"All right, I'll talk to you then," Lilly says.
"Right. Talk to you then."
As I hang up the phone, I take a deep breath and let it out. I try to take in the news I just received, but for the moment at least, my brain fails to process it.
Lilly's coming back. How...do I feel about that?
When I first heard her say those words, "I'm coming back to Yamaku," I was certainly surprised. I gave myself a moment to let it sink in, expecting some kind of emotional reaction, but...it never came. I think even Lilly expected something given her reaction, but I don't think my heart even so much as sped up a little. For me, that felt like the final confirmation that I was over her. It felt...pretty good, actually.
With that in mind, I told Lilly in all sincerity that it would be good to see her again. After all, she's been willing to reach out in friendship to me, so I have no reason not to do the same. I think it would also be good for Hanako to have her back. Given all the damage I seem to be doing to her lately, Hanako needs a better friend than me around.
That's assuming friendship is still possible between us after today.
I sit down on the bed and put my head in my hands. Trying to make sense of Hanako's actions today has been fruitless, and if anything has only added to the turbidity of my thought processes. Having heard her talk not that long ago about being patient with myself, her trying to push our relationship like this has thrown my ability to comprehend what she's thinking for a loop.
Despite that, I'd almost allowed myself to be carried away on the wind again. If things had gotten much further, I would have been committing myself to something I'm not nearly prepared for. She herself said it was a mistake, which makes me wonder why she initiated things like she did.
Does Hanako even know what she's thinking herself?
When Lilly called, I answered thinking it might be Hanako wanting to talk about what had happened. Instead, I learned the ominous news that Hanako had turned off her phone. The way Lilly said it reminded me of our conversations around Hanako's birthday, and I felt like someone had dropped a stone into the pit of my stomach.
I think briefly of going to check on Hanako, but I know that won't be a good idea. Even if I did, she might not even answer the door. I cast about for an alternative, and remember the piece of paper in my pocket. I fish it out and look at it, recalling my encounter with Noriko. The memory makes me recoil a bit, and I quickly drop the paper on my desk.
I'm only calling that as an absolute last resort.
At this point, all I can do is wait for Lilly to call back. I lie back on the bed, feeling a bit defeated. Staring at the ceiling isn't helping much because I'm on edge, expecting the phone to ring at any moment. After a couple of restless hours, it finally does. This time I make sure to check the number before answering, "Hi, Lilly."
"Hello again, Hisao." Lilly sounds somewhat more relaxed now, which I hope is a good sign.
"How did things go?"
"As well as can be expected, I think. I'll be leaving tonight for London, then flying out tomorrow. My flight should arrive in Sendai at eight o'clock the following evening. Can you meet me then?"
"So that's...Thursday night? Yeah, I should be able to do that. So you really are leaving tonight, then?"
"Given the way things have happened here, I think it best that I leave as soon as possible."
"You've never really told me much about your family, so I'll take your word for that. Anyway, if you can't reach Hanako by then, I'm supposed to meet her for lunch that afternoon. Hopefully things will have straightened themselves out by then."
"I sincerely hope so," Lilly replies, the worry creeping back into her voice. "I'll try to reach her again tomorrow morning, but after that things will be in your hands."
"I know she'd want to be there to meet you, so I'll do what I can."
"Thank you, Hisao. Now, if you don't mind, I have some preparations to make."
"I can certainly understand that. Can I ask you one thing, though?"
"That...depends on what you're asking, Hisao," Lilly says, a bit nervously.
"Why did you decide to come back to Yamaku? You seemed pretty set on reconciling with your family. Did something happen?"
"That's...a long story, Hisao. It might be better to discuss it when I get there. For now, I'll just say that I might have been better able to find what I needed if I'd never left."
"I'm...not sure I understand, but as you said, we can talk when you return. I'm looking forward to seeing you."
"As am I," Lilly says, her voice sounding unusually soft, even for her. "Good night, Hisao. I'll see you soon."
"Good night, Lilly," I say, hanging up the phone. As I do, I realize that the tone in Lilly's voice over these last few exchanges has caused me to break out into a sweat. My chest has begun to ache slightly, as if there was something pulling at my heart that I thought I'd worked hard to bury. I collapse onto my bed once again, trying to banish everything that's happened today from my mind.
* * *
After a long, restless night, I get out of bed an hour before my alarm goes off. In an effort to ignore my tiredness, I decide to address my hunger from not having eaten anything since lunch yesterday, so I swing by the cafeteria before heading down to the track. Even though I finish eating a good half-hour before I'd normally leave my room, I see Emi already there, giving me her usual wave.
As I reach the bottom of the hill, she says, "Hisao, you...whoa, you look like death warmed over this morning." Her eyes momentarily go wide. "You didn't have another attack, did you?"
I sigh heavily. "No, that's not it. Actually," I say with a rueful laugh, "that's about the only thing that didn't
happen to me yesterday."
Emi looks at me with concern, then nods decisively. "Okay, Hisao, I'm gonna make you a one-time offer. If you really feel like you need to get something off your chest, I'm willing to waive my "run first, then talk" policy for today only."
For the first time since yesterday afternoon, I'm able to smile, just a little. "No, I think I could use the run, actually." Emi raises an eyebrow as I start to stretch out. "Just...make sure to keep that eye of yours on my pace today."
Emi sticks out her tongue at me and replies, "You know, you don't need to tell me that!" Still, I notice that she seems to be taking a few extra glances in my direction as we stretch. Soon enough, we're out on the track, and physically I finish my routine without any problems. As I cool down, I'm able to lose myself in watching Emi do her sprints, if only for a short time.
As Emi pulls up next to me, I can see she still looks concerned. I suppose I can't blame her. "You know, Hisao," she says seriously, "you look a little better now, but you're still brooding about something. If we're going to have fun in town today, that needs to stop, so whatever's got you down, spill it."
So much has happened since yesterday morning that for a moment I don't know where to start. However, I quickly realize that, since I can't really talk about what happened with Hanako, there's really only one choice. "Lilly called yesterday," I say with a sigh. "She's coming back to Yamaku tomorrow night."
Emi stumbles a bit in surprise, and her eyes widen. "Seriously? Why?"
"I don't know. I tried to ask her, but she said she'd tell me when she got here, and something about how she would have found what she needed if she'd never left."
Emi pinches her face in thought for a moment, then fixes me with a stare. "She wants to get back together with you. I'd bet on it." She smiles a bit mischievously. "In fact, I probably will, but that's not the point. Think about it: if there was some other reason, she could've told you over the phone, right?"
"You think I haven't thought about it?" I answer honestly. I can't say the thought hadn't crossed my mind, especially as our second phone call ended. "I suppose it's possible, but I hope you lose that bet. The last time we talked, I made it pretty clear I was over her, and by all accounts she was over me, too."
"Yeah, I remember the morning after that phone call pretty well," Emi says with a wink. My mind quickly flashes to the kiss we shared, but is cut off when she continues, "So, what happens now?"
"Well, she asked me to meet her at the airport tomorrow night, so I expect I'll find out more then."
"Is Hanako going with you?"
I cringe at the mention of Hanako. I knew she would come up eventually today, but I'd hoped to be able to dodge the subject for a while longer. I'll just have to do my best not to dig myself too deep of a hole. "I'm not sure," I say as smoothly as possible. "I haven't talked to her about it."
Emi eyes me suspiciously. "Didn't Lilly say anything?"
"She hadn't told Hanako yet," I reply, continuing to give the most neutral answers I can.
"So, she called you first?"
"No...I mean...um...that is..."
Emi's perfectly reasonable questions have me backed into a corner. I had a feeling this would happen, but the only sure way to avoid it would have been saying nothing, and I didn't think Emi would accept that. I look down at the track, taking a deep breath. "Actually, she tried to talk to Hanako first, but couldn't reach her."
"From the way you say that, Hisao," Emi says cautiously, "I might think you had something to do with it." After a few seconds of silence, Emi's face falls, and her gaze joins mine in being oriented downward. "Okay, Hisao," she says with a sigh, "what happened this
If I didn't feel so badly, I might laugh at that. Instead, I sigh heavily. "I'm not going to go into details, but I did something – or, I guess more accurately, didn't
do something – that made Hanako upset."
Emi doesn't respond right away. She closes her eyes for a moment, and I swear I see a brief hint of a smile cross her face. That's a reaction I did not expect, but maybe it makes sense. "I see," she says in a neutral tone, "and that's got you worried, too, right?"
Feeling like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders, I nod in response. "It had Lilly worried, too, which is enough for me to take it seriously."
Emi finally looks back over at me. "And I'm gonna guess that talking to her right now wouldn't help." I nod again. "Damn it," Emi mutters, looking off into the distance. "I'm sorry, Hisao. I meant to get you to stop
brooding. I probably shouldn't have pushed, but this Lilly thing coming out of the blue just feels weird."
"Heh, I can't argue with that. This was the first time it had even come up since she left."
Emi pinches her lips. "Well, I can't say I understand, but it sounds like heading into town is just what you need to forget about all this stuff, at least for the rest of today." Having finished cooling down, we move off the track toward the bleachers. "So, how do you feel, Hisao? Any problems?"
"Actually, I feel pretty good, all things considered."
"Good!" Emi says with a bright smile. "In that case, let's get over to the nurse's office so we can get moving!" She takes off bounding up the hill, and I follow at a somewhat slower pace. I see her waiting by the office door, and when I catch up she says, "I've got to go get Rin, so I should probably go in first today."
"Good point. I'll be right here." Emi smiles at me again and my mood lightens further.
Her visit lasts only a few minutes before she emerges, still smiling. "Okay, Hisao, he's all yours!" she says with a wink. "I'll see you at the front gate in an hour!" Emi dashes off, leaving me to enter the office myself.
Fortunately, my own examination also goes off without a hitch. "Well, your heart sounds fine, Hisao," the nurse tells me. "As long as your legs aren't too sore, you should be fine. I'd say don't overdo it, but if I know Emi, she'll be more likely to make sure of that than you." The nurse winks after saying the last bit. "Have fun today, but not..."
"Okay, then," I say, standing up to leave, "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Hmph," I hear him mutter as I open the office door. "No one has time for my witty banter today," he says in a mocking tone. "I must be out of practice." I look back at him, and he's got his typical grin on his face, so I can't help but shake my head, laughing.
I quickly go back to my dorm, take my shower and medications, get dressed, and head down to the front gate. Neither Emi nor Rin is there yet, so I sit on a nearby bench to wait. At some point, I doze off, because the next thing I remember is being kicked in the shin.
"Ow! What the hell?"
I look up to see Rin's impassive expression. "Looks like he's awake," she says in her typical monotone.
"You'd better get yourself together, Hisao," comes Emi's voice from off to my left. "If you do that on the way back I promised Rin I'd let her use your face as a canvas!"
"All right, already!" I say as I scramble to my feet. "The only thing I want Rin drawing is something for my wall."
Rin raises an eyebrow. "I thought Emi was kidding. I'll have to come up with something appropriate, then." She almost sounds disappointed as she says this.
We leave the front gate behind and start on our way down the hill to town. The three of us chat – well, Emi and I chat, and Rin does what Rin does – all the way down the hill. It's a relaxed atmosphere, and I actually start to feel like I'm on summer break. This is the first time since classes ended that the three of us have spent any length of time together, and I soon realize how much I missed it.
I even remember thinking that...I think.
After stopping at the convenience store to replenish my supplies, I follow their lead toward the center of town. It isn't long before we reach the art supply and music stores, which are located next to each other on a side street. Despite being fairly close to both the park and the Shanghai, I hadn't really noticed them before.
We enter the art store, and the first thing that strikes me is how...organized
the place is. When Emi said we'd be coming here, I had this idea it would be like the art club room, with only a loose sense of order to how materials were placed. At first glance, the store might appear that way, but looking more closely there's definitely a method to the way everything is arranged. In the end, this is still a business establishment, and people do need to be able to find things. I mentally berate myself for adding "even artists" to that thought.
I look back at my companions to see Emi fiddling with something at Rin's waist. After a few moments Rin walks off, a rolling basket clipped to a belt loop at her back. I watch her peer intently at a display of brushes, carefully pick one up in her mouth, then turn around and drop it into the basket. "She should be fine on her own now," Emi says, startling me a bit. I turn to see her standing next to me, a grin on her face.
I return Emi's grin, saying, "You've obviously done this before."
"Yeah," she replies, "usually once or twice a month, but this is the first chance we've had since before exams. That's why we needed the extra hands. She usually doesn't trust anyone else to carry her stuff, but somehow I talked her into letting you help this time."
"I'm honored," I say with a mock bow. That earns me a shove, and I barely catch myself before knocking over a nearby display of long chalk holders.
"C'mon, ya big jerk," Emi says, taking hold of my hand and pulling me toward the right side of the store. "Let's see what we can find for those bare walls of yours."
Ahead of me, I see a display with a number of posters, similar to what I've seen in music stores. These, however, are mostly prints of well-known works of art, mixed with those of some local artists. "Anything in particular you're interested in, Hisao?" Emi asks.
"Hmmm...I'm not sure. I don't know much about art. I guess I'll just flip through these and see if I like something." Emi nods, taking a step back to watch as I peruse the display. I see a number of works that look familiar, but very few that I could identify with an artist or even a name. Then I find a small section of works by a name I do
know: Sekka Kamisaka. There's definitely a traditional feel to his painting, and I think something of his might be soothing to look at. I turn past a few posters until I spot one titled "Yatsuhashi
I turn to Emi, who's also looking at the poster appraisingly. "Hmmm, you like this one?" she says with an odd smile on her face. "Not a bad choice, I guess."
"Yeah, I think so. There's a lot of green in it, which makes it feel kind of relaxing."
"So, is green your favorite color?"
"Yeah, I suppose it is. What about you?"
Emi smiles playfully while looking at the painting. "If you're lucky, I'll tell you one of these days."
I look at her questioningly, but she doesn't seem inclined to elaborate. "You know," I say as I reach into the bin underneath to grab a copy of the poster, "the guy who painted this is a relative of that blind student in the art club that Rin talks about."
"Huh? You've met him?"
"Yeah, I've talked to him a few times. I asked him about Rin, and I don't get the impression he likes her very much."
"Yeah, well, I'm not surprised. She won't talk to him at all, even though I've told her she should a million times." Emi looks back over her shoulder at Rin, who's still shopping, then back to the poster. "Looks like his ancestor's style is about as far away from Rin's as you can get, right?" she says with a light chuckle.
"Yeah, if anybody put the Rin in Rinpa, it isn't Tezuka." Emi is polite enough to laugh at my horrible joke, and we start to look around the rest of the shop.
The two of us wander through the aisles for a bit, occasionally picking up something or other, but I don't really find anything else that appeals to me. We eventually move on to the music shop, which it turns out is actually in the same building. I wind up buying a couple of video game posters there before we head back to see if Rin's done.
A few minutes later, Rin has finished checking out and we exit, with Emi carrying two bags and me carrying another along with my posters and groceries. Before we've gone more than a few paces, Emi turns to me. "You know, Hisao, we should probably go somewhere and sit for a while so you can rest up for the walk back."
"Yeah, you're right." Although I'm not feeling too tired, I can't help but agree with her. "Well, then, why don't we get something to eat? The Shanghai?"
"Yeah, I guess," Emi replies, while Rin gives her trademark shrug. "I knew I should have packed us some lunches," she adds with a mild pout.
Our destination thus determined, we walk the few blocks to the familiar café. As we enter, even before Yuuko can come over to us, I notice a familiar figure sitting in one of the booths. It seems Rin sees him, too, as she takes a step backwards while looking in his direction.
"What's up, Rin?" Emi asks her
"It's the person," she says in a soft voice, "the boy in the art club. He is blind."
Emi rolls her eyes. "Yeah, and?"
"I thought he might only exist there."
That starts Emi laughing, and I can only shake my head. "You two get us a table," I tell Emi. "I'm going to go say hi."
This seems to startle Rin a bit. "You know that person?"
"Yeah," I say slowly. "I met him not long ago." Following on what Emi said earlier, I decide to ask, "Do you want me to ask if we can sit with him?"
Rin looks distinctly uncomfortable at the question, but only briefly. After a few moments, she replies, "Not really."
Once Yuuko comes over to seat us, I walk over to Yoshi's table. "Hey, Yoshi."
He picks up his head and turns toward me. "Is that Hisao?"
"Yeah, it's me. I was going to see if you wanted some company, but I'm with a couple of people and one of them's Rin Tezuka, so probably not."
"Good call," Yoshi says with a slight grimace. "Besides, I'm hoping to get a chance to talk to Yuuko, so having company might make that kiiiinda difficult."
I process this for a moment before replying. "Wait, so Yuuko
is the person you've been meeting? The one you can't tell you like her?"
Yoshi reaches out and grabs at my arm, bringing my face down close to his. "You think you might keep your voice down, maybe?" he says in a voice barely above a whisper. "Yeah, it's her, okay? You got a problem with that?"
He lets go, and I chuckle a little as I straighten my shirt. "No, not at all. Yuuko's really nice, and she's given me some good advice on occasion. Good luck."
"Yeah, okay, thanks," Yoshi says, looking a lot calmer, although his voice is still an exaggerated whisper. "Sorry about that, she just...makes me a little nervous, you know? Anyway, since you know about...well, is Tezuka one of the ones you said liked you?"
"No, she isn't," I say as I crouch down next to the table again. "But the other person who's with us is. It's Emi Ibarazaki."
"I know that name...she's on the track team, right?" Yoshi nods to himself. "I've heard she's pretty cute. Anyway, I just didn't want to ruin anything for you with Tezuka if it was her."
"Heh, whoever winds up solving the riddle of Rin will be a better man than me, I think." I glance back over my shoulder. "Anyway, I'd better get back to our table, so I'll talk to you later."
"Later, Hisao. Oh, and good luck to you, too," he adds with a grin.
As I make my way over to where Emi and Rin are sitting, an image flashes through my mind of a creature with the body of a lion, the wings of a bird, and Rin's face sitting in front of the gates of Yamaku, saying, "Sorry, that answer doesn't work here." I take a seat across from them, trying to shake the picture out of my mind. Rin and Emi both look at me, the former with a raised eyebrow, as Yuuko takes our orders.
"Something funny, Hisao?" Emi asks after Yuuko leaves.
"Nope!" I say, maybe a little too quickly. Before Emi can inquire further I change the subject. "So, Rin, why didn't you want to sit with Kamisaka? He said once that you've never even talked to him."
"Well, he's probably right," she says vaguely, and I see Emi rolling her eyes. "He'd never be able to understand me, so I decided not to try."
"Huh?" says Emi in surprise. "You never told me that part. I mean, I know you don't think anyone can understand you in the first place, but that never stopped you from talking to them."
"Hmmm...usually it's just that the things I say don't come out right. The problem with that person isn't that. It's...digital, I think."
"What? You mean, like, numbers instead of words?"
"No, I mean he doesn't see digitally the same way I do when I do."
My head is going back and forth between Emi and Rin, not quite grasping what's being said. "See digitally...hang on...you're talking about these
digits, aren't you?" I say, putting my fingers up in front of me.
Rin looks surprised, but quickly shifts into an odd smile. "Hmmm...maybe I've underestimated you, Hisao." She nods to herself. "You've been working on that mind-reading stuff after all."
"Care to fill me in?" Emi asks as our order arrives. "Because I'm still lost."
"Yoshi is blind," I say, "so he "sees" with his fingers, while Rin's...er...digits of choice are her toes. I'm guessing even the textures would feel different to the two. It's like they speak different tactile languages."
"Ohhhhh, yeah, that kinda does make sense!" Emi says with a grin. "But that's still not a reason not to even talk to the guy, Rin! That's just being rude!" Rin raises an eyebrow at Emi, seems to think about it, and then shrugs. Emi slumps over and puts her head on the table. "Fine, I give up. I officially surrender to Rin's stubbornness," she says, picking up her napkin and using it as a white flag.
I turn back to Rin. "You were talking about Yoshi not being able to understand you." Rin lifts her head from her tea, straw still in her mouth, and cocks her head. "I was just wondering why he's like that and Lilly isn't."
Rin bobs her head to drop the straw back into her teacup, looking a bit like a toy duck, and replies, "Lilly isn't an artist." Immediately after saying this, her eyes widen in epiphany. "Unless butterfly whispering is an art. That could explain things."
As Rin shifts her focus to the window, perhaps lost in her latest line of thinking, I take a bite of my sandwich. I consider bringing up Lilly's skill at origami but decide against it, even if it would spare her future awkward moments. Still, hearing Rin's reasoning for not talking to Yoshi bothers me a bit, and I resolve to talk to Emi about it later.
We wind up staying at the Shanghai for about an hour. As we start the walk back to Yamaku, I notice Emi watching me more closely again. I appreciate the concern, but my heart rate seems normal and my legs feel much better than the last time I made this trip. Once we're outside of town, I'm able to catch her eye and say, "I'm fine," in a quiet voice with what I hope is a reassuring smile. It seems to be enough as she smiles in return, and she's soon chattering happily with both Rin and me, seeming more Emi-ish for the rest of the journey.
This really does feel more like summer break should.
All too soon, we reach Yamaku. We go to the girls' dorm first, and Rin goes inside. I move to follow, but Emi holds her hand out to me. "I can take it from here, Hisao. No need to make you do any extra climbing," she says. "Once I've dropped this stuff off, I'll come over and help you put yours up," she continues, nudging the bag containing my posters with her foot.
"Sounds good," I reply, passing Emi the bag I'd been carrying for Rin. I take a few steps towards the boys' dorm, and suddenly I feel as if I've stepped out of a bubble. I hadn't thought about what happened yesterday since before we left for town, but now that I'm standing here it comes flooding back. I stop and look over my shoulder in the general direction of Hanako's room, and I suddenly feel the weight return.
A moment later, I feel a hand on my shoulder, and then hear Emi's voice behind me. "Still worried about Hanako?"
"Yeah," I say. "I don't know...I somehow feel like I might be the only one here who will, at least until Lilly gets back."
"Do you think you should go up and see how she's doing?" Emi asks hesitantly.
"Heh...I really doubt she'd even open her door to me right now."
"It's that serious, huh?" Emi pauses for a moment, pinching her lips in thought. "I...can't believe I'm going to say this, but...do you think it would help if I stopped by to check on her?"
I don't say anything for a moment out of sheer surprise. "A-are you serious?" I ask Emi incredulously, but I can tell at a glance that she's being sincere. "That's...I couldn't ask you to do that."
"Nope, you couldn't," Emi says with a grin. "That's why I'm not letting you ask!" She starts off toward the building before I can say anything else. "See you in a bit!" she calls out over her shoulder as she dashes through the entrance, bags flying all around. I stand there unmoving, thoroughly taken aback by this turn of events. I wonder for a moment if this might make things worse, but only for a few seconds before the door opens back up again, revealing an embarrassed-looking Emi.
"Um, Hisao...what's Hanako's room number?"
This time, I can't help but laugh earnestly. "Two-two-four." Emi sticks her tongue out at me, then quickly retreats once again. I finally turn around and resume my walk back to my room.
I...hope that wasn't a mistake...