I did say before that I would try and get an update out sooner, and I failed in that. I seem to fail a lot when it comes to promisin updates. Not sure if my 'Better than VG Cats' disclaimer will be able to hold up much longer. Then again, we are getting ever nearer to the Good End...
Act 4 – Chapter Three, Third Branch: Dreaming of Greener Pastures
I never thought, never even dared to imagine, that something like this could happen to me. That I would be able to make the kind of headway over the past few days that I have done, so soon after my... my birthday. Especially without Lilly being around to gently coax me out of my solitude again, as she has done so many times before. Perhaps being given the space I needed, as well as the support I have come to realise I can rely on from Hisao, was the catalyst for my strangely unalarming progress. I haven't spoken to Miss Yumi either for a little while, though we haven't stopped our usual sessions. I heard from Mutou-sensei however that she was very pleased with everything I'd accomplished so far, with or without help. I know I still have a long way to go before I can truly recover, assuming I ever really can, but baby steps are better than no steps at all, and tiny forays into the unknown will always hold a promise of something new, regardless of the fear and trepidation felt at first.
As I walk in town, I notice a familiar figure through an even more familiar window. Two figures, in fact, and one I've seen often enough in the library as well as here. The other I haven't spent quite as much time with over the past few days – not because of any kind of relapse (yet again) to my former depressive state, but more out of a general lack of opportunities to meet. While Lilly's been away we haven't met up for lunch as often, the two of us still here, but we've certainly spoken on occasion in class. Though, as I said, it's only been a few days since I was bedridden, and the surprise at myself is still at the front of my mind. At any rate, it's quite the coincidence to see him here in town.
I must have been standing for longer than I thought, as the (relatively few) people walking near me push past. Nobody looks at my scars, but down here I don't expect them to pay much attention. It doesn't stop my fears from taking over whenever I'm out alone, knowing that it's only the fact that they're used to Yamaku's presence that keeps them from being too interested. Or indeed, too distrusting. Then again, maybe it's because there are so few people around that I feel brave enough to venture here today, on my own, without my usual air of apprehension. As I think about this, the first figure, who I clearly recognise as Yuuko, spots me through the window and waves. I see Hisao look up, and I give a little wave back, before crossing the street and entering the Shanghai. Upon my arrival I make my way directly to where Hisao and Yuuko are sitting. It's quiet in here, so she must have plenty of free time for once to be able to sit and talk to the customers, which is nice really. She spends so much time and effort working so hard, it's good for her to have a little break sometimes.
I take a seat opposite Hisao, next to Yuuko. “H-hello...”
“Good afternoon,” Yuuko replies.
“Hi, Hanako,” says Hisao. “What's up?”
I reply truthfully, since not much really is happening. “N-nothing... just... g-going for a walk... since the weather was nice.” Maybe things aren't quite as great as I hoped, as the stammer comes out in full force. Still, I knew things wouldn't always be so easy, so it isn't much of a surprise to me. The others are both used to it as well, so no comment is passed.
“Yeah, I get what you mean,” comes the response from Hisao. “I'm glad I decided to study here instead of the library.” Despite the fact, of course, that all his usual library compatriots are right here anyway.
Yuuko nods her head in agreement. “It's nice. It's just a shame that summer can't last forever.” She pauses, before remembering in a sudden rush that she works here. “Oh wait, sorry, um, would you like a drink?” Truth be told, I'm not too thirsty, and more than happy to stay and talk to Yuuko along with Hisao, rather than be in a hurry to send her on her way. I shake my head and the look of relief on her face is self-evident.
“H-how are you going with studying?” If I'm going to make an effort to fight my way out of my usual slump, as I have been doing recently, I need to force back the stammering and take the initiative. Keeping the conversation going is just one way to do it, I suppose.
“Okay...ish.” He waits a few seconds in silence. “Oh yeah, have you talked with Lilly?”
“I'm interested too,” says Yuuko. “How is she doing?” Fortunately, I have spoken to Lilly, though only briefly – it's hard to judge the time difference, and when she's not asleep while I'm awake I could well be interrupting her time with her family. That's much more important than chatting to me.
“Sh-she's enjoying it... I think.” That's all I can really say, and both my companions are savvy enough to resist pushing the question.
“Ah, it would be so nice to travel to Scotland,” says Yuuko, eyes closed in wonder. “Green fields, castles, lovely small towns, men in kilts, interesting history...” I almost think that she's focused a little more on the men in kilts than the other reasons to visit, though I can't say I blame her...
Suddenly, the door open and the bell jingles, and Yuuko is disturbed from her own reverie. Her face shows signs of panic, and I too am surprised at the sound of the door. In all the peace of being here I'd forgotten that customers do sometimes come along, and that Yuuko does still work here. She bows quickly, jumping up and running across to greet the new arrivals and perform her duties as a Shanghai hostess. As she goes, I notice Hisao looking over at the people who have just walked in, made all the more obvious by his awkward angle forcing him to crane his head to see the door clearly.
As I watch him, he turns away from the couple who have come inside, and faces me. I can't exactly hide my embarrassment any more than usual, since my hair only covers one eye and cheek, and so I turn my face away. He still makes eye contact though, before I can completely avert my own eyes, and his boldness stuns me a little. He presses on.
“I was just thinking that it's nice to have ambitions for the future. Yuuko was telling me a little about her university aspirations before.”
“Oh.” I wonder what his point is. Not that I don't want to hear about Yuuko's plans, it would certainly be a nice topic of general chatter, but it seems like an odd thing to bring up. Is he simply trying to push me into revealing more about what I want to do after Yamaku? In all honesty I can say it's not something I've ever given much thought to. I've always been more concerned with the here and now, and with the past. Especially with the past. It doesn't leave much room for future thinking.
“It's a shame,” he continues. “If she wasn't so neurotic and overworked, I think she could be a really happy person.” He breaks off, and although I'm a little suspicious of his line of conversation, almost a comment on my own state (though obviously not my workload), I get the feeling he doesn't really want to talk much any more. That's fine by me. We wait in silence for a few moments, and I'm just happy to be in Hisao's company, without the stress of having to endure people's stares and my own internal bitterness and self-loathing. Without having to discuss topics that I really don't feel like talking about. Without any pressure, but just the two of us, together.
After a short while he speaks again. “Sorry if I'm a bit distracted. I need to try and get this done, otherwise I'm going to flunk the history exams pretty hard.” He runs a hand through his hair, and I can understand the frustration he must be feeling. I should probably be getting some work done as well, especially since I don't have the excuse of missing classes this year, like usual. It's been a nice little interlude though. “I hope I have more luck with that than this. Damn.”
It seems like he's pretty stressed, but what else is on his mind, I wonder?. “W-what with?”
“Oh, uh... I was going to... write to Iwanako. Right now though, this is more important.”
There's little I can say. At least he was honest, I guess.
I think about it, and remember the letter that he mentioned before. It's been a while since he received it, so to reply after all this time... maybe he feels as nervous about that as I do about him. I could definitely understand why.
My heart and mind are both torn down the middle, but upon reflection, he could be replying for all kinds of reasons. And besides, if he was still in love with her, surely he'd have written back as soon as possible? Then again, there could be all kinds of reasons why he would wait. Perhaps he wanted to be certain of his reply. Maybe he just didn't have time at any point to sit down and write it.
I force myself to stop, and to be logical. It's a difficult personal matter, of course it would take him so long to write back. If he still loved her, then surely he would have spoken about her more, and wouldn't have allowed the two of us to become so close. I have nothing to worry about.
That is to say, I hope I have nothing to worry about.
I push it out of my mind and move on. I can let myself rest easy, and try to relax, letting myself fall back onto the soft seat cushion behind me, looking outside and watching the people stroll by. I wait for him to finish his work, and Hisao and I leave together, returning to the dormitories. We separate outside, by the steps, and go our own ways. As I return to my room to start my own work, my mind returns to Iwanako, and drifts away again.
In a way, I think this jealousy is a good sign. I can recognise it for what it is, and embrace it as a sign that maybe I can fight for the things I want. I can fight for what I once felt I didn't deserve. Time will tell if Hisao is someone I need to fight for, and my hopes are high that his response to Iwanako will be nothing more than closure. But in my own thoughts, I can reassure myself that finally, I'm becoming stronger.
I can be real. I can be me.