I get halfway up the stairs before I realize I don't know what Hanako's room number is. I set the bags on the landing, then smack myself in my stupid face before running back down.
Damn it, I'm usually better at pulling that off.
I poke my head through the door and say, "Um, Hisao...what's Hanako's room number?"
"Two-two-four," Hisao says, laughing unnecessarily at my distress. I stick my tongue out at him before pulling my head back in and picking up the bags.
Heading down the hall, I see Rin's door is open. "Sorry I took so long, Rin," I say as I walk into her room. "I was talking to Hisao about something." Rin is looking out the window, so I have no idea whether she heard me or not. I put the bags down on her bed and start to leave when I hear Rin say something.
"You talk to Hisao a lot."
Guess she heard me.
I turn back and say, "You just noticed this, Rin?" with a wink.
Rin does the shrug. "I was just trying to decide what to give you to put on his wall. Does he really like Rinpa? I don't think I've done anything like that."
"Hmmm...I'm not sure. I think he might have gotten it because he knows someone who's related to the artist." I don't know if Rin knows about Kamisaka, but I'm not about to tell her.
"Oh." Rin closes her eyes for a moment. "So, then he probably wants something else. I have to think about what he's going to think about when he looks at it." It seems like she's talking to herself, because she's doing her look-past-the-person-I'm-talking-to thing, which in this case is me.
Seeing a possible opening, I make a suggestion. "Well, I did say I might bring him one of the pictures you did of me."
That seems to bring Rin back to...well, as close to Earth as Rin ever is. She looks at me, then nods. "I know just the one, then." She goes over to the file drawer where she keeps the stuff she does on all her sketch pads, then pulls one out and foots it to me. "This one."
Taking it from her, it meets my expectations in that it registers a zero on the sense-o-meter. I look it over, turning it several different ways to see if I can even figure out which way it's supposed to go. "How exactly is this me, Rin? It's just a bunch of lines!"
Rin smiles that weird smile of hers. "I drew that after your last track meet. That's you at your Emi-est. That's the Emi that you are when you're running, or at least the one I think you think of yourself as being. The Fastest Thing on No Legs."
I look at the drawing, but all I see is a bunch of different-colored lines all going in the same direction. They're mostly pink, red, and yellowish-brown, with some dark gray at one end and...oh, there's a little bit of solid blue at the other, so maybe that's the...wait, is that an eye? This
is what Rin thinks I look like when I run? "It's...interesting, Rin, but I don't think I could explain it to Hisao."
Rin shrugs. "Neither could I."
"Yeah, that's true," I say thoughtfully, but my grin returns quickly. "Well, Hisao's just gonna have to figure it out for himself, then! Anyway, do you have any more of those sticky things that won't hurt the wall when you take the poster down? I don't have any left, and I forgot to buy them at the store." Rin nods, then pulls out the bottom drawer of her desk and plucks a sheet of them out. I take them and put them in the empty bag from the store along with the picture. "Thanks, Rin! See you later!"
Rin smiles vaguely at me, and I leave her room, closing the door behind me. Now that she's squared away, I'm left with the hard part: I need to find Room 224.
You got yourself into this, Ibarazaki. You can get yourself out.
Despite Hisao trying to avoid telling me this morning, I have a pretty good idea why Hanako's upset. The fact that he still can't talk about that kind of thing easily is kinda cute, especially since it means I can still tease him about it. More importantly, if I'm right, she came on to him and he walked away. I tried not to let my small feeling of satisfaction about that show, but I think I might've. It's not something I really wanted him to see, though.
After that, today had gone pretty well. I'd gotten him back into a good mood, and we were having fun, but once we got back here I could see things crashing down. I knew that if I didn't do something, the day would end like that. So, here I am, wandering through the halls.
I have to admit, I'm actually kinda worried about Hanako, too. It's funny, but ever since we talked that day in the library, I feel like she's a real person to me now and not just this name with a bunch of baggage attached to it. When Hisao said he was the only one worried about her, I felt like...I wanted
to do this.
Okay, I found the room...so now, how the heck am I gonna do this? Well, the more I just stand around out here, the dumber I'm gonna look, so I'd better do SOMETHING.
I knock on the door, making sure it's loud in case she's asleep or something. I wait for maybe half a minute, but there's no answer. I try the same thing again, and still nothing. After what Hisao told me, that's pretty much what I expected. I might as well try saying something. "Hanako? It's Emi. I came by to see how you were doing." I wait again, but still nothing.
Yeah, she probably won't want to talk to me either. This was a bad idea, I guess.
Well, I have to say something, so I guess I'll just say it through the door. "Hanako, if you're in there, listen, okay? Hisao's got something important to tell you. He wanted to come see you, but he thinks you're upset with him so he didn't think you'd talk to him. That's why I came up here instead."
As soon as I stop talking, I can hear something going on inside the room. It's pretty quiet, but Hanako's definitely in there. I mean, it's gotta be her, right? Nobody else would be in there. Finally, the door opens just enough for me to see Hanako, dressed in a long pink nightgown and looking almost scared.
"I..." she starts, then closes her eyes before continuing. "I'm...n-not upset w-with...Hisao!"
I didn't expect an outburst, so I jump back. "Okay, okay! No need to shout!" I inch forward again. "Um...I don't know what went on between you two yesterday, but it seems like you're both pretty upset about it."
Hanako looks at me, and she's being cagey again, so I can't tell what she's thinking. "I...made a mistake," she says abruptly. "I-I'm...upset...w-with myself, n-not...Hisao."
This is starting to sound a little familiar. "Yeah, if I had to guess, he's more upset with himself than he is with you, too." And, whatever happened with Hisao, she thinks it was a mistake, too. "But if that's the case, then you really shouldn't be closing him out, right? I mean, that's kinda why
he thinks you're upset with him."
Hanako looks down like she's embarrassed. "I...know. I just c-can't..." Her voice trails off, and I don't really know what to say. After a few seconds, she looks up at me, and her voice is louder, and cracking a little. "W-why are you...d-doing this?"
"Huh? Doing what?" When Hanako doesn't respond right away, I get the idea. "Ohhhhh...well, I told you, I wanted to see how you were doing."
"Yeah, but...not just
for him, you know? I mean, I know you kinda prefer to avoid people and all that, but I was hoping maybe you didn't think you had to avoid me
." I laugh a little at the awkwardness. "That probably came out weird, but...anyway, I'm happy you opened the door for me, Hanako. Do you want me to tell Hisao anything?"
She looks confused for a second, but then says, "Tell him...n-not to worry. I-I'll be at lunch...tomorrow."
"Got it!" I say with a nod. Hanako starts to close her door, but before she does, I add, "Take care of yourself, okay?"
Hanako looks at me for a moment, then nods and says, "Okay." I'm not sure, but she might even be smiling a little before she closes the door. I'd like to think she was, anyway.
I finally leave the girls' dorm after that, and a few minutes later I'm knocking on Hisao's door. Remembering that there's nobody else in the hall right now, I call out fairly loudly, "It's me, Hisao!"
A few seconds later, I hear Hisao call out, "Kenji, is that you? You'd better hide, because one of the feminists is on her way over."
I burst out laughing at that. "It's too late for that! He's already succumbed to my feminine wiles, so if you want to save him, you'd better open the door!"
After another few seconds, a grinning Hisao opens the door. "You know, that's a good way to get me to leave you out there." Hisao eyes the bag in my hand. "What's that?"
"Stuff to help you hang up the posters," I say as I walk in. "Oh, and Rin decided what she wanted you to put up, so that's in here, too."
"Ah, okay. That...should be interesting," Hisao says, closing the door behind me. "So, did you talk to Hanako?"
I sigh, and Hisao immediately looks apologetic. I suppose we should
get that subject out of the way first, but he could have at least waited for me to sit down or something. "Yeah, I did. She said she was more upset with herself than with you, if that makes sense."
Hisao bows his head. "It...does, sort of. Seems like we keep doing that to each other, and I don't think it's helping. I just hope she comes to lunch tomorrow so we can talk about things. Did you tell her about Lilly?"
"Nah, I figured you'd probably want to tell her anyway, so I just said you had something important to tell her. Oh, and she said to tell you not to worry, and that she'd be at lunch."
"Well, really, I think Lilly wanted to tell her, but I don't think that's possible now." Hisao turns to look me straight in the eye. "Emi...thanks."
"Hey, I really did want to see how Hanako was doing, too. I'm glad she's...well, not okay
exactly, but at least not totally out of commission or something."
Hisao puts his hand on my shoulder. "I don't just mean that, although I really appreciate what you did there. I mean for everything that happened today. I felt like I could relax and enjoy myself, at least for a while."
I smile, relieved to hear that it actually helped. Things had started to feel like one disaster after another lately. "Well, that is
what today was supposed to be all about, Hisao. Especially this stuff," I say, picking up the bag with his posters in it. "I mean, how can you relax in a room like this? It's so bland, it's like being in a hospital."
Hisao turns away, wincing, and I immediately regret what I said. Before I can take it back, he turns to me and says, "You know, you have a point." He looks around the room with a sad look in his eye. "I wonder if I left it this way for so long just to remind myself of what happened to my life. I felt like everything had been taken away from me, so having bare walls felt...right
, in a way."
"Hmmm...so when you came here, you still felt like that?"
Hisao nods. "Yeah...probably even more than any time up until then, really. That was the day going back to my old school – my old life – was officially not an option anymore." He turns to look out the window as he continues, "A lot has changed since then, and I feel like this is becoming my home now."
I can't help but smile. "You know, Hisao...I hope you think that's a good thing." I move in and put my arm around Hisao's waist, and look out the window, too. I also want to think that, maybe, I'm part of what makes it feel that way, but I don't say that out loud.
Hisao doesn't move, but he sighs, putting his arm around my shoulder and giving me a squeeze. I have to say, it feels damn nice. "Yeah, I think so."
I stay there, just enjoying the feeling for a little bit, before giving in to my accursed better judgment. "In that case," I say, slowly disengaging and gesturing toward the bags, "it's about time we made it look more like home, right?"
Hisao lets out a long breath before saying, "Yeah...sounds good. I'd better look at that thing of Rin's first."
"Yeah, okay," I say, fishing it out of the bag. "Here ya go. She said it's supposed to be something like the me that I am when I'm running, but I'm not sure I get it."
Hisao does the same thing I did when I saw it, turning it around in his hands. "Well...then maybe...that's supposed to be the sky?" he asks, pointing at the blue area. "Then, these might be motion lines, but then...what's with the eye there?"
I start chuckling and shake my head. "I gave up trying to figure out Rin's art long ago." I pull out the stickies Rin gave me and, after Hisao hands the drawing back to me, start putting them on the back. "So, what do you want to do with it?"
Hisao rubs the back of his head as he continues to stare at it. "Well, I don't want to give myself headaches from staring at it, but I also don't want to insult Rin by not putting it up. I guess it'll have to be somewhere I won't look very often, so...maybe next to the closet?"
I shrug and hand him the paper back to him. "Okay, you hang that one, I'll get the next one ready."
"Um...do I need to do anything special, or just kind of push it against the wall?"
"You've never used those before?"
Hisao cringes for some reason. "Actually, the last time I got a new poster for my wall, my mother had to put it up."
I laugh a little. "It's been that long, huh?"
Hisao sighs. "Well, other than sleeping I never spent a lot of time in my room. When I did, I was playing video games or watching TV, so I didn't really think about what was on my walls."
"So you're saying you've always been kinda lazy, huh?" I say as Hisao finishes putting the picture up. He scowls at me playfully, and I grin as I hand him the next one, ready to go. "Is that why you didn't bring anything from home for your room here?"
"That's one reason," he says, looking around the room for a place to put it. He settles on the closet door. "I pretty much came here straight from the hospital. Anything that came from home, my parents packed up and brought. At first, I resented that a little, but mostly, like I said, I didn't care. If you hadn't pushed me today, I might have left it this way until I graduated."
The second poster is ready, so I hand it to Hisao. "So, now that you're settling in, did you ever think about going back home and getting some stuff now?"
Hisao is standing on his bed, attaching the poster to the wall next to it. "Yeah, I suppose. When Lilly and I broke up, I thought about going back home for the break. If I had, I probably would have picked up some stuff then."
"Oh, yeah, I remember you saying something about that. Well, there's still time, if you wanted to go back for a weekend or something. I mean, what we've got here is just a start, you know?"
"Maybe," Hisao says, stepping down from the bed. "Just a couple days wouldn't be bad, I guess. I'll think about it."
"Hey, if you want, I could come with you and help!"
Hisao looks surprised, but then smiles a bit and raises an eyebrow. "I might just take you up on that," he says with a weird tone in his voice.
"Anyway," I say, wanting to shift back to something less heavy, "looks like just one more to put up." I pull out the poster of Kamisaka's painting and unroll it. I don't know much about art, either, but it's not bad. It's got some kind of blue flowers, and I have to admit it was kinda cool that Hisao picked one with so much blue in it, even if he doesn't know it's my favorite color.
"At least let me hang this one up for you. The ones you put up are all crooked." I wink at him, and he grins, probably because he knows it's true. I look around the room, trying to find an appropriate place for it. "So where did you want this to go, Hisao?"
He thinks about it, then says, "Well, I was thinking about putting it above my desk. I want to be able to see it when I'm lying in bed, you know?"
"Yeah...hey, what about putting it on the ceiling?" Hisao looks at me with a weird expression. Is he thinking what I think he's thinking? I put my hands on my hips and glare at him. "Don't tell me you want to put something up there you can jerk off to, Hisao."
"N-no, that's not it!" Hisao says, blushing. I don't even care if I was right or not, because he's cute when he does that. "I just...well, I kind of like having a blank ceiling. It helps me think sometimes."
I look up at Hisao's ceiling, which doesn't look any different from mine. "If you say so, Hisao," I say with a shrug. "I mean, I'd only stare at my ceiling because it might bore me enough to fall asleep. So, over the desk?" I ask as I start putting stickies on the back of it.
"Yeah, I think the ceiling's high enough to see the whole thing there."
"Okay, I'm going to climb up on the desk to reach, so I need to clear some of this stuff." I move some of Hisao's books onto the floor next to the desk, and I spot a piece of paper with what looks like a phone number on it. Curious, I take a look at it. "Yoshimura? Heh...why would you
have Yoshimura's number, Hisao?"
He looks embarrassed, which doesn't surprise me. "Is there something wrong with that?" he says, a little defensively. "Actually, she handed it to me yesterday. She lives in the same hall as Hanako, and I thought..."
I shove Hisao playfully. "I forget you don't know about the rumor mill here, Hisao. Let's just say that Yoshimura has a reputation for passing her number around to more than a few of the guys here. I don't know how accurate it is, but if she gave it to you I might start to think it's deserved."
"Thanks a lot!" he retorts, then starts to mutter. "Huh...well, that would explain some things. Anyway, I'll stand over here in case you lose your balance."
"Good idea," I say as I climb up onto the desk. I pick up the poster from where it was draped over the back of the desk and start attaching it to the wall. Just as I'm about to attach the last corner, I hear a sound behind me. I look back and see that Rin's drawing had come loose and fallen from the wall. Unfortunately this distracts me enough that my foot slips off the side of the desk, and I lose my balance...
I fall backwards, tearing the poster in half in the process. Even worse, because Hisao was distracted too, my shoulder connects directly with his chest, knocking him to the floor with me on top of him. I quickly roll off, and once I get my bearings I look over at him. I see him holding his hand to his chest with his eyes closed...
"HISAO?! Are you okay? I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" I quickly prop myself up on my hands and knees and put my hand lightly on his chest while watching his face. Even through his shirt and sweater-vest, I can feel his elevated heart rate. "Come on, Hisao, talk to me!"
Please, Hisao...tell me I didn't do this to you again...
I can feel him forcing himself to take deep breaths, and after a long few seconds he opens his eyes. "Yeah, I'm fine. No harm done, I think," he says with what I'm pretty sure he meant to be a light chuckle, but I can hear the strain in his voice. "Actually, I was expecting it to feel worse. Either the ground doesn't hit as hard as you do," he says, smiling, "or this exercise thing of yours is working."
I smile back at him, a little relieved. "I h-have a feeling it's that second one." I realize that I'm breathing pretty heavily, and I'm shaking like a leaf.
I'm still bending over him, peering into his face, when suddenly he reaches his hand up to touch my cheek. "I'm just glad you're here," he says. "That was kind of a nice sight to see when I opened my eyes."
The move surprises me, and I lurch backwards, winding up in a sitting position against Hisao's bed. "Yeah...of...of course it was," I say, forcing a grin. "I am amazing, after all!" My mouth says that, but I can't really get my heart behind it.
If I'm that amazing, why do I keep nearly breaking you?
"That doesn't sound very convincing," Hisao replies, pushing himself up onto his elbows. "Are you okay?"
Of course I'm not okay, Hisao...even when we're supposed to be having fun, I'm putting you in danger.
"Sorry, sorry," I say, waving him off. "I guess...um...the fall kinda shook me up a little, too."
Hisao sits up quickly. "Damn, I'm sorry, I didn't even ask..."
"Don't...worry about me, Hisao. I'll have a couple bruises, maybe. Are you...sure
you're all right? Do you want to go down and have the nurse check you over?"
He lets out a breath, then slides over to sit next to me. "I'm fine, Emi. I promise." He looks over at the wall. "Too bad about that poster, though."
"Sorry about that," I say, following his gaze. "I'll buy you another one next time I'm in town."
Just...don't let me put it up again...
I find myself staring at the wall for a bit, my mind starting to race again until Hisao's voice pulls me back. "Emi?"
"Huh? Oh, sorry...um..."
"I said, let me know when you're going. I think I'd like to go with you again."
"Um...well...it might...be a while. I usually only go when Rin needs something."
"Okay, let me try this again," Hisao says, and it looks like he's actually blushing a little. "Back when the break started, we said we'd spend more time together, and I feel like we haven't gotten the chance. I wasn't lying when I said I really enjoyed myself today. Actually, I enjoy myself pretty much any time I'm with you."
Hisao pauses for a second, and something is starting to itch in my head. "Heh, I used to be able to say the same thing about Hanako, but it seems like lately that's not true anymore. Every time I'm with her lately, there's this tension in the air, and things get...awkward. I feel like it's wearing me down a little more every time, and I don't know how much more I can handle. It's not like that with you."
I'm just now registering what's happening, but only about halfway. He's about to tell me something I'm pretty sure I want to hear, but I can't even look him in the eye. Every time I try, images keep flashing in my head: of Hisao lying on his back in the hallway, gripping his chest on the roof, collapsing on the track, on the bed in the nurse's office, lying on the floor just now...I want to tell him to wait, but...
"...wanted to tell you..."
"...that I want..."
I scramble to my feet, barely coherent and with my stupid nerves making me nearly topple over. "I'm sorry, Hisao...I...need to go."
"Emi, is something wrong?"
"No," I say, trying to smile. "I just forgot there was something I needed to do for Rin. I'll...see you tomorrow." I do my best to cover myself, but Hisao sees through it more often than anyone else I know, even Mom. "Morning run, don't forget!" I just pray he doesn't ask me anything else.
"Emi, can't it wait for..."
I open the door, but stop long enough to say, "Sorry, Hisao. I was supposed to be back ages ago."
Hisao opens his mouth to say something else, but he finally catches my eye. He slumps back against the bed, saying, "Yeah, okay. Tomorrow, then."
"Yeah, tomorrow," I say weakly as I back my way through the door. I close it behind me and bolt for the stairwell.
I'm sorry, Hisao...I couldn't let you say what it sounded like you were...damn it, Ibarazaki!
I have to clear my head, so I don't waste any time in heading back to my room. I might even set a record for me for the time it takes to get changed into my running clothes and legs. Coming back out, I nearly run into Misaki, literally. "Whoa!" she says, flinching a little. "You're getting better at that. I didn't even have to dodge. Hey, I wanted to sh...Emi? What..."
I can't hear the rest of what she says, as her voice rapidly recedes behind me. "Sorry, Misaki!" I shout without turning around. I don't want to stop, not even for a second. I burst out of the girls' dorm and start to run. The sun's already down, but the moon is high and pretty bright, so even once it gets dark the track should be lit up enough to run. Not that running in the dark bothers me or anything, but I feel like I'm gonna need all my focus.
The air is cold, which normally isn't a bad thing. The thing is, the stress has heated me up, and I start shivering. When I get to the top of the hill, I get an eerie feeling looking down at the track. Normally, coming down here at dusk feels good, like the track is saying "you've got time to get one more run in." That was especially true a few weeks ago, but today...
Nothing feels right about this...but this is all I have right now...
I get down to the track, and I try to stretch myself out. My whole body is tense, and my heart rate is already faster than it should be, but...I need to get out there. After a few minutes of wasted effort, I give up on the idea and just walk anxiously to the starting line. Feeling like this, I know I have to start off slowly, but I think if I can just get myself into that zone, I'll be fine. I force myself to take a few deep breaths before starting.
I need to get these thoughts out of my head.
I need to focus, and clear them out.
Come on, Ibarazaki, you can do this.
I try to will myself to build my pace steadily, but there's something inside of me that won't stop pushing me forward. Within a couple of laps, I'm already sprinting...
air . . . wind . . . ground . . . track . . . . . . . . .
You fell for a guy with a literally broken heart...
. . . will . . . not . . . hold . . . back . . . . . .
And he was about to return your feelings...
. . . . . . hear . . . smell . . . feel . . . see . . .
You fooled yourself into thinking you had someone you could let in...
. . . . . . . . . set . . . these . . . thoughts . . . free
You're not going to fix his heart, you're going to blow it up...
wind ... air ... track ... ground . . . . . . . . .
He'll be gone...
... one ... more ... time ... round . . . . . .
Just like Dad...
...... time ... space ... form ... flight ...
...be the one...
that killed him...|/--_
I don't remember falling, but I must have, because I find myself lying face-down on the track. I can vaguely feel a few scrapes on my knees and forearms, but it's buried beneath an overall cold, clammy feeling. My breath is ragged, I'm soaked with sweat, and I can feel the chill of the night air through my T-shirt. I can also feel the tears on my cheeks.
When I try to close my eyes, the visions I saw before I left Hisao's room are still playing on a loop behind my eyelids. Even worse, pieces of my old nightmares have started to appear with them. I force my eyes open, but I'm too tired to keep them that way...and it's scaring me.
Why today? Tell me, universe! WHY?!
I roll over onto my back, trying to calm down. Looking up at the stars, I can see Orihime and Hikoboshi laughing at me. I'd never made a wish to them before, and now that I did it's being thrown back in my face.
If he's going to be taken away from me anyway, why...why am I fighting for this second chance?
The tears roll down, pooling on the cold ground of the track under me. I can't look at anything anymore, so I just bring my knees up to my chest and bury my face in them.
"*** sob ***"
WHAT WERE YOU THINKING, IBARAZAKI?!!!!!!!