Act II: A Single Grain of Sand
Dealing With The Hand That's Dealt
The chirp of the alarm sounds its usual greeting that pulls me from my dreamless slumber. I can still feel Kawana's slender fingertips on my wrist as if they were still there. Stretching my arms as I get to my feet I smile to myself. Last night was the first truly refreshing night's sleep I have had in memory.
Looking at the time on the clock it takes my lethargic mind a moment to register what I am doing up at such an ungodly hour. With Emi's declaration still in my mind I get changed into my track gear, carefully keeping an ear at the door for the sound of running prosthetics trying to kick their way in. What would that sound like anyway?
As I approach the track, it takes a second for me to spot Emi beside the bleachers performing her warm up stretches. I cannot help but be amazed at how flexible Emi is.
I want to thank the perverted soul who came up with the concept of bloomers.
While I seem lost in thought, Emi looks up and notices my presence. A wicked smirk crawls on to her face.
"Enjoying the view?"
Returning her smirk in kind I succumb to the temptation of returning fire.
"Not bad. A solid 6/10."
Emi stands back up and folds her arms with an obviously feigned glare.
"Remember my promise to work you extra hard today..."
I can't help myself and begin laughing at her faux glare. Emi is hopelessly cute when she tries acting tough like that. Her smile quickly returns to her face.
"I'm glad to see you in such a good mood. Your hot date went that well huh?"
As much as I enjoyed yesterday and it did indeed "went that well" I would struggle to call it a date. Although that moment at the festival seemed to have lightened my mood, I have a feeling laughing like a lunatic would fall under 'things I will never live down' should Emi find out about it. And it would only falls just below 'having a heart attack because a girl confessed to me'. I can't believe how pathetic I really am at times.
"Hisao? Are you alright? I'm sorry.."
Realizing I slipped back into my head I put on a smile and place a hand on her head..
"I'm fine Emi. I'm here to run. Let’s run."
Emi responds with a thumbs up.
"Darn right! Let’s run!"
"Okay Hisao. You sound fine. You can do your shirt back up."
The nurse removes the stethoscope from my chest, giving me the all clear.
"So. How are you adjusting after your first week?"
As I start doing up the buttons on my shirt, it looks like it's time for Nurse to enquire about my mental health. Well, I can't hold him doing his job against him.
"I feel like I have started to find my feet. It helps that I have started to make friends."
Nurse's large grin materializes on his face as if on cue. I internally brace myself for some off colour joke.
"Well they do say laughter is the best medicine."
My face immediately falls at his comment. If the school nurse saw me in such a stupid state, I wonder who else did. I know I really shouldn't care about such stupid things as school reputation, but I am stuck here for the rest of the year, and I don't want to be the school joke for that time.
"You... saw that?"
Nurse smugly nods at me.
"Yup. And as stupid as you may have looked, it's clearly what you needed. I'll see you tomorrow."
And of course he does not give me the chance to respond.
As I make my way into the classroom I am thankful for my extremely thick hair. For once. The thickness that causes the untameable cowlick also means in the time since I left the shower and coming into the classroom, my hair is already dry.
Looking around the classroom I see that only Shizune has arrived, engrossed in revising her notes for today's test. What kind of sadistic monsters holds a test the day after the festival? Likely the same monster who conceived of the idea of ensuring all assignments for each subject should be distributed, and due at the exact same time.
As tempted as I am to greet our studious council president, I would hate to bother her while she is busy studying so I decide to make my way to my seat.
Before I can make my way there, an arm catches me in a solid headlock.
"Mornin'! Did ya enjoy the festival, Chuckles?"
Even without the greeting. It was not hard to guess who this was. I only knew one person who liked to greet me via headlock. I sigh theatrically and do my best to greet her in as deadpan a manner as possible.
"Good morning Miki. Were you in a rush to get to class this morning? Because I think you forgot to shower."
Miki gives an exaggerated gasp as she frees me from her hold, stepping back and clutching at the left side of her chest.
"You wound me Hisao. I just wanted to say hi."
I smile and shake my head.
"Well hi Miki. It's good to see you early for once. Are you ready for the math test first up?"
Miki folds her arms proudly with her Cheshire cat grin plastered on her face.
"What do you think?"
Oh she makes it so easy.
"I think you're totally unprepared and you came in early to try and get some last minute cramming. You’re hoping to not completely bomb out and get stuck in a remedial class."
Miki's face instantly falls. Bullseye.
It really wasn't too alien a guess. The more I talked to Miki, the more she reminded me of Mai. I suppose it's why I found talking with her to be oddly nostalgic, and also why the urge to tease her was irresistible. Although Miki does take it in her stride, and to be fair, she started it. Chuckles? Really?
"So, do you think you'll be fine Hisao? You only just transferred in."
"I should be okay. Math was one of my better subjects in school. And I managed to keep up with it while in the hospital."
I grin at her and exaggeratedly wave my finger in her direction.
"And you should buckle up and work on your math skills."
Miki narrows her eyes at me and smirks.
"Yeah well. Math is for...."
"... Good morning Kawana!"
I interrupt Miki's inane declaration as I see Kawana enter the room. She bows her head in greeting to me with a serene smile on her face.
"Good morning Nakai. How did you exercise go this morning?"
"Fairly well. I'm still a little out of practice.” I think on that for a moment. Wait, how did you know about that?"
Kawana seems to realize the rather creepy connotations of her statement, but her expressions gradually relaxes.
"I was returning the camera and the retouched photos from the festival yesterday to the newspaper club. I saw you on the track with Emi."
Kawana reaches into her bag and pulls out a much smaller digital camera than the large, expensive monstrosity she had with her yesterday. Turning it on she shows me a couple of pictures she took of me running. I sit down at the desk beside me and have a closer look at the pictures. I have to say, my red, sweaty face looks... less than graceful.
"I look awful. You would've been better taking a picture of Emi. At least she has something resembling running form. I look like a demonstration in how not to be fit"
Kawana shakes her head emphatically.
"I disagree. It would be a pretty picture. But it would also be empty and meaningless, especially in the context of our school."
She sits down at her desk and lowers her voice to barely above a whisper.
"Nakai. You experienced the worst moment of your life. You confronted your own mortality. You have had the rug pulled from beneath you. Yet here you are, working at improving yourself. It would not be improving without struggle. I find the image, in this context to be rather uplifting."
I can feel my cheeks heat up at her comment. I hold out the camera to her, which she takes, a small serene smile on her face.
"Th..thank you for your kind words, Kawana."
It is at that moment that I feel a tap on my right shoulder. I turn to see a small notepad and pencil facing me. A message is written on it in clear, and somewhat elegant handwriting. I take the items from the hand and quickly read the message.
˹I apologise for interrupting your conversation but you're in my seat.˼
I look to the owner of the notepad and see a silver haired boy with narrow eyes and a friendly smile on his face. He is exceptionally well dressed, with his shirt buttoned to the top and tie knot pulled as high as possible. I have to admire his fortitude in wearing the Yamaku blazer in the middle of summer.
I quickly scrawl a reply on the notepad and stand up out of the chair and pull it back to allow him to sit back down.
˹No need to apologise. It was my fault to have sat there. My name is Hisao Nakai, although I'm sure you already knew that. ˼
As he sits down I hear him exhale a small puff of breath in amusement. He quickly scrawls something down on the notepad, the friendly smile not leaving his face.
˹You are free to speak to me in reply. Unlike our class rep, I am not hearing impaired. My name is Yuuto Nakaumura. And I am very happy to make your acquaintance, Nakai.˼
When I finish reading the note, I notice that Nakamura has his hand outstretched. I take it in a handshake. I remember what my father taught me. Firm, dry, solid. 3 seconds.
"I am pleased to meet you Yuuto. But please, call me Hisao."
After introducing myself to Yuuto, and engaging in some small talk I return to chatting with Kawana. It is not long after that when I see Ikuno among the small stream of classmates meandering into the classroom. She turns to face us as she enters, giving us a wave in greeting. However, when I raise my hand to return the gesture, her cheeks flush and she looks down at the ground, making a beeline to her desk.
Before I can even begin pondering on why Ikuno is acting so strangely, the classroom door crashes open and a girl storms in, obviously in a huff. I recognize her as Ritsu, the girl who performed that amazing flute solo at the festival yesterday.
She storms her way across the classroom making her way to her desk.
"Good morning Ritsu. Your performance was fantastic yesterday."
The brave idiot greeting Ritsu while she is in a mood like this is the foreign boy who sits in front of Misha. His clean cut, confident aura, exotic good looks and obvious intelligence just rubs me the wrong way. He seems like the kind of guy who simply snaps his fingers and has a menagerie of pretty girls throw themselves at him. I hate people like that. Although if I remember correctly, he was cheering louder than everybody after Ritsu's performance.
Ritsu turns towards the boy like an angry bear. Having a target to vent whatever frustrations are swirling around inside her, I brace myself for the inevitable awkward confrontation.
"Fantastic? FANTASTIC? Did somebody blow out your hearing yesterday Lezard? Graduation and university admissions are right around the corner! Musical scouts from the best academies are scrutinizing every performance. This may have been my one chance, and I screw it up!"
She makes her way over to Lezard, slamming her palms down on his desk.
"And do you know the worst thing? These solo performances are a rare chance for us to be noticed. And Ms Sakamoto burns those spots on people who will not be able to take advantage. Who will never be able to even attend, let alone perform in orchestras! Those students are stealing opportunities from the hands of those who may desperately need it. It's disgraceful!"
While she isn't yelling, Lezard, and the rest of the class is wreathed in an uncomfortable silence, simply staring at Ritsu. Her rage spent, she exhales, apparently calming down.
"Good morning Lezard.."
The greeting coming through gritted teeth, Ritsu makes her way to her desk in back of the class. Sitting down she stares daggers at the large boy next to her, already asleep.
The math exam was not as difficult as I may have feared. I was amazed at how quickly I finished it. While going over my answers I notice the only other student who doesn’t have their head down, grinding away is Shizune. She looks at me with a confident smile and a nod, which I translate as "I'm impressed at how quickly you finished that exam but you will never beat me in a hundred years."
Misha seems to be obviously struggling, if the state of the chewed up eraser on her pencil is anything to go by. Particularly considering how much effort she had expended in grinding it down to be perfectly flat. Ikuno seems extremely focused, I cannot tell if she is struggling or not. I can picture the tip of her tongue poking from the side of her mouth in concentration. Yuuto seems quietly confident, and appears to be going over his answers. Kawana seems to maintain the tranquil air that permeates most of what she does. The controlled, elegant movement of her pencil on the paper is reminiscent of a noh performer. Her dark eyes with their ever intense gaze run across the page. From where I sit I can't see their movement but my mind's eye can picture it perfectly.
Kawana looks up from the paper, turning it over to indicate that she is finished. She turns her head to face me. Her gaze meeting mine, and she smiles and nods her head. I respond with a simple thumbs up.
While grazing on my sandwich I cannot help but marvel at how comforting the shade of the familiar tree is on a hot midsummer day can be.
"So Hisao... umm... how did you go in the test this morning?"
Ikuno at least seems to be able to look at me for the moment. Although she seems to be back to speaking nervously. I have no idea what has got into her. She can be so energetic and friendly. It's really kind of cute. Still, not an unexpected question. I swallow the food in my mouth.
"I think I did rather well. I didn't find any of the questions too hard. I used to be really good at math. Math and science were my best subjects before... yeah."
I try to dance around my heart attack, and the drama that followed. Fortunately, Ikuno and Kawana pay it no heed. Ikuno looks down at her lunch, a pouty look on her face.
"I.. umm.. that is... I don't... uh... think I did that well. Even though I studied."
Kawana sighs at Ikuno's explanation, lowering her chopsticks on to her lunchbox.
"Ikuno. I do not think cramming your notes the morning of the test qualifies as studying."
Ikuno squirms in reaction to Kawana's explanation.
"I know! I was really tired after the festival."
Kawana smirks and I see a wicked glint in her eyes.
"Was Nakai comfortable?"
Ikuno squeals at Misaki's joke, her face going red.
I place a hand on Ikuno's shoulder.
"It's fine Ikuno. You were tired. There's nothing wrong with nodding off."
I don't directly mention the fact that she used my shoulder as a pillow, even though I didn't mind at all. But it would only serve to embarrass her more. Slowly she seems to recover, her body becoming more relaxed. Looking back up to us, a bright smile lights up her face.
"Well... umm... H...Hisao.... D...do you.... if it's not any bother.... Do you think you could uh.... tutor me... some time?"
Ikuno's forward request takes me aback. I'm not even sure I've properly caught up from being in a hospital for several months. I'm not sure how much use I'll even be. Sure I kept up with my studies as best I could, but am I ahead? Behind? Without formal instruction I'm probably not up to task compared to many other students.
Exhaling slowly I try to muster my thoughts together.
"I'm not really sure how well I actually did in that test. I have only been back at school for a week after several months off. If I do well I'd be happy to help you. However, it's entirely possible I may be in the same predicament."
Despite my rather ambiguous answer, Ikuno's face lights up.
"That would be great Hisao. Even if you didn't do well, but I know you did well, then we could study and improve together!"
I suppose a study group really couldn't hurt. Even if I'm tutoring rather than studying on an even level, it will likely improve my own proficiency. However, it really seems unfair to leave anybody out. I look over at our third member, I remember her quiet confidence and focused eyes, I doubt she needed the help.
"Kawana. Would you be interested in joining us for some studying after we get our results back? It would be great to help each other out with what we missed."
Both Ikuno and Kawana tense up at my proposition. Ikuno looks outright nervous, staring at Kawana with what looks like... pleading eyes? Kawana, on the other hand, puts on her more formal, distant mask that I am familiar with.
"I do not think I will have many problems in that subject. I doubt I will require such tutelage."
At that statement, both of them seem to relax. A small smile forms on Kawana's face. I never knew I could find a small, almost insignificant smile so endearing. It feels like a small, intimate, shared secret.
"But please take good care of Ikuno."
With the ring of the bell heralding the end of the school day, I give a sigh of relief. Maybe it is the feeling of doing far better in that test than I ever expected, but I feel more optimistic about my academic future. The worst part of me though that Yamaku was merely a place for me to be tucked out of the way while I die. Maybe there are doors that are opening up again.
I feel a tap on my shoulder, turning around I see a familiar notepad. The message on it reads.
˹Do you play cards?˼
I look at the owner of the notepad, unsurprised to see Yuuto with his ever friendly smile.
"I used to a while ago. I may be a little rusty through."
His smile turns into a large, toothy grin reminiscent of the school's head nurse.
˹That's perfect! Would you be up for joining me and a couple of the guys for some rounds of blackjack? Not actually betting any money, just an excuse to hang out.˼
It's strange. Since I came to Yamaku, I've spent my entire time hanging around girls. Pretty girls, mind you. But it does sound nice to be able to hang out with some guys again.
"Count me in."
˹Great! Meet us in the boys dorm common room at 8. It should give you time to do homework and have some dinner. See you then!˼
Yuuto gives me a small wave as he walks away. If I had any questions about what to do this evening, I guess they are now answered.
As I come down to the common room I marvel at how little time I've spent here. I think I've only come down to make some food and go back to my room to eat it. The kitchen is spacious, if a little dirty. A TV is in one corner with five or so sofas, as well as a couple of worn bean bags. Around the room are scattered several round tables with a varying amount of chairs around them.
It is at one of these tables I spot Yuuto sitting with Lezard, who is casually shuffling a deck of cards. Yuuto notices my presences and happily waves me over. As I approach I notice Lezard look up at me with a sharp, inquisitive gaze which quickly relaxes.
I pull out a chair across from Lezard and beside Yuuto and sit down.
"Pardon my intrusion."
Lezard waves a hand dismissing my awkward entry.
"Don't worry about it. If Yuuto vouches for you you're alright by me. The guy may be a loud obnoxious jerk. But he's a good judge of character."
Lezard punctuates that with a loud, boisterous laugh. I look over to Yuuto wondering how he would react to Lezard's obvious joke based on his apparent muteness. To my surprise he has his mouth covered silently laughing with Lezard. Realizing it is safe to laugh I give a small chuckle.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Lezard waves his hand dismissively.
"Well you seem alright to me. Honestly most of the class was worried that you were a mess when you came in. You know, coming in two months after start of the year usually indicates somebody loaded down with baggage. Another Ikezawa if you know what I mean."
I think back to Hanako, who found me sitting in a bean bag across from her while reading to be somewhere in the vicinity of coming at her with a knife. Lezard's analysis is harsh and blunt, but I can't argue with his conclusions. Lezard continues.
"But you seem to have got it together. I kind of feel bad for not really talking to you last week. But it looked like you had enough on your plate dealing with Deaf Charge and her drill Sergent."
I wave a hand dismissively, mimicking his earlier gesture.
"It's no problem. I spend most of my time with Kawana and Ikuno. That's what I get for getting between Shizune and Lilly having an argument."
Both Lezard and Yuuto visibly wince when I say that.
"You're a braver man than I."
Lezard goes back to shuffling the cards. I glance over toward Yuuto and notice the object sitting in front of him. It's a black thing roughly the size and shape of an electric razor. Yuuto notices me looking and writes something on his notepad.
˹It's an Electrolarynx. It allows me to talk. My larynx was severely damaged in a car accident. I don't really like how I sound so I try to stick to notes where I can.˼
Yuuto pulls down his tie and unbuttons the top button of his shirt, giving me a clear view of his neck and throat. Sitting between his collarbones is what appears to be a plastic disc. I nod in understanding, having seen such devices in movies I think I can guess why he would prefer notes. The robotic sounding voice that comes out from those devices sounded disconcerting.
"Sorry Yuuto I didn't mean to stare."
Yuuto waves off the apology shaking his head with his usual smile.
"ALRIGHT GUYS! YOU READY TO SLING SOME CARDS?"
Before I can continue talking I am startled by the cacophony behind me. Turning my head I recognize the boy who sits right behind me in class. I never caught his name. Then again I think I have never actually seen him awake in class. I suppose it explains how energetic he is at the moment.
Lezard grins at the new arrival. He waves the newcomer over to the chair between him and me in the circle.
"Now Taro is here the party can begin. Taro, Hisao. Hisao, Taro."
Taro gives me a hard slap on the back with his left arm. It's only now that I notice his right arm seems to hang lifelessly beside him.
"Good too met ya Hisao. It's nice to have somebody else I can fleece."
The large boy grins confidently at me and then slaps his hand on the table.
Yuuto and I walk down the halls of the boy’s dorm in a comfortable silence. Taro and Lezard having headed back to their dorms that lie in the other direction.
Well I can say one thing. Despite only doing so so, playing cards with the guys is less mentally taxing than playing Risk against Shizune. Taro was comparable to Shizune in terms of competitiveness. I haven't heard such vulgar trash talking since my days of playing KOF in the arcades with Shin. Although Shin was a proverbial Lilly compared to Mai.
As I turn the last corridor I feel a tap on my shoulder.
˹I'm going this way. I had a lot of fun tonight. Hope we can do this again next week. That is, if you're interested. I'll see you tomorrow?˼
I nod and smile at Yuuto's note.
"Absolutely. On both accounts. You have a good night."
Yuuto gives me a wave as he heads down the corridor opposite to mine. I manage to avoid an encounter with Kenji as I open the door to my dorm and crash on to my bed. Who knew relaxing playing some cards could be exhausting? I wonder if tutoring a cute girl like Ikuno will be that tiring.
As they say. Tomorrow is another day.
Last edited by Beeronious
on Tue Sep 03, 2019 4:34 am, edited 1 time in total.