Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

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Barabbas
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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Barabbas » Sat Jan 19, 2013 9:50 pm

Hey Dawnstorm! Glad you see you're still there, and that you haven't given up on this engaging fanfic of yours. Do set a pace you're comfortable with, and don't worry about the rest. I can only speak for myself, but I think most of your readers are still there, and are fine with you taking your time.
And, of course, thank you for your effort, and take care!

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Kitsune Spirit
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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Kitsune Spirit » Sat Jan 19, 2013 10:10 pm

I dunno if all your readers are still here (I hope they are), but you did gain a new one. Me! I was completely tossed into the dark of the woods until the Misha/Shizune encounter in the lunch room. I thought maybe the new girl was a spirit, or a kitsune (which admittedly would have made me giggle with delight)... and then I thought maybe she had a multiple personality disorder. lol She's unique and nasty.

The way you wrote your story, I cant help but reading it like prose... as if you were writing it in a Shakespearean form or something. It's quite different, but was a bit hard to follow at first.

Dawnstorm
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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Dawnstorm » Sun Jan 20, 2013 4:26 am

Hi,

Thanks for the continued interest, everyone. As I said, I'm not quitting the story, even if I take my time. Two more scenes (if I don't change my mind), and that's it for part 2 and on to part 3, which is the finale. There's a part 4, though it's going to be comparatively short (I think). I've got the basics down, and most of it I've planned before I even started writing (which is unusual for me; I'm normally not a planner).
nemz wrote:Can't say there's much of anything here that couldn't be inferred from earlier posts, but it's nice to see you around again. Kids can be so cruel, but the truth is adults are just as bad... they just hide it better.
Yep, it's mostly a point-of-view piece. Almost everything has been mentioned before.
And yes, you can both quote and edit things. The buttons are still there in the top right corner, it's just that the graphic isn't loading for whatever reason.
Ah, thanks. I didn't notice. Index post edited.
Bagheera wrote:Please don't give up on it! This is an excellent story, one well worth telling IMO. It would be a shame to lose it.
As I said, I'm not giving up on it. It's just not the most pleasant story to write, and it's not something I want to tackle when life's stressful (say, around Christmas, which everyone but me seems to love).
Barabbas wrote:Hey Dawnstorm! Glad you see you're still there, and that you haven't given up on this engaging fanfic of yours. Do set a pace you're comfortable with, and don't worry about the rest. I can only speak for myself, but I think most of your readers are still there, and are fine with you taking your time.
And, of course, thank you for your effort, and take care!
Thanks. It's interesting to see the post-to-view-ratio rise. I think I started out with ~3 views per post. Compared to other threads, I seem to attract silent readers. Which I understand, I'm usually a silent reader myself. :mrgreen:
Kitsune Spirit wrote:I dunno if all your readers are still here (I hope they are), but you did gain a new one. Me! I was completely tossed into the dark of the woods until the Misha/Shizune encounter in the lunch room. I thought maybe the new girl was a spirit, or a kitsune (which admittedly would have made me giggle with delight)... and then I thought maybe she had a multiple personality disorder. lol She's unique and nasty.

The way you wrote your story, I cant help but reading it like prose... as if you were writing it in a Shakespearean form or something. It's quite different, but was a bit hard to follow at first.
Hehe. Well, she's definitely based on the trickster archetype. And she's definitely more of a kitsune than a tanuki. Though lately I think she might be a bakeneko...

Seriously, I don't think it's a spoiler at this point to say that the story does not contain anything supernatural. But I usually write SF/F (and absurdist stuff), and it might show in the way I handle my themes.

Barabbas
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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Barabbas » Sun Jan 20, 2013 4:39 pm

Dawnstorm wrote:It's just not the most pleasant story to write, and it's not something I want to tackle when life's stressful (say, around Christmas, which everyone but me seems to love).
Well, you're definitely not alone in this. To me, festivities like Christmas and New Year's Eve are something like endurance tests: you just have to grit your teeth and let them overtake you. I usually tend to stick with a small group of my closest friends, and that usually makes them bearable. I certainly hope yours were not excessively grim, anyway!

Dawnstorm
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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Dawnstorm » Mon Mar 11, 2013 5:14 am

For story-post navigation please refer to the index post.

II.10. A Measured, Comfortable Distance

“By the way, Hisao,” Lilly says.

Hanako stiffens, leans forward, fixes her eyes on the table. She knows that she's doing it, doesn't want to do it, but cannot help herself. She wonders, whether Hisao notices that she's hiding her eyes in the shadow of her hair. He might. In a good mood, he can be quite perceptive. Lately, however, his mood has been hard to gauge.

“My sister has invited Hanako and me for a day-out this weekend.”

Hanako doesn't want to be here. This is too embarrassing. Lilly is playing a strange game, and Hanako is not sure of the rules. There has been girls' talk between them.. Lilly has been talking about Hisao, asking questions, and Hanako admitted to some things but not others. Lilly thinks it's cute how he apologises for each imagined affront. Hanako is torn on this trait: it shows his caring, attentive side; but it's also... awkward. You have to respond to an apology, even when you'd rather pretend the offence didn't happen. Or – more often – it's no offence at all, but the apologetic behaviour turns it into an issue. Lilly doesn't mind; she is at ease with her blindness in a way Hanako will never be with her scars, both inside and out. What does Hanako like about Hisao? He is quiet and serious, patient, never makes sudden movements. He doesn't sneak up from behind. He's confident but not pushy. He's comfortable to be with.

And now Lilly is making a move that threatens this comfort. She wants the three of them to get closer. And maybe, just maybe, that is a good idea. Maybe Hanako is just too scared, too wary, too cynical. Lilly has a strong, intuitive faith in bonds. Little disappointments can be overcome. But bonds have to be strengthened, and that is risky. You learn about others hidden sides, and you reveal yours. How much of the truth do people really want? How much does Hanako really want to know about Hisao? How much does Hisao really want to know about Hanako? Would he still want to talk to her, if he knew how she felt inside? Girl's talk is such a farce. Lilly giggles and Hanako blushes her way through a fantasy festival lined with tea cups and cookies and chess and books and how a certain male newcomer fits in, and it's fun until you remember what you don't talk about. You don't talk about masturbation in a dark room over the first boy in a long time to stay, actually stay with you. Hormones act up, and target the only one to be kind and patient enough. She enjoys the attention as much as she fears it, and she abuses the kindness, the patience with fantasies he cannot possibly appreciate. Similarly, Hisao must have his reasons; and how likely is she to appreciate those reasons? Hanako wants the attention, oh how she wants it, but she is not sure she wants to get to know the person behind Hisao. She certainly doesn't want to reveal herself. It's a social game of exchange, service for service, and an implicit acknowledgement of secrets remaining secrets. It is a delicate balance.

“We thought that you might like to come,” Lilly finishes.

A short silence, and Hisao replies: “I didn't know you have a sister.”

A deflection. Maybe it's the tone of Hisao's voice, but Hanako is certain: Hisao is buying time to figure out how to decline the offer. He's not going to come. What Hanako should be feeling now is a mix of relief and disappointment. Lilly's plan is postponed, and she has time to prepare; but on the other hand it might never come to fruition now, and Hanako would liked to go on an outing with Lilly and Akira and Hisao. Akira would have been perfect to deflect the situation: confident and loud, but not too loud. The only person who dares to tease Hanako, never about the taboo stuff. She's good at knowing what she can get away with and what not. Akira would have teased Hanako about Hisao; it would have been a double tease, aimed at Hisao, too. A safe game of make-belief that threatens little and comes with a slight modicum of hope. A frustrated hope, an averted threat. Disappointment and relief. Yet she feels none of it, at least not deeply. She is frightened, and, Hanako realises, she is frightened of the immediate situation. Underneath his calm exterior, Hisao is restless. There is something he won't speak of, something Hanako doesn't want to hear, doesn't want to think about.

“Is that really so surprising?” Lilly asks in that amused tone of hers that is so hard to penetrate. No doubt, she senses the deflection, too.

“Not really. It's just I never imagined you in a... family context.” There is a pause during which Hanako wants to look up, but she's paralysed. “I'd really like to meet your sister,” Hisao says, “but unfortunately, this weekend is not a good time.”

Hanako feels her throat tightening. Enough. Leave it at that, Lilly, please.

“Oh, you have plans?”

No. Lilly, don't you see... But maybe she does. Maybe she thinks it's about time they addressed...

“Yes.” There is a pause. It's not polite to leave things at that. The pause during which Hisao figures out what to say seems unbearably long. Finally: “I promised.”

A terse answer. He would like to come, but there are previous arrangements. It would be rude, now, to keep pressing the point. Maybe it's going to be all right.

“Well, if you promised, it can't be helped,” Lilly says. “But it's a pity, really. Isn't it a pity, Hanako?”

What? Hanako should have seen that coming, but she was distracted. Her throat is still tight, and she's still trembling. She has to say something. Something... “P-pity...” she repeats. Her voice doesn't come out right. She doesn't look up at all; she cannot see Lilly, she cannot see Hisao. She wants to leave. Now.

And then she hears Hisao take a deep breath, and she knows it's too late.

“You're probably going to hear rumours, anyway, so I'd better tell you.” Hisao picks up the spoon of his tea cup, only to put it down again. It clatters against the china of the cup. Hisao is nervous, too. “I'm meeting Kitagawa's mum, and I'll pretend to be her boyfriend. That's what I promised her, and I have my reasons. But I'm not her boyfriend.” A pause. “No matter what you'll hear, it's not true.”

The world falls away. The world had been resting on a carefully crafted silence, a mutual understanding following that talk. And now that silence is shattered, and Lilly is drawn into that other world, a world Lilly cannot possibly understand. Some people are irredeemable, and when Hanako thinks of Kitagawa, she feels that's where she belongs. It's a world of loners that like no-one, not even each other. And Hisao is going to topple over and fall into that world, too. Lilly is their shield, their life-line. But she cannot look into that world. It's a world that shatters all bonds. It's a world that leaves only loneliness. Even Lilly can't withstand this... force. She will abandon them all, or they will take her down. Lilly isn't strong enough. She likes to be in control, and that world cannot be controlled at all. It is pure, lonely chaos.

“Hanako?” Lilly's voice. So worried. Lilly must not follow them into that world; she has to be Hisao's anchor. Lilly can pull, and Hanako can push, and he'll be allright. Maybe. But now?

Hanako has to be strong. She barely knows what she's doing, when she hears her own voice. “B-be careful,” her voice says to Hisao. It is rude to ignore Lilly, when she is so worried. But it is necessary. It is a message. Stay out of this. Lilly will understand.

Two quick breaths from Hisao. Then: “I will.”

“M-maybe next time,” Hanako hears herself say.

“I'd like that.” And he turns to Lilly, “So what's your sister like?”

And then Hisao and Lilly talk about Akira and pretend to leave Hanako alone, and slowly, slowly, much too slowly, she is calming down. The situation is disarmed. This is a kind of closeness, too, Hanako thinks. A measured, comfortable distance that unites them. Maybe one day Lilly will understand that there isn't enough time until graduation for anything else.

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Mahorfeus
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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Mahorfeus » Mon Mar 11, 2013 10:44 am

Always a treat to see this one get updated.

I'm fuzzy about the basics again - what is this style of narration called? Third person limited? It captures the awkwardness of this scene rather well, but I'm not really sure how to explain how.

I suppose I should have counted on Hisao to come right out and tell the truth, though I admit I did not think he would come clean about pretending to be Miya's boyfriend.
"A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love." -Stendhal
The verdict is (finally) in:
Hanako > Rin > Emi > Lilly = Shizune

Dawnstorm
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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Dawnstorm » Mon Mar 11, 2013 9:50 pm

Mahorfeus wrote:Always a treat to see this one get updated.
Thanks. It's nice to see I have still readers, despite my infrequent updates.
I'm fuzzy about the basics again - what is this style of narration called? Third person limited? It captures the awkwardness of this scene rather well, but I'm not really sure how to explain how.
People call it third person limited, though that's not my favourite terminology. I can see, however, why "heterodiegetic narrative with internal focalisation" doesn't become popular terminology. ;)

With third person limited, the most important choice is who are you giving the scene to? Whose point of view will you show? The advantage over first person is that the character doesn't know his point of view is used to relate the story. In first person, you tend to have the narrator editorialise, but in third limited a third person narrator simply relates what the character notices and thinks is important. Try to imagine the scene from Lilly's point of view, or from Hisao's. The scene would be very different. What goes through Hisao's mind just before he reveals his weekend plans? Just how deliberate is this reveal? Or how does Lilly react to Hisao's deflection earlier on?

I've chosen Hanako's point of view for the scene, because she's the observer, here, but she's also got the deepest insight in this situation. The scene was a lot more involved and confusing, before I cut it down to the necessities. There's a lot "background radiation" in Hanako's mind that I'd attempted to explain, but it just blew up the text and there was no focus as a result. One of the problems with third limited is that you have to put non-verbal, emotional reactions into words. Very little of what goes on in Hanako's mind in this scene is actually verbal to begin with. However, some constellations are more complex than others, and to get them across, you'd need to go all analytic, but that disturbs the flow too much.

I find Hanako surprisingly hard to write (I thought I'd do better). Personally, I'm doing better here than in my last attempt, but I'm not quite there yet.
I suppose I should have counted on Hisao to come right out and tell the truth, though I admit I did not think he would come clean about pretending to be Miya's boyfriend.
Heh, I suppose he didn't count on making that revalation either. "Whatever you hear, it isn't true," sounds a bit over-the-top to me. More worried about rumours than he'd like to admit? Afraid to upset Hanako? Just nervous? I wonder. (I'm not being coy, here. I actually haven't figured out exactly why he added that. It just seemed to fit his mood.) I rely a lot on intuition in first drafts.

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nemz
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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by nemz » Tue Mar 12, 2013 4:47 pm

He's somewhat aware of Hanako's past dealings with Miya, so it makes sense he'd want to give her some forewarning (especially considering her 'Hanakoness') so it doesn't become a huge problem later.

Perhaps it's just the verbalization of non-verbalities (or just being far too poetic in your metaphors for the serious business of high school social life), but Hanako in this scene comes across as being just a very short step from utter madness. Seems accurate, actually.
Rin > Shizune > Emi > Hanako > Lilly

Dawnstorm
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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Dawnstorm » Wed Mar 13, 2013 3:18 pm

nemz wrote:Perhaps it's just the verbalization of non-verbalities (or just being far too poetic in your metaphors for the serious business of high school social life), but Hanako in this scene comes across as being just a very short step from utter madness. Seems accurate, actually.
Heh, that's pretty much intentional. (Not quite on that scale, though.)

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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Joonwoo » Tue Apr 16, 2013 7:56 pm

Is the thread dead? I hope not :(
Narcolepsy without the cataplexy. Tired but no random fainting. I made it, so can you.

Dawnstorm
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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Dawnstorm » Wed Apr 17, 2013 5:53 pm

Joonwoo wrote:Is the thread dead? I hope not :(
Thanks for reading. Don't worry, the thread's not dead. It's undead; shuffling along at the speed of zombie. A very short scene is already written, but it's so short I decided against posting it. Next "chapter" Hisao will meet Miya's mum, and that's the end of part 2. One problem with the slow pacing is that I tend to forget what of Miya's backstory I've already put into the story, and what Hisao already knows. I hope I won't introduce incosistencies... :oops:

I can't promise a schedule, but rest assured, I'm going to finish this story.

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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Bagheera » Wed Apr 17, 2013 6:27 pm

Dawnstorm wrote:I can't promise a schedule, but rest assured, I'm going to finish this story.
Hooray!

Well, I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I'll be along for the ride, no matter how long it takes. Don't feel rushed at all; just post what you can when you're satisfied with the result and we'll be happy.
Girls: Emi = Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Shizune = Rin
Routes: Rin = Shizune > Emi > Lilly = Hanako


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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Dawnstorm » Thu Apr 18, 2013 5:42 pm

Bagheera wrote:
Dawnstorm wrote:I can't promise a schedule, but rest assured, I'm going to finish this story.
Hooray!

Well, I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I'll be along for the ride, no matter how long it takes. Don't feel rushed at all; just post what you can when you're satisfied with the result and we'll be happy.
Thanks. I'd really like to write a quicker pace myself. It'd have a couple of advantages, but - well - I've been pretty exhausted lately, and then you get used to giving in to your I'll-do-it-later impulse... If I were to go professional as a writer, I'd need better discipline. :wink:

I've written stories for nearly 30 years now, and this is my first attempt at fanfic (second, if you count a "creative" account of a play-through of the video-game Wizradry 8 ). I keep hearing, from people who don't write it, that fanfic is easy or a cop-out, and you should create your own stuff. At best it's practise for the real stuff. This has always puzzled me: creating your own stuff is easy; but trying to stay within the confinements of a pre-given world and still do things that make it worthwhile... I find that challenging. There's just no way I'll quit now.

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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by griffon8 » Sat Apr 20, 2013 9:47 pm

Dawnstorm wrote:I've written stories for nearly 30 years now, and this is my first attempt at fanfic (second, if you count a "creative" account of a play-through of the video-game Wizradry 8 ). I keep hearing, from people who don't write it, that fanfic is easy or a cop-out, and you should create your own stuff. At best it's practise for the real stuff. This has always puzzled me: creating your own stuff is easy; but trying to stay within the confinements of a pre-given world and still do things that make it worthwhile... I find that challenging. There's just no way I'll quit now.
It's called easy because 90% of fanfic doesn't put in the effort. That's what makes it a cop-out. You've elevated yourself into the 10% just by making an OC who is a) different from every other OC seen here and b) not a Mary Sue.

Heck, let's take a look at my writings. I've been told that people enjoyed them, and I believe them. But how much original stuff went into them? In the two long and two short stories I've written, the only character with a name that isn't in the VN or borrowed from some other KS fanfic doesn't have any lines!
I found out about Katawa Shoujo through the forums of Misfile. There, I am the editor of Misfiled Dreams.

Completed: 100%, including bonus picture. Shizune>Emi>Lilly>Hanako>Rin

Griffon8's Writing

Dawnstorm
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Re: Meanwhile I wait [Hisao x original character]

Post by Dawnstorm » Mon Apr 22, 2013 3:21 am

For story-post navigation please refer to the index post.

II. 11. Benefits

They have met at Yamaku's gate and are now heading towards the Shanghai. Progress is nervous and slow. They're silently walking side by side. Hisao is unwilling to walk ahead, unwilling to fall behind. Miya? Hisao can't tell. She's been jittery all the way, in a way he can't quite pin down. At the gate, students have been trying not to stare, and Miya has been uncharacteristically stiff, just staring straight ahead. She is still that way.

Not only her behaviour is different. Her hair is short, very short. He hasn't yet found a way to address it, and now, he probably never will. At least, her hair is no longer the mess it used to be. What happened is easy to guess: a trip to the hairdresser's before visiting mum, and this was the best the hairdresser could make of Miya's self-inflicted cut. The image of Miya visiting a hairdresser's won't leave him alone. It's such a normal, such a mundane thing. It's not surprising that she wants to look presentable when meeting her mum, but it's... disorienting to think of her like that.

A group of students approaches from behind. Their chatter ceases. They slow down, then speed up. When they're a slight distance in front of Hisao and Miya they begin talking again. Hey, did you see...? They're still in hearing distance, but Hisao doesn't listen. Soon they'll be further ahead. Miya had warned him about a rumour explosion; so that is that. Hisao turns his head to see if Miya reacts to them. Nothing. They don't appear to register.

Hisao is at a loss. This might be, should be the most authentic Miya he has seen yet, but authentic or not, this current state is... disturbing. It's impossible to create an image of a person from such an exceptional emotional state. It's... a disjointed puzzle piece at the far end of the puzzle, connecting to nothing. He doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know what to do. Soon, they'll meet Miya's mum, and then what? They're supposed to pretend to be a couple. Hisao looks at the group of students, up ahead, the distance widening, and thinks, to them, most likely they do look that way. People see what they want to see. And that includes himself. Miya or not, couple or not. His binary mode of perception, so useful in everyday encounters, falters. The task at hand... focus on the task at hand.

“Is...” Hisao has been silent so long that his voice breaks. He coughs, swallows. “Is there anything I should... know?”

Miya's head doesn't turn. “You'll be fine.” A low mumble that might have been just as well addressed to herself.

“It's just... I'm a lousy actor.”

“You'll be fine.”

The boyfriend doesn't matter, Hisao thinks, when you meet your mum. He is well aware of the thought's pettiness, but there is nothing else to think so he indulges himself. Boyfriend or not. Dragged along, or not. Ignored or not. Binaries are not helpful today.

***

Yuuko has come and Miya has sent her away. They would order when her mum arrives. Since then they have been waiting, waiting, waiting. Now, the door opens and a woman steps in. She stands in the doorway and scans the room. Beside him, Miya raises her hand. The woman notices Miya, smiles and heads for their table.

Miya's mother is not what Hisao has expected. She is small and slim. Shoulder-length hair, all straight and unassuming. She's wearing a simple, grey dress. A belt, a darker shade of grey; a bag, a lighter shade. No other accessories. Straight posture, confident movements. Hisao stands up to greet her. He is taller than she is, and for some reason this embarrasses him. Miya does not rise, shoots a glance, sideways and upwards, toward him. There's a distracted smile on her face.

“Good afternoon,” Miya's mum says. “I'm Hotaru Kitagawa. You must be Hisao. Pardon me for using your fist name; Miya has neglected to tell me your last.”

“I'm Nakai Hisao,” he says. “Pleased to meet you.” He's speaking too fast. He bows for a second too long.

“Pleased to meet you.” Her expression is unreadable, her voice more polite than friendly. At the same time, she seems... immensely interested. Of course, she would be interested in her daughter's boyfriend, but the feeling is... strangely distant. As if Hisao were a business partner.

Ms Kitagawa turns to her daughter. “Your boyfriend is very polite.”

“He is, isn't he?” It's evident that Miya is still nervous, but she seems to be growing into the situation. Hisao looks at the two of them in turn and feels left out.

Ms Kitagawa pulls up her own chair, and for a moment Hisao wonders whether he should have done it for her. She sits down, and takes just a moment too long to place her handbag on the table. Hisao realises he's still standing, and sits down, a trifle to quickly.

Ms Kitagawa looks up from her bag, and across the table. She smiles, and for the first time there's a hint of friendliness in her eyes. “You must be as nervous,” she says to him, “as I am. This is the first time Miya's ever presented a boyfriend, and I certainly don't want to frighten him away.” An unexpectedly clumsy joke. Not only he and Miya are nervous.

“Mom!” Miya calls out, in a voice that doesn't sound quite playful enough.

Hisao feels caught up in a badly acted farce. All social encounters, he thinks, might have hints of it. It's a revelation of some sort. In a way they are pretending; in another way, they are dropping the pretense. Here he is: Hisao, the pretend-boyfriend caught in a mock display of a mother-daughter relationship. It feels so surreal, that for a moment Hisao wonders whether Miya has hired an actress, only to mess with him. But it makes no sense, does it? Does it?

“I'm nervous,” Hisao says. “It's true. But I'm not that easy to frighten off.”

“Oh?” Ms Kitagawa says, then turns to her daughter. They exchange a grin.

I haven't frightened him off,” Miya says. “I'm more scared you'll steal him away from me.” She pauses. “Don't.”

Miya didn't just... Hisao stiffens. He has no way of telling how common this sort of joke is between them.

Ms Kitagawa focusses her attention on Hisao. “I won't,” she says, slowly, cautiously. She studies him intently. Hisao feels the blood rush to his face, and he stares intently at the table. He feels blanked out, objectified. Miya's words mingle with what he knows about this woman's past. Does she know he knows? She certainly suspects it.

And what, in Ms Kitagawa's eyes, is Hisao's status? Does she believe Hisao is her boyfriend? If so, is he entitled to this knowledge? A latent thought coalesces: he is supposed to pretend to be Miya's boyfriend, but he isn't supposed to fool Ms Kitagawa. You'll be fine. Implication: It doesn't matter if you're a lousy actor, as long as you're willing to pretend, you'll be fine. The best actor in the world won't fool her. Then what is the point of this farce?

“Ah.” It's Miya. “It seems I'm too nervous. He, he.” She stands up. “Gotta pee.” She smiles apologetically at him, then heads off towards the toilets.

“There she goes,” Ms Kitagawa says with an odd inflection. “I hope you're not offended by my unrefined manners?”

What are the roles here? Surely Ms Kitagawa doesn't expect him to be offended by a mere reference to urination? “I've heard worse,” he says. He hopes this counts as diplomatic middle ground.

This earns him a chuckle. Ms Kitagawa briefly looks down, then looks him straight into the eyes. “She won't be coming back, you know?”

“What?” The word is out before he catches himself. They're alone now. Two strangers left alone by their host. Ms Kitagawa seems less surprised than he is, but can he trust the facade?

“Please, forgive her,” Ms Kitagawa says. “She probably intended to sit this out. A little demonstration for me that she's not all lonely. Last year she produced a 'friend'. I liked her. Didn't even try to be anyone other than herself. I think she may have overestimated her ability to play both sides at once. When she's out of her depth, she runs. That's just how she is.”

Hisao feels like it's his turn to say something. But words don't come. Play both sides at once? Does Ms Kitagawa suggest they drop the act?

“I'm sorry. When I say 'play both sides at once', I make her sound a tad... manipulative.” She looks at Hisao, but when Hisao fails to respond, she goes on. “What I mean to say is that she's... she's trying to please both of us, in a way. Sure, she wants to show off her... boyfriend to me. But she also wants to show off her mother to you. And with her... well, not even I know exactly where she wants to go with this, so she'll need to play host. But maybe... maybe the... the... scripts are odds, and she... just can't.” A pause. “It's not easy to talk about her manner of conduct. You are at least somewhat familiar with it?”

Hisao tries to process this. “Ms Kitagawa...” he says, but still no other words will come.

“I'm sorry. Let me try again. How well do you know my daughter?”

A question. Good. If only there was a good reply. “I can't tell.”

Ms Kitagawa gives him a small laugh. “She's not the... easiest person to get to know, I suppose. Can you explain?”

“Explain?” It's a stupid question, but it buys time.

“You could have said non-committal things like 'not as well as I'd like to', or 'I'm getting to know her better each day'. You didn't. Your reply implies you actually have an interest in getting to know my daughter. What I'd like to know is: why can't you tell?”

“Why...?”

“It's not an easy question, I know. Do you think she's... lying to you?”

“Lying?” Hisao shakes his head. “No, she isn't. Not often, at least. Not when it matters. She's also not holding back with information. When I ask her things, she gives me answers. Sometimes more details than I'm comfortable with. I feel like I should know her better than I do, but somehow... It's like I get to know more and more about her, but it just doesn't help create a coherent image. It feels like I know her secrets, but... but she's hiding behind them. It's... strange... It's...” Hisao doesn't know what reaction he has been expecting, but if there is one thing he didn't expect at all it's tears. But there they are, pooling in Ms Kitagawa's eyes, not spilling, not yet. “Ms Kitagawa?”

“Huh?” She blinks, smearing the liquid rather than spilling it. Then she closes her eyes and rubs the lids with thumb and middle finger. “I'm... sorry.” She wipes the tears away, and in a moment she sits there as composed as before. But now there is a warmth in her looks that hasn't been there before. She feels less distant. Even her posture seems a little less straight, more casual. “You worry too much,” she says. “I didn't expect you to know her that well.”

Know her that well? What has he said? He doesn't know her at all. Miya makes no sense.

“I never considered the possibility that you might actually be her boyfriend, but now...” She looks at him. “You're not, are you?”

This question has a fairly clear answer. “No,” he says. “I'm afraid, I'm not.”

“I suppose not,” she says. “Well, shall we order? Don't hold back; you get Miya's budget, too.”

For a moment Hisao thinks of refusing. He thinks of making an excuse and leaving. But he doesn't. This is a rare opportunity. Maybe, just maybe, after today, Miya will make a little more sense to him.

***

The waitress hasn't really grown into her job since last near, but she hasn't given up either, and the owners – whoever they are – haven't fired her yet. As expected, she has helped Miya escape through a back door. The waitress is apologetic way beyond the politeness norms, even though nobody blames her. Hotaru orders some toast and salad, the boy one of the more expensive sandwiches, but all in all still one of the less expensive items on the menu. As expected, he is holding back. The waitress leaves, and they're alone again.

“Please don't misunderstand,” Hotaru says. “But if you're not actually her boyfriend, then you must have some other reason to come along with my daughter today? It is evident, excuse my bluntness, that it is not easy for you. So, why did you agree to this... little act? She did explain about 'pretending', yes?”

“She... explained. But I'm not sure I fully understood. Until today I assumed I was supposed to... uh, I'm sorry, but I thought I'd agreed to lie to you.”

The poor little boy; he's so adorable when he's embarrassed. He feels too... straight-laced for someone who gets along with Miya. There must be something to him, something she can't pin down.

“I understand that.” She almost sighs, but then remembers her manners. “What I want to know is what... benefits you gain from being with Miya. What you get out of it. Why you agreed to meet me.”

“Benefits?”

The boy looks so lost and confused. Asking about benefits... it's so easy to misconstrue. As if Hotaru were accusing him of being selfish. Nothing could be further from the truth. She has been aware of that risk, but now she thinks she might have underestimated it. But she needs to know what makes him tick.

It is clear to Hotaru, why Miya wanted her to meet this boy. He may not be her boyfriend, but that was never what really mattered to begin with. The same with that 'friend', Rin, she presented last year. Both are not what she sells them as; but both have qualities that lend themselves to... demonstrations. Miya isolates herself, but there are people at Yamaku she talks to. There are people who stay with her. Sorry to make you worry that much, but see? It's not that bad. You can worry a little less now? And she chooses them well, her companions, alternately labled friend and boyfriend – showing subtle differences in relationship, unexpressable in any other way. Hotaru wonders how aware the boy is of being a walking symbol of something inarticulable.

This years demonstrations has exceeded her expectations. There is someone new who stays with Miya, someone she trusts enough to ask for a favour. And – surprisingly – someone who actually wants to get to know her. Hotaru knows, now, why she is supposed to meet this boy, and she's grateful, both to her daughter and the boy.

What she doesn't know is what makes him so special that he can throw her daughter off guard. What she doesn't know is why Miya thinks he should meet her. And it is obvious that she does. Miya tends to run off when she's afraid, true, but she doesn't just leave people she cares about to fend for themselves. There is a very good chance that she thinks the situation will play out better if she is not present. That she expects them to say things they couldn't were she still around. She expects them to drop the pretense.

Hotaru remembers Miya's words: I'm more scared that you'll steal him away from me.

Subtle. Hotaru is sure, now, that this line was a message for her. She told him about their past. The boy has pretty much confirmed this with excessive embarrassment. There are no secrets at this table.

Almost too subtle. Miya had to add a Don't. to let it sink in. To make sure there's more to it than just a playful praise of her boyfriend.

“Benefits?” the boy repeats. “I... think coming her might just have been... easier than refusing her.”

Hotaru smiles. “I understand that my daughter can be very persuasive. But is that really all?”

“That, and... I might have hoped to learn something more about her.”

Hotaru shakes her head. “You're not talking about yourself. I can see that getting to know my daughter is important to you. You cannot know how happy that makes me. But what I'd like to know is... why? I'm aware that this is a strange question, but please humour me. You are not... offended I hope?”

“No, I...” He places his hands on the table, collects himself. “I don't know what I want.” Such a simple statement, so bluntly delivered. But it makes sense. Oh, how much sense it makes. Careful, boy, or she'll absorb you into her world. She can't help it. Hotaru thinks she understands her role now. Mum to the rescue.

The food arrives.

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