Good morning, alarm clock. It’s nice to see you, too.
I must have dozed off at some point. That’s the way it goes with insomnia sometimes - you can't sleep up until you can't not sleep. Then, next thing you know, you wake up. And if you're lucky you wake up with a girl in your lap.
Sadly, the "girl in your lap" part doesn't happen nearly often enough.
Said girl is completely unfazed by the alarm. I had been convinced that it could wake the dead, but she doesn’t seem to have any problem ignoring it. More importantly, she has me pretty much immobilized in a vise grip.
The noise coming from my clock is likely to drive me crazy if I don’t do anything about it, so I gently shake her shoulder and call her names - all of them. No effect. Trying to pry her arms off me is equally fruitless, only causing her to hold me tighter. With no other option, I’m forced to see if I can reach my clock from this sitting position. My first attempt comes close, but I can’t quite make it.
Focusing myself, I try to stretch as far as possible. Falling asleep while sitting up probably wasn’t good for my back. As I lean over, my joints pop rather loudly, but I am ultimately triumphant - sort of. I manage to hit the button to turn the alarm off, but not without losing my balance and falling over, scattering my pill bottles and Misha’s glasses onto the floor. And now I’m lying on my side, supported by the nightstand, with a sleeping girl wrapped around my middle.
I don't think this is quite
what Misha was talking about last night when she mentioned taking mobility for granted, but it's close enough. Opening the drawer, I grab the remote and turn the lights on.
I glance over to see an unfamiliar pair of green eyes looking up at me from Misha’s all too familiar face. I do like her natural eye color, but it will still take some getting used to. Her hair wreaths her face in a surprisingly tangled pink mess. I can’t quite figure out how it got that bad, but there’s no arguing with the facts.
“Good morning to you too, Shiina. Did you sleep well?”
Misha seems a little confused by my casual reply, and cocks her head to the side. “That doesn’t look very comfortable, Hicchan~. I hope you weren’t sleeping like that.”
I push against the nightstand with my arms, propping myself up a little. With Misha holding on tight, I don’t really have the leverage to get back into a sitting position. “No, I was just leaning over to turn off the alarm, and I… missed.”
She giggles. "Well, since you're right there~, could you give me my glasses?"
I give her a friendly smile, but my reply is dry and matter-of-fact. "They seem to have fallen, so no, I can't. Not with you holding me like this."
Smiling back, she pretends to consider the situation for a moment before reaching a decision. "In that case, Hicchan, I guess I'll have to make do without them~! Wahahahaha~!"
To emphasise her point, she squeezes me a little tighter. For an instant, I seriously consider blowing everything off and spending the whole day like this, but I know that's not realistic. "As fun as that sounds, and it does sound fun, we need to get you back to your room so you can get ready for the day. Preferably soon, so we don't get caught breaking the rules. Especially if we want to have enough time to go swimming today."
"No need!" she announces triumphantly, "I came prepared~! It's all in my bag already! Wahahaha~!"
Well, that confirms that she had this all planned out. Makeup and contact lens supplies are one thing, but most people don't regularly carry around an entire change of clothes - and swimwear, too. "It's a shame we're going to stay here all day, then. All that preparation going to waste..."
“Awww, okay...” Resigned to being responsible, Misha releases her hold on me. “Can you get my glasses now, Hicchan?”
“Sure.” Climbing out of bed, I reach down and grab her glasses, handing them to her over my shoulder. Then I begin to gather the scattered pill bottles.
Once I have them all accounted for, I look up to see Misha sitting at my desk again, her mirror set up and various hair care implements at hand. With a spray of something from a can, a few quick flourishes of a comb and some other tools, she manages to transform her hair from a bird’s nest into a cute bun. It’s like a magic trick - I think I saw everything that she did, but I still have no idea how it works. To say nothing of the fact that all her hair managed to fit into such a small bun. There are simply some things man was not meant to know.
As I count out my pills for the morning, there’s a question I can’t help but ask. “Are you planning on wearing your contacts?”
She turns around to look at me. It was a bit of a shock at first, but I do like how she looks, with her natural eyes and glasses. “That’s a strange question, Hicchan~. Why wouldn’t I?”
“We’re going swimming, right? Don’t you have to clean contacts or something after that so your eyes don’t get irritated?”
Misha bites her lip, looking rather uncomfortable. "I guess if you want to be really strict about it, I shouldn’t be wearing them at all~ when I’m swimming...”
“That settles it, then,” I conclude. “You should wait to put your contacts in until after we’re done swimming.”
She opens her mouth to object, but closes it once she realizes that she's already lost the debate. Satisfied, I turn to my pill bottles and begin to count out the morning dose.
"You... like how I look with my glasses, don't you, Hicchan?"
The way she says that, with the slightest touch of disbelief, really make me wonder just how little she cares for herself. "And I like calling you by your given name, Shiina. I like who you are when you aren't hiding yourself. There's no reason to be ashamed of who you are."
As I alternate between swallowing pills and sipping water, she speaks again quietly. "It's nice that you feel that way, Hicchan."
We finish the rest of our preparations in silence - I gather my stuff for the day while she reclaims her various effects and puts her skirt back on over her shorts. Her figure is well-suited to shorts. And skirts, too. A good figure in general, I guess.
As we leave my room and try to get out of the dorm without being seen, it strikes me that this feels entirely too normal. We're in blatant violation of the rules, just spent the night together, and will be in big trouble if we get caught, yet, in spite of all this, it feels just like any other day.
Thankfully, it's too early in the morning for any sane person - and Kenji's nowhere in sight - so we escape the dorm without so much as a close call. Once we make it to the spot where the paths to the dorms meet, we're even able to relax. There's nothing too unusual about a couple walking together on their way to the academic buildings, and we have the added excuse of our exercise routine. Misha might be a little embarrassed about being seen with her glasses on, but there's almost no one out, and nobody who is awake gives us more than a passing glance. In no time at all, we're standing at the entrance to the auxiliary building, essentially home free.
After the tension of getting to the pool without getting caught or raising suspicion, the regular morning routine feels boring in comparison. We swim like we always do, but it's missing the thrill of the morning "hello." That came much earlier today, so I can't really complain. It's still noticeable, though. This is a rare day off for the head nurse, so the checkup is a quiet affair with one of his more taciturn aides. With a shock, I realize that I'm actually looking forward to exams, just to add a little more excitement.
Fortunately, we get a break from or routine before we even set foot in the classroom.
"Look, Hicchan, Shicchan came to breakfast today~! Hi, Shicchan~!"
Shizune is off by herself at one of the many open tables. It looks like she's poring over some piece of paperwork or other between bites, making the occasional mark with her pen. Needless to say, She doesn't react to Misha's greeting - I still wonder why Misha tries to talk to her like that. While it's surprising to see Shizune at the cafeteria like this, it's no surprise that she's made it a working meal.
As we approach to properly get her attention, she chooses that moment to glance up and waves both in greeting and as an invitation to join her. She's smiling brightly, but I think I caught a pained grimace when she first saw us. It was only an instant, but it's not the sort of thing that can really be mistaken for anything else.
[Good morning, Misha. Good morning, Hicchan.]
"Good morning, Shicchan~!"
Formalities exchanged, Shizune begins signing using a completely unfamiliar set of signs. Misha looks concerned about whatever Shizune said, and replies with the same sort of indecipherable gestures. I think I can pick out the occasional word or two, but it's hard to be sure. I really shouldn't be eavesdropping, anyway.
Shizune and Misha have done this before, on occasion. It's hard to have a private conversation in sign language, so people who are particularly close sometimes devise a set of special signs that only they know. Misha and Shizune seem to have a whole dictionary.
"Okay~!" I guess that means they're done. "I'm going to go get food for me and Hicchan. I'll be back soon~!"
Sounds like another new breakfast experience for me, then. I've actually started to look forward to these new tastes and textures. Before meeting Misha, eating was just something I did to not starve; she's really helped me appreciate the finer points of enjoying food. I'm just lucky she's as forceful when she's pushing me to exercise as she is when she wants me to try new foods.
I claim a seat near Shizune so Misha can sit next to one of us and across from the other. It’s only fair to give her the choice of where to sit, since she’s getting me food. While we’re waiting for Misha, I may as well ask Shizune about her expression. [You looked a little uncomfortable just before we came over. Are you okay?]
She sternly peeks over her glasses at me - a sure sign I did something stupid. [I’m fine. You don’t need to worry about it.]
That’s not a very satisfying answer, but I’m reminded of a lesson I learned from one of my friends back at my old school - if a girl looks to be in pain, but says she’s "fine," you drop the subject. Especially if it happens the same time every month.
[There are board games in the student council room, right?]
My question immediately catches her undivided attention. Her eyes light up and she begins signing enthusiastically. [Yes, there are board games. And dice games, card games, tile games-] She pauses, reconsidering her approach. Narrowing her eyes, she resumes signing at a more controlled pace. [Shouldn’t you know this already?]
I guess I could have waited for Misha to return, since she knows Shizune better, but both Misha and Shizune have said I need to take the initiative more often. Now is as good a time as any to stay trying. [I figured that that was the case, but I didn’t want to make any assumptions. They could have been your personal collection, after all. Misha and I were talking about possibly playing a game after exams, but you have the keys to the room.]
[...Is this a date?]
I arch an eyebrow. A date? How do you get from “playing a board game in the student council room” to “a date?”
[I wasn’t planning on it becoming a date, no.]
If she notices my expression, she doesn’t react. [If it’s not a date, then I can watch. I wouldn’t miss this for the world!]
Before I can ask Shizune what she means by that, Misha returns, depositing a tray loaded down with food in front of me. Taking the seat next to me and placing an equally burdened tray in front of herself, she begins talking once her hands are free. “You wouldn’t miss what~, Shicchan?”
[Hicchan told me that you two were going to engage in a battle of wits! Two souls, fiercely entangled! Star-crossed lovers, set against each other in a conflict for the ages!]
I wouldn’t believe what happened next if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes - Shizune overflowing with excitement while Misha looks slightly annoyed. “Shicchan, you’re so dramatic.”
Misha's lack of enthusiasm doesn't put Shizune off in the slightest. [It will be fun! You can do the best out of three. Each of you get to choose a game and I'll choose the third.]
I smile. It's not often that Shizune gets this excited about something, and I'll admit that it's a little contagious. [If I didn't know better, I'd think you wanted to take part, too.]
[Not this time. I'm not one of the entangled souls. Besides,] she adds, smugly adjusting her glasses, [I'm bored of winning against you.]
[I don't believe it's possible for you to get bored of winning.]
Shizune pauses for a moment, but concedes the point. [You're right. I don't get bored of winning. I really just want to watch the two of you play a game together. It's fun to do stuff for other people sometimes.]
As Shizune finishes, Misha decides to chime in with her own opinion. She was eating so quietly that I forgot she was even sitting there, watching our back-and-forth. "I think it's a great idea! It's been too long since we did something together, just the three of us~."
She's right, it has been a while - we've been so busy with student council work and preparing for exams that we haven't had much downtime. And, much as I appreciate their presence, Aoi and Keiko really change the dynamic of the Student Council. We take fewer breaks, since there's not as much need. And when we do take breaks, they're less relaxed. Aoi and Keiko are still kind of strangers, so things are a bit more formal, more stilted. More awkward. We should really try to fix that. Not today, though. We need some time for just the three of us.
After all that work, all that studying and all that worrying the English exam was... easy. Not easy because I’ve been studying and know the material - easy because the teacher doesn’t want to fail half the class. I should be annoyed about all that wasted work, but I don’t think I really mind. Aside from the time Misha and I were able to carve out for studying together, she has a talent for making you care about learning. I’ll leave getting annoyed about irresponsible teachers to Shizune.
Now that classes are over, I make my way to the student council room. Misha finished the exam first and Shizune soon after. I was fifth, which isn't too bad, but it's enough that I'd rather Shizune not catch wind of it.
The door to the student council room is open, as expected. No doubt Misha and Shizune have everything set up and are just waiting for me. That's how it's been every other time, after all.
With the door open, I can hear Misha's voice as she talks to Shizune. I'm still too far away to hear anything clearly, even with Misha's volume, but she sounds mildly distressed. Getting closer, I happen to catch the tail end of the conversation.
"Can we talk about this later, Shicchan? Hicchan should be here any minute."
Well, that's never a good thing to overhear. It would be worse if they knew I heard it, though, so I divert myself to a vending machine down the hall in the other direction. I figure it will buy them some time to prepare for my arrival. Also, this way they won't suspect I overheard anything. I have to get them drinks, but that's a small expense. A can of green tea for Shizune, melon soda for Misha and myself.
Once I get back to the student council room, everything appears as I initially expected - they moved a table into the middle of the room and covered one of the other nearby tables with a large collection of all sorts of games. Misha and Shizune are both standing near the middle, waiting expectantly for my arrival.
[You certainly took your time, didn't you?]
I’m not really able to reply with my hands full, so I toss the tea at Shizune and place the two bottles of soda on the table. [I got drinks.]
Shizune catches the can with ease, but she scowls at me for throwing it in the first place. Setting it down, she can’t resist continuing. [I wanted honey.]
[Tea with honey is childish.]
She furrows her brow and frowns, but it’s quickly replaced by a competitive smile. The sparkle in her eye makes it clear that she recognizes my challenge for what it is. [You’re childish.]
I put on a smug grin. [And proud of it.]
I’m tempted to adjust an imaginary pair of glasses, but I decide that that might be pushing it.
Misha looks like she’s about to burst into laughter at my response. She somehow manages to hold it in, for a change, and continues to watch us with an extremely amused smile. Shizune, for her part is rendered... speechless? Whatever the sign language equivalent is, I guess.
Nothing is going to get done with Shizune standing there trying to think of a clever retort, so I decide to push forward. [So what now, oh Fearless Leader? How do we start this "Grand Tournament of Souls"?]
Giving me a stern look to make it clear that my sarcasm isn't appreciated, Shizune explains her idea. To keep things fair, we'll play Shizune's game first - the winner gets to pick the next one, and then the third game is the only one left.
[I had a hard time choosing a game for you two to play. There are so many choices, and a lot of them are really fun, so you should play them some other time. For this, though, I decided that you needed to start with something meaningful. An ancient game upon which the fate of nations was decided. I couldn't actually find any game that was like that, so I decided on chess instead. It's really old and about deciding the fate of nations, so it's close enough.]
Her decision explained, she grabs the chess set from its place in the pile of games and places it in the middle of the central table. Grabbing chairs on opposite sides, Misha offers me the black pieces. "Is it okay if I go first, Hicchan?"
“Sure. I don’t care all that much.”
As we begin to set up our pieces, there’s a thud as Shizune places a large chess clock next to the board.
I glance up at her. [You’re giving us a timer?]
Her reply is little more than a casual shrug. [Chess is boring if it’s too slow. I don’t want to spend all afternoon waiting for the game to end. Especially with two more games after it.]
It’s not worth arguing with her over this, so I don’t bother. This was her game of choice, after all.
Once the pieces are set up, Shizune slaps the timer’s button with unnecessary enthusiasm, officially starting the match.
Misha starts off very timidly, biting her lip as she assesses the board, lifting a piece, hovering it over its destination, then returning it to its original position. After what feels like an eternity, she makes her first move: King's Knight's Pawn forward two spaces. As good a move as any, I guess. I have a bit more confidence when I take my turn. Chess is all about board control, and the best way to seize control is with powerful pieces, so I move my King's Pawn forward a single space, to free my Queen. Misha is equally uncomfortable on her second turn, considering several moves before settling on moving her King’s Bishop’s Pawn forward two, lining it up with the King’s Knight’s Pawn. As she releases her hold of the piece, I can’t help but stare.
“Misha... is that really the move you want to make?”
The stress from the level of focus she’s putting into the game must already be wearing on her, considering the annoyed look she shoots at me. “I’m not stupid, Hicchan~. I know the rules. Once I take my hand off, the move’s final. If we’re going to play the games like you wanted, we need to do it the right way. And that means you shouldn’t be going easy on me.”
“If you insist...” I move my queen up next to her pawns. “Checkmate.”
Her eyes widen in shock. “Huh? Already?”
“Yeah, already.” It feels really terrible to have won like this. “It’s called a ‘fool’s mate.’”
“Fool’s mate,” she repeats thoughtfully, then, without warning, bursts into uproarious laughter. “Wahahahahaha~! Ahahahahahaha~! That’s a good name! Hahahahaha~! I really do feel like a fool now~!”
Well, she took that better than expected.
Shizune seems a little off put by her game of choice ending so quickly, and on such an anticlimactic note, but she's taking it in stride. [It's your turn to choose a game.]
Good thing. There's no telling how long Misha will be incapacitated from laughter after an outburst like that. That gives me a reason to take my time, though.
Let's see, now. I want to give Misha a chance to win, but I don't want to be bored to tears playing some game that's based entirely on luck. Besides, that's probably the sort of thing I have to look forward to with our last game.
Too random... Not random enough... Too European... A wind-up dinosaur on wheels?... That one has skill and luck involved, but also requires a delicate touch. Misha may be good with her hands, but she's also one of the clumsiest people I know...
Well, it's not the best choice, but it's less bad than the others.
Great. Now I have Shizune reading into my choice. There’s no telling what conclusions she'll reach from this.
Misha’s recovered by now, so there’s not really any delay in getting set up. Once she’s ready, Misha looks up over her screen at me. “You get the first turn this time, okay, Hicchan~?”
“No, you should get the first turn. I won the last game, after all.”
“If you insist, Hicchan. In that case, I’m attacking... 1-A!”
Red peg at the ready, Misha’s face falls, as she trades it in for a white peg. Please tell me she won’t run systematically across the board by column.
“Now, for my turn, I think I want to try 7-C.”
“Aww, that’s not fair~! You got a hit, Hicchan.”
As I mark the spot with a red peg, I almost feel guilty that I’m going to win two games before we even get to Misha’s pick - the game that was the whole point of all this.
“Hmmmm... 5-F, Hicchan!”
Ouch. Right in the Aircraft Carrier. “That’s a hit.”
“Yay! Hooray~! I hit one of Hicchan’s ships!”
That little victory dance is cute, but this will be a long game if she does that after every hit. Time to get serious.
Picking up on my shift in posture and tone, Misha adopts a similar level of seriousness.
“Miss, Hicchan. 8-I.”
Another random shot, but another hit. I’m left to wonder why she didn’t capitalise on her first hit, but I can't really say it worked against her.
“Oh, no! You sunk my Destroyer, Hicchan~! That wasn’t very nice. As punishment, I’m attacking your 6-C.”
Five turns in and she’s managed to hit four of my five ships. On the other hand, I managed to sink her smallest ship, and still have no clue about the rest of her fleet.
“Nope, Hicchan, another miss~! 2-B!”
Not 2-B. That’s my last ship. “You got me. Another hit.”
I look on in despair at my side of the board. Five ships, all lit up with bright red pegs. Nothing’s sunk yet, but half the game is keeping your ships hidden. And my target map shows a sunken destroyer and a whole lot of unknown. Maybe, if I’m really lucky, she’ll continue firing wildly and buy me the extra turns I need to find and sink her other ships.
No such luck. Her shots are still all over the map, but she must be using her initial hits as guides, because most of them find their mark. I, on the other hand, keep missing. I do manage to find another of her ships - 2 turns before she completely sinks me.
“Well, Misha, that’s it. You sunk my Battleship. Game over.”
“That was fun, Hicchan~! We should play it again!”
“Not right now, Misha.” And not for a long while if I have my say. I think I want to swear off Battleship for the next forever or so. “We need to move on to your game now. Before we do, though, can I see where you managed to hide your ships?”
“Wahahaha~! Okay, Hicchan~!”
She turns her screen around so I can see her side, and my heart sinks. Lined up, one next to the other in order of height, are Misha’s five ships, with a sunken destroyer and a damaged submarine. All I can do is stare at the arrangement in disbelief.
“...You can pick out your game, Misha. I’m just going to... put this away.”
I prop my head up with my hand, unable to come to grips with how thoroughly I was defeated. A gentle tap on the shoulder brings me back to reality. I look up to see Shizune looking down at me sympathetically. [I need to put the rest of the game away.]
Sliding Misha’s screen away from me, Shizune turns to face me. [That was hard to watch.]
Clearly, Shizune doesn’t realise that, after being humiliated so thoroughly, pity is one of the last things I want. [It’s just a game. I lost. No big deal.]
She’s evidently smart enough to take a hint, because she turns around to finish packing up Battleship. Misha returns a moment later, holding a simple wooden board with a grid painted onto its surface. Of all the games I possibly expected Misha to choose, Go was nowhere on that list.
Before stepping away again, she turns to me. “You know how to play, right, Hicchan~?”
“Er, yeah, I think I remember how to play.” It’s been years since I’ve played, but my grandfather would always rope me into playing whenever he visited. I never really got that much into the strategy and nuance of it all, but I do have fond memories of having an adult’s undivided attention. That was a luxury I definitely appreciated.
Returning with a couple wooden bowls, she pushes the one filled with black stones in my direction. “You lost the last game, so you get to go first this time~. Since you aren’t sure you remember how to play, do you think you need a handicap~?”
“That depends,” I reply, grinning playfully, “you aren’t secretly a professional-level player, are you?”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Misha, it’s how little I know about her. I’m still a little stunned that this appears to be the one game she’s good at, so I don’t consider it a stretch that she could be exceptionally good at it.
“Wahahahaha~! No, Hicchan, I’ve only ever played with family. I didn’t even know how to play until a couple years ago~.”
“It sounds like we’re on the same level, then. In that case, no handicap. We’ll play as equals.”
“Ahahaha, Okay, Hicchan~!”
As we exchange moves, it becomes increasingly clear that she is much more confident playing this game than she was playing Chess, or even Battleship. She’s also good. At least as good as me, that is - probably better. Most of the game is a pretty steady back-and-forth, with neither one of us getting the advantage. Near the end, though, she makes a couple of crucial mistakes, and it becomes clear it’s only a matter of time before I win. Recognizing the writing on the wall, Misha concedes gracefully after my next capture.
“Ahahaha~, it looks like I lost, Hicchan~! You’re pretty good~!”
[And with that,] Shizune cuts in, [the tournament is over.]
Pausing for a moment to adjust her glasses, she continues. [You didn’t say anything about consequences for losing, so it wouldn’t be fair to punish Misha. That means I have to figure out some sort of prize for Hicchan. I’ll make sure it gets to you before the festival. You’ll have to excuse me, though. I still need to figure out what this prize is going to be.]
Having said her piece, she turns around and leaves the room, brimming with excitement.
“Didn’t we need her to lock up?”
Misha looks up from putting the stones away. “We don’t need the key to lock up. You can lock the doors from the inside without a key~.”
“Oh. That works. What do we want to do now?”
Returning the board to the pile of games, Misha stops to think about my question. “Well~, I still need to get my bags from your room. Now would probably be the best time for that~.”
We take a few minutes to clean up and lock the student council room before heading over to the dorms. As we walk, Misha talks animatedly about all sorts of things, from the weather to exams to the usual sort of classroom gossip, signing the whole time. It's odd - these quiet moments seem to be the most enjoyable time we have together, despite the fact that they’re so straightforward and inconsequential. Or is it because they’re so straightforward and inconsequential?
Moving the bags is a trivial task - it only takes one trip, and I probably could have done it myself without much trouble. Of course, it's mostly just an excuse to spend more time together, which is perfectly fine by me. We carry her stuff to the lobby, but she insists on me staying there while she moves them into her room, which she claims is still a mess.
So I find myself waiting in the lobby for her once again.And I left my bag in my room so it would be easier to carry Misha's things. And no school paper this time either. So I sit and wait.
I jump a little, startled by the sudden voice. Looking for its source, I spot a familiar figure from our classroom, lounging on a nearby couch. "Hey, Natsu...me. I didn't see you there."
She giggles. "I noticed. You didn't answer my question. You’re here because you can't breathe, right?"
"Um, no. What would make you think that?"
Natsume shrugs, bouncing a solid-looking cane back and forth between her hands. "It was a fair guess. Nothing obviously wrong, you seem to hear and see without any visible aids, you don't move funny, and you don't try too hard to keep up with your girlfriend, which makes me think you get tired easily. After that, it was just a guess. Since you breathe fine, that means it's most likely anemia or something with your heart. Or something exotic. Or I could be wrong entirely."
Even though she said it, she clearly didn't mean that last comment. Her smug grin dares me to try telling her she's wrong.
Everyone else seems to be casual about their disabilities - or at least puts on a show of not caring. I may as well give it a try myself. "No, you're right. Heart problems. I'm not sure how I feel about you watching my every move to figure it out, though. You could have just asked."
"Hate to disappoint, but I'm not one of your stalkers, Hisao. Guessing disabilities is a game for most of the YHoOS around here."
“Yo-yos?” I repeat, more than a little confused.
She shakes her head and smiles at some private joke. “I keep forgetting you’re still new to all this. Young Heads on Old Shoulders. You know, kids with old people problems. We have to take things a bit slower and sit down a lot more. So we sit. And watch. YHoOS are the main way gossip flows around here. It’s like you’re surrounded by old ladies peeking out their blinds.”
Great. Now I’m going to have a constant feeling of being watched. And the way she talks, I’ll probably be right, too. “So you were able to pick up on all that just by watching me?”
“Well,” she begins, suddenly becoming quite interested in an invisible blemish on her cane, “mostly. Some of it was more of an educated guess than straight observation. Like the company you keep. Pucci isn’t really comfortable around the obvious cripples, so she tends to hang out with people who can usually pass for normies. That ruled out most of the visible defects for you. Even a lot of the subtle ones.”
“Wait,” I interrupt, “Who’s Pucci?”
“Oh, right.” She smacks her forehead. “There’s no way you’d know our nicknames. I meant Hakamichi - you know, Student Council president?”
I’m not even going to try figuring out how they got to calling Shizune “Pucci.” It would probably make my head hurt. “You’re saying you have nicknames for everyone?”
“Dare I ask what you call Misha?”
There’s a twinkle in Natsume’s eye as she responds. “Don’t worry, your girlfriend got a cute name. She’s Princess Yum-Yum.”
She’s right, that’s not too bad.
Before I can ask about myself, her eyes widen and she squeals, hopping up to run past me. I turn in the direction she runs to see Naomi and Hanako standing at the end of the hallway. Hanako has her hair pulled up into two fancy buns, but with the long fringe still covering her face. She also looks to have received a professional make-up job. Judging by the fact that Naomi seems to be overflowing with pride, I’m going to guess that this is her handiwork.
“You’re so gorgeous, Hana! You’ll look absolutely stunning in your yukata!”
Hanako blushes quietly at Natsume’s comments, and even more so once she notices me. I must admit, I was wrong when I told Kenji she wasn’t cute. I guess I was still so overwhelmed by everything else, I could only focus on what was different about her. But she really is quite attractive.
Naomi’s eyes quickly dart between Hanako and me before she speaks. “You’re right, Natsu! You want to try it on, Hana?”
Hanako hesitates and looks rather uncertain, so Naomi quickly adds a qualifier. “We can put it on over your normal clothes right now, just so we can see what it will look like.”
This added reassurance causes her to visibly relax as she responds. “O-okay, M-mimi. That s-sounds like it could be f-fun.”
In practically the same instant she accepts, Naomi and Natsume usher Hanako down the hallway, presumably to one of their rooms.
Natsume left her cane by her seat when she jumped up to greet Hanako. She doesn't really need it all that often, but it’s pretty important to her when she does, so I’m sure she’d want it. Unfortunately, I have no idea where they went.
While I’m trying to decide what to do, I can hear the familiar sound of Misha’s nearly ever-present cheer carrying down the hallway. I can’t make out the words, but I’m going to assume she ran into that trio that just left. A few moments later, as expected, Misha emerges smiling as brightly as ever.
“Okay, all done~!” Noticing the object in my hands, she becomes a little perplexed. “Why do you have Natsu’s cane?”
“She dropped it,” I respond, “I was hoping you could run it back to her.”
“Wahahahaha~! You don’t need to worry about that, Hicchan~! Natsu leaves it lying around all over the place. Everyone recognizes it, so it’s not like she’s going to lose it~. She’ll be able to find it when she needs it!”
“I’ll take your word for it,” I reply, carefully standing the cane up next to the couch. “What’s your plan for the rest of the day?”
“Actually~,” she begins, exaggerating the lead-in, “I was hoping we could study some more, and maybe order out for dinner~.”
She puts on her “extra-cute” face and even goes so far as to bat her eyelashes. Damn it, there’s no way I can resist the eyelashes and
the cute face. “That sounds like a great idea.”
“Okay~!” she announces triumphantly, “Back to your room, Hicchan~!”
That’s four times in a row of entering or leaving my room without an interruption from Kenji. A new record.
Sifting through my desk, I try to hunt down my various notebooks and texts. “Our history exam is tomorrow. Do you want to go over that?”
“No, I don’t think we need to study history~.”
At least she’s feeling confident. “Science, then? You were having trouble there, right?”
“No, I think I’ve got it~.”
“Well, then, what do you think we need to study?”
I turn around to look at her, comfortably sitting on the edge of the bed. “...Nothing?”
She gives me a toothy grin. “Nope~!”
“But I thought you said you wanted to study.”
“I do~! I don’t need to study! I want to~!”
Now I’m really confused. She’s not exactly the most studious student here. “Why would you want to study if you don’t need to?”
“Because, Hicchan,” she explains patiently, “that means I get to spend time with you.”
I hadn’t thought of that. “Oh. In that case, is it okay if we spend time together without studying? I’d rather not study more than I have to.”
Misha sits silently, contemplating this proposal - or at least pretending to think about it. “I guess
so, Hicchan. But only if you can think of something more fun~!”
More fun than studying? That’s a pretty high bar. Unfortunately, there’s not much in this room, so my options are pretty limited, even when answering such an easy challenge.
“You said you wanted us to get to know each other better, right? I guess we could ask each other questions, and learn that way.”
So much for necessity being the mother of invention. I can’t believe I even let such a lame idea escape my lips. I prepare for Misha to laugh in my face in 3... 2...
“Yup~! That sounds like lots of fun!” With mock sternness, she adds, “But nothing perverted!”
Right. This coming from the girl that didn’t think there was anything perverted about going to class without wearing pants. Not that I had any intention of asking anything like that.
“Why Go? What makes that game special?”
She smiles faintly, as if expecting that. “I played it a lot in the hospital. It was something to do when my family visited.”
That doesn’t make sense. I’ve seen her on the phone with her family. They could easily spend hours discussing nothing. “You didn’t talk?”
My question causes her to chuckle softly. “I guess I should explain more. I didn’t give you many details last night.”
“You don’t need to talk about this if you don’t want to.”
“No,” she shakes her head, and her eyes meet mine. They look soft, and a little sad. “I do want to tell you this, Hicchan. I don’t just want to know you better. I want you to know me better.”
Taking a deep breath, she continues. “It all started near the end of middle school. I was in competitive swimming then.”
That would explain all the medals. “During one of the meets, I didn’t feel well. I felt dizzy, and I even fell over once. I thought it was just nervousness. Those things happen, you know?”
I nod, and she goes on. “I lost my legs. And my voice.” My eyes immediately turn to look at her legs, but she quickly corrects me. “Not like Emi. I wasn’t really in an accident or anything. They just... stopped listening. They were still attached to me, just... not mine.
“That happened while I was in the middle of swimming, so I panicked and nearly drowned. I was too freaked out to try talking. Things got worse once I found out I couldn’t do that either.”
Continuing, her voice gets softer, with a slight tinge of bitterness. “And then the tests started. My parent’s aren’t rich. They aren’t poor either. They spent a lot~ of money to try to figure out what was wrong with me. I spent the whole time in a wheelchair, unable to talk to anyone except by writing on paper. So I cut people off and started hiding in books.
“I read because I didn’t need to talk to the characters in the stories. I could relate to them. But I stopped caring about the people right in front of me and started ignoring them.
“One day, my brother brought a board in, took away my book and taught me how to play. We didn’t need to talk - the board did all the talking. Without that game, I would have just shut myself away from everyone...”
Wiping away an unseen tear, she seems to cheer up a little. “One day, my legs and voice started working again, all of a sudden with no warning~! I had to go to speech therapy and physical therapy to learn how to use them again, but I didn’t care.”
“So, anyway,” she concludes, her cheerfulness somewhat jarring, “That’s why I like to play Go. My turn now~! Hmmm... I know~! Was it your first time?”
What does she mean by that? “My first time?”
“Hehehe~, not that
, Hicchan! Kissing~! Was it your first time when you kissed me?”
“Oh! Well, uhm... actually no. Not really. But sort of?”
She looks as confused as you’d expect from an answer like that. I try again.
“Back at my old school, one of my friends was a girl. Her name was Mai. We didn’t treat her like one, though. She was just ‘one of the guys.’
“One day she said she wanted to practice kissing, ‘just to see what it was like.’ I didn’t think anything of it, so we tried.
“It... wasn’t very good. I told her as much and she agreed. The next day, she and Takumi - one of my other friends - were dating, so I guess it really didn’t mean anything in the end.”
“Oh~,” Misha replies, “okay.” With a slight blush, she adds “It was my first time kissing a boy~.”
Me again. “You know, you never did tell me what your natural hair color was...”
“Nope!” She grins widely. “I told you, Hicchan, I’m not going to tell you. Never ever ever ever ever ever~!”
“I think you added an ‘ever.’”
“Okay, fine. Whatever. How about this? Is there one food that you want to eat more than anything else?”
“That’s easy, Hicchan! A two kilogram Matsusaka beef steak~!”
I guess that’s understandable enough, for the most part. “Why two kilograms? Isn’t that a little excessive?”
“I guess so, Hicchan~, but if you’re only going to ever have something once in your life, you might as well go all out, right~?”
“I think you’d be more likely to be able to have it more than once in your life if you went for a smaller cut that didn’t cost over 100,000 yen.”
“Wahahaha~! You may be right, Hicchan, but what if you don’t want to take that chance~?”
“If that’s what you want, Shiina, then that’s what you want. Your turn.”
“Me again~? Let me think...” Her eyes wander around the room, finally settling on the box Aoi gave me. “What did you get yesterday? In the box~?”
“Wait a minute,” I object, “that’s not a question about me.”
“We never said that the question had to be about each other~, Hicchan.” She smiles sweetly. “Besides, Hicchan, your girlfriend wants to know what you got!”
“Can’t I preserve my masculine mystique?”
Misha snickers, but doesn’t actually say anything.
“Okay, it sounded better before it came out of my mouth. Aoi bought me a sweatervest as some sort of gift between friends. I wasn’t comfortable accepting it, but she insisted. I was planning on returning it as soon as possible.”
“A sweatervest, Hicchan?” She sounds surprisingly skeptical. “Are you sure~?”
“I haven’t opened it to check, but I can’t imagine what else it would be. She had me try one on, then she ran away. I figured I was just putting two and two together.”
“...and you didn’t think it seemed a little big and heavy to be a sweatervest?”
Frustrated by the interrogation, I give up. “I don’t know! I don’t buy clothes that come in boxes!”
I really shouldn’t be raising my voice like this, but I don’t understand how she can be so oblivious about what really matters here. “And why do you care so much what it is? Doesn’t it bother you even a little bit that some girl gave your boyfriend an expensive gift?”
She flinches at my outburst. In retrospect, I probably overdid it. “Hicchan...” Her reply is quiet and hesitant. “Remember when we were talking about how most of the students here are rich? Money doesn’t mean the same thing to them as it does to you or me. They don’t think of how much a gift costs - it’s not something that ever crosses their mind. So it really isn’t an issue how much it cost.”
“So you’re saying that I should accept the gift no matter what?”
“No, Hicchan, that’s not it,” she sighs. “Gifts can still be inappropriate, but that has more to do with what the gift is, not its cost~.”
“...So I should open it?”
“Yup, yup~! And do it now, so I can see! If it bothers me, I’ll let you know! Wahahaha~!”
I guess this is it, then. I pick up the package from the corner and carry it over to the bed, taking a seat next to Misha.
As I settle down and look at the box, she shakes my arm impatiently. “Well? Open it, Hicchan~!”
Carefully, I try to undo the string tied around the box to keep it closed. Is it normal for fancy boxes to be tied with string?
After a brief struggle, I manage to defeat the string. That was way more work than it should have been. It doesn’t help that Misha’s giggling at me rather than helping. Once it’s finally open, it turns out that Misha was right - it’s not a sweatervest.
A cascade of expensive-looking orange and gold fabric pours out of the now-open box.
Delicately lifting what looks like a sleeve, Misha speaks up. “It’s a yukata...”
Examining the elaborate gold embroidery, she comments about how it’s much nicer than hers.
A sweatervest was bad enough, but now I’m extremely uncomfortable about accepting this, both for how expensive it must be and the fact that a yukata seems even more inappropriate. That kind of thing is a bit too intimate to just be “a gift between friends.”
“Oh~! There’s a note, Hicchan!” Picking up the note, Misha begins to read it aloud. “From the Student Council. Thanks for all the hard work! There’s even a cute drawing of all of us, see?”
Misha shows me the note, which does in fact include a little drawing of the five of us. I’m not sure how to take this new development. “‘From the Student Council?’ Did you already know about this, Shiina?”
“No, Hicchan, no one told me about it~. Probably because I’m really bad at keeping secrets! Hahahaha~! You’re gonna wear it this year, right, Hicchan?”
I guess I can accept it if it’s from “the Student Council” - meaning Shizune, Aoi, and Keiko in this instance. “Did I really do anything special? This seems like a bit much.”
“You’ve been very helpful with getting work done, Hicchan~. You get right to work and almost never complain. And some jobs are easier for you, because you’re a boy...”
“But didn’t Shizune need to recruit Aoi and Keiko because I kept pulling you away to study?”
“Haha~. You’re acting as if we chose to have the Student Council be this small, Hicchan. I already told you~, we never wanted it to be just us. Aoi and Keiko joining had nothing to do with us skipping Student Council to study.”
“Well,” I concede, “If you’re comfortable with them giving me this gift, you probably know better than me.”
“Does that mean you’re going to wear it, Hicchan~!”
I grimace a little. Wearing yukatas always seems like something for old people and children. I’m learning very quickly that it’s hard for me to say ‘no’ to Misha, though. “If you want me to wear it, Shiina, then I can wear it.”
The smile I get in return reminds me why I’m so reluctant to refuse her. “Hooray! Yippee~! I get to wear a yukata, and Hicchan will be wearing one, too~!”
I narrowly dodge her celebratory flailing. It’s a little concerning that I’ve gotten used to her physical outbursts of joy. Nevertheless, I do enjoy seeing her so happy. Especially after seeing what she can be like when she’s not happy.
We spend the rest of the afternoon and evening sitting around and talking about nothing in particular. I end up talking about my time back home, hanging out with Shin, Takumi, and Mai. She talks about her family, and how she’s visited America a few times - including all the weird stuff that you can see there. Several hours pass this way, with only a short interruption to order food.
She has an older brother and two younger sisters. Her dad works in some sort of business position which takes him overseas for extended periods. His business trips, along with the fact that she has extended family that lives in America, are the reasons her family has visited as often as they have. It’s also why she’s so good at English.
I feel like my life was boring in comparison, but she seems quite fascinated as I describe hanging out with my friends, playing soccer, hanging out at the arcade - she even seems interested in how I practically lived by myself, with my parents working as much as they do. I don’t mention Iwanako or my heart attack, though. They can wait for another time.
After finishing another story of the crazy things in American cities, Misha lets out a rather large yawn.
“Should I walk you back to your dorm?”
She looks at me with sleepy half-lidded eyes. She’s very cute like that, but I have to admit that I’m a little concerned about how quickly and suddenly she becomes tired. “Hicchan~? I know I said just one night, but... can I stay with you tonight, too?”
Just like last night, I know I should say no, but I want to say yes. And just like last night, what I want trumps what I should be doing. “Sure. I don’t think that would be a problem.”
Another soft sleepy smile, then she hijacks my desk to prepare for bed. Realizing that this could get a little awkward, I volunteer a solution. “I’ll, uh, go get changed in the bathroom. You can stay here.”
She nods. “Mmkay~.”
“I can knock to make sure I don’t walk in on you or anything.”
Fortunately, I make it to the bathroom and change without any incident. and by incident, I mean Kenji. I wait a few minutes before coming out, to give Misha plenty of time, then return to my room and knock, dreading the moment when I hear locks coming undone.
Fortunately, there’s no sign of Kenji as I hear a voice from the other side of my door say “Come in.”
I open the door to find Misha standing in the middle of the room clad in only her underwear. “I’m sorry!” I yell, covering my eyes, turning around and shutting the door. “I thought you said ‘come in!’ I’ll look away while you finish getting ready.”
“Hicchan~,” I hear her say, “I am ready.”
“But you aren’t wearing anything!” I protest.
“Don’t be silly, Hicchan~. I’m okay with you seeing me like this. Hehe, After all~, it’s not that different from a swimsuit~!”
She does have a point. And if she’s okay with it, what harm is there in it, right? I turn around and uncover my eyes. She may not think anything of it, but I consider this very different from a swimsuit, even aside from the fact that I’ve never seen her wear a two-piece.
Her eyes are green again, with glasses, so she’s already taken care of her contacts. She’s wearing matching white bra and panties, which are generally understated, with tiny silk bows in strategic positions, like between the breasts, or just below the navel. I keep reminding myself that she’s okay with this, but it still feels like I’m seeing something I shouldn’t.
“I don’t understand, though, Shiina. Last night, you were all covered up, with a t-shirt and exercise shorts.”
“Hehehe~,” she giggles mirthfully, “those weren’t exercise shorts, Hicchan~.”
Whatever they’re called, they certainly looked like exercise shorts to me.
“Talking about this is silly, Hicchan. It’s not important, so let’s just go to bed~.”
What can I do? When a pretty girl asks you if you want to come to bed, you say ‘yes.’ Once again, she positions herself between me and the wall. There’s not much room on these beds, which were clearly designed for only one occupant, so I’m acutely aware of how close my body is to her scantily clad form. I start to roll over to grab the remote for the light switch when Misha interrupts me.
“You don’t need to do that, Hicchan~. Look!”
Misha claps her hands twice in quick succession, and the lights turn off.
“You take a long time to get changed, Hicchan~, so I set your lights to respond to claps. You don’t mind, do you~?”
I kind of wish she’d have asked for my permission before she did it, but it is a convenient feature. It feels like we’re abusing the accommodations provided by the school, but on the other hand they spent the money to install this system. Wouldn’t it be a waste if no one used it?
“Can you hold me?”
I certainly want to hold her, but I'm not sure if our relationship is really at this point yet. Since I didn’t respond fast enough, Misha takes matters into her own hands and grabs my left arm, pulling it around her and hugging it close. After I recover from the slight shock of her sudden movement, I extend my fingers, enjoying the feel of the soft flesh of her midsection. With my arm draped over her shoulder and between her breasts, resting against her stomach, I give her a light squeeze. With a small sound of appreciation, she returns the squeeze to my arm.
This breaks all sorts of rules, and I’m forced to wonder if we might be moving too fast. And who knows what kind of hell would break loose if Shizune finds out? But for now I’m happy. We can worry about those other problems later.
Act 3 Scene 4
| Act 3 Scene 6