At the first hint of sunlight through my drapes, I wake up from another restless night. I don't think I've slept properly since I confessed to Hisao, and this might have been the hardest yet. Still, for better or for worse, I'm well acquainted with this state, so I'm ready for whatever today might bring.
At least I can hope so.
It's been three days since I last talked with Hisao. Given how our last meeting turned out, I really hope he took my message to be patient with himself to heart. At the same time, being patient has become much more difficult for me. I keep hoping that soon, he'll say something that confirms that my confession wasn't a mistake, but time is running out.
Ever since then, it seems like everything I've tried has just made things worse. It started with my call to Lilly that same night. That was the closest I've ever come to having an argument with her, and in some ways an argument might have been a better result. Instead, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, and no doubt she felt the same.
As much as has been happening here, I can't help but be concerned for my best friend. Ever since the day she told me about her leaving for Scotland permanently, she really hasn't seemed like herself, and after this last conversation it seems to be getting worse. I know she'd never tell me her troubles, but it already feels like we've drifted apart, much sooner than I expected.
The next day was no better, starting with my unexpected conversation with Emi. It wasn't bad enough to hear that Hisao had another issue with his heart, the news had to come from her
. Still, I have to admit that, even though she confirmed that she liked Hisao, the conversation went a lot worse in my head. Had it happened under other circumstances, it might have even been friendly.
It almost seemed that way even then.
When she told me about Hisao's collapse, the first thing I did was blame her. Given how vehemently she denied it, I think she blamed herself, too. As she described the situation, it brought back the memory of what happened in Hokkaido, and how I'd been helpless to do anything. When I realized that she'd just been through the same thing, it brought my emotions under control. For the first time that I can remember, I could relate to Emi.
Once she'd left, and I was alone with my thoughts again, something else occurred to me. Hisao had been running to clear his head. I'd just told him not to come back until he was able to think clearly again. That meant that...
...that it was my fault. Hisao was out there pushing himself because of my confession.
It was with that in mind that I went to the nurse's office, intending to apologize, perhaps even to retract my confession if it would help him. Instead, I found him still asleep. I couldn't bring myself to stay, and after confirming that he'd be okay I went back to my room for the rest of the day.
Ever since then, I haven't been able to face anyone, including myself. Yesterday, I made my excuses to Miss Yumi's voice mail before she arrived for work. I didn't think I could handle the disappointment she'd show in me if I told her how I'd handled my confession. So, for the last two days, I've been here, trying to come to terms with everything.
I've been here before, but not like this.
When I came to Yamaku, what I valued the most were the opportunities it gave me to be alone. I'd spent so long trying to avoid other people, I felt like I'd found something almost like utopia. Since I came here, I've never had anyone steal my books. I haven't had anyone spit on me. I haven't woken up in the morning with the bruising on the left side of my body making it look almost as bad as the right.
Even then, I'd heard the stories, and I knew it could have been worse. There were nights that I almost felt lucky that I hadn't been raped, or been asked to steal things for someone else – at least, not yet. On those nights, the fact that I sometimes thought people might be better off if I weren't around made me feel ashamed. But that was the only life I knew.
Then, I was accepted to Yamaku, and things began to change. During my first year, I was happy just to have found the library, and to have a room of my own where I could be safe. It was easy enough to deal with the rumor mill, and if I could keep my grades up I barely had to deal with the teachers. If people avoided me because of how I looked, that was just fine with me, because I'd lived through the alternative.
At least, I thought it was fine back then.
Since then, I've begun to see that, just maybe, those don't have to be the only two choices. Last year, I met Miss Yumi, and then Lilly, and although it took some time I started to believe that I could be offered kindness without it being the pretext to humiliation. This year, I met Hisao, and I started to believe many other things that I didn't think I could anymore. I could tell that, to him, I was a person, and nothing less. It gave me the hope that, to him, I could someday be something more.
Now, thanks to what looks more and more like a mistake, that choice might be about to slip out of my grasp. Without Lilly, without Hisao, I'd have nothing ahead of me but what's already behind me, just made more painful by the knowledge that things could be different.
I've built my own prison, and it looks a lot like utopia.
As lunch time approaches, I start walking to the tea room. Since this is our last chance, I expect Hisao to come today one way or the other. Either he'll give me a reason to stay, or tomorrow I will be on a train headed...well, it won't really matter at that point. Anywhere will be better than here. I even wonder if I'll come back to the tea room at all afterwards – it might be too filled with ghosts, like Hokkaido.
As I enter the main building, I see Shizune and Misha coming down the hallway. I'd rather not talk to them, so I move to the side to allow them to pass. However, the two apparently have other ideas, as they change course and walk straight toward me. I stop walking and brace myself against Misha's voice.
"Miss Ikezawa," Misha says as Shizune signs crisply. "I presume it is your intention to continue to use the utility room next to the library for lunch and other activities! While Miss Satou's paperwork is still in order, we would appreciate~ it if you would add your own name as a responsible party for that usage!"
At this, Shizune hands me a folder. I reach out for it, only shaking a bit, and take it from her. "O-okay," I stammer out as I place it in my bag.
Shizune's expression relaxes somewhat, and I wonder what else she's thinking. "Shicchan would also like you to know that she knows Lilly's departure has likely made things difficult for you. As your class representative, she wants you to know that if there's anything she can do to help, you should let her know. That goes for me, too~!" Misha adds the last part while grinning broadly. It's more than a bit intimidating.
I don't respond to their offer other than to nod, as I doubt I'll be taking either of them up on it. Shizune has never been particularly easy to deal with, a situation that only worsened after I became friends with Lilly. As for Misha, I wouldn't be sure how to approach her even if I wanted to.
Despite my fervent hopes for their quick departure, Shizune continues to sign with a small frown on her face. "I know Hicchan is also a friend of yours, so I wanted you to know that I tried my best~ to get Lilly and Hicchan to talk to each other before she left! I made sure they were together, with no one to disturb them, for a whole afternoon!"
This catches me entirely off-guard. "So...that's w-why you...put off L-Lilly's work until the last...last day..."
Shizune's expression brightens as I catch on. "Exactly! Wahahaha~!"
"W-we were...supposed to...go into the c-city together..."
Shizune rolls her eyes as she signs. "I'm sorry it ruined your plans." Even with Misha's tone, I can tell that was meant to be sarcastic. "It was the best tool I had at my disposal to try and help! I thought that would have been what you wanted, too!"
At the time, it was what I thought I wanted, but it wasn't, really, was it?
When I hesitate before responding, Shizune looks at me impatiently, but Misha has an unreadable expression on her face. "I thought...you and Lilly d-didn't...get along."
Shizune waves her arms dismissively. "Wahaha! Well, of course we didn't get along~! Her priorities were totally wrong, her methods of accomplishing things were sloppy at best, and she never took responsibility for things that mattered!" Shizune seems almost wistful as she continues. "But~! That doesn't mean I wished her ill. Besides, Hicchan turned that silly contented smile of hers into something sincere!"
Taken aback by this whole outburst, I try to reconcile what Shizune is saying with my mental image of her. Before I can respond, she quickly regains her composure, signing curtly. "Be sure and get that form back quickly, Ikezawa! Bye~!" Misha waves as they finally depart, and I take a deep breath to regain my strength.
As I make my way to the stairs, I look behind me at Shizune and Misha. They've reached the main door, and as Misha passes through it, I catch a glimpse of her looking back at me. She's got the same odd expression on her face that I saw earlier, but she turns away quickly and dashes out the door, laughing loudly.
Still recovering, I enter the tea room and place the meal I prepared on the table. Since I wasn't able to finish shopping last week, it's not much, but it's still better than having to enter the cafeteria. It's even harder for me when most of the students are away, because the ones that are there have fewer things to distract them.
I've just begun preparing the tea when I hear the door open behind me. Even though I expected Hisao to come today, it's still a small relief when I turn and confirm that it's him. I've been trying to prepare myself for whatever he might say, trying to convince myself that the most likely outcome isn't necessarily rejection. The look on his face seems to be apologetic.
This isn't going to go well.
For a few moments, nobody says anything. Our eyes meet momentarily as I turn around, and I quickly look back to the teapot. Just to break the silence, I say, "It's...good to see you, Hisao. I h-hope you're feeling...better."
"Yeah, I am, thanks." I'm sure he can sense my nervousness, and he continues in a calm, even tone. "Hanako, I know you'd like an answer, but I don't have one...at least, not yet."
My head drops to my chest. While it's understandable, and I knew it was the most likely answer I'd get, I can't help but be disappointed. Still, it also means the door hasn't closed entirely. I also can't help but notice that he sounds much more sure of himself than he did the other day.
When I turn to face him, he holds up his hands, saying, "I have some things I want to say, so please, hear me out. Believe me, the last thing I want is a repeat of the other day."
That feeling is very much mutual, Hisao.
While a part of me feels as if I've been backed into a corner, I do want to hear what he has to say. Actually, that's not quite right – I need
to hear what he has to say, maybe more than anything I've heard in my life. "In that case, would you...join me for lunch?"
For the first time since he got here, Hisao smiles, if only slightly. "I would be happy to, thanks. Just...feel free to tell me to leave any time."
I don't know if I have the strength to do that a second time, Hisao.
He sits down, and I can see he already has lunch from the cafeteria, so I set about finishing the tea preparations. As I do, I glance back over at him occasionally. Rather than nervous, he looks thoughtful – an expression that suits him much better. Once I've finished, I come over and sit down. As neither of us much likes to talk while we eat, the meal passes in near-silence. However, rather than the awkwardness I felt the other day, this one feels much more familiar. Although I'm still nervous, I can feel some of the tension in my shoulders slip away.
I've missed this so much...
I finish eating before Hisao does, and I take a moment to close my eyes and enjoy this feeling, knowing that it might be the last time I have this chance. Sadly, it doesn't last long, as I can hear Hisao cleaning up. When he sits back down, he sighs, saying, "All right, then, I'll just get right to it."
"Before you do, there's...something I want to say, too." He looks over at me, a bit puzzled. "I w-wanted to...apologize...for everything I've put you through lately. I kn-now you've been...trying to sort things out. I p-promised to be patient, but...I failed. I t-tried to...push things..."
Hisao reaches across the table and takes my hand. "Hanako," he says quietly, "none of that is anything you need to apologize for. If anything, I'm glad you were able to be honest about your feelings for me. It's given me a...different perspective on a lot of things. If it hadn't been for that, I would have never been able to bring myself to call Lilly last night."
"You talked to her? How...did she...seem to you?"
Hisao smiles. "If I had to put words to the impression I got...I guess she seemed sad, somehow. Heh...I'd actually called her to apologize for not letting her tell me how she felt, and she told me I shouldn't apologize, either. Seems like we've all forgotten to look before we leap a little bit."
I sigh heavily, knowing exactly what he means. "Sorry for...interrupting."
"Well, actually, that was part of what I wanted to say anyway. I also called Lilly because if I'd left things as they were, I wouldn't be able to move on." Hisao takes a deep breath and looks down for a second before continuing. "Ever since Lilly left, I've been putting all my effort into getting over her. I've been relying on you to help me get through my feelings for her, to the point that I couldn't separate how I felt about you from that. I'm hoping that now that that's behind me, maybe we can make a fresh start."
"I'm...not sure I understand."
Hisao shifts in his seat uneasily. "Well, I was hoping that we could just start spending some time together, without the Lilly issue hanging over our heads. Maybe our trip into the city the other day was the first step."
"Hisao...are you sure that's even possible...after what I..." My words trail off, and my head sinks again.
"I don't know. Obviously, I can never forget that. I thought it was only fair to be honest with you about how I felt, and to tell you that I want to at least try."
I'm not exactly sure how to feel about what Hisao is saying. I feel like I should be happy, because he hasn't rejected me, and even wants to see if it's possible to build on what we already have. At the same time, my confession feels even more like a mistake, something that has become an obstacle that we need to work around. Hisao might even be able to do that.
But can I do that?
Only one way to find out.
"Okay," I finally say tentatively. "I was...planning to meet Naomi and Natsume...at the train station tomorrow. Would you...come with me?"
Hisao leans back in his chair. "To see you off?"
I smile at him, as I just had a wild idea. There's no way he'll go for it, but it might be worth asking. "Th-that depends. Would you w-want to...come with us?"
He looks at me for a moment, and I wonder if he might be seriously considering the idea. "That's...honestly a tempting offer. After these past couple weeks, though, I probably shouldn't do anything that ambitious."
So...he actually WAS considering it?
I chuckle, feeling a little better. "I suppose not. Maybe...another time. In that case...if you really want to make a fresh start...w-we should start now. We could have...lunch with them, and then s-spend some time in the city. W-we didn't get to do much...last time."
Hisao thinks for a moment, then smiles again. "You know, that might not be a bad idea. I just need to be careful not to overdo it." After letting out a long breath, he says, "I should probably get going. I'm still a little tired from these past few days. Sorry about that."
"It's not...something you should be apologizing for. Just make sure you...get some rest." Hisao gets up from his chair slowly, stretching, before picking up the trash from his lunch. "I'll see you...tomorrow."
"Okay...see you tomorrow," Hisao says with a smile before walking out of the tea room.
After finishing the clean-up, I take out my phone. I need to tell Naomi that I won't be joining them for the rest of the trip.
"Hey, Ikezawa! I was just gonna call you! We just got into Hakodate, and we're going to take the cable car tonight to see the view from the ropeway. Sorry you had to miss it!"
"Anyway, we'll be into Sendai at about 12:30 tomorrow. You gonna be at the station?"
"I'll...be there. I...asked Hisao to come, too."
"Hisao...oh, yeah, the new boy! So are you two going out or something?"
"It's n-not like that..."
"Oh. Too bad. I mean, I know you kinda like him, but maybe it's too soon. Hey! Is that why you didn't come with us? Ooe, what...? Oh, um...forget I asked that, Ikezawa. I guess you're not supposed to know that I know that or something."
I'm...not sure I want to know what she means...
"Anyway, yeah, if you want to bring Nakai, that's fine! Is he coming to see you off?"
"N-no...I'm not leaving."
"Heh...you know, I knew you'd say that, Ikezawa. Maybe you aren't supposed to know I know, but I knew anyway. Ooe, cut it out already!" For a moment, I hear the two arguing about something, but I can't make out what they're saying. "Anyway, we can talk about that tomorrow. So we'll see you tomorrow, right?"
Sometimes, talking to Naomi makes my head hurt. "Okay...s-see you tomorrow." I put my phone in my bag and leave the tea room, shutting the door without looking back inside. I still don't know when, or even if, I'll go back there. A lot is riding on how things go tomorrow.
Once I reach my room, I take a glance at the paperwork Shizune gave me earlier today before putting it on my desk.