Chatty's One-Off Collection (January 31st, 2021 — Cats and Dogs, Snowflakes and Stars)

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Chatty Wheeler
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Chatty's One-Off Collection (January 31st, 2021 — Cats and Dogs, Snowflakes and Stars)

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:19 am

Chatty Wheeler's One-Off Collection

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The Learned Fool

Release Date: January 11th, 2021

Genre: Slice Of Life, Humor

Word Count: ~5500 Words

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Cats and Dogs, Snowflakes and Stars

Release Date: January 31st, 2021

Genre: Drama

Word Count: ~11,500 Words

Notes: Submission For ProfAllister's fourth annual Secret Santa writing event.

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Last edited by Chatty Wheeler on Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:57 pm, edited 6 times in total.

User avatar
Chatty Wheeler
Posts: 66
Joined: Mon Aug 24, 2020 5:56 pm
Location: Pacific Time Zone

The Learned Fool (Part 1)

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am

“The Learned Fool”

Writing: Chatty Wheeler
Additional Writing: BristerXD
Proofreading: Xeraeo

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[Wait a second, Shicchan~! ‘No noise’ means that I can’t speak or sign?]

[Yes. No noise means no signing.]

[Oh~… I guess that means I’ve already lost by having to ask, huh?]

“Wahaha~!”

Shicchan grimaces.

[No noise also means no laughing.]

I can’t help but pout at Shicchan’s bluntness, but she carries on anyway.

[I wouldn’t say you’ve lost yet though—we haven’t even started, after all.]

Shicchan pauses, carefully timing the silence to punctuate her inevitable follow-up.

[But once we do start, S-I-L-E-N-C-E.]

She engraves each individual letter into the space in front of her with the rapid pace, perfect spacing, and slightly old-fashioned Japanese script of a typewriter. The clicking sound of a typewriter even somewhat resembles the noises that Shicchan’s hands make as they slam and crash into each other while she signs.

[Ooooh~! Well then, when are we starting?] I implore, carefully avoiding the latter half of Shicchan’s warning.

Shicchan’s glances directly above me, hopefully toward the wall clock and not anything wrong with my hair, and forces a dry laugh out of her nose.

[We were going to start when he arrives, but in forty seconds, he’s going to be late.] Shicchan clicks her tongue louder than she probably thinks she did. [Typical.]

As if our new student could have somehow registered our entire conversation in that click of Shicchan’s tongue, he abruptly appears in the doorway of the student council room, an apologetic expression on his face, before slowly starting to move his hands.

[Hello.]

He abruptly cocks his head up toward the clock, wincing slightly at the sight of it.

[Sorry.]

Without so much as glancing around the room—which probably annoys Shicchan, given that we just spent the last twenty minutes cleaning it up—he snakes his way around the ring of desks until he’s at the center. On his way there, he takes off his oversized coat and places it on one of the desks, revealing his… jarring, but routine, style of clothing. Even without his coat, he’s still probably too warm—if there’s one thing Shicchan abuses more than her power, it’s the heater in the student council room.

I instinctively think to shout a greeting at our student, but the rasping sound of Shicchan sliding her chair out from her desk and bolting to her feet startles the thought back down my throat. As if trying to put out an approaching flame with nothing but the waving of her hands—and the intimidation of her grin—Shicchan swiftly signs back to our guest.

[Welcome, Hideaki. It’s good to see you here and on time. You just barely squeaked by with thirty seconds to spare, you know. Misha and I were beginning to wonder if you had wandered off to try and impress the locals with your flavorful choice of stockings.]

Rather than countering snark with stubbornness, the tactic he usually goes for, he pivots his face and eyes toward me—an equally expectant and confused look in each.

Oh no, there really is something wrong with my hair, isn’t there?

No, no, he’s just waiting for me to translate. Silly me~! That’s probably why Shicchan brought me here, after all~! I guess I’d better not keep them waiting—Shicchan can be a real grump when she thinks I’m not working fast enough-

My hands freeze—halfway from resting on my lap to signing at my shoulder level. Shicchan’s eyes have locked on to me, and I can tell from her eager smirk that I’m centimeters away from a trap—but which direction is it coming from? I mean, all I’m doing is translating for-

Oh, of course! I have to remember: S-I-L-E-N-C-E.

That was pretty clever, Shicchan. You thought I was going to fall for that and lose the challenge right out of the gate, didn’t you~? It almost makes me want to congratulate you on your ingenuity, but while this challenge is still on, that’s not happening.

Somewhere in the midst of my competitive awakening, I have the equally potent realization that I have yet to unfreeze my hands—they’re still awkwardly suspended out in front of me.

I must look like a zombie.

I have to purse my lips to suppress laughing at the thought of that, but I know that merely holding in a laugh won’t break me out of the trap that Shicchan has laid for me…

Oh, I know~!

I finally unfreeze my right hand, moving it upward toward my still-pursed lips—pretending that that’s where my hand was heading all along—and run my index finger along them from left to right.

My lips are zipped.

Immediately deciphering the meaning behind my little mime performance, Shicchan plops back into her chair, every part of her body instantly relaxing and a warm smile replacing the scheming one from just before.

[Good. You pass.]

It worked?! Alright~! Life is kinda cool sometimes…

After scraping this… admittedly minor victory out from what could have been an early demise, I feel totally in it to win this challenge. Is this the kind of competitive spirit that Shicchan thrives on? If so, I think I could get used to this feeling~!

Before my daze could progress to daydream, I’m brought back to attention by Shicchan’s thundering snap, but it doesn’t look like it was my attention she was after.

[Ready, Hideaki?]

Hideaki, who appears to have been snapped out of a daze of his own, quickly nods and just as quickly flings his hands into motion.

[Before we begin, I’d like to express my sincerest gratitude to you both for taking time out of your busy schedules to meet me here, today. I eagerly look forward to learning much from you both, and I hope that this lesson will be productive, insightful, and unoster- unosten- un- unostentatious.]

As if getting that last word out had just made him the richest man in Japan, a beam of pride suddenly shoots through Hideaki. The ends of his lips curl up in what might be, dare I say, a smile on his face—and for good reason! I mean, that introduction was impressive~! I don’t think I even know what that last word means, let alone how to sign it.

Oh, but it looks like Shicchan knows both, and judging by how rapidly her legs are bouncing up and down, I can only imagine that whatever Hideaki said must have really, really impressed her~!

[Okay, Mister Hotshot. Let’s take a quick walk.]

Uh… What?

True to her word, Shicchan is already halfway out the door before she’s even finished signing, leaving Hideaki without a trace of his newfound confidence visible in his expression, and leaving me without a lick of a clue as to where Shicchan is going with this, much less where she’s going, physically speaking.

After a few moments of Hideaki and I awkwardly staring at each other, our legs unfreeze simultaneously and we give chase.

As we charge into the hallway at a speed that, had Shicchan been watching, would have resulted in me footing the entire bill of our planned trip to the Shanghai, my thoughts are stuck replaying what just happened in the student council room.

At first I thought I was called to help with the lesson by translating for Hideaki, but with my lips figuratively zipped, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Did Shicchan just bring me here because she really wants to win that sundae? Or was I backup in case Hideaki literally couldn’t sign at all?

Well, it’s clearly not the latter of those two options~!

When Mr. Hakamichi asked Shicchan to help Hideaki with his signing a couple weeks back, I didn’t think he’d have picked it up this fast~! Anybody would think that he’s been learning for months. Well, anybody except for Shicchan, apparently.

I guess it takes a lot more to impress Shicchan than it does me.

Come to think of it, I wonder if he has been teaching himself for months, but has avoided facing Shicchan until he felt that he could match her in conversation. After all, that’s what Hicchan did when he learned how to sign.

Is Shicchan really that intimidating to talk to? Maybe it’s just a boy thing.

After finally closing the distance between us and Shicchan, Hideaki and I flank her from each side and treat her to our best ‘what the heck is going on?’ stares. Shicchan, probably anticipating our confusion, inaudibly chuckles and moves to sign—though her hand motions seem noticeably slower than normal.

[Clearly, our tutee here has already demonstrated a high level of proficiency when signing in a controlled environment. Logically, the next step for him to take is to sign in an uncontrolled environment. In other words, we’re going to teach him some practical skills—like signing while walking, for example.]

Oh, so that’s why we’re going on this walk~! That still doesn’t answer where we are going, though.

Not missing a beat, Shicchan elaborates.

[The student council still has a few tasks here and there that must be taken care of today, so we’ll be making a few stops around the building. I hope that neither of you mind.]

That doesn’t really answer my question, but it does raise suspicions about how Hideaki factors into all this. Is he even still Shicchan’s student, or has he been chosen to be today’s student council errand boy?

We reach our first stop, which happens to be the mailroom, in no time at all. Shicchan gracefully opens the door and trots inside before abruptly slamming the door behind her. Had she looked back while doing so, she would have seen Hideaki, who had been trying to follow her into the room, nearly jumping out of his stockings at the startling sound of the door being slammed just centimeters in front of him.

It’s either that, or Hideaki merely leapt backwards to protect his fingers from getting caught and crushed between the door and the doorframe. I’d have leapt further back if that were the case. Between the numerous stacks of paper she lifts and all the arm-wrestling matches that I’ve lost, I know that Shicchan’s arms—seemingly imbued with the strength and authority of a thousand previous student councils—can seriously pack a mean punch. I wouldn’t want my fingers on the line if she were the one slamming a door on them.

Shicchan emerges from the mail room with a stack of books so tall that her face is blocked from view when Hideaki tries to look up at her. Amazingly, she can apparently still sense his location, and walks right up to him. More amazingly, she maneuvers her grip on the books so that she can simultaneously hold on to the stack while signing.

[You think you can hold these for me?]

Without waiting for an answer, she unloads the entire stack of books onto Hideaki, who clumsily catches them—his knees nearly buckling in the process.

Oh dear... Errand boy it is, I guess.

Shicchan then walks around the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’ before her so that she can make eye contact with Hideaki.

[Thanks. It’s not too heavy, is it?]

Shicchan~! Now you’re just being cruel to your poor brother. Is this even a lesson anymore?

Apparently sensing my glare, Shicchan raises her hands as a gesture of innocence.

[Hey now, don’t look at me like that. I haven’t forgotten that this is a lesson. I’m just having him practice signing while holding objects at the same time.]

Don’t you think that might be a bit of a leap in difficulty for him, Shicchan?

[The difficulty is irrelevant. It’s a practical skill that he will have to learn.]

Goodness… Are my questioning expressions that easy to interpret? It’s either that or the previous one-thousand student councils also imbued her with mind-reading powers.

Actually, it would explain quite a few things if that were true.

[If he expected to come here and have me regurgitate the alphabet to him fifty times over, he should have asked for a lecture instead of a lesson. Now, if I can sign while holding those books, so can he.]

We both turn our heads to look at Hideaki—me with sympathy, and Shicchan with assertiveness.

[So, I’ll ask again: it’s not too heavy, is it?]

Hideaki, who has been silently crumbling under the weight of Shicchan’s luggage, also begins to squirm under the weight of his newly garnered attention. As the tower of books tilts and sways with the unpredictability of the waves, Hideaki moves along with it to try and keep himself positioned directly under the stack, lest it come crashing down on him. All the while, he hurriedly tries to free up his hands by switching his grip on the books, much like how Shicchan had just done it, but while Shicchan made the process look effortless, Hideaki… looks like he’s been thrust barefoot into a field of hot coals.

While his upper body remains fairly still and balanced, his legs and feet would appear to be playing a seriously ticked off game of whack-a-mole. Each time the books sway in a new direction, Hideaki excessively takes around ten steps in that direction to rebalance the stack—probably triggering a minor earthquake somewhere on the opposite side of the planet. I guess foot-tapping, leg-bouncing, and other repetitive lower body movements are a nervous habit that runs in the Hakamichi family.

After staring at the soon-to-be trainwreck long enough for second-hand embarrassment to kick in, I pry my eyes away from Hideaki and briefly allow them to wander elsewhere.

The hallways are devoid of students, and the birds—which usually perch on tree branches outside the windows, or if they’re feeling especially brave, the windowsills themself—are also nowhere to be seen. It’s no surprise that they’re gone; the students don’t come when it’s a weekend, and the birds don’t come when there isn’t a show—the ‘show,’ in this case, being the students.

I can’t prove it, and science—or Mutou—would probably laugh in my face, but I have always been suspicious that birds revel in watching the unexpected, the crazy, and the embarrassing that humanity is capable of producing, and what better place to find that sort of entertainment than a disabled school?

Hideaki should be thankful that nothing is around to watch his struggle. Even the ever-watchful eye of the sun is completely obscured behind the rainclouds that slowly approach from kilometers away. I suppose it would be somewhat inaccurate to say that nothing is watching him. After all, the two of us are still here.

Shicchan, for one, appears to have no qualms with sitting back and enjoying the free entertainment—seemingly no longer interested in getting a response to her question. I, on the other hand, narrowly stave off a bout of uncontrolled laughter by biting my tongue and clenching my fists—probably digging trenches into the palms of my hands in the process.

I should trim my fingernails. I must look like a witch with fingernails as long as mine~!

No, no, no~!, I need to stop thinking silly thoughts like that or I’m going to start laughing, and I don’t think I can dig into my palms any longer unless I want my nails painted red.

As Hideaki continues to put every tap dancer within a thousand kilometers to shame with his one-of-a-kind performance—a tribute for all in the high heavens to see—it would seem that some sort of librarian deity smiles upon him, as he very suddenly finds a steady grip on the books.

Keen on not letting this opportunity go down the gutter, Hideaki clears his throat—a fruitless gesture given the person that he’s talking to—and begins to raise his newly freed hands.

This is it. Showtime.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Shicchan leaning in toward her future prey, no doubt ready to pounce at the first sight of what she defines as ‘weakness’—or perhaps, what she defines as ‘illiteracy.’

Here it comes…



Hideaki’s right hand twitches.

Not a split second later, the book on the top of the stack begins to slide. Hideaki’s signature ‘overslept raincloud’ eyes suddenly shoot open, revealing-

Wait. Hideaki has blue eyes~?! I never noticed before…

With his composure gone, Hideaki makes yet another spontaneous offering to the librarian deities, but even all the divine blessings in the world can’t stop his grip on the books from hopelessly relapsing further and further.

Realizing that the mission is a lost cause, Hideaki limply hangs his head—partly out of exhaustion and partly to avoid Shicchan’s shaming glare—and tentatively nods his head.

The books are clearly too heavy for him, Shicchan… Shouldn’t we try something else? Something a little easier?

Shicchan exasperatedly rolls back her eyes and cranes her neck up toward the ceiling before taking a deep breath—her lungs expanding so far that it makes her blouse look a size too small. Out of pure instinct, I raise my hands up in front of me, as this is usually the aura that Shicchan gives off right before transitioning into ‘rant mode,’ but before I have the chance to sign anything—and inadvertently lose Shicchan’s challenge by doing so—she merely barks out one word directed toward Hideaki.

[Butterfingers.]

I… don't think Hideaki understood that.

It even takes me a good few seconds to decipher the meaning of that exceptionally obscure sign, and in that time, Shicchan steps forward and takes about a third of the books off the top of Hideaki’s stack. Picking up on Shicchan’s intentions, I follow suit and claim another third for myself. Once again, Shicchan maneuvers her grip on the books, making sure that Hideaki can see just how easy it is for her to do so, freeing her hands enough to start signing.

[Hideaki, you probably wouldn’t make a good librarian…]

After a few seconds of staring, the corners of her lips perk up into a grin.

[But that does give me an idea. Follow me—we’re going to try something else.]

Shicchan gracefully spins around on her tippy-toes before waltzing off down the hallway. She can be really girly sometimes, but pointing that out to her always makes her grumpy. Last year, Lilly called Shicchan cute as a passing remark. In response, Shicchan nearly flipped a desk. Maybe that’s the beginning of what drove a wedge between those two…
Last edited by Chatty Wheeler on Sun Jan 24, 2021 3:54 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Chatty Wheeler
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The Learned Fool (Part 2)

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am

After a short walk—made even shorter by Shicchan apparently attempting to set the new ‘100-meter power walk’ record—the three of us find ourselves at the entrance to the library. As we walk through the door frame in a single file, Shicchan takes a deep breath, I let out a deep exhale, and Hideaki would appear to be unconsciously holding his breath. He’s kind of cute when he puffs his cheeks out like that—it reminds me of his big sister.

Save for Hanako silently reading in the corner—probably sunk as deep into her book as she is into her beanbag—the library is completely deserted. Besides the usual in-and-out stops that Shicchan and I make here for student council work, I rarely come here, so maybe it’s always like this on weekends. Figuring that it’s about time I stop and smell the roses while I have this chance, I look around and instantly notice all of our student council posters hung up on the walls and bulletin boards—conflicting feelings of the past simultaneously warm my hands and dig under my fingernails.

One would think that it’d be pretty hard for me to miss the posters, considering that they’re everywhere, but also because most of them have little faces of me and the rest of the student council drawn on them. If I ever wanted to test out my inner-archeologist, I could probably use my various hairstyles to chronologically date each poster. I mean, some of them even have my old brown hair~! Some of them even have Lilly in them~! Some of them… were clearly drawn by me. Shicchan may value my handwriting almost as much as her own—which I take as a major compliment—but I’m no artist. My poster drawings kind of stick out like a sore thumb.

Now that I have the two siblings reunited in front of me, I can’t help but think that anyone could mistake the little Shicchan faces as little Hideaki faces. My drawings especially blur the line between their faces. If I squinted my eyes and someone dimmed the lights, I might not be able to tell them apart.

With Shicchan in the lead, we make a beeline toward the front desk. On the way there, two of us hear a harsh thud coming from one corner of the library. Not a second later, Yuuko’s head pops up over a bookshelf—probably noticing the three bobbing heads entering the library—and gives us a wave before moseying over to her position behind the front desk.

She looks… uncharacteristically relaxed. A drop of sunshine must have fallen into her coffee this morning.

[Good afternoon, Shizune. It's a pleasant surprise to meet you, today. Would those books happen to be the new orders?]

Yuuko’s signing is still somewhat crude, with motions much less expressive and coherent than those of one already fluent in the language, but Shicchan seems to have no trouble understanding each word.

[That they would be. Hot off the press… Well, hot off the mailroom in this case.]

Shicchan steps forward and lifts her share of the books up onto Yuuko’s desk—poorly masking a grunt as she sets the stack down. At that, Yuuko lets out a grandmotherly chuckle—though she probably wouldn’t like me describing her with that word—and begins to sign once again.

[That looks like quite the heavy load for just one person! It’s a good thing that you brought two more this time.]

Yuuko shifts her attention toward me.

[How do you do, Misha? You’re being rather quiet. Most days, I know you’re coming before you’re halfway down the hall.]

As I heave my stack of books up onto Yuuko’s desk, which suddenly seems very tall, I take a sharp breath—unintentionally causing Yuuko’s eyes to widen in horror.

“O-oh! N-n-no! I meant no offense! Please just forget that I said that…”

I have to stifle a laugh at Yuuko’s misinterpretation. It looks like the sunshine has worn off; I’d better not do anything to unnerve her any further.

I firmly shake my head to reassure Yuuko that she’s done nothing wrong, then I run a finger along my lips from left to right to explain my situation. Yuuko seems to regain her composure—enough for her to resume her signing.

[Oh… So you don’t feel like talking today, Misha?]

Hideaki, who had been silently watching the entire exchange, puts his stack of the books up on the desk—giving Yuuko a closer look at him.

[And who might this young lady that you’ve brought with you be?]

Yikes~! The second-hand embarrassment is back! Or in this case, first-hand embarrassment, since I recall making the same mistake when I first saw Hideaki...

At the very least, Hideaki doesn’t seem to react at all toward Yuuko’s error—he must be numb to getting mistaken for a girl, I suppose. Shicchan, on the other hand, violently, silently snickers—causing Yuuko to retreat further and further behind her desk.

[Did… Did I say something wrong?]

Shicchan stretches her fingers, cracking them one by one before wringing out her hands like one would do to clean a sandy beach towel.

[Please forgive me for the confusion, Yuuko. Allow me to explain the situation. The longer-haired version of me over there is my younger brother, Hideaki. He’s here to-]

“I-I’m so sorry for assuming such a thing! I can not begin to tell you how embarrassed I feel or how sorry I am for the mistake that…”

As Yuuko continues going in circles, eventually trailing off completely, Hideaki chimes in for what must be the first time today.

“Umm… No need to apologize, ma’am. In fact, I don’t even know what you’re apologizing for-“

Before either of them can say any more, Shicchan—probably miffed at being left out of their conversation—steps between both of them and picks up from where she left off.

[Hideaki is visiting for the day to learn some signing. We’ve been walking around the school—teaching Hideaki practical skills as we go. I’ve asked Misha to refrain from performing any form of translation so that Hideaki can’t cheat while I’m tutoring him.]

Shicchan shoots a sly wink at Hideaki, who merely nods in response. Yuuko claps her hands together, a renewed sense of youth in her eyes, and begins to sign in slow, sweeping strokes.

[Oh, you’re a fellow student of sign! How wonderful. I’ve been teaching myself how to sign for the past couple of months when my hands aren’t full… Oh! No pun intended.]

Yuuko awkwardly chuckles, clearly proud of her spontaneous wordplay, and carries on.

If only you knew how relevant that pun was five minutes ago, Yuuko~!

[Would you like to do some practice with me? It might be easier with another novice—practicing with your older sister can be a little too… intense for me at times.]

Hideaki nods, earning him an aggressive flick on the shoulder from Shicchan.

[Great, great! Well, let’s see… What to talk about…]

Yuuko’s eyes dart around the library, looking for something to inspire some light conversation. After a few seconds of searching, she ends up landing on the obvious.

[Oh! Do you like to read?]

Hideaki nods.

[I’m happy to hear that. You see, I’m the librarian at Yamaku! Ah- wait, you probably already figured that part out.]

Hideaki nods.

[Right, right. Sorry, sorry… Anyway, this is a rather special library, supporting various reading formats, but we carry all the usual types and genres of books that you’d find at any other library! So, what do you like reading, Hideaki? Maybe we can find a book for you to read…]

Hideaki pauses, tilts his head slightly downward, and nods once more. Shicchan raises an eyebrow, while Yuuko desperately tries to follow his gaze.

[Are… Are you trying to point to a book that you want with your eyes? You can try signing it to me if you want. You don’t have to be shy about it. I promise I’m not going to judge you if you have trouble! Try… Try to sign something.]

Hideaki takes a deep breath…

…And merely nods again. Yuuko’s face is ghost white by now—perplexed and embarrassed.

Shicchan, whose foot-tapping had been ramping up in tempo for the past minute, finally snaps—literally—before marching right in front of Hideaki. She stops at a close enough distance to hug him if she wanted to, but judging from the blazing look in her eye, I think the word ‘tackle’ would be more appropriate than ‘hug.’

[She’s not signing a different language, Hideaki. She’s signing J-A-P-A-N-E-S-E, so please give actual responses when she asks questions. You don’t get to just nod your way through this conversation. Understand?]

Hideaki… just nods.

Shicchan takes a step back, completely appalled by Hideaki’s blatant insubordination—she seems almost personally offended… But then…

Her eyes shoot open…

…And a conspiring smile slowly manifests on her face. It’s the kind of smile one would see on a creepy old doll in the back corner of an antiques shop.

Shicchan takes a few more measured steps backward and begins to sign, but she does so with no speed or style—like a robot with its batteries almost depleted. Instead, she seems to be trying to make herself as clear as she can to Hideaki.

[I think I need a little… break. Let’s head back to the student council room, shall we?]

She then turns to Yuuko, and bows slightly.

[Thank you for your time and assistance, Yuuko. I promise I’ll be back to explain everything soon. Everything.]

Yuuko awkwardly returns Shicchan’s bow and attempts to sign—though her scattered motions are further masked by her trembling fingers.

[Oh, I’m glad that I could… be of… service. Take care, girls.] She nervously looks at Hideaki before adding, [It was nice to meet you, Hideaki.]

Seemingly satisfied, Shicchan finally looks at me and winks.

What is happening, Shicchan? What exactly are you planning?

We walk back to the student council room in silence. Well, silence in this case just means the absence of any signing, since conversations with Shicchan are always silent regardless. Our trip back mirrors our trip there: Shicchan leads the way with Hideaki and I in tow. Shicchan doesn’t look back, so I can’t read her expression, but I can sense a rising giddiness within her with every step she takes.

Between the brief, puzzled glances that Hideaki and I exchange as we walk down the hallway, my eyes are once again drawn to the windows. The rainclouds are still there, so I make a mental note to grab an umbrella before Shicchan and I head out for the Shanghai, but unlike before, the sun has poked its way through some of the clouds—allowing a pocket of unsullied light to escape through the confused greyness of the clouds.

The ray of sunlight washes over the trees outside of the window like a blanket, invading the veins of each leaf like a virus, making each tree twinkle as the leaves and branches sway and shiver with the wind—constantly meeting, bumping into, and parting with other leaves and branches.

A violent gust of wind forces the leaves apart for just long enough for me to spot birds perched on the branches—the ones absent from earlier. They’ve perched farther in on the stiffer parts of the branches, probably to avoid being tossed around on the outer, flimsier parts of each branch that are currently being jostled by the wind, but they are still ever eager to watch us from the other side of the windows.

I want to shoo them off; I want to tell them that it’s a weekend, that there is no show today, but given the bother it must have been to come here on a windy day like this, something must have brought them.

What do they expect to see?

In a short time, we’re back in the student council room. It feels cold in here. My legs instinctively take me back to my desk while Shizune practically leaps over to her own. Hideaki doesn’t sit down; he just stands in a way that makes it look as though he’s about to testify in front of a court—which probably isn’t far from the truth, on second thought.

He’s clearly nervous: his toes are popping in and out of the holes at the front of his shoes; his right hand awkwardly runs through his hair while his left hand rubs his chin; and his eyes bounce between me, Shicchan, and the ground like a ping pong ball.

Shicchan doesn’t seem keen on releasing her grip on the tension any time soon—leisurely taking time to remove her glasses and clean them until they are long past the point of absolute spotlessness. Without the thick shield of Shicchan’s glasses to cover her face, I am given a rare look at her sapphire blue eyes.

They look just like Hideaki’s eyes.

After Shicchan is sure that her glasses are clean, she slowly presses them back through her hair until the bridge fits snuggly on her nose.

Shicchan looks up at Hideaki, staring at him for a long, long time…

It sure feels like a long time, but maybe it’s only been a few seconds…

Then she turns to me before raising her hands.

[You realize that he’s been bluffing this whole time, right?]

She signs it so fast that she’s already finished signing by the time I start to translate her motions into words, but before I can get far, she begins to sign in a frenzy once more. It’s as if she’s trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle made of hot embers.

[He just memorized a flashy greeting to try and butter us up with a good first impression, but didn’t bother to learn any of the rest.]

After my brain finally catches up with my eyes—both of which are probably spinning—I’m left in total shock.

That’s such a… bold claim, Shicchan. Don’t you think that’s being a little harsh on him?

Not missing a beat, Shicchan presses on—eager to peel back each layer of her poor, unassuming brother.

[You want proof? Fair enough.]

She quickly shifts to gaze toward Hideaki.

[Watch this: if I look at him and sign fast enough, he just gets confused and resorts to nodding along. He’s about to nod right now. Watch.]

As if right on cue, Hideaki nods.

Shicchan… You’re… You’re right~!

Not only did Hideaki nod along like she said he would, but he hasn’t reacted in the slightest to Shicchan’s rather revealing accusations! In fact, he’s been nodding along and not reacting to things all afternoon!

Sensing that she has me sufficiently convinced, Shicchan looks at me and signs.

[I had suspected right away that his wordy introduction was memorized, but I didn’t expect that he would know nothing.]

I can’t even let out a nervous laugh right now. I just feel cold all the way down to the bone. Maybe Shicchan could share some of her thermal energy with me—she looks like she could burst into flames at any second from pure excitement. I don’t really know what she’s so excited about, though. It would seem that we’ll just have to call it a day. After all, Hideaki isn’t really ready for this kind of tutoring, is he? Maybe he can come back next week-

[Let’s have some fun, shall we?]

Fun? What are you talking about, Shicchan?

She quickly looks back over to Hideaki.

What’s going on-

[Have you been bluffing this entire time, Hideaki?]

Hideaki obliviously nods.

Yes, Shicchan. We get it. You don’t need to manipulate him like that to prove it.

[I see. Do you want to join the student council?]

Hideaki nods again.

Wait… Oh no, I can see where this is going... Is this what you had planned all along?!

[Fantastic. I’ve also been wondering, do you have a crush on Misha?]

Hideaki nods, causing Shicchan to let out a light, breathy snicker—breaking the perfect poker face that she had kept up until then.

That one was too cruel, Shicchan.

But also… This is actually kind of funny. I almost feel like laughing-



Oh no…

[So, you really were screaming at the top of your lungs on that roller coaster and it wasn’t ‘just a big yawn?’]

Hideaki nods.

I mustn’t laugh. I mustn’t let her win.

[Are you saying that you want me to tell Akira that you like picking out clothes with her on your little shopping trips?]

Hideaki nods.

I’m holding back. I’m holding back.

[Does this mean that that whole thing with Mrs. Satou and the ‘reach around’ wasn’t an accident?]

Hideaki nods.

I mustn’t laugh. I mustn’t laugh. I mustn’t-

[So, you’re saying that you did have a crush on Lilly before you realized we were cousins, and that’s why you always tried to sit next to her when we had family gatherings?]



Dang. Looks like I owe Shicchan a sundae. At least the sun’s out.



THE END

———————————————

Author’s Notes:

After months of lurking, followed by more months of merely commenting on the works of others, I am glad to be throwing my hat in the ring with the first story of my own! It took an embarrassingly long time to write this story—about a month and a half to complete the first draft, and an additional two months to complete the final draft. What was originally envisioned to be a five hundred word story slowly transformed into the five thousand word story that you see today.

I’d like to take a quick minute to thank the folks who have collaborated with me and supported me throughout the entire process of writing this story.

Of course, I must first thank BristerXD, who has been consistently cheering me on in DMs from the earliest days of writing this story. He’s had countless indirect influences on how I write and how I think about the art of writing. But beyond that, he was also directly involved with the writing of this story in a few tricky spots. Sometimes I wish that I had half the creative skill that he does, but he’s been more than willing to share his writing secrets with me so far, so maybe I’ll catch up with him someday! BristerXD, I couldn’t have done it without you, bud. Thanks a million.

Next, I need to thank my man, Xeraeo. As the first person to encourage me to stick around on these forums and continue spending time commenting on other works—he basically jump-started everything that I’ve been doing here since I joined the forums in August. His stories and writing have consistently been an inspiration, and his contributions—whether it be comments or proofreads—to the Katawa Shoujo community are admirable to say the least. Many thanks go out to Xeraeo for his thoroughly insightful and detailed proofreading of this story, and for being a pal.

If you are interested in the development history of this story, read on! Otherwise, thank you so much for reading my story. Please take care!

——————————

Development History:

The premise of this story—Hideaki continuing his learning of sign language—came to me while reading Shizune’s route. I thought that the side plot of Hideaki learning sign language from Hisao was interesting, and I was disappointed to see it dropped after only a couple of scenes. I suppose that one could say that this story is a snippet of how I would have continued that side plot.

In the initial outline of this story, the only two characters to be featured were Shizune and Hideaki, but I ran into a problem early on: the story didn’t have much tension. In response to this dilemma, I added Misha and her “challenge” into the story to give it some much-needed tension.

Misha ended up becoming far more vital to the story than I anticipated. At first, she was largely going to take a backseat to Shizune and Hideaki’s antics, but—in addition to her being a lot of fun to write—I found a very important use for her: she controls the flow at which information is revealed to the reader.

If this story took place from Hideaki’s perspective, like I had originally envisioned, the twist ending that he’d been bluffing the whole time wouldn’t work because… he already knows that he’s been bluffing from the very beginning. Having such a disconnect between the reader and Hideaki wouldn’t have worked in the slightest.

If the story took place from Shizune’s perspective, this story really would have only lasted five hundred words. Shizune suspects the twist ending from the very beginning, and having her think this to herself would spoil the twist for the reader. The reader would also figure out right away that Shicchan is just toying with Hideaki throughout the majority of the story—making those bits far less effective.

If the reader knows all the information, there is no twist, and the story doesn’t work. To remedy this problem, I introduced a clueless third party into the plot: Misha. Misha is basically left out of the loop for the entire story, so by having her narrate it, the reader can learn information at the same, evenly spread pace that Misha does. At the very least, if I’ve done a competent job at writing this story, the reader should be making discoveries at the same pace as Misha.

The library scene was originally going to be longer, with Hanako making a larger appearance, but with the story already stretching far longer than I had ever anticipated, I trimmed the fat and left in only the good bits. Sadly, as much as I tried to make Hanako necessary to the plot in some way, I couldn’t, so she had to be reduced to a small cameo. Besides that one bit, I basically took the rest of my ideas and incorporated them into the talk with Yuuko.

Writing this story has given me a heightened appreciation for Shizune—she’s a lot of fun to write! The calculated yet playful way that she acts opens the door to all sorts of strange, interesting ways that she can interact with other characters.

I was initially nervous to make Misha the narrator to my story, given how eccentric and unique she is compared to the rest of the cast, but I actually found her to be quite endearing to write at the end of it all. I tried to challenge myself by writing what I thought that Misha was thinking behind all the smiles and laughs—a task made easier by the fact that she does nothing but think for almost the entirety of this story.

I’ve always had a difficult time understanding Hideaki. His love-hate relationship with his sister, his apathetic personality being at complete odds with his grand ambitions, and the strange way he dresses made Hideaki into a sort of enigma throughout my first read of Katawa Shoujo. For this story, I eventually landed on Hideaki being a good-natured, stubborn, and prideful individual whose pride didn’t allow anyone to get the better of him—not even his sister. As we all know, that stubbornness came back to bite him in the end.

If you’ve read this far, you have my sincerest gratitude. I hope that you found my ramblings to be interesting. I hope that you have a lovely day. Take care!
Last edited by Chatty Wheeler on Tue Jan 12, 2021 2:53 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Chatty's One-Off Collection (January 11th, 2021 — The Learned Fool)

Post by brythain » Mon Jan 11, 2021 10:42 am

Very amusing, enjoyable Hideaki story. Breezy and light!
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Chatty's One-Off Collection (January 11th, 2021 — The Learned Fool)

Post by MexicanPsychopath » Mon Jan 11, 2021 2:02 pm

Congratulations on your first creative post Wheeler! After you told me on the MS discord that you were working on a creative piece to post on the forums, I was checking the Renai each day to see if it was finished. Having read it, I can definitely say I was not disappointed! I hope to see more from you soon!

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Re: Chatty's One-Off Collection (January 11th, 2021 — The Learned Fool)

Post by BristerXD » Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm

Well Mr. Gossiping Tire Guy, you finally did it. You joined the big boy club and have posted your own original work, welcome to the land of crippling self-standards and low audience numbers. Hope it was worth your soul.

In all seriousness though, good job man. I know for a fact it was a lot of work for you and I’m happy to finally see it done. Before any more sarcasm can slip through the cracks, because I’m of course doing this in my preferred state of sleep deprivation intoxication, I want to say good job. This story functions and even more so, is even clever in parts. The idea feels fresh in the space, it made me laugh, and had a spectacular payoff. I really do like it and I can’t wait for you to do more stories like it.

I get that out of the way now because now I have to do my thing. Pick apart a person’s writing style and structure in the hopes of illuminating them to things they might have missed or not realized. Or at the very least make them ask questions about their own writing. And in that process, I can come off as rather negative and possibly psychopathic, unable to enjoy art at all in a pursuit of unattainable perfection that is really just a personal construct that has no actual base to stand on. That may be 27.8% true but that last thing I want to come off as is discouraging. So, remember that through all I say, I still think this piece overall, is very good. With my conscience cleared, onto the abuse. I’ll just be doing this section by section because organization is for academics and there are too many actually learned people around here to compete with. Better to stay in the mud.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
[Wait a second, Shicchan~! ‘No noise’ means that I can’t speak or sign?]

[Yes. No noise means no signing.]

[Oh~… I guess that means I’ve already lost by having to ask, huh?]

“Wahaha~!”
Alright, the first stumble is on the first hurdle XD. Just a small note here that will pay to keep in mind later I feel, know the spacing of your punchline. Brevity is the soul of wit as one old England word cuck would say. The closer you can make your setup and punchline, the better your joke will work. This is obviously the set up to the two-part kicker of Shizune grimacing and including no laughing. There is no reason for “Oh…” and “Wahaha” to not be just in the same sentence. It might feel weird to put sign dialogue and spoken dialogue in the same sentence but it’s certainly possible. If you think that simply looks odd, you would just describe Misha laughing, we already know it’s her from the use of Shicchan. Wahaha is not the primary identifier if that’s what you’re worried about. If anything, a longer sentence that requires the reader to focus more on a complex image would be a greater set up to the stark stop of just Shizune’s annoyed face. Better than two short sentences that have no flow. And just so you know, I’m only making this big a deal of it because it’s literally your opener. It’s a strong one in concept. Make it stronger in practice later.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
[But once we do start, S-I-L-E-N-C-E.]
I'm pretty sure JSL doesn't have the fingerspelling this sentence kinda implies in its imagery. I mean you could easily read it as her just making the sign slowly but I feel like Shizune is more bold in the points she tries to make if you catch my drift. Along with that there's the sentence underneath that-What...No one cares...this is super nitpicky...just move on to a point that matter...whatever you say voice in my head that also tells me to send anthrax in a mail.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
[We were going to start when he arrived, but in forty seconds, he’s going to be late.]
Simple tense mistake I only point out because you italicized the very word that would make it present tense which really ups the embarrassment factor which is why I choose to draw attention to it. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Done now, moving on.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
he takes off his oversized coat and places it on one of the desks, revealing his… jarring, but routine, style of clothing. Even without his coat, he’s still probably too warm—if there’s one thing Shicchan abuses more than her power, it’s the heater in the student council room.
Two things. One, I don't know how I feel about the first thing with the jarring but routine clothing part. I get the joke is two opposite adjectives able to be used on the same thing but something about it, maybe the emphasis, makes it sound like something un-Misha-like. She should be well accustomed to it at this point and that whole ... feels more judging than I think she would be. But that is certainly up for debate in the free hills of character interpretation. What feels more solid of a case is the second part with the abusing power line. I don't think even the most salient version of Misha would make a comment like this. I believe at least she buys into Shizune and her vision and her problems with Shizune running the council go more along with her trying to do so much and demanding more of people than people reasonable want to do. Not making sweeping power grabs. Again, this is naturally up for debate, but it is certainly a thing that stuck in my craw.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
That was pretty clever, Shicchan. You thought I was going to fall for that and lose the challenge right out of the gate, didn’t you~? It almost makes me want to congratulate you on your ingenuity, but while this challenge is still on, that’s not happening.
This is section is well written and has no logical hiccups as far as my eyes can see. So why highlight it? This feels very Misha... to a fault. It feels like the way she expressly speaks which of course you might think you're striving for given you're writing her perspective but the problem here is contrast. This is, as Rin would say, Misha at her most Misha-y. Great right? Not in the context of a larger piece that's mostly inner monologue, a piece that has the reader not only relying on her to dispense her thoughts but also the substance of the scene. There needs to be a balance between characterization and prose. However here and in other parts of the piece I'll point out, it seems you're trying to just split the difference, keeping most of the prose in a state while having bright flashes of Misha's personality come up seemingly at random. It feels awkward, like suddenly I'm going from classroom lecture to broadway opening number. It not as extreme as that here but it feels that way just from whiplash. It makes me as a reader ask "why the hell isn't the story written like this?" I wouldn't want it to be because that'd be hell but I'm still asking that question.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
It worked?! Alright~! Life is kinda cool sometimes…
Especially when you have parts like these that do feel like they fit the character and don't immediately draw comparison to the rest of the writing.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
Shicchan then walks around the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’ before her so that she can make eye contact with Hideaki.


There's... not really a joke here. There feels like it should but instead we have a sentence that just interrupts itself to say a proper noun that resembles the image in the reader's head, ruining the flow. ."-walks around her own learning tower of Hideki before-" This is how I would write that sentence. You could say the joke is dumber, I certainly fucking agree, but it feels more in character for silly name-giver-outer Misha and it doesn't have two of " that act like brake pads for the reader's eyeballs
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
Goodness… Are my questioning expressions that easy to interpret? It’s either that or the previous one-thousand student councils also imbued her with mind-reading powers.

Actually, it would explain quite a few things if that were true.


Nothing to add here, I just like how this has been building up since the beginning and was paid off here. Made me do the large exhale through nose.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
As the tower of books tilts and sways with the unpredictability of the waves, Hideaki moves along with it to try and keep himself positioned directly under the wave, lest it come crashing down on him.
The main thing here is the double use of the word wave. You have the first time being plural, describing what Hideaki is actively dealing with, the wobbles of the book stack. However, right afterwards you use the same in the singular form which is just odd-sounding and repetitive. Bad flow. Unreadable.Illegible. Eye-souring. Pupil-bursting. Other words to drive the exaggerated point home.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
Wait. Hideaki has blue eyes~?! I never noticed before…
...wait what? The in-game sprite of Hideaki has big a fuck eyes. Was that an actual detail that I just missed or forgot about? Either way, still a weird line considering the shared history. I don't buy it either way.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
He’s kind of cute when he puffs his cheeks out like that—it reminds me of his big sister.
Okay, thing I'm noticing in your writing. It's very dink and dunk to borrow a football term. In sport that means short passes and quick plays. Here it's short sentences that, when not short in total length, break themselves up with interrupting thoughts through your use of hyphens. It's one I'm not used to so I won't comment much on it now until I see more of your work but in this instance I would this is where your style could falter. In a paragraph that already has you using this technique once and twice more in the paragraph right after, a period would just be fine here. It's a thought that is best emphasized with a clear break. A hyphen is usually good for that but the way you have constantly used it here has taught me as a reader to read in an almost staccato flow, to have it signal when I'm going to be rushing into another, vaguely unrelated thought. However the thoughts here are clearly related, they build to one another in fact. Breaking it with a hyphen does nothing for you while a period would be more impactful. It's a small moment here but could certainly hamper other emotional moments in the future.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
One would think that it’d be pretty hard for me to miss the posters, considering that they’re everywhere, but also because most of them have little faces of me and the rest of the student council drawn on them. If I ever wanted to test out my inner-archeologist, I could probably use my various hairstyles to chronologically date each poster. I mean, some of them even have my old brown hair~! Some of them even have Lilly in them~! Some of them… were clearly drawn by me. Shicchan may value my handwriting almost as much as her own—which I take as a major compliment—but I’m no artist. My poster drawings kind of stick out like a sore thumb.
And to probably make yourself and myself feel better, I really like this paragraph. The way it demonstrates the effect of Shizune running everyone out of the student council, the way Misha doesn't spend the time to mourn the loss of her friends but instead chides herself for not being better for Shizune. Probably not intentional but the best writing rarely is.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
She looks… uncharacteristically relaxed. A drop of sunshine must have fallen into her coffee this morning.
...
I have to stifle a laugh at Yuuko’s misinterpretation. It looks like the sunshine has worn off; I’d better not do anything to unnerve her any further.
I don't know If this italicized thought was really with the payoff. Like I don't see why this couldn't have been included in the paragraph before as normal with it trailing off. Even then it's corny which of course fits Misha's MO for sure and I'd accept it at that face value but you have then the lines soon after it all kinda... feel weak. It's unneeded, not very clever, and doesn't do much to characterize anyone I feel. Just kinda lame.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
Shicchan, on the other hand, violently, silently snickers—causing Yuuko to retreat further and further behind her desk.
Very awkward sentence with the back to back rhyming and three stops in a sentence that just has 18 words. 18/3 is 6 so that means I have just realized I don't know how to pay off this setup because I have no idea how to creatively use stats but just know that it feels wrong in my brain and out my mouth.
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
I want to shoo them off; I want to tell them that it’s a weekend, that there is no show today, but given the bother it must have been to come here on a windy day like this, something must have brought them.

What do they expect to see?
I... don't know what to say about this bird thing. I mean technically it was built up well and has a reasonable payoff, all without horrendously hampering the flow of the story. So in that aspect it's good but reading it out again I can't but feel like it's a little thin. There isn't much being done with it as we don't the presence of birds to tell us something is going down, the complete attitude shift of Shizune should be sign enough. I doubt the birds are gonna catch anyone up who managed to miss that. And it's not a little detail that just adds to the scene in the background as it's pointed out literally on the way to the main scene. It makes me ask the question of why it was even included to begin with. Mind you, I realize that it's mostly harmless to the piece as a whole, it's just I subscribe to the idea of making every sentence count for something more. If you can't, chuck it.

And finally... I am very impressed with the conclusion of the piece. And not just because I helped you write it XD. In case anyone cares I was basically a punch-up guy, the spectacular build-up since the beginning that I had almost forgotten about was all Chatty. I had other lines in mind that I could bring up and make a fuss about but they straddle the line between bad form and style too closely for me to make a call. I only tried to bring up points that struck me during my initial reading or could be a point of consideration later for you Chatty. But overall, I think this is a really good piece. And I can't wait to see more from you dude. I hope you feel like you've gotten a full taste of the insomnia ridden Brister experience. Hope to do this again.

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Re: Chatty's One-Off Collection (January 11th, 2021 — The Learned Fool)

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Sun Jan 24, 2021 3:52 am

Greetings brythain, MexicanPsychopath, and BristerXD,

Thank you all for reading my story! I really appreciated seeing and reading your comments. My apologies for not saying anything for so long. I've been working away at my Secret Santa submission. Now that I have some free time on my hands, I thought that now would be a good time to make a response.

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brythain wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 10:42 am
Very amusing, enjoyable Hideaki story. Breezy and light!
Hearing that is a huge relief. I was intending for this story to be "breezy" and "light," so I'm glad that it worked for you in that regard. Thanks for reading!

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MexicanPsychopath wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 2:02 pm
Congratulations on your first creative post Wheeler! After you told me on the MS discord that you were working on a creative piece to post on the forums, I was checking the Renai each day to see if it was finished. Having read it, I can definitely say I was not disappointed! I hope to see more from you soon!
I'm flattered that you were looking forward to reading, and I'm glad that I didn't disappoint. It feels good to finally have something of my own finished. Thanks! :o

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BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
Mr. Gossiping Tire Guy
I'll have you know that I added that to my list. I haven't forgotten. :wink:

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BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
Welcome to the land of crippling self-standards and low audience numbers. Hope it was worth your soul.
I'm in this biz for life, baby. Couldn't be happier. 8)

——————————
BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
I get that out of the way now because now I have to do my thing. Pick apart a person’s writing style and structure in the hopes of illuminating them to things they might have missed or not realized...That may be 27.8% true but that last thing I want to come off as is discouraging...
Of course! I didn't feel discouraged at all when reading your comment. I was really thrilled that you were paying such close attention, and that you provided such detailed and revealing feedback. A lot of your critiques were things that not only ring true in this piece, but also apply to all of the other writing that I do. I've taken notes from what you wrote and will be referencing them as I write future works and analyses. So I believe a big 'thank you' is in order. Thanks, my man!

Now that I've gotten my spiel out of the way. Allow me to make some comments on some of the things you mentioned!

——————————
BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
[Wait a second, Shicchan~! ‘No noise’ means that I can’t speak or sign?]

[Yes. No noise means no signing.]

[Oh~… I guess that means I’ve already lost by having to ask, huh?]

“Wahaha~!”
Alright, the first stumble is on the first hurdle XD. Just a small note here that will pay to keep in mind later I feel, know the spacing of your punchline. Brevity is the soul of wit as one old England word cuck would say. The closer you can make your setup and punchline, the better your joke will work...
Hehe, well... this wasn't actually intended to be a joke. Rather, I was trying to convey some exposition in a logical, easy-to-understand way. By having Misha sign and Shizune tell her that she's not allowed to do that, the reader learns that Misha can't sign. Misha then laughs, and Shizune tells her that she can't laugh either, teaching the reader that Misha isn't allowed to laugh either.

I will concede that the very fact that you had misinterpreted what I was going for is a failing on my part. Good writing shouldn't leave room for misinterpretation so soon after the story begins.

——————————
BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
[But once we do start, S-I-L-E-N-C-E.]
I'm pretty sure JSL doesn't have the fingerspelling this sentence kinda implies in its imagery...
Fair point. It's a point that I was aware of while writing the story. I don't know anything about Japanese Sign Language, but it's highly unlikely that it works in the way that I wrote it. In this case, I opted to sacrifice logic to make it easier for an English-speaking audience to understand. I hope it didn't cause too much frustration, because I used the same trick a couple more times later in the story. :wink:

——————————
BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
[We were going to start when he arrived, but in forty seconds, he’s going to be late.]
Simple tense mistake I only point out because you italicized the very word that would make it present tense which really ups the embarrassment factor which is why I choose to draw attention to it. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Done now, moving on.
Ugggggggggghhhhhhh. Fixed.

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BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
Even without his coat, he’s still probably too warm—if there’s one thing Shicchan abuses more than her power, it’s the heater in the student council room.
What feels more solid of a case is the second part with the abusing power line. I don't think even the most salient version of Misha would make a comment like this...
I will accept and in fact retroactively agree with this criticism. I completely admit that I wrote this line because I thought it sounded neat. I sort of rationalized it in my mind at the time as Misha saying it with a degree of tongue-in-cheek. You've pointed out that this issue creeps up again at other points in this story, but I think this is where the problem is most notable. Duly noted.

——————————
BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
That was pretty clever, Shicchan. You thought I was going to fall for that and lose the challenge right out of the gate, didn’t you~? It almost makes me want to congratulate you on your ingenuity, but while this challenge is still on, that’s not happening.
There needs to be a balance between characterization and prose. However here and in other parts of the piece I'll point out, it seems you're trying to just split the difference, keeping most of the prose in a state while having bright flashes of Misha's personality come up seemingly at random.
This right here is the piece of criticism that I appreciate the most out of your entire comment. Not only is it a recurring issue in this story, as you've mentioned, but it's a problem with my writing style as a whole. I will be paying careful attention to this feedback as I continue to write.

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BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
As the tower of books tilts and sways with the unpredictability of the waves, Hideaki moves along with it to try and keep himself positioned directly under the wave, lest it come crashing down on him.
The main thing here is the double use of the word wave. You have the first time being plural, describing what Hideaki is actively dealing with, the wobbles of the book stack. However, right afterwards you use the same in the singular form which is just odd-sounding and repetitive. Bad flow. Unreadable.Illegible. Eye-souring. Pupil-bursting. Other words to drive the exaggerated point home.
Oof. Yeah. You got me. That sentence kind of sucks. I should have changed the second "wave" to "stack," to alleviate the confusion. I might even go in and make that change when nobody is looking.

——————————
BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
He’s kind of cute when he puffs his cheeks out like that—it reminds me of his big sister.
Okay, thing I'm noticing in your writing. It's very dink and dunk to borrow a football term. In sport that means short passes and quick plays. Here it's short sentences that, when not short in total length, break themselves up with interrupting thoughts through your use of hyphens.
This is another piece of criticism that I seriously appreciate and will keep in mind while writing in the future. I've said this before, but I love em-dashes and hyphens. Perhaps... I love them a little too much. I definitely understand your point about how abundantly using them creates a choppy feeling when writing. I'll watch out for this as I keep on writing in the future!

——————————
BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
Shicchan, on the other hand, violently, silently snickers—causing Yuuko to retreat further and further behind her desk.
Very awkward sentence with the back to back rhyming and three stops in a sentence that just has 18 words. 18/3 is 6 so that means I have just realized I don't know how to pay off this setup because I have no idea how to creatively use stats but just know that it feels wrong in my brain and out my mouth.
Yeah... Big mistake on my part. So many choppy pauses and an inappropriately placed rhyme make that sentence a real clunker, doesn't it? :lol:

——————————
BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
Chatty Wheeler wrote:
Mon Jan 11, 2021 4:20 am
I want to shoo them off; I want to tell them that it’s a weekend, that there is no show today, but given the bother it must have been to come here on a windy day like this, something must have brought them.

What do they expect to see?
I... don't know what to say about this bird thing. I mean technically it was built up well and has a reasonable payoff, all without horrendously hampering the flow of the story. So in that aspect it's good but reading it out again I can't but feel like it's a little thin. There isn't much being done with it as we don't the presence of birds to tell us something is going down, the complete attitude shift of Shizune should be sign enough. I doubt the birds are gonna catch anyone up who managed to miss that... it's just I subscribe to the idea of making every sentence count for something more. If you can't, chuck it.
I'm glad you brought this up because this is something I'll need to work on while writing. I don't know if this is going to make me sound like a pretentious smarty-pants, but I sometimes get nervous about whether or not the reader will "get" all of the stuff that I'm writing. Sometimes I have to remind myself that everyone that I know on these forums is smarter than me, and that they can handle context clues without me needing to add extra symbolism to explain what's about to happen. As I continue to write, I imagine that I'll get better at gauging how the reader takes in information, and hopefully this kind of problem won't arise again. Thanks!

——————————
BristerXD wrote:
Fri Jan 15, 2021 9:13 pm
And finally... I am very impressed with the conclusion of the piece...

And I can't wait to see more from you dude. I hope you feel like you've gotten a full taste of the insomnia ridden Brister experience. Hope to do this again.
I am so relieved to hear that the ending worked for you. If nothing else, I wanted the reader to enjoy the payoff of that ending.

The insomnia-ridden Brister experience was pretty sweet, I'll tell ya. I hope to do this again, as well. :D

——————————

Thanks for reading, folks! Take care, everyone.

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Re: Chatty's One-Off Collection (January 11th, 2021 — The Learned Fool)

Post by brythain » Sun Jan 24, 2021 8:47 am

Sometimes I have to remind myself that everyone that I know on these forums is smarter than me, and that they can handle context clues without me needing to add extra symbolism to explain what's about to happen.
Neither of these clauses is always true—sometimes the rest of us have moments or periods of cluelessness. It's okay to gild the lily (ha ha) once in a while. It's possible to be so obscure as to not get your story beats or points across; it's also possible to be allusive to the point of being elusive. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Chatty's One-Off Collection (January 11th, 2021 — The Learned Fool)

Post by NuclearStudent » Mon Jan 25, 2021 6:03 am

Being clear is important; being comprehensible is overrated.
Feurox: it is extremely difficult to tell whether you're echoing some very interesting sentiments or if you're just attempting to be trite or funny

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Cats and Dogs, Snowflakes and Stars (Part 1)

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:48 pm

“Cats and Dogs, Snowflakes and Stars”

Writing: Chatty Wheeler
Proofreading: MexicanPsychopath

———————————————

Contrary to the widespread myth, it is unlikely that every snowflake is unique. That doesn’t mean they’re all identical, but it’s within reason to believe that a good many are alike. After all, an average of one million billion snowflakes fall on Earth each second.

I’m snapped out of my thoughts by the gentle flick of a snowflake falling on the tip of my upper lip. The touch of its icicle fingers sends a ripple of gooseflesh across my skin. I bury my lips into my scarf to stave off the tingling sensation. My toes are burning.

Even without the liberty of sight, I never fail to sense when fresh snow has adorned the Yamaku campus. The frigid bite of the cold and the hushed soundscape of my surroundings are the only clues that I need.

They say that the porous composition of surface snow absorbs sound waves like a sponge. It is for that reason that snowfall brings a quiet peacefulness to every town, city, or rooftop that it covers.

Alas, the atmosphere of this particular rooftop is anything but peaceful—even if it is mostly quiet up here. I can faintly make out the momentary squawking of birds and the occasional purr of airplanes passing overhead, but even they seem meager in comparison to the volatile presence standing right in front of me. Volatile yet silent for the time being.

“How does it fit, Rin?”

All I get in response is the sound of clothes ruffling.

Is that supposed to be a shrug? Has she forgotten about my blindness?

...Or has she not finished putting them on yet? I can only imagine the challenge it must be to put on clothes without arms. I’ll assume that she needs more time.

In a last moment gut call, I decided not to offer my assistance as Rin tried putting them on. I’ve never worn overalls before, so I thought that I’d be more hindrance than help.

“Rin? How is it?”

Yet again, I’m met with silence. At this point, I’m silently praying that she’s at least thinking of a verbal response. Maybe if I put my ear up to her forehead, I’ll hear some cogs turning inside. Perhaps they’re jammed right now?

Finally, I hear her breathe in.

“It feels like that feeling you feel when you’re inside of a vacuum cleaner. Like, when all the bits of dust and hair are floating around in a giant clutter—sort of like intestines.”

...Huh?

If this were any other girl, I would playfully ask if she were reciting the words of a creative mind like Shakespeare. This is Rin, though—totally uninfluenced by anyone in the world except herself. If she were a fish in a pond full of bait, she’d probably ignore it all and bite at her own tail instead.

At least with Shakespeare, I can read a textbook to find out the hidden meanings of his works. With Rin, there is no answer key at the end of the book. All I can do is sheepishly admit defeat.

“I-I’m afraid that I don’t quite understand, Rin.”

“That’s okay, I just came up with a better way of putting it... I feel like a thick sheet of flat cardboard being folded in half over and over again. Each fold goes in a new direction until I’ve taken on a completely new form. But no matter how far my cardboard joints bend, they always have the urge to unfold until I’ve reverted to being a flat sheet.”

That doesn’t help me in the slightest, Rin.

It’s during moments like these when I rue my lack of eyesight. I’m completely barred from getting a read on Rin’s facial expression. The pitch of her voice seldom has any more range than that of a grumbling toad, but I sometimes wonder if it's all a mask. I wouldn't be surprised if her deadpan manner of speech were a mechanism to stifle laughter. I mean, she'd have to be a rock to not realize how silly she makes people feel when they try talking to her. Perhaps seeing her face would clue me in to some answers, even if Emi did say that Rin’s facial expressions are usually rather... unreadable.

Desperate to come up with some kind of reply to her statement, I latch onto the first thing that comes to mind.

“Okay... So, you feel... folded? Like origami?”

“Maybe.”

Without thinking I let out a somewhat frustrated sigh.

“Maybe?”

I hear another sound of clothes ruffling.

Is that supposed to be another shrug? Could it be that she’s mocking my blindness, now?

I find myself clenching my fists to stave off my frustration, but I still end up hearing some of it creep out of my voice.

“Rin. Please tell me simply whether or not you like the pair of overalls that I gave to you.”

There’s silence on both ends. For once, Rin breaks it.

“You’re upset, aren’t you.”

“I-I’m not upset. It’s just... Would you happen to recall that I’m blind?”

“Yes.”

“Then why do you keep-”

I cut myself off and take a deep breath.

Easy, Lilly. Now’s not the time to lose your composure.

“What is your opinion on the overalls?”

“...I don’t know if I could wear this, to be honest. The fabric is a little too heavy and too rough. The size doesn’t really fit me, either.”

Half of me wants to be honest.

‘I wish you hadn’t arrived half an hour late and left me freezing in the snow just to hear that three-sentence answer.’

Luckily, my smarter half knows better than to say that. I quickly try to formulate a more polite response but end up stuttering my way to safety.

“That’s... I mean... Well... You don’t like denim fabric?”

I hear another sound of clothes ruffling, this time a little slower and quieter.

At a complete loss of what to do, a defeated sigh escapes out my nose. My scarf catches some of the air and redirects it into my neck, sending a shiver down my body. I clear my throat, partly to warm my neck back up, and partly to get Rin’s attention.

“My apologies, Rin. My intention was that they could assist you with your painting. You know, to protect your uniform from getting paint on it?”

Rin seems to ponder this for a moment.

“I’d need a pair that fits me better. If I wore the one you gave me, paint would be able to drip through the loose parts. I’d rather skip all the hassle of getting myself a replacement male uniform. It was hard enough the first time.”

“If I might ask, which parts aren’t fitting correctly?”

As if those words were lit sticks of dynamite dropped on the side of a snowy mountain, I hear the sound of what might be an oncoming avalanche. It starts out soft, but the sound of crunching grows and grows until it finally hits me.

Is she-? Did she seriously start running in place? Perhaps the cold finally got to her...

“Spinniiiiiiiing...”

...Or perhaps she got bored and started spinning around in place. Or perhaps she’s planning to spin until she flies away like a helicopter. Or perhaps she’s not spinning at all, and it’s just my head that’s spinning.

Before I can even humor the idea of sneaking off while she’s distracted, the crunching ceases.

Rin lets out a low chuckle. The way her voice flutters when she laughs reminds me of the laugh that Akira has when she’s had a lot to drink.

It also sounds quite similar to the laugh of my father.

Before I can get sucked down that tunnel of thought any further, Rin yanks me back out with the sound of her voice.

“The legs are a little too loose and about ten centimeters short. Also, I don’t have hourglass hips. I have regular hips. Regular hips are not as wide as hourglass hips. I’m not an hourglass.”

Oh, she must have been spinning to get a feel for the overalls in motion...

“Everything else feels alright, though. The arms and chest feel good when I move them. If you picked these overalls just by guessing my measurements, you did well—considering that you’ve never... seen me before.”

She says that last bit in a tone that I can only imagine means that she’s scrunching up her face.

“How did you guess my measurements? Are you like a dolphin? Can you see with your ears? Did you teach yourself how to echolocate when you lost your eyesight? Is there a class that blind people can take that teaches them how to do that?”

I take a deep breath, making a conscious effort to breathe slowly and gently. I have to keep myself breathing, or else the steam might come out of my ears instead. I would prefer that Rin doesn’t see that.

“I’m afraid that you’re giving me far too much credit. Truth be told, I had a little help with deciding the measurements.”
Last edited by Chatty Wheeler on Fri Feb 05, 2021 4:46 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Cats and Dogs, Snowflakes and Stars (Part 2)

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:50 pm

“Hello, hello there, Lilly!”

I needn’t think twice to identify the owner of that voice. I’d recognize her tea kettle tone from anywhere.

“Welcome, Emi. I’m glad that you could join me today. Please have a seat.”

I motion for her to sit across from me at the table. No sooner had I done so than I'm struck by how similar this all feels to when I first invited Hanako to join me for tea.

It was a frigid morning like this one, possibly even colder. At the time, there were no tables for us to use—they were all taken away when the room first went unused. Hanako surprised me some weeks later by finding a spare tucked away in the old storage room. Before then, Hanako and I made our tea on the counter and sat in the few chairs that had graciously been left behind.

It didn't take long for us to settle into a routine. Hanako had her chair, and I had my chair. We never swapped because there was no need to. My chair was comfortable, as was Hanako's, although hers was known to make noise from time to time. When she grew weary or anxious—particularly during our chess matches—she would idly lean back and forth in her chair, causing it to creak and croak. Whereas Hanako didn't seem to notice the noise, I actually came to appreciate the noise. I could always count on it to remind me that Hanako was still there.

I hear a dull plop on the ground next to Hanako’s chair—now Emi's chair.

Probably her backpack.

Unexpectedly, I hear another plop from the same spot. This time, the noise sounds like it was made by a beanbag rather than a backpack.

Her... track bag?

Finally, I hear a third plop directly across from me. Within moments, I hear the typical metallic creaking sound ooze from the chair, but it’s mixed in with another unexpected sound. It starts as a fatigued groan and ends as a relaxed sigh.

“Goodness. You didn’t come straight here after a run, did you?”

Emi’s breath catches before giggling shortly after.

“I did! Don’t fret though, it's for the best. If I hadn’t warmed up the blood a little beforehand, the brain might have walked in here still half asleep! That’d be no good, would it?”

Emi’s amusing display of optimism makes me giggle. We need more people in the world with her spirit.

“Not to mention I’d be breaking my training routine, which is even worse.”

“I’ll consider myself lucky, then. I get to speak with Emi in her prime.”

I give Emi a playful wink and she laughs.

“Finally! I’m glad that I’m speaking to someone who gets it!”

“Oh? Are you saying that some don’t?”

“Well... nobody here thinks that way, but my mother on the other hand... I think she’s just jealous that she can never beat her daughter out of the house each morning.”

We both chuckle before Emi speaks up again.

“Oh! Is this cup of tea for me?”

“My, my, you didn’t think that I’d forget my promise, did you?”

Emi giggles.

“Of course not, that was just... a test!”

Before I have the chance to tease her about how her lying needs work, Emi cuts me off by taking a long sip from her teacup. This must be a signal that she wants to move on to a new subject. I decide to take the hint.

“Well, I shan’t keep you in suspense any longer. I asked you to meet me here today to ask you for some help.”

Emi chokes on her tea, the theatricality of which making me laugh a little.

You’re asking me for help?”

“Why yes, Emi.”

Emi goes quiet for an uncharacteristically long period of time. Even though it just barely scrapes ten seconds, that's an hour in dog-years, and a decade in Emi-years.

“Well, as long as it’s not help with English homework...”

I giggle.

“<Don’t worry, I’m already quite proficient at English.>” I cheekily reply in English. For safety, I shake my head to make it clear that I have no intention of asking for her help with English.

“Meanie.”

We both laugh. Emi laughs even louder than I do, much to my relief. I’m thankful that my little gamble at some light humor paid off, considering how unsure I am of how she’ll react to what I’m about to ask her for help with.

After we've reigned in the laughter, Emi speaks once again.

“So, how can I help you, Lilly?”

I take a deep breath, blink twice, and part my lips.

“I pulled Rin’s name.”

“...You what? Pulled... Rin’s...”

Emi suddenly gasps.

“Wait! You don’t mean...?”

I awkwardly giggle at her shock.

“That’s right. I’m Rin’s secret Santa.”

Emi takes a giant breath, probably filling her lungs with half of the oxygen in the room. What follows is a mixture between a cackling hyena and a deflating helium balloon. In between a couple of bursts of laughter, I think I can make out a sentence.

“How wonderfully terrible!”

That’s... a rather blunt way of putting it.

As if someone had pulled the plug on Emi's power supply, her laughter abruptly cuts off.

“Oh! I meant no offense... but... you know... Like, what are the chances that you picked her name out of all the girls in the female dorms?”

I wave my hand to coil her fears.

“None taken. It does seem like a rather...”

I scramble to think of a word that politely masks the fact that I agree with every word of her previous statement. I also can not believe that I've been saddled with picking a gift for Rin of all people.

“...unconstructive pairing, doesn’t it?”

“Which is why you called me here, I bet! You want me to give you some gift advice, right?”

“That’s... spot on. I guess I’m an open book if my intentions were that easy to guess.”

Emi begins tapping her feet with excitement. Her chair creaks and croaks in its effort to contain her radiant enthusiasm.

“Ha! Well now, I am the bona fide clairvoyant of Yamaku, so don’t undersell yourself.”

At first, I feel the urge to compliment Emi's impressive display of vocabulary. That is, until I remember that clairvoyants don't read minds in the way that she was implying they do. Instead, I just smile and laugh.

“It would seem that I have nothing to fear, then. Thank you for lending me your spiritual might, Miss Ibarazaki.”

I set down my teacup with a clink and do a little bow, causing Emi to giggle in response.

“Anyway, what’ve you got in the idea bank so far, Lilly? Any winners?!”

Oh, I wasn’t expecting her to flip that question back on me so soon. I was hoping that she might have some ideas herself, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to show her where my head is at beforehand.

“Well, it’s too early to crown any ‘winning’ ideas at this time, but the current frontrunner is to give her a pair of overalls.”

“Overalls...? You’re getting her overalls?”

Emi speaks with not one iota of the chipperness that she had moments ago; now all I hear is sheer confusion. The stark contrast is enough to briefly send me into a rolling giggle, but I quickly regain my composure.

“A pair of overalls does sound like a strange idea for a gift, doesn’t it? My foremost thought was to give her an artist apron. After all, she is a painter.”

Emi hums in understanding, which brings me more solace than she knows, even if she's the mind-reader she claims to be. Either way, I can tell that she thinks I have more to say, which I do.

“However, I’ve been told that Rin holds her paintbrush with her toes. Of course, a normal apron doesn’t reach down to that far, so it wouldn’t do her any good in the name of keeping the paint off. On the other hand, a pair of overalls would cover her legs quite well. What do you think?”

I hear Emi quickly breathe in as if she were about to speak, but no voice comes out. Instead, she slowly lets the breath back out until her lungs have emptied.

Is she thinking?

With no further warning given, Emi speaks.

“I think it’s a good idea, and you’ve clearly thought carefully about it... but do you think that’s what Rin really wants?”

I softly sigh.

Of course, I’m disappointed to hear Emi say that, but it would be wrong of me to complain. At the end of the day, voicing her opinion is the reason that I brought her here.

“I guess I don’t know, Emi. I don’t really know much about what goes on in her head. She’s... I must confess, a puzzle that I don’t have all the pieces to solve. I figured that getting her a present related to something I do know she enjoys would be the safest bet.”

Immediately after that last word leaves my lips, I chuckle, remembering who it is that’s sitting in front of me.

“Perhaps... you might be able to provide me with some of those ‘puzzle pieces,’ if you will. After all, you two probably know everything about each other, don’t you?”

Emi lightly giggles.

“I don’t know if I can live up to that, but I’ll certainly try! Go ahead and ask me anything you think will help you out.”

With an offer as unspecific as that, my mind initially stalls at coming up with an appropriate response. After a few more seconds of internal struggle, I decide to respond with an equally unspecific question.

“Well, what do you and Rin like to do during the holidays?”

“Us...? Well, sometimes we cook and eat together, and then we... just... talk.”

That doesn’t really help me, so I take another swing.

“Do you do anything after talking?”

“Not really, I think she just enjoys conversation.”

Realizing that we’ve hit a dead-end, a deflated sigh escapes through my nose. Perhaps I can salvage the mood with some humor.

“Well, I can’t exactly wrap ‘conversation’ in a box and give it to her as a present, can I?”

I giggle, fully expecting Emi to laugh along with me.

She doesn't, and I quickly realize that she isn't going to. Without delay, I desperately contort my body in a way that jams any further laughter back down my throat.

The following silence leaves me feeling completely exposed and disoriented. In a sense, it's not far removed from when I said goodbye to my parents for the last time in person. When I boarded the plane and realized that I had failed to pack my cane, I wept. I still don’t know why I wept that day, as I had plenty of spare canes back home, but I do know that I haven’t cried like that since. Akira held my hand for the entire flight.

Thankfully, Emi breaks us out of our silence and breaks me out of my reverie.

“I guess that’s true... Yeah, you’re probably right. Yeah, you’re right!”

Emi lets out a cheerful laugh. It's so overly cheery that even a certain pink-haired drill-loving student council representative would blush upon hearing it.

“Oh, yeah! Lilly, I should probably let you in on a little something before I forget. If you’re going to be giving Rin clothing, I would recommend going somewhere private when you give it to her. She’ll probably want to try it on right then and there, and... well, you can imagine how revealing that might be for someone without arms.”

Without thinking, I furrow my eyebrows and tighten my lips.

“I’m afraid I don’t follow. Could you elaborate?”

Emi awkwardly giggles.

“Well... have you ever wondered why she wears pants instead of a skirt?”

Before I can even ask, ‘Rin wears pants instead of a skirt?’ the implication hits me, and I awkwardly stutter out a new response.

“Oh... Duly noted. Thank you, I... I think I’ll have her try it on in my room then.”

On second thought, I don’t know if I really want Rin in my room. Emi seems to think that too and jumps in.

“Actually, why don’t you bring her to the roof of the main building? Hardly anyone goes up there, and most students are gone during the break anyway!”

“That sounds like a lovely idea, and I’m glad you mentioned the break. Would you happen to know if Rin will be leaving for the holidays?”

“Nope! Wait- I mean yes! I mean- she- she told me that she’ll be here all break...! You know what I mean.”

The two of us chuckle at Emi’s hard-fought logic battle.

I think everyone’s been there.

“As will I, so that should cast away any chance of scheduling conflicts arising.”

“Yup!”

As it seems that we’ve hit a natural break in our conversation, I take this opportunity to drink my tea. Emi follows my lead.

Within moments, a nebulous urge passively enters into my mind. It tells me to ask Emi a question, and it does so with the gentle massaging touch that the ripples of my tea graze my lips with.

Are my hands shaking?

I try to think of something else to say to Emi, but by now my mind has been wholly engulfed by the question—preventing me from thinking of anything else. Curiosity has gotten the best of me.

“Emi... how will I know if Rin likes what I got her? You said you’ve cooked with her before, didn’t you? Were you able to tell if she was enjoying herself? I won’t be able to see her smile or see her eyes light up when I give her my gift... How do you do it...? How do you figure her out?

Emi is silent for a second before responding.

“Uh... Which question do you want me to answer?”

“Right, sorry... Let’s start with the first one.”

Emi lets out a long, steady exhale, kind of like how Akira used to do it when she still smoked.

“Well... Actually, I think it’d be best if we started with that last question. Rin isn’t really the type of person you ‘figure out,’ per se, but it is possible to feel her out... You should already be quite good at that, right? You know... feeling things out?”

I timidly chuckle to hide my confusion while Emi continues.

“I tell you all that because you’re probably not going to get the direct answer that you’re looking for. She’s probably not going to tell you outright if she’s feeling happy. Believe me, I’ve tried to wheedle those words out of her on many occasions. All you can really do is... feel her out...”

...Huh.

“Also, don’t worry about not seeing her facial expressions. Even if you could see her face, you wouldn’t get much from it.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Emi clears her throat and her voice drops from whistling tea kettle to husky motor hum.

“A cat’s purr is honest, a dog’s tail wag is real, but with a human smile, the deepest truths it can conceal.”

“...Is that Shakespeare?”

“No, that’s Ibarazaki.”

The two of us laugh, and I no longer care that I didn’t find an answer to my questions.

Surprisingly, Emi coils her laughter before I do, and uses the chance to take a long sip of her tea.

I hear a satisfied sigh followed by the loud clink of her teacup being set on its saucer. It's a certain declaration that Emi has finished off the rest of her tea.

Sure enough, I hear two clicks on the ground followed by the screech of her chair being scooted backward.

“I think I’d better get going now, Lilly. The bell’s going to ring soon.”

We both stand up out of our chairs.

“Of course. Thank you for taking the time to come by and treat me to a sample of your clairvoyance skills. What do I owe you for your services?”

Thankfully picking up on my joke, Emi laughs.

“It’s on the house today. After all, I know that I wasn’t really much help. I guess my skills are going through one of their rusty phases right now.”

She pauses for a second before tentatively starting again.

“You know... when I find myself going through these kinds of rusty phases, it’s usually easier for me to go and... find the puzzle pieces that I’m looking for myself—if you catch my drift. Kapeesh?”

“Oh! Um... Kaposh?”

I don’t really get it...

“Nice. I’ll catch you later, Lilly! Thanks for the tea, it was deeeelicious!”

Bless your heart, Emi. Your gusto is a gift from the universe.

“My pleasure. Have a nice day.”

I begin to hear Emi’s heel-heavy footsteps move toward the door, but just before she reaches the doorway, I suddenly remember something.

“Oh! Emi, please wait!”

Emi twirls around, producing an awful screeching sound on the tile floor.

“Yes?”

“Goodness me, I almost forget to mention the main reason I brought you here. What are Rin’s measurements?”
Last edited by Chatty Wheeler on Sun Jan 31, 2021 11:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Chatty Wheeler
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Cats and Dogs, Snowflakes and Stars (Part 3)

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:51 pm

“Heh. I wouldn’t be surprised if she made those numbers up on a whim. I don’t know if she told you, but she’s never actually taken my measurements.”

“Oh... I wonder what led her to pick those numbers specifically, then.”

Rin chortles in a stop-start manner like she has an unchewed grape stuck in her throat.

“Maybe she’s trying to enact her revenge on me for the time that I accidentally spilled hot sauce on her lunch when she wasn't looking. I tried to tell her that if she had just paced herself while eating, the spice wouldn’t have hit her all at once.”

“You think she wants revenge for something so unrelated?”

I hear the sound of clothes ruffling.

“She must have known that I wouldn’t be expecting it so close to the holidays. Ever the clever, that Ibarazaki is.”

“Well, maybe she didn’t know your measurements either and was just trying to go off of your appearance. That’s why I needed her help, after all.”

Rin says nothing in response. I think for a moment that my logic might be winning her over enough to take me seriously. That elated feeling is short-lived though, as my hopes are promptly dashed.

“Have you ever thought to yourself that the toes of cats look like little jelly beans?”

Good grief. Is it too much to ask for us to stay on topic for one minute?

Every time we speak, it feels like a treadmill materializes under my feet, and its control panel materializes under Rin’s.

“I wouldn’t exactly know what it looks like, Rin.”

Rin continues, somehow missing the obvious hint that I dropped in that last sentence.

“Well, I had a cat, and I thought that her toes looked like jelly beans. I wonder if that’s why cats lick themselves so much. Maybe their toes taste like jelly beans and their fur tastes like cotton candy. Would different colored fur and different colored toes taste differently? I thought about licking my cat and my neighbor’s cat to see if they tasted different, but I didn’t end up doing it... I was too afraid of the answer that I might have gotten.”

I don’t even try to hide my grimace from her. I think I’m doing her a social favor by clueing her into how weird she sounds right now. Maybe she’ll know now not to bring this up during a job interview.

Eager to steer the conversation back to normalcy, I backtrack a little.

“I’ve never really been around cats. I’m allergic. If I pet one for too long, my eyes water.”

“I understand how you feel. I couldn’t pet my cat either, of course, so we usually just nudged our faces together...”

That’s weird.

“...Either that or I laid down and let her clean my hair for me.”

That’s even weirder.

“Didn’t your eyes ever water, Rin?”

I hear clothes rustling.

“No, but I don’t have allergies... I think.”

“...That’s not what I meant. Cats usually get quite dirty, don’t they?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well... I’ve heard that they lay on the floor most of the day. Wouldn’t it be strange if someone like me laid on the floor all day? I think that I’d end up quite dirty by doing that habitually.”

“So...”

“If you rub your face on the cat, wouldn’t the dirt get all over your face and make your eyes water? Isn’t that how people end up getting pimples?”

“I don’t think-”

Rin’s unusually emotional voice abruptly cuts off. I hear her walk a few paces side to side before ending up in her original spot. She takes a long breath through clenched teeth, creating a hissing sound.

Am I finally getting through to her?

That’s what I think to myself for a few moments, but when Rin speaks again, she’s reverted to her normal, apathetic-sounding demeanor.

“Pimples aren’t as bad as people say. I fell asleep by a tree stump a while ago, and while I slept, I dreamt that I was sitting at the base of a larger tree. This one wasn’t chopped down. It told me that dreams are stored in pimples and that I shouldn’t pop them. People who spend all day popping them don’t get anything done. When I woke up, I felt lucky that I didn’t have arms: I can’t pop my pimples even if I’m tempted to.”

I think I identified... one useful sentence in there, but the rest had me wishing for us to go back to talking about silly revenge plots. At least I can disprove those.

Rather than trying to follow up on that excessively outlandish monologue, I take a stab in the dark.

“Snowflakes are lovely, aren’t they?”

I hear a rather lethargic rendition of the sound of clothes ruffling.

“I think that they are very sad.”

“Oh? Do you really think that way?”

“...I’ve thought that way a long time.”

Rin breathes in deeply. Her lungs are probably shivering in discomfort at the volume of cold air she’s intaking.

“Do you think that snowflakes want to become stars?”

I can’t decipher whether the question is rhetorical or not, so I opt to remain quiet and let her continue.

“Stars are five-sided, meaning that they have five fingers. Snowflakes are six-sided, meaning that they have an extra finger. That’s not good. That’s very not good. People with five fingers are normal, but people with six fingers are freaks...

“I don’t think that snowflakes want to be freaks, so if they broke one of their fingers off, would that make them a star...? Sometimes I feel like everyone who wants to become a star needs to break a piece of themself off...

“What would you do, Lilly? If you were born with six fingers, would you cut one of them off so that you could become a star?”

My mouth hangs wide open. I couldn’t care less if a bug flew in right now.

“Good Lord, Rin... I. Don’t. Know.”

With that dead-end thankfully reached, we’re plunged back into silence. However, Rin almost immediately breaks it.

“Cats aren’t as dirty as you think they are.”

“Pardon?”

“Cats may lay on the floor all day, but they clean themselves more than any other mammal in the world.”

Powerful gusts of wind are suddenly striking me from every angle. If this rooftop were the nightstand of some ancient phantom, I can only imagine that the phantom must be blindly flailing its arm across it—desperately searching for the 'snooze' button on its alarm clock.

The wind tugs on my scarf, threatening to dislodge it from its comfortable spot on my shoulders. In response, I grab hold of it and pull it tighter. It’s so tight that I can feel my lips being artificially pursed. My hands continue to pull on each end of the scarf, not letting up even after the wind dies back down.

“Rin, cats clean themselves with their tongues. Letting your cat ‘lick your hair’ is no substitute for a proper bath or shower, is it? I’d feel nothing less than repulsed if another animal licked me, without a doubt-”

“Is that so?”

Rin says that with more force and feeling than I’ve ever heard her speak with.

“Lilly, have you ever had a dog?”

“Why yes, I did once.”

“What was its name?”

“Niji was his name. He was a Golden Retriever.”

“Did you love him?”

“Of course, he and I were as close as could be.”

“But you never let him lick your face at any point, did you?”

Oh... Damn...

I let him lick my face quite a lot over the years...

“I did.”

That meek reply is all I can muster before it’s nothing but the biting quietness that exists between us.

I’m stunned. I’m absolutely stunned, and still reeling back from what just happened.

I wasn’t trying to lie to her.

I wasn’t trying to lie at all.

I wasn’t lying... I wasn’t lying...

I’m not a liar... I’m not a liar...

“Why didn’t you just come speak to me directly?”

Rin’s voice startles me out of my trance, causing my scarf to slide down my face by a hair.

“P-pardon?”

“I can tell that getting my measurements right was very important to you, so why didn’t you just come and ask me directly for them?

“...I-I didn’t want to ruin the surprise for you...”

Rin sighs with disappointment, and I lower my head.

Concealing the surprise might pass for an explanation on a surface level, but I think we both know that it’s not the true reason I didn’t go to her directly.

“You know, Rin... Somebody asked me something similar to what you just asked a long time ago...”

“Who?”

I stay silent for a while.
Last edited by Chatty Wheeler on Mon Feb 01, 2021 9:46 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Chatty Wheeler
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Cats and Dogs, Snowflakes and Stars (Part 4)

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:51 pm

I breathe in.

...

“Good morning, father! This is Lilly. I hope that you and mother are well.”

...

“It warms me to hear that. We’re doing fine here as well! Akira and I were just eating dinner; I made onigiri and noodles for the two of us.”

...

“That’s right! Akira’s been very busy with her new job, so I’ve taken over most of the cooking duties around the house. It was difficult to learn at first, but by now I know my way around the kitchen.”

...

“School has been nice. Even though it’s my first year attending Yamaku, I already feel very comfortable there. All of the students are really welcoming and kind.”

...

“I would say that the library is the highlight for me. There is a healthy selection of braille books and a decent number of audiobooks too. The librarian tells me that she hopes to see the number of audiobooks double by the time that I graduate.

...

“Yes, I admire her vitality. She’s a younger woman, I would guess in her early twenties, but she works like a windmill. After her shift at the library, she’s off to another shift elsewhere in town.”

...

“It’s funny that you should mention that... One day, she was running late for one of her other shifts, and she asked me in a hurry to take over the library for her. I guess I was the only one around to ask. She didn’t tell me when she was coming back, so I ended up staying until nighttime. Since that day, I’ve been helping out around the library quite often. I suppose you could say that I’ve become the pseudo-librarian of Yamaku Academy! Heehee~.”

...

“My, my, I was wondering when you’d bring them up. Don’t fear: my grades in each class are quite well. A couple of weeks ago, I got a perfect score on my English midterm.”

...

“Yes, thank you! My English teacher was very proud of me too.”

...

“Yes, I would say that I’m settling in just fine. My routine of classes at Yamaku, heading home, shopping for groceries, and cooking dinner is second nature by now. I hardly even need Niji around anymore for navigation, but I still like bringing him around when I have the opportunity. He’s much more lovable than a cane!”

...

“I... think that Akira is doing well at her new job. She is usually in a good mood around the house, so I can only assume everything is going fine. However, it would seem that it's somewhat difficult for her to drive me to and from school every day... We’ve even discussed having me go live in the dorms at Yamaku Academy during the school year. I don’t really know when that would be, but it might be nice. After all, it's not terribly far away from the house anyway. I could still visit Akira quite often... And speaking of visiting... That’s actually why I’m calling you today.”

...

“I was thinking... That I haven’t been with you and mother in a long while, and maybe it’d be nice to change that... That is to say, if neither of you is too busy... I wonder if it would be possible for me to come visit you during the holidays.”

...

I breathe out what feels like a liter of built-up air, but I don’t feel any less heavy. I’m stuck sitting here in my bedroom until I hear a response.

I hear footsteps slowly approach me. The tempo is metronomic in how perfectly spaced apart they are, but within moments, a new instrument joins the ensemble. It's off-tempo. It's rushing ahead of the beat. It's my heartbeat.

He halts right in front of me. I can feel the warm mist of his breath...

Then he starts licking my face.

Another liter of air comes barreling out of my chest, this time as laughter.

“Thanks, Niji. I love you, too.”

I wrap my arms around him and pull him into an embrace. His warm fur reaches into my chest and soothes my beating heart like a mother cooing her newborn to sleep.

“That one went well, didn’t it?”

I feel around for his signature cowlick, knowing that’s where his forehead is, and gently place a kiss there.

“Do you think I’m ready to call him for real?”

Incredibly, I hear a response back... but it’s not Niji’s voice that speaks.

“Lillian, you know that I’m a busy man, so if you’re going to call me, do it soon and make it quick.”

I feel my entire body tense up out of sheer embarrassment. Every square centimeter of my skin is tightening in on my body. It's much akin to how I hear boa constrictors immobilize and eventually suffocate their prey. If this sensation gets any tighter, I might burst like a balloon.

With some effort, Niji breaks free from my suddenly rigid embrace and trots over to my door.

I thought I closed that.

I hear Niji lay down with a soft thump next to the source of the voice, which by now I’ve recognized.

Come on, Lilly. Keep your head on your shoulders. Say something smart.

I swallow hard.

“Y-your impression needs some work, Akira.”

Akira laughs, reverting to her normal, gravelly voice.

“Impression? Of whom?”

She stretches out that last word long enough for it to be clear that she’s merely playing dumb. I decide to humor her to hopefully buy myself some time.

“Akira, do you think your dear father would appreciate the way you’re teasing him right now?”

“Teasing? Pffft. If he were here, he'd have been flattered by that rendition. I just wiped away fifteen years of yelling at business meetings from his larynx. Not to mention giving him the sultry voice of a dove.”

Akira proudly beats her chest, causing me to giggle.

“My, my, I didn’t know that you were so eager to flatter your way into Father’s heart. Are you trying to be Father’s little favorite?”

I say that as if there were any possibility of Akira not being Father’s favorite.

“H’yeah, and are you sure that you aren’t trying to be Mom’s little favorite with that impression you were just doing?”

“I did an impression of Mom?”

“Mm-hmm~. You sure did, and you’ve been doing so for the last hour.”

My mouth is stuck half-open—inside is a desert, outside is a blizzard. I try to think of a response jovial enough to thaw my icebound lipstick, but that doesn't seem to be possible. Even if I had Akira's wits, I'd still inevitably have to address the elephant in the room.

“My apologies, Akira. Was I being too noisy? I thought that I had closed my door.”

“Your door was closed. I opened it.”

As expected. I should’ve known that I can’t buck Akira off that easily, so why do I always find myself trying to?

Akira takes a quick breath.

“Lils, that dog is getting old, and so are you. You can’t keep practicing speeches on him for the rest of your life.”

“...I mean, I don’t exactly have many other options. It’s not like practicing this sort of thing in front of the mirror would be of much help.”

A quick laugh shoots out of Akira’s nose.

“Clever, but that’s not the point that I’m trying to make.”

“Which is...?”

I ask that purely out of courtesy and habit. Part of me wants to just cover my ears for the whole duration of whatever Akira has to say.

“Which is that not everybody in the world is like Niji... Not everybody in the world is just going to sit there, lovingly wag their tail, and then lick your anxieties away when you're done. The real world ain’t like that.”

“...Are you suggesting that I practice with you instead?”

Akira chuckles.

“I’m suggesting that you take steps outside of your bubble. They can be small steps at first, but right now, you won’t even do that much. It’s never more than a step outside before retreating back. You know, like your... thing about being allergic to cats.”

I feel my eyebrows furrow and a small groan slips out of my mouth.

“Come on, Lils. You loved them when you were a girl, but now you won’t even touch one? Saying that you’re allergic over and over again isn’t going to make it any more... any more true.”

“I’m not lying, Akira. If I pet one for too long, my eyes start to-”

“Your eyes start to water? There’s another name for that, you know...”

I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Akira’s interruption jumbles my thoughts and scatters them around like a dropped bag of marbles. As I hurriedly try to collect them, I feel myself becoming acutely conscious of the gap in clothing between Akira and me. I’m in my light pajamas, but if I know Akira, she’s probably in her nicest, proudest suit.

I don’t like the way she said that.

I immediately feel compelled to stand up, and I do so carefully—silently thanking the universe for making me tall.

“I’m not a child, Akira.”

Not even batting a vocal cord, Akira nonchalantly replies.

“You’re definitely mature for your age, but even adults can be childish.”

I remain silent, and my legs momentarily wobble. Akira presses on.

“Sometimes... a lot of times, I feel like... instead of facing the issue head-on, you tiptoe around the issue.”

“No, I don’t.”

“You’ve been doing it this entire discussion.”

This discussion has been all but a one-sided lecture up until now. Desperate to find some sort of leg to stand on, I latch on to the first words that I can throw back at her.

“Well, so have you.”

This time, we’re both silenced by my words.

Those words had a lot more sting than I wanted them to have. They might have stung me more than her. It hurts. If it would mean escaping this inescapable circumstance, I'd shed my skin and float out of my body.

Akira apologetically speaks up, tethering me back to reality for the time being.

“You’re right. Sorry.”

I hear her breathe in and clear her throat.

“Lilly, what’s kept you from speaking to him directly by now?”

“Because... I need to get ready. I... You heard me, I have a lot to say to him, so I need to... practice.”

I’ve thought those words to myself enough to etch them in my brain, I’ve recited them silently more times than I can count, but after speaking them aloud for the first time... I can’t help but question if I even believe them.

Akira breathes in deeply before exhaling—every second of it tinged with melancholy. It seems like she doesn’t believe my words any more than I do.

“If that’s the case, I think we’d better back it up a bit... Would it be okay if I asked you just one question?”

I nod after a few seconds of hesitation.

“Okay, I’ll try to make it brief... Why do you think that I came here to talk to you right now?”

I ponder her question for a long time, honestly trying to formulate an answer. Eventually, after Akira catches on to how much I’m struggling, she chimes in again.

“Okay, okay... make that two questions. Why do I want you to make the call?”

Already embarrassed at striking out on Akira’s first question, I swing at the first idea thrown my way.

“You... want to go visit Mother and Father as well?”

Akira lightly laughs. The way her voice bounces sounds like an old car motor trying to start on a frost-laden morning.

“If I wanted that, then why haven’t I just called them myself, then?”

“You’re saying you don’t want to go visit them?”

“Lilly, to be honest...”

Akira lowers her voice to a near-whisper.

“...I’d rather just spend the time with my boyfriend.”

Despite the sad implications of that sentence, I still end up cracking a smile anyway. Such is the case whenever Akira makes a very Akira-like confession.

Akira apparently notices my smile and takes it as a sign to continue with a hair more chipperness in her voice.

“No, the reason I’m here, and the reason that I want you to call our father is that... I don’t really understand you sometimes.”

“Oh? Am I difficult to understand?”

“Well, you’re not an open book, I’ll be honest... But Dad... he’s a different man from a different era from a different country. In comparison to you, he’d be a book so tightly shut that you could polish gemstones between the pages.”

Akira lets out a chuckle before continuing.

“I’m not great at making clever analogies... but this one at least has a clever ending to it.”

“Which is...?”

“I’m gonna let you guess that. I’ll phrase it as a question... What do you think the key to opening that book is?”

“Father’s book?”

“Dad, Mom, me, your distant relatives, your future boss, your librarian friend who works too much, politicians, the key works on anyone’s book.”

“...Is it... honesty?”

Akira snorts.

“Cute, but try again”

“How about compassion?”

Ehhhhhhhh-

“Please just tell me what it is, Akira.”

“Okay, okay! Sorry for that.”

Akira laughs, and I can’t help but smile as well.

“The key is to opening someone’s book is to think as they think.”

“...What do you mean by that?”

“Well, you can start by asking yourself questions like, ‘what would the other person want me to do if I were in their slippers.’”

“...What do you think Father would want me to do if I were in his position?”

“Easy. He’d want you to cut eighty percent of your word count.”

“Pardon?”

Akira chuckles.

“That call to him that you’ve been practicing? You need to cut straight to the chase, girl. You are spending way too much time chattering on about this and that and not enough time asking him the question that you really want to ask him... He’s a busy man. The longer you talk, the more impatient he’ll get, and the less luck you’re going to have getting him to say yes... You should start by asking him if you can visit him, not finish with it.”

“But... I can’t just start with the question. That seems rather impolite to me.”

I hear the smacking sound of Akira limply dropping her hands to her sides. She begins to smack her lips and rub the sides of her pants—both of which are telltale signs that she’s thinking.

“Yeah, that does sound like it should be impolite, but when you enter the working world, you’ll see it my way. Sometimes big business honchos like Dad want their communication to be quick and snappy. Even if it might not be comfortable for you, making your appeal more comfortable for them will go a long way in making the connection happen.”

We both remain quiet for a while as I let her words bubble throughout my blood vessels. It feels like the blood inside wants to evaporate, condense, melt, and freeze at the same time. If I were in chemistry class, I'd get extra credit for identifying that as the 'triple point.'

“I don’t... I don’t know, Akira. I don’t know about... any of this.”

I clumsily sit back down, enjoying the immediate comfort that the soft carpet provides me and my aching feet. Akira takes a few gingerly steps in my direction.

“Lilly, I love you very much. I want you to be happy, and I know that going and spending time with Mom and Dad would make you very happy...”

Akira stops in place and takes in a sharp breath before slowly letting all the air trickle back out. She takes another breath, but it would seem that whatever words she’s trying to say have frozen at the tip of her tongue. Like a rookie high diver unsure if they want to take their first plunge.

Finally, she tentatively continues.

“...which is why it pains me to hear you practice that call every year.”

...What?

“Yeah. That’s right. I know that you’ve been doing this for years. I hear you—every year—practicing a new speech with the dog, I hear you dial the numbers into your phone, and before Dad has even had the chance to pick up, you hit ‘cancel,’ and go straight to bed... It’s always, ‘Better luck next year,’ right?”

She knew that I’ve been doing this the entire time? Why didn’t she say anything about it to me before now? Does she suddenly think I can’t handle myself?

“Lilly... you’re backing yourself into a corner and you’re tossing away your chances. Each time you toss away a chance, it becomes easier to toss the next one, and the next one, and the next...”

Akira takes a breath, holds it for a few seconds, and exhales. I faintly hear a quiver at the dusk of her exhale.

“And then one day... when the years have flown by, there will come a moment when you realize that your chances are gone... because that’s when he’ll be gone too.”

...

Blank. All I can think of is blank.

“Someone had to say it-”

Before Akira can finish whispering those words, my legs jolt and I somehow find myself up on my feet. Not a moment later I hear myself urgently speaking.

“I need to go on a walk.”

I hear Akira take a few hurried steps back.

“Wha- No. We’re not done here.”

“I think that some fresh air could really do me some good, right now.”

“At this hour? Lilly, it’s dark out.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Then you know that you’ll get hypothermia if you go out there in those skimpy pajamas-”

“Akira. I need to go.”

Akira says nothing. I don’t know if she understands the words that came out of my mouth any more than I do. Maybe that’s why she has nothing to say.

I feel my feet and legs carry the rest of my body to the doorway. As I get closer, my ears notice a source of faintly shaky breathing. Akira is standing in the doorway, blocking my way out.

She’s been blocking me from leaving this entire time, hasn’t she? That’s why she never left the doorway... Did she really think I was going to run out the door crying and whimpering?

I hear my voice speak up once more.

“Please, Akira. I don’t think I can take any more today.”

...

Akira steps aside. She doesn’t exasperatedly sigh, she doesn’t mutter something profane under her breath, she just silently steps aside.

As my legs walk past her and out the door, they feel Niji’s whiskers brushing across them, one by one.

Has he been sitting there this entire time?

I think to reach down and pet him, but my arms remain firmly stuck to my sides. They won’t respond at all. Self-preservation has ripped away all but my thoughts.

It’s only a matter of time before those are lost, too.

Akira calls out to me as I’m halfway down the hall.

“I’m sorry, Lilly. I shouldn’t have said it like that.”

My legs freeze. I try to recall the words that she’s referring to, but I no longer own my mind anymore.

My ears hear my mouth speak.

“Everything will be okay.”

My ears hear Akira speak.

“I think... if you ask him if you can visit, he’d probably accept... I think there’s a good chance he’d say yes... So will you please try to call him?"

Lilly turns around until she is facing Akira.

Lilly smiles.

Lilly cries.

Lilly whimpers.

Lilly runs out the door.
Last edited by Chatty Wheeler on Sun Feb 07, 2021 9:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Chatty Wheeler
Posts: 66
Joined: Mon Aug 24, 2020 5:56 pm
Location: Pacific Time Zone

Cats and Dogs, Snowflakes and Stars (Part 5)

Post by Chatty Wheeler » Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:52 pm

I never called him.

I haven’t even thought about that conversation with Akira, much less calling my father, since that day.

My mind blocked it all out as soon as I left.

...

The whirring hum of an overhead airplane breaks me out of my daze.

I feel pins and needles as my senses return to me, one by one. It isn’t until my wits return to me that I have the alarming realization that I’ve been silent this entire time. Rin has probably been staring me down, waiting for me to answer her question.

One tingling sensation hasn’t subsided. It’s the one at my chin and lips—where my scarf rests. I’ve had my mouth buried into my scarf for the entire duration of my talk with Rin. The scarf isn’t very thick, with holes naturally existing from the process in which it was knit, but it’s probably enough to muffle my voice somewhat.

Does that mean Rin’s been having trouble understanding me this whole time? She would’ve told me if that were the case... wouldn’t she?

Not willing to take that chance any longer, I begin to lift my head. Static electricity has built up from the scarf, and it tries to keep me from shedding it. Despite the pain I feel from the shocks, the scarf is on the snowy ground in a second.

I'm left exposed and vulnerable to the cold air... and the volatile yet silent presence standing right in front of me.

‘Feel her out...’

I’ll try, Emi.

‘Think as they think...’

I’ll do my best, Akira.

...

Please let this work...

“Rin, I don’t think that snowflakes are sad at all.”

No response. Hopefully, I didn’t just freak her out.

“I mean... You could type on the keyboard much faster with that extra finger... And you could... You could...”

Gosh, this is a lot harder than I expected.

“Oh! You could play the piano really well! Yes! You could become quite the skilled pianist if you had more fingers to work with!”

Rin continues to remain silent.

Am I getting through to her at all?

“And... Well, I think...”

Come on, Lilly. Think of something.

Think.

Think.

Think!

...

Think as she thinks.

“I think that a snowflake wouldn’t even want to become a star if it was given the choice. One extra finger doesn’t make someone a freak. One extra finger doesn’t make someone any better or worse. One extra finger just means... that they’re different. There’s nothing sad about that.”

I finally hear a gasp from the other side, followed by the suddenly troubled sound of Rin’s voice.

“But children wish upon a star, they don’t wish upon a snowflake.”

“...Kids wish for snow all the time, don’t they?”

“But stars are beautiful. Nobody looks at snowflakes through a telescope.”

“...People look at snowflakes under microscopes, though. I hear that they are exceptionally beautiful.”

“But there are billions of stars in the sky.”

“...One million billion snowflakes fall on Earth each second, and contrary to popular belief, they’re not all unique. There are more out there that are compatible with each other than you’d think.”

“But... I can’t type on a keyboard, Lilly.”

It takes a few seconds for my mind to jog back to what she’s referring to.

“Oh! That? Ah-well... I thought it sounded like something you would say.”

Rin laughs. It’s not a chuckle or a snicker, it’s an honest laugh. I would guess that it’s about an octave higher than her normal speaking voice. It sounds like the gentle chirping of a bird that’s just learned to fly. It wants everybody nearby to witness it take its first flaps toward a new sky. The new sky is inherently more dangerous, but it’s infinitely more beautiful.

After a few seconds of laughter, Rin calms herself enough to speak.

“I know... I could tell, and I appreciate it.”

Those words on top of the laughter from moments ago make for a reaction that I could not have expected any less. It makes me feel... content. After all of that internal scurrying to keep up with Rin, I’m baffled at how good I feel. I don’t feel exhausted, I think I feel pride. Even though I only really finished a one-hundred-meter dash, I feel ready to take on a marathon.

I want to keep going... I want to explore this further...

“Have you ever sleepwalked before, Rin?”

“‘Sleepwalked?’”

“It’s kind of like dreaming, but instead of your mind remaining awake while your body sleeps, your mind sleeps while your body remains awake.”

“Do you need pimples for those too?”

“...I don’t think so. I used to sleepwalk as a little girl, but I’ve never had pimples... I used to have freckles, though. Maybe pimples cause people to dream and freckles cause people to sleepwalk.”

“I hope I never get freckles, then. It sounds annoying—kind of like teeth.”

“Teeth? You don’t like your teeth, Rin?”

“Eh, it’s not really my teeth that are the problem, I just don’t like them in general.”

“That’s a shame. I quite like my teeth, but I will admit that there is one thing I don’t like about teeth.”

“What is it?”

“I’m blind, of course, so when food gets stuck in my teeth, I never know that it’s in there until somebody points it out for me. It’s terribly embarrassing.”

“Heh, I think that’s a problem for everyone, Lilly. Not just blind people.”

“I suppose that’s true... You know, I’ve always wondered. If everyone got big enough cavities in their teeth, would they whistle every time they tried to hiss?”

“Woah, I’ve never thought of that. That sounds like it could be useful... but I think I’d still rather be a worm: no teeth needed.”

“Worms...That reminds me, have you ever heard of a phlebectomy?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“It’s the process of surgically removing varicose blood veins. People need to have them removed sometimes—usually from the legs. The doctor or surgeon makes an incision in the skin and pulls the entire vein out of that incision. I hear it feels like worms getting plucked out of you.”

“Me mentioning worms reminded you of that? That’s gross. Interesting, but mostly gross. Very extremely gross. I don’t want worms traveling in and out of my body.”

“My, my, I was beginning to wonder if you thought anything was gross.”

“What do you mean by that? I think lots of things are gross.”

“Yes, I suppose everyone does, but it never seems that way when you talk. You’re always so… resolutely indiscriminate with everyone. You wouldn’t sugar-coat your words for a toddler nor grovel to your executioner.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“Unfortunately, not everyone would think so, but I think we need more people in the world like you...”

“...Lilly, what would happen if you had freckles and pimples?”

“Pardon?”

“What if your mind and your body were awake while you, yourself, slept?”

“If your mind and your body were awake... wouldn’t that just make you... fully awake?”

“In a way, yes, but it wouldn’t be you that was awake. It’d be something else... something else in control of your mind and body. It wouldn’t be reason, or logic, or knowledge. It would be instinct-”

“It would be self-preservation... So does that mean you know what it feels like, too?”

“To have freckles and pimples?”

“No, to feel yourself being flung away from your mind and body. You can’t see or hear. All you can do is feel emotion. You don’t know how or why you’re feeling those emotions, and you don’t know what to do with them, so all you can do is... exist with them. When you finally snap back into your body, you can’t seem to even remember what flung you away in the first place. You can’t remember anything. Just like a dream. Just like sleepwalking. I know what that feels like because I’ve been feeling that for two years.”

“I think I understand... I feel it from time to time while I’m painting. It helps me develop my ideas and calm myself in the moment, but I can’t stay in there for too long. I could never stay in there for two years straight. I need to peek out and be inspired by the world, sometimes...”

“That’s... right... That’s right, isn’t it? The world is beautiful, isn’t it?”

“Yes... Lots of colors.”

“So I’ve heard. I think my favorite color is white—I’m told it’s the color of ice cream.”

“I don’t like ice cream. It’s freaky.”

“Wha- ice cream? You think ice cream is freaky, Rin?”

“Yes. My teeth hurt when I bite into it.”

“You’re supposed to lick- When you said you thought ‘lots of things’ are gross, I would never have expected ice cream to be on that list.”

“Ice cream isn’t gross, it’s just freaky. I do like the colors of ice cream, though. There are millions of available flavors to choose from, each with its own differing color. Sometimes I think people are like that...”

“They have different colors?”

“Yes.”

“...Well, what is your color, Rin?”

“My color changes depending on how I’m feeling. Sometimes I feel grey, other times I’m a bright orange, and I also feel a lot of pink during the morning. The colors tend to mix a lot too. It’s a little tiring coming up with a new name for each new mixture.”

“You name every mixture?

“How else am I going to keep track of how I’m feeling?”

“Mmm... If I may, what color are you right now?”

“I don’t know. This is a new mixture of colors. I haven’t had the chance to name it.”

“Well, let’s come up with a new name for it, shall we?”

“M’kay, what should we name it?”

“How about... ‘snow-powdered stardust?’”

“That’s a nice name...”

“Thanks.”

“Thank you.”

“Rin, what color am I right now?”

“...Almost the same color as me.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“I think so.”

“...I wish that there was some way that I could see for myself.”

“Yes. That would be nice.”

“What if people could purr like cats?”

“Why would they want that?”

“Well, cats purr when they’re happy, right?”

“That’s... mostly true.”

“Yes, so... As an example, if you purred like that, I could always know when you’re happy without you having to tell me... or without me having to see your face.”

“But that’s not how purring works. Cats don’t just purr when they're happy, they also purr when they're emotional. They could be happy, sure, but they could also be scared, or hurt, or hungry.”

“Then how am I ever going to know if you’re happy or not?”

“I am happy, Lilly.”

I stop.

It feels like I haven’t taken a breath in days with how much momentum there was behind us during that conversation.

I can’t believe what she just said, yet at the same time, I don’t think she needed to say it. I already knew. I already felt it.

“Yeah... I’m happy too, Rin.”

We both stand in silence for a while. By now, I can feel that the blanket of snow has made its way further up my boots. If someone sped up the flow of time, it might appear as though Rin and I were being swallowed up by sparkling quicksand.

I step out of the quicksand.

“You asked me why I didn’t come speak to you directly about the overalls...”

Rin is silent, waiting for me to continue.

“It’s because many, many years ago, I did have a cat in my life. It ran away... It ran all the way to Europe, to the other side of the world, but before it left... it clawed out my eyes, so to speak. It left me with a lot of... feelings. Longing? Guilt? Anger? Love? I didn’t really know what they meant, and for years I thought that I’d be better off not knowing. I kept pushing it off further and further. Each time I had the chance to push it off and did it, it became easier to push it off the next time... but perhaps it was wrong of me. I think that I’ve always really wanted to go meet the cat again, but...”

The final sentence catches in my throat.

...

I’ve tripped with only ten meters left of the marathon.

...

I try to pick myself back up. Maybe I can still crawl across the finish line... But I can already feel it beginning to happen.

...

First my feet, then my legs, then my arms... self-preservation is ripping them all away, and instinct wants me to run back to my dorm room.

...

My mouth tries to speak, but I can feel my mind beginning to leave me. The only sound that my ears hear is a whimper escaping out of my lips.

...

My ears hear what must be the universe laughing at me, reveling at the sight of me beginning to descend back into my scarf mere moments after I had attempted to cast it away for good.

...

Lilly wants to cry.

...

But that’s not the real me.

...

Suddenly, the laughter fades, and the universe speaks.

“Don’t worry, Lilly. I’m going to keep the overalls.”

My mouth returns.

“Pardon?”

“I want them. They have meaning to me now.”

My arms return.

“But they don’t fit you.”

“I know.”

My legs return.

“And it wouldn’t really be much trouble to get you new ones.”

“I know.”

My toes return.

“So, why don’t you want me to get you ones that fit?”

...

“Because you are a beautiful person, and I’m sure that the cat would think so too, Lilly.”

My mind returns.

Rin...

Rin chuckles.

“...But I’m sure you hear that sort of compliment all the time.”

“No, I... don’t... Not like that.”

I laugh a little before continuing.

“It’s just... I never thought I’d hear you say something like that, Rin. Is that Shakespeare?”

Rin shrugs, or at least I hear the sound of clothes ruffling, which by now I’ve figured out means that she’s shrugging.

“No, but I thought it sounded like something you would say.”

The corners of my mouth tug upward into a smile. Then I start laughing. Then I start really laughing. I don’t think I could point to the source of my laughter, I’d need a hundred or more fingers for that. It just feels good to laugh right now. Rin is laughing too. It feels so nice.

Eventually, all we can hear are the birds and the planes passing overhead. Whereas before the scattered chirping of the birds and the constant hum of the planes were two very distinct sounds, it seems as if they’ve now melded together. It’s a rich sound—one that makes a person feel ‘snow-powdered stardust.’

“It’s time for me to go now, Lilly. Goodbye.”

I smile and give her a dainty wave as she circles around me to get to the access door.

“Goodbye, Rin. Happy holidays.”

I hear the frozen screech of the doorknob being twisted and the click of the door being opened, but before it closes, I hear Rin call out to me one last time.

“Thank you, Lilly.”

A second later, the door shuts with a clang.

...

I pull my phone out of my pocket. Even with how toasty I feel inside, the metal casing is almost paralyzingly cold.

I haven’t the slightest idea of what I’m going to say.

I punch in the numbers, hoping that I still have the order memorized correctly. As my fingers slide from button to button, the beeps become longer and longer as my nerves begin to rise.

It might be too late in the month already, but I have to do this.

I hear a click.

“Hello. Hiroyuki Satou speaking.”

I breathe in.

...

And then I breathe out.

Thank you too, Rin.

“Hello, father. This is Lilly... I wanted to speak to you today about coming to see you for the holidays.”



THE END

———————————————

Victim: BristerXD
Prompt: Lilly graciously enters a Secret Santa pool held by the girls' dorms, thinking herself to be knowledgeable about enough of the students of Yamaku to feel secure in getting anyone she gets the perfect gift. However, she is faced with the horror of having to pick a gift for the most challenging person she knows: Rin.

———————————————

Author’s Notes:

Goodness, where do I even begin...

On November 23rd of last year, BristerXD direct messaged me the following on Discord:
Also I swear to god if we get each other prompts I'm calling this f*cking thing rigged.
I laughed and messaged back the following:
I bet we will. XD
Four days later, and I awoke to find that BristerXD’s prompt was as good as mine. When I found out the news, I laughed and wheezed like I hadn’t done so in months. I wasn’t laughing at the difficult prompt that I had been saddled with—I actually think that it’s a really nice prompt. No, the sole reason I was laughing was because it was BristerXD. You know, my enemy turned frenemy. If I had received this prompt from anyone other than him, I would have written a 2000-word fluff piece, but since this is him, I wanted to make this story more meaningful. This is a story specifically for BristerXD.

With all of that said, I’d like to extend my sincerest apologies to BristerXD for making him wait for so long. Brister, I know that I’m a month late, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that it turned out to be like that. This story went through quite a hard-fought development period. I assure you that I’ve been actively working on this piece since early December, pouring many weekends into it that I was supposed to have spent on homework. The prompt tapped into a lot of my weaknesses as my writer—mostly involving a certain armless redhead—but I’ve learned more than you could possibly know from this prompt, your advice, and your friendship, and I think that the story turned out better because of it all. I rationalized my lateness as wanting to deliver a late product over a half-baked product, but at the end of the day, it’s still late, and I’m still sorry for that. I hope that I’ll be better at keeping my stories short next time around. ;)

Next, I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to my proofreader, MexicanPsychopath. Asking him to come on board and proofread a 11,500-word story on relatively short notice was a big ask, but he came through big time. MexicanPsychopath was responsible for catching countless instances of poor syntax, improper word choice, little continuity errors, and he was the voice of reason telling me to stop my rampant use of em-dashes. He worked quickly, professionally, and pulled multiple day-long revision sessions with me on his own accord. Mex, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated working with you. I hope we can work together again in the future. If you ever end up writing your own stories, I’m always here if you want a proofreader. :D

There are some additional nuggets of gratitude that I’d like to get out there, this time for the people who inspired me while writing this story!

While I had originally intended to write this story in chronological order, I soon switched over to a flashback structure that was inspired by Feurox’s Time is Dancing. If anybody wants a well-written drama, go read it, you might cry: viewtopic.php?f=52&t=11244&p=244233#p244230

Some of the imagery in this story was inspired by various stories written by NuclearStudent, most notably, Until I Rise Again. The following quote from Cats and Dogs, Snowflakes and Stars was actually a nod to Until I Rise Again:
"Me mentioning worms reminded you of that? That’s gross. Interesting, but mostly gross. Very extremely gross. I don’t want worms traveling in and out of my body."
As you may be able to guess from the quote, Until I Rise Again should be given a warning for body-horror for any of those wishing to read it. It’s a great story, but don’t read it right after a meal like I did: viewtopic.php?p=244073#p244073

Additionally, a few of the one-liners and jokes were inspired by various conversations that I’ve had with BristerXD and NuclearStudent. In particular, BristerXD has some sort of raging vendetta against teeth. I thought it was funny, so I decided to incorporate that sour opinion of teeth into Rin for this story. Thanks for being funnier than me, you two.

There, I’ve given you your credit, so please don’t sue me for stealing your bits.

If you are interested in the development history of this story, read on! Otherwise, thank you so much for reading my story. Please take care!

——————————

Development History:

Upfront, I’d like to say that, yes, this story contradicts the Katawa Shoujo canon quite a bit. I was fully aware of this fact while writing the story, and I thought that doing so was necessary to tell the story that I wanted to tell. Just pretend that this story takes place in its own little pocket of the Katawa Shoujo universe. ;)

Now, aside from the snail pace at which I write, the primary reason that this story took so long to finish was because it went through a lot of rewrites. I’m not going to go over every little change—I’d be here all day if I did—but I’ll go over some of the major changes that I think are worth talking about.

When I first thought of this story, I envisioned it being told chronologically. It would start with Lilly pulling Rin’s name at the first Secret Santa meeting, and end with Lilly giving Rin the overalls. In between, Lilly would talk with Emi, Hanako, and Akira. Needless to say, I didn’t end up going with this version of the story. It was predictable, it was unoriginal, and it didn’t seem interesting to write.

Soon after, I came up with the flashback structure that would end up being used in the final story. However, things were a little different at first.

For one thing, there used to be a third flashback. This flashback would have been set before the Emi flashback and would have featured Hanako. I actually wrote a fair bit of it but ended up cutting it because it was unnecessary. It basically served the same thematic purpose as the Emi flashback, and I thought that Emi’s flashback should take priority over Hanako’s. Some of the ideas that I had for Hanako’s flashback were reworked to fit into Emi’s flashback, but most of it, indeed, was left on the cutting-room floor.

I had always planned on Akira’s flashback to being the last one when reading the story as it's presented, but it wasn’t always the first one chronologically. For a while, the idea was that Lilly would visit Hanako, Emi, Akira, and then go to see Rin on the rooftop. However, when this story became more and more about Lilly, and more and more about exploring her character flaws, I wanted to cut to the root of her shortcomings as a person. This led to me reworking Akira’s flashback and setting it a whole two years in the past.

The Akira flashback (Part 4) was by far the most difficult one to write. Even after I knew that I wanted it set two years in the past, it probably went through more rewrites than any other part of the story. In one draft, the conversation between Lilly and Akira was a lot more successful. Akira was doing a better job at getting her point across, and Lilly was a lot more receptive to the advice that Akira was giving. The flashback ended with Lilly and Akira cheerfully hugging each other, and everything seemed perfect... which was exactly the problem with this draft: it was too perfect. Lilly and Akira got along so well in this draft that it felt like the story was ending, even though the true climax of the story (Part 5) had yet to come. I rewrote the Akira flashback to be more strained and for the ending to be a lot, lot worse for Lilly, and that was the version that ended up making it into the final draft.

All of the scenes involving Rin came together surprisingly well. I found it quite difficult to think up topics for Rin and Lilly to talk about on the rooftop, but once I had enough ideas to work with, the dialogue between the two characters came to me quite naturally.

However, another problem arose while I was writing the Rin scenes: Rin didn’t really have a role in the story. While this story was always meant to take place from Lilly’s perspective and be a story primarily about Lilly, I wanted Rin to grow a little too by the end of the story. With this goal in mind, I rewrote her scenes to give her more importance. By the final draft, I felt like I had gotten to a point where Lilly’s character arc would be impossible without Rin, which was what I was hoping for.

If you’ve read this far, you have my sincerest gratitude. I hope that you found my ramblings to be interesting. I hope that you have a lovely day. Take care!
Last edited by Chatty Wheeler on Fri Feb 05, 2021 4:57 am, edited 10 times in total.

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MexicanPsychopath
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Re: Chatty's One-Off Collection (January 11th, 2021 — The Learned Fool)

Post by MexicanPsychopath » Sun Jan 31, 2021 6:59 pm

You know those comments on youtube videos that proudly proclaim "FIRST!" as if that were some accomplishment or something to be proud of? Yeah. That's what this is. Allow me to be the first to congratulate you on your second creative KS piece! It was an honor to work as your proofreader, and I would love to do so again if you'll have me. I hope Brister enjoys what you've created here, because I sure have.

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