The Purest Form of Love - Chapter 1: Friends
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I knew this was a bad idea.
The hot sun bears down on me mercilessly, even in the shade of Lilly’s parasol, stuck on a slight angle in the sand between us. The heat is unbearable, and makes me sweat profusely on one side and swelter without relief on the other. Still, I refuse to remove the long-sleeved summer dress that covers most of my body.
They would see my scars. The form-fitting, dark purple, one-piece swimsuit underneath it does cover a fair amount of the affected area, but my exposed arm, neck and leg is too much to handle. People will stare. If not my fellow Yamaku students, then the other beachgoers will.
Why did I come on this stupid excursion? It’s not even related to any classes. 'Inter-class bonding'
, they called it. Yeah, as if anyone wants to 'bond'
with the burned girl. I should have just stayed in my room and refused to leave. They’d have had to pry me out by my cold, dead fingertips.
I look over my shoulder towards Lilly, sleeping peacefully on a towel beside me. Of course, she can be much more daring with her choice of swimwear. Her black bikini set leaves very little to the imagination, even with the translucent dress thingy flowing from the top. I wonder what those are called? Apparently, Akira got it for her on a business trip. I'll have to ask her about it some time.
But oh, what I wouldn’t give to be able to look like that. Lilly draws attention like a magnet, and though I do as well, it’s not for the same reason. People look at Lilly and think she’s beautiful. Amazonian, even. They develop crushes on her. I know that Lilly has been the recipient of many a confession, both at Yamaku and elsewhere. How many confessions have I had? Zero, that’s how many.
The sound of someone approaching catches my attention. I open my eyes – which I hadn’t realised I had scrunched shut – and look over to the intruders. Ibarazaki and Tezuka appear to have come bounding out of a stint in the water and have taken up residence in the sand on my other side. It seems that it’s sandcastle-building time.
Ibarazaki notices my staring, and though I try to look away, I’ve already been caught. Ibarazaki waves and shuffles closer to me.
“Heya! Aren’t you hot, in that dress? I’m sweating like a pig just like this!”
“Ye-… um, n-no. It’s f-fine.”
“You sure? You look pretty flushed.”
I pull my legs even closer into my curled sitting position and look down at the sand in front of my feet.
“It’s n-nothing. I’m fine, r-really.”
Ibarazaki rests her chin in her hand, looking thoughtfully up at the sky for a few seconds before replying.
“Well, if you say so. The water’s great though, if you change your mind.”
“I’ll k-keep that in mind. Th-thanks.”
Ibarazaki smiles and nods, before returning to her previous place and giving a hand to Tezuka, who is struggling to adequately fill a bucket with sand. With Ibarazaki now filling the bucket in her stead, Tezuka looks over to me.
“Are you afraid of getting sunburnt? It’s not even that bad. I usually don’t bother applying sunscreen and I turn out alright. Can you even get burned? Not like you already are, I mean. You can't get that kind of burn out here. I mean the sun kind of burn.”
Even before Ibarazaki realises the trajectory of Tezuka’s ramblings and stifles any further comments, my eyes go wide and I turn away. Forget about it, Hanako. Think happy thoughts.
Ice cream. Ice. Cold drinks. Tea. Scald. Burn. Scars. No, no, no!
Christmas. Snow. Winter. Summer. Sun. Sunburn. Scars. Damnit!
I feel the tears begin to well in my eyes. One rolls down my cheek, to my chin, and drips unnoticeably onto the sand. Several more make the same journey, before a hand comes to rest on my shoulder. I flinch at the contact.
“Hey, I’m really sorry about that. Rin can be… inconsiderate at times. Are you okay?”
“Just forget about it. Rin didn’t mean any harm by it.”
“It still h-hurts.”
“Wanna talk about it?”
“C’mon… I’ll buy you an ice cream.”
Ibarazaki makes the offer in a sing-song voice, almost seductively. With the thought of a nice, cooling dessert paired with the puppy-dog expression on her face, I find it hard to turn her down.
“Great! C’mon, on your feet! There’s an ice cream bar just a short walk from here.”
With one last look at the sleeping Lilly, I stand and follow Ibarazaki. I notice her strides are quite long, possibly to make up for her short stature. In contrast, my own steps are short and rather frequent. Not frequent enough, though, as Ibarazaki beckons for me to pick up the pace.
Shortly afterward we arrive at the ice cream bar, and Ibarazaki buys an ice cream for each of the two of us. She takes a seat at a bench under the shade of a high curved wall, and motions for me to follow suit. I do, and we begin to enjoy our delicious frozen treats.
“So, you’ve got a complex about your scars.”
The directness with which she begins the conversation catches me off guard. I’m left unable to form a reply. After a few seconds, Ibarazaki continues speaking without a response.
“That’s not a big deal. I’ll bet damn near everyone here has a complex, to some extent. You think I like being short?”
To emphasise the point, she places her hand on her head and slides it across to me, where it meets my collarbone.
“See, sometimes shit happens. Sometimes it’s pretty bad, and it has a big effect on people. But you can’t let it define you, ya hear? I mean, look at me. You don’t hear people talking about 'Emi the double amputee'
, you hear about 'Emi the track star'
“A-actually, I hear 'resident d-detention expert'
“Hey! Ah forget it; I guess I bring that on myself. But it just proves my point even more! You can’t just expect other people to decide who you are, you’ve gotta make ‘em see who you are for yourself. What’s something you like doing?”
I have no idea how to respond to that question. What do I like doing? I don’t usually do things outside of class. I delve deep into my subconscious to find something to say.
“Um… I like to c-cook, sometimes…”
“Really? Great! 'Ikezawa, the mighty Iron Chef of Yamaku Academy'
! What else?”
“Well, I… no, n-never mind.”
“Aw, c'mon, you can tell me. Even if it’s something weird!”
“N-no! It’s not like th-that. Singing. I l-like to sing, t-too.”
“Singing, huh? Then how about 'Ikezawa, the Yamaku Pop Princess'
? Or maybe you sing other stuff… I know! 'Ikezawa, the rough ‘n’ tough rockstar'
! It totally suits you!”
I can’t help but giggle at the absurd nicknames. I would be lying if I said that I hated them. But I can’t help but find one major flaw in Ibarazaki’s logic.
“Y-yeah, but… you can’t even t-tell that you… that you… um… b-because your p-prosthetics…”
“Hmm? I don’t follow.”
“You can still w-walk just f-fine. I can’t not b-be… ugly.”
Ibarazaki does a double take, almost dropping her ice cream in the process. She stops swinging her legs under the seat, and she takes on a somewhat more serious face.
“Hey. Listen. You’re not ugly. Honestly, I think you’re really pretty. You’re tall, and you have really nice hair, and your eyes are all mysterious-like. And you’ve got a fair body on you too, if you don’t mind me saying.”
Even though my dress provides ample coverage, I still cover myself with my free hand out of habit. Is Ibarazaki… hitting on me? I feel a blush emerge on my cheeks. I look at my lap and continue eating my ice cream, but steal glances at Ibarazaki between mouthfuls. She wouldn’t be… would she? Nah, she’s just being nice.
The last bites of my ice cream disappear into my mouth, and for several seconds the only sounds are those of the other beachgoers. Ibarazaki breaks the silence.
“Hey, I wanna show you something. I don’t usually do this, so don’t get freaked out, okay?”
Wait, what? Is she going to do something weird? Is she… no, I already decided that she’s not that kind of person. I fear what I may see if I look over to her, but I look anyway, and find her bent forward and removing her prosthetic legs and the protective socks underneath. I gasp at what I see.
The flesh at the base of what remains of Ibarazaki’s legs is all warped and scarred. Oddly shaped curves of flesh crash awkwardly into each other, the seams marked by thick whitish scars in various directions, forming something resembling the bastard child of an “H” shape and a star.
The other leg is more or less the same, though somewhat less misshapen. Nevertheless, it’s still a grotesque sight to behold. I instinctively run my left hand over my right, feeling my own scars there. Satisfied that she’s shown enough, Ibarazaki replaces her prosthetics as they were.
“Pretty whack, huh? You’re not the only one with scars, you know. I know mine aren’t as… widespread as yours, but they’re still there. And I’m okay with that, because that’s a part of who I am now. It’s no use being ashamed of who you are. Ya with me?”
“Y-yeah… I think so…”
“Great! Now, there’s no good way for me to say this, so how about you get that stifling dress off and come back to the beach with me? The 'rough ‘n’ tough iron chef princess'
looks like she could use a swim.”
In spite of Ibarazaki’s suggestive wording, I giggle and a smile comes to my face.
“S-sure, I’d like that.”
By the time we return to our previous place, my nerves begin to falter. Here I stand, dress folded over my arm, in full view of over a hundred people. Exposed. My breath catches in my throat, and I start to try and cover my scars with my arms, but it proves ineffective. I consider backing out of going in the water, but I find a courage within myself, dump my dress on my towel and stride towards the shoreline where Ibarazaki awaits.
The sheer cold of the water comes as a shock, in contrast to the burning heat of the sun and, consequently, the sand. Again, I almost chicken out, but Ibarazaki's beckoning spurs me further out. She leads me over to a group of boys throwing a ball around, about waist-deep in the water. I'm not familiar with them; they mustn't go to Yamaku. Nevertheless, they allow us to join in their game.
The ball starts off going mainly between the boys, though as time goes on, Ibarazaki and I are on the recieving end of increasingly more frequent throws. Several minutes in, I fumble one particularly short throw that skims off the water in front of me, and the ball ends up several metres out to sea. I cautiously half-walk-half-swim over to it, and make to throw it back, but a wave catches me off guard and I lose my footing. For a second, my entire body is underwater, tumbling with the motion of the wave passing over me. I begin to panic, and flail desperately to get back to the surface. Out of nowhere, a strong hand catches my arm, and pulls me up.
Wiping the water out of my face, I find myself looking eye to eye with one of the boys. He was standing to my left, before. He's quite handsome, despite his lopsided grin. For a second that seems like it lasts for much longer, the two of us stare into the other's eyes. Then, he speaks.
“You alright there?”
“No biggie. Who wouldn't wanna help out a pretty girl like you, eh? I'm Haru, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Hanako. Now how 'bout we get back to the game, eh?”
I nod, and resume the ball game. Nearby, Ibarazaki gives me the thumbs up. Does Haru really think I'm pretty? Maybe Ibarazaki was right, after all. We make our own image of ourselves. I can be pretty if I want to be. I can be anything.
I slowly make my way to the front of the bus and out of its confines, glad to be out of the hot, cramped space. I take a deep breath of the cool, hilltop, Yamaku air and head towards the dorms. My right arm is looped around Lilly's, leading her, while in my left is my discarded summer dress. From amidst the throng, a voice calls out to me.
“Hey, it looks like you can get sunburnt after all.”
“Rin! What’d I tell you before!”
I instinctively flinch at the comment, but I shrug it off. I can feel the stinging heat of UV overexposure on my skin. Tezuka’s right; I probably should have applied some sunscreen. Oh well.
“It’s fine. D-don’t worry about it.”
“Phew! Hey, listen; you ever wanna hang out again, you know where to find me, alright? We can go meet some more cute boys together!”
“Sure. Th-thanks, Ibarazaki.”
“Aw c’mon, we’re friends now. You can call me Emi.”
“Heh, that’s it! Seeya!”
And with that, Emi takes off, catching up to the meandering Tezuka in no time at all. Friends, huh? I resume walking myself, and a polite cough precedes some curious probing from the girl by my side.
“Well, it certainly sounds like you had an eventful day.”
I make to add onto my response, but stop myself. I consider the thought for most of the journey back to the dorms. Would she agree? I think she would. It’d be a good idea. I have to make my own name for myself. Alright, it’s settled. I’ll ask her.
“Um… do you w-want to have d-dinner with Ibara- uh… Emi, sometime? I want to take up c-cooking again.”
“That would be lovely, Hanako.”
“A-and we should go to a k-karaoke room, too. It'll be f-fun.”
“I'd be happy to. I must warn you though, my singing leaves a lot to be desired.”
“Great! Uh, I mean, th-thanks.”
Lilly giggles lightly, evidently taking note of my uncharacteristic enthusiasm.
“It sounds like Ibarazaki has rubbed off on you, just a little. In any case, you needn’t thank me. Any friends of yours are friends of mine.”
Friends. It’s been a long time since that was plural. Maybe going on the beach excursion wasn’t such a bad idea after all. It’s time for 'rough ‘n’ tough iron chef princess'
Hanako Ikezawa to have friends once again.
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So no one told you life was gonna be this way, *clap clap clap clap*
That's enough of that. I noticed Emi and Hanako seem to be a popular non-standard pairing for some reason. I figured "yeah, I can get behind that", but thought nothing else of it. Then I saw a picture of the two of them at the beach, and some ideas began to take shape. Also this was at 1 in the morning, just as I was about to go to bed. By 4:30, I was done, though I decided to wait til today to edit and upload it. Originally it was a bit more lewd, but it didn't really fit the theme of the piece. Doesn't matter, there's probably plenty of lewd Eminako stuff out there without my contributions.
Oh, and if I ever have to write Ibarazaki so often again, I'm gonna rage. Hope you liked it, folks!