New chapter ahoy. I would have had this up sooner but I got married and moved to Seattle since I updated this thing last. Here's more words. Enjoy!
Scene 25: Unreliable Narrator
“Hisao,” says a faint voice. Seems to be coming from a long way off, but I feel myself stir slightly in protest.
“Hisao.” Louder, this time. Or closer. Although I suppose it would be both if it were the latter…
.” The third iteration of my name actually causes me to open my eyes. I’m greeted with the sight of… leather. Black leather, to be precise – with a tan stitching pattern, running upward to a small button in the middle of a…
Oh, right. I must have fallen asleep on the couch.
I instinctively turn over to face the rest of the room. Methodically separating my cheek from the leather surface leaves me acutely aware of the large pool of drool that, until a moment ago, my face had been resting in. I make a few haphazard efforts to wipe my cheek while simultaneously attempting to sit upright. To my astonishment, it requires less effort than I had expected, considering I had expected to still be hungover at this point. My head seems relatively clear.
“Kagami?” I say, addressing the girl sitting in the chair opposite me. “What time is it?”
She adjusts the sleeve of her blouse somewhat nervously. “Half-past eleven. I left you sleeping as long as I could, but we need to get going if we’re going to make it to my interview. Er, that is to say, you should probably… y’know. Take a shower.”
“You look… awfully dressed up today,” I say, combining stretching and yawning into one movement. In addition to her blouse, she’s also sporting a smart pair of slacks that look like they may have been borrowed from Mei’s closet.
Kagami puffs her cheeks out slightly. “Well, yeah. It’s the Tokyo College of Music, Hisao. Important interview and such! What did you expect me to do, slum it? I can take pride in my appearance when I want to.”
“I didn’t mean it like that, I just… are you wearing makeup?” I inquire, leaning forward slightly after noticing a hint of rouge on Kagami’s cheeks.
“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not!” she blurts. “In any case, you’ll have plenty of time to ogle after you get showered and ready. Move it, slowpoke!”
I yawn again, mumbling a halfhearted “Okay.” It takes considerably more effort to lift myself from sitting to standing, and I waver a bit on one foot before regaining my balance. Kagami furrows her brow a bit, but doesn’t say anything. Something must be bothering her. “What’s up?” I ask, scratching my head, still blinking out the sun.
She shakes her head. “Nothing,” she starts, seeming like she wants to continue.
“Seriously. Is something wrong?” I ask again. I mean, there definitely is
something wrong. I’m just not sure how much she’s consciously aware
of, at least right now.
Her gaze veers off in some indiscriminate direction. “I hate doing this, but I suppose I should just come out and say it. I forgot to write in my journal last night. So I missed the entire day.”
Shit. So I was
“I can’t say it’s the first time that it’s happened, but usually I can just roll with it.” Her eyes shift from somewhere off to her left to directly at her feet. “Yesterday was kind of important, though. With the… doctor’s appointment and everything. Doesn’t seem like something I can just shrug off.”
I start to formulate a sentence, but Kagami interrupts. “It doesn’t need to be a big deal. I’d actually prefer if we could just leave the bathroom door open, and you can tell me while you’re in the shower. Just to save time. If that’s not… not too forward or anything. I promise not to look.” Her mouth curls into a sheepish grin on completion of her last sentence. I guess she doesn’t remember our escapade last night, either. Or maybe she does, and she’s just trying to be coy. Or maybe she just suspects
something happened, and is trying to tease it out of me.
All the mental cartwheels start to leave my brain feeling a little fried, so I exhale a tired “Fine,” and begin trudging down the hall to the bathroom.
“No need to sound so enthusiastic,” Kagami quips as she follows in tow.
I shake my head, accidentally throwing around some of the alcohol still in my system. “Sorry. Just a little hung over still.”
Kagami snaps her fingers. “I knew
we were drinking last night. That’s one mystery solved.”
“We drank an entire bottle of your dad’s scotch, if you want to know.”
Her eyes go wide at this remark. “Whoops. I don’t think that stuff is cheap. Hopefully he doesn’t notice.”
I open my mouth to retort, but nothing of worth comes to mind. Instead, I give a small shrug and head into the bathroom.
“Anything else of worth happen yesterday? Besides the doctor’s, I mean.” Kagami asks. I look toward the bathroom entrance, but the doorjamb seems to be clear. She must be around the corner.
“We went and visited your aunt at the museum,” I say, keeping one eye on the entrance to the bathroom as I gingerly disrobe. Can’t be too careful.
Kagami gives a snort of derisive laughter. “Was it as boring as I assume it was?”
“It was actually pretty interesting,” I reply, tossing my clothes in the corner and stepping behind the curtain.
“Wait, was it actually interesting or just Hisao
I try to come up with a fitting retort, but Kagami’s jape is just distracting enough that I forget I’m twisting the hot water knob. The resulting cascade of mildly-scalding water causes an involuntary, “Ouch!” to escape my mouth.
“Oh, come on. I’m only teasing,” says Kagami.
I roll my eyes. “No, not that. Water was too hot.”
, I’m sure.”
“Hey now. I’ll have you know you already insulted me for being too insufferably boring yesterday. Sad to say, but your barbs are just not as sharp the second time around,” I jest, having finally gotten the water to a comfortable temperature.
The silence that follows makes me wonder if maybe the water isn’t that comfortable after all.
“Kagami?” I call out tentatively.
There’s a small sputter from the door. “G-good to know. I’ll be sure to file those insults in the ‘used’ pile,” she says, a slight quaver in her voice.
“H-hey, I didn’t mean a-anything by that,” I say, silently cursing my big mouth. I need to be more sensitive to just how tough dealing with a clean-ish slate must be.
“No, don’t worry about it,” she responds, suddenly sounding fully recovered. “I’ll just have to come up with something different. Shouldn’t be too hard, considering.”
Kagami laughs fully for a few seconds. “Oh, nothing. Nothing at all~.”
I continue silently cursing myself, this time for letting myself get outfoxed for the umpteenth time since we got here.
“Anyhoo, how was the doctor’s visit? Anything to note?” Kagami asks happily.
Suddenly the water runs cold. A sizable lump rises in my throat as the exact implications of Kagami missing everything
from her doctor’s visit hit me like a freight train carrying nothing but hardened concrete. I have to tell her. I have to let her know she’s at risk for seizures. I have to break the news that her memory isn’t ever going to get better.
“Hisao? You didn’t pass out in the shower, did you? I’m not strong enough to drag you out of there, not to mention the indecency
of it all,” Kagami inquires, a playful lilt in her voice.
“Ha ha, no,” I laugh nervously. “Still upright.”
“Whew, thank heavens. Guess I can cancel that ambulance.”
I bite my lip nervously. This isn’t really how I want her to find out – seeing how she reacted yesterday makes me want to be able to hold her hand while she finds out, or at least rub her shoulder or something.
Wait, what if she has an audition today in addition to her interview? Christ, I hadn’t thought of that. If she makes the wrong impression or doesn’t play one hundred percent up to par, she might not get into university. She was so fragile last night–I can’t expect that she’ll recover from such a shock in any short amount of time. It would be unreasonable to expect it of her.
And it’s not like I can just ask.
“Hisao?” she asks again, a little more concern in her voice.
“Nothing important that I remember,” I lie, wincing as the words escape my lips. “I think there’s a prescription that you have to pick up, but I don’t remember what it’s for. Don’t think it’s anything too bad, though.”
Kagami breathes an audible sigh of relief. “Nothing worse than short-term memory loss, at least. Okay, we can call in the prescription now and swing by the pharmacy after my interview.”
“S-sounds good to me,” I reply, still in a slight daze of disbelief at my own actions.
“Hey, one more thing,” Kagami says. “Last night. Did anything… y’know, happen? Between us?”
I almost choke on my own tongue. “U-um, like, how do you mean?”
“Hm,” Kagami replies. I can almost see the incredulous squint through the shower curtain and the wall behind it. “I guess it doesn’t really matter how I mean. Try to hurry up, Hisao, we’re probably going to be running late as it is.”
“You got it,” I say, slumping down in the shower and clutching my knees to my chest. I hear Kagami close the door gently with a slight ‘click’. A long, audible sigh escapes my lips.
I know it wasn’t the right time or the right circumstance to tell her the truth. I know that. But… did I really have to lie outright? I can’t say for certain. If I had left it for another time, she probably would have assumed the worst. Not that she would have been wrong, but I suppose that’s de facto
the same thing as telling her the truth outright. In fact, waiting to discuss it might have been worse–anticipation isn’t exactly the friendliest addition to an already worried psyche.
At least I mentioned the prescription. Hopefully the pills don’t come in a big orange bottle that screams “Epilepsy Medication” right on the front label.
God, what a mess.
I think I did the right thing. I guess we’ll see when I straighten this whole thing out. We’ll get it sorted on the train back home tomorrow. It’ll be Sunday, so we’ll have the entire day to hang out here in the city before we have to journey back to Yamaku. That’ll give me time to properly prepare to tell her the truth anyhow.
And then there’s her last question.
I suppose that’ll just have to wait until the next time it happens. If it happens.
For now, I guess I just have to focus on getting this shower finished. Everything else comes after.
We arrive at the Tokyo College of Music about twenty minutes before Kagami’s interview is scheduled to begin. It’s a moderately impressive campus–larger than I would have expected for a music school.
Kagami apparently catches my wandering gaze. “You look pensive.”
“Mm? Oh, I’m just looking around. All this is just a music school? Seems excessive.”
She laughs in response. “Are you not familiar with the place? What exactly do you think goes on at ‘just a music school’, if I may ask?”
I pause for a moment, giving the question some thought. “Er, well. I guess I’m not really sure. Practicing and performances mostly?”
“Practicing, performances, private lessons, group lessons, master classes, orchestral studies, chamber groups, I’m sure I’m missing a ton more. Not to mention actual classes on music history and theory. Toss in some general education classes, and you get this,” she says, unfurling her arms in the direction of campus.
“Impressive,” I respond, feeling a smile cross my face in response to Kagami’s genuine excitement about the place.
“They have facilities for every instrument you’ve heard of–and some you haven’t. This is where you want to go if you’re serious about studying music performance. A lot of greats passed through here.”
I turn my head in her direction. “Really? Anyone I would have heard of?”
Kagami gives a slightly flummoxed look. “Uh, probably not,” she says, her voice meandering as she furrows her brow. “My orchestra conductor went here, though. He’s the one who gave me a recommendation.”
I briefly ponder discussing Ito further, but given the way Kagami referred to him as her orchestra conductor, I don’t feel like putting her through the ensuing mental gymnastics of realizing that I have met and know the man.
I opt for a simple, “That’s generous of him.”
“He’s really a great person. You two should meet sometime!” she replies animatedly.
I nod. “I’m not really sure how that would happen, but that sounds like it could be fun.”
Damn, I’m really giving into this little charade. I should really change the subject. “Hey, where’s the building your interview is in? We should probably make our way over there if you’re gonna make a good impression.”
“Right,” she responds resolutely. “Let’s see here.” She pulls out her phone and flips through a few menus, presumably looking for the building address. “I think it’s this building over here,” she decides, pointing to a somewhat angular building down the walkway to our right.
I follow a few steps behind Kagami as she sashays toward our destination, opting to drop any more conversation in favor of silence. This whole morning has been full of these awkward little exchanges, each one making me feel a little guiltier than the last. I can’t keep this up much longer–these lies are burning a hole in the metaphorical pocket I keep my secrets in. It just doesn’t feel right to do this to Kagami–especially in light of the fact that we decided to be boyfriend and girlfriend last night. Not the best way to start off a relationship, Hisao.
A relationship only one of us remembers starting.
What were my alternatives, though?
I shake the runaway train of thought from my head as we enter the building.
Kagami is already making a beeline for the receptionist by the time I get through the door. “Takahashi?” she inquires as soon as the receptionist looks up from her horn-rimmed glasses. Interestingly enough, her visage is distinctly foreign–maybe American or European.
“For whom?” the woman replies, smacking her gum rather rudely while raising one eyebrow. Definitely American.
“Um, I have an interview? I’m not sure with whom.”
The woman looks her up and down a few times silently, then blows a prodigious bubble with her gum, popping it loudly and licking the remnants from her lips with a hauntingly long tongue.
“One moment,” she drools, turning to her computer and typing loudly.
After a few moments, she turns back to Kagami and me. “Have a seat, someone will be out to get you shortly,” she offers, wasting no time in turning back to her computer and typing some more, leaving us to find our own seats in the rather spacious atrium.
Kagami sidles up to me on the walk over to a small row of chairs. “Jeez, rude much? I wonder how she keeps this job.”
“Luck, I guess,” I reply. “Maybe it’s a student job. In any case, her Japanese is pretty good, at least.”
“Yeah, well those glasses aren’t doing her any favors. Or her personality.”
I smile benignly. “Aren’t you the firecracker today? She could just be having a bad day.”
“No excuse for rudeness on the job. Not even for Americans.” She pauses, and wags her finger. “Especially not for Americans.”
Kagami stifles a guffaw. “It’s the Japanese way. You’re better off knowing who you are, Hisao. It’s something my mom used to say.”
“Huh? But your name is Kagami, not Hisao.”
It takes her a moment, but she eventually grins. “Lame, as usual. I expect better from you than the low-hanging fruit,” she says, before pointing her finger skyward and adding, “Actually, I don’t.”
I smile, trying to think of something witty to respond with, but this whole conversation feels eerily familiar. Like we’re retreading ground. I think back to earlier, when I was in the shower. In particular, the tiny pause Kagami gave when I pointed out a conversation we’d been repeating comes to mind. It gives me pause, at least for a moment. Probably not worth mentioning, but weird nonetheless.
We take our seats, engaging in some more small talk about the rude receptionist. Kagami seems more relaxed now than she did this morning. It’d be nice if I could say the same.
Eventually, another foreign-looking person–a man this time–strides around the corner. His appearance bears striking resemblance to Ito’s–same polished shoes, same dark jeans, same impossibly-starched button-up. He also seems shockingly young to be faculty–I’d say mid-to-late twenties, at the most. Although it’s tough to tell with westerners; I could be way off.
He eventually reaches us and bows gracefully. “Takahashi, I presume? I’m Alexander, I’m one of the graduate teaching assistants here at the university, specifically in the department of violin performance. I’ll be conducting your interview today. You can call me Michael, Mike, Mr. Alexander, or Alexander. Whatever suits your fancy.”
Kagami stands and bows in return. “Good to meet you, Mr. Alexander. I’m Takahashi Kagami.”
“Well-met, Takahashi. I apologize for the lack of formality in today’s interview–normally our department head likes to oversee them personally, since there are so few qualified applicants, but he is at present out of the country. Besides, you had a glowing recommendation from your orchestra conductor, who happens to be a good friend and former classmate of mine. I hope that’s okay.”
Kagami smiles, “Oh, no, no. It’s no trouble at all. Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”
“My pleasure,” Alexander replies, returning her smile. “Would your guest care to join us in the interview? It would probably be more comfortable than waiting out here.”
I rise from my seat, gesturing with one hand. “Oh, no, that won’t be necessary. I’ll be fine out here.”
Kagami glances back in my direction, as if to say, “Are you sure?” but doesn’t vocalize any opinion.
Alexander nods. “Very well. These normally run about half an hour, just for your information. You’re welcome to have a look around campus–there are also restrooms and vending machines across the lobby,” he says, pointing to a small enclave on the opposite end of the atrium.
“Shall we?” he asks Kagami, flattening his palm and offering her the lead.
Kagami accepts, and starts off around the corner behind the receptionist’s desk. Before she gets too far, she turns back and mouths, “I’ll text you,” in my direction. I nod and retake my seat as she and Alexander disappear from view.
The receptionist eyes me warily. Maybe I should take a walk around the grounds–fresh air might help me clear my head.
I hadn’t noticed before, but it’s a particularly beautiful day today. As I step outside, the hot sun on my shoulders makes for a nice change from the overly air-conditioned building interior. I close my eyes and breathe in slowly. For a moment, the soft chirps of birds and the far-off chatter of students is all I care to hear or think about.
I have a plan to tell her the truth. Everything’s going to work out fine. Today is a good day.
I find myself walking toward a bench under a tree about twenty or so meters from the building entrance. Before I sit down, a small buzz emanates from my pocket. It’s a text message… from Emi.
“Hey. Sorry about not getting back to you sooner. Have you been at the track at all?”
I briefly consider lying, but I think I’ve been doing enough of that today. “Just once on Monday. Sorry for being so lax about it. Where have you been? I haven’t seen you around lately.”
I pocket my phone, thinking little else for a few minutes until my phone buzzes again, this time repeatedly. Emi’s calling me.
“Hey, Hisao,” she responds. I notice a particularly despondent note in her voice.
“Emi? Are you all right? You sound… not yourself.”
“Me? No, I’m fine.” A slight recovery. “I’m disappointed in you for skipping out on our sessions, though!”
I laugh. “You could have called or something. I didn’t hear from you all week.”
“I, uh… heh. Suppose I need to explain myself a little, don’t I?”
“You most certainly do.”
I can hear Emi exhale loudly into the speaker. “Okay, here goes. I was kinda-sorta… in the hospital all week.”
I sit up. “What!? Why?”
“No, no, it’s nothing!” she exclaims hurriedly, followed by a faint but still audible, “Ow! What was that for? I’m fine now! Ugh.”
“Emi? You okay?” I ask.
“Sorry, Nurse is being an ass,” she replies, taking the speaker away from her mouth to complain once again. “Do I have to?”
“Emi, seriously, what happened?” I ask, growing a little impatient.
She sighs loudly for a second time. “Yeah, okay. So I was dumb and maybe pushed myself too hard and got an infection and maybe ignored it for too long so I got blood poisoning maybe and passed out and hadtogototheemergencyroom. Maybe.”
“Emergency room? Blood poisoning? Are you sure you’re okay?”
Yet another sigh. “Yes, yes, I’m fine. I don’t need you doting on me, too. I have enough of that already with mom and Nurse.”
“Emi, when did this happen?”
“Last week on Saturday, so I guess seven days ago today,” she says, defeat starting to creep into her voice. “I missed you at the track, but I was there early and lost track of time.”
“Jeez,” I exclaim, running my hand through my hair, clutching my temples. “I feel bad that I missed it now. I probably could have prevented–“
“No, you couldn’t have. Don’t feel guilty. I decided to postpone my check-up and shower first. I passed out in the bathroom, so you wouldn’t have been there anyhow. Unless you’re some kind of creeper.”
“I’m surprised how well you’re taking this all if you can crack jokes,” I say, more than a little bewildered.
Emi’s grin is almost audible. “Damn right! It’ll take more than a little blood poisoning to keep the fastest thing on no legs off her feet!”
I hear an audible grunt in the background–I assume it’s Nurse.
“But, actually, I’m gonna be stuck in a wheelchair for the foreseeable future. Doctor’s orders. That’s actually why I called–I can’t be your running partner anymore.”
This time, it’s my turn to sigh into the microphone. “Wow. I had no idea. Rin made it seem like you were fine.”
Emi chuckles nervously. “Yeah, that’s what I told her to say. Can’t have everyone freaking out about me and my dumb mistakes.”
“Emi, this is serious.”
“That’s about the hundredth time I’ve heard that this week, Hisao. I know it’s serious, I know. Everybody keeps telling me that.”
A brief, awkward silence follows.
Eventually, Emi speaks up again. “A-hem. So, Nurse and I don’t want you to skip any more runs. I asked around, and Miura offered to take over for me in the mornings–you know Miura? She’s in your class, I think.”
“Yeah, we’ve met,” I say, still somewhat in a daze.
“Okay. Well, she’ll be expecting you bright and early at the track on Monday, so don’t be late!”
“You make it sound like you’re just going to fall off the face of the Earth, Emi.”
She laughs. “I suppose we’ll see each other around. Hey, what are you doing for lunch tomorrow? Rin and I usually go into town on Sundays–you’re welcome to join if you want.”
“That’s very nice of you,” I reply, “but I’m actually in Tokyo right now. I came here for the long weekend with Takahashi.”
Emi pauses for a second. “Wow, I didn’t realize you two were that serious! Well done, Casanova.”
“He’s a famous–never mind, actually.”
“O-okay,” I mutter.
“Well, I’ll see you around school Hisao. Don’t be a stranger!”
“Same goes for you too, y’know. Play it safe from now on, ok?”
Emi rolls her eyes audibly. “Yes, mom. Bye!”
“Bye,” I say, not bothering to keep the phone near my face before finishing the half-hearted farewell.
What a strange conversation. I suppose that explains Emi’s mysterious absence over the course of the past week–although I hadn’t assumed it was anything serious. You’d think in a school as small as Yamaku something would have gotten through the rumor mill. Then again I haven’t really been spending much time around anyone else besides Kagami lately.
Blood poisoning. Sheesh. That sounds really nasty. I suppose that’s what happens when you ignore an infection for too long. I did
notice Emi limping pretty badly after a few of our running sessions. Part of me wishes I would have said something, but from our conversation just now it doesn’t seem like anything I did would have helped.
Still though, there’s that lingering possibility. What if I…?
Well, it’s too late for that anyhow.
I linger on the bench for a bit before deciding it’s gotten too hot and heading back inside. As luck would have it, Kagami comes strolling around the corner just as I enter.
“Hey! How’d it go?” I call out across the lobby.
“Great! I have a formal audition in three weeks!”
“Auditions are during summer break? That’s so early!”
“Yeah, the process happens early because teaching schedules need to be booked really far in advance. So they tell me, at least,” she says, gesturing toward the door. “Shall we? I was thinking we’d get lunch somewhere close to here. We’ve got a little time yet.”
“A little time before what?”
“Didn’t I tell you? My uncle Ichiro is taking us to meet my father.”