"Can you be yourself?"
I am well aware that several attempts have been made to create a route for Misha, but (while I haven't read much of the existing ones yet) I don't think this particular concept has been tried before.
This story picks up exactly where the Bad End left off, on the same day even, so reading it after (re-)playing the route is encouraged (although not necessary of course, but all the gloom and doom at the beginning might feel slightly jarring otherwise). In keeping with the tradition of the Shizune route, the fic features a single choice that determines the ultimate fate of Hisao and the others.
A few words regarding continuity: I've been working with the assumption that the events of the "Parfait" chapter went the same way and had exactly the same results as in the good ending. While this may sound surprising, it is actually supported by numerous events later on; for instance, it is said that Misha visited Shizune in the student council room on her own volition the day before Shizune and Hisao parted ways, wanting to help her (without success, as Shizune declined her offer the same way she declined Hisao's). The tricky part of the bad ending is that, unlike the good ending, it does not skip several days after "Parfait", which is why it starts with Misha still feeling pretty down. (This is stated in the good ending as well, but followed immediately by the observation that she started looking more like her old self with each passing day after that.)
This fanfic has a soundtrack! From time to time, you'll come across paragraphs with the text "Music track: TRACK NAME" in the story. If you have the game at hand, you can use the "Extras" menu option to access the game's soundtrack, allowing you to listen to the BGM while reading for a more authentic Katawa Shoujo experience.
Table of Contents
2. Grudge (Part 2)
3. Confession (Part 2)
4. Evasive Maneuvers
5. Step by Step (Part 2, 3, 4)
6. Shock (Part 2, 3, 4, 5)
7. Spite (Part 2, 3, 4, 7A, 7B)
8. Blame (Part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
9. See Yourself (Part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
10. Together (Part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
(A big thanks goes to Silentcook for helping me with the page size and layout problems! )
Have fun reading, and remember: Hisao is an unreliable narrator. What he tells us about those around him often say more about himself than about anyone else.
Music track: Daylight
Shizune kept to her word.
No, I suppose that's not the right way to put it. When it comes to her, it's more like she makes a decision, and then browbeats the world into submission. No matter how hard the world may try to resist.
With this decision, I think the world put up quite a fight. After all, it's hard to ignore people you not only go to the same class with, but they sit right next to you too. Not to mention that they do not take well to being ignored.
Well, Misha didn't want to be ignored.
I knew better than that, I guess. The morning's events were still fresh in my mind; I could clearly see Shizune sitting dejectedly on the stairs, her arms hugging her legs as I walk away from her. There was no helping it; I only did what she insisted on, after all.
There was no point to arguing with her, not back then, and not in the classroom either, so I watched with a strange sense of detachment as Misha tried repeatedly to get her attention without any success whatsoever. Her signs became increasingly exaggerated, to the point that eventually half of the class was staring at her. Then a loud, irritated cough coming from Mutou's direction forced her to stop.
Shizune simply kept her eyes on the board the whole time. It was like she didn't notice, or as if she forgot about sign language altogether. I idly wondered which one of these ridiculous impressions was she trying to make; either way, she was shockingly good at it.
I also couldn't help but wonder if she was really prepared to do this for the remainder of the school year… but I guess the answer to that is fairly obvious.
She left the classroom immediately at the start of lunch break, and did not come back. This was nothing unusual; because of the amount of work involved, members of the Student Council have a lot more leeway with skipping classes – that much quickly became apparent to me during the year I've been part of it. To an outsider, the only thing that might've seemed amiss was that she went alone instead of at least dragging Misha with her.
Speaking of whom, she spent most of the afternoon classes in something of a daze. I wanted to talk to her, but had no idea of what I could say. No, scratch that. There was only a single subject that would've made sense to talk about, and that wasn't the time or the place for it.
Maybe I was avoiding that specific conversation, even. I can't give a much better explanation to why I left her sitting at her desk at the final bell, and started trudging randomly around the school building. A random walk that, of course, just had to end in front of the student council room.
I could hear the sound of shuffling paper from the inside.
I put my hand on the door. It was locked.
After staring at it for a while, I eventually made my way back to my room in the dorms.
And, well… here I am. Sitting in front of my desk, with plenty of homework and studying to do, and I'm replaying today's events over and over in my head instead. It's aggravating. I don't even know what I'm trying to find, or what I'm trying to learn from it.
I glance at the window, and notice that the sunlight sifting through the curtains already has an orange tint to it. I nervously check my watch. Damn, is it this late already…?
I shake my head, as if trying to break free of some malign hypnosis, and focus my eyes on the textbook before me. I'm reading with the speed of a dying snail, but at least it seems to work.
Minutes pass, maybe even hours. I don't want to check my watch again, out of fear that even such a small distraction would ruin my concentration.
And I'm supposed to like physics, too…
Despite all these extensive precautions, my focus is shattered to bits by a loud knock on my door before I could reach the end of the chapter. I angrily slam the book shut, estimating its weight in my hands as I pick it up. If my suspicion is right and Kenji is the one responsible, this nice, heavy textbook is going to slam right into his face.
"It isn't locked," I call out, twisting my body sideways in the chair to ready myself for a throw.
The door creaks. The book falls back from my hands to the desk.
Music track: Painful History
Misha is already showing her back to me as she says this, turning around to close the door, then makes her way through the room and sits down on my bed.
She looks inexplicably tired, almost completely drained of energy, with her shoulders drooping and her gaze on the floor. The only time I saw her so depressed was a little over a week ago on the rooftop, and that… well, involved discussing a certain topic that I hope she'd never want to bring up again. I shudder at the mere thought. The state of relative apathy I managed to keep up so well throughout the day slowly crumbles, replaced by… I'm not sure what. Is this fear?
Right. Apathy my ass. I've been dreading this discussion all day long.
The silence stretching between us would be uncomfortable in itself, but seeing her of all people so unwilling to speak is even more unsettling.
"What's the matter?" I manage to say. I feel a bit guilty because of it, since I'm obviously playing dumb.
She raises her head, golden eyes searching my own. "I don't know, Hicchan. Shicchan has been avoiding us all day, or more like… she's pretending we're not even there."
Well, at least she has the courage to cut right to the chase, the courage I still seem to lack.
"Yeah, I… noticed."
Another meaningless sentence. I really ought to get a grip already.
"You two talked to each other this morning, right? You were both late for class, did something happen? What's wrong?"
She's basically pleading now.
I really don't want to tell her about this. Why didn't Shizune talk to her, anyway? It's just too cruel. I only know them since a couple of months, but they've been together for much longer than that…
Maybe that's the reason. Maybe it would have simply been too painful. Maybe Misha wouldn't have given up as easily as I did; like Shizune, she can be really stubborn if she wants to.
And so the dirty work falls to me. Fine.
I draw a deep breath and recount the morning's events to her the best I can. I try to stick to the bare facts: what Shizune said, how I responded and so on. Not meeting her gaze probably helps to keep my voice even and neutral, even if I feel stupid for doing so.
When I finish my explanation and glance at Misha again, her expression is not what I've been expecting. Her mouth is twisted into a small, uncertain pout as her eyes regard me with incredulity. It's like I'm Mutou on one of his really bad days, trying to teach her a thing or two about Einstein's theory of relativity. In any other situation, I'd probably find it funny, or even endearing.
"I… I don't get it." She slowly shakes her head. "This isn't like Shicchan at all. Just a few a days ago, she… all the time, she was trying so hard to cheer me up… Remember when you two didn't let me leave the classroom, Hicchan~?" That sudden cheerful smile on her face feels awfully fake and strangely typical at the same time. "It was almost like in some action movie. We have you now, Misha~! There's no escape~! We'll wipe the gloom off your face right~ this~ instant~!…"
The smile disappears as quickly as it came, and we sit in silence for a while again as I try to consider what she said. Misha does have a point. The change in Shizune's behavior really was sudden and unexpected. I wonder why I realize this only now.
What was it, four days ago? Her family dropped by for an odd visit, and after they left we spent the time trying to come up with a good way to get Misha to give their friendship another chance. She seemed to be as energetic and driven as ever, not just then, but the morning after as well, when we've put that plan in motion.
We haven't seen each other for two days after that. I'm not sure why; the jury was still out on whether our plan worked or not, which may have been part of the reason. Still, while that could explain my own hesitation, giving in to anxiety like that would've been unlike her. Unless…
"Maybe… she was taking this a lot harder than she let on. In the end… it got the better of her," I offer.
It would make sense. The preparations for the student council elections showed us a typical example already, with Shizune pretending to feel fine, even though something was obviously bothering her. Both me and Misha saw hints, but she'd deny it if asked. With her best friend keeping her distance, and me downplaying my own problems in a misguided attempt to make her feel better, but only ending up pushing her away as well out of guilt… how desperate she could have felt? I have no idea.
"This really is my fault, isn't it, Hicchan?" Misha's sullen voice reaches my ears.
Oh, damn it. That's the last thing I wanted her to think. I regret opening my mouth already.
"I made Shicchan sad and upset. I did awful things behind her back. And even when you told me I shouldn't let our friendship go to waste… I believed you, but I still couldn't bounce back to normal just like that. That was too much, even for me… hahaha." She closes her eyes, as if lacking the strength to keep them open any longer. "Now I missed my chance. I really, really blew it, Hicchan."
I bolt from my seat. The sudden movement visibly startles her, but she doesn't open her eyes even when I plop down next to her on the side of the bed.
"Look, if someone is to blame here, it's me." I need to calm down. Sounding so upset won't help. "Maybe you didn't notice, but things have also been awkward between Shizune and me for a while. If she knew she could count on me, I'm sure this would have worked out. But I chose to keep my own secrets from her, and I think with that I hurt her more than I could have any other way."
Not to mention Shizune isn't all that innocent either. We thought up the perfect "cheer-up-Misha" plan, working together as equals for the first time since… likely forever, and she quit before she could see what came out of it. Of course Misha did not revert to her usual self immediately. It would've been foolish to expect that. But she did come around, little by little. Our plan worked, but by that time Shizune didn't care. She gave up. Doing something like that is so uncharacteristic of her that I get frustrated just thinking about it.
I'm not going to share this train of thought with Misha of course. I'm not that stupid.
She gives me no response; looks like what I did say apparently wasn't enough to change her mind. I'm not surprised. Like I said, both of them can be stubborn to a fault.
What to do then? Should I just say "all right" and walk off, hiding my frustration behind anger? Just like earlier today?
No way. I already regret doing that. This time, I'm not going to give up so easily. I can be stubborn too, if I want… I hope so, at least.
I reach out and put a hand on her shoulder. I can feel her flinch at my touch - not really the effect I was going for, but this is not the time for me to get cold feet. Leaning closer, I whisper into her ear.
"Listen Misha, I don't think--"
I'm suddenly thrown off balance as she jumps to her feet, almost in panic. No, one look at her features tells me it's not "almost". She's backing away now, positively frightened. But what did I do to make her--?
Right. Of course. This whole situation, the two of us sitting in my room, she being depressed… it's all too familiar, and not in a good way. What we did here over a week ago was probably one of the things that started this whole mess. No wonder she's scared to repeat the same mistake again - not that I intended to do anything of the sort, either.
I want to call out to her. I want to tell her that it's just a misunderstanding. That I only wanted to… what exactly? Comfort her…? Between the two of us, that word has acquired a twisted double entendre of sorts which freezes my thoughts in place for a moment. And then it's already too late.
As I hear the door close behind her, I grab my pillow and throw it across the room.
Never mind what I said. I am that stupid, or maybe even worse.
Music track: School Days
Imagine this funny scene. Three people sit next to each other in class: two girls and a boy. Used to be close friends, now not so much.
No, this isn't the funny part yet. Let's say the guy sitting next to the window at the far left glances to his right by complete accident - it happens all the time, classes aren't all that captivating, really. The girl sitting in the middle immediately notices this and does the same, turning her head to avoid eye contact. But that means she has to face the other girl, who likewise notices what's happening and also looks aside.
Who is the worst off? The poor boy with the hat to the right of the trio, who suddenly thinks that everyone is staring at him for some reason.
Oh, you mean this isn't funny at all? I don't think it's funny either. But in the past few days, this has been the story of my life.
I have to say, avoiding each other like this is hard work. For example, we have this unspoken agreement of sorts about where one is allowed to spend their lunch break so they won't run into the others: Shizune locks herself up in the student council room, Misha goes to the cafeteria and I spend my voluntary exile in the school grounds. I tried to rooftop as well, but Emi and Rin usually eat their lunch there also, and I found that the doom cloud hanging over my head is contagious… if that metaphor even makes sense. Suffice to say that I didn't want to bother them with my problems.
I'd love to just brush the whole thing aside, to act like it doesn't matter. Graduation isn't that far off now, after all; I think I could manage until then even with my hands tied behind my back. Falling into depression over this would be an admittance of defeat, and I've spent too much time in Shizune's company to allow myself that luxury now. After constantly getting swamped by work in the Student Council, some free time is also more than welcome.
I can't do that though. Not all of us are coping so well with the situation, and even in the few moments when I can forget about everything else, that thought keeps nagging me in the back of my head. I guess it doesn't help that I feel responsible. Guilt can turn the best moments of ignorance sour.
Perhaps the most infuriating part is that I cannot confront the issue directly; I already blew my chances with that. But in a more roundabout way, maybe… just maybe… if I could only find the right moment…
Perhaps today is the day. My savior appears in the classroom door fifteen minutes before lunch break, like an angel with long, flowing golden hair… and a white cane.
Lilly knocks lightly on the door frame to make sure she gets the teacher's attention. There's really no need, as everyone in the room is looking at her by now.
"Please excuse me," she says in her trademark polite manner that is probably unmatched in the entire Yamaku student body. "I was asked by the principal to bring a member of the Student Council to her to discuss some urgent matters. Can one of them be excused from class?"
My eyes immediately dart towards Shizune, then move to Misha. I see indecision on both of their faces, with a healthy amount of confusion added on the former's part, since she could not understand a word of what was said. Misha's hands rest in her lap, unmoving. Perfect.
"I'll go." I rise from my seat before the two could somehow disagree, glancing at the teacher, who nods in reply.
I nearly drag Lilly out of the room, giving her my heartfelt thanks as we walk towards the principal's office. She's visibly confused by it, but decides not to press the subject with a small smile. I can't deny I love that part about her.
The visit itself isn't anything special; it was "urgent" only because the principal has to leave for a conference in Seoul and wanted to ask a few questions about the council election budget beforehand. I've been out of the loop regarding the Student Council recently, but that much I can still answer with ease.
The whole meeting is over in less than five minutes, after which I casually ask the principal if there exists a spare key to the council room, since the president will be busy in the afternoon and I forgot to get it from her. She asks around the office, and a minute later I am handed a single key on a small metal chain. I promise to return it in short order and leave with a polite bow.
So far so good.
Music track: Stride
I enter the council room a minute or two before the bell. It looks neat and tidy, even too much so. I note with a sigh that Shizune packed away everything into the drawers again. It seems so pointless; she has to work with some of that on a daily basis. But since as far as she's concerned she now has the room all for herself, I guess I don't have the right to complain.
The familiar melody fills the air throughout Yamaku, signaling the beginning of lunch break. It makes me slightly nervous, but I can't let that distract me right now, so I sit down and take a couple of deep breaths. I found that the exercise they've taught me to do if my heart starts acting up can also help a lot with my nerves being on edge in general.
…Since when have I become so utilitarian regarding my condition?
My thoughts are interrupted by a rattling noise coming from the door. Someone is trying to open the lock - in vain, of course, since it was already open to begin with.
A few moments later a confused-looking Shizune steps inside, her surprise growing by several orders of magnitude as she notices me sitting there. I quickly stand up, and start signing to her with the most confidence I can muster.
[Can I have a word with you?]
Shizune finally collects herself, and narrows her eyes at me. Maybe she'd even cross her arms, if that wouldn't prevent her from replying.
[What do you want?]
Another deep breath. I need to do this right.
[It's about Misha.]
I see her stern look waver for a moment, but I'm not sure in which direction. Was that doubt? Or maybe annoyance? Either way, she's waiting for me to continue, so that is what I will do.
[I thought about what you told me that morning, and I guess you have every reason to be angry with me. I betrayed your trust, in more ways than one. But this is just between you and me, not her. Misha still truly, honestly wants to be your friend. She doesn't care if you see life as a series of battles or not, and now she's feeling terrible that you're trying to push her away like this.]
There's more I want to tell her, but the mental effort needed to produce these sentences just the way I want them forces me to take a break for a moment. Shizune uses this very moment to interject.
[It doesn't matter.]
[This is for the best. For all three of us.]
I'm completely taken aback by her bluntness. It hits me especially hard since I know how sign language forces you to think your thoughts over before you present then - Shizune meant every word she said. Still, I make a decision to assume the opposite; that's the only possibility I can work with right now.
[Do you even realize what you're saying? How would this be for the best? We've spent days trying to keep Misha from giving up on us, and now you want to go against everything we did? How does that even make sense?]
As my hands form the words one after the other, I notice how it takes me a lot less effort than only moments before. This feels more natural, somehow.
And why not? With Shizune, an argument is probably the most natural form of discussion. Perhaps she's also aware of this fact; this realization makes me look at her previous words in a whole new light. Seeing how she also lacks an immediate retort for me fills me with hope, and I continue signing with renewed vigor.
[What's best for Misha isn't up to us to decide. Remember when I told you about the things I want to say to her when we can finally get her to listen? I wanted her to see the mistakes I made with my old group of friends, I wanted to tell her how I regret them… but the decision whether she wants to repeat them was still in her hands. She made her choice. She came back to us… to you. Don't throw that away.]
I slowly lower my arms. I think I said everything I wanted to say. Of course, I don't expect her to give in right away, even if she agrees with me on everything, which I doubt. This is Shizune we're talking about, she's going to latch on to the smallest mistake to pick my argument apart. But nonetheless, I get the feeling that we're on the right track.
She knows it's up to her to say something now. Her hands move about in the air for a while meaninglessly, as if searching for the right words to use; it's something I hear a lot in speech, but looks really unusual like this. Tearing my gaze away from her hands, I glance at her face. The fire in her eyes, which lights up every time she's challenged by something or someone, is noticeably missing.
Her expression hardens. I guess that means she finally got her thoughts together, but I still can't help but feel uneasy for some reason as her hands began to form words in my direction.
Music track: Moment of Decision
I simply stare at her, rooted to the spot.
That wasn't an argument. That wasn't… anything.
She seems to have interpreted my lack of reply as defiance, because she takes a resolute step forward and points at the door.
Her expression now taken over by fury, Shizune grabs my arm. I don't remember her grip being this strong.
The next thing I know, I'm shoved through the door, which slams shut behind me.
I hear the lock turn. I think I left the spare key inside.
Waves of exasperation and disappointment run through my body, magnified by the fading sound of her footsteps from the other side.
What on earth was that…??
If a teacher sees me walking around the school corridors like this while everyone else is in class, I think I'll be in trouble, but right now I don't really care about that either.
I can't wrap my head around what happened. She made no effort to prove me wrong, just threw me out. She gave up on the argument. She gave up… just like last time.
The Shizune I know would never do something like that.
The Shizune I know… or the Shizune I think I know? I'm not so sure anymore.
Maybe… it's time to reconsider what I thought I understood about her, starting from the very beginning.
When I came to Yamaku, it was Shizune and Misha who first reached out to me. It was hard to tell them apart back then, since everything Shizune said or thought could only reach me through Misha. I had a vague idea about how the pink-haired girl with the drills was the more carefree one while the bespectacled president was more strict, and how well they worked together regardless to get what they wanted, but unsurprisingly, my understanding of the two was merely skin-deep. Still, I saw both of them as attractive in their own way, and I think on some level I knew from the beginning that they were trying to help me, so I found myself drawn to them.
Then came the festival. The fireworks lit the sky. Misha fell asleep, I was feeling depressed, and Shizune stood up, spreading her arms wide.
And I fell in love with an impression.
Still, that impression did not seem all that baseless, even in retrospect. I started taking sign language classes, and for the first time, I could talk to a girl who turned out to be a lot more likeable as a person than some would think at first glance. I felt that my understanding of her grew, and so did my feelings. At the end of Tanabata, I asked her to be my girlfriend.
Then something went wrong. The way Shizune acted during our summer trip left me with questions I cannot answer to this day, with the time I've spent with my hands tied to a chair only confounding things even further. That probably wasn't her intention, but it still turned out that way nonetheless.
How strange. It's not like I realized this problem only now, but it still feels like the first time I truly admitted its existence. I remember wanting to talk to Shizune about it, but then the election preparations came along, and… I don't know. It's as if she has some kind of reality-distortion field around her that makes you forget all your worries and just concentrate on the task at hand. On the next big thing. Tanabata, reports, student council elections… There's no time to deal with personal issues. And she doesn't notice, heck, no one really notices as they just keep piling up, until one day it all comes crashing down on our heads.
It sure did. And now that it did, there's no way I can ignore it any longer.
It's just like Misha said: she brings people close, then pushes them away. Shizune herself admitted as much to me recently, but that fact alone did not bring me any closer to understanding why. After all, this isn't like gravity, something we obviously take for granted. Things can't be so simple. I thought I understood her thought process better when I realized how she compartmentalizes life events, but that only serves to explain why people have trouble getting along with her. It doesn't say a thing about shutting people out when she so desires.
Ugh, now I'm starting to sound bitter.
But isn't that the same thing she's doing now? She might hide behind rants about how she screwed up and how this is the best for everyone, but the fact remains: she's shutting us all out, and doesn't give a damn about how we might feel about that. That's how things are going to be, period.
I thought she may have collapsed under the strain of possibly losing a friend, because she could not even trust me, her supposed boyfriend. The idea feels almost laughable now. Shizune collapsing? For that to be possible, she would need to rely on someone first. I'm no longer sure she really has. Ever.
You know what, Shizune? I think you're afraid. You're afraid of what might happen if you let people too close. They may see things you don't want them to see; I guess boyfriends are especially dangerous in this regard. You may have to treat them as equals rather than subordinates, if for no other reason then because you now need them as much as they need you. A life with less arguments and more compromises? Perish the thought.
That fear in her is stronger than anything. Even stronger than her self-esteem or competitive spirit, apparently.
…maybe I'm also afraid.
Regardless of everything, I know I made some mistakes, a couple of really bad ones too, but it turns out I don't really feel like facing them. I'd rather have someone else clean up my own mess. Thinking that I already blew my chances to make things right myself is all too easy.
Well, if this "discussion" with Shizune was good for something, it's that I know that is not going to happen. Shizune already threw in the towel. If I don't do it, no one will.
With a sigh, I glance out the large rectangular window next to me; from up here on the third floor, the school grounds look beautiful bathed in the afternoon sun. Beautiful, but also lonely. No one is out there yet, after all.
A voice in my head tells me to think this through before doing anything. Rushing things might just make the situation even worse. Then again, I thought really long and hard about what to say to Shizune, I even looked up a few words in the dictionary. And what did I accomplish?
Nothing. We're further apart than ever.
Shizune might be fine with it, but I'm not. I had enough of excuses, of pretending and running away. Time to face the music; if I screw up, then I screw up.
With these thoughts in mind, I head towards the exit as the last period ends and Yamaku comes to life around me.
Music track: Nocturne
I really should have thought this through, damn it.
What has gotten into me? I got all worked up, like a male lead in some drama series, deciding to move forward and "face my fate", whatever that may be.
And now? I'm standing in the lobby of the girl's dorm, looking like a complete idiot. I failed before I even left the starting line.
One of the many morals of the day: planning exists for a reason. Especially for me, since I'm just awfully bad at winging things, apparently. Then again, I might be even worse at planning things out…
The rising sense of dread makes my heartbeat pound in my ears. Maybe I should get out of here before I die of embarrassment. That would be ironic--
I spin around, and see Rin standing behind me. For a moment, I contemplate how long she could've been there, watching me fidget around nervously, and decide that I really don't want to know.
"Uh, hi." I clumsily wave at her.
"What are you doing here?"
Contrary to what her words may suggest, there's nothing suspicious or hostile in her tone. In fact, I don't think I can trace any kind of emotion in it, like she just asked me this because it seemed like the appropriate thing to do in such a situation.
The bigger problem is how to respond. I mean, it's not that I'm here to do anything bad, but… but… damn, I think I'm panicking now.
"You don't need to tell me if you don't want to," Rin reassures me, seeing my indecision. "But with that attitude, some people could think you're up to no good. Not that I think so. Or at least I don't think I think so. But others might. Just saying."
Her deadpan delivery actually convinces me that she's not making a joke at my expense. It shockingly manages to calm me down a bit, too.
"Actually, I was only looking for Misha," I admit to her.
Rin blinks. "She's not here. I mean in this room. Definitely not."
"Yeah, err… I know that."
Great, from the way she looks at me I think now we're both confused.
She gives it another go. "But if you know she's not here, shouldn't you be looking somewhere that isn't here? You've been standing here for a while now."
I have absolutely no defense against such flawless logic.
"Well… The thing is, I wanted to go to Misha's room, since she'll surely turn up there sooner or later, but…" Come on, just spit it out already. "…then I realized I have no idea where it is."
That's right, Rin. I came here to play the cool guy without having the faintest idea about where I'm going. Feel free to laugh at me, I won't mind. Okay, maybe I'll just hang myself, but it's no big deal.
Rin merely nods, her hazy, dark green eyes boring into me. If she were a mind reader, this is the point were I'd have to start worrying about all my closely guarded secrets. Her gaze unnerves me a little even so.
"Say… you're here pretty early, considering school just ended." A lame attempt, I know, but the silence was driving me crazy. "No clubs or anything planned for today, I take it?"
She responds with her usual shrug. "There's the art club, but I don't feel like going. There are, um… what's the word for hating each other's guts and throwing-- ah, 'creative differences' between the art teacher and me right now."
I desperately hope the original meaning of "creative differences" applies here, instead of Rin's, well, unique interpretation of the term. It must be showing on my face too, since she goes on to clarify.
"Nomiya wanted to show my paintings in an exhibition. I didn't." Her eyes widen slightly, like she suddenly recalled something of great importance. "Three… one… two..."
I can hear a low whistling noise. Either the wind picked up outside, or the remains of my sanity are escaping through my ears. "Sorry, what?"
"The room number you were looking for. Three-one-two. It's the twelfth room on the third floor, you see." Her lips curve into a small smile. "That reminds me. Are you going to crawl on your knees and beg?"
"What… what makes you think that?"
Rin seems to be seriously considering the question. "I don't know. You had that kind of look on your face."
That kind of hurts.
"Really? Is the look on my face that bad?"
She gives a grave nod. "I think you better stay clear of mirrors for a while, at least until you get there. Might sap all your remaining strength." Gee, thanks for the encouragement. "If the numbers are confusing, you can also try looking at the name plates. If she didn't remove hers. I don't think she did."
I don't really understand how the numbers could get confu-- Wait.
Name plates. Name plates.
"Goddamn name plates!" I yell at the sky. Well, at the ceiling.
I turn around and dash towards the staircase. From the corner of my eye, I can see Rin gazing after me with a look of mild surprise on her face.
It's embarrassing, but it only occurs to me on the third floor that I owe her some thanks. I'll do that once I'm done. Thankfully, Rin is not easily offended.
So the situation had something of a double twist to it. If I would have kept going without thinking instead of starting to think about how I didn't think of anything, then I could have found Misha's room just by looking at the name plates, without thinking… I think.
I have no idea what went through my head just now. Rin is probably to blame.
As it turns out, very few rooms are occupied on the third floor, and Misha's room is indeed one of them. Room number and name plate both present and accounted for.
She's not here yet though, or at least no one answers my light knocks and the door appears to be locked. I figure she was in no hurry to come back to her room after school. Why would she? There are a gazillion better things to do…
Well, tough luck for me, because I'm not moving from this spot, no siree.
After an hour or so, my legs start to feel tired. I reluctantly slide down to the floor, with my back propped against the wall. It's not as uncomfortable as I thought.
Another hour passes. I think I'm now intimately familiar with every single smudge or crack on the walls around me. I swear, one of them is shaped just like a horse.
Yet another hour crawls by. This new method I thought up for assembling stalls for the festivals should speed up the process quite a bit. I'm sure Shizune will be happy to hear about… Oh. Never mind.
It's getting dark outside when I hear footsteps coming from the direction of the stairs. The details of my one-of-a-kind idea for writing a novel slip between the cracks of my mind, never to reemerge again. Or was it a dating sim? I already forgot. The footsteps finally reach the corridor, and the first thing I spot of the newcomer is her glowing pink hair. It's Misha alright.
I want to stand up, but my legs seem to have fallen asleep. Misha approaches me with even steps, grinning all the way. It's a welcome change after all the awkwardness in the classroom recently. Should I take that as a good sign?
"Hi, Hicchan~! Fancy meeting you here, hahaha!"
What to say, what to say… No, stop thinking, stop thinking.
"I was hoping to talk to you."
There. That wasn't so hard, was it?
Her eyebrows shot up as she fiddles with the lock. "Oh, you did?"
Then, after a second of delay, she steps inside and closes the door. I stare at it for seemingly everlasting minutes, but there's no sign of it opening anytime soon.
Man… that was rude.
No matter how I look at it, Misha just chose to ignore me. How should I react to that? Since I'm trying to follow the "no-thinking" policy for this occasion, I better go with the first thought that pops into my head.
"Crawl on your knees and beg."
No, sorry, that's just not happening. Next thought please.
Nothing. I'm not sure whether my thoughts bailed on me, feeling offended that I ignored my previous epiphany, or if that's really a genuine idea in itself, but I decide it's good enough for the time being.
So where was I with that novel or dating sim or whatever again?
I cannot keep myself occupied as well as before, however. My thoughts keep jumping back to the fact that Misha is merely a couple of feet away from me, on the other side of the wall; it is like she's an anchor that doesn't let my mind wander too far away.
Sometimes, I think I can catch a glimpse of the door opening - either that, or my eyes are playing tricks on me. No matter which is true, by the time I turn, it's closed already. I hear no sound, so it's more likely my imagination.
It's almost like I've already spent an eternity sitting here. I want to check how much time has actually passed, but I can no longer find the will to move my head or my arms. Both are starting to feel like lead, dragging me closer and closer to the ground.
It must be pretty late though. Most likely past curfew. There are members of the school staff patrolling the dorms at night; if they find me here, I'll be in one hell of a mess… serious consequences and all that…
I find an odd grin taking hold of my features.
Bring it on. I think I've become one with floor and the walls by now… they'd have to scrape me off from here.
With a huge… Shizune-shaped scraper…
Too bad for them she's… already decided… to… avoid… me…
Something startles me awake.
I open my eyes, and see nothing but a small line of light running across the floor and up the wall in front of me. For a moment, I don't even know where I am, before the events of the day come back to me in a flash.
Right. The lights in the dorm corridors don't have switches. They automatically turn on before dusk, and after midnight they turn off, unless triggered by the motion sensors peering down from the ceiling. I guess my position on the floor put me into a blind spot - although a person sleeping with his back against the wall likely doesn't move that much to begin with.
But if the lights are off… then that line is…
I slowly turn my head to the side, nagged by this absurd fear that if I turn too quickly, the light may disappear or turn out to be some illusion.
Thankfully, this time it really isn't my imagination: Misha's door is open, if only ever so slightly. I can't see anything of what's inside, the light in the room is simply too blinding compared to the near-complete darkness of the corridor.
I only hear her voice. It comes from right behind the door, slightly above me. "It's really late, Hicchan."
I manage to force my expression into something that resembles a smile, although it probably looks more like the sick bastard child of that and a yawn. "It sure is."
"Shouldn't you be going back to your room? They'll find you here, you know~." Her words sound like she's also suppressing a yawn herself. I suspect she did not get a minute of sleep so far; the thought makes me feel a bit guilty.
Not guilty enough to leave, though. "I said I'd like talk to you about something, didn't I?… Anyway, don't stay awake on my account; I'll just wait here as long as you want me to."
I really hope what I said was at least roughly coherent; it kind of rolled off my tongue before I realized what I was doing. In my current state, I don't think I can consider my words even if I tried.
A few silent seconds pass, and my dazed contemplation is put to a halt by light filling the corridor as the door slowly creaks open.
I guess I should take that as an invitation.
It takes me a few more moments to realize that I need to get up. My feet simply refuse to cooperate, and I find myself trying to pull my body up with just my arms while grasping the door frame for support. I nearly fall back down, but somehow manage to regain balance. With the same momentum, I stumble into the room.
Blinking profusely to adjust myself to the light, I let my gaze wander around. I don't think I had any kind of preconceptions about Misha's room, but even if I had, they most certainly would have been proven wrong.
'Multi-layered' is probably the best phrase to describe it. As base you have the same earth-toned walls, cupboards and bed sheets that can be found in my room, completely generic, lacking any kind of personality. But that's just the surface: looking more closely, you can see a few touches here and there that still change the atmosphere of the whole.
The books on her small shelf seem to be categorized by color rather than author or title, the covers forming a rainbow-like pattern together. There's a small, grumpy-looking teddy bear sitting in the corner of her bed, wearing eye glasses and a T-shirt with the text "Don't Mess With Me" written on it in fancy letters. It has an almost eerie resemblance to Shizune. The few pictures hanging from the walls are actually photographs, most likely of family and friends. On one of them, I spot Lilly and the aforementioned council president behind what seems to be a stall during a previous Tanabata festival, wearing waitress outfits.
Behind the two stands a girl with a tray in her hand. Her hair is long, its color brown, not pink, but the look on her face is unmistakable.
And then there's the pink alarm clock. I'd say that's the final touch, but it feels more like the final megaton punch. The clock face is decorated by dancing kittens. The hands sparkle. Sitting on her wooden bedstand, it looks so out of place in the entire room, you can't tear your eyes off of it.
Misha herself stands in the middle, still wearing her school uniform. Her eyes are cast down in resignation. It's obvious that I forced her into this. That does not bode well for my chances, but if I've been seriously considering those, I probably never would've dared to come here.
My legs still feel weird, so standing here for too long isn't likely to be a great idea. The side of the bed looks almost inviting right now.
I run my hand over the beige covers as I sit down, before glancing back to Misha. "Any good food in the cafeteria today?"
Good grief, that was so awfully random. She appears to think so too, if her bewildered look is any indication.
"You mean it wasn't good?" I insist. I'm not all that sure what I'm insisting on, but I still do.
Misha spends a moment either grieving for my sanity, or contemplating throwing me out of her room. I find myself hoping it's the former, as sad as the fact is.
"Hicchan~, you know the food in the cafeteria is terrible," she finally replies with a pout.
"Terrible for you, maybe. It sure beats eating in the school grounds. I swear, on some days there's nothing but the grass there."
I wouldn't think there's anyone in the world who'd laugh at a joke that lame. But, after a second of wide-eyed staring, Misha does - and I feel grateful for that.
"Haha… Poor you, Hicchan."
If anyone has any idea about where this conversation is going, please let me know, okay? I'll just continue on in the meantime.
"Oh, so you think the sad tale of my suffering is funny? Heartless, that is what you are." I gesture dramatically towards the scowling teddy bear on the bed. "I think she agrees with me. Look at the disapproving glare she's sending your way right now."
Misha smiles at the stuffed animal briefly, and then sits down next to me. I guess with the rooms only having one chair each, it's to be expected, but it still feels really odd how we always end up in this position. Not that I want to remember the last time it happened… or the time before that, for that matter.
"Are you sure she's not angry at you too~?" she teases me.
"You think she might be?" I return the question as innocently as possible. She rewards me with another laugh.
Hey now. Misha's laugh as a reward? That's a novelty. I guess it used to be so abundant, I never noticed its true value? It's like diamond… or maybe more like oil… or uranium… or I should just stop with the parallels already.
"She has really, really many reasons to be grumpy, doesn't she?" Her tone has a hint of melancholy to it.
I have a hunch about what she's implying. The toy's resemblance to that certain bespectacled, often serious girl is likely no coincidence. I can't imagine it being a gift, but maybe Misha bought it herself for the same reason.
"Well, I think she's jumping to conclusions." I manage to say that with more confidence than I thought, just before ruining whatever atmosphere of authority I might have created by pointing a reprimanding finger at the toy. "Bad bear, bad."
Another chuckle. The cynic in me suspects Misha being as tired as she is probably contributes a lot to my present success as a comedian. "You're being really silly today, Hicchan."
No kidding. I could not think up so much stupidity in days. But when I try without paying attention, it just comes naturally for some reason. Lucky me…?
"I'm serious about this though. I tried to tell her today, too, I said all sorts of things that sounded right to me, but it didn't work out in the end. She just insists on being grumpy. But you know what?"
Her golden eyes are fixed me. I have her full attention now. "Yes?"
"Just because she's that way, it doesn't mean we have to be. Or, well, I don't want to see you like that, at least. It's just… sad. Seeing you sad, I mean. You, of all people."
How quickly eloquence left me when I finally want to make sense… it really is an unfair world.
Once more, with feeling. "Remember that small tour around the campus the two of us took at the end of lunch break? Just before the bell, you asked me something I didn't really feel like answering. Well…" Take a deep breath, and continue. "I think I can do that now. I… I think…" Don't stall. "I think I care about you. A whole lot. Back then, I didn't believe saying it like this would be wise; I'm still not sure to be honest, but maybe I'm simply fed up with worrying about stuff like that. I want you to know that I want to see you happy. Like you said, we're friends, so… seeing you sad is just depressing, doubly so when I feel it’s my fault. Maybe I can't do any better than making brain-dead jokes about eating grass, but I don't care, I still want to do all I can to change that. Just… please… let me, okay?"
I have no idea when my hands found their way onto her shoulder, and I wince the moment I notice it. I risk a glance at her face, which confirms my fears: her expression is so uneasy, it nearly pains me to look.
Well, damn. No matter how roundabout the delivery was, we still ended up like last time, didn't we? Only it's a little worse, since we're in her room, and it may look like she has nowhere to run now.
But there's one thing I can do. I can leave.
I let go of her and rise to my feet. Thank goodness they seem to be working okay now. It's amazing how awake I feel all of a sudden.
"Well, I guess that's all. It was probably stupid to barge in here just to tell you this, but I felt I had to. Pretty selfish of me I guess, huh? Anyway, I'm really sorry for keeping you awake. Good night."
I turn around and head towards the door. I notice only now that, shockingly enough, it was wide open during the whole conversation. What if… someone came by and… eh, who cares.
Considering that, aside of my general intent to make things right, I had no idea what to do when I came here, I think I can say that I actually accomplished… something. Time to quit while I'm ahead.
I reach for the handle as I step through the threshold… but the moment my fingers touch the metal surface, I'm forced to a halt.
Music track: Breathlessly
I can feel Misha's arms wrapping around my chest from behind, immobilizing me completely.
This is not good.
She didn't say anything. I don't even see her face, let alone her expression. Still, her body language seems to speak to me as clearly as any word, signed or spoken, can, and what it tells me makes me hugely uncomfortable.
This is exactly what I've been trying to avoid. No, it's exactly what both of us were trying to keep from happening again, and yet… those arms embracing me are as real as they can be.
No need to panic, it's okay. I can still avoid going down this road. I gave in to temptation the last time and regretted it - I have learned my lesson.
All I have to do is walk away. Take a couple of firm steps and shake her off my back. She'll be sad, no question about it, but doing this would be a mistake. It's for the best, for the both of us. For--
…Oh no. Oh, hell no. Not this.
God damnit. Fuck me and my high morals. I'm sounding just like Shizune. Even our words are the same.
I'm… just like…
Damn it… all…
I pull lightly at the handle, and in a motion that seems to take an eternity, the door swings to a close, stopping half an inch from my face.
I'm an idiot. But I don't think that can be helped. I'm also a hypocrite, but no matter what choice I made, that'd also be a given. I just told Misha I don't want to see her sad about… half a minute ago. Call me a brainless, cowardly fool, but going against my word like this would make my stomach turn.
So instead, I'm going to do something that'll probably leave her just as sad - but at least, for now, I still have a bit of false hope that it somehow won't. How convenient.
She is pulling me backwards now. I let her. It only takes a couple of uncertain steps, and we land less than gracefully on the bed.
I roll over on reflex, and end up on top of her.
This is the worst feeling of déjà vu ever. Even that damn bed cover is the same color as mine.
I search for her gaze, but as expected she closes her eyes instead, opting to simply lie there, completely passive. Again, it falls to me to take her clothes off. I have a bit of experience with that now, at least.
As time passes and our bodies become entangled on the bed sheets, I feel more and more like an actor in a play. The occasion is different, but the script and the role is the same. It's a role that I hate, but play willingly anyway; after all, I can't deny that part of me obviously enjoys this, the same way it enjoyed the last such occasion. My movements are not half-hearted. The pleasure I experience isn't fake. But it does feel, nonetheless, very-very empty.
And Misha? How does she feel?…
I slow down somewhat, finally noticing one strange difference. Back then, I wished she would stop talking. The sadness in her voice filled me with guilt, and made me realize how foolish my choice had been.
Now, I find myself desperately hoping that she would say something. Tell me to stop, or to go on. Talk about the weather. Anything.
But she doesn't. Her eyes are closed tightly, and aside of a couple of soft moans, she stays completely silent. It's almost like she's concentrating… or…
…maybe… more like…
…enduring… what… I'm…
I stop completely. The air around me is cold, and my body feels like it's been frozen solid. That was the last straw.
For the longest while, it seems like the rest of the world has ground to a halt with me.
Music track: Innocence
I notice Misha looking at me. Not directly in the eye, but like she's searching something on my face - an answer to a question, perhaps. I haven't got the faintest idea about what kind of an expression I'm showing her right now, but I doubt it's anything encouraging, considering how hollow I feel on the inside.
I can feel her arms slide up from my back, entwining around my neck. The movement is oddly… delicate.
My head is being pulled downwards. I see Misha's face grow larger in my sphere of vision as she leans closer to me… and plants a soft kiss on my lips.
She once again rests her head on the bed as I stare at her, my eyes wide open. She has this tiniest… strangest… but still so very Misha-like smile on her face.
I can feel life returning to my limbs. The cold numbness is washed away by something warm… no, more like searing hot, scorching me from the inside. Her body, pressed tightly against my own, seems to burn with the same raging, unbearable flame, and yet I still yearn to get even closer to her.
Leaning down, I return her kiss with a passionate one of my own.
Her arms never leave my neck the entire way.
Music track: Air Guitar
I open the door just enough to allow myself a peek outside. The corridor looks to be empty, as far as I can see. No suspicious sounds either, the most prominent noise still being Misha's gentle snores coming from the direction of her bed. Yeah, she snores in her sleep. Not too loudly, though.
I take one last look at her sleeping, scantly clad form, and then tiptoe out of the room. I can consider myself lucky that something drove me out of bed so early; there is still a good hour before most students crawl out from under their blankets, giving me a fair chance to leave the girls' dorm unnoticed.
I sneak through the corridor - there isn't a soul around. As I begin descending the stairs, I hear the muffled sounds of conversation from the second floor, but they seem to come from such a distance that I don't think they'll be a problem. I still manage to catch a couple of words: one of the girls seems to be complaining rather loudly about her ex-boyfriend being a jerk.
Jerk ex-boyfriends, huh… Do I count as one? Shizune and I didn't even formally break up, although her decision to stay away from me means pretty much the same thing. As for being a jerk… I sure hope not. Then again… what about last night, for one? Did I make the right decision? Was it truly right for me to do what I did?
For a second, I feel something warm against my lips, then the sensation fades away, leaving behind no hint of its source. By the time it fades, though, my mouth is already curved into a smile. A small but meaningful one, the same kind I saw on Misha's face last night. There's no way this can be wrong. Or, heck, even if it is, I have no regrets - not anymore.
I continue heading down the stairs at a brisk pace, unnoticed by all.
My good luck lasts right until the building entrance.
Out of nowhere, I'm struck by a sense of imminent danger. Perhaps I heard some footsteps without paying conscious attention, or saw something approaching from the corner of my eye - either way, my instincts tell me to get out of the way right this instant.
My quick reaction saves me from taking a direct hit to the chest, but something or someone still slams violently into my arm, nearly knocking me off my feet. I hear a high-pitched yelp and something hitting the floor with a thud; seems like the perpetrator was indeed a person, and she did not have as much luck as I did. I turn my head, the feeling of terrible suspicion settling in.
Sadly, my suspicion proves to be right. Really, who else could it be?
Music track: Parity
"Hisao!" Emi exclaims from the floor as she tries to pick herself up. She looks distressed. "I'm so sorry, but this is an emergency! I got to hurry!"
I was one-hundred-percent sure I was busted for a second there, but she seems to have other pressing matters on her mind right now. In hopes of keeping it that way, I ask, "Why, what happened?"
The worry on her face seems to intensify. "Rin is in trouble!"
"Trouble…?" I echo blankly. When I spoke to her yesterday afternoon, she seemed to be just fine. Well, nothing out of the ordinary, anyway.
"She was walking around barefoot on the boys' dorm roof all night!" Emi declares.
Err, wait a minute… she did what…? Overall strangeness aside, the roof of our dorm isn't even remotely flat, and without arms, Rin probably can't even correct her balance if she slips… in other words, that's incredibly dangerous.
"Nearly all the night staff tried to get her down, but she ignored them! She's such an idiot!" If I didn't know better, I'd think Emi is on the verge of breaking out in tears. "They almost called the firemen, but then Rin came down on her own around midnight… I don't know what they're going to do with her! She might even get expelled from school!"
"W-Whoa…" That's all I manage to say.
The whole thing makes very little sense to me. Rin has a penchant for unusual… well, for unusual things in general, but she never struck me as the type who would do something so reckless just because she felt like it. Also, if she saw people yelling at her from the ground to come down, I think odds are she'd come down, if only to see what they could want from her so badly. Especially if the entire night staff, probably from both dorms even, came there to… to…
That's silly. Why am I even considering this?
Still… I can't think of any other even remotely realistic reason. The fact that no one found me during my prolonged stay in front of Misha's door last night feels too convenient to be a simple lucky coincidence. I was so tired by the end of it, I likely haven't noticed if someone was watching me sitting there in the corridor.
It was Rin. I don't know how, but she already had a rough idea of why I was there when I spoke with her. Later on, she saw that I would be in need of a diversion, and decided to help me. By nearly falling off that roof.
"H-Hisao? What's with that weird face?" Emi's uncertain words snap me out of the state of mental shock.
I quickly shake my head. "It's… nothing. You were right, we need to hurry. Come on, let's go!"
I'm not sure what, but if there's anything I can do for Rin, I am going to use all my influence as an ex-student-council-member and senior of Yamaku to get her out of this mess. Which isn't saying much, I suppose. But it can't hurt to try, right?
Not waiting for Emi's response, I storm out of the building. Hopefully she'll catch up to me sooner or later, after all, she's…she's… err, she's the track champion. And I have a weak heart, and I'm completely out of form.
This was a horrible idea.
Music track: Ah Eh I Oh You
I guess I didn't do much in the end.
I just brought up the idea of talking to the nurse - to be honest, even that was something of an excuse so we can stop running for a minute before I faint. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on the point of view) Emi took the idea and ran with it. Literally.
By the time I caught up to her in the nurse's office, the two of them were already exchanging a series of demands, yells, attempts and counter-attempts at blackmail and surely a lot of other things as well - I don't know the rest because once I heard Emi scream "But you saw me naked anyway!" I decided it was better for everyone if I zoned out of the "conversation" and waited in the corridor instead.
I can only assume that Emi succeeded, because after a little while two disgruntled, sleepy-looking men appeared along with Rin, who walked between them like a convict who's being escorted to her cell. They entered the office before I could call out to her - and after ten minutes or so, the two men left by themselves.
It turns out, the "official medical opinion" on the case is the following: because of some side-effects related to her medication, Rin's been sleepwalking last night. The fact that she hasn't been taking any meds recently did not bother the nurse the slightest; as I've been told, Rin has been sick with a cold around early summer, and she's apparently been taking the medicine for that by the dozen.
"…When you overdose yourself like that, traces of the medication can persist in your body for months, or even years on end. You know, like a mugger disguised as a doctor lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to strike." I listen to what hopefully is the last part of the nurse's explanation. His jokes are especially painful today, like they're part of some twisted scheme of revenge against us for pushing him into this. "Even a fraction of the dose Miss Tezuka took back then could turn someone into an effective zombie for the night. Given the symptoms, I say this theory is a perfect fit."
"That said," the nurse furrows his brows to stress his point, "the tests show that the medication has now completely cleared out of her system. If she does something as stupid as this again, it will be her own fault and no one else's, are we clear on that?"
"Yes-yes, very clear, crystal clear!" Emi nods vehemently while grinning from ear to ear. I can't really blame her. "This won't happen again, right Rin?"
"Probably." A tired mumble comes from the direction of the infirmary bed.
The nurse shakes his head in a similarly tired manner, and heads toward the door. "Let her rest here for a while, I'll be back soon. Some sleep would do her good, and besides, if I let her leave right now, some might think I was only covering for a bunch of unruly kids. We can't have that, now can we?"
His expression morphs into a grin that matches Emi's, like he's satisfied with getting the last word at least. A moment later, the door closes behind him.
We better leave soon as well if we don't want to be late for class. It just occurred to me that I'm still wearing the same set of clothes from yesterday.
First things first though.
I walk to the infirmary bed. Emi's right behind me, visibly unsure whether she should look relieved that everything turned out alright, or scold her friend for doing something so stupid. For now, she stays silent.
As for Rin herself, she might as well be already asleep. Her eyes are closed, and there's a rarely seen look of serenity on her face. When I'm about to change my mind and leave, though, her right eye pops open and focuses on me.
"Did it work?" she asks. Judging from her neutral tone, it should be obvious to me what she's referring to.
I guess this time it truly is. "Yeah, it did. Thanks. I really owe you one."
My heartfelt thank-you is met with a slightly hesitant shrug. "It was nothing, I guess… And how did it work when it worked? Begging or no begging?"
I smile in spite of myself. "Luckily, no. It wasn't necessary."
She nods once, looking satisfied with my answer, then closes her right eye… and a couple of seconds later she's really asleep. It was a strangely short, yet strangely fitting conversation.
With no reason to stay any longer, I say my goodbyes to a very confused-looking Emi and leave for the boys' dorm with a spring in my step.
That grin really is contagious this morning.
Music track: Ease
It's been several days since that eventful night in the girls' dorm.
The atmosphere in class improved drastically. I found that even the simple act of paying attention to the teacher becomes easier when you're not unconsciously fretting about glancing at the neighboring desk by mistake. Misha no longer notices it all the time, anyway, and even when she does, she simply grins at me. Things do seem to be back to normal.
Well, almost. Shizune still prefers to hole herself up in her mental ice castle behind her relentlessly glinting glasses, paying no heed to anything except what's on the blackboard, and leaving immediately when classes end. But I find myself paying less and less attention to that. It's like… would it sound heartless if I said I no longer really care?
Still, even ignoring that, things aren't completely normal. Misha and I sometimes talk a bit before, during or after classes, but it's nothing more than trivialities. We are trying to get things back to how they used to be, but we're nonetheless having clear difficulties regarding how to react to each other.
And for good reason, too. No matter how you look at it, our current relationship is messed up. Going back to being simple friends is not something that would work, that much seems obvious. At the same time, we're not officially dating, even though we had sex with each other twice already. We've been doing things out of impulse, and ended up in some sort of romantic limbo… except it feels more awkward than romantic.
Something needs to be done, and to me it would feel pathetic to wait for Misha to take the initiative. So I've decided: I'm going to ask her out on a date.
Of course, the decision itself is easy. Putting that thought into action is a different thing entirely.
Saturday's physics class is the same as always. If you at least comprehend the basics of what Mutou is talking about, chances are you'll understand his eccentric explanations eventually. If not, well, then you're doomed. Or maybe you'll fall asleep, and postpone facing your doom until the exams.
I take my eyes off the wildly gesticulating teacher for a moment to add the latest formula to my notes, and notice that a small, folded piece of paper somehow found its way onto my desk. I pick it up. A single look at the purplish pink letters dispels any questions I might have had about its origin, and I can't say its contents hold all too many shocks to me either.
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This is SOOOO BOOOOOORIIIIIING!!!
I consider answering the message with nothing more than a wry smile, but thankfully I realize in time how stupid that would be. Misha is trying to start a conversation here. We don't have all too many of those, so I might as well make good use of it.
Forgetting about the formula completely, I hastily scribble a line of text on the paper and pass it back to her.
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I have a window right here if you want to escape. Maybe we could climb down the drain pipe.
By the time I look back, the piece of paper is on my desk again.
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But! The teacher would be SO sad to see you jump out the window, Hicchan! You are his star pupil and all!
Could this be a chance?
A rhetorical question, of course. I won't know until I find out. I mull on the exact wording for a minute, then send my reply through the air with a tiny, well-placed throw.
Well-placed, I said.
It misses. Damn. At least Misha noticed and picks it up from the floor.
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I guess there really is no escape right now, but how about doing something less boring this afternoon then? We'd have something to look forward to, at least.
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You mean like a date? ^_^
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Yeah, I suppose you can say that.
…It does suggest nonchalance, right?
Well, too late to worry about that, here comes the reply.
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Okie dokie! Let's meet at the school gates after lunch!
Whatever, I don't care about this tiny detail all that much. We're going on a date, and that's what matters. It's a small step in the right direction.
I hope so, anyway.
The remainder of the class teaches me a good lesson about being sympathetic to Misha's plight: Mutou's explanation suddenly becomes hopelessly dull, boring and impossible to follow as I anxiously wait for the remaining minutes to pass by.
My plan is perfect. It cannot fail.
As luck would have it, I found a fellow student of similar height and build waiting at the entrance, with his back to the school gates. Even his hairstyle makes a passable impression of my own when viewed from behind. It won't fool Misha for long, of that I am sure, but the diversion will still give me plenty of time to spring my trap. I'll move out of my hiding place in the bushes, sneak up behind her, and cover her eyes with my--
Hey! I can't see!
Curses! Foiled yet again!
"Misha?" I utter with a sigh of defeat.
"That's right~!" She goes to stand in front of me while I quickly jump out from beneath the bushes to keep this from becoming even more embarrassing. Although they're not exactly the same, her clothes closely remind me of what she wore during our summer trip, only with slightly softer colors. She must be quite fond of this style. "So~! Where are we going, Hicchan?"
"I was thinking that we could head into the city and see a movie. There's an American comedy about superheroes playing right now that looks interesting."
"Ooh! Sure, sure~! Sounds fun!"
Misha's enthusiastic reply does wonders to my confidence. I did not pick this movie merely because of its possible entertainment value, you see, but also because I know that she has an interest in stuff coming from the other side of the Pacific. Good to see I was indeed right.
The bus arrives not a minute later than we get to the stop, right on schedule. That's a relief, since the movie will start in 30 minutes, and we still have to buy our tickets before that. If I knew that today will be the day, I could have bought them in advance, but… well, I didn't know. It seems we are acting on impulse again. But hey, what could possibly go wrong?
Ugh… I suddenly get the feeling I really shouldn't have said that, even in an internal monologue.
And indeed, after not even five minutes have passed of our bus ride…
"Hey~…We're not moving," Misha states the obvious, glancing out the window from her seat.
I can't bear to look; what little I saw of the situation from here was bad enough already.
"Looks like hu~ge traffic jam, Hicchan!" my pink-haired companion reports, confirming my worst fears.
At this rate, we're not going to make it in time. That would be bad, as no film worth watching will start for at least another hour. I wish I had gotten more familiar with this city in the past few months, so maybe I could devise some sort of alternative route or shortcut, but the truth is, I've barely ever been here. We have no choice but to hope that the traffic jam will clear by itself soon enough.
It doesn't. It's been 15 minutes and we've barely inched forward five hundred meters at most.
Misha keeps staring out the window, although there's not much to see around here, or at least nothing that I can imagine occupying her interest for so long. Then again, what do I know about her interests, aside of a few generalities? She may simply like watching traffic jams for all I know. I'm almost tempted to ask her about this, actually, but I feel too nervous about missing the movie to try making conversation at the moment.
We're surely going to get moving any minute now. We just have to.
I stare at the screen of my phone in despair. I could have just glanced at my watch, but then I would’ve been forced to witness the last seconds slowly ticking away. My phone only displays the current hour and minute - but even that can no longer hide the fact that we're well and truly late.
What a great start this is for a date…
Oh, come on! I know I was tempting fate, but all I wanted was to see a stupid movie with my not-quite-girlfriend! Is that really too much to ask?
"What's wrong, Hicchan~?" Misha grins at me from the neighboring seat.
Oh. I never told her how short on time we were. Great.
"We just missed the movie," I inform her with a sour expression. "And all the other ones starting after this look terrible. Sorry, it's my fault, I should have asked that we meet a bit earlier."
"Ah~! So that's what it was!" Her mouth hangs slightly open, like I amazed her with something. I don't really follow how or why. "Hmmm~"
Suddenly, she beams at me and jumps from her seat. I reflexively make room for her so she can move from her spot from next to the bus window, although I'm not sure exactly what she's planning on doing.
"Come on! I have an idea~!" With that, she makes her way towards the driver. Some of the other passengers are giving us strange looks already, due in no small part to Misha's distinct lack of volume control, I assume.
Music track: Generic Happy Music
There's no choice; I also rise from my seat and follow after her.
"Excuse me~!" She actually went and waved at the driver. Oh man. "Could you please open the door~? We'd like to get off."
The man in question is middle-aged, with short, graying hair, a gruff expression, and an almost piercing gaze. Pretty much the anti-thesis of Misha.
This is not going to end well.
"Sorry, miss. We're in the middle of the road right now." His tone doesn't exactly make it sound like he's truly sorry.
I do see what he means though. The bus will turn right at the next intersection, so it's currently occupying the innermost lane. If we leave the vehicle, we'd have to pass through three other lanes full of cars to reach the sidewalk.
Misha appears to share none of his worries. "But~! All those cars aren't moving right now, are they~?"
That's also true. Traffic has completely ground to a halt. Of course, that doesn't mean things won't suddenly start moving again when… eh, who am I kidding?
"Sorry, miss." The driver uses the same words with the same tone and expression. "There are strict regulations in place concerning when the doors can be opened. There's nothing I can do."
Despite his firm refusal, Misha is not the least disheartened. "Sure you do~! Just press that teensy little button over there! I won't tell anyone, I promise~!"
"Sorry, miss. I simply cannot."
"Yes, you can~!"
Considering how this exchange is starting to grate on my own nerves, I would rather not look back to see what the other passengers are thinking. Misha, on the other hand, is I'd dare to say almost enjoying herself.
"You can-you can-you can-you caaan~!" She ends her verbal onslaught with a giggle.
The driver does not respond anymore. I assume that since meeting Misha head-on only led to a stalemate, he's switched to the "I'm going to ignore you" approach instead.
Well, I don't think it's working, because she hasn't let up at all. "Hey~, Hicchan!"
Please don't get me involved. I beg you.
"I wanted to go to a karaoke bar… But~! If we're not going to get off the bus soon, I guess…"
"…can sing… "
"…right here~! A one-two-three-four~! Eeeven if the dry wind confronts meeee, blowing intensivelyyyyy--!"
I don't know whether that was a shout or an agonized scream, but it sure came from the direction of the driver's seat.
Oh, and it seems the doors closest to us have opened.
"Thank you~! Wahaha!" Misha's laugh can also be taken for a declaration of triumph as she jumps off the bus.
I quickly follow before someone gets lynched. Mostly me, being guilty by association.
"So, um… you know of a karaoke bar nearby?" I ask Misha once we made it safely to the sidewalk. I'm afraid I didn't manage to hide the apprehension in my voice very well.
"Of course not, silly~!" She almost adds a laugh, but cuts herself off at the last moment and looks at me with a bit of worry on her face. "Oh, sorry Hicchan, I mean, we can look for one if you want to, but--"
"N-No, not at all! Actually, I hate them! Karaoke bars are my natural enemy!" Perhaps I am a bit too desperate to clear the misunderstanding, but on second thought, considering what is at stake, perhaps I'm not.
Misha grins again. "That's good, 'cause~… I can't really sing."
Yeah, I think I noticed.
"What was that great idea then?" I decide to swiftly change the subject. "Where would you like to go?"
"Hahaha! You'll see in a bit, Hicchan~! In a bit!" Perhaps to avoid any further inquiries, Misha speeds up her pace and turns abruptly left at the next corner. I struggle to catch up.
She really moves like she knows where she's going; this is surely not the first time she's been in this part of the city. It's something of a surprise: although Misha and Shizune walked around town a lot during our summer vacation trip, at Yamaku I rarely saw them leave the school premises, not counting the trips to the nearby convenience store or to the Shanghai. They certainly didn't often venture this far off.
Misha does seem to be full of surprises today. The scene on the bus was no less than shocking. I guess it's not the first time see her being so proactive, but this blatant disregard for any and all social norms to reach her goal… I think I'll conveniently blame that one on Shizune's bad influence. Now that it's just the two of us, I have the feeling there are still plenty of surprises in store for me.
I'm proven right sooner than I thought as I take a glimpse at the building Misha has stopped in front of.
Not a small one either: the five-story building appears to be completely dedicated to this single purpose. It looks rather fancy, with all the blinking neon decorations on the facade. They probably make an even better impression once it gets dark, but it's already next to impossible to walk past the place without glancing at least once in its direction.
"So~, what do you think, Hicchan~? Shall we go in?" Misha's bubbly voice is brimming with excitement, leaving little doubt that "yes" is the only available answer to her question. Not that I planned on objecting. I don't have any better ideas, after all, and we might just have some fun in there.
"Sure, why not."
"Yay-yay! Let's go~!" My date once again squarely refuses to act her age as she runs inside with her arms flailing in the air. Not wanting us to lose sight of each other should the place be too crowded, I quickly hurry after her.
That proves not to be an issue; there are only a few people nearby as I follow Misha through the first floor. I still have to force myself a bit to pay attention to where she's heading though, as something catches my eye nearly every other second. And we're still not far from the entrance, where only pachinko machines and crane games seem to be the main attraction.
It's no wonder the sights feel unusual, I've rarely been to arcades before. I'm one of those irresponsible people who will bring this proud national industry of ours to ruin, opting to stay home and play on a gaming console by myself or with friends instead. That said, now that I think about it, ever since my heart attack I didn't even touch my console. Bringing it with me to Yamaku was not an option, and my newfound passion for reading took up what little free time I had anyway.
I never felt I was missing out on anything, but still, this atmosphere is something to behold.
"So, do you come here often?" I state my question half-jokingly to Misha's back.
For a second I'm not sure she heard me, but then she whirls around and answers while walking backwards. "Hahaha! I used to come here a lot. But~! That was a long time ago, before I joined the Student Council. With Shicchan, we just came once or twice. I really missed this place, though~!"
I wonder if that was because Shizune is also not fond of arcades - or the other way around, she took these games too seriously to the point of ruining the fun. I suddenly try to remember an occasion when she was trying to compete against Misha instead of me, but aside of a vague mention of some game of dice, I can't seem to recall any. Loud-mouthed spectator or even co-conspirator, that her friend was rather often, but opponent, not really. Was that Shizune's conscious decision, or was it due to some well-rehearsed avoidance strategy on Misha's part?
Something tells me it was probably the latter. And avoiding this place was part of it, as much as Misha enjoyed being here otherwise…
Enough about Shizune. I'll just get myself worked up again about something I have no influence over.
"Do you have some favorite games we could t--" The question gets stuck in my throat as I notice Misha taking a sharp ninety-degrees turn and backing right into an escalator. However, she steps on without the slightest trouble. "…err, try?"
Does she really know the arcade so well, or was that simple fool's luck? I'll never know.
"That's where we're going right now~!" She nods enthusiastically as we ascend towards the second floor.
Out of the blue, I am assaulted by a swarm of mental images, each trying to guess what her favorite game might look like. It's hard to decide which one is more hilarious: Misha playing a shooting game with a huge gun in her hands, Misha doing a 20 hit combo in a fighting game while the pros merely watch in awe, or maybe Misha eagerly picking up weapon upgrades for her ship to defeat the latest wave of incoming aliens.
My imagination keeps me entertained to the point that I almost walk into her, not noticing that she had stopped. We're standing next to a machine with a screen rather unimpressive in size, two large speakers at the bottom, and some kind of raised metal platform in front of it to stand on. I glance warily at the title on top.
"Dance Dance Revolution"? Well, this certainly wasn't on my list.
Something tells me I should know about this game. It's surely famous. But no matter how I rack my brain, I can't recall a single thing concerning what it is about.
"Yay, it's still here~!" Misha exclaims, hopping on to the platform. "Come on, Hicchan, let's do a song together!"
Song? But it doesn't involve singing, right?
"I… I don't think I ever played a game like this before…"
"Hahaha, don't worry! I'll choose an easy one, I promise~!"
Curse you, traffic jam. This is all your fault.
With a sigh, I step onto the platform next to her. There seem to be some kind of blinking buttons or sensors below my feet, four to be exact, each corresponding to a different direction: up, down, left and right. I guess my job is to step on them - but when? How?
Meanwhile, Misha feeds the machine two 100 yen coins, and uses the arrows on her side of the platform to expertly navigate the song menu. I'm already impressed by her skill - although my enthusiasm drops slightly when I see her choosing some sugary pop piece that I normally wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole. Some sacrifices have to be made, I suppose.
The song starts, and I stare intently at the screen, expecting some kind of instructions on what to do.
Instead, I see arrows scrolling upwards.
Well, if I can comprehend Mutou's classes, hopefully I can use the same scientific approach to figure this one out too. There seem to be two sets of scrolling arrows here, one on the left and one on the right side of the screen. The left is probably Misha's and the right is mine. But what are they for? I think it's reasonable to assume that they're trying to tell me which arrows on the platform to step on. If I listen to the song and try to match the beat with the scrolling arrows, I will surely be able to form a hypothesis on the exact timing required…
…or maybe I can just look at what Misha is doing.
Whoa, she's good.
I have a hard time tearing my gaze away from her skirt, which sways incessantly to the rhythm, to glance at the screen and then back - and everything becomes clear to me.
How could it escape my attention all this time? It was always right in front of me, but I never noticed: Misha's hips are incredibly sexy.
Well, okay, and I figured out how the game works too.
I concentrate on the left-pointing arrow closest to the top of the screen, and jump on the left sensor the moment it moves into what I believe is the correct position. The game rewards me with a "GREAT" message, celebrating my success - which did not come a moment too soon, as the bar that seems to represent my life points was getting dangerously short.
As the song moves into the second verse, I am slowly figuring out how to position myself on the platform to reach all the arrows in time. The singer's high-pitched voice, normally annoying enough to give me a headache, is beginning to have something of a hypnotic effect on me, as my steps try to match the song's rhythm.
Left-right-up-down, left-right-up-down, left-right-left-down, left-right-up-down…
Hey… no more arrows?
It takes me a second to realize that the song is over. The game presents us the results: unsurprisingly, my score is abysmal compared to Misha's, but this being my first try I don't mind at all.
"See~? I knew you'd get it, Hicchan!" She encourages me with a grin. "You can pick the next song, okay~?"
"You got it. Let's see if I can level the playing field a little." I search my pocket for a couple of 100 yen coins, and after throwing them in, I try browsing the song list the way Misha did earlier.
Ah, right. This one. This is a great rock song, I will even admit to singing the chorus once or twice in the shower. Let's see how Miss Dancing Queen can move to this!
Misha's eyes widen slightly at my selection. "Ooh, you're really brave, Hicchan~! Wahahaha!"
Brave? I… don't like the sound of that.
Still, I came this far, it’d look silly to back out now. Let's do this.
The arrows are coming for me.
How can this game move so fast?! This is insane!
Left-left-up, left-left-up, left-up-right-down-ri-- I don't have three feet, damn it!
Must not panic. Must not panic. I'll just skip the next four arrows, and continue with the combination that comes after, that looks easy enough. Really easy. Piece of cake.
With a most bizarre yell, not unlike a scream of death, I fall down onto the platform, having successfully tripped myself with my own foot. I manage to grab onto the safety rail at the last moment to avoid hitting my head into the steel floor as well, but it was a really close call.
I pant heavily, my heartbeat drumming in my ears. It sounds slightly erratic. Maybe this song, or game in general wasn't such a great idea after all.
Either way, I better get back on my fee--
Music track: Generic Happy Music
A high-pitched yelp hits the air, and something soft but heavy pushes me back to the ground before I can barely start getting up. I can't see a thing, suddenly blinded by pink hair - but that's more than enough for me to guess what's going on.
Misha leans over me with a look of worry on her face. "Hicchan, are you okay? I'm so sorry, I…" she giggles nervously, "…I may be a little rusty. Heheh."
"Yeah, me too." Okay, I'm not rusty, just plain bad. But this sounds much better, doesn't it?
Suddenly conscious of the intimate distance between us, Misha tries to pull away, but I don't let her escape: driven by a sudden impulse, I quickly close the gap and claim a small consolation price from her lips.
Her surprised expression, with that blush… I think I'd even fall on my face three more times for this.
Thankfully though, I don't have to. "Maybe we should pick a game with, err… less footwork next?" I ask.
My question succeeds in breaking Misha out of her dazed state, and her face lights up. "Hahaha, okay-okay~! I know just the thing!"
I merely blink and she's already on her feet, running off somewhere. Good thing her destination isn't far away, as it'd be next to impossible for me to repeat the same feat.
I manage to get myself into a sitting position and throw a glance in her direction. Misha is waving at me from next to a very similar machine, with a smaller screen, prominent speakers, but instead of a steel platform with arrows, sticking out of it in front is… a pair of taiko drums?
I can't help but smile as I pull myself up with some help from the safety rail. This is shaping up to be a pretty long afternoon, but I find myself looking forward to it all the same. Being with Misha on a date is similar to working in the Student Council: tiring, sometimes troublesome, but ultimately fun - with a little less paperwork and a lot more fun involved in this case.
I could get used to this.
By the time we leave the arcade, the sun already hangs low in the sky. We are hit by a slightly chilly autumn breeze as the automatic doors close behind us; I would offer my coat to Misha if I was wearing one, but thankfully she doesn't seem to be cold. Regardless, the dark clouds gathering above warn us not to waste a lot more time before returning to Yamaku, so we make our way along the sidewalk at a quick pace.
"Had a good time?" I ask, searching for her gaze with a smile, which she eagerly returns.
"I did~!" She pumps a fist into the air for emphasis.
"Ah, okay, great to hear. You just fell silent for a minute there."
Around Misha, noise and buzzing activity seems to be the norm. Silence, even if soothing to my ears right now after all that racket, tends to feel strange, unfitting. This time is no different.
"Oh, hahaha, sorry Hicchan, I'm just tired. A little bit." She apologizes, although there's absolutely nothing in the situation worth apologizing for. "You know how I get sleepy really, really quickly when it gets dark."
As if to prove her point, she puts a hand to her mouth to cover a small yawn. For some reason I'm not convinced, but I hesitate to push the matter further, not wanting to dampen the good mood.
My hesitation proves to be pointless, as the first few drops of rain falling from the sky do a fine job at dampening everything anyway. We make it to the bus stop just in time to take refuge under the small shelter before it really begins to pour. Sitting down on the wooden bench, we stare at the rain as its noise fills the gap our stalled conversation left behind.
Minutes have passed already when the fact slowly eases into my brain that I'm not only listening to the rain anymore.
"Hmm?" is all I can utter in reply, as my body chooses this moment to demonstrate how contagious a yawn can be.
Misha turns her head slightly, but does not face me completely. "Do you… do you think we're being selfish?…"
She gives me no context, but sadly I don't need any to understand her.
"No." The sternness of my reply surprises even me. It's true: to be selfish, we should have a better alternative at hand that we are not willing to choose, and Shizune gave us no such thing. But what made me so upset about that all of a sudden? I scramble to cover my outburst with a question. "Why, what makes you think that?"
"I don't know. I've just been… wondering." Misha is signing everything she says again, a habit she was neglecting during the past few days. It's obvious now that she is more worried than tired, as I suspected. "I thought about what Shicchan could be doing right now. We're having fun out here, but she might still be in the council room, working all by herself… I told you about it, right? How I used to wish I could see Shicchan like that, all alone, so I could be there for her and she might like me because of it… But! I can no longer do that, even as a friend. It was a really stupid wish, Hicchan."
I want to say something to her, something positive or encouraging, but my mind draws a blank. I knew something was wrong, but her sudden change of mood still caught me by surprise.
No, there's more to it than that. Her words made me realize how deeply Misha still cares about Shizune. Even though Shizune rejected her feelings back then. Even though she no longer wants to have her around now.
What's terrible is that I've also realized I can't say the same. When I'm reminded of Shizune, I immediately want to think about something else, because all I feel is a mixture of frustration and anger rising within me. That is why I try to ignore her, claiming that I no longer give a damn. That is why I nearly snapped at Misha earlier - and even though I don't want to feel this way, struggling against it only serves to increase my frustration even further. I know it's not right, but that's just how it is.
Still, I have to say something. We were doing so well, I can't let our date end on a sour note like this.
"I don't think wanting to be there for someone is selfish. Or stupid, for that matter," I manage to reply.
A nice try, but it's doubtful that I even convinced myself with that line. And from the looks of it, I only made Misha feel even more down. Terrific.
"But it can be. I can do stupid stuff like that, Hicchan. I don't think things through enough, maybe. So… sometimes I can be selfish without even noticing," she replies, effortlessly brushing my argument aside. "I… Did you know Shicchan wasn't alone when I joined the Student Council? Lilly was there with her too."
I remember her mentioning this before, yeah. But now that I actually consider the thought, it leaves me utterly confused. How could they--
"They don't need an interpreter, Hicchan." Misha drops the bomb. "They have their own way of talking to each other, they just don't want to use it anymore. They don't feel close enough for that now, I guess."
Not close enough? I don't think I understand…
"But! When Shicchan found out I was taking sign language classes, she kept telling me that I should do it anyway. She said it would help me practice, and that it's more… 'efficient' like that." Misha seems almost annoyed at the word. "She is wrong, though."
She trails off for a while, leaving me time to guess what she meant by that. A memory flashes through my mind for some reason, of a lunch break I've spent in Lilly's company recently. What did she say again…?
"…every day consisted of having Shizune stomp around, using Misha as a megaphone…"
Of course, it figures she would call that "efficient". Shizune knows how loudness can force people to pay attention, that's why she developed that ear-splitting finger snap. But relying on an interpreter for that benefited only her, and not anyone trying to talk to her, since the effect doesn't work the other way around. You can't shout at people using sign language - well, you can, sort of, but they can simply turn around and ignore you anyway.
"Shicchan didn't know how dangerous that was," Misha speaks up again, as if continuing my own thoughts. "Suddenly, there was something like a wall between Lilly and her. I wasn't very good at signing yet, so I made a lot of mistakes, caused a lot of misunderstandings… But! That's not the worst part, you know. The worst part is that I may have made some of those mistakes on purpose. After all… how could I be there for Shicchan… how could I be the one to help her, if she is not alone?"
I simply stare at her in stunned silence. Something within me is slowly but surely edging towards breaking point.
"I told you I don't want to hate people, Hicchan. Lilly was always nice to me, too. Maybe a bit distant, but nice. But… even if I didn't want to do it, that doesn't mean I haven't. I loved Shicchan so much… I think I'd have done anything to be together with her. So… I probably did. That's how selfish I can be." She hangs her head. "But now you're here with me… and it feels like I even abandoned Shicchan in the end, despite everything. I know she's the one who doesn't want to talk to us, but… it still feels like…"
"Stop it…" My voice is more harried than I want it to be. I meant to embrace her, but my movement comes off more like I'm clinging to her, grabbing her to keep her from running away. "That's enough…! Why are we even talking about this…? What does it matter…?"
"It… It matters to me, Hicchan…" Misha sounds confused, even defensive.
I can't keep myself from yelling any longer. "Well, for me it doesn't! You can try feeding me this bullshit about being some self-centered monster all you want, but I'm not buying it! I don't care about what you did!… Maybe you're right, maybe we really are being selfish - and so what?! Shizune is just as bad, if not worse! Why are you trying to take her side, even now?! She doesn't want you to!…"
I finally regain enough self-control to put an end to my barely coherent tirade, although the damage is already done. I'm deeply ashamed, but my still-overflowing anger doesn't let it show.
Damn you, Shizune. Why can't you leave me alone?! Why do I have to feel more and more bitter each and every time I think about you?! Why can't I cut you off as easily as you did to me?! Why?!
"It's because of love, Hicchan." Misha is looking deep into my eyes, and there's a kind of defiance in her gaze that scares me. "I worry about Shicchan because I love her. And… I can't be super mad at you right now, even if you're acting like a jerk, because… I think I like you too."
She leans close to me on the bench, pushing herself deeper into my embrace. My anger seems to melt at her touch; it escapes me so quickly that it leaves something of a gaping hole behind, a vacuum that I don't know what to fill up with. Shame will just have to do for now.
For the following minute, I completely forget about the existence of the city and the rain. All I hear is the sound of Misha's even breaths, so very close to my chest.
"It's a bit funny. When I think of it like that," she finally whispers, "maybe being selfish around you, around someone I really, really like is just … how Lilly would say… par for the course? Ha… Hehe… Hahahaha…"
What starts off as a small giggle gradually escalates into a full-fledged Misha-style laughter. And it gets even louder: by the time I realize, I'm already laughing myself silly along with her like I’ve lost my mind.
But… it truly is funny. Why am I so fixated on the effect Shizune has on me? That’s nothing. The person who can turn me upside down for real is right here in my arms.
Just look at what she's doing to me right now.
"Do you want to do something really stupid?" I ask her playfully.
"Wahahaha! Maybe~," she answers with a matching expression.
As her grin widens, so does mine, and vice versa. It’s a runaway chain reaction. "Then follow me!"
Grabbing her hand, I hop to my feet and lead Misha out into the rain. We end up jogging lightly through the city, soaked from head to toe, giggling all the way. Even my heart keeps up with the pace somehow. I can’t help but blame that oddity on Misha too.
On the pink-haired bubbly girl who can make miracles happen.