area. But…” she grimaced. “This is personal. Not societal. I don’t want to be estranged from Hisao’s family. He’s too important to me.”

I felt a little blush of happiness at that last statement. “It’s not my whole family; I believe my father quite likes you.”

“And hopefully he can be an advocate for you,” Mrs. Yasui said. “It may take time, but he may be able to convince her to give you a chance.”

“A chance ish all I want,” Shizune said.

“I think she just needs to get to know you better,” Mrs. Yasui said. “In the few hours that I’ve spent talking with you, I’ve been…suitably impressed. I know I would be most pleased if any of my children brought you home and introduced you as their partner.”

Shizune smiled. “Thang you. But in order for her to ket to know me better, she needs to talk with me.”

Mrs. Yasui pursed her lips for a moment, then said, “She doesn’t need to be limited to talking with you. Hisao can also tell her about you. For instance, how much did you tell your parents about Shizune before you came to visit?”

“Well…not much,” I conceded. “That she was my girlfriend, that she was deaf, that she was the president of the student council. You know. Basic things.”

“Yes, your mother has mentioned the dearth of communication from you. The couple of times I’ve seen her since you went away to school. Perhaps if you wrote home more often, telling your parents about what you are doing—what you both are doing—she might get to know Shizune more gradually. Come to see her virtues, as seen through your eyes.”

Shizune nodded at the idea, and looked expectantly at me. I blushed at the reminder that I had been a less-than-dutiful correspondent with my parents. “That…could work,” I agreed. Then I groaned. “I’ll just add a weekly letter home on top of all my exam prep and tutoring and studies.”

“Think of it as a long-term investment in the relationship between your parents and Shizune. Surely that is worth twenty minutes of your time, now and again.”

“I should hope sho,” said Shizune, with an arch look at me.

“Yes, yes, it certainly is,” I hastened to agree. “All right. Thank you, Mrs. Yasui. That’s a good idea.”

She nodded. “In the meantime, do you wish to have dinner with them tonight?”

Shizune and I exchanged a look, then I said to Mrs. Yausi, “Would you pardon us if we spoke privately for a moment?”

“Not at all,” she said, beginning to rise.

“You don’t need to leave,” I said with a smile. “But thank you.”

[What do you want to do?] I asked Shizune. Mrs. Yasui sat back down and watched us, apparently curious to observe sign language, even if she couldn’t follow our conversation.

[My impulse is always to push forward, to try again,] Shizune replied. [But I would defer to your judgement as to whether or not this is the best idea.]

I thought a moment. [I…am still quite angry. I don’t know if I could be civil with her if she started to be rude again. I would try to be polite, for your sake, but…] I grimaced. [I’m not sure I could make any promises.]

[Then, we should wait?]

I nodded. [I think that would be best. Unless you felt strongly otherwise.]

[No. As I said, I’ll trust your judgement.]

[Thank you. I want my mother to get to know you, to value you, but I think Mrs. Yasui is right. It might work better over a long haul, with letters and my father’s persuasion.]

[Very well. So, dinner here tonight.]

“Thank you, Mrs. Yasui. If you truly don’t mind, we would appreciate joining you for dinner tonight.”

“Of course I don’t mind. I’m used to cooking for five, after all.”

After finishing my meal, I cleaned up in the kitchen, ignoring Mrs. Yasui’s protestations that that wasn’t necessary. I downed my morning ration of pills, changed into clean clothes, and Shizune and I set out to explore the city of my youth.



________________________



I called my father at what I thought was his lunch hour, hoping to get a chance to talk with him, but my call went to voicemail. I left a brief message telling him that we wouldn’t be home for dinner, and we would be leaving town tomorrow morning.

Shortly after dinner, as we sat in the living room chatting, my mother called. I excused myself and went to Kisho’s room to take the call.

“Hello, Mother,” I said, trying to sound at least moderately upbeat.

“Hikkun! Your father tells me we won’t get to see you again before you leave.”

“Well…yes, that’s true,” I said. “We’re catching the nine-eighteen train tomorrow morning.”

“But I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to you.”

I thought that maybe here was a way to do just a little bit of bridge building, connecting. “We could come over to visit for a while, and say our goodbyes,” I offered hopefully.

“We? I meant…you. You certainly don’t need to trouble Shizune with coming out for such a little thing.”

I tried to tamp down the surge of anger that her words provoked. “It’s no trouble at all. We like to take walks together,” I said evenly.

“Well, yes, but…” my mother trailed off.

After a moment of tense silence, I said tiredly, “Perhaps it would be best if we just said our goodbyes now. I hope I’ll see you again in a couple of months when exams are over.”

“You hope? Where else would you go?”

I had no answer for that, but I knew I might not want to go home if things hadn’t improved between us by then. “We’ll see. I hope to see you then,” I reiterated, making no promises. “Give my love to Dad.” I hesitated, then added, “I love you, Mom. I’ll try to write home more often, okay?”

She seemed to accept that offer as an olive branch, because she didn’t argue. “I love you too. Have a safe trip back to school.”

“We will. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

I hung up, and stared at my phone for a long moment before sighing and heading back to the living room.

Later, as we prepared to turn in for the evening, I went with Shizune to Mai’s room, to grab clean clothing for tomorrow from the suitcase we’d left in her room. I asked Shizune, [Would you mind if I talked privately with Mai for a moment?]

She looked a little surprised, but didn’t question me about it. [No, that’s fine. Do you want me to leave?]

[No, I just won’t sign.]

She gave me a small smile. [And I won’t read your lips.]

[Thanks.]

Mai was looking at our silent conversation curiously. “What’s that about?”

“I was just asking Shizune if I could talk to you privately for a moment,” I said, for once not signing my words as I spoke.

“Oh. About what?”

I took a breath. “I haven’t told her you’re gay, and I wondered if it would be all right with you if I did.”

Mai glanced nervously at her door, as if to make sure it was closed. “But didn’t you just…oh. Right.” She looked at Shizune, who was busying herself with getting things from the suitcase as we talked. “This feels weird.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, but you get used to it. I confess, the first few times Misha and I talked about her behind her back, I kept expecting her to turn around and say, ‘Surprise! I was just pretending to be deaf!’ But that didn’t happen.”

Mai laughed briefly, then sobered. “Why do you want to tell her I’m gay? I mean, I appreciate your discretion, but why tell her?”

“I want her take on something your mother said today, is all.”

“My mother?” Mai said blankly. “What does that have to do with…”

“That’s what I want to ask her about. Make sure I wasn’t imagining something.” I paused, then when she didn’t seem convinced, I added, “She’s not at all homophobic. Like I told you, our best friend is Misha, and we spend a lot of time with her and Shori.”

Mai stared at Shizune, who was quietly repacking our suitcase in preparation for leaving tomorrow. “I guess…” She shrugged. “Oh, what the hell. Go for it.”

“Thanks.” I turned to Shizune and touched her arm to get her attention. “Thanks, we’re done,” I said and signed.

Shizune nodded. “Ogay. Gan I ask what that was about?”

I flicked a glance at Mai, then said, “I was just asking for her permission to tell you that she’s a lesbian.”

Shizune looked puzzled. “Was that supposed to be a segret?”

Mai looked more shocked than I did, but we both gaped at Shizune. “Yes?” I said hesitantly.

“Oh.” Shizune suddenly looked nervous. “Have you told your mother?”

No!” Mai exclaimed, her eyes wide.

“Oh. I’m sorry, I…” Shizune paused, and visibly collected her thoughts. “I may owe you an apolozhy. I was talking with your mother about you this mornin’, and I asked her if you had a girlfriend. She said, not that she knew of.”

Mai looked like she was about to faint. Or throw up. She sat down hard on the edge of her bed, and stared up at Shizune. “Wh…what else did she say?”

Shizune shrugged uncomfortably. “Just that you hadn’t dated anyone so far, but she hoped you might find a nice girl at university.”

Mai’s mouth dropped open, and she looked like she was struggling not to hyperventilate. “She said that?” she squeaked.

Shizune nodded. “I don’t thing it’s as segret as you think it is. She seemed quite…asseptin’ of the notion.”

Mai stared at her for a long moment, then she buried her face in her hands and burst into tears. Shizune shot me a slightly panicked look, and I sat down next to Mai on her bed. After a moment, Shizune sat on her other side.

“I can’t believe she knows,” Mai mumbled through her hands. “I was always so careful.”

I placed a tentative hand on her shoulder, trying to be comforting. “Maybe you didn’t have to be so careful after all,” I offered. Shizune was watching Mai, not hearing us, but she seemed willing to wait to catch up. I wrapped my arm around Mai’s shoulders, and gave her an awkward sideways hug. “This is a good thing, right?” I asked tentatively. “I mean, it sounds like she’s okay with your…preferences.”

“Yeah, but…” Mai took a deep breath, and lifted her head from her hands. She swiped at her tears with the back of her hand, and Shizune handed her a tissue from a box on the bedside table. “Thanks.” She glanced at Shizune, then repeated, [Thanks.] Shizune smiled and nodded in reply. That made at least two words in sign that Mai remembered.

I dropped my arm from around Mai’s shoulders, then pivoted sideways a little so I could face Shizune, and resumed interpreting. “This is a good thing, right?” I repeated.

Mai sighed. “I suppose.” She pressed the heels of her palms into her eye sockets for a moment, then dropped her hands. “It’s just…if Shizune is right, then I’ve been…worried and in the closet for no reason.”

Shizune said slowly, “I don’t thing I was misinterpretin’ your mother’s words, though of gourse I can’t hear tone of voice.”

“But it fits with something else she said over breakfast,” I put in. “Which was what I wanted to ask Shizune about.”

“What was that?” Shizune asked.

“She said she’d be happy if any of her children brought Shizune home and introduced them as their partner. She didn’t say it like she meant ‘some boy like Shizune;’ it seemed more like she actually meant, Shizune herself.”

“And ‘partner’ is an awfully zender-neutral word,” Shizune observed. “You’re right. I didn’t partigularly notice that phrase at the time, but, I didn’t know Mai was in the closet either, so I wasn’t lookin’ for it.” She looked thoughtful, then nodded. “I really don’t thing you have anythin’ to worry about,” she said to Mai. “At least where your mother is goncerned.”

Mai deflated a little at that. “I don’t even want to think about my father’s reaction right now. One crisis at a time, please.”

I chuckled. “All right. But it doesn’t sound like this is a crisis, really.”

“Yeah.” She stared at the floor, a brooding expression on her face.

“Will you talg with her about it tonight?” Shizune asked.

Mai shuddered, and looked up. “No. I…think I need to think about this a little. Maybe talk with my brother about it first.”

I nodded. “All right. But let us know how it turns out when you do, okay?”

Mai gave me a tense, nervous smile. “Sure. Sure. Whenever that might be.”

Shizune laid a hand on her arm, drawing Mai’s attention to her. “You made it sound lite living in the gloset has been uncomfortable for you. Don’t wait too lawn to talk with your mother. I really don’t thing you have mush to worry about.”

Mai gave Shizune a sour look, but then she sighed and shook her head. “I suppose I can’t even say you outed me, since it sounds like she already knew.”

“Yeah. Your mother is a pretty cool person, Mai. You’re lucky to have her, and I think she’d be just fine with you, no matter what your orientation.”

She snorted. “Easy for you to say.”

I arched an eyebrow at her. “I forget. Why am I sleeping in your apartment tonight? You wanna swap mothers?”

Mai rolled her eyes and waved that away. “Sorry, right, I guess we all have our mommy issues.”

“Yeah, but…your mom is a lot…” I hesitated, then admitted, “Nicer than mine. And more accepting.” I grimaced. “Honestly, I envy you your mother. I mean, both your parents are pretty nice, but your mom is especially so.”

“Yeah…” She ran a hand back through her short hair, then blew out a breath and sat up straighter, shaking her head as if to clear it out a bit. “Thanks. I’ll talk with her soon, I just want to talk with Kisho first, get his take on things.”

I was a little sorry I wouldn’t get to see what I expected would be a happy resolution to the situation, but it was most definitely Mai’s call. “All right. Feel free to call us if you need someone to talk to about things.”

“Well, text me,” Shizune corrected.

“Right, phone calls with Shizune tend to be pretty one-sided,” I said, which earned me a light punch on the arm from my girlfriend as we laughed.

We made our ways to our respective beds, and I was pleased that this time I fell asleep in fairly short order.



________________________

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Last edited by Lap on Mon Jul 29, 2019 10:26 am, edited 3 times in total.
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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Feurox
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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 7-1-19)

Post by Feurox » Tue Jul 02, 2019 9:56 am

A lovely update and well worth the wait. It's nice to see Hisao and Shizune more willing to adopt a sensitive, albeit long-term, approach to resolving the conflict with Hisao's mother. Mai's parents seem like a fantastic addition, and Mai herself is equally a strong character. Good job Lap!

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Scroff
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Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 7-1-19)

Post by Scroff » Sat Jul 06, 2019 1:15 pm

Reading this brought back a lot of memories Lap, I was fortunate to have a friend with parents like Mai's. I reckon it was thanks to them I managed to get through my teens without being chucked out onto the streets...

I'm enjoying how you're showing the changes Shizune's gone through as a result of her accident. Beforehand I think she would have said
“A chance ish all I need,” Shizune said.
instead of what she actually said:
“A chance ish all I want,” Shizune said.
Touches like that are one of the many things I enjoy so much about your work!

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Mirage_GSM
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Location: Germany

Re: Avenues of Communication (updated 7-1-19)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Mon Jul 08, 2019 11:32 am

Hmm... I wonder when Shizune realized about Mai's orientation... She said she didn't know about it in the morning, then they were out all day, and somewhere along the line she realized and had a chance to talk with her mother about it...

Also, I didn't realize in the last chapter that Mai is "cheap" :-)
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

My collected KS-Fan Fictions: Mirage's Myths
griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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