After tossing and turning for what feels like hours, I push the time button on my alarm clock. It tells me that it's a bit after seven in the morning, an ungodly hour at which I should only be awake when classes are in session. At least my body's rhythms have finally adjusted to the time difference. Now, if only I could get them to adjust to the other consequences of my return.
Surprisingly, meeting with my cousin yesterday put my mind somewhat at ease. It makes me regret asking the administration not to inform her that I left, but only a bit. The greater regret is not telling Akira my plans from the start. I received a thorough scolding from her for that, and deservedly so. Still, the damage is done, and I'll deal with it as best as I can.
I think the fact that my cousin and I are no longer working together has done wonders for our relationship, so I'm reluctant to accept her request to return to being class representative. I'm not entirely sure how much of her assessment of Kamisaka was meant in jest, but I will speak with him about whether he's content with the position. After all, having left it to him on short notice, in the end the responsibility for that is mine. If he declines to continue, I will take up the position, but I hope it doesn't come to that.
That completes the list of easy tasks before me. A more challenging one that looms in my immediate future is, ironically, the one to which I'd most looked forward before departing Scotland: meeting with Hanako. I told Shizune that I would be willing to meet with her this afternoon, and given the urgency my cousin conveyed to me, I expect she will wish to do so at the earliest possible time. That leaves me little opportunity to consider how to respond to her request regarding my feelings for Hisao, especially since I've been trying not
to think about those feelings over the past few days.
Turning off my alarm before it rings and rising from my bed, I run my hand along the wall until I find the table on which I keep my toiletries. It would be nice if I could make Nellie Forbush proud today, but I know I'm not that fortunate. "Aunt Mayoi," I call out as I make my way to the bathroom, "I'm going to take a shower, if that's all right."
"Of course, Lilly!" comes the answer from the kitchen. "Let me know if you need anything!"
"I will." Even though I've only used this bathroom a few times, I already know I will miss it. It's quite luxurious, perhaps even moreso than the one at my parents' home in Scotland, not to mention the facilities at Yamaku. I step into the shower, and allow the steam to permeate my senses. Even though it's quite warm this morning, the feeling is comforting.
Unfortunately, this will likely be the last time I use it, as it is now my intention to return to Yamaku after meeting with Hanako. I'd been intending to spend another day or two here collecting my thoughts, but now perhaps that's no longer necessary. A thought strikes me that perhaps it would be nice to have Hanako spend the night here tonight, so that we might have more time to ourselves. I don't doubt that Aunt Mayoi would be open to the idea if I asked. Perhaps after breakfast I can do just that.
Still, I shouldn't get ahead of myself. I need to be prepared if Hanako intends to hold me to her request of our last meeting. I understand the condition all too well, and I think I might now be able to accede to it. The turning point on that subject was my meeting with Hisao the following day. It was clear to me at that point that, even if the path was clear, Hisao and I would never again be more than friends. My own feelings on the matter were truly no longer relevant.
It feels like an eternity since I met with Hisao three days ago. Even if I knew in my head that it was over, that was the day I knew it in my heart. It was the day all the mistakes I'd made since we'd parted finally consumed me. Hanako may talk about all the missteps she's taken in her own relationship with him, but even taken all together they are nowhere near a match for mine. Even if Hisao chooses Emi, it won't be because Hanako drove him away as I did. Looking back, I do wonder how much of that was for her sake, and how much was just to subconsciously force myself to put a period on that sentence. If it was the latter, then I failed miserably, and now I'm doing my penance.
I step out of the shower, and am immediately enveloped in the mingled scents of coffee and tea wafting in from the kitchen. After performing the rest of my morning routine, I make my way there. Before I run out of wall, Aunt Mayoi is there to lead me to a chair. The warmth of the sun on my face is calming, as is the sound of tea being poured in front of me. The scent of it, mingled with that of bacon, is quite welcome – and, like the song in my head, quite nostalgic. As my father's sister, Aunt Mayoi also grew up with Western-style breakfasts. I used to envy them for having lived in so many interesting places in Europe and North America, moving whenever my grandfather was transferred. Now that I've experienced it myself on a smaller scale, I think I'm content to remain in Japan for the foreseeable future.
As she sits next to me, Aunt Mayoi asks, "Lilly, did I hear you singing a song from South Pacific
I feel myself blush with embarrassment that she heard me. "I'm sorry if it disturbed you."
Aunt Mayoi laughs, saying, "The only reason it disturbed me is because you weren't on pitch." My embarrassment deepens, but I do my best not to let it show beyond the reddening of my cheeks. "At least your mother hasn't restricted you to nothing but Brigadoon
I laugh, replying, "No, but my sister has tried to wean me from musicals altogether."
"What a pity," Aunt Mayoi replies, not sounding disapproving in the least. "But then, that's probably because she never took to English like you did. Well, that and she doesn't have the voice for them." I hear her shift in her chair as she continues, "I remember when you were little and I used to take the two of you to karaoke, you always went for songs from the stage, and always in English. I think you wanted to show off your ability to your aunt, and it always made me smile. Back then, you had quite the affinity for Gilbert and Sullivan, if I remember correctly. How long did you train yourself to properly sing that one song?"
I incline my head slightly to take a sip of tea before answering, "Six weeks. I didn't know what most of it meant back then, but I was proud of myself for being able to say it properly."
"So was I, of course. Most people here can't even pronounce your name properly, much less a monstrosity like that. I always thought your parents were a bit sadistic for that, but you took it in stride, just as you did everything else."
I laugh lightly, enjoying the feeling of being truly welcome for the first time in weeks. Still, I can't help but notice the unspoken meaning in her use of the past tense. "You know, Hanako has gotten me to perform a few times since we met. For her, it was the one place where she could feel free to express herself without being self-conscious. She has a very nice voice, too. Maybe you should come with us when we go again."
"You know, that might be fun. I haven't gone in years myself. Maybe it..." Aunt Mayoi's thought is interrupted by the sound of my phone ringing. I'd almost forgotten that I'd turned it back on last night when I talked to Akira. From the tone, I already know that it's Hanako. "Would you like me to get that for you?" Aunt Mayoi asks.
"If it's not too much trouble." I hear her confident footsteps walking down to the guest room, then returning quickly. She presses the phone into my hand as it rings for the fourth time, and I answer it immediately. "Good morning, Hanako."
"G-good morning, L-Lilly..."
"Hanako, are you all right?"
"I...d-don't know...I w-wanted...I need to t-talk with you..."
Hanako's voice sounds as distraught as it has in months, and her stammering is the worst I've heard since the beginning of the year. I'm not sure, but I can only presume that something has happened with Hisao. It has to be, or else she'd likely be talking with him and not me. I need to let her tell me herself, though, so I do my best to keep my voice neutral. "Of course. After I met with Shizune, I was expecting your call. Has something happened?"
"A l-lot of things...I-I know you're at Shizune's m-mother's house, but...I don't think...I can come there...r-right now. I just...I really wanted to talk, especially...b-but not..."
"Not on the phone, but in person. I do understand, but..." I nearly ask her to wait until my return, but given the anxiety in Hanako's voice I immediately discard that notion. "Hmm...perhaps it would be best if I met you back at Yamaku this afternoon, then. I was intending to come back soon, so it won't be any trouble. My aunt will be awfully disappointed, though," I say, smiling sadly to myself, "both about cutting my visit short and about not being able to meet with you. I just need time to prepare. Should we meet in the tea room?"
I think about that for a moment, and hope that a few hours' time will be a good balance for both of us. "Perhaps a time when we're least likely to be disturbed would be best. Would three o'clock be too late?"
Hanako is quiet for a moment, but then says, "No, that's...f-fine. I'm...really sorry about this, L-Lilly. I..."
"Don't concern yourself about it, Hanako. Until this afternoon, then."
"Right. U-until then."
I wait on the phone until I hear Hanako hang up, and I take a deep, cleansing breath. "I'm sorry, Aunt Mayoi, but I'm afraid I'll be leaving sooner than I'd hoped. Hanako won't be able to meet with us here, so I'll be returning to Yamaku this afternoon."
"I'm afraid I couldn't help but overhear," Aunt Mayoi says with a gentle sigh. "I was so looking forward to meeting your friend after all you'd told me about her. Of course, all you told me about her makes this unsurprising, too. I'm glad that it seems you might be about to reconcile with her, though, even if the circumstances may not be ideal."
I sigh lightly, but with a smile. "That's true. However, after all the changes she seems to have undergone recently, I'd hoped she might be stronger than this, so I had to try."
"Of course you did. You wouldn't be my niece if you weren't always pushing the backs of others, especially when it comes to love." I can hear the smile in Aunt Mayoi's voice as she says this, and it's like hearing my mother's stories of her coming to life. I hear my aunt stand up and begin gathering the breakfast dishes. "Will you need any help packing?"
"No, since I never really unpacked. I suppose part of me knew I wouldn't be here long."
"Lilly," she says, laying a hand on my shoulder. "I probably already know the answer to this, but are you sure this is a good idea? Please don't take offense, but you're in a rather fragile state of mind right now."
I know she's right, but I can't ignore Hanako, either. "I appreciate your concern, Aunt Mayoi, but right now I have a friend whose state of mind is even more fragile. This is something I need to do."
"I was right," she replies with a sad tone. "I did know the answer. Just know that if things go badly for you, you can always come back here. Your friend is welcome, too, if she needs somewhere to be away from everything."
"Thank you, I'll tell her that. I know that she would at least appreciate the offer." I also appreciate that I didn't even need to ask the question. I stand up from my chair and reach out for the wall. "In the meantime, I'll get everything ready. It shouldn't take more than a half-hour or so."
"All right, then," she says brightly. "I'll make sure the car's cleared out."
As I set about packing, I wonder what might have happened between Hanako and Hisao. The first thing that comes to mind is the impression I got from Hisao while we were at the Shanghai, that he was on the verge of making his decision between her and Emi. If that's true, and things went the way I feared they might, then Hanako's state would be quite understandable.
I had so hoped I was wrong...
Once I'm done packing, I let Aunt Mayoi know I'm ready, and we bring my bags out to the garage. Aunt Mayoi opens the trunk of her car, and we deposit our respective burdens within. Once we're both in the car, she says, "You know, this will be the first time I've been inside Yamaku -- or at least I hope so. You will
let me help you bring your bags back to your room, I hope."
"You've never been there to visit Shizune? Or for one of the festivals?"
"No, she's still quite...protective of her private space, and she's always so busy during school events that I wouldn't want to get in her way. For now, though, I simply wouldn't mind seeing what kind of accommodations my daughter is living in."
I'm not surprised to hear that Shizune hasn't invited her mother to Yamaku. As far as I know, Uncle Jigoro hasn't been here since our first day, either, and even then he made a point of leaving quickly. "Are you sure that's wise?" I say, a bit teasingly, as the car pulls out of the driveway. "After all, your daughter might see you and be embarrassed."
"She would think so, I suppose," Aunt Mayoi says sadly. I realize belatedly that I've broached a sore subject. I must truly be tired to have let that kind of statement slip under the circumstances.
"I'm sorry, Aunt Mayoi, I shouldn't..."
"No, Lilly, it's quite all right. I know you were joking, but after seeing my daughter yesterday a lot of things are just striking me a bit differently today." Aunt Mayoi is quiet for a while after that, until the car slows to a stop. "Still," she says sadly, "I wish she'd allow herself to be a little embarrassed once in a while."
I sigh, "So do I, I suppose, but this is
Shizune we're discussing, so I think we'll have to bear with her for some time to come."
"I suppose you're right," she replies. I hear the trunk open, and the two of us go around and remove my bags. "Will you need help with anything else?" she asks as she closes the trunk again.
"No, that's fine. I can leave the rest of my things in the hands of the staff for another night. I'll just need to call them in the morning."
We walk through the front gate, and as we walk across the grounds I spend the next few minutes answering my aunt's questions about the various facilities here. On the path to the dormitory, we almost literally bump into one of my classmates, Momomi Matsumoto, out walking her guide dog. My aunt, who loves dogs, takes the opportunity to once again ask me why I've never had a service animal, a conversation that unfortunately lasts the rest of the way to our destination.
Once we're inside, I put my bag that I'm carrying at the foot of my bed, then hear Aunt Mayoi set the other down next to it. "It's too bad you're single now," Aunt Mayoi says jokingly. "You could have had your young man help you with these."
"I believe he would do it without hesitation even now," I say wistfully. "After all, he did help with them when I came back from Scotland. He's still a dear friend of mine, and perhaps always will be. That's exactly why I can't
ask him now."
Aunt Mayoi lays a hand gently on my shoulder. "The more you say things like that, the more I wish that we'd had the chance to talk before you made your decision to leave Japan. Perhaps someday things will turn in your favor again, though. Love doesn't die so easily, after all."
I turn to her, my smile in place, and respond, "No, it doesn't. Still, if it's neglected, if it's mistreated, or if it's simply...cast aside..." I stumble over the words, but my smile remains intact as I finish, "...it might just die after all."
After I say that, Aunt Mayoi embraces me gently and whispers in my ear, "I know that, too." She lets go just as gently and says, "Of course, from everything you've told me about this Hisao Nakai, I'd be willing to venture that the love he had for you hasn't died, so much as it's taken on a different form. When you're ready, maybe you could try and do the same for him."
I smile at Aunt Mayoi and reply, "That sounds like the voice of experience talking."
"You can be very perceptive about such things," she says, and I can hear her returning my smile as she does. "That, I think, is the MacPherson side of you. Are you sure you'll be all right?"
"As sure as I can be, under the circumstances." I smile more broadly, saying, "But if I'm not, I might just turn up on your doorstep again."
"I think I might be able to accommodate you," Aunt Mayoi says with a laugh. "It's almost enough to make me wish for it, so don't make that the only time you come see me. I would really like to meet these two friends of yours sometime, too."
"I'll do my best. I had hoped that perhaps we would meet Hanako here, since her room is right next to mine, but it seems that she's either not there, or..."
"Or perhaps she's just waiting for me to depart," Aunt Mayoi says sagely. She leans over to give me another quick hug. "I should really be going anyway. After all, I have to see if I can walk back to my car slowly enough to run into my own daughter before I leave. Take care, Lilly."
"You take care as well, Aunt Mayoi. Drive safely."
"In other words, don't drive like your sister?" she says, and we both laugh. "I can manage that." With that, I hear my door close. True to her word, my aunt's footsteps retreat very slowly
down the hall, and I giggle to myself.
I open my closet door, and I run my hand along the school uniforms still hanging there, wrapped in plastic. There's a cold feeling to them, almost as if I've already projected myself into them. I back away, probing for the edge of the bed with my hands, and sit down. Unbidden, my hand moves to the nightstand, and the other item I left behind when I departed the other day.
I briefly wonder if the time has come to rid myself of this wooden ghost, so that I'm spared that particular pain. Then, my aunt's words come to mind, about how love can sometimes change its form. If and when mine does, perhaps I'll regret having been spared. For now, I choose the same answer I did when I was in Scotland, burying it in the bottom drawer of my dresser so that, until that day comes, I won't be reminded regularly of my own folly.
I still have some time before I meet with Hanako, so I start unpacking for the third time this week. This time, I intend to finish the job quickly, but I barely get halfway through the first bag before my fatigue gets the better of me, and I lie down on the bed. Sleep overtakes me for a while, and when I wake up it's nearly two o'clock. If Hanako was in her room, she likely would have made her presence known by now. That means I'm likely to find her waiting for me in the tea room. Not sure whether it would be wise to arrive early, I decide to take a roundabout path to the main building.
As I walk along one of the crisscrossing paths behind the dormitory, I hear a familiar voice call, "Hey! Lilly!"
Picking up the sound of running blades hitting the pavement, it's not hard to guess the source of the voice. "My, my, is that Emi?"
"Yep, that's me!" she replies in her usual irrepressibly cheerful manner. "So, I didn't think you'd be back so quick. You get everything squared away with Hanako already?"
"Hmmm," I say, noncommittally. "I may have to have a talk with Hisao about telling you that."
"Hey!" Emi says indignantly, "I talk to Hanako, too, you know! She's the one who told me she was trying to find you. I just..." She pauses before saying, "Never mind. Anyway, I don't know the details, but if you're back, then Hanako's probably happy about that."
"Well, we haven't had the chance to talk just yet. I'm going to be meeting her shortly, though."
"Ohhhhhhh, gotcha. Hey, are you out here for a walk to clear your head before you talk to her? It might not be as good as running, but walking can be good, too, if that's what you're after." I can almost hear the wink in Emi's voice as she says that.
"After a fashion," I reply, smiling in return. "What about you, then? I don't think we've met in quite some time, but I've certainly...heard some things."
"Heh, yeah, Hisao told me he's been talking to you. This has been a weird summer break, that's for sure. Anyway, I guess you could say I'm gonna be squaring some things away for myself soon, too. Actually, it's kinda good that I ran into you, because I had something I wanted to ask you."
That surprises me. I don't remember the last time Emi initiated a conversation with me, so I'm intrigued. "Oh? What might that be?"
"Were you...serious about your offer to help me out with English? Or, well...anything?"
I blink in utter surprise at the question, which was not at all what I might have expected. I search my memory, and recall that indeed, the last time we met was when we were comparing English test scores. I had been serious when I made the offer, but with college exams fast approaching, I'm not sure I'd have the time for tutoring. Still, given her rather strong negative response at the time, and the fact that she never struck me as a particularly serious student, my curiosity is raised further. "If I may ask, what brought this on?"
"Oh, nothing, really! I've just been thinking...well, you know, it's our senior year, and I just want to see if I might have a shot at...well, maybe it's just a stupid idea anyway. I've been having a lot of those lately."
"No, it's not stupid at all. You're not an unintelligent girl, Emi. I just never had the impression that you cared about such things."
"Yeah, I know, I can't deny that. Just...some stuff happened to change that. Anyway, if you're okay with it, I'll give you my number, and you can let me know if you get a chance."
The smile returns to my face as I say, "All right, why not? I may not have the time, but if I do I'd be happy to help."
"Thanks a lot, Lilly," Emi says as the two of us exchange contact information. "I have a feeling I'm going to need all the help I can get. Anyway, um, I need to go take a shower, then grab something to eat. See ya!" The distinctive sound of Emi's running blades echoes again around me as she takes off for the dormitory. I'm still not sure what to make of our discussion, but teaching is what I want to do with my life, so teaching someone like Emi could be a good experience. With that thought, I check my watch, and note that I should probably start on my way to the main building.
I make my way up to the tea room, and I find the door locked. It seems Hanako isn't here after all, but I knock on the door to be sure. The door doesn't open, and since I no longer have my key I have no choice but to wait. I start to feel a bit restless, and find myself longing to be on the other side of the door, making some tea. The impending meeting has me anxious, and in this unusual case it's not just about Hanako.
Time passes slowly, with the corridor entirely devoid of activity at this time of day. I expected that to be the case, but that makes it no less troublesome. It makes being patient increasingly difficult, as the silence plays upon my already-anxious mind. There isn't even the smell of old books that usually comes from the library now. I check my watch, and it claims that I've only been here for five minutes.
It's no wonder that sensory deprivation is often used as a form of torture.
I thank providence for the sound of a door opening down the hall, followed by one of uneasy footsteps approaching. I wait a few seconds before calling out, "Hanako, is that you?"
"Y-yes, Lilly...it's m-me." Just as it did on the phone, her voice sounds timid. It's a far cry from our last meeting, as though the progress I'd noticed over the past months had never happened. Nevertheless, it's a welcome sound right now. "S-sorry to keep you...waiting. I w-was just...up on the roof."
"Shall we go in, then?"
"Oh!" Hanako says, sounding startled. "I f-forgot you don't h-have the key."
I hear the door being unlocked, and once it opens I enter behind her. I smile gently, moving toward the workspace on the right side of the room. "If you don't mind, I'd like to make some tea. After all, I've been away from this room for some time, and it would be nice to become reacquainted with it."
"O-okay," Hanako says, and I hear her start to arrange the tea service on the table behind me. She seems a bit calmer now than when I spoke to her on the phone, so perhaps doing something familiar is helping her as well. What she has to say, especially if it's what my sister and cousin have implied, is likely difficult for her, too. My first instinct is to tell her preemptively that it's nothing about which she needs to be concerned. It's the same instinct that has for years allowed me to negotiate the sometimes odd eddies and currents of my family: to always be accommodating for their sakes. However, lately I have begun to learn that in the wrong circumstances, it can do more harm than good, and this is one of those circumstances. This is about what Hanako
needs to do, and somehow I need to be able to allow her to do it.
I prepare the tea in silence, and I can feel Hanako's eyes on my back. I take a deep breath to stem the rising tension within me so that my hands don't shake as I pour the tea. Once that's done, I take my customary seat on the far side of the table. The silence grows for a few moments as I wait for Hanako to be ready to speak her peace. Neither of us seems inclined to so much as take a sip from our respective cups.
Finally, the silence is broken. "Lilly, I...wanted to apologize for what I said the other day," Hanako says, slowly and clearly in a way that is obviously taking some effort. "I...shouldn't have pushed you the way I did, because I realize that...we may never be able to discuss our feelings...for Hisao. I...hope that you'll forgive me, but I also hope that...in the future, you'll be able to trust me...as a real friend."
Hanako's words strike my heart. This is what she's been wanting for a while, and on the surface it seems like such a straightforward request. There is, however, a bit of a catch to it. "I...accept your apology, Hanako. Please believe me when I say that I would like nothing more than for you to feel that I consider you a true friend. I already trust you more than anyone other than Akira, and I hope you give me the opportunity to prove that to you. My inability to talk to you about my feelings for Hisao had nothing to do with trust, and everything to do with not wanting to hurt someone close to me. I wish those feelings wouldn't come into conflict, but they did, and they may again someday. I left Yamaku the other day in part to try and resolve that conflict, and at least for now I think I have. If that conversation is one you still wish to have, I am more than happy to oblige."
"Th-thank you...for saying that, Lilly," Hanako says, sounding a bit sad. "If I could...oblige you in return, I would, but I...c-can't, not right now."
"Hanako, I..." I pause, remembering what she said to me on the phone. I should have known that whatever happened, it would take priority over this. I'm chagrined to discover that I'm a little relieved at that prospect. I reach out my hand across the table, searching for hers, then feel her take it. "Okay, then," I say gently, "in that case, if you'll let me, I'll be more than happy to listen."
Hanako squeezes my hand softly, then begins speaking, returning to the halting delivery from this morning. "I sh-should probably...s-start from the beginning. A f-few days ago, Hisao...told me that Emi...was going to s-stop running with him. She'd been...avoiding him, n-not wanting to talk about...s-something." I recall my own conversation with Hisao, where he said something similar. "I t-told him I'd...talk to her...but..." Hanako pauses, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. "A c-couple days later – on S-Sunday – Hisao was...frustrated, and said...m-maybe Emi was right, and...h-he should find some other way to...g-get his exercise."
Hanako pauses again, and I say, "In a way, that might have been a good thing. It would mean the two of them would be spending less time together, after all. Perhaps he was trying to tell you that he wasn't feeling as close to her as he had."
After a moment, during which I can hear Hanako's hair rustling softly, she replies, "I...sh-should have considered that, I guess. I w-was more concerned...about what would h-happen if he stopped. I d-didn't want his heart...to s-start acting l-like it did...like it did in H-Hokkaido..."
Hokkaido...all roads really do seem to lead back there when it comes to the three of us.
I remember once, shortly after we returned from our holiday, Hanako told me something that struck me as odd back then. She said she'd had a nightmare about Hisao's attack, and that I wasn't there to help her, so she panicked and felt paralyzed. I don't doubt that it still weighs heavily on her. "Indeed, I think that's the one part of that trip that none of us wishes to relive."
"That's...wh-what worried me," Hanako says, sounding a little angry, "b-because he could...say that so easily after that. He...s-said he was never...a-an active person, and I th-thought...he'd fall back into...old habits. If s-something happened..." After a short pause, Hanako's voice gets much quieter as she finishes, "Emi's...the only one...that I c-could trust to...handle it."
Hanako's words take me aback. "I...I must admit I'm surprised to hear you say that. I didn't know you and she were so close."
"Emi...saved his life once. Hisao i-is important to her, too. I know that...if a-anyone can...make sure he's taking care of himself, she can."
"Saved his life? I'm not sure I know what you mean."
"I thought...H-Hisao might have t-told you. It was...a couple of days after I...c-confessed to him. He w-was trying to...s-sort out his feelings, and he...went out to the t-track by himself..." Hanako pauses, and it's obvious that this is a painful memory for her. "A little while later, Emi....found him, l-lying there...and she...c-carried him up to...Nurse's office..." Her voice trails off, but she's certainly explained things well enough.
"I remember how hard that was for the two of us. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to do by herself." Even as I say that, my own mind is putting the pieces together. If that happened a couple of days after her confession, then it was the day after...
Oh, no. Oh, God, no...
...it was the day after she told him our relationship was over.
What...what might I have almost...?
Hanako must see the look on my face, because she immediately asks in a frightened tone, "Lilly, are you all right?"
"I'm fine," I say without thinking, but regret it almost immediately. If there was ever a time to start being honest about such things with Hanako, it's now. She's asked it so often of me, after all. I allow my smile to fade, and I bow my head as I correct myself. "No, actually, that's not true. I was just...thinking about the timing of that incident, and I realized that it must have happened right after you told him about my feelings...the ones that...that were half-hearted. That must have been playing on his mind along with your confession, and so I must bear some responsibility for what happened that day."
I hear Hanako's sharp intake of breath, and realize that perhaps she hadn't entirely thought through the implications of what she'd said. "L-Lilly, no! Don't...blame yourself for it! It...w-was my own fault for...t-trying to move too fast..."
I sigh dejectedly. "No, Hanako, in all honesty, we probably each deserve a share of it. In my case, I should have been honest with myself from the beginning. If I had..." I stop myself there, as I realize that the words I've just said have implications of their own, ones that don't need to be made right now.
Hanako's likely already considered that by now, anyway.
I lift my head again, but can't bring myself to put on my usual smile just now. "I'm sorry, Hanako. None of that matters right now, so...please, continue your story."
After a pause, Hanako tentatively responds, "O-okay." I hear her take a deep breath, then a second, before continuing. "Just...a little bit a-after that, I r-ran into Emi. I...asked her to p-promise that...she'd k-keep running with Hisao, and...sh-she agreed. I...was relieved...u-until yesterday."
When Hanako doesn't continue right away, I wonder if she's expecting me to react. If she is, I'm not sure why, so I decide to just prompt her to continue. "So, what happened yesterday?"
"E-Emi...told Hisao wh-what I'd asked. I...hadn't told him wh-what I was...going to do, and...he s-said I...he said it f-felt like I didn't...trust him." From the sound of her voice, it sounds like she's bowing her head as she says this. "I...c-couldn't deny it...s-so I w-walked away."
I'm reminded of how guarded Hisao was about his arrhythmia, how he'd always told me not to worry about him when I asked. There were times I often felt helpless, so I'm not surprised Hanako acted as she did. "I know Hisao can be...sensitive when it comes to his condition, or at least he could
be. He seems more inclined to talk about it lately, but still, that could have something to do with his reaction."
"I th-thought so, too. I th-thought it might...be okay, but then th-this morning...I t-tried to call him to let him know...I was going to meet with you. But...when I...when I..." Hanako's voice starts to waver again, and I hear her take a couple of deep breaths before continuing. "When I...c-called him, someone else...p-picked up the phone. It was...Y-Yoshimura."
Yoshimura? The girl who lives across the hall from us?
More pieces suddenly begin to fall into place. I remember on the night I arrived, Hanako seemed upset when Hisao referred to Yoshimura as "Noriko." I attributed that to Yoshimura's reputation, but perhaps there was something else at work. "My, my, I can certainly understand why you would be upset by that. Have you talked to Hisao about this yet?"
"I...couldn't. I couldn't...even dial his n-number again. I...w-wanted to t-talk to...someone else first. E-everything I...every time I try on my own..."
Something seems a bit off to me about all this, and until now I wasn't sure what it was. Now, however, it's starting to clarify. "Hanako, what do you think happened between Hisao and Yoshimura?"
"I..." Hanako starts, but then trails off into silence. I wait a few moments to see if she's going to say any more, but she doesn't.
"Are you still concerned about what we discussed the other day? About...falling behind?"
"I'm...t-trying not to be. I kn-now I...that I shouldn't, but...I'm j-just scared of...of losing him."
"Hanako, do you really think that little of Hisao? After everything you've been through together, that something like this would cause him to seek comfort from Yoshimura
? Is that something that you honestly believe Hisao would do?"
"I..." Hanako seems to be getting even more agitated as I speak. I wonder for a moment if I've already gone too far, and I certainly don't want to risk pushing her over the edge into a panic attack. This is why I never wanted to have this conversation, but I remind myself that this is the choice she wanted me to make.
"Hanako, I know this is going to sound bad, so please don't get angry at what I'm about to say. If you really think Hisao would treat you like that, that he would behave that way, then maybe...maybe you're not ready for the kind of relationship you want to have with Hisao."
Even though it's something I know I had to say, I cringe at my own words. I know Hanako needed to hear this, but given her own state of mind and the fact that it's coming from me
brings to mind the old saying: this may hurt me more than it hurts you. For a moment after I say it, all I can hear is Hanako's ragged breathing, but then I hear a single word, spoken in a whisper.
I don't respond at first, because I'm not even sure I heard it, or if I did that it came from Hanako and not from ambient noise outside. However, all doubt is removed a moment later, when she repeats the word in a loud, ringing voice that resounds in my head.
As she says this, I hear her chair slide back across the floor, and I hear something – her hand, maybe – hit the table, causing the tea things to rattle. At first, I'm too surprised to say anything. When I recover, all I can say is, "Hanako..." before she starts talking again.
"I'm not going to let you come between me and Hisao again!" Hanako says forcefully, without any of the stammering that was so pronounced before. "You're trying to get me to give up on him so that you won't feel guilty about trying to get him back!"
I sit there, trying to let Hanako's anger wash over me, hoping that it's born of a need to vent and nothing more. "Hanako, I've already accepted that we're not going to be together." I refrain from adding that she may need to accept the same thing, because that would simply be adding fuel to the fire. "But..."
"I knew this was going to happen! From the moment I heard you were coming back here, I knew you were going to try and get Hisao back! I trusted you when you told me you were over him, and then you wouldn't admit you were still in love with him! And even now, you still are!"
Unfortunately, I can't deny that. "I may still love Hisao, but I would never try to win him back after giving you my blessing to pursue him."
"YOU'RE STILL DOING THAT, TOO!" Hanako says, raising her voice even further. "You're still
treating me like I can't handle anything on my own! You think I couldn't compete against you, don't you? You think that if you don't step aside, that Hisao would leave me for you?" Hanako stops, and her breathing is becoming even more irregular. When she starts talking again, her voice is much softer, and more like it's been the last few times we've spoken. "Maybe you're right. Maybe he would...go running back to you if you tried. Don't let me stop you. Don't h-hold back for my sake. If you want Hisao back, then by all means, d-do your best, because I know I'll be doing mine."
This outburst is enough to make me wonder if I'm even talking to Hanako anymore. Does she really believe what she's saying? "Hanako, even if I did
want Hisao back, he's made it quite clear that he doesn't want me. I don't know what else I can say that would make a difference."
"Since I can't trust a-anything you say, maybe nothing. So how long has it been like this? Since you t-told me Emi was...better suited to Hisao than I was?"
My back stiffens at that remark. Now she's going to throw something I said jokingly in my face? "Hanako," I say, my own voice rising more than I'd like, "I have never intentionally deceived you about any of this. That was a joke, nothing more. I would dearly like to see you and Hisao happy, and would be even more proud if you found that happiness together. That is more important to me than anything else right now."
"STOP IT!" Hanako screams, sounding almost unhinged as she does. "It d-doesn't even matter if you're lying anymore! I want you to stop thinking of me like that! I want you to stop thinking of HISAO like that, and...and I want you to stop thinking of YOURSELF like that! Don't you understand? I need you to treat me with RESPECT!"
My entire body turns cold at that statement, and with my teeth clenched, I reply, "I don't think you know what that means." I hear Hanako start to take a breath, but I cut her off. "I have done nothing
but treat you with respect since we met. I have helped you whenever I could, and now I am getting out of your way when it's the right thing to do. You are a different person than when I left, but even you have said that things with Hisao went too far, too fast. I just...I don't want you to make the mistake I did."
"THIS ISN'T A MISTAKE ANY MORE!" Hanako shouts in response. "Things w-were finally starting to work out for us! If things are broken now, then...then..." Hanako sits down in her chair, and her voice sounds quiet and raspy as she continues. "Then it's because I did something to Hisao that's like what you do to me..."
The shift in tone is abrupt, and I struggle to follow it. "What...what do you mean?"
"Hisao said that...he said...that I was treating him like...like you treated me. I wasn't...treating him as...a true...e-equal." I wait for her to continue, and after a few seconds, she says, "Maybe...I just n-need to stay away...for a while. I'm...picking up your...b-bad habits."
Her words sound almost like a joke, but they're said in all seriousness. I start to say, "I'm not sure I..." but then she interrupts me.
"Here," Hanako says, and I hear her stand up again, followed by the sound of something metal being placed on the table in front of me. "T-take the key. I've had...enough of this room...for a while." Unable to say anything in reply, I move my hand over to where I heard the key placed and pick it up, clutching it for dear life, as I listen to Hanako's footsteps go to, then through, the door.
Well, Lilly, old girl, you've done it now. When are you going to learn?
Once again, I tried to accommodate Hanako, and it did nothing other than make things worse. I know that's not what she wants, but sometimes I just can't stop myself from doing it. I know there are times when I should, but it's not something that I can change easily. I hope that someday, Hanako will understand that, and not blame me for it, but I suppose today was never going to be that day.
Not wanting to sit still, I start preparing another pot of tea. I can't really go back to the dorms right now, and...
I can't burden anyone else, now, can I?
That's the first thing that springs to mind, and I laugh ruefully at myself. Not wanting to burden anyone is, perhaps, at the root of a lot of what has gone badly these past few weeks, if not longer. I stand in front of the kettle, waiting for it to complete its task, before bringing it back to the table and pouring a cup for myself. I stir my tea idly, taking what small pleasure I can from the scent wafting from it with each revolution of the spoon. The voice of Nellie Forbush is now a distant memory of the morning, replaced by that of Emile De Becque.
Now, now I'm alone,
Still dreaming of paradise,
Still saying that paradise
Once nearly was mine.
If only my own ending could be like theirs...
Just as I'm bringing the cup to my lips, I hear the door to the tea room open once again. I curse myself for forgetting to lock it, and again upon hearing the voice of the person behind it.
"Lilly? I didn't expect to find you here."
I sigh heavily, knowing that my penance is an ongoing one. "Good afternoon, Hisao."