The relative quiet of the trip to the cafeteria and the cafeteria itself remind me that it's still quite early. As soon as we enter, a familiar pink figure makes a beeline toward us.
“Good news, Hicchan~! Shicchan said that this is an important chance to represent the school! So~! I get to give you all the Grand Tour~!”
The way my parents smile at this news gives me the impression that they aren't exactly looking forward to spending that much time with her volume level.
Misha wastes no time in ushering us to the line for food, rattling off a memorised script of everything you'd ever care to know about Yamaku’s food service, stocking both her tray and my own as she speaks.
This continues up until we sit down at a table.
“... And all the portions are measured out as multiples of twelve, so they can easily be divided in half, in thirds, or quarters~! Okay, now let's eat~!”
And nearly as soon as she's done speaking, she's shoveling food into her mouth. She probably hasn't eaten much since lunch yesterday. As it is, the sight and smell of food reminds me that I'm quite hungry myself.
My parents seem to still be processing everything that Misha said.
“My, my. That's certainly a lot~ of information about the food service here…”
“Speaking of food,” my dad cuts in, “I take it you two eat together often?”
With impeccable timing, Misha had just managed to stuff in another mouthful right at that moment. She glances at me, inviting me to answer.
“We're usually working on student council work through meals, so yeah. We also exercise together in the morning.”
“Yup~!” Misha adds, swallowing her food. “Yup~! Swimming together nearly every day~! I'm like his personal trainer~!”
“So you're the one we should thank that he looks so much healthier than he did two months ago?”
Misha pauses for a moment to check on the top of her spoon in thought. “Has it really only been two months? I guess it has~! I must've been riding you pretty hard, Hicchan~! Wahahahahaha~!”
My parents wince at the loud outburst, clearly not getting used to her volume. At the same time, I notice my mom whisper into my dad's ear, and he nods. So that means they both think Misha's deaf now. Admittedly, I can't say for certain that they're wrong, but I still expect she'd have told me if that were the case.
Two months. It sounds like such a small amount of time. I spent more time in the hospital, after all. But for all that, it feels like I'm practically a different person now. How can so much happen in such a short time?
A sharp poke in the ribs brings me back to reality. The good news is that my ribs are fine where I was poked. It still hurts a little, though. I glance over at the source of the poke to see an annoyed-looking Misha.
My dad clears his throat. “Your girlfriend was suggesting that you go to your respective dorms to freshen up before we continue the tour. I recommend you take her up on that suggestion.”
“Oh, right. That sounds like a good idea.”
We split up in front of the dorms, with my parents following me to the lobby to wait while I take a shower and get dressed.
As the water runs over me, I finally have a chance to digest everything that's happened. I almost died. Again. But luck was in my side. Again. This is the balance I'm going to have to live with, it seems - I'm able to improve, but the danger’s going to accompany me until it finally drags me to the grave. But it's not all doom and gloom. I've made a lot of progress over the past two months; this is just a reminder that I am who I am, and there's not going to be a quick fix to that.
As I leave the bathroom, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror.
I look… healthy.
As I get dressed, that keeps coming to the forefront of my thoughts. When you say it that way, it sounds like such a short time. Just about sixty days. It's true that Misha and I have spent nearly every waking moment of that time together, but does that justify how close we've become? Misha said that we don't really know each other. I'd like to imagine that we've made efforts to learn more since that observation, but it still feels like we've barely gone past the surface. On the other hand, how much do I really need to know about her past, or she about mine? Isn't the present enough?
After meeting up with my parents and Misha, the tour continues. Normally, I'd be bored to tears by the rapid-fire flurry of academic programs and historical details that I don't care about in the slightest, but since it's coming from Misha, I find I don't mind all that much.
My parents seem to be enjoying the tour, or at least presenting a polite not-really-interested interest.
“... and because the school is on a hill, the buildings are on uneven ground~, so they have a ground floor, then a first floor, a second floor, and so on~, with entrances on both the ground floors and the first floors~! The boys’ dorm has a ground floor, a first floor, and a second floor, while the girls’ dorm is slightly larger~, with a ground floor, a first floor, - Oh, hi Lilly~!”
The sudden subject change jolts me from my reverie and I look to see that Lilly is in fact coming this way. A little odd, since classes are in session.
“Hello, Misha. You’re clearly busy with important duties, so I apologise for the intrusion. I won’t take but a moment of your time. Might you know where I could find Hisao?”
Before I can speak up, Misha bursts out laughing. “Wahahahahahaha~! Ahahahahahaha~! I Might~! Ahahahahahaha~! Hicchan’s right here in front of you~!”
Lilly’s smile tightens in that characteristic way, making it clear that she wants to scowl, but to do so would be a horrible breach of protocol. Something tells me that it has more to do with Misha’s volume than the relative insensitivity of the remark. “Yes. Thank you, Misha. I imagine the other two are Hisao’s parents, correct?”
Mom gives a surprised gasp, while dad clears his throat in his trademark indication that he’s impressed. “Indeed we are. But I’m afraid you have us at a disadvantage, miss…?”
“My apologies,” Lilly replies, with just the right amount of formality, “I am Miss Lilly Satou. If it pleases you, I would have a quick word with your son.”
The last thing I want is another of her judgmental lectures, so I speak up. “Whatever you have to say to me, I’m sure you can say in front of them.”
Another tight smile as she turns to face me. “Indeed. It has come to my attention that, in our previous encounter, I made some comments that may have been prone to misinterpretation in an unflattering manner. Rather than risk the possibility that our final exchange be on a sour note, I wish to express my sincerest assurance that no offense was intended from my prior statements.”
Our final exchange? Great, so she feels bad because she thinks I could die any moment, and wants a clear conscience. Well, I’m not going to give her the satisfaction. “To allay your concerns, I wish to assure you that I fully understood the intent of your earlier statements. There was no need to provide any clarification.”
Her brow furrows slightly. Message received. “...I understand. In that case, I apologise for wasting your time.” She turns back towards my father. “And yours.”
As she walks toward the girls’ dorm, she calls back to me over her shoulder, “Take care of yourself, Hisao.”
“So,” my dad says, stroking his chin, “friend of yours?”
“Ahahaha~, yup! Lilly’s the class rep for 3-2! But I wonder why she wasn’t in class~... Now, where was I~? That’s right~! Yup, yup, yup~! -a second floor, and a third floor…”
“...The auxiliary building houses the school's medical facilities, indoor exercise facilities, and administrative offices~! There's a pool, too~! Right here, we have the office of the head nurse, Mr.-”
The nurse clears his throat. “I've already met Nakai’s parents, Mikado.”
“Wahahaha~, that's right~! Silly Misha~! Anyway~, he's been with us a couple years now, coming with over a decade of physical therapy experience. He's widely regarded in his field as a miracle worker~!”
The nurse smiles, but seems a little bashful. “Frankly, it's the patients that have been miracles. I was just lucky enough to be the one treating them.”
“Up next, we have the pool~! Built for physical therapy, it is temperature-regulated, and divided into several regions of various depth appropriate for the assorted aquatic therapy exercises…”
“...and this is the faculty lounge~! You need to be sure to be quiet here, because the teachers are working~! Hi, Mr. Mutou!”
It should go without saying, but Misha discloses this information as loud as humanly possible. Making a sound somewhere between a groan and a sigh, Mutou rises from his desk to greet us.
“As a reminder, Mikado, that rule applies to you as well.”
His tone implies that the rule was written especially for her.
“Eheheheh~, silly Misha~!”
Looking skyward for hidden reserves of patience, Mutou turns his attention towards the rest of us.
“Hello, you must be Nakai’s parents? I’m Akio Mutou, homeroom teacher for class 3-3.”
Mom avoids Mutou’s gaze while dad clears his throat nervously.
“Yes, we met you, back in May.”
Mutou plasters on one of his trademark awkward smiles as he tries to brush off his faux pas
“Erm, yes… well… Nakai? I understand you had a bit of a scare yesterday. Are you feeling better?”
“More or less.”
He smiles in a way that almost looks natural. “That’s good to hear. I expect that means I’ll see you in class tomorrow?”
Turning his attention back to Misha, he adds “Both of you?”
“Ahaha~! Yup~! Yup~ yup~ yup~!”
Grimacing at Misha’s volume, he nods, “Yes, well, be sure you do. Unfortunately, I have a pressing deadline, so I must take my leave. If you’ll excuse me…”
...Wait, did dad refer to Misha as my girlfriend?
One less thing to worry about telling them, I guess.
Amazingly enough, the tour is so dense and so thorough that it ends up taking the entire day, with only a short break to grab a small lunch. After Misha finished, mom and dad invited us to join them for an early dinner at “a cute teahouse” they saw on the way up.
So here we are at the Shanghai. A part of me wants to see what other restaurants are in the area someday. Yuuko isn’t working today, which is probably for the best, considering what happened when we met her during our tour of the library…
Mom and Dad don’t seem bothered by the apparent lack of menus. They order the special, and I follow suit. After thinking on it out loud, Misha does the same.
Dinner conversation largely consists of my parents battering Misha with questions while she tries to answer between bites of food. Nothing I haven’t already talked with her about - family, interests, et cetera. Frankly, after all the attention I’ve received today following yesterday’s episode, I’m glad to no longer be the center of attention.
Eventually, Misha has to excuse herself to the “little girls’ room” - her words. Without any other target, my parents turn their attention back to me.
“Well~, she seems nice. A little, ah, unorthodox, but a nice girl~.”
Dad nods. “Indeed. I assume you're taking necessary precautions?”
Mom's eyes widen as she turns on dad. “How could you accuse our little Hicchan of something like that~!?”
“I keep telling you, he's a grown man now.”
“It's okay,” I cut in, “you don't need to worry about that.”
Misha said she took precautions, so I'm not lying. I'm just giving a slightly ambiguous answer. However they interpreted it, my answer seems to have satisfied them.
“Anyway, your mother and I have been thinking about our plans, and-”
“We don't want to be getting in the way~, so we're going to head home early tomorrow~.”
Part of me is disappointed - I've really enjoyed the experience of them taking time out of their schedules just for me - especially since they decided to come independently of my having a life-threatening accident. But it is true that they have their own responsibilities, and I'll be tied up most of tomorrow. If I'm not going home with them, there's little point for them to stick around.
“I understand. Thanks for coming to visit. It means a lot.”
And now I'm back in my room, in my bed. For the first time in… several days, it seems.
After dinner, we went back to the dorms, Misha vanishing into the girls’ dorm, mom fussing over saying goodbye. When all was said and done, the sun was just starting to set. I wasn't tired, so I tried to get some reading done, but got bored rather quickly.
So here I am, lying on my bed, waiting to feel ready to go to sleep. It almost makes me want to hang out with Kenji, if only to convince myself that it could be worse.
As if on cue, there's a loud knock on my door. I sigh, pulling myself out of bed. Maybe I can make a game of counting the number of times he says “bitch.”
Taking into account my relative experience with people opening my door the moment it’s unlocked, I make sure to stand clear of the door as I release the catch. As expected, the door flies open immediately. Somewhat less expected is misha darting in and wrapping her arms around my waist, burying her head in my chest. Given my recent history, I should be less surprised about this.
“Don’t say anything, Hicchan~,” she whispers, “Just tell me that you’re really here right now~.”
I’m mildly taken aback by the contradictory requests, but it’s pretty obvious that now isn’t the time to be splitting hairs, so I wordlessly hug her closer to my chest.
“I was so scared, Hicchan~. You were dying and I didn’t know what to do~. I felt so helpless~”
Oddly enough, she still has that cheerful, musical lilt to her voice. She’s just very, very quiet.
I stroke the back of her head, running my fingers through her hair. I’m constantly amazed with how soft it is. “Don’t be so hard on yourself, Shiina. The nurse said you did exactly what you were supposed to do. There’s a good chance you saved my life.”
Misha pulls her head back up to look at me. She’s wearing her glasses. “I’m not stupid, Hicchan~. I know that the success rate of CPR is so low that doctors and paramedics joke that it stands for ‘check pockets and run~.’”
Putting her head back against my scar, she continues. “I’m such an idiot~! I should’ve at least checked for a pulse~! When we set up the AED, it said you were fine~! I was so embarrassed~...”
I can feel my shirt getting wet now. I hold her close. “You can’t blame yourself for that. What if I really was in trouble and you couldn’t tell when checking for a pulse? What if it was your quick action, and the A- uh… thing was just saying ‘good job?’ I get that you may have made mistakes, but your quick action could easily have been the difference between life and death for me. I know you may not think it, but you were very brave. And for what it’s worth, I’d say that makes you a hero in my book.”
When she looks back up at me, I can see that her eyes are red and her cheeks are wet. That makes the green of her natural eye color all the more striking. “I don’t think I agree with you, Hicchan~, but it’s still nice to hear you say it~. I still feel pretty stupid about it. Did I… Did I hurt you?”
Now that she mentions it, I haven’t noticed anything since the soreness this morning. “I don’t… think so?”
On hearing this, she squeezes me tighter. “I wanted to hold you like this and be close to you all day~. It was nice to meet your parents, though~.”
“Yeah, it was. That’s the most time I’ve spent with them in one go in… a long time.”
“That’s so sad, Hicchan~. I still don’t understand how you lived like that~.”
“To be fair, it’s all I’ve known.”
“Oh yeah!” she shouts, pulling away, “I had another reason to come here! Shicchan told me that we’re moving up our schedule!”
“We were planning on going to Shicchan’s house on Saturday morning~, but it turns out that Lilly and Akira are going there tomorrow~! What a coincidence, right? Right~! So Shicchan said that we should all go together~!”
That means even less time before she leaves. I’m a little disappointed, but I put on a smile. “That sounds exciting! I guess you have to pack up tonight, then, huh?”
She returns my smile with a bigger one. “Eheheheh~, Nope~! Already done~!”
There she is, one step ahead. Like always. “...Does this mean you were hoping to spend the night here?”
She flutters her eyelashes innocently. “I wasn’t going to ask, Hicchan~, but~! If you’re inviting me, then I accept~! Wahahahahaha~!”
Well, at least she’s back to her normal, loud self.
Sitting herself on the edge of my bed, she looks toward me expectantly. “Do you want to help me get ready for bed?”
Act 3 Scene 8 Part 2
| Act 3 Scene 8 Part 4 (18+) (Disable Adult Content)