Posted: Mon Jan 30, 2012 3:18 am
Shizune holds up the set of blue-and-white striped tights up, giving it a few experimental tugs to test the quality of the fabric. She turns back to me and holds both pairs up for my appraisal: both the blue-and-white striped ones and the black ones with the red spiderweb pattern. I sigh and nod towards the blue-and whites. My girlfriend frowns in response and puts them back down for a moment. [Why those?] she asks.
[The other one seems too. . . ummm. . . punkish? I guess. For someone like Hideaki,] I point out. [Wait. Why am I helping you pick out tights for your brother, anyway?]
[Because I promised to get him a souvenir. And he likes this sort of thing.]
[Your brother is weird.]
[I know,] Shizune says. [Now help me out with the cashier.] She picks up the merchandise and carries it to the bored-looking man leaning on the glass counter.
The cashier nods to me as he counts out the tights, checking the tags and making a quick mental calculation. "That will be two thousand yen," he says.
[Two thousand yen,] I sign to Shizune.
[Unacceptable. This is highway robbery. I won't go any higher than one thousand.]
I sigh. This is the part I hate. "We'll pay one thousand," I tell the cashier.
"Five hundred each? These are designer tights. Major label! Two thousand is a bargain!"
[He's insisting on two thousand,] I sign back to Shizune. [Says they're designer.]
[These are cotton tights. I'm not paying a thousand yen for a pair of cotton tights, no matter who designed them. Twelve hundred for both of them.]
I take a deep breath. "They're designer tights, but still cotton. Maybe you could go down to about six hundred each?" I say.
"What, are you stupid? This isn't your every day cotton. This is the good stuff. Egyptian, long-staple. Pharaohs slept on this stuff!" the cashier complains. "I'm not going lower than eighteen hundred!"
[He said eighteen hundred,] I translate.
[Great, he's willing to haggle. Fourteen hundred for both. No higher.]
"I guess we could see ourselves paying as much as fourteen hundred," I admit. Behind me a lady holding a couple of sweaters waits patiently for her turn at the register.
The cashier sighs and rubs his forehead. "Look, I'll go down as low as sixteen hundred, but that's it."
[He says sixteen hundred.]
[Tell him one thousand five hundred.]
"How about one thousand five hundred?" I ask. I glance behind me again. There are now two people waiting in line for the cashier.
"Sixteen hundred," he says, glaring at Shizune.
[Sixteen hundred,] I sign. [I don't think he's going to go any lower.]
[I bet we could get him down to fifteen hundred,] Shizune signs back. A third person is now waiting in line. The lady with the sweaters is biting her lower lip and looking at her watch.
[Just pay the man already,] I sign back, frustrated. [What's the big deal? It's one hundred yen.]
[One hundred yen can buy a bag of chips or an ice cream cone. It's actually quite a bit of money, you know.]
[Look, I'll give you the hundred yen, let's just get out of here, before the other customers kill us.]
[Fine.] Shizune rolls her eyes and counts the one bill and two coins from her wallet.
I give the cashier a weak smile. He glares at us as we walk away.
[Do you have to do that every time?] I ask later, as we're sitting on the roof of the shopping center, having lunch.
[It would be shameful not to haggle,] Shizune replied. [It is the honor of a merchant to get as much money as possible. . . and it is the buyer's honor to haggle for the best price.] She snaps her fingers and adjusts her glasses, a smug look on her face. [Shopping is war! Take no prisoners!]
What is this, the Sengoku Era? Before I can reply, Shizune has picked up her hamburger and is taking a big bite. She smiles happily as she chews and swallows before taking a big sip of her soda. I sigh and pick up my own burger.
I turn to see a tall young man wearing a khaki blazer standing behind me, holding a plastic tray with two hot dog sets. For a moment, I don't remember who he is. . . then I realize, if he were wearing a black German-style school uniform and standing in front of an arcade machine, I'd have recognized him immediately.
"Shin? I ask.
"Hisao! It is you!" Shin says, grinning. "Mai! Come over here! It's Hisao!" he says, waving to a young woman sitting a few tables away.
"Holy crap! It is Hisao!" Mai says, astonished. She comes over to shake my hand and give me a quick hug before putting her hands on my shoulders and looking me up and down. "You're lookin' good, Hisao!" she says, grinning. "Way better than the last time I saw you."
I feel a sharp, stabbing pain in my chest. "Yeah, well," I say, a bit sardonically. "The last time you saw me, I was lying in a hospital bed."
Shin winces at that and looks a bit guilty. Mai, as always, either ignores the sarcasm or forges forward in spite of it. "Yeah," she says, rubbing the back of her head. "I guess compared to that, seeing you up and about and healthy is a huge improvement, huh? Who's your friend, by the way?"
"Oh, this is Shizune Hakamichi, my girlfriend," I say, as I turn to Shizune. ["Shizune,"] I say, signing as well. ["This is Mai Uesugi, an old friend of mine from high school. And this is Shin Hasegawa, another old friend."]
Shizune nods to Shin and Mai as she stands and bows gracefully. [It's good to meet some old friends of Hisao's,] she signs. [Very pleased to meet you both.]
Shin and Mai give each other a hesitant look as I translate for my girlfriend. "Oh, I see," Shin says, looking at me, then giving Shizune a furtive glance. "Did you meet her at that. . . other. . . high school?" he asks, hesitantly.
I sigh. ["Yes,"] I say, signing simultaneously for Shizune's benefits. ["Shizune and I met at Yamaku High School. She was the Student Council President, and I was on the Student Council."]
"Really? You, Hisao? The lifetime member of the Going Home From School Club? How did she rope you into that?" Mai asks, pulling up a chair and sitting down across from us.
[It took some doing,] Shizune signs. [I had to practically tie him down to get him to agree to it.]
"It took some doing," I repeat. "Shizune. . . she had a lot of convincing to do."
"I'm not surprised," Mai laughs. "I think you would have gone your entire life without doing any extracurriculars at all, if you could have helped it."
[She says she thought I would have gone my entire life without joining any clubs at all if I'd had it my way.]
[He almost did,] Shizune replies. [But I can be very persuasive.] She caps this off by leaning forward and resting her chest on her forearms, showing off her rather impressive bustline to the best possible extent.
Mai laughs after I translate this for her. "Tell me about it!" she says loudly. "I practically had to beat Shin over the head before he realized I wanted him to ask me out."
"Wait, you two are going out now?" I ask, surprised. I feel a major paradigm shift in my head. My mental image of Shin and Mai had always been the two of them wrestling in the dirt as they fought over the last blue lollipop in the bag, or shouting at each other as Shin accused her of only using cheese tactics in Street Fighter.
I glance over at Shin, who rubs the back of his head and looks sheepish, even as he smiles. "We've been going out for a year now," Shin says. "A few months after. . . the incident, you know."
"Oh," I say, a bit sobered. "Um. Congratulations, you two. Are you still living around here?"
"Yeah, actually. We're both at the local university. Speaking of which, have you seen any of the old gang yet?"
["Um, not really,"] I admit. ["Shizune and I are just in town for the weekend to visit my folks,"] I say. [I haven't had a chance to see any of the old gang yet,] I go on, signing for my girlfriend's benefit.
"Oh, cool. If you don't have any plans for tonight, a bunch of us were going to go and meet up for dinner at the local Harry's," Mai says. "If you want to come along. . ."
"Mai!" Shin hisses.
"What?!" Mai snaps. "I'm sure that Hisao would like to see his old friends again!"
"Mai, it's not just US that's going to be there!" Shin points out. "There's. . ."
Realization comes over my old friend's face, and she looks suddenly stunned into silence. "Oh."
". . . what is it?" I ask.
"Oh, uhhhhh yeah. . . I forgot about that part," Mai admits, looking suddenly very contrite. "Uhhhhhh. . . remember Iwanako? From class 3-1?"
". . . the girl who confessed to me and gave me my first heart attack?" I forge on, ruthlessly. "Yes, Mai, I remember her. What about her?"
"She's, uhhhhh. . . dating Takumi now," Mai admits, a bit miserably.
"Oh." It's like an anchor falling into the conversation, locking it in place. So Iwanako, the girl who once said she loved me, is now dating my other best friend. "Um. How long have they. . ."
"A few months now. Since. . . summer of our senior year," Shin says.
Yeah, I'd thought so. I think back to that hand-written letter with its precise, pink writing, on the sunset stationery. Summer of our senior year. . . yeah, that would have been about then. "Um," I say, rubbing the back of my head. "That's umm. . . that's nice. Um. Good for them. . ."
That's about when Shizune grabs me by the arm and pulls me towards her, making me look her in the eye. [Hisao,] she signs, her hands slashing angrily. [You've spent the last few minutes talking about something without bothering to translate it for me, and now you look upset. What's going on?]
[I'm sorry,] I sign back. [I'll explain later.]
[No,] Shizune says, her eyes flashing angrily. [You explain now.]
I sigh. [Do you remember me telling you about Iwanako?]
[The girl who confessed to you and gave you your first heart attack? Yes, you mentioned her to me a few times. What's going on?]
[She's dating one of my old friends now. There's a get-together for a few of our old high-school friends tonight, and she's going to be there.]
[All right,] Shizune signs back, nodding. [So I'll finally get to meet her?]
[No. . . I wasn't going to. . .] I stop for a moment and take a deep breath, marshalling my thoughts. [I'm not going.]
Shizune's lips set into a firm, angry line. [You coward,] she signs harshly.
Anger flashes through me. My hands are shaking so hard I can barely make the signs. [Don't you dare. . .]
Shin clears his throat. "Um, Hisao?" he asks.
"What?!" I snap.
"Hey, dude. . . take it easy," Shin says, raising his hands disarmingly. "I was just going to say, Mai and I need to get going soon."
You just bought your lunch for here, and suddenly you need to get going right away? Yeah right. "Sure," I say. "It was good seeing you again."
"Yeah," Shin says, sighing and rubbing the back of his head. "It was good seeing you too." He bows to Shizune politely. "And it was good to meet you too, Hakamichi-san."
"Yeah," Mai agrees. "Good to see you again, Hisao. Nice to meet you, Shizune."
The two of them scoop up their lunches from their trays and carry them out, awkwardly juggling them and their shopping bags as they head back into the mall. I sigh again and close my eyes, rubbing my forehead and face, trying to relieve my sudden severe headache. Even more alarming is the sudden flutter I feel in my chest, and that old, familiar, rhythmic thudding in my ears as my blood pressure starts to shoot up. I take a deep breath, then another, pressing my hand over my heart, willing it to slow down.
A pair of hands rest on my shoulders, and I feel them massaging my tense neck. Shizune's hands are cool and strong. Her fingers, against the back of my bare neck, are long and slender. It helps, somehow. Just the feeling of her hands on my skin is enough to help me calm down. Even so, it's another few minutes before I'm able to slow my breathing down to the point where I feel safe opening my eyes again.
Shizune is kneeling in front of me, and her hands are resting on my shoulders. The look in her eyes is. . . the only way I can think of it is "emotional." It's not fear, though there's fear in there too. It's not anger, but that's also a part of it. Pity. . . and sympathy too, in a way.
Love, I realize. That look in her eyes is love.
[Are you okay?] she signs, tentatively.
[I'm. . . fine,] I admit. [But. . . I think I'm done shopping for now.]
[All right,] Shizune replies. [Let's go home.]
Feedback is, as usual, appreciated.
EDIT:Made a few changes on the recommendation of this thread. I think it does flow better now.