Damn it damn it damn it.
Insomnia’s a side effect of my heart medication. Well, to be more precise, it’s one of the last men standing in the no-holds-barred battle royale of side effects from my twice-daily cocktail of medications. And I’m okay with that. Usually. It’s annoying, but it doesn’t really cause problems.
Except when it’s keeping me from getting sleep the night before exams.
I go through the usual song and dance of tossing and turning, but, after the first few encounters, you learn to recognize the telltale signs of insomnia rather quickly. It’s mostly just a ritual to fight it out of sheer stubbornness. Much as I’d like it to be otherwise, it’s not something that can be beaten by willpower.
Giving up, I climb out of bed, stagger across the room, and fumble for the light switch. Once the light comes on, I make my way to my desk and pull out my English textbook. If I’m not going to sleep, I may as well make good use of my time.
Studying with Misha has certainly helped my vocabulary, but I still struggle with the grammar. I don’t think I can help it - it all feels so abstract to me. If I could imagine a situation where I’d use the future unreal conditional, I wouldn’t mind so much that I have to learn it.
On to spelling...
I like how there are only 26 characters in English. I’d like it more if there were 26 sounds to go with each of them, or if different combinations didn’t make the same sounds.
“I before E, except after C, or in words that say ‘ay,’ like ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh?’” That’s a weird rule.
Any further musing is interrupted by a knock at my door. I glance over at the clock. Almost midnight. What on earth could Kenji want this time? He probably needs me to spot him a few hundred yen. If I ignore him, he’ll probably give up. Eventually.
Another knock. I don’t respond. By the third knock, I remember that this is Kenji we’re talking about. I’ll break before he does.
Making my annoyance clear, I call out through the doorway, “Whatever it is, Kenji, it can wait until morning.”
Silence, then I hear the door rattle as the knob is tested from the other side. I left it unlocked, so it provides no resistance. I really should stop doing that if I want Kenji to leave me alone.
The door opens a crack, and I hear a timid voice completely unlike Kenji’s. “What if it isn’t Setou, Hicchan~?”
I jump out of my seat and open the door all the way, finding Misha on the other side. She's still wearing her casual outfit from earlier. “Misha? Why are you here so late? …How
are you here so late?”
She’s a far cry from her normal cheerful self, but she still giggles softly at my questions. “Haha~. The security guard let me in. He knows I’m on the Student Council, so he assumed it was official business~.”
There really is no escape from the Student Council, is there? “And you didn’t tell him otherwise?”
She smiles mischievously. “It’s not a lie if you just let them make assumptions~.”
She pauses, then asks in a whisper, “Did I wake you up?”
“Not really,” I admit, “I couldn’t get to sleep, so I’ve just been reading. Why are you still up?”
“Ahaha~, I couldn’t sleep either!” Glancing from side to side uncomfortably, her voice drops back down to a whisper. “Can I come in?”
It’s a bit of an unusual request, but it’s not like there would be any other reason for her to come to my room in the middle of the night. “Uhm, sure.”
Stepping aside, I hold the door open for her, and then push it back closed after she enters. Before I let go of the knob, though, Misha places one hand on top of my own, and uses the other to lock the door.
“So, Hicchan~,” she begins, “you called me Misha this time.”
I shrug. “I still think of you as Misha. Besides, you said you only wanted me to call you Shiina when we were alone. It would be stranger if you stopped being Misha.”
For some reason, she seems to be particularly tickled by this comment. “Ahahaha~, yeah, it would be weird if I stopped being me.”
As she takes note of her surroundings, her eyes come to rest on the books and notes at my desk. With a disappointed frown, she turns back to me. “If you were having trouble with English, you should have told me, Hicchan. It’s not good for anyone if you stay up late because you don’t want to ask for help~.”
“Thanks for your concern, but you have it backwards. I’m studying because I can’t sleep, not the other way around. It’s a side effect of my medications.”
I nod in the direction of my crowded bedside table to make it clear what medications I’m talking about. She must not have paid much attention when she was last here, because I can see her hands and mouth move as she counts out loud to herself. When she finishes, she turns to meet my eyes, her own wide with a mixture of concern and disbelief. “Fifteen? Every day?”
“Twice a day,” I correct her, “Fifteen in the morning, and fifteen before bed.”
Her mouth hangs slightly open, as if she’s having difficulty processing what I just said. After a long pause, she speaks up again, more to herself than to me, “That’s a lot of pills~...”
As she stands there stunned, I move to clean my desk and put my books away. The moment I turn around, however, she catches me in a tight hug. “I know you don’t like to talk about it, Hicchan, but can I ask? Why you need to take all those pills?”
I knew this would come up eventually, and I thought I was prepared for it. But now that the question’s been asked, I hesitate. It was easy enough for me to tell Rin when she was a complete stranger. Why would it be harder to tell Misha, when we’re so close? Or is it harder because
we’re so close?
I twist around in her arms until I’m facing her, then I return her embrace with one of my own. Placing my hand on top of her head, I gently press her ear against my chest. “I have an arrhythmia. A heart condition. My pulse isn’t quite right.” Letting out a hollow chuckle, I continue, “I guess you could say that I’m here because of a broken heart.”
I don’t expect her to laugh. It was a terrible joke, anyway. “I can feel it.” She speaks in a tiny voice, so softly that I can barely hear. Pulling her head away, Misha looks up into my eyes. It may be my eyes playing a trick on me, but I almost think I can see tears welling up. “Is it... serious? Can it...?”
She can’t bring herself to ask, but I know what her question is. “It can, if I let it. As long as I take care and stay in shape, the doctors say I can live a long and happy life.”
When they told me that, I found it far from reassuring. But being able to tell someone who cares about me that my heart condition will only likely kill me - rather than definitely - is a good feeling.
“Stay in shape,” she repeats. “So that’s why he had us swimming together...”
She must be referring to the nurse. “I guess so.” Thinking back on it, he’s kind of responsible for the two of us ending up together. “I’m glad he did.”
“I didn’t hurt you, did I? By pushing too hard?”
It makes me smile, just how wrong she is. “No, you’ve been perfect. You would make an excellent personal trainer.”
Blushing, Misha avoids my gaze. “No I wouldn’t. I was just teaching you how to swim. Anyone could do that~.”
“All the same,” I insist, “you did a good job.”
Pulling me into another hug, she buries her face into my chest. “You’re too nice, Hicchan~. You don’t deserve to have something as terrible as arithmetic.”
Her voice is a little muffled, so I can’t quite make out the tone, but I think it’s somewhere between sad and angry. “Arrythmia,” I say, correcting her.
“Yeah. That.” She turns her head to look back up at me. I’ve seen Misha upset before, but it was never as bad as this. It’s hard to believe such an expression could cross her normally happy face. “Hicchan,” she begins, “Can I stay here with you~? Just for tonight?”
I hesitate. I knew that she might ask, but I was kind of hoping she wouldn't. I'd love to have her stay, but it's not, strictly speaking, allowed. A lot easier to get caught, too. Knowing the right thing to do, I take a deep breath, look Misha in the eyes - and cave. "Okay, you can stay."
Her celebration is surprisingly low-key. With a soft smile full of gratitude, she says "thanks" so quietly she may as well be mouthing the word.
Her welcome fully established, she wastes no time in making herself at home. Pushing my books aside - and knocking several things onto the floor in the process - she clears a space on my desk. She then reaches into her ever-present bag and produces a small mirror and a collection of less easily recognizable objects. As she wipes her face with a small cloth circle (to remove makeup?), she begins talking again. "Sorry about being so much trouble, Hicchan~. I have a bad habit of causing people problems, even when I don't want to get in the way..."
While she makes a mess out of my desk, I claim a spot on the edge of my bed as a seat. "It's really not a big deal," I protest. "Friends help each other out. You're my girlfriend, but that doesn't mean you aren't still a friend."
Misha seems struck by my statement and stops what she's doing, staring out straight ahead. "Huh. I never thought about it that way, Hicchan. I like it~."
From where I'm sitting, I can see her face in her portable mirror. Without her makeup, she looks even more exhausted than the already significant amount of fatigue that showed through had led me to expect. How much sleep has she been getting? Or is the better question how much she hasn't been getting?
Shortly after finishing her makeup removal, she puts those tools away and pulls out supplies for contact lens care, along with a glasses case. Rather than start with that, she turns to face me. "Hicchan, there's something I should tell you, so you aren't too surprised when you see it."
I know she's self-conscious about her appearance, but she's making a pretty big deal about something as trivial as the fact that she wears glasses. "Don't worry," I assure her, "I've known about that since we started dating. Remember when Shizune and I came to your room?"
She looks surprised at first, but nods in understanding as she works it out in her head. "You're right, I was wearing my glasses then, wasn't I~? Okay~! That makes this a lot easier!"
Encouraged by this revelation, or rather the lack thereof, Misha begins the ritual of removing her contact lenses. As she does so, she speaks up again. "Since we're talking about that kind of thing, you're probably wondering what my disability is, right?"
I have to admit that she's right, but it feels rude to actually say that. She continues speaking before I get a chance to respond. "You probably got confused when I told Rin that there was nothing wrong with me, but told you that I didn't know what it was like to be at Yamaku without having a disability. I didn't lie to either of you. The truth is that no one knows what's wrong with me. Not even me. Some disabilities are easy to spot - it's not hard to figure out something like missing legs or deafness. Others take time. And tests. I've had doctors poking and prodding me for years now, taking anything unusual and trying to turn it into some condition or other. Until they can confirm something, I'm normal. On paper, at least."
She's trying her best to control her voice, like she doesn't really care, that it's no big deal, but she can't hide the bitterness. It almost feels like she's jealous of the people who are more obviously broken. I can imagine why. I had less than a day to wonder what was wrong with me after my heart attack. She's had years of dealing with that, to say nothing of all the tests she must have endured.
As she finishes up, she turns around in the chair to face me. "I'm sorry the answer wasn't more interesting, Hicchan."
Her glasses are the first thing I notice. The rectangular lenses and gold-colored wire frames make her look... studious? Vulnerable? Whatever it is, it’s certainly not something most people would associate with Misha. I like it, though.
More important, however, is what sits behind the glasses. Hey eyes aren’t gold anymore. They’re a soft bluish green. I guess that’s what she was trying to tell me about. But why would she want to change her eye color?
“Hicchan~? Is something wrong?”
“Huh?” I must have lost focus. “No, I’m just... taking it all in. I didn’t quite expect something like that, I guess.”
This goes for her eye color as well as her disability issues, but she doesn’t need to know that.
“Also,” I admit, “I’m still not quite used to seeing you in glasses. It hasn’t exactly been a common occurrence. They look good on you.”
As expected, a burst of pink rushes to her cheeks. “Ehehehe~, you think so, Hicchan?”
“I do.” With a smile, I decide to push my advantage. “I also think your natural eye color is a good look.”
With surprising speed, she shifts from a flirtatious blush to an unhappy frown. “You also think Shiina’s a good name.”
I have to admit that I was afraid this might happen, but I have to press. The more I learn about her, the more it seems she’s hiding. “I don’t understand. Didn’t you say green is best?”
Misha’s hands drop to her lap, and her gaze soon follows them. “It is, Hicchan. Usually. But not for eyes. Not for my eyes...”
And once again I hit a dead end. If I really wanted to, I could push the matter, but that would probably just upset her even more. So we sit in silence for a few minutes.
Without any warning, Misha jumps to her feet and shouts. “Oh yeah! I almost forgot!”
Running to the pile of bags I left in the corner, she begins fishing through them. After a little rummaging, she triumphantly produces a cylindrical container. “I got you something for your room!”
After accepting the package, I carefully open it and unroll the contents.
It’s a poster. There’s a picture of a hardcover book in the center, and below it, in English, is the word “book.” It’s ridiculous, but somehow incredibly appropriate. Chuckling, I give her a big smile. “It’s perfect. You did a wonderful job, Shiina.”
With another blush, she... tries to hide her face with her hair? That’s a new one. As she peeks out from between her drills, I can see her eyes shining with gratitude. Letting her hair drop, she slowly approaches me. Then, when she’s a few feet away, she drops to her knees and clasps her arms around my stomach.
“You’re not the only one who hates hospitals, Hicchan. Most of the kids here have had to live in those rooms for weeks or months at a time~. None of us like to think about it, but we’ve all been there~.”
Unsure of how to respond, I wrap my arms around her shoulders and hold her close. Snuggled up against my chest, she speaks up. “Hicchan~?”
“I’m starting to feel a little sleepy~. Can I lie down on your bed?”
Seeing how little sleep she’s gotten, I really don’t know how I could refuse. “I guess so. I have a sleeping bag in the closet, so I can-”
“No, Hicchan.” She grips me tighter. “I want to lie down with you.”
Oh. That complicates things. “Lie down with me? You mean lying down and going to sleep, right?”
“If that’s what you want, Hicchan~. If you want to do more...” She bites her lip. “If you want to do more than that, Hicchan... I don’t think I’ll fight you.”
I’m really not comfortable with the way she’s wording things. How am I supposed to respond to something like that? “You don’t sound very keen on that idea, Shiina.”
She pulls her head away from my chest and looks up at me. “I can be interested, if you want me to.”
I can’t quite place her expression. Is she pleading with me? Is she scared? Is this supposed to be some sort of test? “... I think it would be best if we just lie down together.”
“We can do that, Hicchan, if it’s what you want~.”
The decision made, Misha rises to her feet, then gently pushes against my shoulders. “You stay here, Hicchan.”
Stepping a few feet away from the bed, she removes her glasses, which she places on the nightstand among my pill bottles. Then, in a completely unexpected move, she undoes her skirt, which drops to the floor. Surprisingly enough, she was wearing some sort of tight black exercise shorts under her skirt, preserving her modesty from what looked to be an impromptu strip tease.
Her “preparations” made, Misha returns to the bed, climbing up on top of it and positioning herself between me and the wall. Once there, she hooks her arms around my neck and uses her weight to pull me into a reclining position. I struggle a little, which causes her to hold me tighter. I always forget that she’s actually quite strong, and could probably overpower me if she wanted to. “Stay here, Hicchan~.”
“The light’s still on,” I protest.
“Then use the remote.”
I swing my feet up so I’m fully on the bed, then turn around to face Misha. “... the what?”
My evident confusion causes her to chuckle. With an amused grin, she explains. “You take your mobility for granted, Hicchan. For a lot of students here, it’s not easy to get out of bed and walk across the room to turn the lights on or off. So~, all the rooms have a remote control system. It should be in your nightstand drawer.”
I had never bothered opening the nightstand drawer before. I don’t really think of it as a storage space, and didn’t expect it to hold anything. Sure enough, there’s a complicated-looking handheld device in there, along with a user’s manual that’s easily two inches thick.
“Push the button with the light bulb,” Misha suggests. Finding the button - an oversized bulge in the center of the device, I press it. The lights immediately cut out, plunging us into darkness. I return the remote to the drawer, then adjust myself into a seated position. I don’t feel very tired myself, so I’d rather not just lie down staring at the ceiling. Once I stop shifting, Misha wastes no time in latching herself around my waist, placing her head in my lap.
“You really know a lot about this school.”
“Haha~, I should! Shicchan made a special effort to get the Student Council jobs as tour guides for the school. She had us make all new brochures, too~!” Her cheerful response gives way to a dejected sigh. “Seven members quit after that.”
Seven members? “You had that many people?”
“The Student Council was very~ big our first year here.” She sounds like she’s talking about something that happened in the distant past, rather than a year or two ago. “Bit by bit, it got smaller. Shicchan kept working to get the Student Council to do more, and fewer people would show up for meetings. Before long, it was just me, Lilly, and Shicchan. And then Lilly and Shicchan had a big fight, and Lilly left, too. I was just translating for Shicchan, but I feel really bad about some of the things I said to Lilly.”
With another sigh of regret, Misha concludes her story. “Shicchan said it’s better this way. She said that most of the students just wanted “Student Council” on their applications for universities. ‘Better to have a small group that actually cares about what it means to be on the Student Council,’ she said. Even though Shicchan’s right, it was still sad to see so many people leave...”
There’s not much I can say in response, so I just reach down and gently stroke her hair. She coos softly in appreciation, but doesn’t say anything. We spend several minutes in silence like this before she speaks up again.
“You said you were doing this because I’m a friend, right?”
“That is what I said, yes.”
“Would you do the same thing for Shicchan, if she came to you?”
I didn’t take Misha for the jealous type, but, then again, that is the logical conclusion of what I had said. She didn’t sound suspicious or accusatory - only sleepy. But there aren’t many ways to take such a pointed question. “To a point,” I reply. “I’m pretty sure I’d consider sharing a bed to be one of those ‘girlfriends only’ things, but other than that, I think I would.”
“That’s good.” She already sounds like she’s fading rapidly. “‘s nice to know she has a friend like you to look out for her, Hicchan~.”
That’s an odd thing for her best friend to say. From what I’ve learned about Misha, though, it probably means that she isn’t confident in her own abilities. That must be why she’s always putting in that extra effort. “It’s even better that she has a best friend like you, Shiina.”
No response. It feels like her breathing is more regular now. She must have fallen asleep already.
I should let her sleep. She’s earned it.
Act 3 Scene 3 Part 2
| Act 3 Scene 5