Posted: Thu Feb 02, 2012 4:27 am
[I kinda look like Mutou.]
[He had a good style. It worked for him, I think it can work for you too,] Shizune insists. [Besides, if I let you have it your way, you'd wind up wearing nothing but blue argyle sweater vests.]
[I liked that sweater vest,] I complain.
[That's why I chose your outfit for today,] Shizune replied. She reached up behind me and adjusted the collar of my jacket, then nodded.[All right. We're good. Just remember: you can button the top button of your jacket but never the bottom one. Always show about a quarter inch of cuff beyond the end of your jacket sleeve if you can. And keep the top two buttons of the shirt undone.]
I sigh and look at myself in the mirror, at the results of this afternoon's shopping spree. I have to admit, the effect isn't terrible. Shizune wound up buying me a new sports coat and slacks: both black, and a step up in quality from anything I usually wear. She also wound up buying me a dress shirt in a shade I would call blue, but which she claims is "cerulean." I look either like some kind of movie gangster or some celebrity. It's not bad.
Shizune, on the other hand, looks gorgeous. Black's a good color on her, and she wears it well: the tight skirt hugs her rounded hips, and the blouse and jacket are fitted to accentuate her ample bustline. Her usual thigh high stockings have been traded in for sheer black pantyhose. And, for the first time I can remember, she's actually put on make-up: just a hint of blush to highlight her cheekbones, and a bit of tastefully understated lipstick. She's put in the same diamond earrings and pendant she wore when she first arrived: with her blouse unbuttoned as low as it is, the necklace now rests just above her rather respectable cleavage. The edge of her favorite black bra peeks out just a bit over the edge of her fitted white blouse. Her hair has been allowed to come loose from its high ponytail and now, courtesy of a long, rather tedious session at a beauty salon, cascades down to just past her shoulders in a wave.
She makes a minute adjustment to the angle of her left earring, then nods. [All right. We're good,] she declares.
[Sure we're not overdressed? Maybe we should tone it down a bit,] I wonder.
[Better to be slightly overdressed than a little underdressed,] Shizune insists. [After all, we're trying to make an impression.]
[You're trying to make an impression. I'm just along for the ride.]
[Admit it. You love seeing me like this,] Shizune says.
[I'd love seeing you more out of this,] I reply, grinning.
[Don't even think about it, Mister. You're not going to get out of this by seducing me, Mister Master of Romance.] She grins. [Afterwards? Now that's another story.]
[It was worth a shot. Let's get going, we don't want to be too late.]
I help her into her coat, and we head out towards the setting sun. Harry's is a moderately nice western-style restaurant that my friends and I used to go to a lot when we were in high school. It's a few blocks away from my home: a bit far for walking, but it's a nice evening, and I don't mind the walk. We continue for a while in companionable silence, the only sounds being the sharp clicking sound of my girlfriend's high heeled shoes against the sidewalk, and my lower-pitched footsteps forming a counterpoint to that rhythm.
The sun has gone down by the time we round the corner and arrive at the restaurant. Taking a quick look around, I can see that there are several tables pushed together at one side of the venue, and a small sign with the words, "Reserved: Hasegawa Party" scribbled on a sheet of white paper in Sharpie pen. There are about eight people already there, sipping drinks and chatting. I take a deep breath and hold Shizune's hand tightly. She squeezes back, and we walk into the restaurant.
Mai's the first one to notice us, jumping up and waving to me excitedly. "Hisao!" she calls out. "Over here! Hey, everyone, you remember Hisao Nakai, right?"
Immediately, everyone's gotten up from their seats and shaking my hand. Names and faces I vaguely remembered from my days in high school reappear before me, shaking my hand and offering various greetings. "And this is Shizune Hakamichi, my girlfriend," I say at last, once I get a chance to get a word in edgewise. . . and then move on to the next part, the one Shizune and I discussed at home. "She's deaf," I said, "and doesn't speak, but I can translate what you say into sign language for her, and we have a notepad as well, if you want to write notes."
"Good to meet you, Shizune," Ryoko says, giving her a handshake and a light hug. "We've heard so much about you!" Her voice is just a little too loud, and enunciated just a bit too clearly. I wince.
Before I can follow up on that, Mai passes me and Shizune two name-tags with our names written on them. "Here you go," she says, smiling. I notice that everyone is wearing small name-tags stuck to their lapels: just stickers with their names written on them in Sharpie. A strange thing to have at a reunion of old high school friends who have known each other for years.
I glance back over at Mai, who winks at me playfully. "You're not the only one who brought a girlfriend or boyfriend," she says. "I thought this way, we could all remember everyone's names."
Ah. Of course. I look back over at Shizune, and find that Shin has taken it upon himself to introduce her to everyone. I know that she can't understand what they're saying, but they all have name-tags, and their warmth and genuine hospitality are showing through. If a few of them also look a bit nervous and unsure of themselves, they hide it well. Shizune responds with nods and silent bowing. There's a slightly disappointed look in her eyes, as if she were a soldier who'd burst into a room waving around his rifle and yelling, only to find that he was in an empty room with no enemies at all.
After that, everyone sits back down, and we take our seats. Ryoko leans over again, and says, again in that overly enunciated, overly loud voice, "So. Shizune. How did you and Hisao first meet?"
I sigh. [She wants to know how we first met.]
[Tell her,] Shizune replies. [Also, what is wrong with the way she's talking? Is she stupid?]
[I think she's trying to be considerate of you, by talking loud and slow,] I reply.
[Oh. One of those. Should we tell her it doesn't help at all and just makes her look silly?]
[I don't think so. She'll get the idea eventually. I hope.] I turn back to Ryoko and give her a quick synopsis: same class together, student council, school festival, Tanabata, fireworks, yada yada.
Ryoko laughs out loud. "Really? You? Hisao? On the student council? How the heck did she manage that?"
"I'm still not sure of that myself. I think Risk was involved. And Australia. Definitely Australia."
"I wish you'd stayed, then. We could have used you during senior year."
"I was on the Student Council during senior year," Ryoko says, laughing. "We mostly passed out flyers and handled the budget for various clubs. It was a lot of work, but fun, though."
[She says she was on the Student Council during the year I was gone,] I translate for Shizune. [They mostly passed out flyers and handled budgets for the clubs. She claims it was a lot of work.]
Shizune smiles. [Amateurs.]
[I am being nice. Still, you, Misha, and I did ten times more work than that, with only the three of us.]
"What's she saying, Hisao?" Ryoko asks
"Oh. Um. Shizune's saying that our student council was much smaller. It was a lot of hard work."
"I can imagine. Only three people? I couldn't imagine handling everything we did with only three."
[She's rather impressed that we did as much as we did with only three people,] I translate.
[Thank her for me, then.]
I do so, which results in another wave of reminiscing about senior year, which I translate as best I can. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a couple of my old male friends giving me envious looks and stealing glances at my girlfriend.
I try not to smirk.
By the time the waitress comes around to take our drink orders, I've wound up in a conversation with Shin and a few of my friends about baseball: Shizune continues on the conversation with Ryoko using her notepad. About when the drinks and appetizers arrive, I hear the door open and glance over to see two people walking in together.
My heart skips a beat. Thankfully, it's not serious.
Takumi looks like he always has: same touseled dark hair, same serious expression, same glasses. Iwanako. . .
Imagining this moment, I'd always pictured her the way I'd last seen her: with long, black tresses falling past her shoulders in an ebony cascade. So seeing her with her hair in a short pixie-cut is a shock to me. She flinches as she sees me look up at her, then Takumi puts his hand on her shoulder and whispers something in her ear. She nods, and the two of them walk over.
"Hello, Hisao," Iwanako says, softly.
"Hi, Iwanako," I reply. "Hey, Takumi."
Takumi nods. "Hey, Hisao."
Before the silence can get awkward, I stand up and tap Shizune on the shoulder: she glances up at me, then over at Iwanako and Takumi, with a bit of surprise. Of course. She didn't hear them come in. She gets to her feet, and begins to sign to the two of them. ["Hi,"] I translate. ["I'm Shizune Hakamichi, Hisao's girlfriend. It's good to meet you both."]
Iwanako smiles wanly. "It's good to meet you too," she says, as I translate for her. "Hisao told me a lot about you. . ."
Shizune and Iwanako find seats, and Shizune breaks out her notepad once again. Takumi and I are left looking at each other in awkward silence. "Um," I say, nervously. "Hi."
Takumi stuffs his hands in his pockets and looks at his feet. "Hi," he says.
I clear my throat. "So," I ask, "How you been?"
"I've been. . . all right. I'm a ronin right now: didn't get into the schools I wanted. Iwanako's helping me study for the entrance exams next year."
"Agh. That sucks."
"Yeah," Takumi agrees. "On the other hand, I did pretty well on the last practice exam. I feel pretty confident in my chances next year."
Another one of those awkward silences descends over our conversation. In the background, I can hear Mai and Ryoko laughing as they reminisce about some event that happened after I had already left.
"Hey," I say. "I'm uhhhh. . . gonna get a breath of fresh air. Wanna come with me?" I ask.
Takumi nods. "Um. Yeah. Sure."
The evening is crisp and clean compared to the warm light of the restaurant. Takumi and I end up leaning against the wall together, illuminated by the light of the neon signs and the restaurant proper. He pulls a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and offers me one, which I decline with a shake of my head. He takes out his lighter and lights up, taking a deep drag and blowing a cloud of fragrant smoke into the night air.
"So," I say. "You and Iwanako, huh?"
"Yeah," Takumi says softly. "It um. Happened a few months after you left for. . . that other school."
"Yamaku High," I say.
"Yeah." Takumi sighs. "I would have called you and asked for permission to ask her out. . . but. . . you know."
"Actually, I don't."
Takumi sighs and rubs the back of his neck. "Damn it, Hisao," he mutters. "You remember how it was! I didn't know what you'd do if I wrote you telling you that I wanted to date Iwanako. I mean. . . what if it gave you another heart attack? I didn't want that on my conscience. . . and for all I knew, you weren't ever coming back anyway. You never even said goodbye, remember?"
"Actually, I don't remember," I admit, trying not to let bitterness tinge my voice.
"Agh," Takumi sighs, running a hand through his hair. "Look. . . if I'm really honest with you, will you promise not to have a heart attack?"
"I can't really control that," I point out, "but I'll try not to."
"Fine," Takumi says, steeling himself. "You were an asshole back then."
"Look, it was like. . . the entire class came by to try and cheer you up. You barely even talked to them. Mai, Shin, and I kept coming to visit you. You'd barely even talk to us, and when you did, you were always pissed off. Remember the time that Mai tried to talk to you about going to Tokyo Disneyland together after you got out of the hospital?"
"Vaguely," I admit.
"Do you remember telling us that you weren't going to go anywhere? Do you remember saying that you wouldn't even get to do anything? That you'd die if you tried to go on any of the rides?" Takumi asked relentlessly.
". . . Not really. I was in a. . . bad spot back then."
"Yeah, I know. We all knew. Mai knew she'd screwed up, but. . . we were all trying to help. . . trying to be there for our friend. But. . . you didn't let us. We couldn't get through to you at all." Takumi sighs. "It sucked," he says, decisively.
I digest these words for a moment as Takumi takes another puff of his cigarette. I'm thinking back to my time in the hospital. . . remembering the days going by, the stream of visitors slowing to a trickle. I'm remembering, looking back, at the expressions on my friends' faces. Grim. Set. . . Determined. Angry. Sad. Especially sad.
"Yeah," I admit. "You have a point there. Like I said. . . I was in a bad place at the time." I look down at my feet. "I'm sorry."
"I know," Takumi said. "And you had every right to be angry. I mean. . . you'd just found out you could die at any moment. I'd be kinda freaked out by that too. But. . . damn, man. I wish you could have let us help."
"I think. . ." I swallow. "I think I wasn't in a position to be helped. I needed to get my head into a different space before I could let that happen."
"You seem better now," Takumi admits. "To be honest, I didn't think you'd come out tonight."
"I. . . got convinced to come." I smile. "I guess you might say I kinda had a breakthrough, a while back. Some things happened that convinced me that worrying about yesterday and tomorrow isn't worth it, if it means that you wind up losing your grip on today. I forgot that for a bit."
I glance back into the restaurant. Iwanako is scribbling something very quickly on a notepad, which she then passes to Shizune. Shizune nods and smiles, laughing her trademark silent chuckle, one hand covering her mouth. I watch her brush a hair back from her face behind her ear as she picks up the pen and starts to write back.
"I'm just glad someone was there to remind me of what's important."
The rest of the evening passes by largely without incident. Dinner was. . . unremarkable. The usual Western-style fare. We wind up staying past closing, buying drinks and catching up on old times. A good evening all around.
Towards the end of the night, I take a break to go to the restroom. On my way back, I wind up watching Shizune and my friends converse. Mai has somehow managed to get notepads for everyone, and everyone is sitting around jotting down notes and passing them back and forth. It looks like some bizarre party game.
There is a gentle cough beside me, and I find Iwanako standing nervously a few feet away, her hands clasped in front of her, looking up at me shyly. Her expression is strangely reminiscent of that day in the snow. "Iwanako," I say softly.
"Hisao." She sighs. "I'm sorry."
I nod. "I know." A deep breath. "I got your letter."
"Oh? I'm glad," Iwanako replies. "When you never replied, I thought. . ." her voice trails off.
"I was in a bad place back then," I say. This must be the hundredth time I've said that tonight. "I'm sorry I never wrote back." I pause for a moment, then forge forward. "Is that when you and Takumi started dating?"
"A little afterwards," Iwanako folds her hands tightly. "He was. . . nice to me. After everything that happened. . . a lot of our classmates hated me. They blamed me for what happened to you. Takumi didn't. And then. . . after a while. . . I realized I liked him."
I nod. "I'm glad you two found each other, then," I say. And this time, it's the truth.
I feel that day in the snow fade away into distant memory.
For the first time since it happened, I think back to that moment without a hint of regret.
"Thank you for asking me out, back then," I say softly. "It was the first time that a girl ever asked me out. I was. . . happy. . . knowing that you liked me."
Iwanako turns her face away, and I realize she's crying. I offer her my handkerchief in silence. She accepts it gratefully.
We remain there, watching our friends laugh and talk, for a few minutes, before rejoining the party.
It's past midnight by the time that Shizune and I get back. The house is dark, but I can see my dad's car in the driveway. My parents are home but asleep.
We walk in silence up the darkened stairway and into my room. I wearily remove my clothes and hang up my new jacket and slacks on their hangers, before unbuttoning my shirt and hanging it up as well. I pull on a t-shirt over my head, while Shizune hangs up her clothes on some borrowed clothes hangers and shrugs into her nightgown.
We wash up in my bathroom together, then climb into bed. Shizune pulls my arms around her like a warm blanket, snuggling in close like a kitten snuggling up to its mother, her back to my front. I nuzzle the back of her neck for a moment, inhaling her soft, feminine scent.
I fall asleep still holding her, and dream of warm, summer days.
Author's Note: I don't actually remember if Hisao ever writes Iwanako back in any route. I remember the answer to that being "no," or never made clear, but I might have made a mistake.
The story feels like its coming towards its conclusion soon. If not the next chapter, the one after that should be the end.
Feedback, as always, is greatly appreciated.