Normally, my chapters are about 1000 words long and don't include musical suggestions. Chapter Five is different because it's three times longer so I have the liberty to use music. I usually don't because the shorter chapters only have one or two songs in it and it wouldn't be worth it. But since this one was longer I have multiple songs in it that help the story along. You don't have to use it but if you want to go ahead.
Chapter Five: One Step at a Time
Who the hell does he think he is? He's just a pompous, inconsiderate, over-glorified lackey for a manipulative, underhanded, shady president. He has no idea who I am, what I lost after my stroke. Who is he to cast judgment on me?
Since Hanamaru was standing outside of my room, I didn't have a chance to change out of my pajamas and into my gym clothes. A quick trip to the nearest restroom and I was ready to head out to the track to hopefully calm my nerves.
To hell with Hanamaru! I'd be happy if I never have to see him again.
Normally I wouldn't get this way when confronting people that look down on me, but the combination of that nightmare, being woken up early, Hanamaru's attitude, and being called worthless really got to me. Had I stayed there any longer I would have punched him in that smug face of his but I'm pretty sure Yamaku has extremely strict rules against that kind of behavior. I don't want to be known as that guy who got kicked out of school on his second day.
Maybe getting out of this school wouldn't be so bad. I not physically limited as other students here are. I could probably go to a normal school without so much of an incident as long as I don't lose my head. But my parents have already paid the tuition for the year and I wouldn't be allowed to leave without permission from the administration and the nursing staff.
I'm stuck here. What can I do?
Before I realize it, I find myself on the edge of the field. The track here is roughly the same size as the one back at my old school. The area around it however, is more open and free. It looks like someone could just walk into the woods and nobody would notice. It's strangely isolated, I expected that there would be someone from the nursing staff here keeping guard in case someone wanted to go running.
In fact, there's no one here. Except for someone already stretching by the side of the track.
Another student? No, wait this person looks too old. A teacher, a coach? It looks like he's getting ready for a morning run.
As I approach the track, the man stands up and notices my presence. He turns around and looks in my direction.
"Oh, it's you! Good morning, Yaso." The man, who I now recognize to be one of my teachers, looks surprised that I'm out here.
"Good morning, Mr. Nakai," I reply back, "I didn't expect to find anyone here already."
What a shame, I just wanted to be alone.
Nakai chuckles at my bewildered response. "With you being a new student, I guess it's understandable why you're surprised. I actually come here every day for a morning run."
I can understand the logic behind a morning run. It helps get your body moving and your blood flowing. For me, running has always been sort of a relaxation technique that I use whenever I'm bothered by the things in my life.
"I see." I would respond more but I figure the less we talk the sooner I can get to running.
I join Nakai in a couple of quick stretches and without another word said we start on the track.
Without noticing it, I find myself running next to Nakai. His pace is a little slow for my liking so I begin to speed up.
With every step I take, I remember the argument I had with Hanamaru and the "discussions" I had with Hakamichi as they tried to rope me into the Student Council, I remember my strange nightmare, and I remember my first day at Yamaku.
This isn't helping. I need to go faster!
I push myself even faster, hoping that in some way I'll be able to run past my problems and forget them. But I can't.
Come on, move faster!
Again I push myself, I try harder and harder to get past all of my troubles to just ignore them and hopefully move on.
I step with my right foot.
I'm running so hard that I'm starting to remember the track meet.
I step with my left foot.
I was running near this same speed when I started to have my stroke.
I step with my right foot.
I'm beginning to round the curve of the track, near where I fell that night.
I stop with my left foot.
Stop! No more! I can't risk it again! I don't want to go back to the hospital! I don't want to-
"Yaso!" I hear Nakai run up from behind me, catching me before I fall to the ground.
My legs are shaking so much that they can't hold my weight. My breathing becomes labored and my head is spinning. It feels so much like that night.
Oh God! Please not again, please not again!
Nakai brings me to the bleachers where he sits me down and hands me some water.
"Yaso! Are you all right!? Listen to me just calm down and drink some water!"
I can still hear him, that's a good sign right? I'm still conscious, it's not a stroke, it's not a stroke, it's not a stroke...
I begin to calm down and everything around me is becoming clearer. Nakai is standing in front of me making sure that I don't pass out.
"Yaso, you're better now right? Wait here while I go get a nurse!"
"N-no!" I yell out to him before he runs off to get help.
"P-please don't. T-this isn't something that c-concerns him. Just give me soon t-time."
Now that I've relaxed, I can begin checking to see if everything is as it should be.
Part of my therapy included a lesson on how to check my body for anything that may cause a problem. The doctors had made sure that I learned how my body was supposed to act after my stroke. I learned what I can and can't do and the limits of my strength and movement. With that knowledge in mind, I can feel if something isn't right whenever I need to check.
Legs, sore but otherwise all right.
Arms, no harm done.
Head, spinning but returning to normal.
Vision, slowly becoming clearer.
After a few moments in silence, I've made sure that I'm still in control of my body and nothing has shut down. It wasn't a stroke, I'm okay.
"Yaso," Nakai says in soft, concerned tone, "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine. That was nothing, it was just-" I stop for a moment to consider how to continue. "It was something I've experienced before, nothing serious."
"You've experienced it before?" Nakai doesn't seem to believe me.
"Yes," I stand up to help prove my point. "After I got out of the hospital and before coming to Yamaku, this happened to me when I was at my house. It was a sort of panic attack, nothing too serious."
"Panic attack?" Nakai still doesn't seem convinced of my well being. For some reason, the moment I said that his expression turned sour.
"A small one of sorts. It happened because I was suddenly bombarded with many painful memories. My accident and other things that happened."
I'd rather not go into detail about those things to Nakai.
He doesn't say anything but it's obvious that he's still concerned. I guess I have to explain a little bit more.
"Last year I had a stroke when I was running anchor for the mile relay. When I was given the baton I wanted to run but my body stopped listening to me. I fell to ground and I couldn't get up until I eventually blacked out. I guess with everything that's happened to me, running on the track just reminded me of that night and well, you saw what happened."
"What do you mean 'everything that's happened to you'?"
Damn it! Why are you so nosy!
I quickly run away from the bleachers and back onto the track. "Come on, Mr. Nakai! We don't have much time to finish our run!" I try to sound as positive and happy as I can be and hopefully he doesn't ask any more questions.
He remains quiet for a moment and doesn't move from the bleachers. Eventually, he slowly makes his way back on the track.
"Yaso, tell me one thing. Do you want to be here?" He keeps his eyes locked on me, watching every move I make. "Do you want to be at Yamaku?"
I answer instinctively, truthfully. "No, I don't. I don't think I need to be here. As long as I keep from reminding myself of the past, I can live my life without incident. I'm not like the other students."
Nakai doesn't seem to be surprised by my answer, in fact it seems like he expected it. He smiles a bit. It's not a smile of happiness but of one that seems to be hiding something else.
"You can continuing running without another incident right?'
I guess that means he finally believes that I'm okay. But why is he still smiling?
"Ok Yaso, since you so firmly believe that you don't belong at Yamaku, I'll make you a deal." His expression is serious, almost scary but that strange smile still remains.
"What sort of deal?"
"We're both tired from our earlier run and incident, we're almost on even ground now. So here's the deal, one lap. If you can beat me in a one lap race then I will convince administration to let you transfer. However, if you can't beat me, you have to finish the year at Yamaku."
What!? How can he say something so calmly? He can't be serious?
"W-what are you talking about? You c-can't do something like that."
"I have connections with the administration and nursing staff, if I can prove to them that you can survive just as well at another as you can here, they'll let you go. The teachers here have a lot of influence on the lives of the students because we see you guys most out of everyone." The whole time Nakai speaks, that smile of his doesn't falter. What is he hiding? "So are we in agreement?"
Without a word, we shake on it.
What's going on here? I just had a panic attack and Nakai is challenging me to a race? And I accepted?
As we stand on the line that Nakai has drawn in the dirt, we both get into our starting positions.
Nakai is in charge of when we start.
We both put our hands on the line.
We lift our knees off the ground and begin pushing our weight forward.
Here we go! My one chance to escape Yamaku!
We both take off and quickly round the first curve.
As long as I focus on the task at hand, I shouldn't start panicking again. Nakai isn't that fast so I won't need to push that hard. He's too old and too slow to be able to beat me.
As we finish the first curve, I begin to pull ahead. Nakai responds to my acceleration and begins to speed up to match me.
As we start the second curve, I cut into the innermost lane forcing Nakai to either stay behind me or use up more energy to try to pass me in the outer lane. He decides to stay behind me, slowly catching up.
As I finish the curve, I sprint into the straightaway trying my hardest to leave Nakai behind me.
I lose my focus on Nakai. I can't tell where he is but as long as he's not in front I'm fine.
I notice something in the corner of my eye. He's starting to catch up.
He's alongside me. I can't push any more without risking another shock.
I put all of my weight forward, running faster and pushing my limits. Memories of that night are starting to appear in my head but I push them out as I see the finish line come closer.
Time seems to slow down. Nakai and I are neck and neck. Neither one of us willing to concede.
Impossible! No! Nakai took the lead! I can't move faster! How is he doing it?
I can see his back and I can't do anything about it. I lost.
Nakai beat me. I'm stuck here in Yamaku.
Damn it! My one chance and I blew it!
With his hands on his head and panting heavily, Nakai turns around and looks at me. His smile is still there. "You know our agreement Yaso. You have to stay at Yamaku without any-"
"Bullshit!" I cut him off before he finishes talking. "How fair was that? You challenge a stroke victim after he had a panic attack to a race. Yeah, you must feel like a big man!"
He's just another one! I thought he above this being a teacher at Yamaku, but he's just the same. Picking on the poor cripple and taking advantage of his disabilities.
"You must make every teacher here proud by the way that you mock the students! I bet they're all like that, every teacher ready to tear down the hopes and dreams of us that can no longer return to regular lives. You'll never understand what it's like to have your life change completely because of an accident!" My words are filled with venom but I don't try to hide it, I sick of holding anything back. I'm sick of this place.
As begin making my way towards the woods. I hear Nakai calmly say one thing, "Arrhythmia."
"Arrhythmia, it's a condition that causes the heart to beat irregularly and increases the chances of a heart attack. It also severely reduces the life expectancy of the person who has it."
"What the hell does that have to do with-"
"When I was seventeen, I had a heart attack when a girl confessed to me. I was in the hospital for months and when I got out I was forced to go to another school, Yamaku."
Heart condition? Yamaku?
I remain silent. I don't know what to say nor what to think at this moment. Nakai accepts my silence and continues.
"I was like you when I came here. I hated this place and I wanted to leave. Everyone around me seemed to accept being here but I didn't. I thought they had given up on trying to move forward with their lives and I didn't want to be like that."
"H-how did you-"
"They showed me something different," Nakai seemed to already know my question. "The people I met here taught me to move on with my life. I learned to come to peace with my past, not ignore but accept it and move on from there."
"What were they l-like?"
"I met an amazing artist who drew with her feet because she had no arms. I met the fastest thing on no legs, she was the one who got me into running. I met a girl who couldn't speak or hear but was willing to take on the world if she had to."
Nakai lets out a soft sigh as he remembers his teenage years. "There was a girl who had scars on over half of her body and she was afraid of the rest of the world, but she was gentlest and kindest person you'll ever find. There was even a girl who didn't have any disabilities but was able to smile and laugh even when everything seemed to fall apart. I also met a blind girl who never once let her lack of sight hinder how she lived."
"You certainly knew a lot of girls, what were you some kind of-"
Nakai's glare stops me from finishing my joke.
"So you can crack jokes, good. But I didn't just meet girls. There was a nearly blind boy who was convinced that whole world was against him but was willingly to become friends with the new kid."
"Mr. Nakai, why are you telling me all of this." I've calm down considerably since he started talking. His words are soothing and sincere, I can't help but listen attentively as he speaks.
"Do you remember what I said to you yesterday?"
I think back to yesterday, just after my introduction when he was standing in front of the class and welcoming me. He said "I'm sure you'll be able to find your place here soon."
I remember those words. They were sincere that time too.
"I was serious when I said that. I was lost when I came to Yamaku, but with the help of the people around me I found a new purpose in life, I found a dream and I found love. I'm sure the same can happen to you." At this point his strange smile became clear to me. It was filled with hope, something I've long forgotten about.
Everyone here has their own disability and they've all learned to live with it, even Nakai. This whole time, I've been trying to just get through each day. Maybe if I take the time to enjoy my time here, I can find what Nakai found too.
My realization hits me harder than I imagined as my vision becomes blurry again. I quickly bow in a gesture of appreciation towards Nakai, which also hides the single tear that falls from my eye.
"Thank you, Mr. Nakai. I'm sorry that I said all of those things earlier."
"Don't worry about it. We should hurry and go see Nurse before we're both late to class."
"But I'm okay."
"Hey, you've decided to stay at Yamaku so you'll have to start listening to your teacher. So come on now."
I reluctantly agree to go see Nurse. I guess I really should start listening to those around me.
Nakai isn't so bad after all.
"Hey Mr. Nakai, can I ask you a question?"
"What is it?"
"You said you found love here right? So which one of the girls you met here was it? Was it the runner?"
Nakai laughs and puts his hand on my head. "You shouldn't be so interested in the life of your teacher, that's abnormal."
Nakai laughs again and this time I join him.
I wonder what I'll find in my time here in Yamaku.
At this point I'm wondering about something.
Do you guys want me to include music in every chapter or just the longer ones?
As always, criticism is welcome.