Monday morning. It's about time you showed up.
It's been a looooong time since I've been this happy for it to be Monday, but I can't help it. My leg isn't hurting, which means I can run again. It took spending most of the past two days doing nothing but lying in bed, eating, and listening to my mom, but it paid off.
I hope it paid off for my partner, too.
Running again means maybe the nightmares'll back off, too. Usually, once I get past the anniversary, things get better, but the whole thing with Hisao has gotten into my head, and now he's part of the show. Images of him lying on the track, or on the bed in the nurse's office, with people talking about him like he was...
Come on, Ibarazaki. Stop thinking about that stuff. You're seeing him again today, right?
Mom must've noticed, because she asked me how I was sleeping yesterday. I blamed not being able to run, which...isn't exactly
a lie. I'd already been through the wringer the night before, and didn't want her worrying about me anymore. At least she was happy about the college brochures thing, which I made sure to tell her before
telling her about my leg. I still got the "I'm disappointed in you, dear" speech for the umpteenth time, but at least it wasn't as heavy as it usually is.
Of course, then she had to ask why
. That was when things got tricky. I dodged it as much as I could, because she's already gotten too curious about Hisao for my liking. Ever since that talk we had, where she compared him to Dad, she's been walking around with that stupid knowing smile of hers. It's enough to make me sick. I just told her a friend of mine wasn't doing well, and she accepted it.
A little too easily, come to think of it.
After I get dressed, I check my phone, which I'd left off all weekend so I wouldn't be tempted by...anything. I look at my missed calls, and there's a couple from Hisao, although he didn't leave a message. I smile, knowing he was thinking about me. The only other call is from Misaki Kawana, which means Rin needs something. I check the message, and I guess she was looking to go into town for art stuff, which Misaki wouldn't be able to carry. I grin a little.
Just the excuse I needed...Thanks, Rin!
I stash the phone in my bag and head for the kitchen, hoping to grab a quick breakfast and get out to the track as early as possible. Unfortunately, Mom's already out here cooking, so there's no way out of another talk. I'm stuck. "'Morning, Mom!"
"Good morning, dear! I thought you might like something special for breakfast!"
"Thanks, Mom," I say, trying to sound happy about it. I guess I kinda am, because she does this every time I get back up and running. She knows I like to get a little extra fuel on a day like this, plus all the other stuff going on, so I can't really complain. It's just a good thing I got up super-extra-early today to make sure I'm out at the track before Hisao.
I am NEVER going to be late again.
There's already places set on the island, so I put my bag by the door and go into the kitchen to help. Mom bumps me aside with her hip, saying, "I'm just about done, so go ahead and sit down." I hop up onto a stool, and Mom brings over the food. As she sits down next to me, she asks, "So, how's your friend?"
"Okay, I think."
"Is he going to be running with you this morning?"
"Yeah, he should...Mom!" I'm obviously not awake yet. She laughs, and I slap my forehead for getting tricked so easily. She just said it so casually. "Nurse is gonna pay for that one," I mutter under my breath.
"Oh, don't blame him. I just called him because I wanted to tell him how well you were taking being sidelined for a change, and he told me about what happened. That was a very brave thing you did, Emi...but then you've always had that in you."
Mom puts an arm around my shoulders and squeezes. I can feel my cheeks reddening, and I look down at my rapidly disappearing breakfast. "It wasn't that big of a deal. It's not like I haven't done stuff like that before, and it wasn't anything serious anyway."
"Well, whatever you think about it, I'm still proud of you. Anyway, I'm just happy that both of you are all right. I still need to meet this boy, after all." I roll my eyes as Mom gets up and brings her plate to the sink. "Now, you'd better get moving or you're going to miss your rendezvous," she says with a wink.
Continuing to glare at her with the heat of a thousand suns, I say, "You can cut it out any time, Mom."
"Oh, let an old woman have her fun. I know I've exceeded my embarrassment quota for the day, so you've got a couple of days before the next barrage."
At least she's not still talking about saving it up...she'd have a couple years' worth if I ever do bring Hisao here.
And why do I keep thinking things like that?
Probably seeing the look on my face, Mom breaks out in that grin again. "Now, will you be home for lunch, dear?"
I get up and turn away quickly so I don't have to look at her stupid face. "I think so. I'll call you if I won't."
"Make sure you do," she says as I pick up my bag and open the door. "Have fun, dear!"
"Working on it!" I shout on my way out to the street. On the way to the bus stop, it's hard to keep from running full speed even with my walking legs. I can't let myself do that, because there's something I want to try today – for Hisao, and for myself. Hisao would call it an experiment, I think. I grin to myself.
I wonder if I could write a paper about it for Mutou.
Once the bus drops me off at Yamaku, I head up to the dorms to grab my running blades. While I'm there, I give Rin's door a quick check. It's closed, but not locked, which means she's not up yet so I'll have to come back later. On my way out, I see Misaki in her chair in the common room with her computer. "Hey, Misaki! Just wanted to let you know I got your message! Thanks!"
She waves at me without turning around. "Why was your phone off?" she says in that weird, over-enunciated voice she uses when she's not happy. "You haven't even changed the outgoing message yet."
"Sorry, sorry! I just got the phone at the beginning of the year, and I haven't gotten around to it."
"Don't apologize, just fix it, please. I prefer to know with some certainty that I've reached the right number. If Tezuka hadn't been so adamant, I likely wouldn't have left a message at all."
Adamant, huh? Yeah, I'd better check in with her after the run.
By now I'm looking over Misaki's shoulder at her computer, which looks like it's got a bunch of pictures of trees on it. "Whatcha doin'?"
"If you must know, I'm sorting through these for a presentation for my club. It would be easier if it were quiet in here."
"Riiiiight," I whisper. "Quiet. Got it." Normally, I'd continue playing with Misaki, but I have a more important engagement with a certain running partner. "See ya later," I whisper as I back my way out of the room.
Even though I'm still super-early, my brain decides I need a flashback to the other day as I come over the top of the hill. At least that's all it is, as the track is empty as usual, so I head down to the bleachers. After not being able to run for so long, just the feeling of putting my blades on again makes me shiver a little with anticipation.
When I finish that, Hisao still hasn't shown up, so I start to stretch out a little to keep myself occupied. The fact that I haven't talked to him starts to creep into my head, and I start to wonder if maybe I should've called him this morning, or maybe I should call him now – I made sure to bring my phone today – but before I get a chance to dwell on it, I spot a familiar figure coming down the hill.
"Hi, Emi!" Hisao calls down, and I wave at him with a grin.
"Hey, you made it! I guess I can't accuse you of being late this morning!"
"It feels good that I can be down here at all. I've really missed this the last few days." He pauses for a moment, looking at me. "I missed seeing you, too."
I can feel the heat in my cheeks again, and I grin. "Of course you did!" I say, and Hisao laughs. I give him a quick hug, adding, "I missed it too. All of it." Before things get any weirder, I say, "Now let's get stretched out. That track is calling!"
A few minutes later, the two of us take up our usual positions, with me slightly ahead, pacing Hisao. Since he hasn't run in a while, I start out at the pace we did the first couple days, then speed up gradually over the four laps. I check back on Hisao every few strides, and he's actually looking pretty good. Even when we get to the last lap, his breathing is only a little labored.
"Not bad, Hisao! Looks like you haven't lost a step!"
"I owe it all to my trainer," he says with a grin.
"You're darn right you do!" I say, grinning back.
"Hey!" he says, giving me a playful shove. "Don't I get any credit?"
"Nope!" I say with a wink.
Hisao laughs, and I continue to walk with him as he cools down. He gives me a weird look, but doesn't say anything at first. After we've gone half a lap or so, he says, "Emi, I...well, I never got a chance to thank you for the other day. I'm sorry I put you through all that, but I'm really glad you were there."
"Yeah, so am I," I say with a sad smile. "I told you I'm not letting you die on me, Hisao."
Hisao chuckles, saying, "After this, I can almost believe that. I tried to call you, but you didn't pick up."
"Yeah, I saw the missed calls. When you told me you went out to run early because I was distracting you, I figured I'd give you some time."
"I thought that might be it. Anyway, I think it helped. I talked to Lilly again last night, and this morning I feel like I finally don't have to clear my head because of her."
"Hmmm...because of her
, huh? Why else do you need to clear your head, Hisao?"
"Well, just as an example, it'd be good to know why you're not sleeping again."
Ah. Crap. Better at noticing.
"Worrying about me again, Hisao?" I say, trying to shrug it off. "You know that's not good for either of us."
Hisao smiles at me. "Well, you're pretty good at making people worried about you."
You don't need to remind me of that, Hisao.
I know he's joking, but after the last few days it hits kinda close to home. I just wanted to enjoy my first day back on the track, and spending time with Hisao again, but it's already going sideways. Time to see what I can do about that. "Yeah, I know. By the way, Hisao," I say while turning to look at him, "I know the nurse said you were okay to run, but what about walking?"
He smiles at me. "Hmmm...isn't that what I'm doing right now?"
That earns him a punch to the arm. "No, you jerk, I meant a walk into town. Rin needs to go to the art store, and I figured it would be a chance to do something about that boring dorm room of yours! I just want to make sure it's okay...you know, after what happened last week."
Hisao winces, probably not wanting to remember that. "Actually, the nurse said I could probably try it if I didn't have any problems with my legs after the first couple of runs. Can Rin wait that long?"
I frown slightly. "I was gonna stop in to talk to her after this anyway, so I'll ask her then. If there's a problem I'll let you know...assuming she actually tells me there's a problem, which she might not even if there is."
Hisao laughs a little. "That sounds frustrating."
"Yeah, it can be. I mean, sometimes she doesn't even eat or sleep unless I remind her. She just gets wrapped up in her painting, or watching the rain, or thinking about...butterflies or something. But, you know, that's Rin."
Hisao nods. "I suppose it is. Anyway, a walk into town would be good. I really need to pick up some things at the convenience store. Oh, and I should probably stop in at the Shanghai."
"Well, I should apologize to Yuuko for the book you didn't return. I figured you could explain it to her while we're there."
"What are you talking about? I took the whole pile!"
"You mean you didn't even look in my bag?" he asks teasingly.
"Oh! Yeah, I should have, huh? Sorry! I just wasn't thinking clearly for some
reason." Hisao starts laughing, and I glare at him playfully.
"Not thinking clearly, huh? Is that why you told Hanako I was in the nurse's office?"
I knew this was coming eventually, so I guess it's time to face the music. At least he doesn't sound angry about it or anything, so maybe it won't be so bad. "Oh...um...you talked to Hanako?" I start to twitch at the thought of how that conversation might have gone.
"No, but the nurse said she came to check on me after you left. I guess I was still asleep."
I take a deep breath to prepare for this. "Yeah, she was in the library when I brought your books back. I know you told me not to say anything, but..." I look at Hisao with a pouty expression, "...I didn't want her to just be waiting around. If I were her, I would have wanted to know."
"No...no, it's fine," he says, looking away quickly. "You can turn that off anytime!" I laugh as Hisao continues, "Actually, I thought about it myself after you left, and...I think you did the right thing. Actually, I was more concerned about what else might have come up in your conversation."
That part makes me a little nervous, too, and I start to fidget again. "Yeah...you should probably know that...she asked me if I liked you."
Now it's Hisao's turn to look nervous. "What did you tell her?"
Hisao closes his eyes, looking like he's in pain. I suppose I can't blame him. After thinking for a bit, he asks, "How did she take it?"
I think about that myself. "You know, I'm not really sure. She's...kinda cagey. I'd never been alone with her before, and I figured she might freeze up or run away or something, you know? But she didn't. She was kinda nervous the whole time, I think, but she thanked me for telling her, and for helping you. I was getting ready to leave when she started asking me about how I felt about you. Then she said something kinda weird."
I think about that, too. "Yeah, definitely weird. She said she wasn't going to give up on you "this time." I...didn't really feel like asking her what she meant at the time. Has she ever said anything to you before?"
Hisao puts his head down and sighs. "No, but when I found out how she felt, I started thinking about some things. I wouldn't be surprised if she liked me even before I was dating Lilly, especially given what you just said."
"I guess so..." I say as we finish cooling down and head towards the bleachers.
Maybe Miki was right after all...
Anyway, we're on the subject we've both been avoiding, so I guess I might as well take a run at it. "So...today's your last chance to talk to Hanako, huh? Have you figured out what you're gonna say to her yet?"
"I think so," Hisao says as he sits down, "but I don't think it's going to go over too well. I want a chance to figure out how I feel without Lilly hanging over both our heads, so I want today to be a fresh start. I don't know how it will work out with her leaving tomorrow, but...I can't really do anything about that."
"Yeah, but don't forget...she's already put off her trip once for you, right? Don't be surprised if she does it again."
Hisao's head drops to his chest, and he sighs. "I hadn't even thought of that, but you're right, it wouldn't surprise me."
"Well, then," I say, getting ready to leave, "you probably shouldn't keep her waiting for that answer. Besides, we both need to get to the nurse."
Before I can start walking, Hisao's voice stops me in my tracks. "Still not going to tell me why you're not sleeping, I see."
I turn back around to face him. "Heh...I should have known you wouldn't let that go, Hisao. You really do worry too much, though. I'll be fine."
"You know," he says, getting up and coming over to me, "every time you say that, I picture you sitting on those bleachers with your walking legs, looking miserable."
You really know how to hit where it hurts, Hisao. The more I let myself tell you things like this, the harder it's going to be on me when...
No, damn it, Ibarazaki! If! Just for now...let yourself...think it's if...
"Well...it's just that sometimes...there's these nightmares about the accident, and about...what I lost." I pause to look at Hisao, who's looking at me intently. "I can usually...deal with them, because I can run to clear my head. I can just focus on the rhythm of things. But then, these past few days, I...haven't been able to do that. Things started building up..."
I start to shiver a little, trying to keep from breaking down, and Hisao puts an arm around my shoulder. "And then...when I came down to the track, and you collapsed...I could block it out for a little bit, because I could focus on getting you to the nurse, and doing the things you needed." I can feel everything welling up in my head, but now that I've started talking I need to finish. "But...when I got home...I remembered what you said, about why
you were pushing yourself. I felt like..."
The waterworks turn on all the way now, but somehow my brain keeps pushing words out. "Damn it, Hisao...this is all my fault. If I hadn't started you running to clear your head...I wouldn't...I wouldn't have nearly lost you, like I lost everything else..."
The words definitely stop coming out now, and I wrap my arms around Hisao, holding onto him for dear life. I don't even know what I'm thinking any more, except that I don't ever want to lose the feeling I have right now, of his arms around me.
I am going to do everything I can to put that heart of yours back together, Hisao.
With that thought, I look up into Hisao's face...and the look in his eyes makes me forget every reason I've been holding back up to now. I take my arms and wrap them around his neck, and I pull myself up and press my lips against Hisao's.
He's surprised at first, because he inhales a bit, but an instant later I feel him pressing his whole body to mine. I pull him down a little to take some pressure off my legs, and then every other sensation hits me at once. I can feel the damp patch I left on his shirt through my own, and smell the lingering sweat from running. I can taste a little of my own tears as our tongues start to search each other, and I know every bit of this moment is being etched into my memory. On top of it all I can sense my own lust, built up over these months, urging me forwards...
...I can't. Not now, with neither of us having actually told each other how we feel. As reluctantly as I can ever remember doing anything, I pull myself away from Hisao, and suddenly I feel...cold. Like, skiing in the mountains cold.
"We'd...both...better get to the nurse," I say again.
"Yeah...I guess we'd better."
We walk toward the auxiliary building, neither of us saying anything until we reach the door. At that point, his voice cracking just a little, Hisao says, "Emi, I...why didn't you...do your sprints today? You didn't say anything about not being able to do them."
"Actually," I say, "I was conducting...an experiment." Hisao looks at me questioningly. "The other day, you tried to go at my speed, and it didn't work out so well. I figured, just for today, I'd see what going at your speed felt like."
"So what did you come up with for results?"
I smile a little as we reach the door to the nurse's office. "Well, it's not what I'm used to, that's for sure. But you know, Hisao, if we can work on you picking up your pace? I'm pretty sure I'd be willing to meet you somewhere in the middle." I wink at Hisao, and he smiles as he opens the door to go in.
Yeah, I think we might just be able to do that.