Rebound - A Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story

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Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Rebound - A Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story

Post by Xeraeo » Wed Jul 22, 2020 6:18 pm

Hi, everyone. I'm a bit late to the game here, it seems. I stumbled onto KS for the very first time just over two months ago, and found myself completely engrossed in it. A couple weeks later, I discovered just how much quality fanfic was available, and proceeded to dive in. I read through Sisterhood (True Edition), Developments, portions of After the Dream, Scissorlips' Suzu Route, anything I could find of Mekhanik's, FluffandCrunch's Lilly Timeline, and dozens of shorter fics all within a few weeks. Being able to spend more time with these characters that I was so in love with, and to develop such a thorough head canon for many of them, has been an awesome experience, and I think I've cried more manly tears over the past two months than in the previous 8 years or so.

I've tried my hand at writing many times, but never with any real commitment. Part of the issue for me is how quickly I tend to lose interest in a topic and leave it unfinished, but another part is that I rarely ever share my work with others or receive feedback, so I lose motivation to keep going pretty quickly. However, after receiving so much from this community as a silent outsider, I feel like maybe it's time to give back.

That being said, the quality of my writing is certainly up for debate. I feel like my dialogue is stilted and awkward, and my characters' internal monologues too similar to one another. But better to try, fail, and improve than to never try at all, right?

For a couple weeks, I've been working on an Iwanako "route" (I suppose it's an epilogue that becomes a route?) in my spare time. Let me say right off the bat that I have almost NO idea where the story will go, how long it will be, or how it will end. I felt like Iwanako didn't get nearly enough love across the fanfics I've read so far, and wanted to give her a chance on my own. Beyond that, I'm letting the story drive itself.

When I've tried sketching out a plot-line ahead of time in previous attempts at writing, I quickly find that my actual writing ends up going wildly off track from where I intended, or else I just give up because I get bored trying to get to the "good stuff". It's only when I let the story be in charge, making things up as I go along, that I make any serious progress. Maybe some of you can relate. Or not.

As of this posting, I have written a prologue and 6 chapters, with Chapter 7 started. I have done very little editing, and have not gone back yet to correct inconsistencies in the story or things I don't like, other than a few in the first chapter. I hesitated to post these chapters before reviewing them, but I know that if I wait I'll end up losing my nerve and just keep it all to myself, as usual. So bear in mind that these are just drafts, subject to heavy editing, changes, or even deletion if I find a chapter unnecessary or needing to be replaced completely. I just know that posting them as is might provide me with the motivation to keep writing the story, and with some helpful feedback as well. All criticism is welcome, constructive or otherwise. I'm no pro writer.

Note: While I'm not trying to take anything specifically from other fanfics here, my head canon is derived more from an amalgamation of the works I've read here than from the VN itself at this point, so many themes, characters, concepts, etc. will be somewhat derivative of others' work. I'll say that a lot of it is inspired by Dewelar's Developments, possibly my favorite work out there, and much of Iwanako's story and experience is based on reading Leaty's Bantamweights, even to the point of stealing a nickname from her. (Edit: one additional thing to note here is that I have deliberately not read any of Leaty's Mean Time to Breakdown, partly because it's unfinished and appears likely to stay that way, and partly because I don't want too much of someone else's version of Iwanako in my head before I get the chance to create my own.) I have not spoken with any of these writers, so if any of this goes too far, feel free to let me know.
Last edited by Xeraeo on Sun Aug 02, 2020 10:08 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Prologue - Lilly

Post by Xeraeo » Wed Jul 22, 2020 6:20 pm

"Goodbye, Lilly."

"Goodbye."

I close my phone with a shuddering breath, setting it aside before sinking back onto my unfamiliar bed. I knew Hisao was taking my departure hard, but some desperate part of me had hoped that we would be able to maintain at least a cordial friendship. Just more wishful thinking, I suppose. He could barely even speak to me just now! His voice was so hollow, so… cold. It was a bit similar to the first week he arrived at Yamaku, when he was still closed off to everyone around him. But worse. Much worse.

Why couldn't he have asked me to stay?

I would have said yes. I know that now, even more than I did that day sitting across from him in the Shanghai. Back then I was so torn, so unsure about what I really wanted, but in my heart, I think I knew that I wanted to stay. I guess I was just waiting for Hisao to open up to me a bit more, to show me somehow that he saw our relationship the same way that I did: as more than just a high school fling.

He didn't even try.

When he confronted me that day, I was terrified, angry, confused. Scared that my inability to talk to him about my upcoming decision was going to cost us our relationship. Furious that Akira had spoken to Hisao without asking me. Unsure about the future, about what I wanted and what Hisao wanted. But in that moment, a small part of me was relieved. Hisao was confronting me. He was upset. Our relationship really mattered to him- it must. Right?

He just accepted it.

I didn't even get the chance to tell him I still hadn't decided. That I still wasn't sure what I wanted. Still wasn't sure what he wanted. Before I had the chance to even talk to him about it, he confirmed my worst fears.

"So, when do you leave?"

Like it was a foregone conclusion. Like we both already knew what I would decide. Like he knew that our relationship wasn't worth it. And in that moment… I guess I knew too. I had loved almost every moment I had spent with Hisao, from the evening I confessed to him in Hokkaido to the second after we sat down at the Shanghai that final time. I loved him, and I truly believe he loved me. But as much as he relied on me for some support, it seemed that I couldn't ever get him to open up about the more important things. Or thing. While his heart, in one way, seemed to belong to me, in another way he never really let me close to it.

Why didn't he fight for us?

I tried so hard to get Hisao to open up to me, I guess I had neglected to do the same myself. We spent our time living out some fantasy: Hisao, Hanako and I. A happy little family. We played our games, had our rituals, and acted like our lives would stay this way forever. Of course, I knew from the beginning that things couldn't just stay as they were, even if neither of them did. I knew the fantasy would eventually come to an end. But a part of me had hoped that if we kept it going long enough, maybe it would become real, somehow? I don't know if that was just my fear of facing my upcoming decision, of telling my friends something that would hurt them, of possibly losing my last chance to reconcile with my family. Did I do this?

Why didn't I fight for us?

I sit up, slowly, reaching out to the nightstand beside my bed, feeling for just one thing. I find the smooth wooden surface, lift it gingerly into my lap, twist the little key in the bottom, and open the music box. The melody I had found so comforting and lovely when Hisao had given this to me plays out, just as bright and cheery as the first time I heard it, yet somehow, it seems as if the music has changed. It used to bring a smile to my face every time I heard it. It used to remind me of warmth and comfort and love. Of days spent in happiness and nights in blissful passion.

Now, it just sounds hollow.

A pair of sharp knocks on my door startle me, and I shut the box quickly, cutting off the tinny melody halfway through.

"Wh-who is it?" I ask, surprised at the hitch in my voice. I realize that I've been crying. For how long, I have no idea, but my face and clothes are damp, my nose is stuffed, and I can barely breathe. I probably look like a wreck.

"Lilly dear, dinner will be ready in a few minutes. Will you be joining us?" Even though I’m not totally familiar with it, I can still hear the uncertainty in my mother's voice. I doubt she expected me to spend the first few days of what she thought would be a happy reunion locked in my room, alone, refusing to even explain what was wrong. It's not her fault, but I haven't even told her about Hisao, and I don't see the point in doing so now.

I do my best to make my voice sound as calm and even as possible. "Yes, mother, thank you. I will be down in a little while."

There’s no response from behind my door at first, but I don't hear her leaving either. After a few tense seconds, she asks, "Do you need any help, dear?"

I sigh, shaking my head slowly in frustration. Of course, to her I'm probably still the same 12-year-old blind daughter who needed her hand held to go anywhere. She's not accustomed to my independence. I can’t really blame her; after all, the last time I was here I needed quite a bit of help until I was more familiar with the layout of the house. Compared to Yamaku where things rarely change and I knew what to expect, coming to Scotland had been like entering an alien world. I know it shouldn't bother me that she wants to help, but I've spent so much of my life doing my very best to ensure that I rely on others as little as possible. Even the suggestion that I can't do something as simple as get down the stairs on my own causes my stomach to twist itself into a knot.

Or maybe it was already doing that…

"No, thank you, mother. I will be fine. I just need some time and I'll be right down." I don't mean for my tone to be nearly as cold as it sounds, but I doubt I could put my mask back on right now even if I tried. After another few seconds, I can hear her footsteps as she goes back down the hallway in the direction of the stairs. I sigh, set aside the music box, and get up, wiping my eyes. I can't let them see me like this. I don’t have it in me just yet to explain my feelings to anyone, other than perhaps Akira.

I made my choice; now I have to live with it. I decided that the chance to reconcile with my family was more important to me than the life I had in Japan. More important even than the relationships I had there. I convinced myself that I would be able to keep in contact with Hanako, and even with Hisao, but in my heart I know that that will fade with time. Just as it had with my parents. Maybe someday, sometime, we'll see each other again.

But for now, I have a new life to live here. Even if I’m already regretting my decision, I have nobody to blame but myself. I came here hoping for the opportunity to get to know my parents again. Hoping that maybe we will be able to rebuild what we lost when they moved here, leaving me behind in Japan. Perhaps it was foolish of me to take on the burden of giving up so much just for that chance, but for so long it was all I ever wanted. Now, it’s time to see if my sacrifice was worth it. Knowing all I’ve lost to come here, if what I gain turns out to be any less than I dreamed of, I don’t know how I’ll be able to live with my decision.

I make myself presentable, open my door, and begin to head downstairs to dinner. As I reach the landing, I overhear my father’s voice in the dining room below asking my mother if I seemed to be doing any better, and if he should come and check on me.

It’s going to be a lot of work convincing them that I don’t need so much help.

I step into the room and can feel my parents go quiet as they observe me approaching. I make sure to put on my best smile as I say, “Good evening, Father.”
Last edited by Xeraeo on Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:20 pm, edited 5 times in total.
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Chapter 1 - Hisao

Post by Xeraeo » Wed Jul 22, 2020 6:22 pm

"Goodbye, Lilly."

"Goodbye."

After a few seconds of silence, the line clicks and the call ends. I close my phone and drop it beside me on the bed, taking my head in my hands and running my fingers through my messy hair. Somehow, it feels like the emotional distance between Lilly and I is already as large as the physical distance.

How did this happen?

I was so sure that Lilly felt the same way about me that I did about her. Even now, I can't bring myself to believe that she didn't really love me. So why? Why did she decide to leave?

And why couldn't I ask her to stay?

I know why I didn't, of course. How could I come between her and her family? After six years apart, she finally had the chance to reconcile with them. I couldn't take that away from her, right?

Everything in me hoped that she would decide to stay. That she saw a future with me just as I did with her. But I was so sure that to actually ask her, to try to persuade her to give up a chance to be with her family again just to stay with her new boyfriend, would be selfish. Unfair. In the couple days between my conversation with Akira and my last date with Lilly, I wanted so many times to go to her and just ask her to stay with me.

Now that she's gone, I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I had just asked. Maybe things could have been different. Maybe she would have stayed. Maybe she was just waiting for me to ask.

Or maybe she would have stayed out of some obligation or pity for me, and over time grow to resent me like Akira resents her parents. I couldn't have handled that.

My alarm clock pulls me from my misery, and I hastily shut it off. Lilly's call had come a bit earlier than I usually get up, but it's not like I could have slept after that conversation. For a few moments, I'm tempted to just stay in my room today. Summer vacation just started; nobody will miss me. Probably. I know Hanako could use a friend right now, but I feel like hanging out with me right now will only make her more miserable. Besides, she's leaving in a few days for her trip with Naomi. She doesn't need me dragging her down right before she goes.

I force myself to get up and start taking my medication. I feel like I did back when I first got out of the hospital, when everyone in my life had seemingly abandoned me. I'm alone again. But I can't let myself go like I did back then. Coming to Yamaku showed me that there was hope for a new life even after losing my old one. That new life was pulled out from under me when Lilly left, and part of me feels like that hope was never real to begin with, but I can't afford to think that way anymore. I won't survive it.

Remembering my time in the hospital suddenly brings another memory to me. Swallowing the last of my pills dry, I open my desk drawer and pull out the letter from Iwanako. Sitting down, I begin to read. I've read this letter so many times now that I've almost memorized it, but I still start from the beginning, reading each word, looking for an answer to the questions I can't even formulate.

There's the many lines updating me about school and my former classmates, all old and outdated news by now. When I get to the first line that matters, I slow down.

There are other things I want to say. I'm writing to you because I felt that there are things I should've said after the incident back in winter. I really regret that I wasn't able to say them in person, and I have no excuse for it.

Things she regretted not saying when she had the chance. I snort. When I got this letter, I could barely stand to read it. Iwanako was just the last person from my old life to abandon me. Now, I feel like I really understand. Things I should have said. What should I have said to Lilly? What should she have said to me? For as close as I thought we were, most of our conversations were either polite and superficial, or focused on the present in our relationship. There were probably conversations we should have had, but never did.

Now that I really think about it, Lilly DID try to have some of those conversations. Every time she brought up my condition, I brushed her off. I told myself I didn't want to burden her with my problems, but I never seemed to have any trouble burdening her with other issues. Maybe I just wanted to pretend there was nothing wrong with me, just as we pretended that our relationship was perfect, and would last forever.

I go back to the letter.

The truth is, the times when I visited you at the hospital made me worried about you. I am not talking about your health. You seemed to become more and more distant and disheartened. It was natural after something like that happened, I'm sure, but somehow I got the feeling that you had given up on something back then. Happiness, maybe?

Funny how well she apparently knew me, even though she only spent time with me in the hospital.

Distant. Disheartened. Given up on happiness. During my call with Lilly a few minutes ago, I could barely even bring myself to speak. I felt like she had torn my heart out and walked away with it. I answered her questions as shortly and coldly as I could. And it's not just with Lilly. When Hanako stopped by my room yesterday to check on me (which felt a bit ironic, if I'm being completely honest), I could barely even bring myself to speak to her either. Hell, I've even been avoiding Kenji even more than usual.

How quickly I went right back to withdrawing when things started to go wrong again.

I'm not sure I even want to continue reading the letter. I know what it says. But somehow, I feel that in the context of what just happened to me, or perhaps what I've done to myself, maybe it has new meaning. Or at least, an old meaning that I simply never saw before.

I force myself to keep going.

I wanted to somehow express my feelings, but the right words didn’t come to me. I couldn't say anything to comfort you. I am really sorry for not being able to support you when it mattered the most, even though I like you so much. At least now, finally, I can be more honest.

When I first read this line, I was almost angry. Not being able to support me? She had abandoned me like everyone else! Now, though, I think I understand. Iwanako was just a girl, not a mental health professional. As I watched people trickle out of my life, I came to expect it. I started shutting everyone out, my friends, my parents, even Iwanako. I guess I figured they'd leave eventually, so I might as well make it easy for them. Iwanako stayed longer than the rest, for whatever reason. Maybe it was guilt, even though I had told her the heart attack wasn't her fault. Or maybe she really cared, and was holding out hope that I'd come through my depression eventually. A hope I didn’t share.

Here I am again, doing the same thing to the people in my life who care about me.

Come to think of it, I started shutting down before Lilly even left. Probably from the conversation with Akira. Definitely after the one with Lilly at the Shanghai. It was happening again. The people I cared about were abandoning me again, so I went to my default and shut down.

I laugh bitterly. I drove Lilly away, just as I drove Iwanako away! While they were hoping for things to work out with me, I was already shutting them out because I was afraid to lose them. I sabotaged myself.

I clench my eyes shut and my fists tight, fighting the tears again. I've cried enough this week. I deserve this.

If I could go back to those quiet days in February and March, I'd tell you not to give up on yourself. That's what I would say. Maybe you wouldn't have drifted so far away if I had just said something. I hope you've managed to get back on your feet on your own.

I had, or at least, I thought I had. Until they were swept out from under me again. Or I tripped myself.

Iwanako. She really had tried so hard. I don't think anything she said would have stopped me from "drifting away" though. I had already decided to do that.

I'd tell you not to give up on yourself. Right now, everything in me wants to do just that. I'm a coward. I've always been a coward, just like I've always had my heart condition. I just didn't know it until something triggered it.

The same cowardice that caused me to shut out Iwanako and all my friends, is what drove Lilly away. What’s driving Hanako away too, and Kenji, and Emi, Misha, Shizune, and everyone else I've come to know here. I thought that when I ignored this letter, I was leaving my old life behind. It seems that my old life never left after all.

I'm not sure how much more of this I can take. But there's only one line left. I can do this. I've read it before. I know what it says. Maybe it's the fact that I know what it says that I'm so scared to read it now. With a tremendous effort, I force my eyes down to the page.

Now that the distance between us is also physical-

I shut my eyes, tears starting to flow down my face again. Dammit. I promised myself I was done crying.

She didn’t write this. Lilly didn't write this. This was Iwanako's letter, remember?

Now that the distance between us is also physical, it also feels more final, somehow. I wonder if we will meet again. Perhaps it's for the best if we don't? Still, if you would like to correspond with me, by all means write me back. I'd very much like to hear about your new school and how you are doing. I wish you all the best.

Sincerely, Iwanako

Final. How appropriate that word is now. Iwanako is still back in my hometown, a place I'll likely return to at some point. Hell, with Lilly gone, I'll probably be back there for summer break in a few days. I really need to respond to my parents' messages soon. Iwanako felt that the physical distance made the separation more final. Compared to Lilly, she's practically still my neighbor. Lilly is about as far away as anyone could ever be, in a place I'll almost certainly never go, and with almost no reason to return here. If the distance between me and Iwanako was final, the distance between me and Lilly is far more so.

I look again at THAT line, the one that I was so sure was the whole point of the letter. Perhaps it's for the best if we don't? Funny, I never actually read it as a question before. I always saw it as a statement. Final, like the distance she speaks about. I convinced myself that this letter was her way of closing off this chapter in her life, just like my arrival at Yamaku was my way of moving on, but now, looking at it again, I realize that maybe it wasn't about her at all. Maybe she was giving ME that choice. It says so right there.

Huh. I read the last few sentences again, in context. And again. She's not saying that she never wants to see me again. She's saying that she doesn’t know if she ever will, and leaving it up to me. She's not shutting the door on me; she's leaving it open, and letting me decide whether I want to walk through it or shut it forever. She left the ball in my court, so to speak.

Perhaps it's for the best if we don't? For the best for you, maybe, I had thought. And good riddance. But she was asking, wasn't she? She was so sure that she had failed me somehow, that if she had only tried harder, she could have gotten through to me. I know that she blamed herself for what happened, which as bitter as I was even I never did. She thought that she was the cause of my situation, and that I had given up on happiness because of her.

She wasn't asking if it was for the best for her if she never hear back from me. She was asking me if it was for the best for ME. She was giving me the chance to move on, by not responding to her.

I'm an idiot.

Even after all that time, after I completely shut her out, she wrote this letter, and left the door open. And I decided to close it.

The tears come yet again, but this time, I realize that they're not all for Lilly. I never deserved Iwanako. She tried so hard to reach me, and I treated her like dirt. On top of that, after I left, she gave me the chance to make things right. Maybe if I had taken it, I could have learned something. Grown up a little. Instead, I blamed her, thought the worst of her yet again, shut her out, and went and did the same thing to another wonderful girl.

It's been far too long now, of course. Right? Surely, whatever response she thought she might receive from me, she's given up on long ago. I gave her my answer when I never gave her an answer.

But no. When she left the hospital that final time, I didn’t hear from her for months. She gave me the space I forced on her. Yet, even after all that time, knowing I had likely moved on, she still wrote me that letter. Still left the door open. Even knowing that she would likely only suffer more when she never heard back, she at least had the courage to write it.

The least I can do for her is have a little courage myself.

I fumble through my desk, pulling out a blank piece of notebook paper and a pencil. It's nothing like the pretty letter Iwanako wrote me, but I know that if I put this off until I can purchase proper stationary, I'll lose my nerve. I have to do this now. I owe her that much, at least. If she never responds, at least I'll know that for once in my useless life, I had the tiniest amount of courage.

I put her letter to the side gently, tenderly, its new meanings and insights suddenly infinitely more valuable to me, and spread out my own paper, taking the pen in hand. I have no idea what I'm going to say. No idea how much to tell her. All I know is that I have to say something. I can't back out now.

Dear Iwana-

A soft knock on my door manages to startle me so much that I mess up the name, a scribbly line cutting through the middle of it.

"Who is it?" I manage to ask, feeling my pulse. My heart is beating fast, but not worryingly so.

"Hisao? I-it's me."

Hanako. I stand up, dropping the pencil on the desk, and open my door to her. Hanako is wearing her uniform, despite the fact that summer break has started. I guess she's just used to it? I wouldn’t say she looks terrible, but there are dark circles under her eyes, and her hair is a bit less well-kept than usual. By her reaction when she sees me, I guess I look far worse.

"Hey, Hanako. Um. Hi." I stammer slowly, awkwardly, running my hand through my hair again.

"Hi. Can I come in?" Her momentary hesitation is gone now, and in its place is a look of determination I usually only see when she's engaged in a chess match, or some other game.

I don't want her to, don't want to keep talking about Lilly, but I can't just shut her out again. Not after the things I just learned about myself.

"Yeah, sure." I step aside, giving her room to pass into my dorm. "I'm sorry it's such a mess. I've been, ah, busy…"

She doesn’t seem to give my room any undue attention, just a few quick glances around as she walks to my desk chair and takes a seat. I notice her eyes catch on the two letters on my desk: one barely started. For a moment, she opens her mouth as she looks at it, as if she wants to ask, but then she closes it again, and simply looks at me, waiting.

I go to my bed and sit on the side of it, eyes down on the floor. She remains silent, so eventually, I look up at her and ask the first thing I can think of.

"How have you been holding up?"

She looks almost insulted. It's a new look for her, though not an altogether bad one.

"How have I b-been holding up? Well, I've been t-talking to people, at least! Naomi doesn't really understand how much L-Lilly means to me, but she's still t-tried to be there for me. How about you?"

It's odd, hearing her simultaneously sound concerned for me and angry with me, but I understand where she's coming from. Lilly asked me to keep an eye on Hanako after she left, but I think she probably asked Hanako to do the same thing, and I've been completely stonewalling her. After I tried so hard to treat her like a normal person, to help her out of her shell, she's probably terrified to see me withdrawing the way she always had.

I sigh, unable to hold her gaze for more than a few seconds. Funny how things change.

"I'm sorry, Hanako. I know that you've probably needed me more this week than any other time, and I've totally neglected our friendship. I-"

She stands up so quickly I barely see it, and steps right up to me. For a second, I think she's about to slap me, but she settles for grabbing my shoulder roughly instead and shaking me until I look up into her eyes. I've never seen Hanako this aggressive before. She's surprisingly strong, and scary.

"You're the one that n-needs me right now, y-you idiot!"

I'm stunned into silence at that, but she keeps going, so I guess that's for the best.

"Yes, I miss L-Lilly so much, but I'm still h-her friend! We still talk! And I h-have other people too. Naomi. Natsume. You, I th-thought!"

"Hanako, I-"

"But you! You've completely shut e-everyone out! I've asked around. You won't t-talk to anyone! When Lilly l-left, it's like you left too!"

"Hanako-"

"Sh-shut up, Hisao. I'm n-not letting you d-do this. I know what it's l-like."

She lets go of my shoulder, and sits beside me on the bed. Her anger is still there, I think, but it's a bit tamer now.

"I'm supposed t-to leave in two days. Two days, and then w-we won't see each other until school starts again. D-do you really think I'm j-just going to leave m-my best friend here like this!"

"Your best friend?"

She rolls her eyes at me, something I've never seen her do before.

"My best friend in Japan then. At l-least when he's not acting like a j-jerk!"

She looks like she might cry, and I see the anger slowly leave her. Now she just looks scared.

"I c-can't lose you too, Hisao. But more importantly; y-you can't lose me."

The tears are back, and I'm hugging her now, desperately. She's always seemed so small to me, despite her above average height. But now, she holds me as I cry, finally letting my despair and grief and loss out for someone else to see it. Someone I can trust. Someone I love. There's nothing romantic about it, or at least I don't think there is, and yet, I've never felt closer to Hanako than I do at this moment.

When I've calmed down, I pull myself together and sit up again, sniffing hard.

"It's my fault she left."

Hanako looks up at me sharply. "W-what?"

"It's my fault. I couldn't- no, wouldn't, ask her to stay. Wouldn't open up to her. I shut her out because I was scared of losing her, and I lost her."

She opens her mouth again, and I think she's about to argue, but no sound comes out. Slowly, she closes it again, her eyes drifting away. I think she knows I'm right. After a minute or so of silence between us, she looks at me again.

"She- she told me that she wished that you w-would have fought. She said that you just gave up."

I hang my head, ashamed as I hear my fears confirmed. "She's right. As soon as I found out she might be leaving, I guess I just accepted it."

"B-but why? You loved Lilly.."

"Because I was scared, Hanako!" I practically shout, startling her. She shrinks away from me, her old, timid self returning in an instant, but I keep going. "After my heart attack, I felt like everyone was leaving me. All my old friends stopped visiting me after a few weeks. But do you know what the sad part is? I'm pretty sure they left because I drove them away. I assumed they would leave, so I didn't bother to talk to them. I shut them out. I STILL haven't spoken to any of them again, not even once! I thought I had a new life here, but it turns out that I'm the same coward I always was."

When my tirade against myself is over, I let myself flop back onto the bed, defeated. I deserve this.

I feel Hanako close to me. She's beside me, wrapping an arm around me again. She snuggles up to me, her face buried in my chest.

"I was the same way until I met you."

Her voice is quiet, but calm. Resolute, maybe.

"After the fire, all my old friends started calling me names. I lost everyone. My parents were gone, my friends hated me- I was alone. I thought maybe middle school would be better, but-"

"It was worse."

"Yeah." She shivers against me. "So much worse. By the time I came to Yamaku, I had given up on ever trusting anyone to get close to me. I thought that I was worthless, and everyone could see it. Lilly was the first person who I was able to even really talk to, but even with her, I thought it was just because she couldn't see what I REALLY was. For a long time, I thought that. She took care of me, and I let her, because I was too scared to push her away."

Her voice is so soft, so quiet, but she's not stuttering. I've never heard Hanako talk this much, much less about her past.

"And then you came here, and you COULD see me, but you still talked to me. Still wanted to be my friend. At first, I thought it was just because you wanted to be close to Lilly. She was so pretty, so perfect, so I guess I thought that maybe you were hoping she would like you more if you were friends with me too."

That freezes me up. "Hanako, you… you know that's not true, right?"

"Yes. I know that now, Hisao. You really wanted to be my friend. Want to. You saw me, and you still thought that I was a person. Not just some broken little girl, like everyone else seemed to think."

She looks up at me, our faces only inches apart. She looks directly into my eyes.

"That's why I can't let you shut me out now. I can't let you go back, just like I can't let myself go back. You're a good person, Hisao. You're my friend, and I'm not going to let you throw me away just like I won't throw you away."

I hold her against me, and now she's the one who's crying.

"I'm sorry, Hanako. I'm so sorry. I just- I just miss her so much!"

She sniffs, and sits up. "I miss her too. And I wish things were different. I loved seeing you with Lilly, but I think, maybe, it's almost better that this happened?"

I sit up sharply, staring at her. "How can you say that?!"

"B-because, if she hadn't l-left, you would n-never have realized how s-scared you were!"

The stutter is back now, probably because of my outburst, but her words still ring true.

"Y-you would have kept p-pretending that your h-heart was fine. K-kept shutting L-lilly out. Shutting e-everyone out. A-acting like you were f-fine, even when you weren't. You and L-lilly were great together, Hisao, b-but I don't know how long it would h-have lasted, even if s-she did stay."

She's right. Goddammit, she's completely right. I'd had the chance to learn these lessons before, after my heart attack. If I had really reflected back then, maybe I could have grown a bit before all this happened, but instead I tried to bury my past, and act like it never existed. Which meant I never really changed. Maybe, if I had actually learned a single goddamn thing from my heart attack and my time in the hospital, I would have been able to open myself to Lilly. But I didn't. So maybe it was inevitable. I could have only continued ignoring my past, ignoring my weaknesses for so long. Eventually they would have caught up to me. I would have had another heart attack, or lost Lilly another way. I might not have survived it. At least, this way, I finally have a chance to change.

I nod slowly. "Hanako, when did you get so wise?"

She blushes a little. "I, I read a lot of books, Hisao."

I chuckle. "So do I, and I'm still a moron."

I stand up, and she does the same. I give her one more hug, this one much warmer and much less pathetic. She hugs me back, her hair pressing into my face. It smells so good.

When we release each other, we're both smiling.

"Will you be okay, Hisao?"

I laugh a little. Things really have changed between us, haven't they? I feel- proud? Yes, proud of her. Not only is she not completely dependent on Lilly and I, but I'm depending on her now. She's grown so much these last few months. I wish I had grown as well.

"Yes, I think I will. Thank you, Hanako. Are you excited for your trip?"

Her eyes brighten at the mention of it. "I, I r-really am." She smiles sweetly. "Naomi's got a bunch of plans already. It all s-sounds fun to me."

"Have you traveled before?"

She shakes her head. "N-not like this. Just small trips, back when I was still at the orphanage."

"Are you packed yet?"

She blushes a little. "No, I was waiting until I knew how you were doing."

"Thank you, Hanako. I hope you have a great trip."

"I, I know I will. I'll p-pack tonight."

After a few more moments of this, she moves to leave, and I open the door for her. She steps into the hallway, but hesitates.

"H-Hisao?"

I look at her questioningly.

"Who… who were you w-writing to?"
Last edited by Xeraeo on Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Chapter 2 - Iwanako

Post by Xeraeo » Wed Jul 22, 2020 6:26 pm

I stumble back into the front room, closing the door behind me as I begin to sort mindlessly through the mail. The usual various junk, a couple bills, something vaguely business-like that's addressed to Father, and-

I freeze. Among the rest of the colorful junk, one small, plain white envelope stands out distinctly. My name. My address. And, handwritten in the corner, HIS name.

He… responded? Now? Why?

Even when I was writing my letter to him, even when I dropped it in the mail, I really didn't expect a reply. Of course, some small part of me had HOPED for something, anything from the boy I had somehow become so infatuated with and lost so quickly, but that tiny voice only got quieter and quieter in the weeks after sending the letter.

I drop the rest of the mail, still unsorted, on the counter for Mom to look through later, and stagger up the stairs to my room. I can't take my eyes off the envelope, and I almost trip several times. When I make it to my bed, I sit gingerly, not knowing if I should open the letter yet or do something else first. Anything. Suddenly, I'm terrified.

I made it clear that if he didn't want to reply, he didn't have to, right? I really wanted him to feel like that was an option. But if he's replying, does that mean he actually wanted to? Or just that he felt obligated in some way…

Of all things to come to mind, I'm reminded of that stupid cat with the German name. The one in the box, that's alive and dead, or whatever. This letter is that to me now. Is it a final goodbye, like my letter sorta was? Is it a rant about how I just abandoned him, like I probably deserve? Is it just a formal explanation of his new school, a final sort of distance between us? Or could it be-

I can't do this. I drop the envelope, letting it slip from my fingers to the floor, my eyes welling with tears at even the thought of reading this letter from the boy I almost killed. Rationally, I know that's not what happened, but even now, months after, I still can't shake the feeling that that's what I did to him. And while he told me, the doctors told me, even his own parents told me that it wasn't my fault, everything changed after that day.

Heartbreaker

The first time I heard my new nickname, it was just a whisper somewhere vaguely behind me in the locker room. I don't even know who said it, and I didn't really even know it was intended to mean ME. But still, even then, it made me shudder a little. Then, suddenly, it was everywhere. On the lips of everyone around me. Even my "friends" picked it up, jokingly at first, but as I continued to retreat from them, it became less and less of a joke. Eventually, I opened my locker to find a pile of fake love letters, each with a delicately drawn heart with a crack through the middle of it.

I didn't go back to school for a week after that. My parents didn't understand. Couldn't understand. They gave me space after a day or so of seeing how distant I was, but I knew they couldn't really see what I was going through. I had been getting better, after all. After that last time I saw Hisao in the hospital, I had just started to put my life back together, or so I thought. Started catching up in the classes I had fallen behind in, talking with a few friends, even going to occasional social events. But that all ended after my new nickname.

It's so strange. I had always been one of the more popular girls, although I suspect it's mostly because of my looks. In middle school, I was occasionally cruel to girls lower on the social food chain, but I grew out of it pretty quickly, and I thought I had made some genuine friendships in high school. I was definitely never bullied. So to experience it now, in my last year, feels almost surreal.

I glance down at the letter from the person who ruined my life.

No, stop that! You have no right to think that!

Even so, if Hisao and I had been able to at least talk afterwards, if he had recovered a bit faster emotionally, if not physically, if we had been able to stay in touch, maybe the whole school wouldn't have turned on me like it did. Sure, Hisao wasn't the most popular kid, but he was generally well liked. His laid-back but genuine and kind personality made him at least friendly with pretty much everyone, and seeing him so destroyed like that left an impression on people. If only things had gone differently…

It's not his fault. Not either of our faults, just a cruel joke played on us both by the universe. Whatever we might have had, fate intervened. Maybe it was for the best, like I told him in my letter. But if he thought the same, then why would he-

I pick up the envelope again, carefully, studying it for a hint of what it might contain. Anger? Regret? Coldness? Or possibly just a little bit of hope?

Nobody will be home for hours. My brother moved out last year, and my parents both work late most nights. Break just started, and my normal plans with friends don't seem to be happening this year, unsurprisingly. Do I even have friends still?

Whatever is in this letter, I'll certainly have time to deal with it, if not strength. Slowly, almost fearfully, I tear it open.

Notebook paper, two sheets, torn out from a regular school notebook and folded together. Nothing so well thought-out as my own letter. I unfold the sheets, and look at the first line.

Iwanako,

First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to write to me. After that last day in the hospital, I really never expected to hear from you again. I wouldn't have blamed you if that was the last time we ever saw or heard from each other. I was a mess, and there was no way you could have known how to deal with it.

You apologized for not knowing what to say to me then, but honestly, I think that even if you had said those words, it wouldn't have done any good. I was already convinced that my life was over, and that you were just another person that was going to walk away. When you finally did, I was just more convinced that I was right, but still, I'm glad you were able to. Nobody should have to go through what you were. I can't even imagine what that was like for you.


Of all the things this letter could have said, I did NOT expect this. My own letter (the one I finally managed to actually send him) had been so formal and detached. I felt that I had to be, that being too personal would be cruel to him after the way that we parted, I think. For him to be so open, so up-front about his feelings now- it almost doesn't feel like Hisao at all. But then again, the only time I really KNEW him was in the hospital, and that wasn't the real him anyway, was it?

You said you hoped that I managed to get back on my feet on my own. When I got to Yamaku, the only thing that gave me hope was that a fresh start isn't a bad thing. But still, I was withdrawn and standoffish with almost everyone from the beginning. Like in the hospital.

It's strange; most of the students here are disabled in some visible way. Like missing an arm, or in a wheelchair. Or blind. It made me feel almost normal, and for a while I clung to that, and wouldn't tell anyone about my own condition. That was a mistake.


I flip the page, and realize that both pages have writing on the front and back. He had a lot to say, it seems.

Anyway, I don't think I would have gotten back on my feet on my own, as you put it, but I had help. There were several students here who I was able to become friends with. And in Lilly's case, more than friends.

There it is. I'd been clinging to some strange, desperate hope all this time, and he had already moved on. I force myself to keep reading.

It's funny, I really thought that I was living a new life here. Like I was a new person. When I got your letter, I almost didn't read it. It felt like it was written to a different person, to someone I used to know. I did read it eventually, but I don't think I was ready even then to hear what you had to say. You have no idea how sorry I am for that.

Sorry? Why would he be sorry? If he had moved on, gotten new friends, and a- a girlfriend… then maybe he had changed enough that my letter wouldn't mean anything to him.

For a while, everything seemed like it was going great for me here. I was almost able to forget about my condition, and pretend that my life was normal again. But it turned out I hadn't really changed much after all.

I lost her. Lilly. I loved her- still do love her, I think, but I lost her. The same way I lost you, funny enough. It was almost backwards, at first. I almost had another attack with her, and she confessed to me that same day, later on. I didn't even think about it at the time, but how ironic is that?


I snort, despite myself. Figures that the universe would use my confession to break his heart, and then his heart to get him a new confession. At least things turned out a bit fairly for him. But then, what happened?

Lilly and I were great together, or so I thought. We really rushed into things, and for a short time it was great, but whenever she would ask me about my heart… I shut her down. The same when she asked me about anything else that was too personal. Even when I told her about you… I held back about your letter. I would never really let her in.

She left. Her family lives in Scotland, and they summoned her back to live with them. I think that, maybe, if I had just been willing to talk to her more, to tell her how I really saw our relationship- but I didn't. Couldn't. I was a coward.


Oh, Hisao. I'm crying again, and now the words are too blurry to read, so I set the letter aside for a moment as I compose myself. Each word is like a painful reminder of how he was in the hospital, so distant, so far, far away from me even when I was right beside him. To hear that even after finding someone else, he was STILL like that-

It wasn't until the last time that she and I spoke, on the phone, after she had arrived in Scotland, that I finally read your letter again. And it was the first time that I understood it, I think. I was doing the same thing to her that I did to you. Shutting her out. And I lost her because of it. I almost lost my other friends here too.

I know I have no right to ask this. I know that you've probably moved on, just as I thought I did. Hopefully you've been able to put things back together by now and stop feeling guilty for me shutting myself off like that. It was never your fault. But… I'm coming home for break in a few days. With Lilly gone, I don’t think I can stay here right now. And I was wondering if maybe you'd be okay seeing me? Just once. I want to apologize in person.


I have no idea what I'm feeling right now. Well, that's not exactly true. Hope and… joy? But also terror. And not the good kind, but the pit-in-your-stomach kind. If all he wants to do is talk about his new girlfriend (his ex?) then I'm not sure I could handle it. But it really sounds like he wants to talk about us. That's something I really had given up on, and now here's a chance.

Should I feel guilty, feeling this way after hearing about the new pain he's in? Maybe. But I've felt guilty over Hisao for so long that it almost doesn't change anything.

I'll understand if I don't hear back from you. It's been way too long since you sent your letter, I know. And you don't deserve to have old wounds opened back up. So please, please don't feel that you need to answer me. But if you want to talk, or to see me, I'll be around.

Below that line, his phone number is written down. I have it already, of course, but maybe he assumed I didn't since I had sent him a letter instead. No, he had to know, right? Maybe this is his way of saying that he'd prefer to talk that way, instead of continuing these letter. I guess that makes sense.

If I don't hear back from you, then I guess I'll know that a blew my last chance to talk to you, and this will have to be goodbye. So, if this is goodbye, then I want you to know that I'm sorry, Iwanako. I'm sorry for everything. Sorry that you had to go through what you did that day, sorry that I never appreciated what you did for me, sorry that I never opened up to you after that. Never gave you an answer. Never told you how I felt.

And thank you. From the bottom of my stupid, broken heart. Reading your letter helped me realize just how much of a coward I've been for so long. How stuck I was in my stupid, victim pattern of driving away everyone who cared about me. Just in the last two days since I read it, I think I've changed more than I did in all the time since leaving the hospital. At least, I hope I have. Even if we never meet again, you've done more for me than you can know. So thank you, Iwanako.

Yours, Hisao


I rock back, laying down slowly, clutching the final page of his letter gingerly. Oh Hisao. If only you could have sent this sooner, maybe everything would have been different. But this is what the universe allowed. I'm happy my letter actually helped him, somehow, even if it wasn't in the way I intended. But, do I really want to see him? Maybe, like I told him, it would be better if we didn't?

I sit up, and read the letter again. And again. I start to think that this Hisao, the one I never got to know, is more like the boy I had developed feelings for at a distance than the one I knew in the hospital. But he's also more than that. Stronger. I want to meet him.

I pull out my phone, then hesitate. Should I text him right now? Or call? He didn't actually say when he was coming home; just that it would be in a few days. Maybe I should wait until then?

No. We've both waited too long to talk too many times. He's probably anxious, just as I was after sending my letter. Maybe it would be fair to let him continue to feel that for a bit longer, but I'm not that cruel. Before I can stop myself, I punch in the number on his letter, forgetting I already have it until his name pops up on my phone, and I hit call. I sniffle, hoping my voice will sound okay. The line clicks, and I can hear heavy breathing on the other end.

"Hisao?" I ask tentatively, immediately worried.

"Yes, who is thi- Iwanako?"
Last edited by Xeraeo on Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Chapter 3 - Hisao

Post by Xeraeo » Wed Jul 22, 2020 6:27 pm

I did it. I managed to reply to Iwanako, after all this time. Somehow, writing my reply to her seemed to help me further with my feelings about Lilly, and how she and I had left things. I had even called her back to apologize for how cold I had been the last time we had spoken after I finished the letter. Lilly seemed… distant, but I couldn't really blame her for that. We didn't speak for very long; I didn't get into the revelations I had had after reading Iwanako's letter again, but I suspect Hanako may have told her something about our conversation.

I asked Lilly how she was settling in in Inverness, and she talked briefly about her family, though she didn't really give me any details. She asked how I was doing in return, and I told her I was handling things a little better now. We both discussed Hanako, and I could hear her cheer up a bit as we agreed about how proud we were that she had come so far and had actually left on a trip without us. That was the high point of the conversation though, and it was mostly small talk after that, so we both agreed to end the call.

I felt a little better afterwards, since before calling her I didn't even know if we were still friends. I still will need to tell her more about the change in perspective I've been having lately, but I felt it wasn't fair to do so just yet. Lilly just moved, after all, and she's likely trying to move on from our relationship and spend time with her family. I don't want to throw a wrench in the works emotionally and give her more regrets, at least until she's at least been able to settle into things a bit more.

Part of me feels hypocritical about still not being completely open with Lilly, but I really do believe I'm doing it for the right reasons this time. That, and now that we're no longer a couple I don't really owe her that level of openness. I'll tell her about it, in time. It's just better for her if I wait. Better for us both to have some time to get accustomed to the distance, both physical and emotional. If she really wanted to discuss how I was feeling about the break up in more detail right away, she would have brought it up.

After sending my reply to Iwanako and at least patching things up with Lilly, I finally got back to my parents confirming that I would in fact be coming home for the break, and then made sure to spend some time with Hanako before she left.

We mostly hung out in the library, since the tea room reminded us both too much of Lilly. We played a few games of chess (sadly, I managed to win only once), hung out quietly with some books, and had one more conversation about Lilly. Hanako agreed with me that it wasn't the right time for me to talk to Lilly about what I had come to think about how our relationship had ended. I got the impression that she had spoken with Lilly again and that she was pretty worried about her, but I didn’t ask, and she didn’t bring it up. They've been best friends for over a year, after all, and I've only been a part of their lives for a matter of weeks, even if it feels like much longer. Regardless of how things ended, I don't want to come between the two of them.

I saw Hanako off at the train station with our classmates Inoue and Ooe the following day, and then returned to Yamaku alone. For my last couple days before heading back home, I wanted to start getting my life on track in ways I previously had neglected. While with Lilly, I had tried to pretend that I was normal, ignoring my condition and focusing on her and Hanako. After having more than one serious scare with my heart, you'd think I'd have taken my health more seriously, but it took Lilly's departure to really make me realize just how fragile I've gotten.

One of the ways I need to get my life in order is by exercising, like the nurse told me my first week here. I gave up so easily after the second time running with Emi, but I hoped that she would be willing to help me still. I found her at the track and apologized for ditching her after that run, and she agreed to help me develop a running plan that I could follow over the break.

This morning, I met her down at the track to run together one time, and felt surprisingly good. I couldn't do much better than I did that first day, only barely completing four laps, but I was kinda proud that at least this time I finished, even if I was gasping for air like a fish out of water. We just sat down to start going over her plan for me to keep running through the summer when my phone rings. I don't recognize the number, so I excuse myself for a moment and take a few steps away from the bleachers before answering, my breath still heavy from the run.

"Hisao?" a feminine voice asks nervously. I start to reply automatically before it hits me who the voice belongs to.

"Yes, who is thi- …Iwanako?"

"Yes. I'm sorry, did I call you at a bad time?" She sounds like she's worried I might just hang up right now.

"No! No, I'm really glad that you called. It's just- well honestly, I really didn't expect to hear from you so quickly. Or at all, maybe."

"Oh. Well, I can call later, if that's better?" Her voice is so soft, so gentle, just like I remember from that day- and from the following weeks… The voice of my dreams, I had told myself. I smile inwardly at the childish thought.

"No, now is fine. Just give me a minute, okay?"

I cover the phone and walk back to Emi, who's been watching me curiously during my conversation. She blushes slightly, and pretends for a second that she wasn't listening, but then looks back up at me as I approach her.

"Hey, Emi, I'm so sorry, but I really need to take this, and it might be a while. Could we maybe meet for lunch later instead?"

She hesitates, and looks like she'd rather be anywhere than here right now. "Um, I actually have plans for lunch already, but really you can just follow the plan on the sheet." She pauses, then asks "Is that Lilly?"

"Actually, no, it's- someone from my old school." I trust Emi, but for some reason I hesitate to try to explain further right now. "Anyway, I'm sorry to do this. And thank you. For everything."

She looks a bit relieved at my pronouncement that it's not my ex-girlfriend on the line and smiles back at me, but I can see in her eyes that it's still somewhat forced. I feel really bad. I'm the one that asked her to meet me and to help me with this, and I'm kinda being a jerk ditching her now, but there's no way I'm going to miss this chance to talk to Iwanako. It's might be the last one I'll ever get.

"No problem, Hisao. You better stick to that plan, though! If I find out after break that you started slacking off again-"

I cut her off as gently as I can, reassuring her. "I won't, Emi. Thanks." I give her my best smile, and she seems to cheer up a little. She gives me a quick side hug, then walks off towards the auxiliary building. Probably to see the nurse.

I realize that I'm still covering my phone as I watch her go, and for a moment I'm terrified that Iwanako has hung up. I jerk it back to my face. "Iwanako?"

"Yes?" Her voice is still calm and gentle, but a bit unsure as well.

I sigh in relief. "Sorry about that. I just needed to talk to someone real quick. I can talk now." I start to meander slowly along the track, enjoying the cool morning breeze as it brushes along my sweat-soaked back.

"Oh, it's okay. Um, were you okay before? You sounded a little out of breath..."

"Yeah, I'm doing well. I was just running, so that's probably why." Not just probably. After that pathetic display, I really hope I don't end up in any situations where I need to run for a long time. I probably wouldn't survive them.

"Oh. Running? Isn't that, I mean…"

"Dangerous?" I chuckle softly. "I mean, I'm never going to be a sprinter, but the school nurse here recommended I do some light jogging to help strengthen my heart a bit. I wish I had listened to him sooner, really. Maybe if I had…" I trail off, the chain of possible futures in my past flying through my head in a blur.

Making it into town in Hokkaido instead of collapsing halfway there.

Lilly not confessing to me that evening.

…other things not happening that evening.


I stop myself. No point in dwelling on what might have or have not been, right? Of course, that's all I've been doing since the moment I found out Lilly was leaving. Dwelling on everything.

After my long pause, and probably assuming I wasn't about to finish my sentence anytime soon, Iwanako continues. "I suppose that makes sense then. It's good to hear that you're finally starting to take care of yourself, Hisao."

"Better late than never, right?" I reply with another chuckle, this one much more nervous. I think she catches that I mean more by that than just the running.

"…Yes."

That one word holds a lot of meaning for me right now. I reach the first bend in the track and follow it mindlessly, staying in the same lane the whole time. As I turn, the wind shifts to blow against my face, sending more sweat droplets down into my eyes. I wipe my face with my hand to clear it, but it's not all that helpful. In the distance, I can see Emi cresting the hill before disappearing from sight as she heads towards the dorms.

"I was starting to think I wouldn’t hear from you again." Iwanako says, her voice barely a whisper now. I swallow. Here it is. I hold the phone away so she doesn't hear me take a deep breath, before bringing it back to answer her unspoken question.

"I know. I'm sorry. When I first got your letter, I really thought that's what you wanted. And it's what I wanted too, I think. At least, back then."

"And now?"

Wow, she has a way of being direct without being direct.

"Well, now I don't know. I certainly don't want to push you away again, but a part of me can't help but feel like it's unfair of me to drag you back into the past after you've had time to move on." I don't know if that makes anything beyond my general confusion clear, but at least I'm being honest.

She laughs softly, but I think I detect something strained about it. Bitterness, maybe? I haven't really heard her laugh before, at least not sincerely, so it's hard to gauge it.

"Hisao, part of me really wishes that were true. But I'm not sure I ever really moved on."

I'm about halfway down the back stretch now, but that sentence stops me in my tracks. What the hell does she mean by that? Before I can ask, she continues.

"I think I'm glad you finally wrote me back, but there's something I need to know."

I swallow again. Probably Lilly, right? I told her quite a lot in my letter, but am I really ready to talk about this with Iwanako? Now?

Her voice comes through the phone again, as gentle as ever, yet the words each strike like hammer blows to my sternum. "What were you going to say?"

I start to feel dizzy as her question instantly brings back memories of a certain snowy day. A light gentle breeze, not unlike this one, but much colder. Clattering tree branches above my head, sounding like a pile of dried bones. The crunch of light footfalls in the snow behind me. The visage of an angel, looking at me with a shy sweetness I had felt for a long time. A question asked softly, with complete innocence. Pain. Blackness. Despair.

I feel my heart literally skip a beat, and I quickly sit down on the track, not wanting to risk collapsing alone out here. How ironic would it be to have another attack like this, when she finally asks me that question again? I take a few deep, calming breaths, gently massaging my chest with one hand while holding the phone with the other.

Relax. You're fine.

"Hisao?!" Iwanako asks, her voice suddenly filled with fear. That brings the memories back again, but it also snaps me back to reality.

"I'm okay, Iwanako." I reassure her, taking another deep breath and making sure that's true before continuing. I can almost hear her relax a bit at that, but I can still feel her tension through the phone. Is she holding her breath?

"When you asked me out that day, I didn't have time to formulate an actual response before… well you know. But I think I know what I would have said. The reason I was so nervous, the reason your question was such a shock to me, was because I really, really liked you too." Even in the hospital, I never told her that, did I? I guess it felt obvious; considering my reaction to her confession, I just assumed that she had to know how I felt. But the way I acted afterwards didn't exactly scream positive, so who knows what she thought?

She lets out a long, slow breath as I finish. Maybe she really didn't realize it until now. Or at least, maybe she had doubts. Gods know I gave her plenty of reasons to doubt. I keep going, happy that I can finally reassure her a bit, even if it's later than I would have liked.

"If things had gone differently, I would have said yes. Honestly, everything about that situation was wonderful until it wasn't, you know? The note was creative, the spot you picked was beautiful; you really couldn't have done a better job. I had been trying for weeks to work up the courage to ask you the same question. It's almost no wonder I panicked when you asked me."

A gasp comes through the phone. She's- crying? I stand up again, holding the phone close to my ear to hear her as clearly as possible, but she doesn't say anything. There are just a few quiet sounds that I think are suppressed sobs, but I don't want to assume anything. I start walking again, my legs still feeling a bit unsteady, and wait for her to reply, but still she says nothing.

"Iwanako?"

I hear her take a few shuddering breaths before she finally speaks again, seeming to collect herself first.

"Hisao. You have no idea how long I've been wondering that. I know it probably doesn't matter now, but… thank you."

I'm a little confused by her reaction. Does it really still matter to her so much after all this time? "Um, you're welcome? I'm sorry it took me so long to answer your question."

This feels- off, I guess is the only word I can think of. Her thanking me after everything I did to her. Not to mention the rather tall, blonde elephant we're both failing to address.

"It's okay. And I would love to see you, if you still want that." I had nearly forgotten about that part of my letter. The most I had really hoped for was that she might reply to me at all.

"I- I would like that, I think. Yes."

Geez, you're starting to sound like Hanako.

"When are you coming home?" She sounds almost eager now, and… bashful, I think? This is the longest conversation we've ever had, so I'm not familiar enough with her speech to really read her emotions, but that's the impression I get, at least.

"I'm leaving the school and heading home tomorrow. I'll probably get there in the evening, so I'll see my parents a bit after that when they get home from work." I think quickly, trying to come up with a plan on the spot. "Are you busy the day after?"

She responds immediately, her voice back to being calm and collected. "No, I don't have any plans. I can call you, or…?"

I reach the end of the second bend in the track, and begin walking towards the bleacher again. "I'll call you tomorrow, while I'm on the train. We can pick a time and place to meet the next day then. Sound good?"

"Yes, Hisao, that sounds perfect. I'll talk to you tomorrow."

"Okay, Iwanako. Talk to you then."

After a couple moments of silence, I hang up. That felt- weird. The conversation had started with small talk, kinda, then moved into the very personal, and then back into an odd politeness that reminded me too much of Lilly. Speaking of Lilly, neither of us had mentioned her at all. I guess that's probably for the best for our first real conversation in- well ever, really, but still. And her question to me, was that…?

Another confession?

I reach the bleachers, having completed the slowest lap of my life during our conversation.

No, there's no way that's what it was, right? But she had said she never really moved on, and my reply to her- could she have taken that as- a confession to her?

Was it?

I have no idea how to sort out my feelings right now. I look up at the track in front of me, and for a moment I'm tempted to just start running again. Emi has said it's a great way to clear your head. But I just ran, and I know pushing myself like that would be a terrible idea, even if I didn't just have another heart scare a few minutes ago. Instead, I sit and do what I've been doing way too much of these days: think.

Lilly's been gone for less than a week. There's no way that I can fill the hole she left in my life anytime soon; I know that. And it's possible that some part of me, somewhere deep inside where the pain is all too real, is looking for a way to dull it. Maybe some part of me is using Iwanako for that? As a distraction from my feelings about losing Lilly?

Am I using Iwanako?

I shudder at that thought. There's no way that I can allow myself to do that to her. It's good that I'm finally learning to open up to somebody- but I'd better be damn sure that I know what I'm doing before I do so with her, and potentially hurt her again. She's suffered enough because of me.

I turn to grab my stuff, and the plan Emi made for me. I look over it, still feeling guilty about ditching her for my phone call, but I'm pretty sure it was the right decision. She seemed a bit unhappy about me taking that phone call, but I think it had more to do with her thinking it was Lilly than anything, since she looked satisfied once I told her it wasn't. I'll need to make sure to reach out to her and thank her again for helping me with this plan. That, and I'd better stick to it. It looks like it calls for me to run almost every day of the week, and go from just simple one mile runs like I did today to doing several miles at a time a few months from now, and at increasing speeds. Even before my hospital stay, I don't think I was athletic enough to do what she imagines I'll be doing in the future, but I guess I'll have to try my best.

I stand to leave, heading back towards the dorms at a leisurely pace. The cool breeze from earlier has stilled now, and the sun has come up higher in the sky, casting its oppressive heat down on me angrily. Summer is fully here now, no doubt about it. That used to mean hanging out with my friends in the city, playing pickup games of soccer, going down to the arcade frequently, and generally finding ways to occupy the time away from home before school starts up again. I won't be doing nearly so much this year, I know, but I'm a bit excited at the prospect of returning home to a semblance of normalcy.

In two days, I'll almost certainly see Iwanako again. And we'll have time to talk tomorrow on the phone as well, during my long train ride. That means I have all of one day to sort through these feelings and thoughts I'm having about her now. That's not a whole lot of time, especially by my snail standards when it comes to such things. I can't afford to be confused though, because regardless of how things go when we meet, I have no intention of being anything but completely open and honest with Iwanako again.

I reach the male dorms, head up to my room to drop off my stuff and grab a towel and fresh clothes, and then shoot over to the showers. Peeking in, I'm relieved to see that Kenji isn't in here, so I jump in and scrub myself clean quickly before sneaking back to my room to grab one more thing. Not wanting to risk an unwelcome interruption, I make my way across the grounds to the main building and up to the school roof where I've had lunch with Emi and Rin a few times. As I expected, it's deserted. Most of the students are already gone for the break, and unlike in most schools, this really isn’t a common hangout spot anyway.

I sit down on a random bench and look up at the sky for a few moments. It's a pretty clear day, but a few clouds are scattered around nonetheless, and every now and then one covers the sun for a few minutes, giving some relief from its heat. The breeze up here is a good deal stronger than it was down by the track, so really even the sunlight is bearable. Reaching into my bag, I pull out the fresh notebook I had grabbed from my desk drawer. I've never really tried journaling before, but I figure that if I can get my thoughts down on paper where I can see them, it might help me figure things out.

I start and stop several times, before realizing that nobody but me is going to read this, and I don't have to be clear or even really make sense as I write. I just need to get everything down where I can see it and judge where I'm at. After taking a deep breath to steady myself, I begin to write.
Last edited by Xeraeo on Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Chapter 4 - Iwanako

Post by Xeraeo » Wed Jul 22, 2020 6:31 pm

I check myself in the mirror for what feels like the 50th time- still good to go. My watch hasn't changed the minute since the last time- still 20 minutes before I really need to leave.

I haven't been this anxious since-

No. Today isn't the day to think about that. Maybe after today, I can finally break free of what happened back in January.

Frustrated and impatient, I look over my outfit again: blue jeans with a dark grey cardigan over a deep red blouse. Nothing too formal, but also not too casual. It's the fifth outfit I tried on, and the one I've forced myself to accept. Unless I wear the-

Stop it.

I check my watch again. 19 minutes. This is ridiculous. What am I, in middle school? I don't even think this is meant to be a date, but I'm more nervous for it than I have been for anything I can remember.

Since I can't help myself, I start going over yesterday's conversation again in my mind, looking for any signs of what to expect for today. After our brief phone call two days ago, Hisao called me again during his train ride down to the city, and we spoke for well over an hour. He told me a lot about Yamaku, about the many different students and many disabilities there, how he met and befriended many of them, and how he grew to learn that who people were was more about how they learned to cope with their problems than the problems themselves.

He told me a good deal about his friends, especially a girl named Hanako and a guy named Kenji. I thought it was a bit ironic that he had gotten close to another dark-haired girl with such a similar name to mine, but from what he told me it sounded like they were just friends. She seemed interesting, and I think I'd like to meet her someday. As for Kenji, maybe not so much…

What was odd about our conversation was that he only told me bits and pieces about Lilly. He spoke a good deal about when they first met and became friends, but he was much vaguer about the weeks they had dated. Compared to how open he was in his letter, it seemed now like he was much more hesitant to talk about her. Considering that they just broke up a week or so ago, this isn't very surprising, I guess, but it still makes me nervous. In his letter, he had said that he might still be in love with her, after all.

For my part, I did my best to refrain from asking too many personal questions, sticking to the basics about his friends and his experiences at Yamaku. I know Hisao thinks he's had some revelation from my letter about being open with people, but after those weeks in the hospital, I'm NOT ready to start pushing him on that immediately. Maybe, if I give him the space and time, he'll be able to do it on his own.

Besides, I'm not exactly a role model for openness right now. I told him bits and pieces about how school has been since he left, but I refrained from going into any detail about just how awful things have really been for me. He doesn't need that guilt right now, and I don't want to put a bad taste in his mouth before we even have the chance to see each other in person.

I realize that I've picked up his letter from my nightstand, where it has been lying for the past few days, and am absently reading over it as I think. I glance at my watch in a sudden panic as I realize I lost track of time, but I still have 6 minutes. Dropping the letter back on the nightstand, I stand and head downstairs. As usual, the house is quiet and empty, and I make my way to the front door silently, as if disturbing the quiet would be sacrilegious in some way.

I decide to head down early, since I can't sit around thinking anymore, so I begin walking to the café Hisao suggested we meet in today. I think I've been there once or twice, since I recognized it when he brought it up, but I still had to look up how to get there. It's about a 5 minute walk, nothing serious, and not far from either his place or mine.

Even after he was hospitalized, I didn’t know where Hisao lived until he told me yesterday. I suppose it's not as much "home" to him as it used to be, but still, the fact that we were practically neighbors for so long struck me as funny. If we had ever dated, seeing each other outside of school would not have been hard.

I get to the café nearly 10 minutes earlier than we had agreed, and ask the girl at the front for a table for two. It's a relatively quiet establishment, with high backed booths that allow for fairly private conversation, and has a generally friendly but also hushed atmosphere, almost like a library. No wonder Hisao picked it.

The place seems mostly empty, probably because it’s well past lunchtime (also likely something Hisao thought about), and I follow the girl as she begins to lead me to an empty booth. As we pass one of the few occupied ones, a voice behind me softly says "Iwanako?"

I freeze momentarily, watching the girl walk ahead of me, before turning around. Sure enough, Hisao is sitting at the booth I just passed, looking up at me from a book he had apparently been reading. The expression on his face is difficult for me to read, but I expect my own is similar; some mixture of surprise, relief, and nervousness. I don't say anything for several seconds, and neither does he as we stare at each other awkwardly.

"Miss?" the girl asks from behind me. I turn to her sharply, apologizing and explaining that this was the person I was meeting before sitting down across from Hisao. The girl places a menu on the table in front of me, and I ask her for a cup of tea before she walks off. I notice that Hisao has a cup in front of him as well. The first thing this makes me think of is that I never knew he was a tea drinker. He always seemed to get sodas and similar drinks when I knew him. The second thing I notice is that the tea is half drunk already, and not steaming, which means he's already been here for a while.

"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to make you wait." I say immediately.

Hisao frowns, and looks a bit confused, but at least he doesn't seem quite so nervous as he replies. "I was early, and so are you, I think. No reason to apologize."

He's wearing one of those sweater vests that I always thought made him look rather distinct, even if he got teased for it. While not exactly fashionable, at least he's honest about who he is and not pretending for the people around him. Not like me…

"Are you okay?" he asks, and now he looks concerned. Dammit, I keep getting lost in my head. I've been doing that more and more lately.

"Yes, I'm fine." I reply. "How was your trip down?"

"Uneventful, aside from our phone call." He takes a sip of his tea, frowning as he apparently realizes it's gone cold. "I just read for the rest of it."

"So, you're still reading a lot then?"

Stupid question, Iwanako. He's literally got a book in front of him right now.

"Yes, I never exactly broke the habit, although it's not quite as bad as it was in the hospital. I do other things too now, at least."

The mention of the hospital makes me shiver inwardly, and I quickly try to move to another subject.

"Um, how were your parents when you saw them? Were they happy to see you doing so much better?"

"Yes, I think so. My mom was all over me, and my dad seemed happier than usual, at least."

I nod, realizing that I'm already out of dumb questions to ask, and have nothing to say that I actually WANT to talk about. What's wrong with me? I've never had difficulty carrying on a conversation, even if I'm not the most talkative girl in the world.

Fortunately, Hisao saves me from having to come up with something else. Unfortunately, he does so by cutting through my bullshit. "Iwanako, I think we covered the small talk pretty well yesterday. I wanted to see you to apologize to you in person, remember? I know I kinda covered it in my letter, but I really wanted to do it like this."

So much for this being a date. I know I should have expected this, but some part of me wanted to believe after our last two conversations that this would be more than just an apology. "Okay."

He seems to take a moment to think, glancing down at his teacup for a few seconds before cracking a weak smile. When he looks up at me, I can see a profound sadness in those brown eyes that makes my own eyes water. "What I did to you was awful. You tried so hard to reach me, even though you didn’t owe me anything, and I just shoved you away. After I ruined your confession- I-"

"Wait, WHAT?" I find myself almost shouting in confusion at that. "You didn't ruin it! I was the one who almost made you-"

Surprisingly, he interrupts me, and rather forcefully. "Yes. I did. It wasn't anyone's fault, Iwanako. Not mine or yours. But it happened because of my condition. It had nothing to do with you, other than how much I liked you. It's my condition, my issue to deal with, and it ruined what should have been a wonderful moment for you. I can't imagine what that was like."

I know what he's saying makes sense, but the guilt I've been weighed down with for the past few months is still too strong to dismiss so easily. I open my mouth again, but he holds up his hand to stop me. "Please. Let me finish."

"I found out much later what you did for me. How you dragged me so far trying to get help. I can't imagine how you even pulled that off." As he says this, he looks me up and down in a way that under different circumstances would make me blush, but in this case I know he's just emphasizing our rather significant size difference.

"Not only did I never thank you; I treated you as if you were to blame. I know I told you it wasn't your fault, but I wouldn't be surprised if the way I acted made you still feel like it was somehow your fault.

I start to protest, but cut myself off for two reasons. First of all, he asked me to let him finish, but more importantly… he's right? Thinking back on those days, I think I really did feel like he was shunning me because he resented what had happened.

"I never blamed you, Iwanako, but I probably made you feel like I did, and that must have been even more horrible for you. I was so, so selfish. Trust me; I've had a lot of experience recently with people who blame themselves for everything, and I know what it's like. I'm so, so sorry."

My eyes are tearing up again, the façade of a polite young lady that I worked so hard to put up threatening to break down completely. I manage to hold back the tears, just barely, and look up at Hisao again to find him staring into my eyes, his own full of tears as well. He reaches a hand across the table, and I take in gently in my own.

"You deserved so much better than me. You still do. I'm grateful for everything you did for me, and so sorry for how I treated you. Thank you for giving me this chance to apologize. I hope it makes it easier for you to move on."

Wait, what?

He releases my hand and stands up, his face resuming a mask of politeness. Is he leaving?

Hisao bows to me, deeply, a bow of respect and gratitude and apology all wrapped into one. When he straightens out again, his mask is complete. "Goodbye, Iwanako."

He turns and begins to walk away. Forever?

"Hisao!"

I jump out of the booth, and find myself colliding with someone. The waitress stumbles back from me, somehow managing to keep the cup of tea on the tray she's carrying from crashing to the floor, although some of the tea sloshes out of the cup. I apologize to her quickly, and rush to Hisao, who's turned back to me and is looking at me with- surprise?

My polite act is gone, the thought of losing him NOW too intolerable to bear. I grab both his hands in mine, staring up into his eyes. "I don't WANT to move on, okay?"

He looks confused again, but slowly, breaks into a smile. "Neither do I. I just wanted to give you the chance to, with as much closure as possible, if that was what you wanted."

That makes no sense to me at first, but then, I realize I was doing the same thing with my letter to him. And he did the same with his reply to me.

"How about we both agree that neither of us wants that, and stop trying to make it happen?" I'm shocked at my own words, but they're perhaps the most honest I've spoken so far today.

He pulls me closer for a moment, then seems to hesitate. He releases my hands with a sigh, apparently settling for looking me in the eyes. "All right. I can agree to that."

I can't quite place his tone. He seems happy, but also- conflicted? I guess that shouldn’t be surprising; given his recent breakup and how guilty he apparently has felt over how things went between us. The two are probably tied together in his mind, considering what he said in his letter. Oh, God. Does that mean that this whole conversation is also him apologizing to her?

I try to shake that thought from my mind as we both sit down again, this time looking at the menus for several minutes. I realize that I haven't actually read anything on the menu, and that I'm not really all that hungry, despite the time. Nevertheless, I had better order something. I get a simple dish, while Hisao gets something a bit more hearty, and we settle in for a long conversation. This time, I think Hisao wants to clear the air on more than just what happened between us.

"I suppose I should tell you about Lilly." He begins, his eyes going down to his teacup.

"You don't have to if you don’t want to." I say before I can stop myself.

Dammit, shut up and let him talk!

"Thank you, but I think I need to, you know?" He smiles up at me sadly.

He starts off with how they first met, how he walked in on her in what he calls the "tea room" and how their first awkward conversation went. There's a clear wistfulness in his voice as he describes the scene, and even though he doesn't outright say it, I can tell he was struck by how beautiful she was.

He tells me about how Lilly seemed to "take him under her wing" and try to help him acclimate to Yamaku, even though it would seem from the outside more like he was helping her with her own disability.

He tells me how she took her first trip to Scotland, and how he realized his feelings for her while she was away.

"I think I liked her for a while before then, really, but some part of me didn’t recognize it until she was gone." This makes him stop for a while, and I'm about to tell him again that he really doesn't need to tell me all this now, but he continues.

He tells me that they all but confessed their feelings to each other on the phone, a few days before Lilly returned to Japan. About how he felt when he greeted her at the airport. About their trip to Hokkaido, the walk into town, his heart scare (just from a walk?) and how Lilly confessed to him so dramatically in the field outside the house, and he returned her feelings. I wonder a bit why he didn’t react to her confession the way he did to mine, but maybe I'm just being petty.

Hisao hesitates after telling me about the confession, and I begin to wonder if he's going to continue, when he says, "That night, we had sex for the first time, in the living room."

My blood feels like it freezes at that sentence. The same night? What the hell was going on in that girl's head? From all Hisao's descriptions so far, she seemed to act more properly than I do most of the time. Beyond that, while I knew he had been dating, I was surprised to know the relationship was sexual, although I don't know why. Maybe because of his heart?

Hisao is watching my face now, and I realize my feelings are showing, and I should probably say something. "Wow. That seems- a little out of character for her, from what you've told me."

He nods a bit. "In hindsight, it definitely was. At the time, I didn’t really question it, of course." He chuckles a bit, and I force a smile. It's not like I can blame him.

Hisao continues to tell me the story. They told Hanako about them getting together, returned to Yamaku, had their first "real" date, talked to Lilly's older sister about the relationship, and then-

"Things started to get weird between us. I noticed that whenever I asked her about the future, she would change the subject. That seemed odd to me, considering Lilly had always seemed to have a plan. I should have dug deeper, asked her more questions, tried to get her to open up. Of course, she was trying to get ME to open up the whole time, and I kept dodging her questions too, so I can't really blame her."

He tells me about how Lilly's sister called him, how they met up and she revealed that Lilly had been summoned back to Scotland. How he tried to give her time to tell him, but ended up confronting her about it, and how they broke up as a result.

"The worst part is that I'm pretty sure now that even then, even though I had been awful and never really opened up to her, I think if I had just asked her to stay, she might have done it. I thought it would be selfish to ask, but honestly, I think I was just too afraid to try."

His description of the following week after their breakup sounds a lot to me like my first week after I stopped visiting the hospital; how I tried to just move on no matter how hopeless it felt. When he tells me about the last time he saw her, as she got into a car and drove out of his life, I can feel my eyes filling with tears again. Despite the pangs of jealousy I keep trying to ignore throughout the story, I can tell he really cared about her, and that what they had was genuine, even if it was short-lived and maybe ill-conceived on Lilly's part. I can't help but feel like she should never have confessed to him, knowing that she may be leaving, but I'm not sure I should tell Hisao that.

"So, that was it. Some part of me thought that she might change her mind at the last second, but I haven't seen her since. We talked twice on the phone since she arrived in Scotland, but each time things seemed more distant. It was after the first of those calls that I reread your letter and realized how much of it was my fault, in both cases."

I nod slowly, taking the whole story in. It almost sounds like the setup for a romance movie, except instead of ending with a dramatic scene where the lovers reunite, things just fizzled out and died, and Hisao is left with-

Me

"I think-" I begin slowly "that what you and Lilly had was real, but maybe it would have been better for you both if she hadn't confessed at all."

He nods. "I've thought that too, especially considering she knew from the beginning that her returning to Scotland was a possibility. A part of me was angry at her for it for a while, but I know her feelings for me were genuine. I wasn't just a fling for her, and if I had been willing to show her my true feelings, she may have never left at all."

I nod, knowing from my own experience that these things are more complicated than they appear from the outside. While the more childish part of me wants to hate Lilly for what she did to Hisao, I can't help but feel bad for her. She and I may have had different experiences with Hisao, but in the end the same thing drove us apart from him. And while she got to have some time with him before losing him, unlike me, it seems now like I have a second chance that she'll likely never get. So really, I guess I should be grateful to her, in a way.

"I guess that makes sense. Without your relationship with her, you may never have realized the things that you did when you lost it."

He looks at me intently, and reaches for my hand again. I take it, smiling shyly. "Without your letter, it wouldn’t have mattered, you know. I was just as full of self-pity and cowardice when she left as I was in the hospital. It was your words that helped me understand."

"But that's not who you are now, is it? You seem like you've accepted yourself, and decided how you want to change, right?"

"Yes, and I think even that already has changed me quite a bit. Otherwise, I would have been far too afraid to meet with you like this after all this time."

He keeps talking like it's been an eternity since we saw each other, and while a lot has happened, it's really only been a few months. After he's told me all this, I feel like I know Hisao far better than I ever did. Not just that, I realize, but I LIKE him far better. I know this isn't fair to him, but-

"Hisao." I clutch his hand tighter. "I know you've been through a lot since we last saw each other, and I know that you're probably not ready, but-"

His eyes start to widen, and for a moment I'm struck with fear, but lightning doesn't strike twice, right? I push forward.

"But I feel like the universe is giving us another chance, even if we don’t deserve it. I know things are different with you going to a different school, and so far away, and that you JUST got out of a relationship, but-"

His breathing is a little faster now, but he doesn’t look like he did last time. Not terrified, or in pain, just nervous and confused. It’s cute.

My mind struggles to form the words differently this time, anything but those, but I go blank, and my mouth repeats itself.

"I was wondering if- if you would go out with me?"

Hisao laughs. He laughs! For a second, I think he's laughing at ME (I've had a lot of that lately), but then he suddenly goes quiet, and squeezes my hand back.

"Yes, Iwanako. I think I'd like that."

Before I realize what I'm doing, I'm around the table and in the seat beside him, and our lips are pressed together. Figures that after I judged Lilly for her supposedly out-of-character forwardness, I'd basically be the same. There's just something about Hisao, that I don't want to be patient anymore.

He seems shocked, at first, but after a moment, he's kissing me back, and I feel his hands on me and they feel so GOOD-

"Um.."

I break away from Hisao at the voice behind me, and see the young waitress blushing as she turns away and walks off, the check still in her hands. I guess she'll come back with it. I'm shocked that I'm not embarrassed at all. I turn back to Hisao, who's grinning at me too, and we share a laugh at our ridiculous behavior.

I return to my seat, we finish our food, and Hisao pays for the meal. I try to protest, but he insists. I guess this ended up being a date after all, although my repeat confession was probably what made it so, rather than Hisao's plans.

As we're walking out together, Hisao takes my hand in his, smiling down at me. We soon reach the point where we would part to go to our homes, and hesitate. I'm burning up on the inside at the thoughts going through my head right now, and I look up to see Hisao blushing a bit as well. That gives me the confidence to say what I want to say, although again Lilly pops up in the back of my mind before I shove her out.

"Um, my parents won't be home for a long time, still. I don’t really want to be alone yet…"

His blush turns a deeper red as he gets my obvious meaning, and he swallows momentarily, before nodding slowly. "Okay. Well, I wouldn’t want you to be lonely if I can help it."

I turn and lead him to my house, not daring to look up at him again in case I lose my nerve. I want this, I REALLY do, but I know that if I think too hard about it my social instincts and upbringing and nervousness will get the better of me, and I'll end up calling it off. For his part, Hisao acts the perfect gentleman, holding my arm in his and not asking anything improper, instead commenting politely on how he's glad to be back in the city, about how nice my neighborhood is, and how impressed he is with my house as we approach the front door. I open it, lead him inside, and upstairs without a word.
Last edited by Xeraeo on Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Chapter 5 - Hisao

Post by Xeraeo » Wed Jul 22, 2020 6:35 pm

I stare up at the new, yet all too familiar ceiling, wondering how the hell I ended up here. I know what happened, of course, but the sheer absurdity and suddenness of it is surreal, and hard to really grasp.

Beside me, Iwanako shifts drowsily, her arm clutching me tightly. After our slow and rather deliberate- encounter in her bed, we both apparently drifted off to sleep, and when I woke up, it was already dark outside. I realize that this probably means that her parents are home, and I'm grateful I carried my shoes upstairs with me. Of course, leaving now would be problematic, and I was tempted to wake Iwanako to see what she thinks, but-

What will I say to her?

I think back over the sequence of events that led me to where I am over the last few days. My phone call with Lilly, and rereading Iwanako's letter. Replying to her, and getting a phone call back so quickly. Our conversation during my train ride, and meeting up with her at the café. Her second confession to me, my response, and our first kiss. And now-

This is happening so quickly

A twinge of fear strikes me, as I recall the weekend in Hokkaido that changed so much of my life at the time. How Lilly and I rushed into things, seemingly out of fear as well as love. Am I doing the same thing again? Is Iwanako?

What if she just thought this was what you expected, after you told her about Lilly?

No, she said that that seemed fast to her, right? But then, why else would she want to rush this?

Dammit, I should have told her it was too soon!

Even as I think the thought, I know there was no way I could have denied her. She made it clear what she wanted, and I don't think I could have explained my concern to her without her feeling rejected. And the last thing I wanted to do to Iwanako after all I've put her through is reject her.

And it was incredible, after all…

I feel a little guilty that Iwanako did most of the "work", but really I think that if I had tried to take over she would have been terrified about my heart. And maybe she would have been right to be, considering what happened with Lilly the last time we-

No. Don't think about that now. About her. It's not fair to Iwanako.

Even so, thoughts of Lilly have not been something easy for me to push out of my head since our breakup. While Iwanako and I were… together… she was all I thought of, but afterwards, Lilly came rushing back in. Haunting me. Making me feel guilty, like I was betraying her somehow. She left me, so why?

Because you still love her, you idiot.

Dammit, no. I shake my head, trying to clear her from my mind. She left me. If I move on quickly, there's nothing wrong with that, right? It's for the best anyway.

Apparently I was a bit too forceful with the motion, because Iwanako stirs beside me, then stiffens. She sits up suddenly, the bedsheet dropping from her to reveal her incredible form momentarily before she pulls it up around her again. She looks down at me with a drowsy, confused look that quickly turns to- embarrassment? I try to give her a reassuring smile, but I just KNOW that it comes across as forced.

"We fell asleep? What time is it?"

"After 11. I'm pretty sure your parents are home."

She blushes at that, and looks away. "You should probably spend the night then. They leave early in the mornings, so you can head home after that."

"I figured as much. In that case, I'd better text my parents so they don't freak out."

I send my dad a quick text, explaining that I'm hanging out with a friend from my old school, and I'll be staying over at their place tonight. I reassure him that I have my medication with me, and I'll be home tomorrow. After a few minutes, he replies that he's glad I'm reconnecting with people here. With that concern taken care of, I'm forced to deal with the one right in front of me. Iwanako hasn't even looked at me once after waking up, and I can only think of two reasons for it. Either she's embarrassed that she moved so quickly, and is worried that I'm judging her, or she's upset that I actually went forward with it instead of waiting the proper amount of time. Praying it's the first one, I lean over to her and give her a gentle kiss on the cheek.

She turns to face me, finally, her eyes full of unease, I think, but she smiles adorably at the gesture. "Hisao, I'm not sure if we should have done that."

I've got to take a gamble here. No matter how I respond, there's a risk that it'll scare her off, or make her angry, but there's no getting around it so I go with my instinct.

"You're probably right, but I don't regret it. Do you?"

She blushes, glancing down. I take her chin gently in my hand, and lift her face so that she meets my eyes again.

"It may have been a little faster than either of us was ready for, but I think we were also both a little sick of waiting, you know? After all, it's been like 6 months since you confessed."

She giggles a bit at this, and relief washes through me as I see that I made the right call.

"You're just that patient, hmm?"

I smile, and lean in to kiss her again, this time on the lips. I intend just a peck, but it turns into more, and soon she's on top of me again.

"I thought so, but I'm not feeling that patient right now." I tease, and she slaps me playfully (and very gently) on the shoulder. I'll probably have to tell her at some point that I'm not THAT fragile, but this seems like a bad time to bring it up.

We're both getting back into things again, and I realize that if we're not careful, the first time I meet her parents will be when they walk in on us in their daughter's bed. The thought cools my jets a little.

"Um, Iwanako?"

"Mmm." she mutters into my neck, which she's currently occupied with kissing.

"Iwanako."

She sits up, hearing the concern in my voice.

"Where is your parents' room?"

She giggles a bit. "Downstairs, on the other side of the house. We're okay, as long as we don't get TOO crazy."

I think back on some of the noises she was making earlier, and smirk a bit. "I didn't think we were getting that crazy before."

She blushes, and smacks my arm again. "Shut up. I can keep it down."

I laugh, and she goes back to what she was doing. She had surprised me with how… loud she was, before. She seemed so different from the proper, quiet girl I knew in school, but I guess Lilly was the same way-

Fuck, I need to stop comparing them.

Too late. Iwanako must have felt me stiffen, because she sits up again, this time looking concerned.

"Are you okay?"

I sigh, knowing that it's going to be a while before Iwanako stops getting scared about my heart. To be fair, she has pretty good reason to be. I really should be MORE concerned about it, given what happened with Lilly-

Dammit, stop!

"I'm fine." I say, trying to smile at her, but that only seems to make her more nervous. She slides off of me, going back to my side, and clutches my hand in hers, her other going to my chest to feel my heartbeat. It's a little quick, but nothing unusual. She stares into my eyes, searching.

"Hisao. I need you to always be honest with me about your heart, okay?" Her voice wavers towards the end, and she looks terrified. I reach over to stroke her cheek reassuringly, and a tear rolls down it to meet my fingers.

"Really, I'm okay. If my heart is bothering me at all, I'll tell you right away. I promise."

"Then what was it that-" she stops.

"It was just something I was thinking about. I'm sorry."

"Why are you sorry?" Now she looks confused.

I sigh. How the hell do I explain this? "Just something you said reminded me of- of her." She stiffens, and I squeeze her hand. "And I don't WANT to think about her when I'm with you, that's all. Or at all, really. I need to move on."

She nods slowly, seeming to accept this, but the mood is gone now. I pull her to me, and she buries her face against my chest. I stroke her long, black hair and give the top of her head a quick kiss. I start to whisper to her. "I'm trying to move on, Iwanako, and you're helping me do that, but please, don't ever feel like that's all you are to me. It was only a week ago that she left, and it'll probably be a while before I'm able to get over her completely. That doesn't change how I feel about you."

"Okay." That's all she says, and I can't tell whether she fully believes me or not. She doesn't pull away from me though, so I continue to hold her as we both begin to drift off to sleep.

The last thought to go through my mind before I surrender to its embrace is how luck I am to have this girl back in my life and that I had better not hurt her again.

---

I wake up to the glorious sight of Iwanako in just her panties, pulling some clothing from her closet. Her long, black hair contrasts sharply with the pale skin of her back, and I can't help but stare as she pulls on a bra and clasps it behind her, still facing away from me. I expect her to continue getting dressed, but she turns first towards the long mirror on the wall beside her closet and- checks herself out? She looks like she's making sure that everything's in the proper place. I make sure not to make a sound as I watch her, not wanting the sight to end, but after a few more moments, she goes back to dressing.

Soon, she's wearing a light yellow summer dress with a pair of long black leggings. I choose this moment to sit up, rubbing my eyes as if I just woke. I can't help but feel guilty at the small deception, but something about Iwanako when she thought nobody was watching had simply captivated me. She turns at the small noise, and gives me a warm smile.

"Good morning, Hisao." she whispers cheerily. I open my mouth to reply, but she puts a finger to her lips, silencing me. Slowly, she climbs onto the bed beside me, and gives me a long, tender kiss. When we separate, she smirks at my probably messy appearance, and gets back up. "My parents haven't left just yet, and I need to go down and see them off. Stay quiet until I get back, okay?"

I nod, but an urgent need suddenly makes itself known to me. I whisper back "Any chance I can use the bathroom first? Better not do it while you're downstairs with them."

"Good point. It's right there." she gestures at the door beside hers in the hallway, and I quickly pull on my boxers before sneaking to the bathroom quietly. It feels so weird, sneaking around in her house while her parents are home like some kid. After the freedom Lilly and I had had at Yamaku, I had gotten used to feeling a bit more like an adult about this stuff. I mean, yeah, technically we had to sneak around the dorms, but still-

I finish my business and return to Iwanako's room, where she gives me another quick peck before reminding me to keep quiet and then heading downstairs. I wait, listening intently for a few minutes as the sound of rather formal voices make their way up the stairs from the kitchen. I can't make out what’s said, but it's only a few minutes before the front door closes, and then Iwanako returns, looking much less nervous.

"We're alone now." she tells me, smiling sweetly.

Having also gotten dressed again myself, I assume that that's not intended to be as flirtatious as it sounds, so I reply with "Good. I'd love to meet your parents soon, but maybe not JUST yet. And not like this…"

She laughs, and it sounds so genuine that it makes my heart flutter. Before yesterday, I don't think I had ever really heard Iwanako's laugh, but it's such a wonderful noise that I can’t help but feel that I want to keep hearing it for the rest of my life.

Wow, I'm falling for her that quickly, huh?

"Yeah, I think maybe introductions somewhere more public would be a bit more appropriate. But let's not think about that just yet. Did you have anything planned today?"

Did I? "Um, I need to run at some point, and I definitely need to get home by this evening or my mother will start to worry, but other than that, I'm free. Have anything in mind?"

"Running, huh? I guess you need to keep up with it, even while you're away, right?" I notice that she looks a little tense as she asks this, but her voice is still measured and light.

Part of me would rather skip the run and just spend as much time with Iwanako as possible, but I know now more than ever that I have to take care of my health, especially if I'm going to be with her. I'm not sure I could forgive myself if I gave her another scare because I was neglecting to do so…

"Yeah, Emi says that it's hardest in the beginning, but once you get into the habit it's a lot easier to keep up. Of course, she's so addicted to running she would say that, but I think it makes sense. It's like any habit, I suppose."

She nods, looking a little worried still but somewhat mollified by my explanation. "Okay. I usually just use our indoor equipment to keep in shape, but I don't think I'd mind taking it outside for a change. Where do you want to go?"

I'm surprised at this, but I don't know why. Of course, she'd want to be with me, especially if I'm doing something risky.

Great, another person to worry over me…

I mentally slap myself for the thought. I really can be an asshole sometimes. Better to keep that reaction to myself. She doesn't know what my relationship with Lilly was like, no matter how much I've already told her. I can't blame her for wanting to make sure I'm okay. Hell, it's probably better that I don't run alone anyway. As much as I've wanted to pretend I'm normal, I know that my condition means that I have to make smart choices if I want to live to a normal age, and some of those choices include swallowing my pride and depending on the people who care for me.

"I'm not sure. I never used to run when I lived here, so I don't really know where the best place would be. At Yamaku, we just used the track. Maybe one of the local schools?"

"The middle school down the street has a track. I'm sure nobody would mind us using it, considering everyone's still on break."

We continue to discuss our plans for the day as we head downstairs to grab something to eat. Iwanako suggests that we save the run until the evening so I can go home first to change, and then I can go back home afterwards in time to shower and see my parents when they get home from work. This gives us plenty of time together first, so we decide to spend the day walking around the city.

As we head out of Iwanako's home, I can't help but wonder what her parents do for a living. My own have both worked long hours for as long as I can remember, and we were reasonably well-off, but compared to Iwanako's neighborhood mine feels like a slum. Tokyo isn’t a cheap place to live, so anyone who can afford a house like this must be doing exceptionally well. I'm reminded that Lilly's family was apparently very wealthy as well, and chuckle a bit to myself at the thought that I'm a bit of a gold-digger. In both cases, of course, I wasn't aware of the girl's money until after we got into a relationship, but it's still an amusing thought. Maybe I just prefer girls who act and speak in a more refined way?

Iwanako pulls me from my musings with a tug at my sleeve. Apparently, I've been staring at her house for longer than I realized, and she wants to get moving. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." I smile at her, and we begin to walk. "I was just thinking I seem to have a thing for girls with money."

She blushes a little, laughing- nervously? Yeah, definitely nervously. "We're not rich or anything; my parents just both work a lot, and they only had two kids, so I guess they could afford a nicer home than some people."

"Hey, I'm an only child, and my parents work all the time. What do yours do?"

"To be honest, I've never fully understood it. My dad does some sort of financial consulting for Western companies operating branches in Japan, and my mom's an executive for a big pharmaceutical company. They've both worked hard as long as I can remember, but when they're home they really try not to talk about work, so I don’t know too much about it."

I can relate to that, I guess. I probably couldn't explain what my own parents do any better than that, anyway. This brings another subject to mind, of course.

"Do you think you'll go to school for something similar to your parents?"

She chuckles, but it feels forced. "Honestly, I have no idea. I was just starting to really think about what I wanted to do at the beginning of the school year, but I was a bit… focused on other things then. After that, I haven't really thought about it."

I can't help but feel a little guilty as she says this. I really did mess up her life there, didn’t I? "It's almost the opposite for me. Back before my attack, I had never really given my future much thought. I suppose I just assumed I would go to university for something, maybe end up becoming a salaryman like my dad, but it wasn't until a few weeks after I got to Yamaku that I gave it serious thought. I've always done well in science, and my homeroom teacher- his name is Mutou- really got me interested in it as a career. Lilly was planning on becoming an English teacher, and between her and Mutou, I think I had settled on becoming a science teacher, but now-"

"Now that she's gone, you're not so sure?"

Damn, she's perceptive..

"Yeah, I guess the whole thing is back up in the air for me. I'm still pretty sure I want to go into science in some way, but the whole teaching thing just seems less appealing now."

Iwanako nods, and we cross the next street together, me automatically taking her arm to guide her as we cross. She gives me an odd look as I do so, and I realize that I'm treating her like I would Lilly.

"I'm sorry, old habits, I guess."

"It's… okay. I don't mind. It's kinda nice, actually, even though I can see perfectly fine."

I struggle to formulate my thoughts for a moment as we reach the other side of the street. "Thanks, but I think I need to make sure I'm not falling back into my old way of doing things. Lilly and I depended on each other, but not in a healthy way. I think I let myself believe that by letting her rely on me for help with her condition, I didn't need to rely on her for help with my own. Instead, she helped me navigate my new life and new environment, but I never really let her in, you know? I don’t want it to be that way with you."

I know that doesn't make a ton of sense, but after how things ended with Lilly, I know I don't want to make the same mistakes, even if I don't fully understand them. Iwanako looks like she wants to say something, but changes her mind and continues ahead, leaving me to catch up to walk beside her. She stays quiet for several minutes, and I let her do so, giving her space to think through whatever she has to say. After a bit longer, she starts to speak, eyes still focused ahead.

"I'm concerned I may make be making same mistakes she did as well."

That catches me off guard. Of all the things she could have said, that was perhaps the least expected. "Uh… what?"

"I know I wasn't there, and I only have your side of the relationship, Hisao, but from how you described it- it was like a romance novel up until the last week. Everything happened so quickly, and fell apart just as quickly. You both moved too fast, and then when your relationship was tested it wasn't stable enough to withstand it, you know?"

She stops walking and turns to face me, but her face is still down, her eyes unfocused and distant. "It sounded almost too good to be true, and then it turned out that way. I guess I'm scared that the same thing is happening here."

I open my mouth to reassure her, but she looks up at me, and her eyes are sharp. "I mean, I only heard back from you a few days ago, then you come back and we finally see each other again, and we get together that same day, and here we are, acting like we've already been dating forever."

Her voice is getting increasingly panicky, and I realize that I have to address this fast, but I don't know how. Nothing she's saying is wrong. She continues, "If anything, we're rushing into things faster than you and Lilly did. And you've already told me you're not totally over her, and-"

"Iwanako" I say, as calmly as I can. She stops, but her eyes are full of tears now. I take her hands in my own, and hold her gaze. "Things are moving fast, that's true. And I think that was one problem between Lilly and I, but it wasn't the real issue. The problem was that we didn’t communicate well, and we both assumed things about the other without talking them over. Do you think we've had that problem since we started talking again?"

Her brow furrows a bit, and she looks down. "Well, you haven't…"

"Hey." She looks back up at me, sniffling a bit. "I'm doing my best to make sure I don't make the same mistakes. I want to be an open book to you, no secrets, no assumptions. And I hope that you can be the same to me, in time, but I don't expect it to happen right away, okay? These things normally take time, we both know that. I think it was just the combination of what happened with Lilly, and reading your letter again that's caused me to be so open with you. Please, don't feel like you need to be the same right away. I'm patient. I can wait."

She wraps her arms around me delicately, and I can feel her crying softly into my shoulder. I embrace her, not fully understanding what's going on, but knowing that I will be here for her, no matter what.

"Thank you" she whispers, and I smile a bit now. I may not know just what Iwanako has gone through since my attack, but I can be here for her now.

We separate, and I feel the need to address her other concern. "As far as how things are moving- well, I think we both had a bit of pent-up feelings about each other for a long time. Maybe that's what caused us to move so quickly when we got the chance."

She nods slowly as we begin walking again, wiping her face gingerly. "I think I was worried that I wouldn't get another chance. I never thought I would get THIS chance, you know?"

"Well, we have the whole break to figure things out. Now that we know how we feel, I don't think we need to rush anything out of fear."

She tenses a bit at this, but quickly relaxes again. "I guess you'll have to go back to Yamaku then."

"Yeah, I'll definitely need to be there until I graduate. They have a nursing staff, and really are good about keeping an eye on their students' health. It's something that bugged me when I first was sent there, because it constantly reminded me that I'm not normal, you know? But I think I can appreciate it more now. Hopefully I can get my health in better order by graduation, so attending a normal university won't be an issue for me."

"I understand. But you realize that after break, we won't see each other until graduation? Maybe taking things slow isn't the best way to spend our break…"

I smile at that. "My, Iwanako, for a proper lady, you're awfully forward.."

She smacks my shoulder in protest, but she's smiling as she does so, and I can see that I've reassured her at least a bit on this. "I know what I want, that's all. Nothing un-ladylike about it."

That reminds me of someone else again, but I suppress the thought. We've reached the shopping district now, and I realize that despite my meager funds I really want to buy something for my new girlfriend. That is what she is, right? The thought is odd, considering that up until yesterday, Lilly was the only person I could even associate with that word, but I think I can get used to it.

I take Iwanako's arm again as we choose a trendy, but not too expensive looking clothing store, and head inside. She seems to light up, quickly finding a pair of shorts she likes and asking me how I think it would look on her. As she holds them in front of her, then behind, talking excitedly, I realize how different she is from Lilly in some ways, and how much I'm looking forward to really getting to know this girl.

This is going to be a much better break than I thought.
Last edited by Xeraeo on Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Chapter 6 - Hanako

Post by Xeraeo » Wed Jul 22, 2020 6:39 pm

"Hold the camera a little higher!" Naomi calls to me, as I try to get a good shot of her and Natsume with Mt. Fuji in the background. I know she wants the most flattering angle possible, but if we want to see the peak in the background, I can't really do what she's asking.

"I can't really do that-" I start to explain, but I can't bring myself to raise my voice loud enough for them to hear me at this distance. The overlook is pretty crowded, and I've been doing well so far suppressing my anxiety, but drawing attention to myself is more than I can handle. Fortunately, Natsume comes to my rescue, as she so often has on this trip.

"Naomi, if we wanted a picture of just us, we would have stayed home. She's trying to get the whole mountain in the shot too."

"But what's the point of being in the picture at all if we don't look our best?" Naomi retorts, ever willing to argue over silly things. She's smiling as she talks, though, and I know it's nothing serious. "Fine, fine, I trust Hanako. She's already better with that thing than I am, anyway."

I take a few shots of the two of them, trying my best to frame them so both they and Mt. Fuji will be clearly visible, each without dominating the other. Naomi had brought a camera from the clubroom along for our trip, but somewhere along the line I became our designated photographer. At first, it was just because I was uncomfortable being in the pictures myself, but I pretty quickly realized just how much I liked operating the camera. Naomi seemed to resist this at first, but Natsume quickly convinced her to let me handle the camera after comparing some of our pictures side-by-side.

I examine the pictures, one in particular standing out as excellent, both because of the angle and the timing. Naomi's got a slight smirk on her face, half joy and half defiance, while Natsume looks both confident and reserved, as usual. I feel like I really managed to capture their personalities with that one, while also getting an awesome view. I smile slightly at the photo, but then Naomi takes the camera from my hands as she reaches me, Natsume not far behind her.

"Wow, okay, that's a really good one! I give up- you're in charge of how to take the pictures, Hana." I wince at the nickname, still unused to such familiarity with someone I haven't known all that long, but Naomi doesn't seem to notice. It's funny, as self conscious as I am, I've normally been drawn to people who are attuned to my anxiety, as much as it frustrates me. Lilly and Hisao always are on the lookout for how I'm handling things, always ready to step in and protect me. We've all grown past that a little, I think, but part of what draws me to Naomi is that she's the total opposite. Her obliviousness makes her somehow easy to be around, like I don't have to worry about her worrying about me, I guess.

"Hey, want a picture too?" she asks suddenly, and this time she has to notice me tense up, since she's staring right at me. I shrink a little into myself at the thought- who would want a picture of me anyway?- and unconsciously turn to Natsume for help. Unlike Naomi, she's much more perceptive, and has tended to reign Naomi in when she pushes me too hard. While sometimes her protectiveness has made me wince a bit, I can't help but appreciate her. The two of them together seem to be helping bring me out of my shell at a pace I can handle, and I really am glad I decided not to chicken out of this trip.

To my surprise though, Natsume nods encouragingly to me, rather than rebuking Naomi. "You should get a photo, Hanako. I'm sure you'll want to remember that you were here, too." She smiles gently at me.

I want to protest, but I realize that I'm not as terrified of the idea as I would have been even a week ago. This trip has been incredible so far- in all my life I've never seen so many beautiful places! Even in Hokkaido, though, there weren't mountains quite like Fuji, and when it first came into view during the train ride, I was stunned. I'd seen pictures and paintings, of course, but they don't really show just how big it actually is.

"O-okay." I manage to get out. Slowly, hesitatingly, I ascend the slope to the overlook, staring out at the mountain. As I reach the top, I take a moment to look at it again, overwhelmed at the majesty of the thing. It's no wonder Edo, and later Tokyo became such a center of power in Japan, with such an imposing view so close to the city.

Realizing I was lost in thought for several seconds there, I turn back to Naomi and Natsume, making sure that my fringe is covering the right side of my face- but they're not where I left them. Instead, they're off to the side, looking at the camera. Confused, I approach them.

"Um- anything wrong?"

Naomi looks up, a wide grin on her face. "Not at all, Hana. We were just discussing whether you're the better photographer after all." She hands me the camera, and I gasp as I see the picture on the display. Apparently, while I was staring out at the mountain, Naomi moved over and got a shot of me. The mountain is visible, but I'm the focus of the shot, everything else somewhat blurred. The photo was from my left, so most of my visible skin is clear, but a hint of the scarring on the right side is in the shot as well, along with my right hand resting on the overlook fence.

My first instinct is to delete the picture, but as I examine it, I realize just how much I actually like it. You can see my scars, but they're only barely there, and the look on my face is something I didn't know I could feel. I'm not sure what the exact word for it would be, but perhaps- serene? What truly shocks me is that despite the scarring, the best word for the picture is-"

"Beautiful" I mutter quietly to myself, but apparently not quietly enough. Naomi laughs, and takes the camera back from me to pack into her bag. "Hey, now, don't start getting so full of yourself just yet. You may be the hottest one here, but Natsume and I aren't so bad looking either."

I blush at her ridiculous praise, but Natsume just nods. "She's right, Hana. When you stop thinking about how people see you and trying to hide from them, you stand out, and not because of your scars."

I don't know what to say to that, so I just nod and mutter "thanks.."

As we head over to the bus down the road from the overlook, I can't help but recall the photo in my mind, Naomi and Natsume's words replaying themselves. Am I really- beautiful? Every time I look at myself in the mirror, all I can see is my scars. My ugliness. And from people's reactions when they first see me, I know that's not just me. But as much as my scars and other's responses have defined me for so long, I think I may finally be ready to start being more than just a scarred girl. There's more to me than that, and I'm figuring out what it is little by little.

"Hey, Hana, isn't Nakai from around here? Want to meet up with him while we're in the city?"

Naomi's words pull me from my thoughts, and I realize we're already on the bus, and heading back down towards Tokyo. I process what she said for a few seconds.

"Um, I think so, but he's still back at Yamaku."

"No, I was told that he went home for the break. Didn't he tell you?" Natsume interjects.

That surprises me, but I don't know why. Hisao had planned to spend the summer with Lilly, of course, but after their breakup I guess it makes sense that he would go home, especially considering I wasn't at Yamaku either. He'd just never discussed it with me, I guess Maybe he hadn't decided until after I left. I've been meaning to give him a call to check on him for a few days now, but the trip has kept me distracted. I've only spoken with Lilly once, and we both avoided talking about him.

"I guess I can give him a c-call, then. Maybe he'd like to meet up."

Naomi gives me a wink. "Who wouldn't want to see you, right?"

I blush at her implication, but choose not to dignify her with a response. I appreciate that she feels comfortable enough with me by now to tease me occasionally, something Lilly and Hisao almost never would risk, but there's never been anything romantic between Hisao and I. Even when we talked in his room the day before I left, and he held me for a bit, it was just as friends. From the moment Hisao and Lilly had started dating, I had squashed any thought of being any more than a friend to him, and even after she left, I knew I couldn't do that to her. Besides, he had never given any indication of interest in me, so why entertain the thought?

---

When we get back to the hostel we're staying at for the next week, I step outside while Naomi chats excitedly with Natsume, bringing my phone with me. I trust Naomi, but I'd rather not risk her saying anything embarrassing while I'm on the phone. Plus, I really feel bad for not checking on Hisao for this long, and want to give him a chance to talk if he wants to.

When I'm alone in the hallway, I find his number in my short contacts list and hit the call button. After a couple rings, he picks up.

"Hanako? Hey, good to hear from you. How's your trip going?"

He sounds good- really good, actually. "It's been- a lot, but- really f-fun. Naomi and Natsume both are doing well too. H-how have you been?"

"Really good. I decided to go back home for the break, actually. With you and- and Lilly… both gone, I guess there wasn't any reason to stay at Yamaku all summer, you know?"

"Oh, well that's good then, right?"

"Yeah, it's been nice to be back home. I've gotten to see my parents, and- some other people from here, that I haven't in a while." He stumbles a bit when he says that last part, but I don't really give it much thought, considering my own speech issues. I decide to just move forward with why I'm calling.

"We're actually in T-Tokyo right now as well. Naomi suggested that I check with you and see if m-maybe you'd like to hang out a bit?"

Silence. I'm not sure why, but he seems to hesitate for several seconds before replying in a carefully measured tone that reminds me of Lilly.

"Yes, that seems like a good idea. Anywhere in particular you'd like to meet up?"

Normally, Hisao would never hesitate to spend time together, so I'm left wondering what that's all about, but I push ahead. "Not really. W-we've been just seeing the tourist spots, but we don't know the city all that well."

"Heh, well I've lived here all my life. I'm sure I can come up with something. Where are you guys staying?"

I give him the address where we are, and he suggests we meet up tomorrow afternoon at a place not too far away, some café or other. After agreeing on a time, we hang up, and I head back inside to talk with the others. Something about the way Hisao hesitated is bugging me, but I can't quite place why. Is he nervous about seeing me right now? Why would he be? After our last conversation, I'd think he'd be more comfortable sharing with me, but I'm not going to push him on it just yet. We'll see how things go tomorrow. He really sounded like he was doing okay with everything, so I don't want to jump to conclusions.

"Well?" Naomi asks as I step back into the room, and she raises her eyebrows at me in a way that feels- suggestive.

"Hisao wants to hang out tomorrow, at a place not too far from here. He gave me directions…" I look down at the note I took as he was talking. "He said the food is good, and not too expensive."

"Cool, cool. I knew he wouldn't turn you down. Looking forward to seeing him again?" Naomi asks, still doing that annoying thing with her face.

"We're just friends, Naomi. But yes, it'll be g-good to see how he's doing."

"Oh, come ON, Hana!" she exclaims, falling back on her bed dramatically, holding her head in both hands. "From the way you talk about Nakai, it's obvious you LIKE him! Do you really not see it?"

"Naomi-" Natsume warns, but I don't give her a chance this time.

"We're just friends." I say, my voice coming out colder and harsher than I intended, perhaps, but I hold my gaze on Naomi. "I wouldn't do that to Lilly, even if I DID like him like that." And I mean it, too.

"Woah, chill out girl, I know. I was just teasing." I'm not sure I believe her, but I accept it and go over to my own bed, pulling a book from my bag and settling in to ignore her.

"Hey, come on, I'm sorry, okay? I get it. You and Nakai are just friends. He's your only guy friend, so I guess it just looks that way from the outside. I promise I'll leave you alone about it, alright?"

I look over at Naomi, her words making me laugh a little on the inside, but I keep my face even, something I've been getting a lot better at around her. My only guy friend? Up until a few months ago, I only had ONE friend, so that statement just reinforces how far I've come since meeting Hisao. Perhaps there were some feelings there that went beyond friendship- at least on my end- in the beginning, but he really is just a friend to me now.

"Okay." I say, keeping my voice calm and even. I know Naomi means well.

She pops off her bed and comes over to me in a flash, wrapping me in a hug. I struggle and try to push her off of me, but she's having none of it, all smiles and squeezes. I finally manage to push her off of me, and she gives me a quick kiss on the head, which get me all the more flustered.

"Love you, Hana!" she says cheerily, before retreating back to her own bed and putting on her headphones, listening to that awful music of hers again loud enough to be heard far beyond just her ears. Natsume winces at the noise, pulling out her pack of earplugs from her bag and tossing a pair to me before putting her own in, going back to looking at her phone. I thank her- but of course, she can't hear me- and slip them in before going back to my book.

---

When we arrive at the café, I'm surprised at how busy it is. Hisao had described it as a "little place" but I guess by Tokyo standards, maybe this isn't that packed. I was surprised how quickly I adapted to the city, given my general anxiety around large groups of people. Unlike at Yamaku, or even around Sendai, Tokyo is so busy and so full of people that you have to REALLY stand out to stand out, and I guess I don't make that cut. I've been getting far fewer odd looks than I'm used to, and it's actually made me a bit more comfortable with crowds. I guess it's easy to go unnoticed when everyone else is, too.

"Hanako!" a familiar voice calls out above the din, and I make my way towards it, Naomi and Natsume close behind me. When I reach Hisao, I instinctively give him a hug, and he returns it briefly before pulling away.

"I'm glad you guys made it. I was worried that my directions weren't very good." he says, smiling, but also a bit nervous, I think.

Why?

"I thought we were l-lost at one point, but we figured it out. Thanks."

He gestures towards a table a few feet away, or rather, at the pretty dark-haired girl who's standing up from the table to greet us. I freeze up momentarily, but manage to push down all the questions that immediately surge to the front of my mind as Hisao starts to introduce the girl. I miss her name as I get myself under control, but I smile as she gives a polite bow while Hisao tells her, "This is my good friend Hanako, and some other friends of hers from our class."

I hesitate, realizing it's my turn to make introductions, since Hisao barely knows Naomi and Natsume. "Um, hi. This is Naomi Inoue and N-Natsume Ooe. It's good to meet you."

Natsume bows formally, but Naomi steps forward with that look in her eye, and suddenly I'm twice as nervous.

"Damn, Nakai, you do work fast! Iwanako, huh? Nice to meet ya!" She thrusts out a hand in a Western greeting, and the dark-haired girl- Iwanako, apparently- takes it awkwardly, shaking it once.

"You as well, Inoue." I'm struck by how well-mannered the girl seems, instantly reminded of Lilly, but she looks quite a bit like me. Or rather, how I would look, if not for-

Wait, why didn't Hisao correct Naomi?

Hisao chuckles a bit nervously at Naomi's teasing, but his eyes keep darting between me and Iwanako, as if trying to gauge our reactions. For her part, she looks as nervous as I feel, but then quickly hides it behind a formal smile again as Hisao gestures for us all to sit at the table. He follows Iwanako into one side of the booth, so the three of us take the other side, which puts me directly across from Iwanako, since I want the right side of my face to the wall, as usual.

One thing I can appreciate about Iwanako is that she hasn't given my scarring any undue attention. I hadn't been expecting to meet anyone new today, but as is my habit my fringe was covering most of my face while we were in public. Still, she couldn’t have failed to see my scars when we met, and I she didn't so much as flinch. Hisao must have told her about me, which is in itself surprising, since he's never even mentioned her to me before.

Before I can ask Hisao anything regarding Iwanako, Naomi beats me to the punch, as usual. "So, Iwanako, you know we're all from the cripple school" I wince at the word "but how do you know Nakai?

"We were friends at our high school, before Hisao's… condition… got him transferred to Yamaku." She says this with only a little bit of hesitation, smoothly glossing over how exactly Hisao ended up at our school. Come to think of it, he never told me the full story of his first heart attack- just that it happened at his school. I wonder how much she knows about it?

"Friends, huh? Did you stay in touch after he ended up with us?" There's a strange edge in Naomi's voice, and it's making me more nervous than I want to admit.

"Well, we didn't know each other all that well, but we reconnected when Hisao came back. He's really gotten much better since starting school with all of you." If that's intended as some sort of compliment, it just comes across as patronizing. Who is this girl, anyway?

"Yeah, well, Lilly's a good influence on the people around her." Naomi replies, her voice surprisingly cold this time. I'm a bit shocked at her words; she doesn't know Lilly very well, other than through me, and why would she bring her up in front of Hisao like that? Past Naomi, I see Natsume turn towards her with a sharp look as well.

Before anyone can reply to Naomi's unexpected comment, however, the server arrives and asks to take our orders. Since none of us were looking at the menus, it takes a few minutes before we all get our decisions made and he walks off, leaving us in an uncomfortable silence for several seconds. I decide to take advantage of the opportunity.

"Hisao, um-" I glance at Iwanako, who's watching me closely. The attention makes me uncomfortable, but I forge ahead. "Are you two-?"

"Dating? Yes, Iwanako is my girlfriend." He says this in as casual a voice as I've ever heard from him, but his eyes are watching me closely.

"Oh." I had gotten the impression that there was something more than friendship there immediately when he had introduced her, but I'm shocked that it's already that far. I was going to ask something a bit more subtle than that, but I guess that's out of the question now.

I have a million questions rushing through my mind now, along with accompanying emotions that I can't even identify. Part of me is happy for him, I guess, but I'm also angry on Lilly's behalf, and my own as well, since Hisao never even mentioned this girl, but also a bit of confusion…

I realize that all four of the other people at the table are looking at me now, waiting to see my reaction. I cringe, starting to withdraw into myself at the unexpected attention, but really, I need to say something other than "oh" if I want it to stop. Naomi and Natsume are probably looking at me for different reasons than Hisao or Iwanako are, but I need to say something.

ANYTHING

"That's- that's nice. I'm happy for you, then."

Even I don't believe the words as I hear myself saying them, even though I do kinda mean it, but I-

"Um, thanks." Hisao replies, obviously uncomfortable. "So, how's your trip been so far?"

I'm grateful to Hisao for changing the subject, but all I can think about right now is all the questions I want to ask him. Need to ask him. Dammit, why couldn't he have told me about this over the phone? He had to know my reaction wouldn't be all good, right? His question was directed at me, but Naomi comes to my rescue, chattering excitedly about the sights we've been seeing, her previous coldness gone in a few seconds. Natsume chimes in here and there, and Hisao asks questions every now and then, but I remain quiet throughout, barely able to pay attention to who's talking, much less what's being said. I glance across the table and realize that Iwanako's been silent too, and I see her look away as I meet her eyes for a moment. Weird. Usually it's me doing that.

I take the chance to study her, since nobody's paying me any attention right now. She's quite a bit shorter than I am, perhaps an inch taller than Shizune, but her body type looks to be very close to mine, although her rather conservative clothing makes that difficult to be sure of. Like me, she has rather pale skin and long, dark hair, although hers is a deep black as opposed to my violet. Our facial features are even similar, I realize, although my most prominent feature is lacking in her case. She wears her hair differently as well, framing and accentuating her face rather than trying to conceal it.

She gives me another nervous glance, and I realize I've been staring for far longer than normal, and this time I quickly look away. Two thoughts strike me in quick succession, neither of them comfortable. The first is that Iwanako (even our names sound similar) looks like an unmarred version of me. Me if I really were beautiful, not just beautiful despite….

The second is that if this is the kind of girl Hisao finds attractive, then why was he interested in Lilly, instead of me?

I push the thought down guiltily, and then feel myself again angry at Hisao. I know he really loved Lilly. How is it that he's immediately dating again right after breaking up with her? There's no way he's gotten over her this quickly; I know she hasn’t either. It's not fair to Lilly, or to himself, and probably not fair to Iwanako. I'm surprised at that thought, since it would make some sense to blame her, but I feel almost- protective? Like I don't want her to get hurt. That thought confuses me further. Is it because she and I are so similar?

Is she just a rebound to him? A way to distract himself from the pain of losing Lilly?

I know Hisao- he's not cruel or selfish like that. If that's what he's doing here, he can't be aware of it. I resolve to ask him about it the first chance I get.

"Hanako?"

I look up, and realize that while I was lost in my own thoughts, Naomi had asked me a question. Hisao and Iwanako are talking quietly now, and Natsume is looking at her phone, but Naomi is watching me with a look of concern.

I say the first thing that comes to my mind.

"I need to use the bathroom."

Naomi opens her mouth, probably surprised that I ignored her question, whatever it was, but then she nods and says, "Okay, sure." She and Natsume scoot out of the booth to give me room, and I get up.

"Want me to come with you?" Naomi whispers in my ear. I'm shocked she can actually speak that quietly.

"No, thanks." I give her a little smile to reassure her that I'm okay, even if I'm not.

As I find my way to the bathrooms, I glance back at the table, and see Iwanako watching me go. I quickly turn around and enter the women's room, which is actually nearly empty despite the rather busy restaurant, enter an unoccupied stall and close the door. Alone, or as close as I can get, I take several deep breaths, using a technique I learned a long time ago to calm myself down.

Easy, girl. Whatever's going on, you know Hisao's a good guy. I'm sure once you talk to him alone, it'll all make sense.

I hear the bathroom door open and close, presumably the only other person who was in here leaving. I take a few more deep breaths, then step out of the stall to wash my hands.

"Um, Hanako? Can we talk for a second?"

I start at the question, spinning towards the door to the bathroom.

"I-Iwanako?!"
Last edited by Xeraeo on Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

Toaster17
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:10 am

Re: Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue

Post by Toaster17 » Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:12 am

I’m a terrible writer and an even more terrible critic, but I can say that you’ve got my attention quite thoroughly. Good luck with the further writing, and welcome to the fandom.

Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Chapter 7 - Iwanako

Post by Xeraeo » Thu Jul 23, 2020 4:23 pm

Just finished up Chapter 7. Gonna take a short break and get back to writing this in a few days. I'm not looking for ideas in story direction, as I have several swirling around in my mind now, but any suggestions regarding dialogue, internal monologue, general story structure, or other writing advice would be greatly appreciated!

This is not going well…

The thought keeps repeating itself in my mind over and over again. When Hisao mentioned that he wanted to introduce me to some friends from Yamaku, I was a bit nervous, but I agreed. When he told me a bit about who Hanako was, that she was Lilly's best friend and his closest friend besides, I was a lot more hesitant. What if I offend her, taking her friend's boyfriend away? That's not what happened, of course, but it may seem that way to her, depending what she knows of their breakup.

Introductions were a bit awkward, but when Naomi started grilling Hisao and me about our relationship before he even had a chance to address it, I knew things were going sour. When Hanako asked, I knew it was bad. Her reaction was so weird, so- withdrawn, that I don't know what to think. Obviously she doesn't approve, but I can't tell if it's me that she has an issue with, or just Hisao dating so soon after his breakup.

The way she keeps looking at me, like she's examining me, is making me intensely uncomfortable. Based on what Hisao told me of her, and how she comes across in general, I would expect that I would have to be careful not to make her uncomfortable, but it's mostly been the other way around. I really wish now that Hisao had told her about me before meeting up like this. Or at least warned me how this might go. He had made it sound like just a casual hangout with friends, but I feel now like I'm meeting his family or something.

Hisao and Naomi are chatting about the trip the three girls have been on, but I'm not really listening. I glance up at Hanako again, and catch her quickly looking away from me, back at Hisao, then down at the table. A thought strikes me, and an involuntary shiver runs down my spine. Does she have a thing for him?

I glance over at Hisao myself, but he's caught up in his conversation and doesn't seem to notice. I'll have to ask him about it later. It's not like I don't trust him, but maybe he doesn't know?

Then again, I don't know anything either. I look back over at Hanako again, and I realize a few things. Her height and her scars were the most prominent features I noticed when we were introduced, although I made sure not to give any undue attention to the latter (thanks Hisao), but now that I'm seeing her more closely, I realize that other than those two features, she looks remarkably similar to me. I haven't seen a picture of Lilly, but from Hisao's description, she's quite different from both Hanako and I. Comparatively, we practically look like sisters.

If Hisao has a type…

I mentally shake the thought from my head. We just started dating; I'm not going to be one of those jealous girlfriends. If Hisao and I can't trust each other, this isn't even going to last the summer. Still, I have a ton of questions…

"But yeah, I think that mall was MY favorite part of the trip so far. What about you, Hana?"

Naomi's chipper voice brings me back to reality, and I realize that Hanako was paying even less attention to the conversation than I was as she looks up at Naomi in surprise and confusion.

"Hey. You okay?" Hisao asks me quietly. I turn to him, smiling.

"Yeah, I'm fine. It's nice to meet your friends."

Even if it's been super uncomfortable…

"I'm glad you like them. I don't really know Ooe and Inoue that well, but Hanako and I have been friends since my first week at Yamaku."

I notice the girls all moving out of the booth, and Hanako heads off after talking quietly with Naomi for a second. Probably to find the bathroom or something. As she goes, she glances back at me, then quickly turns away again and disappears.

An idea strikes me, and I hesitate for a second before nudging Hisao slightly.

"I think I need to use the bathroom as well, actually. Move over?"

He blinks at me a few times, but then nods and slides out to make room for me. I give his hand a gentle squeeze as I go by, then head off, not daring to look back. This is a bold move, but I need to get ahead of this thing before it has time to grow into a real problem…

A middle-aged woman exits the bathroom as I approach, and I slip through the door before it closes after her, hoping that Hanako is the only other person in here now. It appears I'm in luck, because I only see one stall door closed, and a moment later it opens and she steps out, facing the mirrors. Looks like she just came in her to collect herself, something I can sympathize with these days.

She hasn't noticed me, so I muster my courage and clear my throat. "Um, Hanako? Can we talk for a second?"

I really tried to speak gently so as not to scare her, but she looks like she practically jumps out of her skin at my question, her eyes going wide. "I-Iwanako?!"

For a second, her eyes dart to the door behind me, then to the ground, back up to me, and then down again. I think she's seriously considering running past me and back to the table for a moment, but then she closes her eyes and takes a long, deep breath before opening them again and focusing on me. Again, I feel myself squirming under her gaze, but I force myself to hold my ground, and give her a weak smile.

"Sorry, I really didn't mean to startle you. I just wanted to talk away from everyone for a minute, if that's okay?"

She nods, her eyes not leaving mine. "Okay." she says evenly, her voice rather flat and emotionless.

How do I go about this?

"Um, first of all I wanted to say I'm sorry that this is how we met. I wish Hisao had told you about us before we met in person, but I guess it's too late for that now."

She blinks a couple times at this, looking unsure how to respond, then turns to the sink and rests against it, staring down. She glances up at herself in the mirror, then quickly back down again. I guess it makes sense for her not to like mirrors, although I think she's really pretty despite her scarring.

"Yeah. Me t-too."

"I know that things probably seem like they're moving really fast, and believe me, it feels that way to me too. And to Hisao. We talked about it the other day, and I think it's just something we both realized we wanted, even if normally both of us would have liked to take things slower."

She snorts, and for a second I think she's getting angry, but when she turns back to me she just looks- sad?

"It was the same with L-Lilly. Everything moved so f-fast between them, which for her w-was… odd."

Now it's my turn to blink stupidly as I process this. "Oh. Yes, he told me that. It had him pretty concerned, and to be honest, I think it worries me too a little bit."

How much can I tell her?

"I know you don't know me, but I normally take much longer to make decisions like this. But with Hisao, this time at least, it's different. I don't know how to explain what it is, exactly-"

"This t-time?" she asks sharply, her eyes locked onto mine again. She seems to go back and forth between meek and aggressive so quickly, I'm having trouble keeping up.

"Uh… yes. The first time I confessed to him, it took me weeks to decide to do it."

She just stares at me, and I realize that as close as Hisao says they are, he hasn't told her about his first attack. At least, not in any detail, apparently.

Great, now what do I do?

"I guess I should really let Hisao tell you about it when he's ready, but he was a different person before he went to Yamaku."

Now to frame this in a way she can appreciate…

"I visited him in the hospital for a while after his attack. He was totally shut down; we could barely talk. Hanako, the Hisao I reconnected with last week seems like a completely different guy. I know that he was really hurt by how things ended with your friend, and-"

"Lilly. Her n-name is Lilly." She definitely sounds mad again.

"Right, how things ended with Lilly, and he's told me how much he blames himself for their breakup. I'm not sure what I think, but I've only heard his perspective on the whole thing, so I can't really judge either of them. What I can see is how much he's grown since we last saw each other, and I really like who he is now. From what Hisao tells me, you and Lilly were the first and closest friends he had when he got out of the hospital, so I have to thank you for whatever it is you did for him."

The coldness in her gaze seemed to be thawing slowly as I continued, but that last line seems to shatter the ice completely, and she looks down at the floor, seeming lost. Tentatively, I step closer to her until we're only a meter or so apart. When she looks up at me, her eyes are mistier than they were a few moments ago.

"I d-don't think I really did anything f-for him. L-Lilly did, b-but I was m-more of a burden than anything else.."

"Hanako, I know I don't know you, but from what Hisao has said about you, there's no way that he sees you that way. He considers you his closest friend, and he said that after the breakup, you were the person that helped him the most. I don't believe for a second that he thinks of you as any less than that."

She shuts her eyes tightly, but gives me a slight nod. A couple tears slide down her cheeks, but she's not totally breaking down, so I think I'm handling her okay.

"Hanako, I know you must have a ton of questions. If Hisao was anything like how he was in the hospital when you first met, I'm not surprised that he didn't tell you about me. I wish he had, but I guess I understand. Everything he's told me makes me think that you're a great friend to have, though, and that made me a little jealous."

She opens her eyes sharply, her gaze lazer-focused again.

Shit, that was the wrong way to say it…

"Jealous of Hisao, I mean!" I practically shout, wincing at the sudden spike in my voice. Hanako looks startled as well, but her eyes remain locked onto mine. "Before he left, I thought I had good friends, but they kinda all left me after what happened. I guess I just wish that I had had one friend like you or Lilly through it all, you know?"

"What h-happened?"

Now it's my turn to close my eyes and swallow.

Keep it together…

"I'll let Hisao tell you. I'm sure he will if you ask." I look at her again, and her face seems to have softened again, so I press forward. "But after you talk with him, maybe you'd be okay talking to me again?"

She blinks. I'm guessing that people don't often ask to be her friend. "I… I don't know…"

"I know that Lilly's your best friend, and I know you wouldn't do anything to hurt her, or Hisao, but I could really use a friend now. Having Hisao back has been so much more than I hoped for, but-"

"But s-sometimes, you need a friend who's j-just a friend." she finishes for me, nodding in understanding. I simply nod back, hoping I haven't screwed this up yet. "Lilly s-said something like that too."

I exhale in relief, and pull out my phone to exchange numbers with her. After a long moment of hesitation, she does the same, but before giving me her number, she looks right at me again. "Can I talk to Hisao first?" She hesitates momentarily, then adds, "Alone?"

"Of course, I won't call you until you have a chance to talk. I'll make sure he meets up with you again, without me this time. I'm sure you have a million questions for him."

She nods, and we finish exchanging numbers. I think maybe that was a test? Deep inside, some insecure part of me wonders if she just wants to get him alone for her own reasons, but I shove those thoughts as far down as they can go. I trust Hisao, and even if I don't know Hanako, I know that he wouldn't do anything to hurt me. Or at least, he won't hide anything from me.

"We should p-probably get back." Hanako says. Just as she does, the door opens, and Naomi steps in, looking at us both questioningly. I realize that the two of us are standing very close now, and I take an involuntary step away from Hanako. Naomi smirks at that for some reason.

"If you two are done flirting in here, the food just came." She turns and leaves even as she finishes her sentence, the door swinging shut behind her before I have a chance to respond. I turn back to Hanako, who's mouth is open like fish out of water, blushing intensely. She shrinks back a little at my gaze, so I give her my best impression of a reassuring smile.

"Come on."

Together(ish), we exit the bathroom and head back to the table.

---

When I get home, the first thing I do is go upstairs and take a long, hot shower. Normally I only take a few minutes, other than washing my hair, but this time I let the hot water wash over my body for a while before finishing up and drying off, heading into my room to throw some PJs on. It's only around dinnertime, but I'm emotionally exhausted after today.

Hisao and I talked briefly about my conversation with Hanako after leaving the café, and he agreed to meet up with her again tomorrow without me. He was hesitant at first, but once I convinced him that it was the best way to get her to accept our relationship and start to trust me, he relented. When I told him that I had inadvertently revealed a bit about his heart attack, he had closed his eyes and sighed deeply.

"Yeah, I really should have told her about that at some point."

He didn't seem upset with me, much to my relief, and so we agreed that tomorrow he and Hanako would talk, and afterwards he would call me to get together, either with or without her, depending on how the conversation went. We parted ways at his house, which I STILL haven't actually visited (he says his parents have been working late every night, and he wants to wait for a good time to introduce us) and from there I walked myself home. He's been a pain about this, trying to walk me home first instead each time we separate, but I've told him I'm not willing to have him walk home by himself after a long day. This seems to annoy him, but it's how it has to be until I get a good idea of what his limitations are.

On that subject… we've slept together twice again since the first time, and both times I've insisted on taking the lead. After what he told me about nearly having an attack with Lilly the one time he tried to be on top, I'm not willing to take the risk until I see him making more progress in his health, and I can get better at paying attention to his warning signs. Of course, it's really up to him to pay attention to them himself, but there's no way I'm leaving that completely up to him right now. After everything we've both been through before getting to where we are, if I were to lose him now, especially in that way…

I'm just heading downstairs to fish around for something to eat in the kitchen, when to my surprise the front door opens. My mother walks in a few moments later, giving me a tired smile as she sets down her ever present briefcase.

"Evening, dear. Did you have a good day?"

I momentarily consider giving her a generic answer to avoid a conversation, but I realize that I actually don't want to. "Yes, mom, actually I think I did."

She looks a bit taken aback at getting a real answer from me, especially a positive one. "Oh? Anything you want to share?"

I take a seat at the island counter, and my mom takes one across from me. As much as she works, she and I are still fairly close, and I do feel like I can talk to her about my life when she's around. It's just that all too often she's not around, so I've grown accustomed to keeping things to myself for a long time.

"Mom, you remember Hisao Nakai?"

She goes still, watching me intensely for a sign of breakdown. After a long pause, she replies, "Yes, of course dear. Have you heard from him? Is he doing well at that school?"

"Actually I heard back from him last week. He wrote me a letter, and we talked over the phone. He's doing much better."

"Well, that's a relief. I know you were worried about him for such a long time." She gives me a reassuring smile, and I'm tempted to just smile back and leave things there, but I don't want to mislead her.

"Yeah, well after we talked he came back home for summer break, and we met up in person."

Her smile cracks, and she looks away as if she has to think hard about her response to that. When she looks back at me, her face is serious. "Nako, are you sure that's the best idea? I know you cared deeply for Mr. Nakai, but I saw how much it hurt you to see what he was going through. When he left, I thought maybe you were finally doing a little better, starting to take care of yourself again."

Shit, how do I address this?

"I know, mom, and you're right. I do care about him, and it took me a long time to get over what happened, but it took him a long time too. He's- different now. That school really helped him, and he's on track to graduate this year still. He wants to go to university for science, and he's figuring out what field, and-"

I realize I'm rambling, so I cut myself off. My mother is watching me with a mixture of amusement and concern on her face. "Well. It sounds like Mr. Nakai is doing much better for himself then. It also sounds to me like someone isn't as completely over him as she thought."

She says that teasingly, but I glance away anyway, unable to maintain eye contact while I try to figure out how to tell her the next part. When I look up at her again, the teasing expression is gone, and the concern is back in full force.

"We… uh… kinda started dating."

"Oh." This time she looks away, and I swear, her eyes tear up a little.

She stands up, takes a deep breath, and starts to move to head down the hall without another word.

"Mom?"

She ignores me.

"Mom?!"

I get up to follow her, but she turns back to me, and now her face is composed again. All business.

"We will speak about this when your father gets home."

I stop, completely taken aback at this. My mom almost never talks to me like that, not since I got older, at least. Does she have a problem with me dating Hisao? Since when does she want to get involved in my love life, other than to make sure that I'm being careful about certain things, and only interested in "nice" boys? I've dated before, and she's never had an issue with it.

While I'm standing there with my mouth hanging open, my mom turns away and walks out of the kitchen, leaving me to try to sort out what the hell just happened.
Last edited by Xeraeo on Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:22 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Re: Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue

Post by Xeraeo » Thu Jul 23, 2020 6:02 pm

Okay, after reading back through what I have so far, I've got a lot of ideas on what needs work.
  • Other than the Hanako at the overlook scene, all the settings are boring, generic, under-described, etc. 99% of the writing is dedicated to dialogue or internal monologue related to dialogue, and it gets really ponderous to read really fast.
  • My versions of the characters all have more or less the same way of thinking, the same internal monologue, the same habits of second-guessing themselves at every turn. It's unimaginative. One thing I really appreciated about Dewelar is how differently he handled writing from each character's perspective (Guest Poster did a great job of this as well). I want to figure out how to improve on this.
  • My use of italics as an alternating emphasis on some words, or indicator of the characters' thoughts, is wildly inconsistent. Sometimes when they're thinking to themselves, it's regular text; sometimes it's italics. There's a difference in tone, or some other reason for it, but I don't know exactly what it is yet.
  • Iwanako is uninteresting. She's "generic cute girl dating Hisao" without all the interesting bits that flesh out the girls in the VN. I need to give her more depth, not just circumstances around her and Hisao, but her own personality, interests, strengths, weaknesses, etc. I have some ideas.
  • My chapters have mostly been around 4,500 words, which I'm okay with, but 2 and 3 were both about half that. Gonna try to keep it relatively consistent in the future.
I intend to go back and do some more serious editing, refining, additions, rewriting, etc. to each scene after I've given it some thought. Any contributing feedback will be helpful.

And I apologize for just posting so many chapters in a row right off the bat without allowing time for a response to each. I just know myself, and knew that if I didn't get it all out there right away, I probably never would. I'll do my best to post one chapter at a time from now on.
Toaster17 wrote:
Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:12 am
I’m a terrible writer and an even more terrible critic, but I can say that you’ve got my attention quite thoroughly. Good luck with the further writing, and welcome to the fandom.
Thanks! I hope I'm able to keep it up, and really, I'll take any criticism I can get, even if it's terrible. I'm pretty sure I'm terrible at this, so there's nowhere to go but up!

Edit: Just made some significant edits to the Prologue, and Chapter 3. I'm much happier with both. Will continue to go back and make edits and adjustments for quality, while also continuing the story. Chapter 8 is done, but I'm gonna try to finish going over the previous chapters and making changes before I post it or any subsequent chapters I finish in that time, in case I need to make adjustments in them as well.
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Chapter 8 - Hisao

Post by Xeraeo » Thu Jul 30, 2020 6:28 pm

It only took a few minutes for Iwanako and I to reach my parents' front door from the café, but in that short walk she told me all about her conversation with Hanako in the bathroom. I really don't know what to think, but I feel like it was a step in the right direction, at least. I glance up at the living room window, still wishing I could just introduce Iwanako to my parents without worrying so much, but I know it isn't the right time yet. Besides, technically they already know each other. My mom got to know her a little in the hospital and I'm sure she'll like her, but it still scares me a bit actually making introductions. I've never brought a girl home before.

"Okay, so I'll talk to her without you, but afterwards would you want to come hang out with us? You know, assuming it goes over well with her."

I really want Hanako and Iwanako to get along for some reason, so patching things together while I have them in the same place seems like the best way to do it. Plus, I've been getting the impression increasingly that Iwanako doesn't have many friends right now, which is odd considering how popular I remember her being.

"That sounds good. I think I connected with her, but it was hard to tell for sure. She seemed pretty guarded with me, and the fact that you dropped our relationship on her like that didn’t exactly help." She gives me a reproachful look as she says this, and I nod sheepishly.

"I know. I'm sorry. I knew I should have talked to her first, but I just-"

"Didn't know how to explain it?" she finishes before I get a chance. She's smiling now, and that simple look fills me with relief. Somehow, her smile makes me feel like everything's going to be okay.

"Yeah, I guess. I have even less of an idea how I'll explain it to Lilly."

She stiffens, and the smile is gone. "I don't think you owe her an explanation. Regardless of what led to her decision, she is the one who left, Hisao. How quickly you choose to move on shouldn't be an issue for her."

She's right, technically she's right, but that doesn't fix the pang of guilt I feel every time I think about Lilly and Iwanako. I can't exactly place what's causing it; but I suspect it's still about how quickly I seem to be moving on. In a way, it feels like it cheapens what Lilly and I had, somehow. If it was so valuable, why was it so easy to replace?

"I know. I just don't want to hurt her any more than I already have, I guess."

Iwanako doesn't seem too bothered by this, at least. She rises up on her toes, her hands clasped behind her back, and I lean down to give her a quick kiss. We both part smiling, and she turns to head back to her house.

"Talk tomorrow?" I call after her.

She gives me a beautiful smile in reply, and I return it with a goofy one of my own. I watch her go, still in a bit of a state of shock at how things have turned out between us. I REALLY want to walk her home, but she's been so insistent that she doesn't want me walking home alone, and I don’t want to worry her more than she already is going to be.

I turn back to my parents' house, the sight still oddly unfamiliar in a way, and open the door. It's strange that I've already stopped thinking of it as home. I don't know if it was the time in the hospital or at Yamaku that caused that shift for me, but maybe it was because I felt like there wasn't anything really left for me here.

I'm so glad I ended up being wrong about that, in the end.

---

How did things end with Lilly?

Let's look at our relationship. We started off as friends, but there was something more there from very early on. The first time I really realized my feelings for Lilly was our second phone call during her first trip to Scotland, when we told each other we missed each other. After that, it was just a matter of who would confess first, I think. But if it weren't for my heart, I don't know if it would have happened quite so quickly.

And then there was our sexual relationship. It started almost as soon as our romantic one did. Lilly was the one to move it forward, in both cases, but I wasn't exactly opposed, was I? I doubt I would have been so forward if I had kicked things off in that area, but considering how she must have been feeling after my heart flutter, I guess I understand that she didn’t want to waste any more time.

We both loved each other. I know that, even if Lilly didn't know that. What we had was real. But I think it was a sort of dream-like love. I didn't really bother to think about it as something that needed work, or could be lost. Once she confessed to me, I just moved along with her like there was no question of us being together in the future.

It was my blindness, ironically, that led to things falling apart for us. I couldn't see that my unwillingness to open myself up to her was pushing her away. I was too absorbed in the present to think hard about the future. If I was paying more attention, I would have known earlier on that something was wrong, and maybe I could have stopped what happened.

I still love her, and she may still love me, but any hope of a future together was lost once she got on that plane. Even if Lilly were to come back tomorrow, I doubt we could just pick things back up where we left off. Neither of us would know if the other would be there in the future. And that's the thing with me, isn't it? As much as I want to pretend otherwise, anyone who decides to be with me has to be able to lose me. How can I ask that of anyone?

Iwanako. How do I feel about her? Knowing that even after all this time, she still cares about me, even after how I treated her, it makes me warm, somehow. Maybe I've had feelings for her buried somewhere all along? But after what happened, even if there might be something between us, how can I ask her to take that risk with me? She deserves somebody who will be there for her, who won't constantly make her worry that they'll just disappear from her life, like I did.

I guess I have to let her make that choice, though.

Knowing that I still love Lilly, and that I don't know how I feel about Iwanako, is it really a good idea to go see her right now? What if I hurt her again?

But regardless of how I feel right now, Lilly's gone. Eventually, those feelings are going to go away. They have to. Maybe the best way to make that happen is by not trying to do it alone, like I always have? Maybe that's what Iwanako WANTS to be for me?

I told her a bit about Lilly in my letter, so she knows that we just broke up. Since she obviously still wants to see me, maybe she just wants the opportunity to help me, like I wouldn't let her before? Can I really deny her that after what her letter made me realize?

I have to see her. Maybe she'll just accept my apology, and we can both move on. She certainly deserves that choice, after what I've put her through. But if she wants more, if she really wants to reconnect, would that be such a bad thing?


I re-read that last line for the fourth time, smirking a little at how quickly things have changed since I started this journal last week. I've been meaning to update it, but things have been such a whirlwind that I've been putting it off until now.

Just as I lower my pen towards the next line, Grandma's clock on the wall strikes the hour loudly, making me nearly jump off the couch. I rub my chest gingerly, wondering why the hell Mom keeps that thing around. It's so damn annoying, completely ruining the relaxation you should feel in your own living room every time it goes off like that.

I gather my thoughts again, but just as I lower my pen for another attempt, I hear movement outside the front door, and the sound of jangling keys. I set aside my journal and walk to the door, opening it to reveal my dad bending down to pick up his keyring, which he's managed to drop. He straightens with a smile, pocketing them quickly as if to hide what just happened.

"Hey, kiddo. Thanks for getting the door." I make room as he steps inside, but instead of walking past me he rubs my hair and pulls me into an awkward hug. I'd like to say it's his fault my hair's always a mess, but considering that it looks the same at Yamaku, it seems the data doesn't back that theory.

"Hey, Dad. You're home earlier than usual."

He glances down at his watch with an exaggerated frown, trying to simultaneously close the front door behind him. Apparently, doing both at once is a bit much for him, since he manages to bounce it off his shoe instead, and has to look back up to shut the door properly. While I may have gotten my father's height and maybe some of his looks, I'm glad to say that I've never approached his level of clumsiness.

"It's eight. I'm usually home by eight."

I shrug. "Maybe. Didn't used to be."

I don't mean it to sound bad, but I realize that my words could be taken in a resentful way. I didn't used to pay as close attention to my words, but maybe having so many female friends has made me more sensitive to how I come across now. Fortunately, my dad isn't the type to pick up on things like that, because he just nods and removes his hat, hanging it on the hook beside the door and revealing his own mess of brown locks. I always thought his whole old-world hat look was a little weird, but given the Nakai hair we both have to deal with, it's probably easier for him than trying to wrestle it into submission like I do.

"So what have you been up to today? Still catching up with old friends?"

We go back into the living room and sit, me on the couch and my dad in his usual chair. He leans back and slowly stretches, his eyes already half-closed in relaxation. I feel a pang of nostalgia at the sight, and realize I've missed hanging out with dad more than I thought.

"Actually, I saw a few friends from Yamaku today. They were in town from Sendai, doing some sightseeing over break, so we met up and talked for a bit."

"Oh, good! I'm glad you're already making friends…" my dad mutters, and I can't help but chuckle as he starts to drift off already. As far as I know, Dad doesn't have many friends himself, but I'll take what I can get as far as conversation goes with him. Most of the time, it's just a few words here and there, passing remarks and occasional questions. That's just how Dad is, so I can't really hold it against him, even if I ended up more like Mom's side of the family when it comes to talking.

I'm just starting to go back to my journal, when the front door opens again, this time revealing Mom as she steps in quickly, closing the door behind her deftly as she starts to remove her shoes. Compared to dad's laid-back mannerisms, mom's always high energy, and I realize that she reminds me of Emi just a bit.

"Hi, Mom."

"Hicchan! Come here!"

Or maybe Misha…

Mom approaches me with her arms out, and I move to give her a hug automatically, wincing at the now all-too familiar nickname. She used to practically smother me with hugs like this, but at some point I outgrew her and now it's more me enveloping her. She's been more affectionate than she used to be since I got back for break, and I assume it's because she's not used to me being gone for so long. Well, I bet my condition has something to do with it as well. I know that my heart attack was as much a shock to her and Dad as it was to me, maybe more in some ways.

While I've missed my parents, I feel like my time away from home has made me more independent from them, while it's possibly had the opposite effect on Mom. I guess that's natural, but it'll probably end up being a big drama when I go off to university, unless I choose to study and live here.

I'll cross that bridge when I get to it, I suppose. Right now, I need to have a quick conversation with Mom.

"Hey, Mom, I actually have something to tell you."

She pulls back from me, her eyes questioning and worried immediately. "What's wrong? Is it your heart?"

I force myself to smile at that, and squeeze her shoulder reassuringly. "No, nothing bad. Relax. It's something you'll be happy about, I hope."

"Well, let's sit down then." She moves quickly to the couch, sitting on the end closest to Dad and nudging his foot with hers, causing him to stir. "Hicchan has something to tell us, dear."

"Yes. Well, um…" No backing out now, but I'm not sure how to approach this. I didn't even tell them about Lilly, and we had been dating for quite a while. I'd never even talked about wanting a girlfriend with my parents before, much less told them I was dating someone. Is Mom gonna freak out?

"While I was at school, I got a letter. From Iwanako."

Mom goes still. Her expression is unchanged, but I can see tension in her posture that wasn't there before. I press forward quickly.

"She was mostly updating me on school, how everyone was doing and such, but she also said some things about when I was in the hospital that made me think." This is actually a good opportunity to clear the air with Mom and Dad a bit. Iwanako wasn't the only one who tried to help me back then.

"I'm sorry I was so closed off to everyone. I know that you were trying your best to be supportive, and there's no way you could really understand what I was going through. I really am doing much better now, thanks to some good friends I made at Yamaku as well as to Iwanako."

"Hicchan, you don't have to apologize to us! I'm just glad you're finally getting back on your feet." She looks at my dad, who for his part has been quiet, but at least seems to be fully awake again. "See, dear? I told you they were right about that school."

Dad chuckles a bit. "If I recall correctly, you were the one afraid of sending your dear boy away." He gives her a cheeky grin, and she pretends to ignore him, turning back to me. Seeing their mock-arguments always cheered me up as a kid. It was one of the few signs they were still close. With both of them gone at their separate jobs so much, it was rare that I ever saw my parents actually acting like a couple.

"Still, Mom, I needed to say it. And Iwanako was a big part of helping me realize just how much I had shut everyone out. I wrote her back, and we ended up reconnecting the day after I came home. In fact…" my mom's eyes light up at this. "…we're dating now."

I'm knocked back into the couch by my mother's overly enthusiastic embrace, and I have to struggle to straighten up again. "Mom, relax. No sudden impacts, remember?"

She backs off quickly, looking suddenly terrified, and I give her a quick hug back to reassure her. "I'm fine, just need to be careful with stuff like that. Her face goes right back to ecstatic.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Hicchan, I'm just so-" she looks back to Dad, who's grinning as well. "I'm so happy to hear that. She's such a sweet girl really, and such a proper young lady too. I hoped for so long that you would reconnect once you started getting better, but I suppose I started to lose hope after you went away to school."

"Thanks, Mom. It came as a bit of a surprise to both of us that the feelings were still there, but it's been great finally getting to know her for real this time. I'm sure you'll like her even more when you get the chance to."

Mom bombards me with questions for a while longer, and I do my best to keep my answers simple and not give away too much. Certainly, I don't want her to know that Iwanako isn't that proper in some ways, but I suspect Dad's figured it out, based on a few looks he gives me at some of my vaguer answers. Regardless, they don't need to know everything; just that we're together and everything is going well.

That damn clock interrupts me mid-sentence, and apparently Mom realizes just how late it's gotten, because with a rushed apology she scrambles to the kitchen to prepare a quick dinner for us. I'm left alone with Dad, who leans forward intensely in a very un-dad like way, eyes focused on me.

"That was probably smart not letting on quite how close you and your new girlfriend are." he says with a wink. I freeze at the confirmation of my fears, but he sits back and laughs, apparently getting the information he wanted from my reaction just now. "Relax, kiddo. I'm certainly not going to ruin her image of her dear boy and his perfect little lady. You know how your mother is."

I have no idea how to respond to this, so I choose not to, hoping he doesn't have any more awkward stuff to say. After a few moments he continues, but again it's not what I expected.

"You know, back around your age I didn't do too bad with the ladies myself." He tries to sound smooth as he says this, I think, but his goofiness manages to overpower it. Or maybe I'm just filtering it through the way I've always perceived him? Regardless, he continues. "I was starting to worry you would end up being more of a nerd than I was, especially after you started reading so much in the hospital. It looks like I was wrong. Congratulations, kiddo."

"Umm… thanks?" This is incredibly awkward. Dad seems to realize it too, because he clears his throat, stands, and gives me a quick pat on the shoulder with what I think he intends to be a knowing look before heading into the kitchen as well. I shake my head, somewhat regretting telling my parents about Iwanako now, but at least it seemed to go over okay with them both. Maybe they wouldn't be opposed to her spending the night occasionally, though that would also depend on her parents… No, that's probably a bit too much to hope for.

I'm tempted to call her tonight and update her on how the conversation went, but I remember that we said we'd talk tomorrow. No reason to be overly obsessive, right? I'm sure she'll appreciate a bit of space, after spending practically all our time together for the last several days.

"Hicchan, come eat!" my mom calls from the kitchen.

---

I step off the bus, and walk the few short blocks to the address Hanako gave me the other day. It's one of those hostels intended for traveling students: simple and cheap. She's already standing outside, probably waiting for me, and I check my watch to make sure I'm not late. As I approach, I notice that Hanako seems different from how she was at Yamaku. The street we're on isn't all that busy by Tokyo standards, but compared to Sendai it's practically bustling. Dozens of people are walking by, and Hanako doesn't seem to be making any real effort to hide from them, instead simply staring up at one of the taller office buildings. She's not wearing that hat I got so used to seeing on her the few times we went into the city, but her hair still covers most of the right half of her face as usual.

Apparently she senses my approach somehow, because she turns to face me as I walk up.

"Hey, Hanako." I try to sound casual, but the truth is I'm actually pretty nervous about this conversation. I know she's a pretty perceptive person despite the difficulty she has maintaining eye contact most of the time, but I'm hoping she can't tell how I'm feeling.

"Hisao. It's g-good to see you again." Her voice feels a bit too formal to me, but that could just be due to her nervousness of being in public, I guess.

"Okay to walk from here?"

"S-sure."

We didn't have any particular destination in mind. I had just asked her if we could talk, alone, and we agreed to meet outside of the place she was staying for convenience's sake. There was no reason to make her try to navigate the city on her own, and it would have felt awkward to have Inoue or Ooe bring her somewhere and then leave. This made the most sense.

I begin to walk at a leisurely pace in the general direction of a local park I remember is in the area. I've only visited it a couple times, so I don't remember exactly where it is, but I figure we'll see signs if we get close enough. It doesn't really matter where we go anyway; it's just the only nearby place I'm at all familiar with. Hanako follows after a moment of hesitation, walking beside me at what for her is probably a comfortable distance.

I take a bit to collect my thoughts. While I'm doing that, I look up at the office building Hanako had been staring at when I got here. It's maybe 30 or 40 stories tall, all modern glass and steel. Not the tallest in the city by any means, but certainly impressive compared with Sendai's somewhat more modest architecture. I realize that since this is Hanako's first time in Tokyo, structures like this are probably a lot for her to take in. Having lived below them my whole life I'm not generally too impressed by tall buildings, though I can appreciate good design as much as the next person.

The disparate scents of car exhaust, cigarette smoke, and various food shops all mix together to form a smell that to me just means "city". It used to mean "home", but I think I've grown accustomed to the much fresher air surrounding Yamaku in the short time I've lived there. Still, the smell fills me with the nostalgia that's been my close companion for much of this summer vacation so far.

We continue in silence for several more minutes. I appreciate Hanako's patience with me, but I'm starting to wish that she would just ask me something. I really don't know how to broach the subject between us in a way that won't be difficult, and maybe if she could just kick things off it would go naturally. Of course, that's probably not a realistic expectation of her. Even with the newfound confidence she's been showing lately, I know that being in a new environment like this with me being the only familiar person around is probably somewhat overwhelming for her.

"So…" I start off, my voice sounding lame even to myself. "I'm guessing you have some questions."

For the first time since we began walking, Hanako looks over to me, and her gaze is a bit sharper than I was hoping for.

"You c-could say that."

"I asked you if we could talk alone so you wouldn't feel like you need to hold back anything."

Leaving the ball firmly in her court, I wait for her to respond. Whatever she's been wanting to ask, I just gave her permission. We continue in silence for several more seconds before she does.

"Why?"

That's… not exactly a question I was preparing for. "Um, why didn't I want you holding ba-"

She cuts me off, something very rare for her. "No. Why are you d-dating her?"

I guess that question makes the most sense. It cuts past a lot of the other things she could have asked me, and in a way it condenses them together. Implied in that question are all of her feelings, like 'how could you do this to Lilly?' and 'why didn't you tell me about her before?' and maybe even 'Are you just using her?'. That last one is one I've been asking myself constantly since we got together.

We reach one of the busier streets that we'll need to cross on our pilgrimage to the park I vaguely remember. At the appropriate time, we cross together, Hanako walking much closer to me than she has been. I know it's probably just for practical reasons, but it still encourages me a little. When we reach the other side, she pulls back again but still walks a bit closer to me than she had been.

"Remember when we talked in my dorm room, and you saw that I had been writing a letter? You asked who I was writing to, and I just told you it was a friend from my old school." She nods, her eyes fixed on the sidewalk ahead of her. I look down as well, and realize that she's been stepping awkwardly to avoid the cracks in the pavement. It makes me smile a little, as it reminds me of her tile-stepping game she thinks nobody knows about at Yamaku.

"Well, Iwanako had sent me a letter near the end of my relationship with Lilly. At the time, I ignored it, but after we broke up I went back and read it and-"

I really don't know how to explain what I got out of the letter that night.

"Let's just say that she apparently knew me better than I thought she did. It helped me process what happened with Lilly a bit, and then when you came by and talked to me, that really solidified for me just how right she was about a lot of things."

"I-I'm not sure I unders-stand.."

"Right, let me back up." Of course, she needs to know how I knew Iwanako from before. I've avoided talking about this to pretty much anybody, but I trust Hanako, and right now isn't the time to keep secrets.

"Iwanako was a girl I knew at my old school, but only in passing. I had a bit of a crush on her, and apparently the feeling was mutual, because she confessed to me in February." I watch Hanako's face for a reaction to that, but she only nods and waits for me to continue without looking up.

"That was when I had my heart attack."

THAT gets her attention. She looks up at me, alarmed, her mind no doubt brought back to my collapse in Hokkaido.

"I was in the hospital for surgeries and recovery for four months. That's how my condition was discovered, although apparently I'd had it for a long time. I guess I'm lucky it happened the way it did. She was able to get help quickly enough to save my life."

Hanako looks like she has questions about this, but I can see her practically biting her tongue. I guess she would be reluctant to ask me about the hospital. Given her burn scars, it's likely she had a similar experience to mine, maybe even a worse one. I decide to continue, and figure if she wants to ask she will.

"After I woke up, I was really depressed. My friends and Iwanako visited me in the hospital for a while, but I just kept pushing them all away until they eventually stopped coming. I was really pathetic at the time, looking back on it."

Something about that seems to resonate with her, because she nods slowly, still not meeting my gaze. We approach another large intersection, and repeat the process of crossing together without speaking. I look around for any indication of the park, and spot a sign telling me that we need to turn at the next block. Making a mental note of our route, I keep going.

"She and I didn't speak again after she left the hospital the last time. I really treated her coldly, even though none of it was her fault. I knew I couldn't blame her, but she wasn't any more prepared to deal with my condition than I was at the time. Every conversation we had was more awkward and distant, and even though she kept trying to get me to open up to her, I wouldn't. Really, I was just too caught up in feeling sorry for myself, but I wouldn't let her in, and I know it hurt her."

"When I got to Yamaku, I was still feeling that way, but you and Lilly really helped me out of it. You both treated me like a normal person, although Lilly was a bit mothering sometimes. When she left, though, I started to slip right back into shutting everyone out. Reading Iwanako's letter again, and then my talk with you, made me realize what I was doing. That I hadn't really changed all that much."

We reach our turn, and as we round the corner I can see the park ahead. Hanako looks like she wants to say something, but I point out where we're going, and for a moment we're distracted by entering the park and looking for a place to sit. Eventually, we find a bench that's somewhat secluded, in the shade of a large willow tree. I realize that it's probably considered something of a romantic spot, but I don't care about that right now, and I doubt Hanako does either.

"Thank y-you for telling me that, Hisao, b-but you still h-haven't answered my question."

I smile at her, seeing through her stutter to the steely resolve she demonstrated back in my dorm when she confronted me. "You're right. I just thought that telling you the story would give everything some context."

She nods, apparently satisfied and waiting for me to continue. "I replied to her letter after that night, partly to thank her for what she did for me and what she tried to do, as well as for the letter itself, and partly to apologize to her. I also gave her my number, in case she wanted to talk some more. I really didn't expect her to call, but after shutting her out for so long I felt like it would be wrong not to at least be open to her if she still wanted to talk."

Hanako looks at me with that calculating gaze I've started to become familiar with. Her usual looks for most of the time I've known her have been scared, almost rabbit-like, but there are times, especially when she's playing chess or another competitive game, when she gets a much more determined expression. She's examining me with it now, maybe searching for hidden motives, and I realize that for once I'm the one uncomfortable being looked at.

I swallow, and force myself to continue. "She called me a couple days later, and we arranged to meet up when I came home for summer holiday. When we did, I was surprised that she let me apologize, and I ended up talking to her about Lilly for a long time. Mostly, I talked about how badly I messed things up. Iwanako listened, and it really helped, you know? It brought me back to how I felt, back before the attack, when I was trying to work up the courage to talk to her for weeks. I'm not the same person now that I was back then, but I guess some of those feelings were still there, buried for a long time. It must have been the same for her, too, because she confessed to me again, and this time I accepted."

I deliberately don't tell her about what we did immediately following Iwanako's second confession, but she doesn't need to know all that. Really, I think I've done a reasonably good job explaining everything to her, and being able to actually talk it through has helped me understand my own feelings, I think. My old crush on Iwanako definitely came back that day in the café, and I'm glad that it did. Considering everything that happened with Lilly, I'm surprised that there were still any feelings there at all. I really have to update my journal again…

Hanako doesn’t say anything for a while, staring up at the tree above us in thought. I can't read her expression at all, which is rather frustrating considering how normally it isn't hard to get at least some idea of what she's feeling.

When she finally responds, this time it's at least a question I had been expecting.

"What are you g-going to tell Lilly?"

"I don't know, Hanako. That's the main thing I've been worrying about, other than how to tell you. I don't think I can really explain all this to her in a way that will make sense, and even if it does, she's still going to be hurt by it. It's not really fair to her, I know, but she's gone, and she's not coming back. I think maybe the best thing to do is to wait until her feelings have had a chance to settle, and tell her then."

She looks back at me, once again holding my gaze. "Maybe you should have waited to start dating again then." She says that full sentence without a stutter, holding her eyes on me. I hang my head a bit.

"I know. It's moving really fast, and I get how that looks. I really do feel connected with Iwanako, though, and I don't think either of us wanted to take things slowly after last time. Lilly and I rushing into things was one reason for why it didn’t work out, but that was partly because she knew she may be leaving, I think. With Iwanako, the feelings were already there from a long time ago. We just didn’t get a chance until now. A fresh start isn't a bad thing, you know?"

I remember thinking that same thing when I was first told I'd be attending Yamaku. I really did think of it that way, but in the end, I brought a lot with me from my old life after all. This time, I'm hoping that I really can move past all that old baggage and start to become someone new.

The wind picks up slightly, stirring the willow branches over our heads. I look up at the old tree, wondering how many conversations like this one it's watched over in its long years here. Maybe not many quite like this one, come to think of it.

Hanako's been quiet for a while, and I can't tell if it's because she doesn't know what to say or just that she's afraid to say it. It takes her a while, but I'm used to being patient when it comes to Hanako.

"Okay. I b-believe you that that's what it is. J-just, please be careful not to hurt her."

"Lilly? I'm really trying not to. Despite everything that's happened, she's still my friend, and I still care about her deeply." I still love her, I think, but I don't say that to Hanako. It'll fade with time. It has to.

She nods. "That's g-good, but I meant Iwanako."

I'm a bit taken aback that she'd be so concerned for somebody she barely knows. I knew that Hanako was a kind and compassionate person, but it's not often I get to see it like this. The realization warms me a bit, and I think that maybe the two of them will get along just fine after all. "I won't. I promise."

"I'm gonna h-hold you to that, okay?" She smiles shyly, and I return it with an awkward smile of my own.

"Okay. Thank you, Hanako. May I ask you something, though?" She nods, looking curious.

"What are you going to tell Lilly?"
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

tbone
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Aug 02, 2020 10:41 am

Re: Rebound - A Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story

Post by tbone » Thu Aug 06, 2020 1:32 pm

I just got to reading this last night, and I must say: Absolute alpha move by Hisao to talk about fucking his ex to his new girl in chapter 4.

Good work so far. I hope you flesh out Iwanako some more, but it seems that's coming soon with the cliffhanger in her last chapter.

Xeraeo
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Jul 22, 2020 5:48 pm
Location: Chicago(ish), United States

Chapter 9 - Iwanako

Post by Xeraeo » Thu Aug 06, 2020 10:35 pm

No, I haven't been neglecting our girl Iwanako for my other story. It's interesting writing two at once though, especially because Hisao is a different person in each. Writing a new version of him is one thing. Writing two increasingly differing versions simultaneously is quite another. Please call me out on it if you happen to spot any incongruous overlaps. I have completely different ideas for each story, and don't want them to blur into one another.

This one's quite a bit shorter, but as it's mostly setup and character introduction, I don't mind. Chapter 10 will be much more eventful. Probably.


This isn't fair.

That thought keeps playing over and over in my head as I pace back and forth in my room. For months after leaving the hospital, I've been agonizing over what happened. I've lost friends. I've lost my grades. My hobbies, my interests, everything just seemed… grey. People told me what I already believed about myself- that I had crippled him. I knew it wasn't true, but it didn't matter. It felt true, and no amount of rationalizing could fix it. It didn't help how resentful Hisao seemed to be when I visited him, especially after not hearing from him at all once I left, until he finally responded to my letter.

But now, after all this time, not only did he respond, but by some miracle we're actually making things work. Things are finally turning around for me. These last few days, it's felt like the clouds are beginning to part.

It's not like I wasn't getting better at all before. Just writing the letter had helped me start the recovery process, I think, but now with Hisao back and our relationship finally making progress… it just feels like my life is resuming, after a 6-month gap.

Until last night, when my dad came home.

"We're just worried about you, Iwanako. This boy… everything he did to you… we just don't think he's good for you. What if something happens again? We think it's best if you move on."

And my mom, sitting there and nodding along as my dad tells me how to live my life. It's not like he's ever bothered before.

That's not fair to him, I know. He's tried, he just usually doesn't get this involved. But of all things, just when things finally start to turn around, NOW he decides to intervene!?

It's not fair. It's not.

I even sound like a whiny child to myself. My parents didn't ban me from seeing Hisao, or anything that extreme. They didn't even say I'm not allowed to date him, exactly… they just expressed their disapproval. But no matter what I said, no matter how I tried to explain that he's changed, that this is a good thing, they couldn't understand. Wouldn't understand.

It's like they were totally closed to the idea that I know what I'm doing here. Like I must be making a mistake. There's very little I've been sure of for a long time, but I know that Hisao and I aren't a mistake.

I have to get out of the house. I've been alone in here for too long, getting myself worked up over this. Hisao was supposed to let me know when he was done talking with Hanako, but I haven't heard anything, and I can't just stay here driving myself crazy over my parents.

Looking through my closet, I select a cute outfit in case I do end up meeting up with them; a knee-length black and white sundress with wide straps and long white stockings. I get dressed, check my hair and makeup in the bathroom for a few minutes, and pull out my phone to call Ichika- but wait, no we haven't talked in like a month. Normally she'd be the first one I'd call for a shopping trip, but I guess that's a thing of the past.

Does it have to be, though? I'm probably as responsible as my friends are for us losing touch. I was sorta pushing everyone away after things started to go bad for me at school. But no, they never bothered to try either, right? Or am I just blaming them? Kinda like Hisao…

I swallow my pride and call her.

Three rings, but then she picks up. "Nako?" Her normally bright and cheery voice sounds quieter than usual, but still warm. I smile.

"Hey, Ichi. It's, um, good to hear your voice."

"Nako!" This time all her usual bubbliness is present, and I feel relief flood me. "Oh my gosh, I thought you'd never call! Summer break has been SO BORING, and I know you're still shook up about that Nakai guy, but I thought maybe you'd want to go shopping some time, but I didn't want to call you if you were still sad, but then I thought, maybe it would help you, but now you're calling me!"

I laugh to myself, glad to hear she hasn't changed one bit. "That's actually why I'm calling, I was hoping you'd be up for hanging out, maybe going shopping? I have to get out of the house."

"YES! When, right now? I can go right now! I'm not doing anything, well that's not true, I'm organizing makeup- AGAIN, I know, but I was bored, and Yuma's always busy with her new boyfriend and never wants to hang out, and-"

I let her go on like that for several minutes, not wanting to interrupt. I'm just happy to hear that she's not upset with me. When she comes up for air, I try to return to the point.

"Now would be awesome, I'm actually heading into town. Want to meet at Zara and go from there?"

Several more enthusiastic responses later, we have a plan, and I leave the house, my mood somewhat improved. Hanging out with Ichika always worked to make me smile before, even if we weren't doing anything in particular. Of course, usually when we're together, we're shopping, or walking downtown window shopping, or hanging out in her house on the computer… shopping. I guess we have sort of a one-track relationship, in a way, but it's worked for us.

I find myself smiling as I get on the bus to head downtown. It feels good to be doing something normal for once.

---

"Oh, what about this one? You think Tadashi would like it?"

Ichika holds up the seventh dress in her armful, a longer, western-styled sort of casual article in a shade of lavender. I really like it, but I can't exactly answer her question. I don't really know the boy she's interested in, and even if I did how would I know what he likes? I just nod.

"It's really cute, Ichi. I'm sure he'd notice you in it."

She looks happy with my pronouncement, and moves on to yet another dress, this one much shorter and yellow. Not a soft yellow, either, but an almost dandelion color. This is fun, but internally I'm conflicted.

I was hoping to bring up the recent developments with Hisao, but so far we've only been talking about clothes, and Tadashi, and anything else that pops into Ichi's head, it seems. I can't blame her- I know she's partly trying to distract me and cheer me up, and partly just being herself, but I actually want to talk about something serious for once. I just don't know how to bring it up, exactly.

My ringtone cuts through the soft murmur of various shoppers in our vicinity sharply, and I pull it out quickly to answer before it draws too much attention.

"Hello?"

"Hey, Iwanako."

Hisao

I glance at Ichi, but she's occupied with looking at size tags on the rack in front of her, and I make a quiet excuse that probably goes unheard before stepping out of earshot.

"Hey. How did it go?"

"Well, I think. We're actually at a park downtown right now, but we were thinking of hanging out for a while. Want to join us?"

I glance back at Ichi, who gives me a curious look before going back to her clothes. Should I? I haven't had the chance to talk to her yet, though. What do I tell her, 'Oh, by the way Hisao's back and we're dating, let's go see him right now'?

"Um, maybe later, if that's okay. I'm actually hanging out with a friend."

"Oh." He sounds disappointed. "Okay, well that's good. I'll check back a bit later then?"

"Yeah, that sounds good. Sorry, it was kinda a last minute thing." Yeah, last minute because I chose to call her when I knew he would be contacting me today. Why couldn't I have waited?

"No problem, Iwanako. I'm happy you're doing that. Really." It really sounds like he means that, but I still feel bad. Why am I deciding this? Am I just that afraid to talk to Ichika about Hisao? She knows about most of what happened, of course, but I haven't told her about him coming back, or about us getting together yet. What's stopping me? She's gonna find out eventually anyway and really, what am I so scared of?

"You know what, call me again in an hour or so. I just need to talk to her first."

"Alright, let me know. And either way, have fun." That makes me smile.

"Thank you. I am, I think."

We hang up, and I move back to Ichi, who has replaced most of the clothing she had been looking at and is holding a few articles that she apparently wants to try on.

"Find anything, Nako?"

"No, I'm probably not getting anything. I really just wanted to look around, you know?"

She nods, unusually quiet. "You sure? Don't want to get anything for your guy friend?" Ichi gives me a coy smile as she says that, and I feel my face flushing.

"What?" How would she know that?

"Oh, come on, you don't normally walk away for a phone call. What, you gonna tell me that was your dad?"

"Uh, no, actually. That was… Hisao." There, I said it.

Her eyes go wide, and for once, I think Ichi is rendered speechless. The thought would be funnier if I weren't so nervous. She steps up to me and grabs my arm, pulling me towards the changing rooms. When we reach them, she pulls me into one of the cramped spaces and shuts the door.

"Hisao Nakai? The kid you put in the hospital?"

I wince. "That's not what happened… not exactly. He already had a heart condition."

"Right, but you confessed and he had an attack, right? And then he was such a dick to you in the hospital. Why are you talking to him now?" She looks concerned, but despite her limited understanding of the situation, I can tell her heart is in the right place in confronting me. I suppose this is about what I expected, especially after my parents' reaction last night.

"He's changed a lot since then, Ichi. He's a better person. Back then he was just… broken."

"And you were broken then too, Nako! What are you guys talking about? He's still off at that katawa school, right?"

I close my eyes. "Please don't call it that."

She looks a little guilty, but doesn't respond.

"Look, I sent him a letter a while ago, and he responded. We started talking on the phone, and then we met up when he came back for summer holiday, and-"

"He's back? In town? Now?"

"Ichi, you have to let me answer one question at a time!" I smile at her. Even though this is stressful, I'm still glad to have my friend back. "Yes, he's back, and we talked. We're good now. More than good, actually… we…"

She grabs me by the shoulders. "Don't say it."

"We're dating now."

To my surprise, she pulls me into a hug and squeals delightedly. It takes me a few seconds, but I hug her back.

Then she's suddenly serious again. Typical. "Tell me everything."

I look around. "This isn't really the place…"

"Forget where we are, I need to know! Why didn't you tell me sooner? Nako, sometimes you make me so mad!" She doesn't look mad, more like excited, but this is Ichi. Excited is about the only way she knows how to be.

"Actually, he asked if we want to hang out in a little bit with another friend from his school. He's gonna call me in an hour. I wanted to talk to you first."

Ichi continues to interrogate me, and I tell her about my meeting with Hisao last week, and how we got together. I tell her bits and pieces of his story from Yamaku, and a little about Lilly… just that they were dating and Lilly broke up with him… and then about meeting Hanako and Hisao's other friends yesterday. We continue to shop as we talk, with occasional breaks in the conversation to discuss how this or that will look on her, but for the most part she manages to stay focused.

When we're done, she seems mostly satisfied, but also has a concern I had anticipated.

"So, this Hanako girl came to visit Hisao in Tokyo? Do you think she's interested in him?"

I hesitate. "I don't think so. She and Lilly are best friends, and her and Hisao were friends when they were dating, but he says she hasn't shown any interest in him. I think they're close, but not like that. Oh, and no, she was on a trip with some friends of hers, and they happened to be in Tokyo for a few days. At least, that's what she told Hisao."

Ichi looks thoughtful; which is an interesting look for her. "That seems a little suspicious, Nako. Are you sure?"

I give it some serious thought. Hanako really was travelling with friends, and they really were sightseeing in other areas- Naomi had shown a few of the pictures. I think she was being honest about it. But she did insist on talking with Hisao alone…

"I guess I'm not entirely sure, but I trust Hisao. And Hanako seems like a nice person, so I don't want to think anything bad of her unless I have a good reason to."

---

We visit a few more shops and continue talking, Ichi telling me more about Tadashi and how cute she thinks he is, and the last time they talked how he seemed interested, and how she really hopes he asks her out over the break, and-

My mind loses track at some point, and I find it wandering back to Hanako. I had meant it when I had asked her to be my friend, but I couldn't really tell what she made of it. Everything Hisao has told me about her has been good, and she seemed more protective than anything, but I still can't help but worry. What if we don't get along? Or what if she does have some kind of feelings for Hisao? Even if we don't end up as friends, I would hate to make things awkward between them if I can help it. It sounds like she's the only close friend he has at Yamaku right now.

"Nako?"

I blink and return my attention to Ichi, who's looking at me inquisitively. She probably asked a question, but whatever it was, I must have missed it.

"Sorry, Ichi, I got a little lost for a minute there."

She looks sympathetic. "Did I make you worry about Hisao and his friend? I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't have asked about that. I'm sure it's nothing."

I give her a smile. "No, it's okay, you're just looking out for me. And I think it's fine."

My phone cuts off whatever she was going to say to that, and this time I check who's calling before answering. Sure enough, it's Hisao again. I don't walk away this time.

"Hey."

"Hey yourself. Did you decide if you want to come hang out with us?" In the background, I hear a girl talking, but it doesn't sound like Hanako. Probably Naomi then.

"Yes, I think we will. My friend- Ichika, not sure if you know her, and I are shopping downtown right now. Where are you guys?"

We work out the logistics, and agree to all meet at a bowling alley not too far from either group. Hisao seems to find some amusement in my suggestion of the place, but I can't figure out why.

When we hang up, Ichi is smiling at me. I give her a raised eyebrow.

"What?"

"I think you guys are probably good together."

Huh? "Um, why do you say that?"

"Because you were smiling the whole time you were talking with him. I haven't seen you smiling like that in forever."

I realize that I am smiling, and that she's probably right. "Well, we are good together, I think. I'm really happy, Ichi."

I get another hug for that, and then we set off after making a couple purchases.
Girls: Emi=Hanako=Lilly>Shizune=Rin
Routes: Lilly=Emi>Hanako>Rin>Shizune

(Name is pronounced "Zero". Stole it from Quake, I think)

My projects here:
Rebound - A Post Lilly NE Epilogue / Iwanako Story: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12651
To Miss the Mark - An OC Pseudo-Route (Hitomi): viewtopic.php?f=52&t=12656

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