I check my watch again. It’s mid-afternoon now.
I’ve been waiting at the train station since a little before noon. The plan was to meet Misha and Shizune when they came back, but it seems they missed their train. And the one after that. Here’s hoping they caught the third.
Speaking of which, that should be it arriving just now. I scan the disembarking crowd for the distinctive pink head of hair I’ve come to appreciate so well.
As the last person gets off and the doors close, I start to wonder if they somehow missed three trains in a row. That seems highly unlikely, though. Nevertheless, the crowd is starting to disperse, and still no sign of her.
No sign, that is, until a pair of familiar hands appear and cover my eyes.
“Wahahahahaha~, Hicchan~! Guess who~?”
Now, I don’t have a good track record of late, but there’s no mistaking these hands. And if I’m wrong… well, it will guarantee they don’t try to fool me again.
Turning around, I wrap my hands around my attacker’s waist, and lock my lips with hers.
Misha has definitely been a bad influence on me. A couple months ago, I would have never even considered such a carelessly public display of affection.
Looking at the girl I’m kissing, it’s a relief to see the face I was expecting. Well, mostly. Surprisingly enough, she’s wearing her glasses, not her contacts. More so, her hair is now brown and wavy - not a trace of pink or drills to be seen.
Her surprise at my sudden action is quickly replaced by a pleased look in her eyes, but the transformation of her appearance turns the tables so I’m the one who’s shocked. Not shocked enough to break off the kiss, though.
Having waited more than a week for this, I allow myself to enjoy every moment of our embrace. In the way that kisses do, it feels like it lasts forever, yet is over almost instantly.
Breaking away, Misha smiles at me and whispers, almost breathlessly, “Good guess~.”
She steps backwards and twirls in place. “Do you like it, Hicchan~? Ehehehehe~, I did it for you~!”
Completely at a loss, I try to reply, but only manage to get out two words.
She blinks at me as she comes to a stop, her hair cascading loosely over her shoulders.
“You know,” I begin, twirling my finger in the air.
She smirks, trying to suppress her laughter, but, as always, it’s a futile gesture.
“Wahahahahahahaha~! Ahahahaha~! They’re called ‘princess curls,’ Hicchan~. And it’s just a hairstyle. I can put my hair up like that whenever I want~! You should know that, silly~!”
She’s right, but I guess my brain kind of shut down at the unexpected change of color.
“So… is this your natural hair color?”
“Hicchan… I told you before, I’m never ever ever ever ever ever ever gonna tell you my natural hair color~. But~! But, but, but~! My roots were starting to show, so I needed to dye my hair again~! So~, when choosing a color, I had a thought~! I can’t tell
you what my natural hair color is, but~! I can show you~!”
As she finishes recounting this, she comes forward and hugs me, resting her head on my shoulder. Following the natural impulse, I start to stroke the newly dyed hair.
“So… what you’re saying is that this is your natural hair color?”
“You’re very bad at this, Hicchan~.”
Before this can continue any further, we’re interrupted by a familiar snapping sound. A few people standing around the station jump, as if reacting to a gunshot. Turning toward the sound, I see a rather perturbed-looking Shizune, standing next to what appears to be entirely too much luggage for two girls.
The bus ride back to Yamaku is a rather extended affair - several stops in the city before it makes its way on the loop to town and then the school. It's going to take well over an hour. Misha takes the window seat, clings onto my arm, and promptly falls asleep. Meanwhile, Shizune is sitting across the aisle on my right.
This is probably the best chance I'll have to ask about the letter.
Catching Shizune's attention, I sign for a notebook, nodding toward my incapacitated left arm. With a curious expression, Shizune pulls her notebook out of her bag and hands it to me.
Pen in hand, I hesitate, but decide the direct approach is best.
Keiko delivered a letter to me over the break. She said she found it while cleaning the student council room. It was dated June. Any idea what could have happened?
Passing the book back, I try to read her expression as she looks over my question. No luck.
She returns it, the answer simple and blunt.
I hid it.
Stunned, I look over to her, to see that she's already facing my direction with a contrite expression.
[It was a mistake. A bad idea. But it was done with your best interests in mind.]
She closes her eyes as if reciting the words to herself, then locks eyes with me and begins signing again.
[I’ve been handling the mail a long time. I could recognise that type of letter. Lots of students get letters like that. Especially transfer students. It’s not a good letter.]
She pauses, as if to give me an opportunity to dispute the claim. I can’t really disagree with the statement, so I just nod for her to continue.
[The letters aren’t meant to be bad, but the effects are usually the same. I’d like to tell myself that I hid it to protect you, but I don’t think that’s entirely true.]
Her cheeks flush slightly as she resumes. [I told you before about our “competition.” That letter was a complication. If I delivered it and it had an impact, I’d feel like I cheated.]
Taking a deep breath, her shoulders slumped, she wraps up her explanation. [All explanations aside, there’s no excuse for what I did. It was the wrong thing to do, and a serious breach of trust between friends. I’m sorry.]
I blink. That's a lot to take in. I'm not sure what I was expecting, to be honest. I feel like I should be angry, but it's hard for me to blame her. Besides, she's doing a better job of making herself feel bad about it than I ever could.
With no better response, I nod, then hand the notebook back. She raises her hands to say something, then, evidently thinking better of it, she takes the book and sticks it back into her bag.
After a quick stop by their rooms to drop off luggage, we decide to order take-out for dinner, which we then eat in the common area of the girls’ dorm. Most students haven’t returned from their own vacations, so the school is still quite abandoned, which in turn means that we have the room to ourselves.
In a way that feels vaguely familiar, Misha is excitedly talking about everything they did during their trip. Shizune, meanwhile, is noticeably “silent.” Considering our conversation on the bus, she probably feels guilty about her deception, but I was hoping we’d be over the awkwardness and get back to just being three friends enjoying each other’s company. Hopefully it will work itself out over the next few days.
Given her obvious third wheel status this evening, it comes as no surprise when Shizune excuses herself early. That doesn’t stop Misha from protesting, though.
“Aww~... You’re going to bed already?”
[Travelling makes me tired. And I didn’t take as many naps as you did.]
“I didn’t nap that
much… did I~?”
Shizune shakes her head. [Whatever the reason, I need sleep, and you don’t. Besides, you’ve been gone a long time. I’m sure your boyfriend would appreciate the attention.]
Misha opens her mouth and raises her hands to object, but Shizune makes an unfamiliar sign, which stops her in her tracks. Misha hesitates, biting her lip with an unreadable expression, until she finally gives a slow, deliberate nod.
“Okay, Shicchan. Good night~.”
Especially considering the past few phone conversations, I’ve started to instinctually get nervous when Misha drops her normal, carefree attitude. It’s not that anything bad has come of it yet, but I always feel seconds away from disaster.
That being said, I figure I might as well rip the band-aid off and get it over with.
“What was that about?”
Closing her eyes, she takes a deep breath before responding.
“It was about you, Hicchan~.”
“What about me?”
“... Can we take a walk, Hicchan~? I need to get my thoughts in order.”
“Fine by me.”
Outside, the sun is setting, painting the sky in shades of red, orange, and purple. It will be dark soon.
The aimlessness of Misha’s wandering brings to mind that quiet morning after the festival, my first week here. Strange that I’d think of that. It seems so long ago that I’d practically forgotten it.
Somewhat surprisingly, she finally decides to stop by Rin’s mural, turning around to face me, wearing an impish grin.
“Hey, Hicchan~? Remember when we looked at this together~?”
I smile back, chuckling, “I was just thinking the same thing. More blue, right?”
She laughs softly in return, “Ahaha~, I think I like it just right the way it is, now~. I guess it grew on me~.”
Sitting with her back against the mural, she pats the ground next to her, inviting me to sit.
“And remember when we first met~? Hehe~, you thought I was Shicchan~!”
My laugh is kind of half-hearted this time, as I‘m starting to get nervous about where exactly she’s going with this.
“Hicchan~? What are you planning to do after we graduate?”
I relax a little. That’s an innocent enough question.
“I figure I’ll take Mutou’s advice and work toward becoming a teacher. Probably go to a university in or near Tokyo. Nothing too unusual, I guess.”
“I see~,” she replies, sounding a little downcast. “Shicchan said something like that, too.”
“What about you, Shiina? You were planning on becoming a teacher, right? Are you looking at any schools?”
Her voice has grown so quiet that I can only tell what she’s saying because of her signing. [I’ve already chosen one. Overseas.]
So that’s what this is about. That complicates things.
I sit for a moment, dumbfounded, unsure how to respond. Finally, I manage a question. “When did you decide?”
[Before we met. Before I came to this school. They pay me to learn Sign Language, then I work for them for a few years. If I don’t, I have to pay it all back.]
This hurts even more. I don’t know what to say. Before I can, she finds her voice again.
“I didn’t mean to hide it from you, Hicchan~. Except… I sort of did.
“When I came to this school, I didn’t want to meet new people. I didn’t want anyone to notice me~. I just wanted to finish school and start a new life somewhere far away~. But~! Shicchan wouldn’t let me. Even though she knew I was going to leave~!”
She sighs, burying her face in her hands, then continues. “I wasn’t planning on having a boyfriend, either~. Most High School romances don’t work out anyway, so I figured it wasn’t worth my time~. And then you came along and messed everything up - in a good way~! ... Mostly.”
She turns her head to face me, and I can see the sincerity in her eyes, bu that makes the words hurt more, if anything.
“You were so insistent~! It made me so angry~! But also happy~! So~! I thought I could work it out to make everyone happy~! You would be my boyfriend until you got bored of me, then I could vanish from your life forever~!”
Another sigh. “I never thought you could fall in love with someone like me, Hicchan~. And I thought I could keep myself from falling in love, because I knew it wouldn’t last. Ahaha~, So much for that idea...”
The hollow laugh makes me wince. More importantly, I’m reminded of a detail that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the puzzle, making me almost hope that this is a poor attempt at humor.
“But this all doesn’t make sense. I thought you said that they don’t use Japanese Sign Language overseas. They’ve got their own versions, right?”
The weak smile she gives me shatter my hopes before she speaks a single word. “Sorry, Hicchan, but this is real~. It’s for an ‘International Communications Facili- Facilly-”
“Yeah, that. You need to know a lot of languages~ - English, Japanese, Japanese Sign Language-”
“English Sign Language?” I ask, dubiously.
“It’s called American Sign Language, Hicchan~. And you know how Shicchan and me have secret signs?”
I think I’m starting to see where this is going…
“They aren’t very secret, are they?”
Well, that’s a genuine laugh and smile. And a little more explanation for what her future holds, and why. I’m not especially sure how I feel about some of the things Misha said, but what matters at the moment is figuring out how to secure our future.
“So, where do we go from here?”
“...I’m not sure we do, Hicchan~.”
“Come on, it might be difficult, but it’s not impossible. I’m sure I can find a good school overseas, too, especially with my grades in science…”
“It’s not that simple, Hicchan~...”
“I know, there’s lots of paperwork, but there’s enough time. Almost a year, right?”
“I know you might be concerned about me leaving friends and family, but the only friends I have anymore are all here at school, and my family isn’t nearly as big or as close as-”
“Stop it, Hicchan~! Just stop it!”
I turn to look at Misha, startled by her sudden outburst.
“You say really nice things, Hicchan~, and you may even think they’re true, but they’re not~! You keep telling me these beautiful lies, and I keep wanting to believe them, but I need to face reality~! I told you before that you were making a mistake. I’m not worth the effort, Hicchan~. I don’t deserve any of these nice things you want to give me. The reality is that there is no future for us~! Our relationship is dead as it stands~!”
All I can do is stare in silence. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her angry before. Not like this. Gradually, it seems to dawn on her what she just said, her anger melting into horror.
“...I should go,” she whispers, turning toward the girls’ dorm. She takes a few steps, then twists around to look back at me. “I’ll see you at the pool tomorrow morning, okay~?”
That last sentence sounded almost apologetic. Numbly, I nod, not quite processing what was said.
I remain motionless as she departs, only vaguely aware of my surroundings. I have no idea how much time passes, only that I eventually decide to head to my room and go to sleep.
Act 3 Scene 11
| Act 4 Scene 1