We stop at a few more stores after that and even manage to squeeze in a movie before lunch. The movie isn’t anything special - an American film with subtitles. It’s the sort of “romantic comedy” that’s neither romantic nor funny. At the very least, it makes me feel a little better about my ability to understand English. And it’s nice to have Misha leaning against me for the duration of the movie. She falls asleep rather quickly, but it’s the thought that counts.
Lunch is a relatively low-key affair, with Akira introducing us to her favorite noodle place. The food there is good. Really good. Everyone seems to be more interested in eating than conversation. Even Misha’s too busy eating to be her usual chatterbox self.
After everyone’s finished, Shizune suggests we go to a nearby cosmetics shop, which is met with enthusiastic approval. As the girls begin to file out, Akira comes up next to me and matches my pace. “I really doubt you’re interested in makeup. Lilly and I found a pretty cool antiques place the other day. Interested?”
I have to admit that antiques sound marginally more fascinating than lipstick and eyeshadow. “That could be fun. Is it really a good idea to split off from the rest of the group, though?”
She dismisses my concern with an airy wave of her hand. “Not a problem. Lilly knows where it is if we end up taking too long.”
“That’s all well and good, but shouldn’t we tell her rather than just assume she’ll know?”
“No need,” she replies casually, “Lilly’s been eavesdropping this whole time. It’s a bad habit of hers.”
I glance toward Lilly. I can only see her back from here, but I imagine she’s pouting at the accusation, assuming she does in fact hear us. Akira’s her sister, so there’s no reason for me to assume she’s wrong. “Sure, why not?”
At the next crosswalk, Akira leads the way to the antiques shop, breaking us off from the rest of the group. Once we’re a good distance away, she speaks up, still walking purposefully forward. “We are going where I said we’re going, but you’re a smart kid. Even though it’s a pretty cool store, we both know that this was an excuse. I’m also not going to bother with the castration threats, ‘cause I like you.”
“Castration. It’s when you take a knife-”
“No, I understand that part. I’m trying to figure out how we went from old curiosities to... whatever it is you’re getting at.”
I look up. It’s an old-fashioned storefront full of various interesting-looking handcrafted objects. The writing in the window uses western characters - “Othello’s Antiques.”
Entering the shop, I begin browsing one of the aisles. Akira follows behind, glancing around disinterestedly. After about a minute of silence, she speaks up again. “This is about Misha.”
She sounds a little awkward, like she’s embarrassed or something. “Crap. How do I say this? That castration bit was just a joke. You know that, right?”
I turn to give her my full attention. She fidgets as she continues, making it clear that she’s way out of her comfort zone. “Just... don’t do anything stupid, okay? Not just for Misha’s sake. It’s for you, too. If you go and do something you'll regret, you’re going to be far worse on yourself than anyone else. That’s just the way things work.”
This is the first time I’ve seen Akira as anything approaching vulnerable. “You really care about Misha, don’t you?”
“Guilty,” she sighs, “Shizune, too. And Lilly, of course. Can’t forget Hideaki, either. Yet another ‘gift’ from my ‘beloved’ parents, I guess.”
There’s an edge of sharpness when Akira mentions her parents, but she’s still a far cry from her usual confident self. “It’s been a gradual process. First it was Lilly, when our parents moved as far away as possible. Then Uncle asked me to keep an eye on Shizune and Hideaki. He must’ve been desperate if I was the closest thing to a ‘positive female role model’ he could find. By then, I couldn’t help but take ownership of their friends, too. Heck, we barely know each other and I’m already starting to care about what happens to you.”
She adds a half-hearted chuckle to the end of that last comment, trying to pass it off as a joke. It’s obvious that she meant it, but she clearly doesn’t want to fully admit it. I can respect that. I add my own forced laughter to hers. “Thanks for the advice. I’ll keep it in mind.”
We return to silence after that, and quietly look through the rest of the wares. Nothing really grabs my attention, and the few things that catch my eye lose it quickly after a glance at the price tag. I eventually decide that I’m not going to buy anything today.
“Okay,” I call over to Akira, “I think it’s time to meet back up with the others.”
I make a mental note of the shop’s location. It might be worth stopping by later. There are some interesting things here. I wonder when Misha’s birthday is...
If I had been asked how a girl could spend all day shopping, I’d have no clue. Even having seen it firsthand, I’m still not sure how they managed to waste so much time doing little more than shopping. I’m also amazed at the amount of money they manage to spend. I didn’t see the prices for everything they bought, but what I did see was anything but cheap. I know for a fact that I’ve never seen so much money thrown about with so little care. One of the perks of being rich, I guess.
I was expecting to be made into a pack mule, but that never happened, surprisingly enough. I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s because Misha’s making a point of keeping her purchases from me, and the other girls consider me her “property.” Somehow, I decide that Kenji’s to blame for that thought.
For dinner, the decision was made to eat at a nearby restaurant that sells American food. Misha is in the lead, and I’m just behind her. I examine the brightly-lit menu posted overhead, but I’m fairly certain that Misha’s already decided what I’m going to eat. She’s probably going to insist that I try a burger - she’s been harping on that ever since she learned that I’ve never had one. It probably won’t be as bad as I imagine, but I’m still not looking forward to a mountain of grease and sauces for dinner.
“Okay, Hicchan,” Misha announces, turning around to face me, “you’re going to get the- huh? Where did the others go?”
I turn around to see that, sure enough, the rest of our group is nowhere in sight. Not that it’s any real concern, though. We all have phones if we need to get in touch. And I have the sneaking suspicion that Shizune’s behind this disappearance. She orchestrated a date for us once already; I wouldn’t put it past her to try again.
“They probably figured we’d want to spend some time alone. I’m not complaining.”
“Haha, good idea, Hicchan~!” With a flirtatious grin, she takes a step closer to me. “Besides, we’re overdue for another date, don’t you think?”
Anticipating her next move, I catch her in a hug and go for the kiss before she gets the chance. Sighing contentedly, she lets herself sink ever so slightly into my arms. Admittedly, the hug is a little awkward, since I’m still holding the package Aoi bought for me this morning.
“Hicchan~?” she asks, resting her chin on my shoulder.
“Do you want me to hold that box for you? It’s digging into my back~.”
“Oh! Sorry!” I release her from the hug, blushing profusely. “Sure, you can put it into one of your bags.” With a grin of my own, I add a parting blow, more teasing than anything else. “But no peeking!”
“Wahahaha~! Okay, Hicchan, I won’t peek~. Now, here’s what I think you should have to eat...”
In relatively short order, we find ourselves seated at a small table with our food. As expected, Misha got me an order of a massive burger with “the works,” whatever that means. She got something similar for herself, so it can’t be all that bad, right?
I examine the meal from several angles, trying to develop a plan of attack. It’s nearly the size of my head. Giving up, I turn to Misha for help. “How am I supposed to eat this?”
“Wahahaha~! It’s easy, Hicchan~! You just open wide and take a bite! Like this!”
To demonstrate, Misha takes a large bite out of her own sandwich. All that laughing must make it easier to open her mouth wide, because I’m still not sure it’s possible for me to replicate that feat. The way she’s watching me expectantly makes it clear that I need to at least try. Steeling myself, I open my mouth so wide that it almost hurts, and attempt to bite into the burger. I manage, just barely, to fit some of it in, but it’s neither clean nor pretty. The flavor isn’t spectacular, but it’s not too bad, either. I don’t expect it to become a favorite food for me, but I can certainly understand why people like to eat these.
As I finish my bite, I notice that Misha’s particularly amused by something - not that that’s unusual. I’d say she’s giggling like a schoolgirl, but, well, she is
a schoolgirl. “What’s so funny?”
“Haha~, have I ever told you that you’re cute when you eat, Hicchan~? Because you are~. Also, you have sauce on your nose.”
Trying to maintain what little dignity I have left, I grab a napkin and wipe off my face. “Well, Shiina, have I ever told you that you’re cute whether you’re eating or not? Because you are.”
Rather than the expected smile, she frowns at my comment. “You’re not tired of that yet, Hicchan?”
“Huh? Tired of what?”
Looking mildly annoyed, she explains. “Aren’t you tired of teasing me about my name? If you want me to call you Hisao, you just need to ask, if it annoys you that much. But it’s just mean to tease me back until I figure out why you’re teasing me.”
“That’s not it at all!” I protest, still taken aback by the surprising accusation. Her hard expression softens slightly on seeing my reaction. “I meant exactly what I said. I didn’t like you calling me Hicchan at first. But I really do like hearing you say it now. And I really was hoping that I could do the same for you. It’s just as simple as that.”
As I finish explaining myself, Misha starts to look downright ashamed. When I’m done, she replies in a small voice. “I’m sorry, Hicchan. It wasn’t fair for me to assume the worst like that. I don’t think your idea will work, but, if that’s really what you mean by it, then... I think I might be okay with you calling me Shiina.”
Great. Somehow, the fact that she feels guilty about getting mad at me is making me feel guilty for not explaining myself better. She already looks like she’s cheering up, though. “While we’re talking about it, where did the nickname ‘Misha’ come from?”
“Haha~, that’s an easy one!” She seems to have recovered to full cheerfulness rather quickly. “When I was really little, I had trouble saying ‘Mikado Shiina,’ so I introduced myself as ‘Misha~.’ It just kind of stuck after that! Ahahaha~. For my friends, at least. My family kept calling me ‘Shicchan.’”
That’s straightforward enough, but it’s actually kind of cute. I don’t really have a follow-up, so I go back to eating. The second bite from my burger isn’t quite as bad as the first, but it still feels like it was designed for a snake, or some other animal that can unhinge its jaw to eat.
After a couple minutes of eating, Misha speaks up again. “I took some time today to shop for decorations for your room, Hicchan~. I’ll give it to you when we get back to school.”
Looking a little uncertain, she glances down at her food, slumping a little in her seat. “It was a lot harder than I expected to find something I thought you’d like, though. I hope I did a good job~...”
“I’m sure you did,” I reassure her.
Maintaining her downcast posture, she turns her eyes up toward me. “We don’t really know each other very well, do we?”
I think about her question a moment before responding, but there’s no real point. It’s obvious she’s right. “I guess we’ve been too busy to really sit down and talk about ourselves, huh?”
“Ahahaha~, I guess so!”
Remembering my discussion with Akira this morning, I’m struck with an idea. “Exams start tomorrow, right? Are you feeling good about them?”
Her response is particularly warm. “Actually, I am, for once. It’s all because of your help, Hicchan~. You’re a good teacher~.”
“You’re not too bad yourself. You’ve been a good help for English. And sign language, too.”
It’s really easy to forget about the latter, oddly enough. Between our conversations and alternating interpretation duties for Shizune, I’ve fallen into the same habit as Misha, signing pretty much everything I see and hear. It’s become so natural that I don’t even think about it, my hands moving automatically.
“Anyway,” I continue, suddenly more aware of my simultaneous signing, “do you feel good enough about them that you might want to take a break from studying tomorrow afternoon?”
With a mischievous glint in her eye, she gives me an equally impish grin. “What do you want to do tomorrow afternoon, Hicchan?”
As it dawns on me what she’s implying, I can feel the blood rushing to my cheeks. “That‘s not what I was suggesting! I was just remembering something Shizune had said. That you can get to know someone better by playing a game with that person.”
On hearing my suggestion, Misha’s face falls a little. “You know that I’m not very good at games, Hicchan.”
“Yeah, I know that you haven’t been the fiercest opponent in the past few games we’ve played,” I admit, somewhat reluctantly, “but I seem to remember you saying you were good at a few games. Rich Man, Poor Man? Paper Football?”
She smiles a little at remembering that first day we met, but still looks somewhat down. “I was speaking for Shicchan, Hicchan. She’s good at those games, not me. I have terrible aim, remember~?”
“Actually, that’s what confuses me. If you have terrible aim, and Shizune refuses to throw anything, how could you be good at Paper Football?”
I looked up the rules for Paper Football. It really is a game for kids. Amused by my logic, Misha begins smiling again. “Shicchan normally refuses to throw anything~, but when it’s a competition, all bets are off! I don’t think she’s capable of refusing a challenge~! Wahahahaha~!”
That is kind of funny, but I’m still a little disappointed. “There isn’t any game you’re good at? Are you sure? I was really hoping that there was some game where we’d have a good challenge. Maybe even one where you could beat me.”
“Well~,” she begins, uncertainly, “I guess there is one game that I’m pretty good at...”
“And that is?”
“A secret! Wahahahahaha~! Hahahahaha~!”
As much as I like Misha, there are still times when she tries my patience. I continue eating while I wait for her to wind down. Noticing her begin to regain her composure, I speak up. “Are you finished?”
“Haha, yeah~. I’m all laughed up.” She pauses to wipe a tear from her eye, then gives me one of her more cheerful smiles. “You’re just going to have to wait until tomorrow afternoon to find out what the game is, Hicchan~. It’s more fun that way!”
Not very long after we finish eating, the rest of our group reappears. As I had guessed, it was Shizune’s idea for everyone to vanish - a fact to which she proudly confesses. Since it’s getting late, we all agree that it’s time to head back to Yamaku.
I had assumed that Shizune, Lilly, Misha, and I would all be riding with Akira, since her car has enough room for all of us, but Shizune volunteers to ride home with Aoi and Keiko. I’m too surprised by her decision to go on her own, without anyone who knows sign language, even, to think to mention that Keiko is a rather aggressive driver.
The ride home is surprisingly quiet and calming. Lilly makes some small talk about the upcoming exams, but it’s the sort of conversation that no one really cares to continue, so it just gradually fades into silence.
After a few minutes, though, curiosity gets the better of me. “I’m guessing you already told the others, Lilly, but how did you and Shizune make up? It wasn’t that long ago that you two seemed to hate each other.”
Lilly chuckles softly, as if remembering some long-past foolishness. “Looking back on it, it does seem kind of silly and childish. It wasn’t anything dramatic or spectacular. Shizune came and apologized for how she acted. I couldn’t refuse the apology, so I accepted the ‘cease fire’ - her words. And it was only a short time later that we remembered that we really enjoy each other’s company when we aren’t constantly lobbing insults at each other.”
Akira barks out a short, harsh laugh. “Nice try, Lilly. Misha might take you at your word, and Hisao doesn’t know any better, but do you really think you can fool your own sister? The only reason you two aren’t still fighting is because you think you won.”
Lilly opens her mouth in protest, but slowly closes it when she realises she can’t argue the point. Defeated, she sniffs petulantly. “Shizune started it. It’s only fair that she be the one to apologize.”
“Honestly,” Akira groans, “you two are just as bad as Father and Uncle.”
The two sisters descend into silence, Akira focused on the road while Lilly pouts silently.
My attention is returned to the back seat by a head full of pink hair, resting itself on my shoulder. “This was a good day~. Don’t you agree~, Hicchan?”
“Yeah,” I agree, “It has been nice.”
“I didn’t notice your sweater vest~.”
I smile. “And I didn’t notice your make-up.”
Misha grabs my arm and holds it tightly against her, nuzzling my shoulder as she tries to maneuver herself closer. We spend the rest of the car trip that way, leaning against each other.
When we finally arrive, Akira pulls up in front of the gates. “Alright, kids, back to reality now.”
It takes us a minute or two to get out of the car and collect our bags. Once we’re all out and the car’s unloaded, Akira calls out a quick farewell and drives off.
She looks up to me from where she is, bent over her bags. “Huh?”
“I can carry your bags for you, if you want.”
Her eyes narrow in suspicion. It’s cuter than she probably intends it to be. “No peeking?”
With a smile, she picks up a couple bags and holds them out to me. “I’d like that, Hicchan~.”
Taking the bags, I notice Shizune approaching us in the fading light. She does not look happy. I’d guess she was less than thrilled with Keiko’s driving. Assessing the situation, she turns toward Misha. [I need you to come with me. Now.]
Concerned by the urgency, Misha’s focus shifts entirely toward Shizune. [What’s the matter, Shicchan?]
Shizune’s frown darkens. [I need to have a talk with the other Student Council members.]
Without waiting for a response, Shizune pivots on her heel and marches purposefully back in the direction she came from. Misha nods with exaggerated seriousness and prances behind Shizune, trying to catch up.
“It would seem that everyone else has left, Hisao.”
I had almost completely forgotten about Lilly. She’s standing more or less in the same place that she had been when she stepped out of Akira’s car, holding her own bags from the shopping trip.
“Would I be able to trouble you to guide me to the dorms? Using my cane while carrying these bags would be... awkward.”
“Uh, yeah. Sure. No problem.”
Taking my sleeve between her fingers, Lilly smiles radiantly. “Why thank you, Hisao. You are the very example of a perfect gentleman.”
It’s not that far, but Lilly moves rather slow, so we take longer than expected to get to the girls’ dorm. When we arrive, Lilly thanks me and then heads inside.
Only afterward do I remember that I’m carrying all Misha’s stuff. In the silence of dusk, I can faintly hear Misha’s voice carry across the grounds, cheerfully expressing Shizune’s anger. It’s a pretty solid bet that that will go on for some time. Once Shizune gets started on a good rant, it takes a while for her to wind down. And once they’re done, Misha will probably be asleep on her feet. With nothing better to do, I carry Misha’s bags to my room, set them in a corner, and throw myself into bed.
Act 3 Scene 3 Part 1
| Act 3 Scene 4