Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 04/30/16 ~ recommitted to completion.

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Helbereth
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 08/16/13 ~ C.40 - Summer Lull

Post by Helbereth » Tue Aug 20, 2013 12:08 am

RedRover wrote:For example, when I think of the English language, I think of the color green. Just 'cuz. :lol:
A language reminds you of a color--green, specifically...? You can't just say that without providing some semblance of an explanation...!

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neio
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 08/16/13 ~ C.40 - Summer Lull

Post by neio » Tue Aug 20, 2013 12:49 am

Helbereth wrote:
RedRover wrote:For example, when I think of the English language, I think of the color green. Just 'cuz. :lol:
A language reminds you of a color--green, specifically...? You can't just say that without providing some semblance of an explanation...!
Maybe it's an advanced form of synesthesia (American spelling :P) and RedRover knows 6+ languages.
Recommended fics: A pseudo-pseudo Suzu Route | Sisterhood (Hanako Epilogue) | Can You Open Your Heart? (Rika)

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 08/16/13 ~ C.40 - Summer Lull

Post by ewx » Tue Aug 20, 2013 11:45 am

I'm up to chapter 15 now and still really liking the story (despite my ever present distrust of most OC stories) but there are still a few errors. Can I ask if you have proofreader?

Also in some places I feel like you're trying to use uncommon words instead of much more common words deliberately. I think the amount of times I've read 'maudlin' in this fic dwarfs the amount of times I've seen it anywhere else in my life so far. :lol:

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Helbereth
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 08/16/13 ~ C.40 - Summer Lull

Post by Helbereth » Tue Aug 20, 2013 12:45 pm

ewx wrote:I'm up to chapter 15 now and still really liking the story (despite my ever present distrust of most OC stories) but there are still a few errors. Can I ask if you have proofreader?

Also in some places I feel like you're trying to use uncommon words instead of much more common words deliberately. I think the amount of times I've read 'maudlin' in this fic dwarfs the amount of times I've seen it anywhere else in my life so far. :lol:
There were similar complaints back when I released it originally, but I use maudlin in regular speech--I haven't dug around much for words except for certain cultural references. I never had a proofreader until sometime around chapter 25--apart from the few things people noticed and bothered to comment about--and, if I'm completely honest, the first fifteen chapters each had less than three days of work put into each--I know it's still quite rough back there.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 08/16/13 ~ C.40 - Summer Lull

Post by ewx » Wed Aug 21, 2013 10:29 am

Ok, just thought it might be worth mentioning. I'm also trying to get accustomed to 'sardonically' without misreading it as 'sardine-ically' :lol:

Also, in Ch 22 and 28A, you use 'baited breath' instead of 'bated breath'. It's a contraction of the word 'abated' whereas 'baited' is a completely different word with entirely different meanings.


I must admit, I think the pacing seems a little off in places, especially in Act 3. I'm already two or three chapters into Act 4 and it seems like very few things of significance have happened. I notice there is an Act 5 and from just reading the chapter titles, I'm not sure if it's essentially an Epilogue Act of sorts but it seems like the story is at a point where Hisao has, in other routes, has started the emotional breakthrough with the girl and at least got some kind of action. Here he seems to have got nothing and brushed off just when I think something interesting is going to happen.

It's still a very enjoyable story with an impressive cast of additional characters but I can't help thinking of it as more of a fanfic centred around Yamaku instead of a KS fanfic.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 08/16/13 ~ C.40 - Summer Lull

Post by Blasphemy » Thu Aug 29, 2013 8:41 am

--- Warning: rather long comment, hope it needn't be cut later on ---

Let me preface this by saying that I've read this fanfic over roughly the last week, pretty obsessively at that, after already thinking I've got through most of the good ones. Well, turned out I missed this gem somehow.
I also never read any VNs and zero fan fiction of any sort before discovering Katawa Shoujo about 6 weeks ago.

Now overall I'm completely blown away by the quality of many fanfics I've gone through. I mean I suppose I was just kinda ignorant and had prejudices against fanfics but still, there's some impressive and very enjoyable stuff here. Your "Tomorrow's Doom" fanfic probably takes the cake however, at least in certain regards. The fact that I've read through I guess near 350-400k words of fanfic, which is apparently close to "A Song of Fire and Ice: A Storm of Swords" (424k source), which I pretty much finished before diving into KS, is staggering. The cheer amount of content you're capable of producing, in a relative short time span no less, is impressive to say the least. Additionally this content is of high quality. So hats off to you!

I'll get a bit more into detail about what I like about this fanfic:
First of all despite being OC with many new characters, only using the perspective of the new female MC, you manage to develop them all into interesting characters with depth to them. Even Shizune and Misha have some nice character development. So does Hisao of course. I mean he develops in a way you'd expect him to from the KS VN as well as other fanfics, so that isn't necessarily too exciting for me but still, in my opinion you're doing a great job in regards to staying in character with him. And well, actually with the last 1-2 chapter it gets a bit more interesting as far as he's concerned as well, because he's now seemingly in a situation we haven't seem him deal with just yet (namely having a great relationship, being in much better physical shape and... leaving the Yamaku setting to return to his home and thus old circle for some weeks. I'm really curious how the plot develops now ;P ).

Your story also has a good variety of fun, thoughtful and erotic scenes. So the mood doesn't often feel stagnant thanks to it.

Some of the thoughtful stuff is also really making me think a lot. Aiko's Huntington's Disease puts her in a really tough spot. It's one of those issues where it's looking so dire that all hope is lost already, but it's still something a human mind probably cannot deal with / come to terms with. Like the death of a loved one you cannot simply get over it / ignore it. It's impossible to do away with it completely. It raises a lot philosophical questions (I think at least?) and it makes me try hard to put myself in Aiko's shoes and consider what I would think then. And well if the reader wants to empathize with a character so much I'd say that's a good thing ;P Unfortunately it's of course a rather depressing thought here.
By the way, it has to be mentioned: What a fricking brilliant title for this fanfic. At first I didn't think about it much as Akio seemed to have only her ear problems at first it appeared. Then there was that weird dream and other hints that there's more wrong. But it wasn't until the chapter where it really gets mentioned by her that I went "ohh... Ohhh, hence the title... oh man this is bad". Tomorrow's Doom describes the biggest issue in this story just so, so well. Kudos for that.

I mean I guess it's kinda minor but I really love revelations like that where you then think back to some hints / foreshadowing and appreciate the cleverness of it. Probably why I love C. Nolan's "Inception", "Memento" and "The Prestige" so much.

Overall I need to emphasize how well your characterization seems to work. The longer the story goes on the more I empathize with all of them and I admit the versation Aiko has with her mother at the café was quite the tear jerker for me. :cry:

On another, funny note, I think I've never before googled or translated so many words about clothing. I mean first of all I'm bad with clothes as is but then the English terms on top of that - nah. For some reason your very descriptive dressing room scenes pushed me enough to check out what the hell all those types of clothes are ;P

While there are many other things I wanna end this comment before it gets to long, but there's one last thing I like about this a lot. That would be having clever characters who recognize when something is wrong, who are mostly aware when to hold back and when to push forward and who basically allow your plot to develop a bit more naturally. It's hard to put into words for me but basically everything progresses naturally with the characters behaving like you'd expect them to instead of... e.g. having the character be completely ignorant of a big issue that's more than obvious to the reader, which then blows up at some point and paves the way for the plot. Something which I as a reader find super annoying for two reasons:
a) It's predictable, as I know early on what's ultimately going to happen.
b) It's infuriating to read through scenes with completely oblivious characters. It can really pull you out of the illusion.

A TV show comparison:
In "Dexter" I feel like pretty much the entire homicide department must have fallen on their heads when they were babies to be so laughably oblivious to what's going on with Dexter, who himself breaks his codex of caution so often that I cannot take the show seriously.
Meanwhile in "Breaking Bad" pretty much all the major characters are fucking clever and act accordingly. The last episode for example: [[won't really spoil anything but gonna put it into spoilers nonetheless]] Walt's idea with the DVD. Just holy shit. It's so clever and affects the plot in interesting ways and just... fuck yeah.

It's a joy to have interesting plot develop because pretty much all involved characters act clever. Which doesn't mean they don't make mistakes or are omnipotent. No, they just, in general, aren't dumbasses that would make you frown and think "why would he do this?" constantly.

That is something I think you do a quite good job at.

Now despite my obviously very positive view on your fanfic there's also some criticism I can target at pacing. Especially in some of the earlier chapters it at times just felt like it dragged on at times. There were a few times where there was just too little plot progression and too much inner monologue from Akio, where even if the thoughts and/or description of places were interesting/well done it simply was too much of that. Despite her thoughts evolving it still mostly resolves about the same topics and eventually can grow tiring. At some of the earlier chapters I was very close to just flying over portions of the text to get to more interesting bits.
It does however get much, much better in that regard a bit deeper in. So it maybe your writing just got better and better as time went on and the more established the characters became the easier it got to put in more actual plot and interesting inner monologue.

I mean I can't say for certain why but my engagement in reading [can you say that? doesn't sound right] grew somewhat linearly the further it got.

Anyways, last words for now:
Thank you very much for the great fan fiction!

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 08/16/13 ~ C.40 - Summer Lull

Post by YutoTheOrc » Thu Aug 29, 2013 12:49 pm

Really like it, good job. Interesting OC, keep on being awesome, I look forward to reading more of your stuff!

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 08/16/13 ~ C.40 - Summer Lull

Post by Helbereth » Fri Aug 30, 2013 1:52 am

Blasphemy wrote:--- Warning: rather long comment, hope it needn't be cut later on ---
*checks for SilentCook*
We're probably clear. Having gotten away with 9000 word posts in some cases, I doubt he'll mind a 1000 word essay.
Well, turned out I missed this gem somehow.
I don't advertize much, and it's OC... so people generally skip it.
The cheer[sic] amount of content you're capable of producing, in a relative short time span no less, is impressive to say the least. Additionally this content is of high quality. So hats off to you!
I wouldn't call 13 months a 'short' time span, but I'll take the compliment for what it is.
Your story also has a good variety of fun, thoughtful and erotic scenes. So the mood doesn't often feel stagnant thanks to it.
Honestly, I wasn't paying much attention to balancing things like that... but volleyball, terminal disease, and outdoor interludes do make an interesting combination, I suppose.
Aiko's Huntington's Disease puts her in a really tough spot. It's one of those issues where it's looking so dire that all hope is lost already, but it's still something a human mind probably cannot deal with / come to terms with.
That philosophical debate is kind of why I started writing this story.
By the way, it has to be mentioned: What a fricking brilliant title for this fanfic.
I have to admit, when I first came up with the title--which wasn't until after I'd published the first four chapters or so--I thought it sounded overly dramatic. It wasn't until I got a lot deeper into the story that I realized it really did fit--which was about the time I slipped it into the exposition as part of her internal monologue, which I've only done once.
...the versation[sic] Aiko has with her mother at the café was quite the tear jerker for me.
Writing it was a less then amicable experience, I have to say. Part of the reason it gets broken up by jokes and visits from the waitress is because it was originally one big long heavy conversation from start to finish without any interruptions. Reading it afterward felt like psychological torture.
On another, funny note, I think I've never before googled or translated so many words about clothing.
Neither have I. Not having any sense of fashion, or women's clothes in particular, I spent a lot of time researching online so what I was writing actually made sense. Did you know there are instructional videos (that's plural for a reason) on YouTube describing how to properly dress in a yukata with all the accoutrements?
...having clever characters who recognize when something is wrong, who are mostly aware when to hold back and when to push forward and who basically allow your plot to develop a bit more naturally.
Yes, I like it when people actually think like people. The most recent story example is where Amaya lets everyone believe her parents have no idea Tadao is coming, but, nope, that's just to make him more nervous. The audience, and Aiko, are led to believe one thing is happening, and it sounds ridiculous--Aiko repeatedly internalizes that it's a bad idea--but she goes along with it because there's nothing she could really do. Then we find out that it's all a ploy, and suddenly Amaya is an evil genius--which she always was anyway.
...criticism I can target at pacing. Especially in some of the earlier chapters it at times just felt like it dragged on at times.
It does however get much, much better in that regard a bit deeper in. So it maybe your writing just got better and better as time went on and the more established the characters became the easier it got to put in more actual plot and interesting inner monologue.
I'm not sure you know this or not, but upon starting to write this story, the last time I had written anything of length was over ten years ago, and this type of story (teenage romance) isn't even close to the realm of genres I was used to producing. Thus the early chapters are fraught with mistakes, ideas that lead nowhere, and a bit more repetition than I'd prefer. As you said, it gets better in later chapters, and it's largely because I developed a better sense of how to write the story and characters, and I paid more attention to the structure.
Thank you very much for the great fan fiction!
Thanks for the comments--it's rare I get anything more than a few ego-stroking lines, or some corrections. I'm not sure if anyone has commented on the philosophy before, which, as I said, greatly influenced my decision to write this particular tale.

I'd like to add that getting a comment like this on my birthday makes for a delightful coincidence.
YutoTheOrc wrote:Really like it, good job. Interesting OC, keep on being awesome, I look forward to reading more of your stuff!
Thanks for the support.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 08/16/13 ~ C.40 - Summer Lull

Post by Kimori16 » Fri Aug 30, 2013 2:25 am

Helbereth wrote:
Blasphemy wrote:
Holy God a lot of words.
YutoTheOrc wrote:Not a lot of words.
Thanks for the support.
Pretty funny.
Emi > Lily > Hanako > Rin > Shizune
Uhm... I really like this game. And Scissorlips Suzu c:

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Helbereth
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 08/16/13 ~ C.40 - Summer Lull

Post by Helbereth » Fri Aug 30, 2013 3:03 am

Kimori16 wrote:Pretty funny.
I try to respond to every comment on some level--have since the beginning, really--but sometimes there isn't a lot to say in response.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 08/16/13 ~ C.40 - Summer Lull

Post by azahk101 » Fri Sep 06, 2013 12:05 am

Hi, so I'm pretty much new to the forum and Katawa Shoujo (discovered it a couple weeks ago, crashed through all of the routes in a week and a half, and an emotional train-wreck ensued). I basically joined to tell you how AMAZING of a job you've done in construing this pseudo-route for Aiko. I've been reading non-stop to catch up since a few days ago or so, and this story has both helped me get rid of that feeling of loss and depression at finishing Katawa Shoujo (hearing the main menu music will still make me tear up though) and has given me such a great read (I absolutely love to read). I just wanted to say keep up the good work! And I especially loved Summer Lull due to the Lord of the Rings reference (big fan since I was like 5 and my dad made me watch them). Now I'm really just rambling but I can't stop myself because I'm still in awe at the amount of effort you've put into this fanfic and how amazingly it's turned out. So...yeah, please keep on updating and I'll be here to read each one!

I would love to go into a philosophical talk right now (I had one with my English teacher just the other day) but my brain is so frazzled that I can't get my head wrapped around it. I'll just content myself with pointing out that your fanfic has made me think deeply into who I am, why I do what I do, and compare myself to Akio (and Hisao, among others) to help understand who I am as a person.

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Chapter 42 - Phone Tag (part 1)

Post by Helbereth » Wed Sep 11, 2013 12:15 pm

What an auspicious day for an update! Okay, that sounded less morbid in my head...

After much trial and error, I've finally completed this latest chapter. While I'd like to say I'm completely on target with how I thought this would happen, that would be a lie, but I can say that it's very close. The characters involved, some of whom I was never quite sure could make an appearance in this tale, got shuffled around, but the actual plot line follows the path I intended.

That might only make sense to me...

Anyway, without further ado:

Previous Chapter|Part 2|Part 3|Part 4|Part 5|Next Chapter
______________________________________________________
Chapter 41 - Phone Tag

There's a strange smell in the air as I roll over and stretch against the pillow, keeping my eyes closed against the invasive light. It smells like food, but I can't quite identify the odor—whatever it is, it's making me hungry. Sending my hand out blindly in search of my glasses, I bump into something—I think it's a lamp—and start patting the nightstand below it before getting frustrated. Cracking my eyes open and squinting tightly, I send my gaze to where my hand is prowling, but the sight is disconcerting. Instead of my black nightstand that I converted from a little old bookshelf, there's an unfamiliar wooden table.

Where the hell am I...?

That question makes me sit up quickly and start looking around at my alien surroundings, which I soon realize bears a striking resemblance to Hisao's room. The memory comes back as that thought settles in, and I recall staying here overnight after my movie marathon with Yoko. Giving my head a good shake to clear the cobwebs, I turn back toward the nightstand and manage to recognize the blurry outline of my glasses. Taking and placing them on my nose, I smirk and shrug at how disoriented I feel, but I'm sure that will pass soon enough. What I want to know now is what that heavenly smell is, and where it's coming from.

I recognize garlic and... oregano...?

The unfortunate truth is that even if I could figure out it's source, I'm not actually supposed to be here, which could complicate matters. The best thing I can probably do is get myself the hell out of here before someone finds me squatting in Hisao's room, so I hurriedly pack up my satchel and head for the door. Stopping there to put an ear against the wood and try to hear if there's anyone in the hall, I notice a drum beat coming from nearby, accompanied by a squealing guitar riff. It's not very loud, but that doesn't mean it's very far away, and it's somewhat familiar—I think Kenji might be home.

I might be smelling pizza if that's the case...

Whether he's there or not, it shouldn't be terribly difficult to slip past without him noticing, as long as I'm quiet. To that end, I remove my sandals, tighten the strap on my satchel, and very slowly turn the doorknob. It clicks ever so softly, and I pause to listen for movement before starting to pull it open. Peering out into the hall, I can see Kenji's door clearly—closed, and probably locked. It appears as though he's probably distracted with the music—or whatever else he has in there—so I start tip-toeing out, then close the door as quietly as it opened before slipping the key in to lock it tightly.

So far so good...

Staying close to the opposite wall, I start sidling down the short hallway, keeping an eye on Kenji's door for movement—just in case I have to run. As I near the corner, I crack a triumphant smile and inhale a breath to steady myself before lunging the last few meters in two quick steps, and straight into someone who's rounding the corner. The impact startles me more than it hurts, and I drop my sandals in the confusion, but when I look up and notice who I ran into, I freeze in shock; it's none other than Kenji himself.

“Aah!” he yells, his hands flying out sideways as a few cans of juice fall to the floor. “Infernal spy!” he barks, pointing an accusatory finger toward my shoulder, “Who sent you!?”

Faced with such a ridiculous question, I don't know how to respond, and I'm still in shock from the impact, so all I can manage to do is stammer, “Uh- Um... I'm not-”

“Don't fuck with me!” he interrupts, redirecting his aim toward my left ear, “The only other person who's supposed to be here is gone for the summer, so you're obviously a spy!”

In the instant it takes for him to take a quick step backward, I consider my options. If he weren't in the way, I could probably run around past him and find my way to freedom before he could react. That sounds suspiciously like running away, though, and I doubt that would go over well in the long run—so to speak. If I'm careful, I could probably explain exactly who I am and why I'm here—honesty being something he might appreciate. However, knowing he can tend to act less than reasonable, I settle on playing along with his delusion, which will buy me time at least.

“I'm no spy!” I protest, crossing my arms and scowling convincingly—not that I think he can tell the difference. “Who're you to accuse me, anyway?” I question boldly, trying to turn the tables on him, “I don't answer to you, so who are you to detain me?”

That sounds like the right amount of double-speak, I think...

There are a few moments where my shoulders tense and I consider bolting away, but his focused gaze—if I can call it that—doesn't feel dangerous. It's possible that's just because he looks a lot less threatening in a well-lit hallway, but I don't feel comfortable waiting to find out. Since actions speak louder than words, it makes sense to act on my indignant speech and leave, so I start doing just that. While he's staring me down, probably trying to decide how to respond, I crouch to retrieve my sandals, then start walking, trying to give him a wide berth in the somewhat narrow hallway. After a few steps, I'm stopped by his hand catching my elbow, and I whirl around to find a look of recognition rather than malice.

“Wait,” he demands. While I'm pulling my arm away, he adds, “I know that voice... I've heard it before.”

The implications, and the whispering tone of his voice are unnerving, but it seems he recognizes me even without the raincoat, and might even remember our meeting. “I'm no spy,” I assure him again, keeping my voice calm and steady, “at least, not for the opposition...”

“You're Hisao's girl... aren't you?” he presumes, his hint of a smile turning into a grin.

Still unsure whether his recognizing that is a good thing, I reply, “Yes... I suppose I am.”

I'm not sure if I like being referenced as property, but I'll let that pass for now...

“Sorry about the theatrics,” he remarks, taking a quick step back, “he told me you might show up—I should have expected your presence even in his absence.”

“Expect the unexpected,” I say in an advisory tone, returning a slight smile as I take a cautious step backward. Unsure how much he really knows, I decide not to elaborate on why I'm here, and instead focus on finding out what Hisao told him—or how much, at least. “He told you about me?” I ask, trying not to sound too surprised, “I thought-”

“He explained it months ago,” he interjects, leaving me with a shocked expression.

“Wait... if he told you, then...”

Now he laughs, which I find unnerving, but mostly because it sounds so strange—he cackles like a madman. “I'm sure you heard Slayer, Slipknot, and a little Cannibal Corpse,” he rambles, either naming horrible bands, or something equally disturbing, “and I made use of some after-market military-grade sound-canceling headphones.”

And now I'm totally lost...

“Wait... what?”

“Being neighborly,” he states, shrugging noncommittally. “Hisao keeps me in the loop,” he says, somewhat cryptically, “but we both decided—well, I decided—that it was better if you didn't know I knew what... you know?”

Even he looks confused after saying that...

If I get what he's saying right, which feels like a surprising claim considering how erratic his ramblings are, it sounds like Hisao told Kenji all about us being together, but continued telling me his neighbor was clueless. As I hit on that realization, I'm forced to ask, “Why didn't he just tell me?”

“I told him not to—I kinda didn't trust you,” he says, waving his hand dismissively, “so don't blame Hisao—he just did what I asked.”

“He still could have told me...”

“Maybe, but he's quite loyal,” he says, lowering his voice before adding, “I've been meaning to tell him he can read you in, but the last week he was here... he was... otherwise engaged.”

While he clears his throat, I can't prevent the blush from streaking my face, but I take solace in the fact that he probably can't see it. “Well, he's not here,” I say quickly, trying to get away from that subject as fast as possible, “but if you wanted to read me in,” I make quotation marks with my fingers, “I have time...”

He tilts his head for a moment and I can just barely see his eyes squinting through his thick lenses as he considers my request. “It probably isn't my place to say,“ he says, holding out his hand, presumably for me to shake, “but I'll see about getting a message to Hisao about your clearance.”

I wonder if Hisao feels like a spy when he talks to Kenji...

“Surely there's something you can tell me in the meantime,” I muse, partly out of curiosity, and partly because I'm trying to delay the handshake.

As I'm reaching out to shake his proffered hand, I remember the clammy, bony experience from last time, but it seems that probably had more to do with the rain than anything else. While I'd been dreading this meeting, thanks in no small part to Hisao's description of Kenji, I'm finding myself much less disturbed than expected. It's still odd seeing someone dressed in the complete Yamaku uniform—jacket and all—along with that ridiculous Doctor Seuss scarf in the middle of a summer heat wave, but apparently I don't have much to fear from our class' conspiracy theorist. That doesn't mean Hisao is off the hook, though.

“Not really, and don't call me Shirley,” he replies, sending a suspicious glance over his shoulder, “but you can assume anything Hisao knows is on your clearance level—I'd even extend that to your associates.”

“My... associates?” I prompt, tilting my head questioningly, “You mean my friends?”

“Indeed,” he replies, then lowers his voice to rasp, “Most of them, anyway...”

“What does that mean?”

“Never mind, it's not important,” he says dismissively, pausing to reach up and push his heavy frames back into place, “You've been assisting Hisao in getting to fighting shape, and for that I thank you.”

“Um... okay,” I sputter, trying not to imagine a scenario where Hisao needs to be in fighting shape, “you're... welcome?”

“This meeting never happened,” he intones, sending his gaze down to the dropped juice cans.

“It... didn't?”

“Exactly,” he insists, fetching the cans and walking toward his door.

Before I can venture a guess, or ask what he meant, the wily Kenji Setou disappears into his room. Left standing in the hall, hearing the dozen locks clicking, I stare dumbly for a while, blinking confusedly. It was a brief meeting, no doubt, but it explained more than I was expecting. The loud music, his being gone inexplicably, and a complete lack of complaints about the noise from Hisao's room suddenly makes sense—not that I'm happy about the explanation. Apparently Hisao has been lying to me a little about his neighbor, but it was at Kenji's behest, though that doesn't necessarily make it right.

I should leave...

After collecting myself with a steadying breath, I start my careful march along the halls, down the stairs, and out toward the rear exit. Along the way I pass by a few open doors, but their residents are nowhere to be found—like they left their rooms to air out while they're gone. It's more likely they just woke up and didn't bother closing their door on the way downstairs, but I'm not about to linger so I can find out. Crossing campus is uneventful, though I notice it's probably going to be another scorcher today—I can understand why Hisao would be spending time at the pool if it's like this there. That thought makes me check my phone, where I find another message from Hisao—this time in text.

[You must be asleep already. Call me tomorrow morning,] it reads, and the time stamp says it was sent shortly after midnight—he must have gotten home late.

I'm not jumping to conclusions...

The message said to call in the morning, but seeing as it's only seven, I decide to let him sleep. In the meantime, I change into my swimsuit and head for the pool. Unsurprisingly, Joyce is there again; I'm not sure whether she takes any length of the summer for herself. This time she leaves me alone, though there's a concerned look in her eyes that makes me want to apologize for being curt yesterday. When I'm finishing up my laps, I hear clicking footsteps, followed by girlish voices echoing around the room, but can't quite see who else has arrived—usually the place is relatively empty until at least nine o'clock.

One of the voices is that of Joyce, and she seems to know the visitors pretty well from the way they're laughing, but none of them are calling each other by name. Deciding I'll find out soon enough, I put my head down and finish my last two laps before exiting the pool to have a look around. The chlorine is still stinging my eyes, and my glasses are on the other side of the room, but I can make out two figures standing near Joyce—a tall blond girl, and her mousy cohort with long dark hair. Squinting to try and align the blur, I recognize the outline of a seeing cane in the blond girl's hands; if my guess is right, that's Lilly again, and the other one might be Hanako.

“There she is,” Joyce announces, pointing toward me as the two girls turn. “Miss Kurai, you have some visitors.”

I have... wait, what...?

“Hello?” I say, standing and rubbing my eyes.

“Ah, thank you, Miss Chambers,” the blond girl says, her vacant eyes turning in my general direction, “Do you have a moment, Miss Kurai?”

Not being used to her formality, I sputter, “Um, yes," then squint to make sure before adding, "Lilly Satou, right?”

“And Hanako Ikezawa,” she says, nodding toward her companion.

While she nods, I reach up to toss a few wet strands of hair out of my face, and try to figure out why she's looking for me. As the mismatched pair walks toward me in tandem, I squint a little tighter, enough to discern their expressions. Unfortunately, it's difficult to read Hanako because she always looks nervous, and Lilly has a knack for remaining reticent, so I can't read much from either one. For a moment, I look toward Joyce, but she's already walking back toward her spot, so she won't be any help, I guess. The only thing I can think of is that it's school business, though, considering we're in the middle of summer break, that seems unlikely. That unlikelihood becomes more obvious as I notice their attire.

Dressed casually, rather than formally, the two friends seem worlds apart in terms of fashion, though the same could be said of Amaya and myself. Lilly wears a loose-fitting, salmon-colored long-sleeved shirt that sort of floats around her shoulders, along with a tight-fitting tan skirt that billows out around her knees, and sensible flats—it's a classy look that's reminiscent of my mother's style. Hanako, on the contrary, is dressed in denim from head to toe—much more my speed—along with a flat-top cap that I'd consider stealing for my own wardrobe if it didn't fit her so perfectly.

Am I actually assessing their fashions...?
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Chapter 42 - Phone Tag (part 2)

Post by Helbereth » Wed Sep 11, 2013 12:15 pm

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“Sorry, I don't have my glasses on,” I mention, glancing toward the distant bench, “What's this about?”

“I beg your pardon for the intrusion, but Hanako mentioned you frequented the pool in the mornings,” Lilly explains, her voice filled with more tension than I'd usually expect, “And, I was given a message to deliver...”

“Message?” I echo, glancing at Hanako briefly while Lilly pauses.

If what little I know about Hanako's tenure at Yamaku is true, it seems like she had a similar experience to my own prior to enrolling here. The scars along her face tell me she had something traumatic happen—probably a fire—and I can't relate to that directly, but I got singled out and teased for more reasons than I usually admit. She's probably taller than me, but the way she huddles down and clutches Lilly's arm like a crutch makes her look smaller, which is probably intentional—trying to hide in plain sight. There's less of the nervousness I remember, though she looks at me with a kind of latent suspicion that's somewhat familiar.

I can find that look in some of my old photos...

“F-from Sh-Shizune,” Hanako stutters, then halts her explanation and looks toward Lilly.

Completely baffled, I prompt, “Shizune...?”

My bewildered expression apparently speaks volumes as Hanako adds, “I-it's... c-complicated...”

Something tells me that's less than true, and Lilly's tight-lipped grimace indicates it's actually really simple, but I'm not about to press for answers when I don't even know what I'm asking. Everything I know about Shizune and Lilly comes from past experiences in a few Council meetings, and rumors about their falling out after last year's festival. That Lilly would be carrying a message from the Student Council President is a little far-fetched, and that it's a week after the start of summer break is even stranger, but I'm more interested in the message—somehow I doubt it's good news.

“Well,” I say, turning back toward Lilly, “am I fired? Is that it?”

Her light laugh is both encouraging and disconcerting, and even Hanako smirks for just a moment, but then Lilly calms and shakes her head. “No, nothing like that,” she replies, clearing her throat, “I was asked to relay an invitation—per your friend Shizune, not the Class President.”

An invitation...?

"To where? Or what?” I ask, trying not to sound too suspicious.

“The Hakamichi home, of course,” she replies, nodding toward Hanako, “for a weekend gathering of some kind—there weren't many details.”

This is getting weird...

“Why would she send it through you?” I ask, the accusation in my question making the tall girl frown.

“She would have messaged you herself, but you know she hates that kind of rudimentary exchange,” she explains, which makes sense, but doesn't tell me why she's the messenger. “And I was heading back here to visit with Hanako, so she asked that I deliver the invitation in person—my cousin and I have... reached an agreement.”

Cousin...? Wait... How is... What...?

“Um...?” I sputter, thoroughly confused. “Your cousin...?”

“Shizune's mother and my father were siblings—I apologize if you weren't informed,” she explains, offering a slight bow, “it's not common knowledge, I suppose...”

That little logic bomb hits me square in the forehead, and I rock back for a moment, completely bewildered. It never occurred to me that the two of them could be related since they're so dissimilar—both physically, and in temperament. However, it might explain why they're particularly competitive, and have a tendency to turn minor arguments into full-scale verbal wars—the way only family can. While I'm sorting that out, I notice Hanako has gone silent again, and she's clutching Lilly's arm tighter than she was before—like she's afraid of my impending reaction.

I should say something...

“Sorry, it's just... I... it... u-um,” I stutter, trying and failing to turn my thoughts into words. “She never mentioned it,” I say finally, which draws a sagely nod from Lilly, “and... well... you're just so different...”

“I trust that's not an insult,” Lilly says, though her subdued smirk tells me she's being facetious.

“No, just a comparison,” I confirm, giving my head a quick shake, “but she's so... and you're...”

Nothing I say here can lead to good ends...

“Don't worry about it,” she concedes, patting the air with her free hand, “I myself have often wondered how we could be related.”

I bet Shizune wonders the same thing...

In the silence that follows, I take a moment to analyze Lilly's appearance more carefully. Comparing her to the mental image I have of Shizune, I fail to see any obvious similarities. Shizune is close to my height and narrow, with short, dark blue hair, sharp Asiatic features, and the disposition of a feudal dictator. Meanwhile, Lilly is relatively statuesque, with high cheekbones, long blond hair, wide hips, smooth, cream-colored skin, and a personality marked by graciousness and compromise. There are some cousins on my mother's side whom I've been told are my polar opposite, but I never believed they could be that different.

It's really no wonder I had no idea they were related...

Given that she's blind, I feel less apprehensive about staring at Lilly, and Hanako doesn't mention my gaze—she probably understands why I'm curious—though I immediately feel guilty anyway. “Sorry, I'm staring,” I admit, blinking a few times and averting my gaze, “I'm curious, but I know it's rude-”

“It's not unexpected,” she interjects, offering a flat smile, “there's little familial resemblance, I've been told, though Mother claims we have the same eyes...”

That sounds like a joke for a moment, but, as I take a closer look, I notice the similarity. Shizune's eyes are dark blue, and Lilly's are light and glassy—perhaps because of her blindness—but they're shaped almost identically. “Huh...” I grunt, trailing off and trying not to smirk, “is it okay if I call that irony?”

“It is what it is,” she says with a light chuckle.

Wanting to abandon this conversation before it leads somewhere bad, and because I feel like I'm neglecting my other visitor, I turn toward Hanako and offer a smile. “So, any other messages?” I ask, turning between them absently. When neither speaks, I remember the book sitting on my desk and decide to mention, “I still have Life of Pi up in my dorm... I'm sure Hisao mentioned it...”

The mention of Hisao seems to make Hanako's expression brighten for just a moment, but that quickly fades into her normal, unsettlingly neutral facade. She motions like she might reply verbally, then stops herself to nod instead. If what Hisao said is true, and she was starting to come out of her shell, I wonder whether I'm doing something wrong—she can't even hold eye contact for more than a few seconds. Lilly being nearby usually helps her relax, from what I recall, so the only remaining common denominator is myself, which means I must be doing something that bothers her—I don't think I'm intimidating, though.

That's Amaya's department...

If I really am the cause, she probably won't be forthcoming, and I don't know how to pursue the question without upsetting her, but maybe I'm misreading the whole situation. “Is something wrong?” I ask, trying to gauge their noncommittal reactions before adding, “I feel like I'm being left out of something...”

“N-no, n-nothing,” Hanako rasps, attempting a smile that's obviously forced, “I-if you remember l-later, I'll be back b-before dusk...”

As she trails off, Lilly picks up the explanation, “We're going into the city to surprise my sister—she doesn't know I've returned from Scotland.”

Scotland...?

That tidbit of information is almost enough to make me ask what she means, but it's accompanied by an escape route from the conversation, which I decide to take. Turning toward the bench where I left my bathrobe and towel, I mention, “Well, I'll probably be here if you wanna stop by my room when you get back—I finished the book a few days ago, and I'm into another already.”

“Room three-fourteen, yes?” Lilly asks, and I nod dumbly as I start gathering my belongings.

After tossing my bathrobe on, I remember she's blind and sputter, “Um, yeah... right... three-fourteen—a couple hallways over...”

“Alright then. Contact Miss Mikado about the invitation,” she says, and it takes me a moment to realize she's talking about Misha. “She'll likely have more details.”

I wonder why Shizune didn't just have Misha call me...

“Will do,” I say, offering Hanako a nod, “Just knock—if I'm there, I'll answer.” It takes a moment before Hanako realizes I'm talking to her, but after a brief pause she nods in kind.

Holding all my stuff in hand, I stand and stare at them for a few seconds, nodding awkwardly, not sure what to do with myself. It's strange enough being visited by people I barely know, but now I'm hurriedly leaving and it feels even weirder. Not knowing either of these two particularly well, I'll feel more comfortable asking Shizune about this later, but, for now, I can't quite get my feet moving. Luckily, this seems no less awkward for them, as neither motions to leave or say anything else, so at least I'm not alone in my awkwardness.

I wish I knew the Weirding Way right about now...

For a few long seconds, we just stand and stare at each other—or Hanako and I stare, at least. Finally, Lilly lets out a sharp sigh, and I take that as a cue to put myself back in motion. “Thanks for the message,” I say, turning to start toward the exit, “and, um... welcome back, I guess?”

“You're welcome, and thank you,” Lilly replies, masking her awkwardness gracefully.

It feels weird offering a wave to a blind girl, but Hanako is there to see it at least, so I don't feel like a complete idiot. Although, with her hiding against Lilly's side, I'm not sure if she saw it either—I ought to be better at this by now. As I step out into the sunlight, I stop and look back over my shoulder, trying to organize my thoughts. Perhaps it's only because there were so many revelations in the encounter that's bothering me, but I'm also just not used to having people I don't know—at least not very well—walk up and ask me questions, or deliver information. The fact that it became so awkward probably only compounds the problem.

I guess I'm still not great at widening my circle of friends...

Deciding I can sort it out later, I give my head a good shake to clear confusion and start plodding along back toward the dorms. When my phone starts ringing, I immediately think it's Misha calling because of the conversation I just had—like she somehow knows it happened—but instead it's Mom. Still reeling from Lilly's information dump, I don't quite know how to respond, but, where Mom is concerned, I probably don't need to say much. For a moment I consider letting it go to voice mail because she probably has unwanted plans for me, but maybe I need the distraction.

I'm probably going to regret this...

“Hi, Mom,” I greet, slowing my walking pace as I approach the stairs leading into the dorms, “good news, I hope?”

“Did you just wake up, Kitten?” she asks, which makes me smirk and shake my head.

“No, just... never mind,” I reply, turning to take a seat on the stone steps, “It's been a weird morning is all—a weird week, really...”

“Ah, well, yes... Amaya made it home safely?” she asks, sounding genuinely concerned.

“Yeah, she finally called Thursday night...”

“Thursday night? Why didn't you call me?”

“I, well...” I trail off, realizing that's when the weirdness started with Hisao. “I forgot, okay?” I claim, which is at least partially true, “she called a little while before bed, and... anyway, she's fine.”

“Okay... And Tadao?”

“Alive, as far as I know—it could have been a recording, though,” I recount with a smirk.

“Good, good... And, what are you doing with yourself, Kitten?” she asks, her voice sounding dangerously cheerful.

Noting the change in her tone from genuine concern to unprovoked cheer, I'm guessing this is the real reason for her call; it's her version of burying the lead, and it likely won't take me anywhere I want to follow. Unfortunately I don't have a response prepared, so I pause for a moment to collect my thoughts. That's probably worse than not having anything to say, so I quickly try to drum up a reasonable lie, but I'm too scattered to think of anything she'd believe. Closing my eyes in resignation, I decide to try blatant dishonesty—maybe she won't expect that.

“I-I have,” I stutter, already off to a good start, “all kinds of things... going on... here...”

I'm so screwed...

“You shouldn't try to lie to me, Kitten,” she advises as I let out a frustrated groan. “You can't stay cooped up in that little cave of yours all summer,” she muses, the implication leading me to lean my forehead against the metal railing and roll my eyes. “However,” she adds, her chipper tone filling me with dread, “I have the perfect way to get you out for a day!”

“That's really not-”

“This isn't a negotiation, Aiko,” she interjects, using my name to emphasize her point. After a brief pause, she cheerily adds, “My class starts today, and I need an assistant.”

“The cooking thing?” I ask in disbelief.

Did she forget who she's talking to...?

“Yes,” she replies dryly, “the cooking thing.”

“And... is Midori sick, or something...?”

“No, of course not,” she assures me, which is less than reassuring. “It's Saturday, so you ought to be out doing something fun,” she adds, pausing while I raise an eyebrow at her word choice—it's almost like she can see me over the phone. “And, maybe we can lure the dormant chef out of you~!”

“Mom? Hang on a sec,” I say, pressing mute then standing to lean against the rail.

I need a moment to think this through logically...

There really isn't any good reason for me to refuse her, aside from my being completely inept in the kitchen. It seems like that's half her reason for bringing me along, though, so I can't turn that to my advantage. All my friends are away, Yoko starts her weekend job today, and aside from a cryptic invitation from Shizune, I don't have any other plans. There's always the faking sick maneuver, but I think I've gotten too far into the conversation for her to believe that. Meanwhile, Mom is probably smirking to herself, casually waiting for me to cave and agree to her plan—it seems inevitable.

I regret not letting it go to voice-mail...

Taking the phone off of mute, and figuring I can get away with at least one stipulation, I request, “You promise you won't make an example of me?”

“Kitten, I'd never intentionally make you feel bad. Besides, I think you might surprise yourself~!” she says encouragingly, though I doubt she believes those words any more than I do, “We can make a day of it—maybe do something afterward. Go see a movie, do some shopping... talk about boys-”

“Fine, I'll go,” I concede, cutting her off before her list gets weirder, “When will you be here?”

“I'm just getting onto the freeway... probably ten minutes, maybe more—depends on traffic.”

“I never really had a choice in the matter, then, did I?”

“Of course not~!” she beams, laughing for a moment before adding, “but, I thought I'd give you the illusion of choice, at least.”

“Thanks...”

“Oh, don't sound so glum!” she chides, “I'm sure you'll do fine!”
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Chapter 42 - Phone Tag (part 3)

Post by Helbereth » Wed Sep 11, 2013 12:16 pm

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“I'm not glum, I'm just being realistic,” I retort, deciding to make my case even if it's in vain. “My culinary failings are many, and I have no reason to believe that will ever change...”

“You've got Navarro blood, Kitten—with it comes the ability to create masterpieces in the kitchen!”

“Disastrous ones, maybe,” I whisper under my breath.

“What was that?”

“Nothing, never mind,” I say, clearing my throat. “I should hang up so you're not driving distracted.”

“Alright, Kitten—think positive!” she encourages, “I know you have a dormant gourmet in you, just waiting for the right teacher to coax it out!”

I'll let her have her delusions for now...

“Okay... I'll... meet you at the gate?”

“See you in a bit,” she says, then laughs and adds, “Don't try hiding—I'll find you.”

“Love you, too,” I reply, then end the call.

Still in my bathing suit, I quickly gather my things and head upstairs to change. Sometimes I wish I was better at lying, especially to her, but usually it's not that bad telling her the truth. When I set the kitchen on fire in an attempt to make breakfast back when I was eleven, there really wasn't much chance of her not figuring out the culprit, but I still tried—just on principle. Instead of blowing up at me when she inevitably figured it out, she just grounded me for a month—doubling the time from two weeks because I tried to lie. She then used the opportunity to goad Dad into remodeling the kitchen, so it kind of worked out in everyone's best interest.

Even a terrifying grease fire can have positive results...

It's possible she's right and there's a skilled chef hiding inside me somewhere—if there's a genetic disposition to cooking skill—but I can't shake the feeling that something awful will happen. It's probably just nerves, but my track record with preparing meals using traditional methods speaks for itself: multiple cuts, scrapes and burns, two kitchens burned to a husk, and three cases of food poisoning—nothing fatal, luckily. As I enter my room, my eyes fall on the picture of Dad, and my gaze lingers there for a few moments as I try to sum up some courage. Like so many things, I should probably face my fear of cooking, though I wish Dad were still around to convince Mom it's a lost cause.

I think she only agreed because I'd nearly burned down the house...

Unfortunately, Mom holds onto a silly theory that any system can repair itself if given enough time, which she applies to my cooking skill—right along with her broken cellphones, alarm clocks, and other assorted devices that will never work again. Every few years she decides to give it another shot, mostly because she can't believe her daughter could be so culinarily inept. After I accidentally torched the common room, her delusions were put on hold again, but that was over two years ago. It's starting to seem like I'll be going through this ebb and flow of parental delusion for the rest of my life, so I guess I'll just humor her.

Who knows, maybe I'll uncover that dormant gourmet...

~^~

On my way out to meet Mom at the gate, I recall the invitation from this morning and decide to send Misha a message. There wasn't a lot of urgency in Lilly's delivery, so it's probably not planned for this weekend, but Shizune will expect a prompt response. What little I know about Shizune tells me that whatever she has planned will probably be entertaining—it should at least get me away from the dorms for a while. Basically I have no idea what I've been invited to, so that's my first question, but it's a little too early to expect an immediate reply.

I wish whatever she has planned could get me out of this cooking thing...

When I step out through the gate and look around for Mom's new sedan, it doesn't take long to pick it out; nobody else parks crooked with one wheel on the sidewalk quite like she does. As soon as I'm in the passenger seat, she asks what I'm grinning about, but I excuse it by saying I feel optimistic about her cooking class—I'm not sure if she believes me, but she doesn't press the issue. Within minutes of getting on the road, she starts offering me advice and suggestions on the upcoming lessons. She probably realizes I'm just humoring her, but since I'm stuck doing this either way, I decide to pay attention.

The class apparently consists mostly of novices, many of whom have only recently found themselves needing to learn basic cooking skills. She compared it to the elementary lessons she teaches her youngest students back home, which I'm not sure whether to take as a relief or an insult—she's probably trying to make me feel better. On some level, I'm relieved it won't be an advanced class because I won't look quite so bad to start. However, once her students begin showing progress, and I'm still burning everything, I'll still feel like an idiot.

This is not going to be a pleasant experience...

“You're getting that worried look again,” Mom remarks, a red light giving her the chance to look over with a concerned grimace.

“I'm fine, Mom, really,” I reply, leaning back and taking a look out my window toward a nearby skyscraper. “Why'd you trade down to a sedan, anyway?”

“Oh, it just seemed more practical—it's just me, you, and Midi mostly now,” she explains, leaving out the part about the rental company taking pity on her, “but don't change the subject... You're either worried about the class, or something else is bothering you.”

“It's neither,” I claim, keeping my eyes looking firmly in the other direction.

Usually she wouldn't give up after such a flimsy retort, but the light turns green and she has to focus on traffic. While she's maneuvering through the city streets, I'm free from her incessant questions, so I dig out my phone to check for messages. There's nothing new from Hisao, but, much to my surprise, there's already a response from Misha, though the contents are less than helpful. It looks like gibberish, considering how many abbreviations and spelling errors are involved, but it seems like she's happy to hear from me. Translating it will take more time than I probably have, so I sigh and start flipping through my contact list.

I'll need to find a hiding place so I can call Hisao...

Mom notices my actions, leading her to ask, “Expecting a call?”

“No... well, kinda,” I reply, trying stall while I come up with a reasonable explanation. The guilty grin I'm making probably doesn't instill much confidence, but I'm not even sure why I'm being secretive; she can't possibly know about the strain with Hisao—unless Yoko talked. “It's nothing important,” I add, turning to look at the phone again, “just some correspondence with a... silent partner...”

There are advantages to playing phone tag with more than one person...

“Oh... 'kay,” she says, still sounding suspicious, “any news from the homefront?”

“Homefront?”

“You said Amaya called,” she explains, her voice filled with a mix of anticipation and trepidation, “what's happening with her and Tadao?”

“Ah, that...” I trail off to consider my words. According to Amaya, everything went as planned, except that her dad has been inordinately hostile toward Tadao—she said something about a constant inquisition. “It's an uphill struggle, I gather, but Mister Yamamoto is showing signs of thawing... though I don't think they've been totally honest about... everything.”

“Ah, well... if you recall, you tried to hide it, too,” she says, which I don't like agreeing with, but it's the truth. “It's understandable, though—you thought I was a prude~!”

“I still think that,” I retort, “for my sanity's sake, if nothing else...”

“Well, I'll let you keep your delusions for now,” she says with a laugh. As the car comes to a stop at another light, she looks over and innocently asks, “And... the other homefront?”

I might have to shake down Yoko later...

“Hisao?” I prompt, trying to buy time. Her smirking nod doesn't last long enough to come up with anything clever, so I decide to lie, “I talked to him last night—he's... he's fine.”

My evasion doesn't convince her, but I'm saved by another traffic interruption. “Ah, here's the garage,” she says, jerking the car to the right with another spectacularly abrupt turn, and nearly plowing straight through the retractable gate. When we've stopped, she groans and reaches for her purse, complaining absently, “They wouldn't give me a badge until the class actually started...”

Not knowing quite what she's talking about, I let her forget I'm here, hoping she'll also forget about our discussion. Until I know for sure what happened, I doubt talking to her will help anything, so I plan to avoid it if at all possible. At some point, I'll need to find a closet, or a bathroom, or maybe an air duct where I can make a phone call without her popping up to annoy me with questions. For now, I try to focus on her culinary ramblings, which continue as we search for a parking space, focusing on the makeshift classroom she'll be using.

Unlike her well-equipped classroom in Italy, the course she'll be teaching will take place in a disused kitchen that was once part of a hotel restaurant—the same hotel where she's staying. When the restaurant folded—for reasons she doesn't know—the local university bought the kitchen and the adjacent rooms, then added their own staff. Usually it's abandoned during summer break, but refusing extra income isn't a savvy tactic for any institution; it probably helps that one of Mom's professors from culinary school is on the school's administrative board. Basically this all means that she has a legitimate excuse to drag me into the frying pan once again.

I can't wait...

Groaning as another blind corner reveals a string of parked cars, she gripes, “Every time I return here, I have to hunt down a spot...”

“You could have saved the aggravation and left me at Yamaku...”

Glaring at me sidelong, she quips, “Don't get smart with me—I brought you into this world, I can take you out...!”

“The way you drive, I'm sure you've been trying for years...”

Instead of responding verbally, she halts the car suddenly, making my head jerk forward. “Oh, wait... that's a compact space,” she lies, smirking evilly, “sorry, Kitten—how's your neck?”

“Just fine,” I groan, “at least we know the car has good brakes...”

“I remembered which pedal does that this time...”

I think that's called selective memory...

Our good humored banter ends there while she continues searching for an open space. Since she's at least mildly distracted, I go back to perusing Misha's seemingly coded reply, and I manage to figure out one thing: I'm falling behind on my internet jargon. Instead of trying to translate, I decide to send back a simple, one word reply, [Wut?]

Glancing at Mom, I see she's still bobbing her head, looking for a place to park, so I keep the phone out in case I get a quick response. Only a few seconds pass before the tell-tale blip noise sounds and I find a legible reply, [Going camping :) More the merrier!!! Shicchan says hi. ^_^]

Camping...? I haven't gone camping since... ever...

Before I can try typing a reply, the car jerks to the left and Mom exclaims, “Mine!”

Once we've stopped, I turn to see another car speeding down the aisle—Mom must have managed to outmaneuver someone. Having reached our destination, writing a lengthy reply would just annoy Mom, which might be fun, but I think I've already spent my delinquent capital for the hour. Instead I simply write a short message, [Okay, cool. I'll call later for details.]

“We're here, Kitten,” Mom points out as she exits the car, “and, leave the phone here—I don't want you being distracted.”

Damn it all...

“Why?”

“It's brand new," she says, "and I don't want it ending up in a pot of boiling water, or something...”

“Fine,” I grumble, closing the device and placing it in the center console. Her logic leaves me with a petulant scowl, but I can see her point—I can't contact anyone with a broken phone.

“Besides, we both know this might go horribly,” she adds, which sounds more pessimistic than I was expecting.

“Do I sense a wrinkle in your optimism?” I ask, walking around to meet her at the back of the car, “Or are you just hedging your bets?”

“I'm hopeful, but I'm not an idiot,” she retorts, beckoning me to follow her toward the stairwell. “I still have every confidence that I can shape you into a gourmet, but Rome wasn't built in a day...”

“Didn't that take like five hundred years?”

“Technically, they're still not done,” she quips, smiling over her shoulder, “but the Romans didn't have me for a teacher.”

Mom takes teaching very seriously, and it might make me seem lame, but I've always admired that about her—it's probably the other half of why she refuses to give up on trying to teach me. Once we're through the stairwell door, she starts going into business mode, or serious mode, or whatever mode teachers go into just before class. Her leisurely walking pace quickens, her hips swivel less, her perpetual smile flattens, and she extracts a file folder from her bag which I'm guessing contains her student list, or the curriculum, or they could be blank pages meant to make her look official.

I think half of teaching is the illusion of authority...

It's similar to the change that happens when one of her darling daughters misbehaves, but since it's directed elsewhere—at least for the time being—it doesn't make me nervous. While we're on the elevator she remains stoically silent, looking over that file and quietly turning the pages. Meanwhile, I keep my head down and try to keep the terrified look off my face; I'm really not looking forward to humiliating myself in front of strangers. When the doors open, Mom immediately steps into the air conditioned hallway, but I linger against the back of the elevator.

Maybe if I stay here she won't notice...

“C'mon, Kitten, this will be fun~!” she chirps, dashing my hopes.

Making it look like I was engrossed in reading the safety information posted inside, I hop off the wall and step into the narrow hallway. For being a somewhat expensive hotel, the infrastructure seems oddly cheap, but I guess they spend most of their money on the rooms upstairs. The laminate floor is the first obviously low-budget detail I notice, but there are also exposed pipes running along the walls, and the suspended ceiling is missing more than a few tiles. With my eyes aimed downward, I mostly follow the sound of Mom's footsteps, moving along several corridors before exiting through a narrow doorway.

Looking up as the door closes behind us, I find we've entered into a hidden room at the back of the hotel lobby. There are security monitors arranged along one wall, and a kitchenette built along the other, with a narrow table set up in between—I can't tell if it's a break room or a security office. That question gets answered as a middle-aged man in a dark blue suit and dark sunglasses approaches holding two visitor badges. The badge hanging from his collar indicates he's with security, and he has the appropriately stern expression, which he directs toward me as he nears.
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Last edited by Helbereth on Thu Feb 27, 2014 4:40 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Helbereth
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Chapter 42 - Phone Tag (part 4)

Post by Helbereth » Wed Sep 11, 2013 12:16 pm

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Mom nods and takes the badges, then turns to notice my perplexed expression and holds a hand toward him. “This is the chief of hotel security here, Mister Hayashi,” she introduces him, handing me one of the badges before adding, “My daughter, Aiko—she'll be working with me today.”

“Very well,” he replies, offering a slight bow, which I echo in kind, “If you'll follow me...”

It seems like a bit much for there to be this much emphasis put on security around a little cooking class, but it's not my place to ask. As we follow Hayashi through more narrow corridors, I ponder whether there might be some special significance where the students are concerned, but that's probably just my overactive imagination talking. Soon we've found our way seemingly across to the other side of the hotel, and up two flights of stairs that open into a dimly lit dining hall. The brightest lights come from the exit signs and the small circular windows along the far wall; I can't quite see what's outside through them.

“Have any of my students arrived yet?” Mom inquires.

As Hayashi moves to turn on the lights, he replies, “No, Ma'am...”

The fluorescent glow brightens the cavernous room quite well, highlighting the lightly stained wood tables and chairs, and the dark rafters hanging under the high ceiling. Along the interior walls are a number of colorful pastoral lithographs, and the wide room is anchored by a rectangular cooking pit at its epicenter. At the back of the room is a well-stocked bar with leather-bound stools and a giant mirror that makes the large room seem double its size. On either side of the bar are large swinging doors that probably lead into the main kitchen, each flanked by a bank of drawers and a prep table; it seems like it was a really nice restaurant, so I'm not sure why it closed.

“Your students will be directed through the main doors,” he explains, pointing toward the large double-doors on the wall opposite the bar. “Those badges will grant access to all the restaurant facilities,” he adds, walking over to step into the kitchen and turn on the lights, “And they'll function as a parking pass downstairs—you can get your parking validated at the front desk before you leave.”

“Excellent. Thank you Mister Hayashi,” Mom says with a gracious bow, “if I need anything-”

“Dial one, wait for the tone, then star five on the intercom,” he answers, pointing toward the device behind the bar, “myself, or Miss Yumi will respond promptly.”

Nodding, Mom looks toward me, then back to Hayashi and remarks, “Your restaurant is in good hands.”

“Of course, Misses Kurai.”

“Please, call me Ina,” she corrects.

The informality seems to make him flinch, but he quickly recovers and replies, “Very well... Ina.”

As he departs, I notice Mom trying to act casual as her eyes follow him out the door. If she were one of my friends, I'd probably mention that she isn't hiding her stare very well, but since she's my mother, I decide not to tread on that subject. “So... how much of this place do you figure will survive the inevitable fire?” I joke, earning an appropriately distasteful grunt.

“Not funny, Kitten,” she scolds.

“Just remember: when we're filling out the police report," I add, pointing at her, "you were the one who dragged me here...”

She reopens the file folder and raises an eyebrow, then changes the subject, “We should probably take a look at the kitchen proper...”

As she starts walking toward the kitchen, I follow and remark, “Yeah, I'll want to familiarize myself with the emergency exits...”

“Stop being so negative~!” she scolds cheerily, “You'll be fixing gourmet meals for Hisao by the time he gets back~!”

While that sounds completely ridiculous, and probably impossible, I can't help smiling at the prospect of adding some domestic skills to my repertoire. As old fashioned as it sounds, I'd actually like to feel useful in the kitchen, rather than a danger, especially for Hisao—along with the rest of my friends. It's unlikely that I'll ever grasp the concept well enough to make anything complicated, but I'd like to get a handle on the basics, if I can. Maybe I'm deluding myself, but now that Mom put the idea in my head, I actually feel motivated to get past my culinary roadblocks.

I'm sure that was her intent...

~^~

Many of the ten people who signed up for the course looked like they might chop off a finger before the day was over, but, not only has that not happened, many of them have made real progress. They were less than enthusiastic about the curriculum, which seems strangely advanced for a first lesson, but there's a method to Mom's madness—or so she says. After going over some workspace etiquette and a few basic knife skills—slicing, dicing and something called chiffonade—she moved straight on to breaking down a whole chicken. All I had to do was hand her a knife, then stand next to her through the demonstration.

I sort of felt like one of the girls from Wheel Of Fortune...

The only hard part was trying not to look completely inept, but everyone was mesmerized by the lesson, so I don't think anyone noticed my blank stare. Everyone gathered around her workstation as she went over every cut in detail, explaining how to hold the knife, where to use the shears, and what to do with the innards. After that she set everyone up with birds of their own to flay, including myself, and told us to have at it. For some reason, I find cutting up poultry rather relaxing. It's possible I relate it to shooting my way through a bunker in a video game, but that just tells me I've been extremely bored lately.

While we whittle away, Mom patrols the kitchen offering bits of advice, pointing out errors, or complimenting small triumphs, always with a smile. The way she explained it to me, she's throwing something seemingly insurmountable at the group on the first day so that when they've completed that, even if it isn't perfect, it will build confidence—which is something I'm sorely lacking in the kitchen. Her intentions don't necessarily show in my paltry mishandling of poultry, but, as I look around at the novices who've probably spent less than ten minutes in a kitchen before today, the results speak for themselves.

I might actually start getting this if I put some effort into it...

“Kitten, I think you're a little too knife-shy,” she says in a low whisper, peeking over my shoulder. “Think of it like a video game,” she adds, which is surprising considering the source, “Manipulating a knife is like using a mouse, except it's sharper.”

“And I can't lose a finger using a mouse...”

“If you think you'll cut yourself, you probably will,” she retorts, tapping the counter beside my cutting board. “Just think about what you're doing,” she advises, “concentrate on what your hands are doing instead of worrying about the possible hospital visit.”

For whatever reason, that actually makes sense, though I'm not exactly sure why. “Think small?” I ask, turning to see her smile, “Is that what you mean?”

“Exactly—one step at a time~! It works with cooking, driving, life... love...” she describes, trailing off at seeing my eyes aim downward. “Just focus on finishing up here,” she says, giving me a gentle pat on the shoulder, “We can talk about the rest after...”

Before I can protest, or ask how she seems to know what else is bothering me, she leaves to browse her students' progress. Whether or not Yoko ratted me out, it seems Mom knows something more than failing at cooking is on my mind, which really shouldn't surprise me at this point. Maybe it's just maternal instinct, but she always seems to know when I've had a bad day. Even as far back as before my accident, I remember her just up and giving me a hug, or saying something encouraging when things weren't going my way, even when she had little more than my expression as a guide—it would be more comforting if it didn't result in embarrassment half the time.

I wonder if I'll ever understand anyone that well...

While she's away, I take her advice and focus on the poultry problem. Letting her cheerful, though commanding voice sink into the background, I concentrate on separating the breast meat, and extracting the legs. When I've finished hacking the rest apart, it doesn't look quite as good as the one she used to demonstrate—I mangled it pretty badly, actually—but the prospect of doing it again is less frightening having done it once. Of course, classically, the way I've messed up cooking has been during the introduction of heat to the equation, but that's step fifty or so, and I just finished step one.

I have a long way to go...

“Okay, has everyone finished?” Mom asks loudly, her voice ringing off the pans hanging from the ceiling. As a collective affirmative grunt answers her, she frowns and scolds in her cheerful tone, “Now, class, order is key to a good kitchen, so I ask that you address me properly~!”

“Yes, Chef Ina!” the group replies, which sounds weird to my ears.

I wonder if I should call her Chef Mom...

“That's better! You must be clear in the kitchen, remember that!” she explains. “Look around you,” she adds, pointing around the room, “This room is full of knives, chemicals, scalding water... a few dozen other potential hazards, and especially fire,” she pauses to smirk and wink toward me, “and other hot things...”

I was almost ready to thank her for not embarrassing me today... almost...

The students, many of them older men, avoid turning to follow her look, and I suppress the blush as well as I can. Being by far the youngest person in the room, and female, I've noticed and tried to ignore the casual glances, but Mom apparently enjoys the fact that I've been drawing wandering eyes. It occurs to me that some of the students have paid her just as much attention, but she's actually used to it while I still don't know what to do when I'm being ogled. Lately my reaction has involved hiding behind Hisao, my personal meat shield, but that's not an option.

Mom lets the awkwardness hang in the air for a few seconds before clapping her hands together loudly and advising, “Just remember: safety first!”

I think she's getting me back for making fun of her driving...

“Yes, Chef Ina,” her students reply in unison.

“Good. Well, as our time today is nearly up, and I know you all have places to go after class, we'll end the day with a lesson on storage,” she says, smirking over her shoulder, “so, everyone grab your meat... and follow me.”

And now I have that image to contend with... thanks, Mom...

~^~

There's one thought on my mind as I follow Mom out to the garage, and that is getting to my phone so I can contact Hisao. If I want privacy, I'll have to wait until we're back at Yamaku, but I can at least send him a message explaining why I haven't called yet today; it's already after noon. The moment I'm back in the passenger seat, I dig the device out of the console and start checking for messages. There's a reply from Misha that I'll read later, a message from Yoko that can probably wait, and another text from Hisao that I stare at for a few long moments before opening.

Mom sits down as the message appears, and I turn away reflexively, which she takes as what it is: I'm trying to hide it from her. “Kitten, I know you,” she states, placing a calming hand on my forearm, “You're not usually this excited to check phone messages, and you're trying to hide it, which means something happened.”

The indignant teenager in me wants to deny her observation, but my reasonable side wins out as I start to nod. “Just something stupid... it's probably nothing,” I say, simply saying the words making me feel a little better, “You're probably gonna laugh...”

“Not at you, never,” she protests, then smirks and shrugs. “Well, maybe a little,” she admits, “but that doesn't mean I'm not taking it seriously.”

Knowing she means well, I shrug and start explaining about what happened. The reticent expression she maintains as I describe the weird conversation, and our subsequent missed calls doesn't help, but it's probably better than the judgmental stare I'd get from Amaya, or the bewildered gape I got from Yoko. The last straw comes when she asks that I open up the most recent message for her to see. At reading the simple, innocent question contained therein, I groan in frustration while Mom shakes her head in dismay.

[Are you mad at me?]

“He has a lot to learn about women,” Mom muses, handing my phone back and starting up the car, “but I don't think you have anything to worry about.”

Hearing her say it doesn't make it true, or okay, but she knows more about this than I do, and Dad wasn't a genius when it came to understanding her all the time—I wonder if Hisao even knows how much this has been driving me crazy. “Am I just worrying over nothing, then?”

She pauses to back the car out, then shrugs and replies, “Not completely, no.”

That's not encouraging...

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Kitten, he's hundreds of miles away, so being worried is only natural,” she replies, which doesn't answer my question.

“I mean about-”

“No—of that I'm sure,” she interjects, “not unless he's a sociopath or something...”

“That doesn't... what?”

“Never mind,” she asserts, turning to watch where she's going as she turns onto the causeway, “You're worked up about it because circumstance has kept you from talking since the phone call—I'm sure it's nothing.”

“It didn't sound like nothing...”

“That's just irrational suspicion talking,” she remarks, raising an eyebrow along with her sidelong glance, “which is a little strange coming from you, but it's another side effect of love, I suppose...”

Shaking my head in dismay, I ask, “Is there a book about this somewhere?”

“You'd think there would be after thousands of years,” she muses, letting out a sharp sigh, “but every generation seems to decide the next one has to figure this part out themselves...”

“It's a vicious cycle, then...”

“What you need to do is talk to him, preferably in person,” she says, shrugging apologetically, “but over the phone should do.”

“Yeah...”

“First though,” she adds, offering an encouraging smile, “we should find somewhere to have lunch—I was thinking-”

“Pizza,” I interject, recalling the scent I awoke to this morning, “definitely pizza.”

“That's not quite what I was thinking, but Enzo's is nearby,” she replies, squinting mischievously.

“That's not what I meant.”

Glancing at me slyly as she stops at the exit gate, she muses, “I assure you my thoughts were pure, but since you brought it up-”

“Mom!” I groan, shaking my head, “Why put that image in my head?”

“You said you were fine with it,” she retorts, which I hate admitting is true.

However, I did make a stipulation in that concession. “Maybe, but I don't wanna know about it,” I protest, giving her as serious a stare as I can muster, “least of all be there to watch...”

“Okay, fine,” she concedes, “no flirting, but I reserve the right to ogle.”

“Please, don't...”

“I'll be discreet!”

I can't win... unless I cheat...

“Just remember: Dad will know everything you're doing,” I warn, trying to appeal to her faithful side—both of them, really.
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Last edited by Helbereth on Thu Feb 27, 2014 4:40 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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