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Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/4/2020)

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2020 8:39 am
by MoashLannister
Credit to Lap for proofreading

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Chapter 10: Ideal

It took all of my restraint not to stand up and simply walk away, but I stayed. Mom and Dad didn’t say anything more, Dad even sipping his cup in a casual manner as he stared at me, making it clear that he was waiting for me to speak.

“Why?” I said at last, sounding more desperate for an answer than angry. “You said you don’t hate her, so why don’t you want me to continue my relationship with her?”

“Because she can’t take care of you,” Mom responded bluntly, without any hesitation or sugar coating. “She has no arms, Hicchan.”

That statement actually made me stand up, glaring at her with all the anger I could possibly muster. For her to insult my capability to take care of myself after staying distant for so long was demeaning enough, to insult Rin’s ability was even worse. I clenched my fist and gave her a look that made it very clear that she’d crossed a line, my mother or not.

“Let me explain, Hicchan,” she said resolutely, her voice calm and business-like. “I know what you’re thinking right now, but I don’t mean what I said as an insult. I know that you’re independent, and you’re entitled to make your own decisions. But let’s say you move forward in your relationship with her, and you two now live together on your own...is that what you want with her?”

It took me a while, but I was able to sit down and nod back, though the anger was still very much present.

“If that’s the case, who’ll be the one doing the cooking?” Mom asks, maintaining her cold tone. “Who will be doing the cleaning? Who will be the one to move things when you decide to get furniture? Who will have to do everything? It’ll have to be you, Hisao.”

“You don’t know that,” I retorted immediately. “She can take care of herself, Mom. She’s eighteen, and she isn’t dependent on me.”

“Hicchan…” Mom finally let the cold facade slip, and looked down to the ground, now sounding like she’s about to cry. “Can you really say that? Can you really tell me that she can take care of herself? Or that she can take care of you if need be?”

I thought about it for a second, about how Rin’s managed to maintain her own living space while at Yamaku. That wasn’t the same as an entire apartment, but it’s something...right? I don’t know if she can cook or not, but we could always order out from restaurants, or I can learn to do it myself. I try to tell myself that I can do that simply because I want to, not because she can’t.

I didn’t need anyone else to take care of me. Rin and I are perfectly fine as we are...right? I tried to convince myself that there’s nothing to worry about, only for a small but prominent voice preventing me from doing so.

“She can,” I answered, with less certainty than I liked.

“But then, what if you had a heart attack?” Mom continued, her words like a knife to my chest. “If there’s only the two of you, how can she take you to the hospital? How can she call an ambulance to come help you? Tell me how that won’t be a problem, Hisao. You’ll be dying while she can’t do anything to save you…”

She broke down and cried as she finished that. Dad consoled her by patting her on the back, a sad look on his face. I slumped down in my chair, feeling drained by her questions. By her arguments that I wanted to deny, yet couldn’t. Not entirely.

What would happen if I had a heart attack, and it was just her? That wasn’t a scenario that I’d ever want to go through, yet it was entirely possible. And...Mom was right, she wouldn’t be able to call an ambulance, at least not as easily as a regular person would. She wouldn’t be able to take me to the hospital. All she could do in that case is call for help...assuming she didn’t freeze in shock.

I wanted to refute her, to say that she’ll know what to do. But I couldn’t, I couldn’t lie even if she would have believed it.

“I don’t have most of the worries your mother does. I do think Rin’s able to take care of herself at some level, being a high school student and all,” Dad said, continuing to comfort Mom. “But her reasons are not unfounded, especially the last one. She doesn’t have a cellphone, boy. And there are just some things she’s physically incapable of doing, things that might be necessary in order to live a comfortable life.”

“...I know,” I said, almost sounding like I’m admitting defeat. “But I won’t break up with her. I love her, Dad.”

“You do, I truly believe that,” Dad answered with a heavy sigh. “And I know nothing your mother or I can say will change that. Just...please, don’t disregard our concerns. Just as you love her, we love you.”

“I know...I know…” I whispered, the thoughts in my head getting more and more confused.

“It’s been a long night,” Dad said, pushing the fourth cup of hot chocolate towards me. “I think we should go to bed and...continue this discussion another time. We all have a lot to think about, after this.”

I nodded in agreement and took the cup, heading upstairs with my thoughts a complete mess. Despite knowing their reasons, despite knowing that they cared, and said what they did out of love, I couldn’t bear to see them anymore. All I wanted to do was be by Rin’s side, now more than ever.

The door to my room was partially open, and for a moment I feared that Rin had overheard our conversation. She was on the futon and already in her pajamas, staring at the drawing she did of me today. I sat down beside her and held the cup in front of her.

“From my mom,” I said with a smile on my face, trying my best to be my usual self around her. “Something warm for the winter.”

Rin silently leaned her head down as I helped her sip the hot chocolate. Mom’s accusation rang in the back of my mind. I reminded myself that I’m not doing this because I had to, but because I wanted to. Because I loved her.

“Mm, sweet…” Rin noted as she drank it all. “But I don’t feel sweet, even when I drink something sweet. Like a fire still being hot even if it touches a single drop of water.”

“Did you hear any of that, Rin…?” I asked, fearing the worst. “The conversation I had with my parents.”

“What conversation?” Rin asked, tilting her head. She didn’t look the least bit confused, and I had a sinking suspicion that she’s merely hiding the truth from me, or tricking herself as if it never happened. I didn’t know which was worse, but I knew that neither was particularly beneficial to either of us.

This trip has already been a bit of a mess, and it’s only the first day...

“I’ll sleep here,” Rin said, breaking the silence. “You can sleep up there. I wanted to sleep next to you, but I know I can’t. Not in a place like this.”

“Rin…” I wanted to say something. To hold her close and assure her that everything was going to be ok. That’s how it worked, right? A brave proclamation, a hug, and everything would be fine. Except I couldn’t find the strength in me to do so, not now.

“Good night, Hisao.” Rin said, planting a quick and desperate kiss on my lips before laying down on the futon, closing her eyes almost immediately.

Feeling as if I could do nothing but let the day end already, I got up and placed the empty cup on the desk, feeling too distraught to take it downstairs and clean it. I turned off the lights and closed the door.

Laying down on my bed, I turned over to see Rin sleeping on the futon beside me, the moonlight shining through the window. It was at least comforting to know that she’s facing me as she sleeps, like always. I studied her face, trying to figure out exactly what she’s feeling.

It was always hard to read how she’s feeling, though I’ve gotten better at it. I couldn’t really discern anything from her sleeping expression, either that or I secretly didn’t want to. Peering into what she truly thought was terrifying sometimes, even now.

“Rin,” I whispered as I finally closed my eyes. “Are you alright?”

I didn’t really expect an answer from her, but it was a question I desperately wanted to ask before I succumbed to sleep. Before I fully lost myself in sleep, I thought I could hear her answer, if only faintly.

“I’m alright, as long as you’re here...”

I didn’t know if it was simply something my mind made up to ease my fears, but I wanted to believe that answer actually came from her. I held on to the belief even as I started to slumber, hoping that lack of regret persisted throughout our stay here.

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The beams of sunlight on my face woke me, and I slowly sat up. I looked around my room and vaguely recalled waking up like this, out of a necessity to go to school more than an actual habit. On weekends, I slept until late morning or even the afternoon, a product of my nights spent wandering the city.

I guess if there’s one thing that I have to thank Yamaku for, it’s getting me to enjoy being an early riser.

I look to my side and see that Rin's asleep, though she was trembling, and her expression was extremely troubled. Feeling concerned, I immediately got out of bed and sat down beside her. Not knowing what to do, I placed a comforting hand on her soft red hair, gently brushing it. It seemed to calm her down, though her face still had a troubled look.

As I continued to comfort her, I wondered what we should do for today. Mom and Dad might have plans, though given how yesterday turned out, I’m less than enthused about anything they might have in store. Perhaps it would be best if Rin and I got away from them, if only for a little while.

“Mm…” Rin murmured before opening her eyes, looking right at me. “You’re here, Hisao.”

“Would I be anywhere else?” I reply, trying to seem more playful than I actually felt. “Good morning, Rin.”

“Good morning, Hisao,” Rin said as she sat up, immediately leaning her body against mine. “You’re here. I know you’re here, but at the same time I didn’t know. Like someone not knowing when is tomorrow until tomorrow actually becomes now.”

“I’m here, Rin,” I said with conviction as I stared into her green eyes, her uncertain gaze. I knew that she was struggling with something, and that I was the cause of it. “I’m here…”

I wrapped my hands around her, hugging her tight. Admittedly, it was for my sake as much as hers, but she seemed to want it just as much. We stayed like that for a while, silent, but clinging to one another, almost as if we’re afraid that we’ll be pulled apart to another reality where we couldn’t be together.

“What do you want to do today, Rin?” I asked after what seemed to be an eternity of silence.

“I don’t know, Hisao…” Rin answered, her head still pressed against my chest. “I want to do something, but I also want to do nothing. What do you want to do?”

“Honestly, let’s just go outside,” I suggest I let go of her, despite the fact that I wanted to hold her for a little while longer. “Maybe explore the city, or go to the movies. Anywhere is fine, as long as it isn’t here.”

Rin nodded, not saying anything. We quickly prepared ourselves, changing into new clothes and doing our usual morning routine, which also meant taking my medications. I made sure that Rin was in the bathroom before taking it, and hurried through the process more than usual.

I wasn’t self conscious about most people seeing me take what I needed to live, but at the same time I had a feeling that I shouldn’t let Rin see me take my medications.

After all our preparations were completed, we finally headed downstairs. I had hoped to sneak past my parents, but they were sitting at the dining table, and we had no way to avoid them. Dad was sipping on a cup of what I assume was either tea or coffee, reading the newspaper while talking with Mom. Thankfully, they weren’t talking about Rin.

“Morning, son. Rin,” Dad said politely, putting the newspaper down. “Are you two well?”

“Yeah,” I replied while Rin said nothing. “I was thinking of going out and showing Rin a bit of the city. We rarely get a chance to explore outside Yamaku and the nearby town.”

“This early?” Mom asked, sounding both skeptical and worried. “Are you two sure you don’t want to eat breakfast first? I prepared some spiced porridge for the both of you, it’d be a shame for it to go to waste.”

I turned to look at Rin, who’s expression was completely unreadable. Turning back to Mom, I shook my head. She looked disappointed, letting out a sigh before getting up.

“Very well. Try to stay safe, Hicchan. Be back before dinner, alright?” she said, before going to the kitchen. Dad gave me a sympathetic look, and motioned us to go.

I’d need to face them later, but not now. We donned our coats and shoes, and I walked out of the house with Rin by my side, wondering where exactly we should go. As we walked out of the yard, I heard someone.

“Hisao? That really you?”

The voice was more than familiar to me, though I haven’t heard it for some time. It was the voice of an old friend. I turned and faced the person who called out to me, my old friend Shin. He quickly walked up to me, waving at me with a surprised look on his face.

His face, so familiar yet so different. He wore square glasses now, and his face looked just a bit more energetic than the last time we met. His black hair, which used to be a wild mess, was now neatly combed to the side. But his blue eyes were still the same, as was his choice of attire, a black coat and pants, his favorite color.

Even though it’d only been months, it felt like I was seeing for the first time in years. I still wondered if he was still the same Shin I knew back then, or had time changed him the same way it changed me.

“Your Mom told me you were coming, but I didn’t expect you to be outside this early,” he said as he stopped right in front of me, holding out his hand palm-up. I instantly slapped my hand down on it, like we used to do. “Glad to see you remembered.”

“How could I forget?” I responded, feeling nostalgic at our old greeting. “We’ve been doing that since the start of high school.”

“Yeah, well you didn’t exactly do it when I visited you in the hospital.” Then he shook his head, , and rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. “Sorry, didn’t mean to bring that up.”

“It’s alright,” I said. Usually Shin and I would reconcile with a hand gesture, so I held my hand out and he accepted it with a slap. “It’s good to see you again, Shin.”

“Same here,” He replied with a smile, before looking away from me and towards Rin. Thankfully, his expression didn’t change upon looking at her. “You brought someone home?”

“Yeah, this is Rin,” I said, motioning to her. “I met her at Yamaku, and we’re dating.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Rin,” Shin said, giving her a big smile. “I hope Hisao here isn’t too much trouble for you.”

Rin merely shook her head, looking slightly confused. She turned to look at me, and that’s when I realized that I should probably introduce Shin to her.

“Rin, this is Shin Nitta. He’s one of my friends from high school, before coming to Yamaku. He lives right beside my house, so we bumped into each other a lot back when I lived here.”

“I see…” Rin said, nodding slightly. “You’re Hisao’s old friend, but you’re not old. You’re his young old friend, like how zombies are the living dead.”

Shin raised an eyebrow at that comment, but let out a chuckle. “I guess if you put it that way, then sure. Gotta say, I never thought she’d be your type, Hisao. Always figured you had a thing for blondes...not that you two don’t look great together, that is.”

“Anyways,” I interjected, trying to change the subject away from my former...physical interests. “Where are you going, Shin?”

“Oh, just doing a grocery run for my parents,” Shin replied, sounding mildly annoyed. “We’re running low on food, and they don’t really like going out during the winter. Actually...wanna come along? I’ll even treat you two to lunch later in the afternoon, whatever you want.”

I once again turned to Rin, who looked at me with a neutral expression. This would be a good chance to reconnect with him, and perhaps even have Rin become more familiar with my old friends. Surely it couldn’t go any worse than with my parents, right?

“Yeah,” I responded as we started walking away from our homes, still feeling a bit of uncertainty. “It’ll be nice to catch up.”

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It took around ten minutes to reach the store Shin wanted to go, a large grocery store that I was vaguely familiar with. We talked about how each other had been since my departure. Apparently, Shin’s grades had been improving, and he’s been preparing for college alongside our group of friends. Though he noticeably left Iwanako out among them.

Rin even chimed in a few times, in her usual way of speaking. Shin seemed to take all the metaphors and analogies in stride, something I was grateful for. She seemed more comfortable around him as time went on, so this was already a better start than with my parents. I hoped it would go as well with Takumi and Mai as it was with him.

Entering the store made me realize that I’d never really done any sort of grocery shopping before. I’d accompanied Mom a few times and helped carry her bags, but that was the extent of it. I’ve never had to buy essentials on my own, apart from microwave-ready foods from the convenience store…

When I start living alone with Rin, I’ll probably have to do a lot of this if we want to eat, as well as buying kitchen utensils and learning how to cook. I was slowly starting to think about the reality of living independently with her.

“Anyways, I need to buy a lot of stuff,” Shin stated before grabbing a shopping basket and heading to one of the aisles, containing rice and flour. “After I send it back to my folks, we can do whatever we want after that.”

“You were thinking about something, Hisao,” Rin noted as we stood where we were. “I want to know about it, even if I don’t know what you’re thinking.”

“Just about the future…” I replied. “Is there anything you’d like to buy? We didn’t eat breakfast, after all.”

“Mm, I feel hungry. So, yes.” Rin walked ahead of me towards an aisle with pre-prepared foodstuffs. “I want to buy food, but I don’t know what kind of food. Like a wind that wants to blow, but doesn’t know what direction it wants to blow towards. Give me a direction, Hisao.”

“We probably shouldn’t eat anything unhealthy for breakfast,” I said, trying to decide what to eat for the both of us. “The convenience store probably sells some rice balls and sandwiches, if you want some.”

“Mm...rice balls or sandwiches…” Rin mused as she walked through the aisle without looking at anything. “It’s like painting grass, but choosing between forest green or spring green. Both are correct, and you can choose one, or none, or both. But you still have to choose.”

“So...rice balls?” I asked, trying to guess what she wanted from her analogy.

“No, forest green,” Rin answered, looking mildly amused. “I was choosing what to paint grass with, not what I want for breakfast. You didn’t know that, did you Hisao?”

“Uh…” I couldn’t help but laugh at my blunder. “Yeah, I was guessing. Sorry.”

“Mm, I don’t want you to be sorry,” Rin said, stopping where she was. “I want rice balls. I didn’t want them before, but when you asked if I wanted them, I want them now. Like a fisherman catching fish when he thought of catching fish.”

“Alright, I’ll buy some, and then we can eat them later.” She nodded at my statement, which I took as my cue to leave.

Rin didn’t follow me as I walked back near the entrance of the store, where rice balls, sandwiches and other pre-prepared meals were displayed near the counter, so I figured I’d buy them now and then wait for her to finish observing whatever it is she wants to observe.

I saw Shin there as well, taking what looked like a ham sandwich from a rack and placing it into his shopping basket.

I moved next to him, looking at the selection of rice balls, each of them filled with something different. “I’ve never been here before. Any recommendations on what to get for breakfast?”

“Go for the meat one,” Shin replied. “And whatever you do, avoid anything that has mushrooms or vegetables in it. Trust me.”

I took his advice, taking two meat-filled rice balls. “Thanks, Shin.”

“It’s nothing,” Shin replied, turning around to look at me. “You know, Hisao. You look like you’ve really bounced back from back then. I’m glad that you seem to be doing well.”

“I had a lot of help,” I said, giving him a smile. “Maybe more help than someone like me deserves. I’ve had a lot to think about during my time at Yamaku, about how I treated you all when I was in the hospital.”

“You were pretty cold, not going to lie.” Shin doesn’t sound resentful as he says that. He’s even smiling the way I remembered him, bright and honest. “I get it, you had a lot to go through, but it wasn’t easy for any of us to accept that. For any of us to move on once you left, you know?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling a bit ashamed. Whatever justification I could have had was irrelevant; the fact was that I’d pushed them away. “I just...didn’t know what to do, for a while. The heart attack, the hospital, moving away, all of it just sort of...shut me down. Made me not care about anything anymore. But I know that isn’t a good excuse for being the way I was, especially when all any of you did was try and cheer me up.”

“It’s all in the past now, anyways…” Shin replied with a shrug. “So...pretend the last few months never happened?”

“I’ll try, but I don’t know if it’ll be that easy. For me or for the others. Mai, Takumi...” I said as I went to the cashier and paid for the rice balls. “She sent me a letter, you know? Iwanako, I mean.”

“Yeah, she told me,” Shin answered as he paid for his stuff, putting them into large plastic bags. “Not about what it said, but I can guess. She told you about...us, I assume?”

“Yes, she did,” I responded, recalling the tumultuous day I got that letter. At the time, it was simply a mess stacked on top of an even bigger mess. “I’m happy for you two, I really am.”

“Thanks. I wouldn’t really say this if you were still single, but she’s the best girlfriend anyone can ask for,” Shin said, sounding genuinely grateful that he had my blessing. “I hope you two can become great friends. Assuming you don’t fall to the ground once you meet her again.”

There was a moment of silence before we laughed, drawing the ire of the cashier. The person I had been before I left probably would have felt insulted at that joke, but the person I was now was surprisingly fine with jokes about my condition.

Part of it was probably because I’d pushed them away with my condition once before, and that I didn’t want to now, but the laughter that came out of me was genuine.

“I should probably go get Rin,” I said once the laughter died down. “She’s hungry. I can help carry one of your bags, if you’d like.”

“What do I look like, some sort of wimp? I can carry these just fine.” The moment I turned around, Shin asked in a more serious tone, “You really like her, don’t you?”

I replied with the only answer that I could have possibly given. “Yeah, I love her. If there’s anything I don’t regret about my time there, it’s falling head over heels for her.”

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The three of us made the journey back to Shin’s house to drop off his groceries. On the way, Rin and I had a serviceable breakfast while continuing to converse with him. Shin, for the most part, seems to enjoy using any embarrassing moment from my past as a conversation topic.

“You know one time, Hisao confessed his love to a teacher,” Shin mentions playfully, and it took all my strength not to tackle him to the ground in order to shut him up. “It was when we were in middle school, and he just said ‘I love you’ to her in front of the entire class.”

“Did you love her…?” Rin asked in a genuine tone of voice, sounding neither amused nor jealous. Shin laughed at her question, and I can’t help but feel as if the two are secretly collaborating against me. They weren’t, but it definitely felt that way.

“No, I was just young and stupid,” I replied, sounding more defensive than I intended. “She was just...really nice, ok?”

“And pretty, and young, and single,” Shin replied, eager to dig my grave even deeper. “Though to be fair, I had a crush on her too. I think the rest of the class did, or at least the male half. You were just the only one stupid enough to actually confess to her.”

“Like you were any better in high school,” I retorted, finally deciding to use my own memories of him to fight back. “Remember the incident where you ‘confessed’ to two girls at once?”

“I didn’t confess!” he retorted immediately, causing me to smirk. Some things never changed.

“You two are like Emi and Miki,” Rin noted, closing her eyes as we continued. “Except neither of you are Emi or Miki. And not just because you two have all your limbs and you both have something between your legs...at least I think Shin has a thing between his legs.”

“Uh…” This time, Shin seems to be utterly baffled at the audacity of her analogy, turning to me and giving me a confused look.

“Friends from Yamaku,” I explained, and when his confused look changed to incredulous, I realized it’s the other part of the analogy he was confused by. “Oh...she likes to say that sometimes, usually when she’s comparing male and females.”

“I do?” Rin said, seeming to only now get that revelation and closing her eyes in contemplation. “I guess I do...I think. I don’t mean to, but I do. Like electricity not meaning to be electric.”

“Man, is this what going there does to you?” Shin asked, half jokingly. “I’m surprised you came out of it sane.”

“Nah, Rin’s just being herself,” I pulled her close as I said that, which she responded by resting her head on me. “She’s...Rin. And I wouldn’t have her any other way.”

“I can see that, Hisao,” Shin said as we stopped just outside his home, I turned to look at mine and wondered what Mom and Dad were doing right now. Was last night still fresh in their minds? “I’ll drop these off and then I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”

When he left us, I turned to Rin. “What do you think of Shin?”

“I wasn’t thinking of Shin, I was thinking about you,” Rin answered plainly, though the slight smile on her face hinted that it was a joke. “...I think he’s okay. Like how tap water is okay, or like how a window is okay.”

“Well, that’s nice to hear,” I replied. Not the best analogy, but at the very least she’s made it clear that she doesn’t dislike him.

“Are all your friends from here like Shin?” Rin asked. “I’m trying to imagine them, but all I can imagine are mannequins that look like Shin, except they’re made out of flesh instead of plastic. They’re all wearing the same thing, and it’s weird even though wearing the same clothes isn’t weird.”

“There are some similarities,” I answered, recalling what my daily life was like at my old school, with my old friends. “But they’re also differences. Mai is an athlete, kind of like Emi actually. She was the most hardcore soccer player out of all of us, and she can give all the boys a run for their money. I think she was even nominated to be captain of the club before I left.”

“Takumi is...well he’s a playboy, to put it really bluntly. I don’t think a week went by where he didn’t ask a girl out for a date. Some of them accepted, but most of them rejected him, especially once he got a reputation as a shameless flirt. Even the dates he got never lasted more than a few days at best, but it never really seemed to bother him all that much.”

“I see…” Rin replied. “I know them more now because of you, Hisao. It’s like you’re showing me a picture of them, except it’s a picture made out of words.”

“I guess so,” I said, contemplating how our eventual reunion will go. Shin’s went well enough, but will the others be as smooth? “But that’s from when I kept in touch with them.They could have changed to the point where I won’t recognize them.”

“Do you think they have?” Rin asked innocently.

“I’m...not sure,” I answered, a bit nervous. “It’s honestly kind of nerve-wracking, thinking about how different they might be now.”

“Like how I was afraid about how I might be different?” Rin said, to which I nodded in response. “Everything changes. Trees, birds, people. Plants start as seeds before growing up to become plants. Sometimes we don’t know what the seed is. It could be a flower, or a tree, or a fruit. But even if it isn’t the plant we want, the plant is still there. It still grew up.”

“Yeah…” I said, understand what she’s trying to tell me. People change in ways that we don’t expect, or that we don’t even like. But that doesn’t mean the change itself is bad, or that we should reject them. It’s a lesson that Rin and I have had some experience with. “Thank you, Rin. I think I understood that.”

“A few months ago, you wouldn’t have. Even if you said you did, I wouldn’t have believed you. Like how parents don’t believe their kids when they said they ate all their vegetables,” Rin noted, smiling a little. “Now I believe you, and even if it isn’t true, I would still feel happy. This is a change, a different me from the me when we first met.”

“I was much more depressed back then,” I said, recalling the time where I bumped into her eating lunch in the art club. Perhaps the best coincidence of my life. “But now I’m happier, even if everything isn’t perfect. That’s also a change.”

We didn’t say anything after that statement, waiting for Shin to return, which he eventually did.

“Sorry it took so long. Parents wanted to talk about some stuff,” Shin said in an annoyed tone before looking at us with a curious glance for some reason. “Uh...did something happen?”

“Something happened,” Rin agreed, not elaborating. Shin then turned to me, obviously hoping for a better answer.

“...Something happened,” I repeated, unable to hide the smirk on my face. Shin realized that he wasn’t going to get a better answer than that and just rolled his eyes, a goofy smile on his face as well.

“Man, you two are really something.”

Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/4/2020)

Posted: Wed Jul 15, 2020 8:40 am
by MoashLannister
We talked about where we wanted to go for a while before settling on wandering around the shopping district, then stopping by a sushi place to eat lunch. After taking a short train ride, we arrived at our destination, a crowded street full of people and stores of all kinds: food, fashion, books, games.

“I came here a lot,” I said to Rin as we exited the station, though the fact that it was broad daylight dampened my nostalgia a little. “During nights when Mom and Dad weren’t home, I went to this place a few times. Seeing what they were selling, maybe buying a snack if I had the spare change.”

“Why?” Rin asked as we walked down the street. I tried not to look at any passerbys, but I can’t help but notice a few of them. As I feared, many of them were staring at Rin, but this time I simply ignored them instead of letting the resentment build up. It probably helped that we were on the move instead of staying still.

“I liked the sense of freedom,” I responded, recalling a night where I was walking down this very street. When I looked to my left I saw a store selling vintage books, a place I’d stopped to look at countless times. “I had nothing to do at home, and I couldn’t sleep most of the time. So I just wanted to go somewhere, anywhere. It didn’t matter where it was, just that I was out and about, moving somewhere and seeing something.”

“I understand…” Rin said. “Wanting to be like the wind, blowing this way or that, not caring where you end up as long as you’re moving. Because a wind that isn’t moving isn’t a wind, it’s just...nothing.”

“Yeah, something like that.” I thought about it for a second and added. “It’s like you with your art, I’d imagine.”

“Mm...different, yet the same. A different wind, blowing the same way,” Rin said, before nodding. “I want us to blow the same way, even if other winds try to blow us in different ways.”

“We will,” I promised softly, pulling her even closer to me. It was also a promise to myself, no matter what my parents said. “No matter what.”

“Ahem,” Shin cleared his throat, getting our attention as he stopped right in front of us. “As much as I love being the third wheel, I actually wanna go inside this store.”

The store he was referring to was an old looking one, the paint on it looking faded. The windows had kimonos and yukatas on display. I can’t help but be reminded of the Culture Day festival, where Rin, Emi and the others were in their yukatas. Such a fun time, which truth be told I’d found more enjoyable than my trip back home.

“Buying a kimono?” I asked as we entered the store, where an elderly couple greeted us. It was only inside where I realized that this store sold all manner of things, from model ships to paintings to small knick knacks.

“I wish. If only I had that kind of spending money,” Shin snorts before greeting the store owners, who seem familiar with him. “Nah, I just want to buy a small gift for Iwanako. This place sells all sorts of things, so I figured I’d see if they have anything she might like.”

“Iwanako?” Rin said, sounding confused. “A weird name. It doesn’t sound like a name, more like someone smashing two names together and they end up stuck. Is this person an old friend, Hisao? It feels like it.”

“Um, not really…” I answered. Calling Iwanako a friend was a stretch, when we barely knew each other in the grand scheme of things. Still, she was the one who visited me the longest when I was at the hospital, and sent me two long and emotional letters. It would be a lie to call her a stranger either. “It’s complicated, but she’s someone I want to meet while I’m here.”

“Oh…” Rin didn’t say anything after that and wandered off to inspect some other part of the store.

Shin’s desire to buy something for Iwanako made me wonder if I should do the same for Rin. I did bring a little bit of spending money. I looked around the store, wondering what Rin would fancy. Kimonos and yukatas were obviously out of the question, and she probably wouldn’t think much of a model ship or an old wooden toy. I turned to see Shin inspecting a rack selling a bunch of keychains, necklaces and hairpins, so I walked up to him.

“Finally decided on what to buy Iwanako?” I asked as he picked a keychain with a small wooden dog on the end.

“Yeah, she really likes dogs,” Shin replied, smiling brightly as he held the keychain in his hand. “She has a cute Pomeranian at her place, loves it like it was her own kid. She says she wants to get more when she has the chance, maybe a bigger kind.”

“Didn’t know that, actually…” I said, surprised at the revelation despite knowing that I shouldn’t be. “You’re really close to her, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty serious. About as much as you and Rin, I’d imagine,” he said as he took another look through the rack, this time picking out a pink hair clip. “We’ve visited each other’s folks, said ‘I love you’, we even promised to go to colleges in the same city once we’ve graduated.”

“Rin and I did pretty much the same thing. I brought her here to introduce her to my parents,” I responded, omitting their opinions on her. “I was actually thinking about buying a gift for her here, still looking for the right thing.”

“I’m sure she’ll appreciate anything you buy her,” Shin says in a reassuring tone. “After all, it’s more about who gave you the gift rather than what the gift is, at least for me. Iwanako could give me a bag full of pears and I’d still like it.”

“Wow, coming from the guy who’d rather do homework than eat a measly pear, that’s saying something,” I teased, causing him to roll his eyes. I looked around to see if Rin was within hearing distance, which she wasn’t. She was looking at a wall of paintings, back turned towards me. “But still, I’d rather find something that she actually likes, and not just because I’m the one who gave it to her.”

“Is there something you have in mind, young fellow?” The elderly man asks me in a kindly voice. “If you have an idea of what it is, I might be able to help you.”

“Something small,” I explained, still looking at the rack. None of the necklaces seemed right for her, neither did any of the keychains. “She’s an artist, so probably something of that nature. Something that signifies the freedom to be whatever you want.”

It was the second I finished my sentence that I laid eyes on something. It was a hair clip in the shape of a small feather, light blue and translucent. I was drawn to it, picking it out of the rack and inspecting it up close. It almost looked and felt like an actual feather, though it was probably made out of plastic.

“It seemed you found something that interested you,” The old man said. “Well, since you seem to be so enamored with it, I’ll give you a discount.”

“Oh, don’t believe his lies,” I hear another voice say in rebuttal, this time coming from the elderly woman. “He says that to every single one of his new customers, and not once does he lower the price.”

“You can’t blame me for trying to get a sale, dear…” the old man said submissively.

“I blame you for being a liar. This is why I don’t trust you around our grandsons.” I heard the two bickering for a bit, my eyes still fixed on the hair clip. More and more, I felt like it was the right thing to buy for her.

After Shin and Rin browsed a little while longer, we made our way to the counter. I asked Shin to pretend to buy the hair clip, which he obliged. The old couple still bickered even as he handed them the items and money, though it was clear that it was more affectionate than anything.

“No, no. You press this button. How many times do I have to tell you, old man?”

“I know what I’m doing, dear. I’ve been running this counter for four decades, so give me some slack, eh?”

I wonder if Rin and I would reach that stage. Perhaps not the bickering, but the affection persisting after so many years. Of course, what would ultimately determine that was how long I could live before my condition overwhelms me. The one thing that isn’t in my own hands.

I tried to shake off that depressing thought and focused on what matters now, spending more time with Rin.

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After eating lunch and spending a few more hours wandering around the city, mostly window shopping and talking, we made our way back home. I felt a bit tired from all the endless walking, but Rin seemed to be able to handle it just fine. Most of the time I had an arm wrapped around her shoulder, and she kissed my cheek on more than one occasion.

Overall, I’d say it had been a day well spent. No problems, no bad surprises, nothing. However, the fact that I had to return to face my parents was not something I was looking forward to, inevitable as it was.

“Welp, guess this is where we part ways,” Shin said, a plastic bag in his hand. He was the only one who bought anything, mostly video games or snacks. He had given me the hairpin while Rin wasn’t looking. I’d promptly hidden it in my pocket, still looking for the right time to give it to her. “I’ll be hanging out with our old gang tomorrow. There’s a movie that they all really want to see, so…”

“I’ll be there,” I said firmly. “It’ll be nice to catch up with them. After all, we’ve had a fun time with you, right Rin?”

“Yes,” Rin stated, nodding. “Being with you and Shin is the most fun I’ve had in this city. Like drinking cold clean water after swallowing muddy water for an entire day.”

Shin chuckled at that analogy. “Well, it’s definitely fun having you around, I can tell you that. I’m sure the others will feel the same way, once you meet them.”

He turned to look at me, flashing me a smirk. “Takumi’s probably gonna hit on her. You know that, right? He tried with Iwanako.”

“He can try,” I responded, rolling my eyes. “But I’ll doubt he’ll get through to her.”

“I don’t want him to hit me,” Rin noted, sounding both curious and anxious. “I also don’t want him to go through me like a ghost. Even though I don’t know who he is, or if he even is a ghost.”

“He’s not a ghost, and he’s an alright guy...despite a few bad habits,” I answered immediately, adding a hint of sarcasm to the last one. This only causes Shin to laugh even more.

“Man, I don’t know why, but it’s like you two were made for each other,” he said before walking towards his home, “Meet you here tomorrow, at around ten in the morning. Enjoy the rest of your day, try not to wake the neighbours at night.”

“I think I like Shin,” Rin said once he’s inside his house. “Not as much as you, or my parents, or Hanako, or Emi...maybe like him more than Miki, though. He’s like a cookie you get for free, you like having it but you don’t want it around until you get it.”

“So you like him when he’s there, but you don’t really want him there” I said, to which she nodded in response. I turned into the direction of my house, feeling apprehensive that I finally have to return there. “Ready to head inside?”

“No, but we need to,” Rin responded, leaning her body against mine. “Like going to the dentist, or taking exams.”

With a bit of reluctance, we made our way inside the house. I could smell the scent of cooked food the moment we entered, which meant Mom was cooking. A rare occurrence given her busy schedule, but the fact that she didn’t cook that often made it all the more special. It helped that she was a very good cook despite the lack of opportunities to do so.

I recalled her cooking on birthdays, whenever I got a good score in a test, or whenever the holidays meant she didn’t have to go to work. It’s her way of letting me know she cares about me, and that she wanted us to be comfortable. At least, that had been my assumption about things.

I saw Dad sitting down on the dining room chair, reading a red leather book. Besides reading and watching baseball, he liked to read a lot, either newspapers or books about history or politics. Things I never had any interest in, though I tried to listen whenever he told me about them.

He noticed us come in and said in a friendly manner. “Welcome home, son. Rin. How was your tour around the city?”

“It was alright,” I answered immediately. “We met Shin and hung out a little, and he invited us to go see a movie tomorrow with our friends.”

“Ah, glad to see you two are still friendly,” Dad responded, putting the book down on the table. “Mom cooked your favorite tonight, karaage and curry.”

“AND some hot green tea to wash it down,” Mom added as she walked out of the kitchen, carrying a large pot of curry with vegetables in it. “Welcome back, Hicchan. Rin. Why don’t you sit down? Dinner’s almost ready.”

The two of us complied, sitting down opposite Dad as Mom placed the pot down in the middle of the table, then walked back to the kitchen. Dad turned to Rin and gave her a smile. “I hope today wasn’t too exhausting, Rin.”

Rin shook her head, saying nothing. Dad maintained his smile and continued speaking. “I was thinking about a Vincent Van Gogh piece I read about recently. I believe it’s called The Starry Night. It looks extremely interesting, that you can see every brush stroke that he did so clearly. What do you think, Rin?”

“I’ve seen it before,” Rin commented, and I could hear a hint of interest in her voice. She closed her eyes. “It was a long time ago, even though it wasn’t that long. Like a pond being big but an ocean being even bigger. The painting feels...incomplete, or at least the me then thought that when she saw that.”

Dad looked confused. “It feels...incomplete? How so?”

“It feels like everything is seperated,” Rin explained, eyes still closed. “Like each part of it is in a different place than all the others, just out of reach. But when you see them all at once, it becomes this complete picture even though there should be holes in it. But there aren't any holes, just one whole picture made out of separate parts that are still separated.”

“I see…” Dad said. He looked like he was trying to understand, despite the befuddled look in his eyes. “That’s a very interesting perspective on it, Rin. I suppose that’s how artists view things, huh?”

“It’s how I see it,” Rin clarified. “I may be an artist, and I may not be an artist, but I saw the painting as me.”

“Ah…” Dad trailed off, not knowing what else to say. It was clear that he was trying to get to know her more, trying to make her more comfortable about being here. I felt touched by his attempt, especially given our discussion yesterday. I turned to Rin and wondered if she noticed it too.

“What do you like, Mr. Nakai?” Rin asked, addressing him directly for the first time. “I don’t know you even though you’re Hisao’s Dad, so I feel like I should know you more.”

“Oh…” Dad thought about it before settling on something. “Well, I enjoy history and politics, though I think those subjects might be boring to talk about. Beyond that, I had a passion for baseball when I was a young boy, and I still do to some degree.”

“Baseball…” Rin thought about it for a bit. “Did you like playing the one swinging the bat, or the one catching the ball? I don’t really like either, ‘cause I can’t play at all.”

“You mean pitcher or batter? I preferred playing batter,” Dad sounded more passionate about this than most things. Nothing really got him going like watching a professional baseball game, though he’s never really shown an interest in playing it himself. “The feeling of a ball heading straight towards you, the sound of the bat hitting the ball and sending it flying, and then the inevitable rush as you try and round all four bases. Easily the most exhilarating feeling in my life.”

“Hm...you say it like how I would say about painting,” Rin noted, nodding her head up and down slightly. “Not exactly, but the feeling is similar. Like how feeling excited over your favorite music playing and feeling excited that you won a game of tic-tac-toe is similar. I...understand.”

“Well, I’m glad you do.” Despite the lingering confusion in Dad’s voice, I could hear his genuine appreciation. “And I’m glad that I’m able to talk to you.”

Mom came back to the dining table with four plates of rice with karaage and four cups of green tea, setting them on the table before sitting beside Dad. We all gave thanks to the food before digging in, Rin pushing her chair back to better use her legs for eating.

“Let me get the curry for you,” Mom insisted, using a ladle to pour some curry and vegetables onto Rin’s plate. “Don’t hesitate to ask for more.”

“Thank you,” Rin said in a quiet voice before eating some vegetables with her fork. “Your cooking is very nice. Better than the cafeteria in Yamaku.”

“I would hope so,” Mom boasted, sounding extremely proud. “I used to win my school’s cooking competitions when I was younger. The others never stood a chance against my spicy chicken
katsu. In fact, that’s how his father fell in love with me.”

“Huh?” I exclaimed, completely unaware of that fact. “I know you and Dad met in high school, but you didn’t say anything about cooking competitions.”

“Oh, I figured you wouldn’t be interested in details like that, considering the last time I tried to tell you this story.” Mom said, pretending to sound resentful of that. Pretending or not, I did feel ashamed for not paying attention the last time.

“I want to know...” Rin said before eating some rice. I wondered if she was genuinely curious or if she simply wanted to appease Mom. Regardless, Mom seemed genuinely happy about that request, beaming a smile. Dad simply rolled his eyes and continued to eat his meal in silence.

“Well, it was right after the competition,” Mom said, sounding extremely nostalgic. “I still had some of my cooking leftover, so I packed it in a lunchbox for later. Now, Hisao’s father was very forgetful back then, and he happened to forget the lunch his mother gave him. He would have bought something from the cafeteria, but he forgot his wallet as well.”

“It was just the one time.” Dad grumbled softly in between bites.

“Our college dates say otherwise, dear. Remember the time you bought me men’s clothing by accident?” Mom responded in rebuke, causing Dad to turn his head downwards in shame. I can’t help but chuckle at the sight that I’ve seen a few times in my childhood, but only now fully understood after having a girlfriend of my own. “Anyways, where was I? Oh, right.

“We were alone in the classroom when I heard his stomach growl, and he looked so pitiful that I offered him my lunch. I’ve never seen him look more grateful than when I gave him food that day. Of course, he insisted on repaying the favor, so he gave me some of his own cooking the very next day. Unfortunately, said cooking was rather...well, I gave him points for effort.”

“I’ve gotten better,” Dad mentioned again. “My cooking is rather good now, actually.”

“Good is a relative term, dear,” Mom responded, sounding almost pitying of him. “Regardless, I offered to teach him a thing or two about making food. One lesson led to another and before we knew it, we were dating.”

Rin actually seemed to like the story, as I saw her eyes light up a little. “Mm, I met Hisao during lunch. He opened the door and saw me eating stuff out of a bento box.”

“I was asked to move some stuff to the art room for a festival, during my first week there,” I added, recalling the first time we met. In hindsight, it’s probably the moment where my worldview about Yamaku started to change. “And then she was there. We had a conversation, and then when the festival came around we hung out together.”

“Oh, that was quite a long time ago,” Dad said. “And you two started dating after?”

“No, it actually took a bit before we were actually dating,” I explained, feeling oddly fine with the fact that my parents are curious about the details of our relationship. “We had a few things to sort out, and we caused each other some trouble. But after all that was past us was when we started to have a relationship.”

“We could have dated earlier, or later, but it wouldn’t have been the right time,” Rin said, closing her eyes. “We wouldn’t be the people that we were back when we started to love each other, so we became boyfriend and girlfriend at the right time, even if we didn’t know it was the right time.”

“Yeah…” I added in agreement, thinking about what she said. It sounded like Rin, yet different, like she’s trying to adapt to speaking with my parents while still retaining her identity. “I’m glad we started dating when we did, it was the moment we were sure that we wanted to be together.”

“That’s very sweet,” Mom said, sounding genuinely supporting before her face turned serious. “Hicchan, I know I’ve said some...rather uncomfortable things, and I won’t take them back. But...I’m glad that she makes you happy. Thank you for being there for my son when he was in such a difficult situation, Rin.”

Rin didn’t respond, but it was clear that Mom’s words had some effect on her. She took another bite of her rice before saying. “Thank you for making Hisao. If you didn’t make Hisao, I think I wouldn’t be as happy as I am, even if the Rin then wouldn’t know it. Like not knowing that if you had taken a step left, you’d have gotten a chest full of gold coins.”

“You have a way with words, Rin,” Dad complimented. “I’d imagine you make my son rather tongue twisted at times.”

“I’ve never grabbed Hisao’s tongue. I can’t,” Rin said, taking the phrase literally. “I guess I could grab it with my toes and twist it, but I don’t think I want to do that.”

This caused all of us to laugh, even Mom. I felt a sense of rapport growing between my parents and Rin, the beginning of a bond between them. While I knew it wasn’t enough to assuage their worries, it was something.

The rest of the dinner was full of conversation, a stark contrast to how last night turned out. Mom even offered to give Rin a few recipes for cooking, which Rin said that she’d consider. All in all, it was a very pleasant affair, though I reminded myself that this was simply a reprieve and that there were still problems between us.

Still, it gave me hope that they would come around to her. They’d already said that they don’t dislike who she is, and today’s dinner seemed to improve their opinion of her. But they still needed to be convinced that she can take care of herself, and take care of me if necessary.

I wondered how I was supposed to prove that fact to them. Perhaps a few months of living together during college will do the trick.

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Dinner ended with everyone content, both from the cooking and the atmosphere. Mom went to the kitchen to clean up everything while Dad went to the living room. While they didn’t state it outright, they implied that they wanted us to be alone together, which I didn’t mind one bit. The two of us went upstairs to our room to relax.

As evening transitioned into night, we took a hot shower together as well as a change of clothes. Our dirty clothes were placed onto a pile in the corner of the room, which I’d eventually wash with our house’s washing machine. Another thing to consider when we have our own place, I realized.

I wondered how many other things I’d yet to take into account. Food, furniture, washing clothes, so many little things we’d taken for granted, being in an accommodating environment like Yamaku.

“Hisao, you’re hurting me,” I heard Rin say, and my attention immediately snapped back to the fact that we’re both sitting on the bed, and that I’m brushing her hair. “It’s like a bee stinging my head, except you’re the bee. Don’t be a bee, Hisao. Hmm...that sounded weird. Be a bee…”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, returning my focus on delicately brushing her soft hair with a hairbrush, something Emi apparently insisted on packing. Probably for this exact situation, in which case I silently thanked Emi for the opportunity. “You know, your hair has gotten a little long, Rin.”

“It has?” Rin asked as I ran a hand through her soft hair, which reached halfway down her neck. “I don’t know. Whenever my hair gets long, Emi just tells me and then asks me if I want to cut it. Sometimes she cuts my hair, sometimes she takes me to a barbershop.”

“Have you ever had long hair?” I asked, brushing her usually messy hair into straight lines. Rin had once said that she’d rarely brush her hair despite owning a brush, since she considered it an unnecessary hassle. When she asked me to help her, I was more than happy to oblige.

“When I was very young,” Rin said. “I had long and straight hair because Mama would always brush it for me after taking a bath, like trying to make a river flow in one direction instead of twisting and turning.”

“You must have looked really cute then,” I said, causing her to lean her body back towards mine, letting out a contented sigh as she rested the back of her head on my chest. I decided to focus on the sides and the front, which have also grown quite long. “What caused you to keep it short?”

“When I started painting, paint got into a lot of my hair,” Rin explained. “Mama found it really hard to keep washing it out, so she said that she was going to cut my hair short. She said it was an ‘artist’s haircut’, though I know people who have that haircut who aren’t artists, and people without that haircut who are.”

“So it wasn’t your choice?” I asked as I finished brushing her hair. She looked more orderly now that her hair was straight, and longer than usual. Different, but still the same Rin I fell in love with, regardless of the details.

“No, but I didn’t mind. It was like changing pork to chicken, they still taste alright,” Rin noted, letting out another sigh. “Would you like me with long hair, Hisao?”

“I’d like you with any hair, Rin,” I said, wrapping my arms around her, enjoying the warmth of her body. “You’ll still be beautiful.”

“Hmm, you said what Mama said back then. Are you a younger Mama? That wouldn’t be good,” Rin said, sounding confused. “I don’t want you to be Mama, I want you to be Hisao.”

“I’m Hisao,” I assured her, giggling a little. “I don’t know how to be anyone else but Hisao.”

“That’s good. I don’t want you to be anyone other than Hisao,” Rin said before breaking apart from me, turning to face me. She said nothing for a while before saying. “I love you. I felt like I wanted to say that, so I did.”

“I love you too,” I responded, planting a kiss on her forehead. I figured if there was a time to give her the gift, it’d be now. “I actually bought something for you.”

I got off of the bed and walked towards my desk, where I’d placed the feather hair clip just before showering. I took it and sat back down, holding it in front of her.

“A hair clip,” Rin said, sounding neutral as she inspected it. “It looks pretty, Hisao.”

“I picked it out specially for you,” I replied, feeling a bit embarrassed as I went through my reasoning for buying that specifically. “A feather symbolizes freedom, being able to fly wherever the wind takes you, always moving towards something new. At least, that’s what I thought when I got it for you. Sometimes you’re hard to follow, and I used to think you’ll slip through my hands, but I know that I’ll chase you wherever you go. No matter what.”

“Hmm, I understand you Hisao,” Rin said, a slight smile on her face. “The Rin I was back then wouldn’t have understood what you were trying to say, or at least she wouldn’t try. But the Rin I am, and the Rin I will try to be, does understand you.”

“So you like it?” I asked in a light hearted tone.

“I don’t know if I’d like it if anyone else gave it to me, but you gave it to me,” Rin’s smile widened as she said that, her eyes staring into mine. “I like it, Hisao. I like that you thought of me when you bought it. I feel like...a sun in the middle of night, shining brightly even though it’s so dark.”

Her approval was all that I needed. “Can I...put it on you?”

She nodded in response, and I carefully placed the hair clip on the corner of her forehead. Once again, she looked different than the Rin I’m used to, but it was still her. I can feel a wide grin forming on my face.

“I have a feather on my head,” Rin closed her eyes, maintaining her smile. “I feel like I’m a bird, except my entire body isn’t covered in feathers, and I can’t really fly. But I still feel like I can fly a little, because of what you gave me and because of what you say. So...thank you, Hisao. For helping me fly.”

“I’m sure you’re able to fly higher, and I’ll help you achieve that,” I responded, cupping her cheek. “I’m the wind beneath your wings.”

“No, not beneath. I want you to fly beside me,” Rin said, and we sat in silence for a while, smiles still on our faces. “I think I’ll let my hair grow long, Hisao. Just a little. Like someone sipping just a little water from a cup.”

“Oh? Any particular reason?” I asked.

“I want to try something different. Be a different me, if only by a little,” Rin answered. “I know that whoever I am, you’ll still love me. Just like how whoever I will be, I’ll still love you. So I’m not afraid of trying to be a different me, little by little.”

“At least with your hair, you can always cut it back to the way it was.” I quipped.

“But I can’t cut my hair. Using scissors with my legs is hard,” Rin replied, before letting out a light yawn. “Hisao, I’m tired even though I want to talk to you. And right now the two of them are fighting. What should I do?”

“It’s getting late,” I said, looking out the window. Despite not knowing what time it is, I was feeling a little tired as well. “Let’s go to bed. Then we can talk tomorrow.”

Rin reluctantly agreed and went down to the futon, wrapping herself with her blanket. I went to turn off the lights before laying back down on the bed, facing her. Closing my eyes, there was nothing but silence. But just as I was about to fall asleep, I heard her voice.

“Hisao?” She whispered. “Are you looking forward to tomorrow? Not in the ‘seeing the future’ way, but the ‘I’d like for tomorrow to come’ way.”

“I’m...not sure,” I said, wondering how much I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of my old friends. Our day with Shin was definitely making me optimistic, but there was still some apprehension about it. “But overall, I’d say I’m looking forward to it.”

“Then I’ll look forward to it too,” Rin replied, sounding uncertain. “Goodnight, Hisao.”

“Goodnight, Rin.” And with that, the two of us said nothing more as we slowly drifted into sleep. One final time, the thought of tomorrow creeped up. I was hopeful for it, yet I couldn’t help but feel like something might go wrong…

I prayed that that feeling didn’t get validated tomorrow, just when I’m starting to feel better about showing Rin the person I was before all of this started.

Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/7/2020)

Posted: Thu Jul 16, 2020 4:47 am
by SuzuSuzuki_bestgirl
Hell yeah this depiction of Rin is awesome! Super faithful to the VN I feel, and I really like the way her character is evolving and managing to find small ways around her difficulties in communicating with others. Excited to see where you go with this, Moash!

Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/7/2020)

Posted: Tue Sep 15, 2020 8:31 am
by MoashLannister
Credit to Lap for proofreading

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Chapter 11: Shock

I had a better time sleeping last night than I did the night before, and it seemed Rin felt the same way. She didn’t look quite as troubled when I saw her in the morning, though some hints of uneasiness remained.

Still, I’d take my victories where I could get them, considering how badly our first day went.

We took our time getting cleaned before heading downstairs, where Mom and Dad awaited us. This time, we actually agreed to have some breakfast with them, which consisted of rice, a small fish, and some miso soup. It smelled really nice despite the simplicity of the meal, and tasted just as good

Conversation was the same as yesterday, with Rin and my parents getting to know each other a little more. Rin complimented Mom’s cooking again, and Mom even offered to teach her how to make a few meals. It felt like...a normal meal with my parents, something that definitely wasn’t the case two days ago.

Once again, I felt myself growing optimistic about this trip, hoping that it’ll be validated.

“That’s a beautiful hair clip you have there, Rin,” Mom commented as we finished our meals. The blue feather on the corner of her hair, something she had specifically asked me to put on her head after we were done cleaning. Whether or not it was deliberate on her part, I still felt pleased that she was still wearing my gift to her.

“Hisao gave it to me yesterday,” Rin answered, a slight smile on her face. “I didn’t know he was giving me a present, but he gave it to me anyway. Hisao was like Santa, except he’s real and he gave me something that wasn’t on Christmas.”

“Well, you certainly know what to give a lady, Hisao,” Mom complimented, causing me to blush a little. “You certainly don’t take after your father in that regard.”

Now it was Dad’s turn to blush as he looked away from Mom. “Must you always direct your jabs at me, dear?”

“As long as it makes the conversation more comfortable for everyone else, yes,” Mom replied, her voice a mix of innocence and playfulness. “Besides, it gives me more opportunities to tell people about when we were still dating. Isn’t that fun?”

“I guess…” Dad relented with a sigh. “Still, baseball tickets weren’t awful gifts, were they?”

“Well, it was certainly a gift for ONE of us.” Mom said, giggling at Dad’s continued embarassment. “Ah, I miss when we were able to do this. Don’t you, dear?”

“...I do,” Dad admitted after a brief silence, actually letting out a smile as he looked at me. “Thanks for giving us the opportunity, son.”

“Huh?” I replied, confused.

“Well, it’s been a long time since your father and I have had the opportunity to have some fun together,” Mom explained, sounding grateful. “Truth be told, if you had stayed at Yamaku during your winter break, we probably couldn’t justify taking a break from work. Your arrival here provided an excuse for us to spend time together, not just as a family, but as husband and wife.”

Her statement surprised me, making me realize that the two of them weren’t as close as I assumed they were. True, Mom and Dad worked at the same PR department, but the long hours, different corporate positions, and their workaholic natures would make it hard for them to spend time together, both in and out of work.

Even during my hospitalization, I’d never really gotten the feeling that their relationship was strained, but only now did I realize that I wasn’t the only one who was distanced due to their lifestyle.

“You’re welcome,” I say with a smile. “I’m glad you two can get to spend some time together.”

“That we all get to spend time together.” Dad corrected, a rare wide grin on his face.

“Thank you for breakfast, Mr and Mrs Nakai,” Rin said, bowing slightly. “Thank you for letting me stay here with Hisao, and for telling me a bit about yourselves. I think I’m getting to know you two more, like a fish finally learning to swim against a river current.”

“You’re welcome, Rin,” Mom responded as she gathered the plates and bowls. “We’re happy to have you here, and we hope you continue to enjoy your stay.”

I was glad Rin and my parents seemed to be getting along more. For a split second, I could almost forget my mother’s true opinion about our relationship. Perhaps before the trip ended, she would reconsider her stance after spending more time with Rin.

We stayed home for a little while longer, making some more small talk with them. Dad and Mom expressed interest in Rin’s art, and fortunately, she was comfortable talking about it. I could never predict when she would or wouldn’t be willing to talk about her work. Much like how I had been when we first met, Rin’s metaphors and descriptions seemed to confuse them to no end.

I couldn’t help but be amused remembering how I had been like initially, when trying to understand her views on art, or anything else for that matter. That time where I couldn’t even tell what she was trying to say felt like a lifetime ago.

Of course, to say I now understood her completely would be a lie, but that wasn’t the point. It wasn’t about a complete understanding of her, it was about understanding enough to know what she’s trying to convey. It’s something I’ve learnt while falling in love with her, that I had to learn.

Eventually it was time to meet up with Shin and the others, so we said goodbye to my parents. They asked us not to come home too late, as they had dinner plans with the two of us. This time, I was actually looking forward to it, if only a little.

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“Morning, guys,” Shin greeted us as we exited the yard. He was already waiting outside and wearing a black winter parka. “Nice to see you’re on time. Unlike some people…”

“Takumi?” I said, instantly knowing who he’s referring to. He nodded in response. “Still the same lazy bum, huh?”

“Unfortunately,” Shin sighed in frustration, though he still smiled. “Morning, Rin. Slept well?”

“...I slept,” Rin answered, giving him a neutral expression. “I don’t know if I slept well or not, except when I’m sleeping. Like a food that immediately wipes your memory after you eat it, so you don’t know if it tasted good or not.”

“Fair enough,” Shin said, chuckling. “We’re almost ready to go, just one last thing before we head to the train station.”

“Oh? What’s that?” I asked. I immediately got my answer from a voice behind me. Despite the fact that I hadn’t heard it in a long time, I knew who it was immediately.

“Morning, Shin,” Iwanako said as I turned around to face her. She didn’t look much different than when I last saw her, with long black hair and blue eyes. Her attire almost looked the same as that fateful day, with a dark blue jacket and a long winter skirt. For a second, my mind flashed back to the moment when she confessed to me, almost a year ago in that snowy forest.

“Hey, Nako,” Shin said as he walked up to her, the two sharing a brief hug before parting. They shared a smile before turning to face us. “I...uh...huh, introducing you two is harder than I thought it’d be. Well, you already know Hisao by now.”

“I do. I’m happy that you’re here,” Iwanako said, a hint of relief in her otherwise formal voice. She looked at Rin and bowed down slightly. “Greetings, my name is Nanako Iwai, but please call me Iwanako.”

“I’m Rin,” Rin responded, returning her bow. “I’m Hisao’s girlfriend, except I’m more than a girl and more than his friend.”

Iwanako seemed to be thrown off guard by Rin’s statement. “R-Right, Shin told me about you. I’m happy that the two of you got together.”

“Me too, I’m glad you found someone who makes you happy,” I answered as Iwanako and I locked gazes. As we looked at each other, I felt like we came to an unspoken understanding. The past was the past, and all we could do was start over as proper acquaintances. “Shin really seems to appreciate you.”

“I appreciate him too,” Iwanako replied, blushing. Shin threw an around her shoulder, his face slightly red as well. It was clear that they weren’t shy about showing their affection. “U-Um, shall we go? We can talk along the way.”

We started to walk towards the train station, Shin’s hand still around Iwanako’s shoulder. I noticed Rin inching her body towards mine, and when I turned to look at her she gave me a small nod. I affectionately wrapped an arm around her.

“You knew what I wanted you to do, and you did it,” she whispered as we crossed a street, sounding grateful for the gesture. “It’s like I’m controlling you, but I don’t have a remote control with buttons to make you do things. Thank you, Hisao.”

“No problem,” I responded. Iwanako and Shin were a few paces in front of us, talking to each other. “Feeling jealous of them?”

“I see them like that, so I wanted us to be like that. Like going to a restaurant and ordering the food the person beside you ordered,” Rin said, shrugging.

“Um, so how’s Yamaku?” Iwanako asked as the two of them finished with their own conversation. “Is the place nice?”

“It is,” I answered, smiling at the memories I’ve made there. Despite technically being home right now, a part of me wanted to return to Yamaku already. “They have a lot of amenities, the environment is very nice, and it’s next to a very quaint town.”

“It sounds lovely,” Iwanako responded, sounding thoughtful. “I wish I could visit it, to see it for myself. We...um...”

She turned to Shin, who seemed to know what’s going on. He gave her an encouraging nod before she continued. “Um, Shin and I actually considered going to Yamaku. To pay you a visit during summer break, but we ultimately didn’t go through with it.”

“Why didn’t you?” Rin asked in an innocuous tone. “You didn’t want to see Hisao?”

Iwanako gave the two of us an awkward look, eventually turning away. Instead, Shin answered for her. “Well, we didn’t know how welcome we’d be. You hadn’t given us any signs that you’d appreciate us going there, man.”

“I guess that’s fair,” I responded, understanding their situation. “Besides, you guys probably deserved a summer vacation without me, considering what happened.”

Truth be told, it was probably for the best that they hadn’t visited. That summer break was a very personal one for me and Rin, as we slowly laid the foundations for the relationship we had now. If they’d popped in unexpectedly, I could only imagine things would’ve gotten messier and more complicated.

“Come on, don’t say that,” Shin retorted, annoyed. “We didn’t hate you back then.”

“I know,” I responded, taking a deep breath. “But still, I think this was the perfect time for us to meet again.”

“I believe so, too,” Iwanako added, looking back at us. “You’re different now, Hisao. Much better than when we last left off, I think.”

“I think so too,” Rin said in agreement. “I didn’t know the Hisao you knew back then, but I knew the Hisao that just came to Yamaku, a little. He was so hard to remember, but this Hisao smiles a lot more. Like someone who always has a funny joke shoved in his brain, not the words but the thing that makes the joke funny.”

“You seem to know a lot about him,” Iwanako said, a slight smile on her face. “I hope I can know more about him too. And about you, Rin.”

Rin’s only response was a simple nod. Shin gave me a smile and an optimistic look, probably thinking that this first conversation was going really well. And I agreed with him, as Iwanako and Rin seemed to be on good terms. I doubt Rin saw her as anything more than another one of my old acquaintances, but it was still important that she wasn’t dismissive of her either.

After a bit more walking, we reached the train station. We got on a rather crowded train, with Rin pressed up against my body rather tightly.

“Mm, I don’t like trains when there’s a lot of people,” Rin noted as we tried to balance ourselves. “I feel like I’m in a can of beans, except that I’m a bean and other beans are trying to touch me. I don’t want them to touch me.”

“I’m touching you,” I teased.

“You’re a different bean. I don’t mind a Hisao bean touching me,” Rin said. Beside us, Iwanako and Shin were in the same position, and they both giggled a little upon hearing that.

“Man, Mai and Takumi are going to hate being the only single ones in our group,” Shin joked as the train stopped at a station.

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It had started to snow a little when we finally got off the train in the heart of the city. Rin seemed to enjoy observing it as we exited the station, Shin leading the way to our destination.

“Mama told me that every snowflake looks different,” Rin said as we headed down a busy sidewalk. “I can’t see anything different about them, they’re just snow. All of them are cold, all of them melt into water. When I told Mama that, she said I need special eyes to see it.”

“Every snowflake has a unique pattern to it, like fingerprints,” Iwanako explained. “But the details of it are very small, so an apparatus like a microscope helps to see the patterns in more detail.”

“Oh.” Rin closed her eyes for a few seconds before opening them. “I want a microscope now, but only to see snowflakes. So it’ll be like using a fork, but only using it for spaghetti and not anything else.”

“I have a microscope at home, if you’d want to use it,” Iwanako offered. “I could bring it over another day, assuming you two aren’t leaving tonight.”

“You have a microscope?” I asked, feeling a bit surprised. Though perhaps I shouldn’t be, considering I really knew nothing about her, interests included.

“I like science, it’s what I plan to major on when I get to college,” Iwanako said, a rare show of confidence from her usually demure demeanor. “Biology, specifically. Biology focusing on the habits and traits of fauna, if you want to be even more specific.”

“Yep, I’ll be going to the same college as her, though with chemistry instead,” Shin added as Iwanako looked at him with a grateful smile. I recalled him having a passing interest in the subject, so it made sense for him to choose it as a college major. “What about you two? Any plans after graduation?”

“I plan to take physics as my major, and Rin plans to take art as a major,” I responded, feeling a little uneasy about revealing our plans right now, when nothing is certain yet. “So that means we’ll probably be going to different colleges. We’ll find ones that are close to each other, and then rent a small place for us to live in.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Shin said, giving me a thumbs up. “Hey, maybe you can try and enroll in the same college as us. I don’t know if there’s an art college near it, but if there is, it’ll be perfect for the two of you.”

“I’ll consider it.” I replied. It’d be nice to be in the same college as them, allowing us to reconnect further. But in the end everything will have to be something Rin and I agree on, not just something I feel is right.

We continued down the sidewalk until I noticed two people waving at us, their faces instantly recognizable. Mai still had long red hair, and was wearing a pink parka and long white pants, her face an impatient scowl. If it were any other season, she would probably be wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt, showing off her very athletic build.

She still had that energetic and impatient look on her face. I recalled the many times we’ve played soccer together, and the fact that it’s something I’ll probably never do again. In hindsight, it was a miracle I didn’t have a heart attack the time she kicked a soccer ball right into my face.

Takumi had a smile on his face, like he always did. Compared to Mai, he was wearing a very shabby looking woolen shirt and pants, along with a bright blue scarf. Some snow was trapped in his blonde hair, but his face looked as flawless as ever, with bright blue eyes and skin that almost seemed to glow.

It was always something we complimented and teased him for, often comparing his face to a professional model. It was also one of the reasons that his flirting sometimes got reciprocated, even if it eventually ended in failure.

“You’re late,” Mai grumbled as we walked up to them, seemingly uninterested in acknowledging my presence or Rin’s. “As always.”

“You always say that when it’s you who’s always too early,” Takumi pointed out in a teasing tone, causing Mai to roll her eyes. “Hey Shin, Nako. Glad to see winter hasn’t given you two the cold shoulder.”

“God, I hate it when you say that. You make cold puns every winter, give it a rest,” Shin replied as Iwanako cringed ever so slightly. He then motioned over to me. “Anyways...you knew this was coming when I told you yesterday.”

“Uh...hey,” is all I can manage, along with a short wave. “It’s nice to see you two again.”

Mai doesn’t answer, simply staring at me. But at least Takumi replied, in a rather excited voice. “Hey man, it’s nice to see you again. And I see you brought someone rather cute with you.”

“This is Rin Tezuka, my girlfriend.” I said, emphasizing the word ‘girlfriend” to Takumi. She looked at the two of them with curious eyes, as if trying to figure out everything about them based on how they look.

“Hey there, the name’s Takumi Mamizuka,” Takumi proclaimed, puffing up his chest to seem manlier. “I must say, you have a very wild look about you. As if the beauty of the forests itself was contained in your face, and in those green eyes of yours.”

“Told you he was gonna try and hit on her.” Shin commented quietly.

“Are you saying I have a forest inside my head?” Rin asked, which seemed to confuse Takumi. “That the inside of my head is full of trees, and bugs, and leaves, and things animals leave behind because they don’t know how to use a toilet?”

“Uh...no…” Takumi said, looking utterly baffled by her response.

“If I had a forest inside my head, I wouldn’t be alive,” Rin continued. I can’t help but snicker at her completely unintentional sidestep from Takumi’s pickup line, as I expected she would. “Because I wouldn’t have a brain, and I need a brain to live. Even though plants don’t have brains and they can live, so maybe if I have a forest inside me the plants will be alive, which makes the inside of me alive even though I’m really dead.”

“I...guess?” Takumi answered, as Shin and I chuckled. We’d seen Takumi get shut down before, but never quite like this. Even Mai was cracking a smile.

“Just give up, Takumi,” Mai commented, finally speaking up before staring right at me. “So...you seem better these days.”

“Yeah, I had some help,” I responded, still feeling a bit of tension between us. “I’m sorry for back then. How I...you know…”

“I know,” Mai chuckles, giving me a light smack on the shoulder. “You’re not completely off the hook, but it’s still nice to see you doing well. And I’m glad you got a girl that can make Takumi shut up for once.”

“Hey!” Takumi exclaimed in an offended tone, until Mai turned to glare at him. It seemed that particular dynamic still hadn’t changed a bit. He turned to me and gave me a friendly smile. “But yeah, I’m glad you’re doing well. And you even have a girlfriend, which makes the only single ones here me and…”

He didn’t finish that sentence, probably to evade Mai’s wrath. Shin simply shook his head at all of it, like a father disappointed in his children. “Anyways, we’re here to go see that new Ghibli movie, but the earliest showing is at 1. So how about we walk around the city, maybe grab a bite to eat while we all grill Hisao on how his life has been?”

After a bit of laughter on their part, we agreed to that proposal as the group started to move again. As promised, Rin and I were the focus of our discussions. Most of it was very basic questions, like how did we meet, or what did we do at Yamaku. I answered most of them, though Rin added an answer of her own every now and then.

We wandered around the city, looking at shops from outside and commenting on the wares within. Takumi and Mai halted us the moment we came to a video game store, perhaps the one thing those two had in common. We went in to see if there was anything interesting to purchase.

“I played a video game before,” Rin commented nonchalantly as we followed after them, Mai and Takumi already surveying the racks. “It was a really old one, and it was really hard. And not because I had to use my toes to press the button, but because it was really easy to jump down and never get back up.”

“What did you think of them?” I asked curiously, Shin and Iwanako seemed interested as well.

“Mm…” Rin closed her eyes to think. “It was...like trying to turn off the light, except instead of an on and off you had to do a lot of weird things. Move left, jump, jump, move left, jump, jump, again and again until the light finally turns on. I like the music though, it sounded like a robot whistling, even though I don’t know how robots whistle.”

“Wow,” Iwanako exclaimed, sounding genuinely impressed. “You actually made playing a video game sound interesting, Rin.”

“Did I?” Rin opened her eyes, confused. “I don’t think they’re interesting, though. Maybe it’s because I’ve only played it once. Do you two play?”

“Occasionally. Not as much as these junkies though,” Shin replied, pointing at Mai and Takumi. They were arguing over some game, attracting some stares from other shoppers. “They can lock themselves up in a room and play for an entire day. I joined them once, and ended up sore for an entire night. It’s almost impressive how they can just...sit there and play for so long.”

Iwanako simply shook her head, looking completely disinterested in the idea of playing.

As we heard Mai shout something at Takumi, Shin let out a tired sigh. “We...should probably avoid video game stores in the future. Otherwise we’ll have to go to an evening screening instead.”

We wandered the city a little more before stopping at a fast food place for lunch. It was crowded, and we prioritized finding a seat before ordering our food. Thankfully, a rather large group left just as we arrived, leaving their seats for us to occupy.

“Right, so who’s ordering and who’s paying?” Shin asked as he sat down, Iwanako sitting down beside him. “Me and Nako did it last time, so we’re out.”

“You guys still keep track?” I asked with a nostalgic smile. The four of us always kept track of who ordered and paid for the group, always making sure no one weasels out of doing their part. It was a small and insignificant part of my past, but the memories it brought up made me wistful nonetheless. “When’s the last time Takumi tried to pin it on someone else?”

“Heh, haven’t done it in a long time. I’ve learnt that it’s better to just pay up,” Takumi noted, resting his head on the table. “You, on the other hand, are overdue for paying duty by several months.”

“Fair enough,” I responded as I stood up, checking to see if my wallet was still in my pocket. “So who’s going with me?”

“I’ll do it.” Mai said. With that, everyone gave us their orders. Shin wanted a regular meal, Iwanako wanted a cheap budget meal, Takumi wanted two whole combos to himself. I wondered about what I wanted to get before realizing that Rin hasn’t given her order yet.

“Rin,” I asked, giving her a smile. “What do you want? I’m paying, so don’t be shy.”

“Mm… I don’t know. Can you order for me, Hisao? Like a bento box that I don’t know what’s inside. Except I know what can be inside, since it’s from a fast food restaurant.”

“You sure?” I asked again.

Rin nodded firmly. “I trust you, Hisao.”

I trust you. Three simple words, yet they sounded so sweet in my ear, even if it was just in the context of something simple like fast food. I nodded in response before going to the queue with Mai, hoping that Rin would be fine on her own for just a little bit.

Fine on her own... Suddenly my Mom’s argument flashed through my mind, and I silently chided myself for thinking that. Rin wasn’t a child, she’d absolutely be fine.

The queue was really long, so it’d probably be a while before Mai and I could place our orders. As we continued waiting, Mai eventually broke the silence by tapping on my shoulder.

“Hey,” she said bluntly, giving me her trademark annoyed frown. “So...you’re back. And you brought back a girlfriend.”

“Yeah...I did,” I responded neutrally, wondering where she was going with this. “What do you think of Rin?”

“Well, any girl that can twist Takumi’s tongue will always get some points from me,” she admitted with a small smirk. “But...she’s definitely a weird one, and I’m not saying that because of the obvious fact that we’re all too polite to mention.”

“You’re blunt as always,” I said as we moved up a spot. “Do you...have a problem with her?”

“Not really. You, on the other hand…” An uncomfortable pause followed before she continued. “I don’t know, it just feels weird having you here again. Talking to us like those times at the hospital didn’t happen, while the others all seemed to do the same. It’s...hard for me to forget how awkward those visits were, I guess.”

Well, I guess I couldn’t expect everyone to just forgive and forget. They’d all moved on, with me suddenly returning to their lives. More than most of us, Mai hated when things changed. I recalled her utterly losing it when one of her friends moved away without telling her, and my situation was not too dissimilar to that.

“I’m sorry,” I said, looking her in the eye to convey my sincerity. “I really am. I acted horribly back then, regardless of my reasons. You have every right to be mad at me.”

“I’m not mad,” Mai admitted as we moved up another spot. “I mean, I can’t say I’d act different if I was the one with a heart problem. If I had something that made playing soccer impossible, I’d probably lose it. The Queen of The Corner not able to play, can you imagine?”

“They still call you that?” I chuckled at the mention of that nickname, due to her uncanny ability to aim for the corner of the goals when shooting. “Guess you’re still every defender’s nightmare during practice, huh?”

“You bet I am. We almost made it to regionals last season,” Mai said, pride oozing from her voice. “Honestly, I don’t know if I should keep it up or not. Try and go pro, or just keep it as a serious hobby.”

“Well, if you think being a soccer star is who you are, then I’d say go for it,” I tried to sound supportive. Her passion for soccer was like Emi’s passion for running, or Rin’s passion for art. While I’d always played it just for fun, she always played to win in whatever setting she was in. “No point in having dreams if you aren’t going to chase them.”

Mai gave me a surprised look, before slowly giving me an appreciative smile. “Well, well, well, look at you, saying mature stuff like that. I guess going to that school really made you a better person, huh?”

“It has, or at least I hope it has,” I answered. “Though it wasn’t just the school. It was also the people there, willing to give me a hand.”

“Good for you,” Mai said as we moved closer to the counter, one person left. “Huh, funny how talking to you right now doesn’t feel awkward at all. It really did feel like you never left, even though you probably wouldn’t say any of that stuff you just said.”

“I can’t promise you things will be the way they used to be,” I admit as we wait for the final person to take his order. “I’m a different person now, in a lot of ways. But I’m still willing to be your friend, if you’ll have me.”

“Sure. You’re still a better friend than Takumi,” Mai joked, offering me a hand which I slapped down with my own. “Still, it sucks that me and him are the only single ones left.”

“You’ll find someone, and I bet it’ll be before Takumi does,” I said with confidence.

Finally, it was our turn to order as we went up to the counter. We quickly made our orders and paid for them, and went back to our seats once our food was ready.

“Hey there,” Takumi said as we put the trays down, immediately snatching his orders. “Took you long enough. Were you guys having a talk?”

“We were,” I confirmed as I sat down beside Rin, pushing her tray towards her. “I ordered some fries and nuggets for you, along with a soda. There’s chopsticks you can use.”

Rin nodded in response, looking down at the food and seeming to approve of it. “Thank you. Can you feed me, Hisao? I can eat with chopsticks, but I want you to feed me. Like how a mother feeds her children, except it’s boyfriend and girlfriend.”

I quickly looked around the table, with reactions ranging from surprise to mild jealousy.

“Sure thing.” I answered, unsure of whether to feel proud or not. I held up a fry in front of her, which she ate immediately.

“Mm...tastes hot, and oily. Like someone squeezing a rag full of hot oil into my mouth,” Rin commented. “Give me another one, Hisao?”

I did as she asked me, holding up another fry for her to eat. Eventually I did eat some of my own, alternating between feeding her and feeding myself. On a couple of occasions, I even saw Iwanako feeding Shin some of her food. From an outsider’s perspective, I can definitely see why it can draw attention from others.

“You’ve done this before, Hisao?” Takumi asked curiously before taking a large bite of his burger. “Must be nice.”

“It is.” I said, feeding Rin a nugget this time. “By the way, have you decided on a college major yet, Takumi?”

“Me? Hmm…” Takumi seemed to seriously think about it, a rarity coming from him.

“I’m a bit torn, honestly. Dad wants me to go to law school, and I’m not against it. But I’m actually considering going into tech, specifically video game-related tech. He says that it’s ultimately up to me, but honestly that just makes it harder. Sometimes having someone choose for you makes it easier, you know?”

“Mm, I don’t think so,” Rin answered, making everyone turn towards her. It seemed to take her a few seconds to realize that they wanted her to elaborate. “Having someone choose for you is like living in someone else’s house. They feed you, they clean the house, you don’t have to do anything. But it isn’t your house, so even though you don’t have to do anything, you still want to move out because you want your own house.”

“Sounds like me with my parents,” Mai muttered before nodding in agreement. “But I get what you’re saying. If you’re following what someone else has chosen for you, how can you say it’s what you really want?”

“That’s odd coming from you, Mai,” Takumi noted, a cheeky smile on his face. “Never thought I’d hear you trying to encourage me.”

“Don’t ruin the moment,” Mai requested with a sigh. “But yeah, make a choice and stick with it. No point in having dreams if you aren’t going to chase them.”

She turned to me after she said the words I’d said to her not so long ago, looking thankful for some reason. Maybe it’s because I’d given her something she always wanted to say. Despite their bickering, Mai and Takumi know more about each other than the rest of us.

Perhaps it was a more serious issue for Takumi than he let on. His cheerful persona was how he was a lot of the time, but it was also a mask for when things got difficult. It’s funny how these little things come back to me so easily, once I’ve started spending time with them again.

“Hmm, I’ll think about it some more,” Takumi mused, still smiling. “Thanks for the advice, I’ll make sure to keep it in mind.”

“You’d better,” Mai said, more urgent than angry.

“I know one thing, though,” Shin said suddenly. “Wherever we go, whatever we choose, I hope I can keep seeing you guys. We’ve gone through high school together, so I hope we can go through college together too.”

“S-Same here,” Iwanako added. “I know I’ve just joined this group relatively recently, and I know it’s because of some unfortunate circumstances, but I hope...I hope that we continue to be friends. That we’ll be in each other’s lives from now on.”

“Including Hisao and Rin?” Takumi asked dryly, to which Iwanako firmly nodded. “Yeah, I feel the same way. What about you, Hisao?”

All eyes turned to the two of us, and I felt a bit nervous and...sad. As heartfelt as this was, I didn’t know if I’ll ever be as close to them as Emi, Hanako or even Miki. They had been, and still were, my friends. But, really, how close were we to each other now, and how much closer will we be?

Once again, it was Rin who answered. “I hope I can be friends with all of you, because you are Hisao’s friends. You’re a part of his past, and I want to accept all of him. Like accepting all the colors a painting has. If we can see each other again, tomorrow or next month or next year, I’ll be ok with that.”

Something about her words gave me the answer I needed. True, I wasn’t as close to them as before, but that didn’t matter. The people sitting around this table are my friends, no matter what. If they want me to keep in touch, why shouldn’t I?

“Yeah,” I said with resolve. “I know what happened to me left me...distant to you guys. Even though we’re hanging out now, that still doesn’t change the fact that we’re different people from back then. But the times we spent together...I cherish them. If you’ll have me, I want to be a part of your lives again, and not just as a memory. As a friend.”

Everyone looked touched by my words, even Takumi. It was probably because I’d never been emotional like that before Yamaku. I hadn’t given much thought to anything, and simply went along with whatever my friends did. I never was emotional back then, so I suppose it’s another thing that’s changed during my time at Yamaku.

“Who knew our Hisao could be so emotional?” Takumi said jokingly. “Man, what did that school do to you?”

“It made me a better person,” I answered. “A more thoughtful person...I hope.”

“Well, I guess that settles it,” Shin said with a chuckle. “Let’s all keep in touch and remain friends.”

All of us nodded, even Rin.

After a bit more chatting we finished our lunch and exited the restaurant to head to the theater.I felt a renewed sense of affinity with the others. Up until recently, I’d always labeled them as ‘old friends,’ or even ‘former friends’, but it’s clear now that we’re just...friends.

They’d completely moved on from those days in the hospital, ready to accept me once more. And it was only now that I felt the same way.

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The friendly atmosphere carried over to the movie. While I’d never been an avid moviegoer, Studio Ghibli was still a name I knew by reputation. I’d seen a few of their movies on occasion, both with friends and family, and it always gave me a sense of wonder watching while watching their stories unfold.

Apparently, Rin thought so as well, as she seemed completely immersed in the movie. While the others would occasionally whisper or discuss things about it, her eyes were glued to the screen from beginning to end. It came to a point where I realized we weren’t going to talk at all, so I simply sat back and enjoyed the experience alongside her.

After the movie was over I asked her, as we were exiting the theater, “So, I assume you had a good time?”

Rin nodded, her eyes still looking like they had been back in the theater, still watching the movie. “I’ve seen a few movies with Mama and Papa, but this movie...it felt as if it had a hand, dragging me inside the big screen. And I wanted it to drag me in.”

“Ghibli movies will do that,” Mai commented, sounding just as impressed. “If you want my recommendation, watch Spirited Away. It’s amazing even by their standards.”

Rin turned to me. “Can we watch that, Hisao? I’d like to see it.”

“Sure,” I answered. “They don’t show it in theaters anymore, but I’m sure we can find a copy of it somewhere.”

Content with that answer, Rin rested her head against my shoulder as the six of us exited the theatre. The sun was beginning to set, signalling the beginning of evening. We all looked at each other, smiles on most of our faces.

“Well, I’ll consider that a successful outing,” Takumi said in a casual tone. “Even though I couldn’t bring a date along, or get one.”

“Yeah, me too,” Shin responded. “Well, I’m still free for the rest of the day. If you guys want, we could still hang out a little more. Maybe grab some dinner before heading our separate ways.”

“Actually, my parents have dinner plans,” I said, feeling a bit disappointed that I couldn’t spend any more time with them. “We’ll probably have to go home pretty soon.”

“Well, are you free tomorrow?” Mai asked. “I don’t know what these guys will be doing, but I’d like to have someone to go to the mall with. Maybe shop for some clothes, eat some yakisoba, end the day with a little arcade fun.”

I turned to Rin, who gave me a noncommittal shrug. “We’ll consider it. Maybe we’ll give you an answer tomorrow?”

“Fine, fine, just give me a call,” Mai answered, pulling out her phone immediately. “You still have your old number, right?”

I nodded in response, pulling up my phone to see that they’re all still in my contacts list, barring Iwanako which was quickly rectified by exchanging our numbers. Along with the phone numbers of my friends at Yamaku, so it once again felt like I was increasing my social circle.

“So, this is goodbye,” Iwanako noted, smiling as we both registered each other’s numbers. “I’m glad I got to spend the day with you, Hisao, Rin. I hope we can see each other soon.”

“Aw, what about me?” Takumi jabbed before getting punched in the shoulder by Mai.

“I hope so too. Thank you for having me,” I said, to all of them. Despite wanting to stay longer, I was prepared to leave. “I’ll talk to you la-”

THUD!

I couldn’t finish what I said as I felt something hit me from behind, sending me crashing down into the pavement below. The first thing I felt after I hit the sidewalk was the cold snow falling on the back of my neck.

I could feel something dripping down the side of my head, followed by a numbing sensation as the shock gave way to...to...

Oh...oh no…

That was all I could think as I felt a sharp pain in my chest, as if some giant hand was squeezing it as hard as it could. I wanted to get up and brush it off, but the pain pinned me to the ground, unable to do anything but to groan.

“Oh god! Oh god…” a voice said...was that Iwanako? Despite the pain, I couldn’t help but note how similar this was to the ending of our first meeting. It was almost as if fate was cruelly trying to repeat it. “Someone call an ambulance!”

The pain in my chest continued to torment me, leaving me paralyzed as I started losing access to my senses. The noises I heard were all a blur now, and I could barely feel the cold. My consciousness was beginning to slip as well, trying to drag me into the bitter dark in order to numb the torment I was in.

“Hisao…” I heard someone calling my name, the voice faint and full of fear. An unmistakable voice, even in my condition. That was Rin, and before I fully slipped into unconsciousness, my last thought was at how horrified she must be...

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The first thing I heard was a high pitched beep, but it was all I needed to hear. I knew where I was just from that alone, and it was a place I’d never wanted to return to. A part of me wanted to slip back into being unaware, pretending that this was all a bad dream.

The idea that I’d simply wake up back at my bedroom was a foolish hope, but one I wanted to be real more than anything else.

Eventually, I opened my eyes, accepting the reality of the situation. The hospital room was remarkably similar to the one I’d resided in the last time. It might actually have been the same room, considering I was in the same city, and quite likely in the same hospital.

“He’s awake…” I heard someone say, relief in their voice. It sounded like Mom. “Oh, thank God.”

I turned my head slightly to see Mom and Dad standing beside my bed, their faces extremely worried. Dad immediately pressed a button on a table, presumably to call the nurse or doctor in. Mom simply looked at me, as if she was unsure that I was really awake.

“Hisao…” Mom pleaded, looking as if she was on the verge of tears. “Please, can you answer me?”

“I’m...alright,” I answered in a weak voice, feeling the dryness in my throat. “How long...have I been here?”

“Six hours,” Mom said, holding my hand and clutching it tightly. “It’s only been six hours. We came here right after we...oh, Hisao. I’m sorry…I’m so, so sorry…”

Sorry? What is she sorry for? My question is cut off as a doctor, a smiling elderly man with silver hair, came in along with a nurse. Despite his age, he didn’t look much like the apathetically professional doctors that treated me when I was last hospitalized. If anything, his smile reminded me of Nurse.

“Mr Nakai, I’m glad to see that you’re awake,” he said in an optimistic and cheerful tone, though it was hard to tell if it was affected or natural. “Are you experiencing any headaches right now? Pains in your chest?”

I answered as best as I could, to which the doctor nodded in response before looking at the clipboard he had in his hand. “We did a thorough analysis of your condition, but it seemed that this was nothing more than an intense heart scare. There appears to be no permanent damage incurred, which is extremely fortunate. We still need to keep you here for a few days, but apart from some minor head trauma, you’ll be just fine.”

“Thank you for the report doctor,” Dad said, letting out a sigh. “Thank you so much.”

“If you feel anything wrong, feel free to call for me. I’ll return once you’ve properly rested.” The doctor bowed towards us before leaving, the nurse trailing him.

“What...happened?” I asked. “I remember getting knocked down and then...nothing much after that...”

“Your friends told us what occurred,” Dad said as he held onto Mom, who was practically shaking. “It seemed that a rather large man was in a hurry, and accidentally crashed into you while he wasn’t looking. After you fell, your friends immediately called the ambulance, which arrived to bring you to the hospital. They followed along, while at the same time informing us of the situation though your cell phone. In fact, they left a short while ago.”

“Damn him!” Mom cursed angrily. “I wish we knew who that man was. I want to give him hell for what he did to you!”

“Dear…” Dad whispered in reprimand, not feeling the same way. I didn’t either, considering it was all just a big accident. If there was anything I blamed, it was my cursed heart for being the way it was. “Your friends said they’ll visit you tomorrow morning. They were very worried about you.”

More and more it felt like a repeat of the day I was first hospitalized, with one exception. One heartbreaking exception. I took a deep breath and slowly prepared myself to ask the question I almost didn’t want to ask, but one I had to. Whatever answer I got would not be a happy one, I feared, but...I needed to know.

“Where’s Rin? Is she...alright?”

Re: Rin Epilogue: The Long Road (Updated 15/9/2020)

Posted: Wed Sep 16, 2020 2:10 am
by Hacksorus
“Greetings, my name is Nanako Iwai, but please call me Iwanako.”
Wait, that's illegal. Can you do that? :lol:

Anyway, this remains my favorite Rin fic. I enjoyed the take on Hisao's friends and family for sure.

That's quite the cliffhanger you left us on. Looking forward to the continuation, whenever that may be.