"Here," I say as I stand up. I take the key to this room and put it on the table next to Lilly's right hand. To me, the memories here are starting to feel haunted, like the ones from Hokkaido. "T-take the key. I've had...enough of this room...for a while." Lilly's eyes start to water as she moves her hand to the key, taking it without a word. Not wanting to give her the chance to change my mind, I quickly walk through the door and out into the hallway.
I only make it a few steps away before my knees nearly give way.
Lilly, how could you?
I put my left hand out against the wall to steady myself and focus on my breathing.
How could you say something like that?
That outburst drained what little energy I had, but it was enough to pull the cork from the genie's bottle.
How could you say I can't be with Hisao?
Keeping my hand on the wall, I slowly continue on my way toward the stairwell. I keep expecting to hear the door to the tea room open again, followed by the tack-tack-tack
of Lilly's cane approaching like something out of Edgar Allan Poe, but it never does.
She doesn't need to come after me. The damage has already been done.
Finally, I reach the door and open it, and once it closes behind me I finally feel like I can breathe. I move to one side and lean against the wall, and the tears come rushing out.
Things were going too well for you, weren't they?
No, I can't even say that. I don't even know if anything was going well in the first place. This was going to happen all along. They were always going to get back together.
And now they will, and there's nothing you can do about it.
I can't stay here. Someone will be coming here soon enough, whether it's Lilly or Hisao or whoever. There's no way I can go back to my room, not with Lilly next door. I haven't eaten anything today, but I don't care, and I couldn't go to the cafeteria anyway. That only leaves one place.
Back where I started.
I turn to start climbing the stairs, holding onto the railing for all I'm worth. The roof is the only place I have left that doesn't hold a reminder of how my life has come crashing down around me over the past few days.
Ever since Lilly came back.
I was a fool to ever think Lilly could be a real friend to me. All I was to her was a project, to see if she could fix me. When she left for Scotland, she told me I'd be strong someday, but that was just her way of excusing herself, because she never really thought that her work was finished. She needed to have a reason to cast me aside, so she wouldn't feel guilty about leaving.
Then, when she came back, she thought she could just pick up where she left off, but it was too late for that. In the end, she showed her true colors. I'd let her convince me that she wasn't still after Hisao, because I was blinded by my desire to reconcile. I went into the tea room today wanting to trust Lilly – no, needing
to trust Lilly.
And look how that turned out.
I open the door and step out onto the roof, and my mind continues to churn.
She came back for Hisao, and today was the final proof of that.
When I walked into the tea room and saw Lilly sitting in her usual place, wearing her usual expression, for one fleeting moment I thought everything would be okay.
In other words, you were a fool.
When I tried to apologize for trying to force her to talk about Hisao, we came to an understanding too easily. That should have been my first hint that something was wrong. The way she so quickly told me she was willing to talk about her feelings, after I'd just told her I shouldn't have asked that of her, was maddening. It was set up so nicely for her to ingratiate herself to me, so that when she tried to drive that wedge between me and Hisao I would just accept it.
You should have expected it. She loves Hisao, so of course she was going to exploit an opening if she saw one.
At least Lilly was willing to admit that Hisao would never betray me with Yoshimura. It was the one thing I was happy to hear her say. I knew it was true in my head, but I just couldn't fight back my fear that I was wrong, that he already had
betrayed me. I needed someone
to confirm that that fear was unfounded, that I wasn't trusting in him too much, and Lilly was all I had. I just couldn't ask her without reconciling with her first.
She just had to ruin it by saying your doubt meant you couldn't have a relationship with him. With you out of the way, she'd have a clear path to Hisao for herself.
I should have known everything was too good to be true. That was what my instincts were trying to tell me. Miss Yumi tried to warn me, but I didn't listen. If only she'd just come out and told me that Hisao didn't really care about me, things might have been different. Instead, I let myself trust her, and Lilly, and Hisao, but in the end they all betrayed me.
Now, I have nobody left.
I sit down heavily on the rough surface of the roof, and I draw my knees in, wrapping my arms around them.
That's how you knew this was going to end up all along, right? Smallest of all?
No! It wasn't supposed to end like this! Things were getting better! THINGS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE GETTING BETTER!!!!!
"I-I was...s-supposed to be..."
For a while, I just sit here, letting everything that wants to come out of me, come out. I can hear the sounds of life in the distance, but none of it touches me right now. I can't even bear to open my eyes, for fear that someone will be standing there, seeing this.
Lilly. Hisao. What have I done to you? What have I done to
Of course I'm not any better. How could I ever have thought I was? Everything Lilly said to me today played perfectly on my fears. Normally, I would have taken off to go do something, but today I didn't. In that moment, I didn't just think that all my mistakes had come home to roost. I knew
. Everything I didn't want to believe but could never quite stop, everything that had happened to me after the accident, was right there
, coloring what I saw and what I heard, bringing all my fears, all my nightmares to the surface in one grand fountain.
And I let myself be carried along by them.
I stood there, shouting at Lilly, raging against not just her, but my own fears. Was that any better
than running away?
And now that the storm has passed, here I am running anyway.
Those fears may have backed off for now, but I can still feel them, like flames licking at my mind, because I don't have any way to see past them, to see what I'm supposed to do next. I've been lurching from one crisis to another for so long, trying to keep my panic under control. In the end, I couldn't keep up with them, and now they've all outrun me.
Maybe that's what I need now: to stand still.
Handing the key to the tea room back to Lilly may have been the smartest thing I did today. I don't want to risk a reoccurrence of today's events any time soon. As I think about the conversation that just ended, I have to wonder if the whole thing was just the latest in my long line of mistakes.
You would have been better off if you'd just stayed locked in your room this morning.
She probably would have come there if I'd asked, too.
After what had happened this morning, I needed to be in familiar surroundings when I met with her. If I'm honest about it, from the moment I walked into the tea room there were signs that something was wrong. There were dark circles under Lilly's eyes, and her face looked pale and drawn. I wondered how much she'd slept, or eaten, since the last time I'd seen her. Seeing her in that state, and knowing that I played a role in bringing her to it, made my need to reconcile with her grow even stronger.
That all belied what she was thinking, about trying to split you and Hisao apart.
Did it, though?
If Lilly really does want Hisao for herself, why tell me I could pursue him in the first place? She knew that if she'd asked me to refrain from pursuing Hisao, I would have done so for her sake. She even knew I'd done it once before. Was it some sort of game, where she hoped that I would fail miserably and give up on him for good? That sounds like the sort of thing she dislikes Shizune for doing. Even if it was true, she didn't need to intervene in the process afterwards. I was doing a perfectly good job of making mistakes on my own. She could just as easily have sat back and watched it happen while looking on with that placid smile on her face.
Besides that, a lot of what she said was right. I had forgotten how sensitive Hisao is about his condition, probably because of the way I found out. My fears of falling behind did
contribute to my reaction to his relationship with Yoshimura. Because he never responded to my confession, our relationship always felt like it was on a knife edge, and that it might slip off at any moment. Then, just when I'd finally begun to find myself on the same wavelength as him, this happened.
There was one important place where Lilly was wrong, though. She said I'm not ready for the kind of relationship I want with Hisao, but that's not what I was trying to do. That wasn't the mistake I was making. I made the mistake of trying to give Hisao the kind of relationship he
wanted. All I've
All I've wanted was what Hisao was already giving me.
That was my folly in a nutshell. I already had
what I wanted: someone who'd be patient with me, someone who'd calm me down when I need it, who'd hold me when I want it, and who'd bear with me through anything. Hisao was already doing all those things, and I thought I needed to give him something he wanted in return.
But it's only what you
thought he wanted. You never asked him, did you? You never told him what you wanted either. You never
could ask him, because your own walls wouldn't let you.
I let out a long sigh and lift my head. The sun is already starting to set behind the mountain. Without realizing it, I'd made the same mistake Lilly did after all. I didn't trust Hisao enough, because I couldn't.
Lilly at least had a better reason not to open up to him, because he never opened up to her. What reason did I have? Just because I've been betrayed so many times? I kept telling myself that Hisao really was different, but when push came to shove I never really believed it. I should have. I should have believed he'd find a way to keep himself healthy. I should have believed he wouldn't betray me, that Yoshimura picking up his phone had a reasonable explanation.
But you didn't. And now your walls are another layer thick.
And then I turned around and gave him a reason not to trust me, too.
I remember how proud of myself I was the day I convinced Emi not to give up on running with Hisao. Lilly used to tell me about a saying she'd learned at the school she attended before coming to Yamaku: "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." It sounded strange, even in English I think, but I think it sums up these last few days pretty well. I certainly feel as though I've been doing nothing but falling since then.
I shouldn't have gotten so upset at his reaction the next day. It was just another one of those crises that was making me feel like a pinball, but if I really did make him feel like Lilly had made me feel, it wouldn't be the first time I made the mistake of mimicking Lilly instead of relying on myself. I really wasn't exaggerating in thinking I was picking up too many of her habits.
I haven't had the chance to talk to Hisao since then, either. Now that Lilly has the key to the tea room, I need to figure out where we can meet. Maybe we could walk into town – it would be nice to be able to get away from the school after everything that's happened. I may not be able to have the relationship Lilly thinks I want with Hisao, but maybe there's still a way to salvage the relationship I do
Maybe Hisao might even still want it, too. I have to hope for that. I just need to keep myself from repeating these mistakes.
Just as I'm thinking that, a chilly breeze washes over the rooftop, making me shiver. My own warmth has apparently run out, so it's time to get back. I'm not sure I'm feeling any better than I did when I left the tea room, but I think I'm as ready as I can be to go back. Resignedly, I get up and slowly make my way toward the door. I'm only a couple of steps away from it when suddenly there's a loud "bang", and the door comes flying open. Behind it is a dark, thin figure, and as it steps out into the twilight it turns out to be Tezuka. When she sees me, she jumps backwards slightly with a surprised expression, and I'm pretty sure I do the same. Slowly, the door swings back until it closes between us again.
I...wasn't ready for THAT, though...
I slowly open the door again to find that Tezuka hasn't moved. She blinks at me a few times, the surprised expression never leaving her face, until she says in a voice filled with wonder, "I never knew there was a toilet up here. If I had, these past three years would have been so much easier."
Still surprised, my mouth moves silently for a moment before I find my voice. "Um...n-no, there isn't one."
"Oh," she says, looking crestfallen. "That's too bad." After that, she stands there, her weight shifting from foot to foot, not saying anything. Her gaze wanders from the door to the stairs to me without really focusing on any of them.
Finally, not wanting to stay out here any longer, I say, "W-was there some...reason you wanted to c-come up here?"
"Probably," she replies.
"D-don't you know?"
Tezuka shrugs without looking at me. "I saw the door was open, so I thought someone might be here. I see that I was right," she finishes with a nod and an odd smile.
That's no more of an answer than before. "I-in that case, c-can you...let me through? I was j-just...leaving."
She looks at me quizzically, then says, "Oh, so I was both right and
wrong. Interesting. If you keep holding the door like that, I won't have to kick it again."
It takes a moment for my brain to catch up with what she's saying. "Oh! R-right, that would be...easier." I continue holding the door as she walks out onto the roof, ending up standing in the same spot I had just left. Before I leave, I glance back at Tezuka. I don't know if I'll ever understand her, but I realize that if nothing else, she's another person who doesn't seem to treat me differently than she does anyone else.
Maybe there are more of those than I used to think. Or maybe it's just because we've started to talk to each other a little.
Miss Yumi's told me before that as people get to know me, whatever negative reactions they have to my appearance will eventually fade. She always encourages me to keep working at building those relationships, like with the people at the newspaper club. I've tried to do that, with some pretty wildly mixed results. Changing things positively is a lot harder when you remember how easy it was for the opposite to happen. I know very well how much a person's view of me can change when they see something they don't
like. I can never forget that.
And now it's happening all over again -- your best friends are abandoning you.
No. No, they're not. If anyone's been abandoning anyone,
them. I'm the one who's letting my fears get the better of me.
Is it...better that way?
It's nearly dark by the time I get back to my dorm room. I should probably eat something, but I just don't have the energy to prepare a meal. I'd force myself to do it anyway, but that would risk running into my hallmates, and I'm still not ready to handle that right now. Instead, I change into my nightgown, lie down and see if reading will take my mind off things for a while.
Ever since the library closed, I've found it hard to immerse myself even in my favorite novels. Besides the fact that it's much more comfortable there, my relationship with my books has changed over these past few weeks. Something in them, a character or even a single passage, always seems to remind me of something going on in my own life right now. It's something that I'd always known could happen, but it always felt more hypothetical, and although I often fantasized about it, in reality I was always more comfortable with that distance. Of course, the things I fantasized about were always less mundane
than this. Still, it's given me a new, if unwelcome, perspective on those stories.
I'm just starting to settle in when I'm startled by a sharp knock on my door.
Please go away...whoever you are...
No...I can't...not you...anyone but you...
After a few seconds pause, she raises her voice and says, "Ikezawa, I need to talk to you, so stop being a hermit already!"
I'm being a hermit right now partially because of you.
"I know you're in there, Ikezawa, I heard you come in, and I know you wouldn't go anywhere else. I've got something I need to tell you, so...just open the door a little or something."
Sure. Something she wants to tell you. Like, "I fucked Hisao, Ikezawa, and now he's mine."
No. Hisao didn't betray me. Stop thinking like that.
You don't know for certain. You haven't even talked to him yet.
STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT ST-!
"Okay, Ikezawa, if you're not going to open the door, I'll just yell through it. I don't care who hears what I have to say, so if you do, you might wanna open the door. I'll give you a minute to think about it."
Now I'm cornered, because even if Lilly's not here, Yoshimura is loud enough to be heard down in the common room. Maybe...just a crack in the door...like I did...
Like you did for Hisao on your birthday?
Yes. Like I did for Hisao on my birthday. I could handle that, I can handle this.
Slowly, I pull myself out from my blanket and I make my way to the door. I can hear footsteps pacing up and down the hall outside, and I hesitate before opening it. I don't know Yoshimura well enough to be able to read her, but at this point it doesn't matter. When I finally do open the door, she stops in mid-stride and turns to me with an odd expression on her face. "Huh," she says, sounding surprised. "Guess it worked. So, do you want to do this through the door, or can I come in?"
I blink a couple of times as I wonder why she's being so considerate. Right now, though, I'm not ready to invite someone who's essentially a stranger into my room, so I just shake my head. "Here's f-fine."
Yoshimura shrugs. "Okay. So, I answered your boyfriend's phone. I was hung over, and didn't know where I was, and he's got the same model phone I do."
I barely even get my mouth open when she continues, "And no, I didn't do anything with him." the corners of her mouth turn slightly upwards, "Not that I didn't try
, mind you..."
You TRIED to sleep with him?
Even though I didn't think I had the energy, I immediately start to get angry again. "W-what..."
"Relax, Ikezawa. He turned me down without a second thought," she says with a shrug, and I bite my tongue because I want to hear the rest of this. "He's got no interest in me, but I think in some weird way we might be friends?" She seems puzzled, and she's not the only one. "Anyway, Hisao let me come along because his buddy – what's his name, the one who replaced your friend as class rep...Yoshi? Yeah, Yoshi, that's his name – so he wanted me to come." She pauses again. "He wasn't bad...well, for a virgin anyway."
"Um..." I really don't want to hear any more of this part of the story, so I start to close the door.
"Wait a second, Ikezawa, just one last thing, okay?" I open the door only as far as it was before, and Yoshimura relaxes a bit. "Sorry about getting off track, but...well, anyway, since I probably caused you all kinds of angst and shit, I figure I owe you one. So," she says, taking a deep breath, "I probably shouldn't be telling you, but Hisao said some stuff while he was drunk last night that you might wanna know."
I gasp at this, because I've only been drunk once myself, and my memory of that night is pretty hazy. I'm not sure I want to know what Hisao was like. "I-I'd...rather n-not..."
Yoshimura lowers her head. "Yeah, I get it. You don't want me to say anything that would hurt Hisao. Believe me, I get that. I..." Yoshimura sighs, then looks up at me again. "I guess I'll just say that I'm not the one you should be worried about, and leave it at that."
I really hope she's talking about Emi, but the feeling in the pit of my stomach tells me otherwise. "What do you m-mean?"
"Well, first of all, let me say that Hisao is absolutely no fun
when he's drunk. I mean, he was kinda down when we started, but after he'd had a couple shots he was downright morose
. That's just not healthy...no pun intended or offense or whatever." I swallow my rising bile, then take a deep breath and motion for Yoshimura to keep talking. "So, anyway, after a while he started going on and on about having lost something. Yoshi went to ask him what he was talking about, and he said "I lost my chance...she's not gonna give me another..." and then some stuff I couldn't hear. Then...he just passed out and didn't say anything else."
Lost his chance? Yoshimura's right, that can't be me...
As if reading my mind, Yoshimura looks almost sad. "Yeah, he wasn't talking about you. He even told Yoshi he was planning on having lunch with you today, and was worried about some fight or something. Anyway, I would've asked him this morning when he woke up, but then Fastest Thing showed up and pushed us out the door. I don't think I ever wanna see her mad again, either." Yoshimura winks at me through the door. "It's always the little ones that have the most fight."
I barely hear what she's saying anymore as I try to figure out who he meant. It could be Emi, since they were having problems, but after how adamant he was about trying to keep running with her it probably isn't. Besides, would she have shown up at his room like that if she was still avoiding him? In that case...
Oh. Of course.
It has to be Lilly, doesn't it? It has
to be. He probably thinks that after he rejected her the other day, she wouldn't want him back. I know better, though. I guess I don't even have the chance I thought I did. The moment the two of them meet, it will all begin again, and I'll be nothing but Lilly's failed project.
"Hey, Ikezawa? Are you spacing out on me or something?"
Yoshimura's voice brings me back from inside my head. "S-sorry," I reply, trying not to look at her.
She shrugs and addresses me again. "Anyway, knowing Hisao, he'll probably tell you himself if you ask him."
I shake my head to deny it. If it is Lilly, he's been lying to me this whole time, and it wouldn't stop now. The anger starts to build inside me again, but I know it's not going to do me any good so I just clamp down on it. Instead, I look back to Yoshimura, because there's something I still don't understand. "W-why do you care...about Hisao, or...about..."
I can't bring myself to finish the sentence, but it seems Yoshimura knows what I was going to say anyway. "Or about you?" I nod cautiously, and she half-smiles. "Listen, Ikezawa, like I told Hisao, unlike your friend, I never hated you
. I couldn't, because I didn't know
you. Shit, I still
don't know you. I just figured I owed you for setting you off this morning." That makes sense, I think, so I nod again.
"As for Hisao...well, I guess it's just because he listened to me when nobody else did. You know, Yoshi was telling me at lunch today about how Hisao is always making friends with people nobody else does. He's friends with Tezuka, who nobody understands. He's friends with Setou, who nobody wants
to understand. He's friends with you, who doesn't let people even do
that, even when we..." Yoshimura abruptly cuts herself off. Before I can ask why, she goes on. "And then, he's even friends with me, who nobody tries
to understand. You get a chance to be the friend of a guy like that, who doesn't care who you are? You make sure
you don't screw that up. So, yeah, I understand why you don't want him to get hurt, okay?"
Yoshimura's right, and I know that as well as anyone. People probably don't care if they hurt her, or Tezuka, or Setou. I know that they've never cared if they hurt me, especially after the accident. That's what led to the building of this prison I've been living in for years, and only now starting to find my way out of. That's because of Hisao, and Lilly.
Look where that's gotten you. Look what you've had to endure because of them. You might as well leave the walls where they are. Your life can go back to being peaceful, like it was when you first came here.
Yes, I could do that. I could keep the walls up, rebuild what I've already torn down, and leave everyone else outside, just like I always have. After all, the walls aren't going away, no matter how much I wish they would. My life probably would be easier if I just left them there.
But I won't.
Because they are
going away. Not as quickly as I'd like, and sometimes they try to rebuild themselves...
...but I know that someday, they'll come down far enough that I'll be able to see to the other side. That people will be able to see me
from the other side.
Maybe I can push aside one more brick right now.
I open the door just a little bit wider, and Yoshimura's eyes widen with it. "Y-Yosh..."
No. I remember, when she got here last year, she said I could call her...
"Noriko?" She blinks at me a couple of times, but rather than wait for a response I just say, "Th-thanks...for telling me all of that."
"Um...yeah, you're welcome," she says, stumbling over her words for the first time that I can remember. "Anyway, I said what I came here to say, so, um, I'll get out of your way. See ya 'round," she pauses for a second before adding, "Hanako."
As Noriko walks back toward her own room, I slowly close my door again, then ease my way back under my blanket. I think about picking up the book again, but as I reach for it I can feel myself shaking.
Hisao's already chosen someone else, hasn't he? Even if he doesn't know he has, he's chosen someone else.
You knew it from the beginning. Admit it. Hisao was always going to be with Lilly. The two of them love each other, and no matter what they said that wasn't going to go away just like that. You were just fooling yourself, thinking you could ever compete with her.
This time, I don't bother to push the thought back down. It's not worth fighting this time, because it's probably true. Emi probably knew all along, too, or at least figured it out before now. Maybe that's why she was giving up, and then I would understand why she wouldn't tell Hisao the reason. Here I was trying to tell her not to give up, when I should have done so right alongside her instead.
I'm sorry, Emi. I hope you weren't hurt too much by all this.
I turn off the light and curl up, drawing the blanket up to my chin. For a while, I just lie like that, listening for whatever sounds I might hear, but there are none. With the walls of this place being as thin as they are, I can only presume that Lilly hasn't returned. I have mixed feelings about that, equal parts grateful and sad. As I remain still, I think the sadness is winning out – I'm not sure why, but it feels...right
. If nothing else, it eases my mind enough to allow me to fall asleep soon afterwards.
* * * *
I wake up still in a haze. If I had any nightmares, I don't remember them, so I consider that a positive. I wonder if my memories of yesterday's events count, though. Some of them feel
almost surreal, but I remember them too clearly to be able to write them off like that.
Hisao's chosen someone else, and it's probably Lilly. How do I face
either of them now?
I haven't heard any sounds in the corridor outside, so I may not have to worry about Lilly just yet. I look at my clock, and it's already nearly nine o'clock, which should mean that Yo...Noriko
is done with her morning ritual, so I decide to risk a visit to the bathroom. I take my time with my shower, hoping it will help, but it doesn't.
When I return to my room, I open the door to find that someone has slipped a note underneath it. I pick it up, close the door, and sit down on my bed to read it. The writing is difficult, not just because it's a bit messy, but because whoever wrote it did so in pink pen.
Oh, Lilly, you're right that I don't want to come. I can't face you now. Thanks for trying, Misha.
Lilly went back to her aunt's house because she didn't want to be disturbed for a while. I asked her if she wanted you to visit, but she said you wouldn't want to come. I didn't believe her, so I wrote this~! I hope everything's okay. If you want to talk about anything, give me a call.
I look at the paper, and it has Misha's contact information on the other side. As I pull out my phone, I remember that it wasn't all that long ago that, other than the Yamaku staff, I only had two numbers entered in it. Now, Misha's will make seven. When I turn on my phone, I see that I've missed two calls this morning, one of which is from the number I'm about to enter. The other one is from Hisao, which I suppose I should have expected.
As I'm pondering whether or not to listen to the messages now, my phone rings, startling me enough that I nearly hit my head on the wall. Recovering, I look at the incoming number, and it's another one of the new numbers on my contact list: Naomi. She and Natsume aren't due back for another few days. I'm not really ready to handle her energy level, even over the phone, so I let my voice mail pick up her call. Instead, out of perhaps morbid curiosity, I decide to listen to Hisao's message.
"Hanako, it's Hisao," he says. "I need to talk to you, about a lot of things. I met with Lilly, so I know we can't meet in the tea room. Instead, I'd like to meet with you on the roof of the main building. I'll be up there at the time we usually meet for lunch, so I hope I'll see you then."
So there it is.
This is where everything has been leading. Hisao knows about Lilly having the key to the tea room, which means they've made their plans now. At least I won't be blindsided by what Hisao is going to say. I wouldn't be surprised if Lilly herself is there, too, although in that case it would have been easier for Hisao to play dumb about the tea room.
At least you're making it easy for me to avoid you if that was what I wanted.
There's no sense in putting this off, so I get dressed and make my way out of the dormitory. I see that the sky is a dismal grey, which I suppose is fitting. After making sure that I have an umbrella in my bag, I make my way down to the main building. My stomach is already churning, so I avoid the cafeteria again and go straight up to the roof. It's thankfully empty, so I head to the same spot where I spent most of yesterday. It isn't long before a light drizzle begins to fall, but it's not worth the trouble of taking out my umbrella yet. I turn to face the fence that surrounds the roof and look out across the campus out to the town below. It's peaceful in its own way, and for a moment I close my eyes and consider whether or not having the peace my walls have provided might be better after all.
As I'm standing there, I hear the creak of the door opening behind me. Given the weather, I doubt it's someone coming up here to eat lunch, so it can only be one person. "H-Hisao?" I say quietly. "I-is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me," Hisao replies. "I guess you got my message."
"Y-yes, I..." I start, and turn around to face him. Unfortunately, I turn around a little too fast, and I lose my balance slightly. I'm not surprised, since I haven't eaten anything in nearly two days, so I'm able to catch myself against the fence. It's not very stable, and for a split second, I wonder what would happen if I just...
...if you just kept going...
...no...I won't. I never could. If I didn't then, I wouldn't now.
When I regain my senses, I feel myself being pulled away from the edge of the roof. Still a bit disoriented, I allow Hisao to guide me over to one of the nearby benches. "Hanako, are you okay?" he asks with a look of concern on his face. It's a look I really didn't want to see right now. "Do you need me to take you to the nurse or something?"
"I-I'll be...fine," I lie.
"You don't look fine," Hisao says, and I should know by now that he's hard to fool about things like that. "We should at least get out of this rain, don't you think?" In response to his query, I reach into my bag, pull out my umbrella and open it. If we don't get out of the rain, maybe the conversation will be shorter and less painful. "Heh, I knew I forgot something," he says with obviously forced humor. "One thing I didn't forget was to get us some lunch. Here's yours," he says, handing me a wrapped sandwich and a can of tea. I take them hesitantly, and he smiles frustratingly.
You don't need to take care of me, Hisao.
I unwrap the sandwich and take a couple of small bites, but even that small amount makes me nauseous. Hisao, meanwhile, sets about eating his normally, which lately has meant much more quickly than it used to. That can only be Emi's influence. I take another bite of and chew it methodically as I watch him rush through his own meal. Aided by the tea, I swallow it past the lump in my throat.
Once Hisao finishes, I pointedly set the rest of my lunch next to me on the bench. "You s-said in your m-message that you w-wanted to...talk to me about s-something." While I don't want
to hear what Hisao has to say, I'm resolved to hear him out, because he's always done the same for me. No matter how badly he's betrayed me, I owe him that much.
Hisao casts a glance at my barely-touched food, then starts to say something. Then he looks back at me, and he closes his mouth again. If I wasn't already sure that I didn't want to hear this, the look in his eyes right now would be more than enough to confirm it. He nods and says, "Right. I guess I've wasted enough time this morning, so I'll just come right out and say it."
He pauses, and I swallow again, this time to try and keep my nausea in check. I try to say something, but my lips are empty, so I just nod back at him. He continues to look at me uneasily, as if even now he's unsure of what he has to say himself. I can tell this is troubling him, and it takes a bit of the edge off the emotional miasma that's been roiling inside of me.
At last, he takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, then begins. "Two weeks ago, you told me how you felt about me. You told me I didn't need to give you an answer right away, and I was grateful for that. I know you've been waiting for me, because in all honesty I've been waiting for me, too. Today, I'm finally ready to give you that answer."
I brace myself for his next words.
Here it comes.
"Hanako, I...can't return your feelings. I'm sorry."
As the words come out, I get the same surreal feeling that I had this morning. It's like I'm hearing them from a great distance through a tunnel, echoing quietly inside my head. The emptiness on my lips spreads throughout the rest of my body, but the one thing I thought would happen...doesn't. I thought I would be crying my eyes out, but I'm not. Maybe it's because I knew this would happen, because I've suspected this would be how things would turn out from the moment I embarked on this fool's journey, but it still surprises me.
Through my unfocused consciousness, I notice that the rain has stopped. I can feel Hisao's eyes on me, waiting for some kind of response.
Patient to the last.
After a time I couldn't even begin to try and measure, I finally ask the question that's been on my mind since yesterday.
"Y-you're...getting back together with L-Lilly, aren't you?"
Hisao looks aghast, like what I said was some kind of insult. "After all this time, you still
think that?" I lower my head, not wanting to admit it but also unable to deny it. Hisao sighs, his shoulders slumping as he looks away from me as well. "I know how she still feels, but that bridge has been burned, and there's too much painful history there to rebuild it." He looks back out through the fence before continuing, "I'm pretty sure now that we'll be friends eventually, but I think she might need some time."
Time. I've never given either of them that, have I?
I still can't bring myself to respond, but when I lift my head I see that Hisao is looking back at me again. He's got the same look he did the last time we talked, when he asked me about my conversation with Emi, and I instinctively pull back slightly. "Hanako, did you really...did you think I was lying about being over her? All those times you brought it up, and all those times I reassured you...did all of that mean nothing after all?"
I really am an idiot.
I sigh heavily, and once again I can't deny it. All I can do is nod my head weakly. Hisao gets up, and when he takes a few steps away I think he's just going to leave, and I wouldn't blame him.
But instead, he takes his can of coffee and throws it forcefully against the fence on the far side of the roof, causing it to rattle ominously. When I can bring myself to look at him again, I see that he hasn't moved any further. He's holding his head in his hands, and I can hear him trying to control his breathing, and for a moment I'm afraid that he might be having another incident with his heart. I'm frozen in place, partially out of fear and partially because I don't know if going over to him right now would help or hurt him. Thankfully, before even a minute has passed he straightens up again and looks back over to me.
"I'm sorry, Hanako, but...maybe you just don't know how...frustrating
that's been for me. Remember the other day, when I told you I was trying to move forward with my life, but people weren't letting me do that?" I nod hesitantly, and he continues, "This
is what I meant. It feels like I've had this conversation with you a hundred times, but it always comes back to Lilly. I know we've talked about being patient with each other, but...but it's got a limit, you know? I realize you're insecure about this, but I was never anything but honest about not getting back together with her."
As Hisao has been talking, my hand has been pulling at the hair over my right eye without even thinking about it. I realize that Hisao has no reason to lie about this now, because if he wanted to hurt me this is probably better than any other way of doing it.
I did all of this to myself. This is all because I couldn't bring myself to trust him, or Lilly.
"S-so," I start nervously, "w-why are you...why did you..."
"Why did I reject you?" he asks, and I nod weakly again. Hisao sighs before responding, "Because I was fooling myself in a different way."
Hisao turns to face me, looking like he might start crying himself. "When you first told me how you felt, I didn't know how to react. I'd...never really considered having that kind of relationship with you. I'd only realized you might have feelings for me a day or so earlier, but I was still confused about Lilly, and I was starting to have feelings for Emi but I wasn't sure what they were. But then, after you opened up to me, I thought..." Hisao takes a deep breath and turns his face downward. "I thought the right thing to do would be to at least give things a chance between us. After all, when I first got to Yamaku, you were the first girl I even noticed."
I remember the first time he told me that, and how happy it made me feel to know that someone could see me that way. Now, it just serves to make me feel worse, because I'm reminded of all the missed chances that I agonized over when he and Lilly were a couple. If I hadn't run away from him that day in the library, or even if I'd just been able to talk
to him then, it might have been me he'd fallen in love with and not Lilly. It might have even been me who confessed to him in Hokkaido – or even the other way around.
After all, don't they say that the first girl usually wins?
"Then," he continues, "things started to fall apart. I know you've explained it to me, that you felt like you needed to move forward more quickly. The thing is, I was hoping that I could move forward more slowly
. Lilly and I...things between us were like a whirlwind, and I always had this feeling like everything was out of control." He looks toward me again. "Then things between you and me started going in the same direction, and it scared me a little. The Hanako I wanted to take that chance with was the Hanako I'd gotten to know during those first few weeks I was here. The Hanako who took that chance never really felt like that Hanako. It felt like...you were always trying to be something you weren't, and I kept hoping that you'd stop. Every time you pushed, it made me feel like we were drifting further and further apart."
I close my eyes, because I guess I never should have agonized about those things at all. I did make mistakes – oh, did I ever
make mistakes – but not in the way I thought they were mistakes. I was trying to be what Lilly was to Hisao, or maybe what I thought Emi would be. The irony of it, now fully revealed, is that what Hisao wanted...was Hanako. If I'd just been who I was, maybe if I'd just decided from the start not to go on the trip and just let things develop naturally...then maybe we'd be together. Instead, I'm sitting here, barely holding back my own tears, listening to Hisao tell me why we won't be.
There's one big problem with this picture, though.
Finally finding my voice again, I turn to face Hisao. "Hisao...y-you know that...if I d-didn't do that, if I didn't try to be something I wasn't...I n-never would have been able to t-tell you...how I felt." Hisao glances over to me with a raised eyebrow. "I've been...p-pretending to be someone I'm not...since you first confessed to Lilly. Maybe...maybe Lilly was right. I-I wasn't ready for this...n-not yet."
"And you know that I wasn't either!" The force of Hisao's voice surprises me, and I automatically bring my right hand to my hair again. "I told you that, that day in your room! I told Emi the same thing, and she said she was willing to wait for me to be
ready!" He laughs, almost to himself, then continues, "I even remember commenting to her how odd it seemed that she was giving me space and you...well, weren't
. I don't pretend to know what would have happened if you had. I don't want to mislead you and say I definitely would have accepted your feelings. To be honest, I might have already been starting to fall for Emi back then, but I was holding myself back because I wasn't really over Lilly. I don't know...and that's the whole point, isn't it? I didn't
know, I was trying to figure things out, and then you made things even more confusing for me...but now?" He pauses and looks at me directly. "Now, finally, I do
"Oh..." I'm not sure what to say to that. It sounds like even though I pushed things as much as I dared, I was already too late...or maybe not, because...I...I don't know either. It's all so confusing, but all I can think about right now is what I could have done differently.
Just like Hisao, after Lilly left, aren't you? How might you fare if someone confesses to you a week from now?
"I'm...s-sorry, Hisao. I sh-shouldn't have..."
"Hanako," he says with a faint smile, "haven't I already told you to stop apologizing? It's just as much my fault for not being able to think things through, or say things the right way. In other words, there was
no fault. We both did what we thought we should do, and we were both wrong. In my case, it took a while, but I finally realized that the reason I hadn't responded to you wasn't really because I didn't know how. It was because I didn't want to hurt you. I realized...that I was doing exactly what you didn't want Lilly doing – I was trying to protect you, but not from anything else." He looks down at the ground. "I was trying to protect you from me."
"I know that was wrong, and my only excuse is that I didn't really understand I was doing it." Hisao turns to me and reaches for my right hand – after all this time, my left one is still holding the umbrella – and despite my nervousness I allow him to take it. "Hanako, you don't need to keep proving to anyone how strong you are. The people who know you – me, Lilly, Akira – we already know."
"I...know." I reply, and I think I finally have a grip on myself again. "I...guess I was t-trying to prove it...to myself."
Hisao looks at me for a few seconds, considering something. Finally, he lets out a breath and leans back against the fence, letting go of my hand in the process. I take the opportunity to close the umbrella as he says, "I understand that feeling. I know it all too well. I've felt it a lot since coming here, but especially lately. The doctors told me I could live a relatively normal life, but I don't think I ever really believed that until a few weeks ago. Even when I was with Lilly, I never really thought that life was normal. It was...hmmm...I guess you could say it was the most I thought I could handle. It was a nice life, an easygoing life, and I thought I'd be fine if it went on that way forever."
I nod in agreement. "I th-think all three of us...felt that way."
Hisao nods back. "I was never sure how you felt, but Lilly told me once that she thought of us as a small, misshapen family. She still thinks of us that way sometimes, and I guess I do too. Unfortunately, in order for me to be part of that life, I felt like I'd had to let go of whatever control I had and just float along like a leaf in the wind. After I had my attack when we tried to walk from the house into town, I thought that was it. I thought that this was the way things were, and I would just have to live that way from then on."
I'm beginning to see where this is going. "But...s-something changed."
Hisao nods. "What changed was that someone started helping me to start feeling alive again. She convinced me that I needed to start thinking about the present instead of dwelling on the past, that I needed to stop standing still and start moving forward again, to start living
again. She helped me believe that I could do more than just be a leaf in the wind."
By the time Hisao finishes, he's got an odd smile on his face. Just from seeing that, my own mood finally starts to lighten a little. "It's...Emi, isn't it?"
Hisao sits up again and his smile broadens a little. "Good guess. I'm not sure exactly how she feels about me, but I can't deny how I feel about her anymore."
As I take in what he's saying, for some reason I feel a small sense of relief. With every event of these last few days, I'd assumed the worst, but in the end the worst never materialized. The more I think about it, the more I realize that what has
happened is an outcome that I can accept. Emi won this race fairly, and I can take some solace in the fact that my nightmares didn't come to pass.
Yes, yet. And perhaps never. Is that something I should still be dwelling on?
I turn to face Hisao and say, "Th-then don't."
Hisao looks at me with surprise, then laughs bitterly, dousing the minimal brightening of the mood. "It's not like I'm trying, at least not anymore. Before, the only one I was denying it to was myself." He looks over at me, a guilty expression on his face. "Sorry, I don't mean to sound like I'm blaming you. Don't take this the wrong way, but if someone like you could bring yourself to tell me how you feel, then how can I justify hiding my feelings, from you or anybody?"
"B-but it was a mistake!"
"Do you really still believe that?" Hisao asks incredulously. I start to nod, but then hesitate. "You know, I remember something Mutou once told me: that when you're performing an experiment, even if it's a total failure you should be able to learn something from it. If you don't, then you're not doing it right. I'm not saying you'll figure it out right away, but...well, just like I know I learned things from how I handled my relationship with Lilly, and with Iwanako, I think it'll happen eventually. It might just take a while for it to sink in."
I think about that for a moment. It's not that different from something Miss Yumi has said to me before, about taking risks making it easier to do so again. I can't quite make the connection, though, because right now my mind is still reeling. Maybe I will once I have some time to think about it. "O-okay," I say, because I'm otherwise at a loss for words. "C-can you...I...I-I think I n-need to be..."
"Heh, yeah," Hisao says, rubbing the back of his head. "I probably should go now, huh? You probably don't want to see my face right now anyway." He pauses for a second, then laughs nervously. "Um, I know it's kind of cliché and stuff, but I hope that someday we can be friends again. I mean...well..."
I smile at his sudden awkwardness, and I actually have some hope that the cliché could become reality. Someday. "Me, too," I reply. "Goodbye, Hisao."
"R-right. Goodbye, Hanako." Hisao waves to me as he retreats to the door, casting one last glance backward as he walks through it. For the next little while, I let my emotions out fully, and afterwards I feel totally wrung out. I start to follow him through the door, but before I leave I look back at the mostly-uneaten but still-wrapped sandwich. I reach down to pick it up, and I look out through the fence as I unwrap it and start to eat it in earnest.
Even at a time like this, Hisao thought about my well-being. He may not be in love with me, but he really does...
care about me. I think that might be okay after all.
I walk as quickly as I can back to the dormitory, still avoiding the gazes of the few students along the way. Once I get back to my room, I look at my bed, at the covers crumpled up to one side from this morning. As I do, I envision myself curled up inside them, hiding myself from the world like I've done for so many years. At the same time, I can feel myself standing here, looking at a shadow lying in the bed, the shadow that's followed me around since the accident. Because it's my shadow, I know I'll never be free of it, but I also know that, just maybe, someday I can keep it from pulling me backwards.
Maybe...the only way to do that is to make sure that I'm pulling it forward even harder.
I open up my phone again, and I listen to Naomi's message. "Hey, Ikezawa," it says, "I know you're probably out with your new boyfriend or some—what? Okay, okay. Never mind what I just said, I guess. Anyway, I hope you pick this up soon. We had to cut our trip short because Ooe's arthritis has been bothering her really bad, so we'll be back in Sendai later this afternoon, I think around five. If you and...um, anyone else want to meet up at the station again, give me a call back and let me know, okay? Talk to you later!"
The train station. Okay. I've been there a few times now. I think...no, I
can do this.
I take several deep breaths, and move my fingers determinedly over the keypad. The phone rings twice before Naomi picks up. "Hey, Ikezawa! You got my message?"
"I d-did," I say, then steady myself again. "I'm coming to meet you...at the station."
"Oh, cool! So is Nakai coming along, too?"
"No," I say, as strongly as I can muster. "I'm coming by myself."