After the Dream—Natsume's Arc (Complete)

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brythain
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After the Dream—Natsume's Arc (Complete)

Post by brythain » Sat Jun 07, 2014 9:04 am

This is the first part of Natsume Ooe's arc in my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic, 'After the Dream'.
Natsume is the young lady first seen sitting in the back corner nearest the door in Hisao's classroom.
A close up of her can be seen in the avatar that
Aura uses in these forums.

Completed main arcs:
Shizune | Lilly | Emi | Hanako | Rin | Misha

Completed secondary arcs:
Miki | Rika | Mutou | Akira | Hideaki

Natsume's arc consists of:

Natsume 1 — Trigonometry
(in this post, below)
Natsume 2 — Algebra
Natsume 3 — Calculus
Natsume 4 — Computing
Natsume 5a — Simulation
Natsume 5b — Description Theory
Natsume 6 — Statistics
Natsume 7 — Chaos


Natsume 1: Trigonometry (T -17)

Greetings. My family name is Ooe, which is best pronounced as ‘Oh-eh’ but which some Westerners still rhyme with ‘No-way’. My given name is Natsume, which seems marginally easier to pronounce for most. I am of moderate height, with normally badly-brushed shoulder-length hair (shorter when I can find the time to get it trimmed). The hair is dark brown, and my eyes are usually half-hidden behind thick and awkward glasses. I don’t think I’m good-looking, but my friends think I’m not unattractive.

You would not think of it to see me now, but I was once the top Mathematics student in my high school. At the end of my final year, things happened which made me less effective, and thus I did not place as well as expected. But philosophy intervenes between heart and brain, as they say.

So what I shall do is stick to my life’s philosophy of being accountable for the recountable. Here, I now set forth a reasonably fair account of the events that year, in short pieces, as seen through the eye of my personal experience.

I’ve included fragmented thoughts as I recall thinking them, but that recall might be slightly inaccurate. Also, someone I trust has since edited my work, and I believe it might make me look better than I really am. Those caveats out of the way, let’s proceed.

*****

It’s the first day of summer term in the academic year 2007/2008. I have been in this school, and I have known most of the people around me, for more than two years. Today, we await a new classmate. It is always disruptive, in a neutral sense, when someone new has to be inducted into the class environment.

This is why we call it ‘news’—the novel, the disrupting, the unusual and unlikely—and it is my chosen domain. Cursing my stiff fingers, I ready my writing pad. My vantage point in the rear right corner of the class allows me to see almost everything, and exit quietly if necessary. (More about that later.)

Mutou-sensei enters first, apologizing for his tardiness. It’s not really his fault, but it’s not news either. I filter out most of what he says as background noise to the focal event. What we’re waiting for is the new student he’s supposed to be bringing in, of whom I suspect nobody except Her Majesty knows anything.

Her Majesty is Shizune Hakamichi, our class 3-3’s representative and the president of our near-defunct but somehow-still-alive student council. She appears to have a close relationship with Mutou, who might as well be her father. Pity she’s functionally a deaf-mute, because it allows her to pretend she doesn’t understand my questions.

Out of the corner of my left eye, I see Naomi Inoue unconsciously raise and then lower her right fist. She does the thumb-in-fist thing that makes her look as if she’s maimed, but I know it’s her way of dealing with the prospect of having a fit.

Fidgeting one place beyond her, shy and easily panicked, sits Hanako Ikezawa. Hanako’s doing her own thing, that hand-to-face gesture that acts as a shield against new and possibly unpleasant events. Oh come on, it’s only a… boy. Who is clearly entering our classroom with a bunch of mental reservations of his own.

Unruly moderately-brown hair. I’d estimate him at 175 cm or about 5’9”, relatively tall. Good bone structure, but looks a little wasted. Suspect lengthy hospitalization. Slightly misty eyes, possibly on some medication or an indication of terminal sadness. Very dark brown, those eyes, darting around the room, so clearly he is normally quite alert.

Mutou asks us to welcome our new classmate and we do the obligatory greeting rituals. Such rituals help us to reduce unfamiliarity and ease social transactions.

“This is Hisai Nakao. Nakao… ? I’ll get him to introduce himself by writing his characters on the board.”

What an unusual name. Aha, Mutou’s confused things a bit. I see now. Hmm. I scribble the characters down and wait to be enlightened. There’s one of those uncomfortable pauses. I don’t mind. Long silences allow people to clarify their thoughts or become more talkative while I wait.

“So… I’m Hisao Nakai. My hobbies are reading and soccer. I hope to get along well with everyone even though I'm a new student.”

And that’s it. Disappointing. Or not. I look on with interest as Her Majesty and HM’s interpreter, Shiina ‘Misha’ Mikado, start an animated discussion which seems to be about Nakai. It has to be animated, of course, since it’s all in sign. I have a bit of sign, and probably should learn more since it’s the only way I can get any solid information about forthcoming student events out of HM. HMi tends to shade the info with noise.

Mutou has resumed his discourse on how everyone should get along—I tune out, tune down, focus on Nakai—and then he starts group work by assigning the newbie to… HM and HMi. Well, of course, it’s the only available seat anyway, and Nakai will learn a lot. Heh.

As Mutou passes out the assignments, I shift my desk a little so that I’m facing Naomi and Hanako a bit more, and also to get a better view of HM, HMi, and HN. Not for the first time, I think about our custom of doing group work in threes. Four is an unlucky number, and pairs are even, so threes are optimal. But they have the potential to create interesting relationship problems, or ‘triangles’.

Very unprofessionally, my mind drifts back to the difficulties I’ve had with Naomi and Hanako. It all began a few months ago with that most innocent and basic of yearly class rituals…

*****

“Seating arrangements will as usual go through the class representatives,” reads the message on the Yamaku Academy central notice board. That’s where all of us are clustered some days after our seniors have graduated. It’s always a thrill to see what the mysterious people in the school’s general office have inflicted on us by way of transfers, cross-postings and class teachers.

That last one is the main attraction: we’ve got Mutou-sensei in 3-3 next year, which is interesting because our Science Head is well-liked but not known for consistent quality of teaching. Our neighbours in 3-2 get pretty Rei Miyagi, and 3-4 has the awkward gift of our opinionated Art Head, Nomiya-sensei.

Generally, students are rearranged between Year 1 and Year 2, since the teachers and all of us know one another better after a year. Some classes remain mostly fixed, especially those with a large number of students who have similar difficulties. For example, 1-1 traditionally hosts those with hearing difficulties and 1-2 those with seeing difficulties—which means that by the time we get to 3-1 and 3-2, those classes are still mainly filled with people with those difficulties. 1-3 tends to have a mix of students, because it’s the middle class of five.

I ready my notepad, hoping to glean some interesting bits from any new and unexpected assignments. Naomi, whose eyesight’s a lot better than mine and has a knack for spotting irregularities, immediately sees one big change.

“Hey, Squadroom Leader, look who’s class rep for us in 3-3 next season!”

I track her finger. With eyes functioning at radically different powers, it’s a little difficult, but I get there.

“Hakamichi?”

That’s indeed news. Our Student Council president-designate’s been moved from 2-1 to 3-3. She would have otherwise been class representative in 3-1. But what happened to Enomoto, who was our class rep on the SC?

“Naomi, where’s Saki gone?”

“Umm… Oh. She’s in the supplementary list. Damn.”

She lets out a puff of breath, her dyed dirty-blonde hair dancing in it.

There’s a sinking feeling in my gut. The supplementary list is for those who have been given a reduced class load, normally for medical reasons. Saki Enomoto is brilliant, a very focused artist with talent in biology and geography—anything that can be drawn, she brings alive. We love Saki because she’s good at making things fall into perspective, in many ways. But her health situation has always been precarious, and now things don’t look so good.

“Who else has gone?” I ask, sounding a little harsh even to myself. I track back as Naomi’s busy finger flits around the board. Other students flinch at her busy elbows; some think that she might have a fit and hit them violently by accident. Knowing Naomi as I do, it’s sometimes on purpose.

“They’ve moved Rin and Emi to 3-4. And of course, Hakamichi’s voice is coming into 3-3 with her. Mikado.”

“There goes the neighbourhood,” I jest sourly. Shiina Mikado (“Call me Misha!~ Wahaha!~”) is a very loud person, who compensates for Shizune Hakamichi’s lack of speech in a big way. It looks like we’ll be one short, but those two should be enough for three. And separating Miki Miura (“Would you quit banging your pegs on the floor?!”) from Emi Ibarazaki (“I’ll quit when you stop twirling bandages instead of a pen!”) should reduce the noise level somewhat.

I sigh and squint up at the board. “Any other changes?”

Naomi looks up. She’s shorter than I am by a bit, but her eagle eyes extend her range a lot.

“Class reps… 3-1 has Masuda taking over—did I ever tell you I’ve known him from middle school? 3-2 same, Princess Satou. 3-3 we now know. 3-4 is still Uchida. And 3-5… oh. Takahashi’s gone supplementary too. I can’t remember what was going on in 2-5, but Sugiyama was handling duties most of the time and he’s now full-time class rep. Anything else, Nat?”

“Not for now… best get on Hakamichi’s good books for now, so we can settle our seating arrangements. Rear right okay with you?”

“M-may I sit with you both again? R-right side near the d-door is good.”

It’s our friend Hanako Ikezawa. She’s a lovely girl, with long black hair, taller and prettier than either of us, but with residual scarring and stiffness from old burns. She completed physiotherapy in Year 1 and was moved from 1-4 to 2-3 at the end of last year. I can’t see so well from my right eye and Hanako prefers to hide hers; Naomi has fits and so does Hanako, of a sort. We make a great team, except that Hanako hates crowds.

I look around. The crowd has vanished, because most people don’t have a deep interest in administrative matters. Still, it takes guts for her to have approached us. I nod at her and Naomi says, “Of course! You can have the corner one!”

Now, that’s a bit much. I’ve ALWAYS had the corner one, because I like watching the whole class without having to move my head. And things, unfortunately, are a little tricky after that. Especially since I’ve long had a fondness for poor Hanako.

*****

Hanako used to join us for lunch, but since I mouthed off at her a few months ago (something I sincerely regret to this day) in a fit of pique, she no longer does. She’s off with the Princess as usual, and Newbie Nakai is not around to interview. That’s fine; Naomi and I are a great couple and we always have things to investigate. But three’s company when you’re doing group work; two tends to feel strangely private when working in public affairs.

So here we are, having lunch in our favourite corner of the cafeteria, the part just next to the ‘Bunker’, our codeword for the teachers’ section. I normally get the meals and Naomi reserves our seats, so I normally end up facing the Bunker’s entrance and she ends up facing the main entrance.

“What do you think of Nakai, girlfriend?”

She looks at me, eyes gleaming merrily with the chance of imaginative composition. She takes one of her famous slow deep breaths and then begins one of her infamous long exhalations of words.

“The way I see it, Nat? He’s straight but reserved. HM and the Voice will attempt to draft him into SC before he knows what’s happening, or he’ll stumble into the mysterious tearoom and disappear for a few months, or he’ll meet one of the more artistic of our friends and associates and be captivated by the visual arts or the sound of music. How’s that?”

Naomi giggles, happy to have planned our news output for the next Grapevine column already. I tsk at her, showing mock disgust at this subversion of our holy function as school reporters.

Not to be outdone, I add, “Sure, and he’ll reappear only to fall in love with Miura and be killed for it by Ibarazaki, right? Poor Nakai, that’s all we wrote.”

Rule #1 of the tabloid press: If you talk enough rubbish, some of it will come true.

The next few weeks keep us extremely busy. That Nakai is a prolific source of rumour. If he isn’t seen with someone, he’s heard with someone. If he’s not being heard with someone, he’s apparently in a threesome. Or seen hanging out at the Shanghai. Or hitting on Hanako in the library. Or something else.

Tracking down all this gossip and assessing it for newsworthiness takes time and effort. Fortunately, we have a few excellent sources.

“Shirakawa-san,” Naomi coos, “have you seen Nakai hanging out around the library with anyone we know?”

“Ah! Oh! You surprised me, Naomi, Natsume.”

I give my most polite business-like smile and ask, “We’re wondering… does Nakai needs help, or has another of our classmates been helping him already?”

“Oh yes, the first day I saw him it was Lilly who brought him in, and he had a few words with Hanako, and it was all rather confusing.”

I’ll bet it was. There we go, Triangle #1—Nakai/Satou/Ikezawa.

“Anyone else, Shirakawa-san? The poor guy is so new…”

She flutters her lashes and looks sad. Naomi’s really good at this. I would gag if she were like that all the time.

“No, no… Did I? I don’t think so. I think no, he wasn’t with anyone else. Sorry!”

We have sightings of him with Emi at the track, while Miki stands at the bleachers and watches. Triangle #2. We have sightings of him having a meal in the cafeteria with Shizune and Misha. Triangle #3. The man creates triangles wherever he goes. He’s incredible, and our half-written Grapevine article is looking more and more preposterous each day.

“Dammit,” I mutter. “We should have invited him to join the Newspaper Club first, and then we wouldn’t have had to trail along in his wake of distraction.”

Exhausted, we retire to my room.

“Nat, Naomi’s tired. Hugs?”

She leans against me and shifts her body until she’s comfortable I put my arms around her and feel her limbs relax.

“Have you taken your meds, girlfriend?”

Guilty silence. Then she turns in my arms and hugs me back, and it’s peaceful and warm enough that our thoughts of Nakai take a holiday for a while.

*****

Our school festival’s coming, and we get some exemption from stall duties, along with Misaki Kawana, who sits in front of me in class and is our school photographer. Our job, as HM informs us through HMi, is to “Make everyone look better than good—wahaha!~ since of course people like reporters and photographers do less physical work than everybody else!”

I’m not entirely sure that’s a fair interpretation of HM’s signing, but it’s greatly insensitive and Naomi has to haul me off before I punch someone or say something that will aggravate matters further. When Misaki carries her huge camera and its tripod, and all her other gear, you can see the lengths she’ll go to for her art. She’s got scoliosis, and at the end of the day, we’ve often had to massage her to loosen the kinks or even bring her to see the physio team in the healthcare wing. Most times, we try to carry some of her stuff, but she’s resistant to the idea unless the pain is very bad.

One interesting fact we glean from this little encounter, however, is that Nakai’s managed to escape the clutches of the SC duo. So, who’s the lucky(?) girl hanging out with him then? For some reason, finding out is going to be one of our secondary objectives during the festival on Sunday.

Also one of the most infuriating, as it turns out. Talking to our friends manning the stalls, taking pictures, getting a lovely shot of the Princess working like a common cashier, HM herself running our class stall with her usual intensity, all this is easily done. But we then realize that the Mystery Man, or as Naomi puts it, ‘The Master of Romance’, is nowhere to be found.

Perhaps Kenji has sucked him into that morass of anti-feminist fantasy that he calls the last bastion of masculinity. We actually take a quick recce into the bowels of the boys’ dorm (I shan’t give you Misaki’s rather crude rhyming nickname for it) and come up with nothing except a earful of, “Go away you cunning and evil despoilers of manly feelings!” from the room opposite Nakai’s.

Curses. Misaki is flagging a bit way past our lunchtime, so we adjourn to our today-favourite noodle stall, where we put down our gear and rest our weary legs. My journalist’s instinct is a little dulled by now, and although something is buzzing at the back of my brain, I’m too hungry to identify it. Naomi coughs up the requisite cash at the counter, since she’s holding our combined funds, and thanks the visually-impaired noodleman (Kawasaki? Kamihara?) for his kind attention.

Misaki whispers to him and he smiles, then obliges her with a cheesy pose and grin while she takes her shot. “Hey, where’s the Princess?” she asks from behind the camera. “You two would be good together…”

“Lils?” he responds. “She’s taking a break for now, after running most of the morning shift since dawn. She’d make anyone good, even the sad-sounding new guy. I think she took pity on him.”

I almost choke on my food. I hiss at Naomi, who’s blissfully savouring her soba, “Girlfriend, we need to finish up. It’s the damn tearoom. It must be. Gods know what they’re up to in there. We can set up in the corridor. What a scoop!”

History tells us many things, but so little survives as evidence. Days later, we manage to trace their route to the library and beyond, but there is no physical record of it. What we do have, however, is from some hours after. Misaki’s excellent photoset shows Lilly Satou seated and smiling, almost exalted, as Hisao Nakai rests his hand on her shoulder. Her best friend stands beside him, happily looking on. Overhead, the last fireworks are flaming brightly, just before the end.

=====
main index | next
Last edited by brythain on Thu Jun 25, 2015 2:36 am, edited 15 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: After the Dream—Natsume's Story (20140607)

Post by bhtooefr » Sat Jun 07, 2014 11:11 am

I like how you consider this experimentation, yet not Hanako's death, nor the whole Akira/Mutou and Rika x Mutou plots. :lol:

Interesting that you're adding a 5th class (the building's certainly big enough, and even has an unused 4th floor), though, as well as alluding to a backstory between Naomi, Natsume, and Hanako.
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Re: After the Dream—Natsume's Story (20140607)

Post by brythain » Sat Jun 07, 2014 11:22 am

bhtooefr wrote:I like how you consider this experimentation, yet not Hanako's death, nor the whole Akira/Mutou and Rika x Mutou plots. :lol:

Interesting that you're adding a 5th class (the building's certainly big enough, and even has an unused 4th floor), though, as well as alluding to a backstory between Naomi, Natsume, and Hanako.
All that stuff was accidental experimentation! Honest! We already had a few bits (at least) for all those characters… :D

But there's a lot less for Natsume—I read all there was here and in the not-to-be-named ffnet, in about 30 min. And of course, no substantive canon or even 'foolcanon'. So… yeah! experimentation! :) The fifth class seems logical—normally the Japanese don't stop at 4 (it's homophonic with 'death').

And also, now you know who hasn't got a right thumb from Hisao's perspective! 8)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: After the Dream—Natsume's Story (20140607)

Post by bhtooefr » Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:11 am

Oh, something else I just noticed...
brythain wrote:I track her finger. With eyes functioning at radically different powers, it’s a little difficult, but I get there.
That's been the case since birth (or at least being a toddler) for her, given her particular condition, right?

My left eye tests at 20/15, my right eye tests as 20/120 or so (and this was discovered when I was 5, although the hardware works, it's the software that doesn't work, whereas it sounds like Natsume's problem is a hardware problem... but amblyopia (which is essentially a software problem) is typical of the brain's response to such a hardware problem if it occurs while the visual cortex is still forming (before 5 years of age or so)), and I have a knack for noticing things in text rather quickly. As in, I'm usually the one whose finger is being tracked.
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Re: After the Dream—Natsume's Story (20140607)

Post by brythain » Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:33 am

bhtooefr wrote:Oh, something else I just noticed...
brythain wrote:I track her finger. With eyes functioning at radically different powers, it’s a little difficult, but I get there.
That's been the case since birth (or at least being a toddler) for her, given her particular condition, right?

My left eye tests at 20/15, my right eye tests as 20/120 or so (and this was discovered when I was 5, although the hardware works, it's the software that doesn't work, whereas it sounds like Natsume's problem is a hardware problem... but amblyopia (which is essentially a software problem) is typical of the brain's response to such a hardware problem if it occurs while the visual cortex is still forming (before 5 years of age or so)), and I have a knack for noticing things in text rather quickly. As in, I'm usually the one whose finger is being tracked.
Actually, I was wondering what her condition really is. My conclusion was that her heterochromia and rheumatoid arthritis are not directly linked, but might be linked individually to chimerism—she has two sets of DNA in the same body, so one eye from each set. The right eye also inherits myopia, and that will develop naturally so that the difference between eyes changes with time. So it's possibly a hardware problem rather than software. She might have started out with eyes of roughly equal power until maybe middle school.

Interesting comment, as usual. Thanks!

Edit: Ah, I see what you mean. I think here another problem is that with eyes of different powers and corrective lenses, peripheral scanning is difficult and sometimes following a large lateral displacement too.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: After the Dream—Natsume's Story (20140607)

Post by bhtooefr » Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:45 am

In my case, the solution is to apply very similar correction factors to both eyes, so that the brain isn't thrown off entirely. (Upshot is, I've got bifocals on top of a perfectly good left eye.) However, given that my brain simply ignores input from the right eye except in parts of my field of vision where it can't get it from the left eye (for instance, I get peripheral vision just fine, and if I close or cover my left eye, my brain will even try to superimpose the closed left eye on top of what it's getting from the right eye, which means I have to try to see THROUGH the nothingness that my left eye is seeing to see things with the right eye like a normal person would)... Someone who has a hardware problem that manifested after the age of 5 or so, though, wouldn't likely develop amblyopia as a coping mechanism for that hardware problem.

Also, as an interesting side note, although it seems there's almost no actual correlation between the two conditions... my dad was diagnosed with amblyopia at 3 (so there's a genetic factor somewhere), and rheumatoid arthritis in his 30s.
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Interlude (20140610)

Post by brythain » Mon Jun 09, 2014 10:43 pm

The sunlight is pouring into my writing room, this warm summer's day. It's good because my joints feel a lot less stiff, but not so good because it's making me feel a little sleepy despite my morning coffee.

"I know exactly how you feel, colleague."

"Natsume! I was just thinking about you."

She's sitting on my old white corner chair, the wooden one that usually creaks when sat on. Her legs are crossed, which allows her to swing her left foot around and toy with a loose shoe. The mess of hair that's now descended over her shoulders, with stray shoots across her chest, makes her look rather pretty.

"Thinking fond thoughts, I hope. Is that a picture of me on your bookshelf?"

"No, that's my wife, when she was nineteen."

"Huh. No wonder you think I look pretty. You're biased."

"No mind-reading. You people have an unfair advantage!"

"A journalist tries to be ethical while using all means possible to get at the truth. Especially if it will be useful to the public," she says primly. "We try to expose bias and point out how an account may not reflect the truth accurately."

"I'm trying, dear colleague."

"So you are. You can be more honest about me, I don't mind."

She looks at my bookshelf again. "Is she anything like me?"

"Looks a bit like you. Behaves a lot more like Shizune."

"Haha, as our other colleague says, you're a brave man. But you don't have to listen to me. I think I can trust you to be yourself a bit more when writing?"

I grin at her. "No, Miss Ooe. Trust, but verify."

She laughs, winking at me with her bronze eye. "Agreement."
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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AtD—Natsume's Arc (Part 2 up 20140610)

Post by brythain » Tue Jun 10, 2014 1:04 am

This is the second part of Natsume's arc in my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic, 'After the Dream'.


Natsume 2: Algebra (T -17)

Many things ended for me after my time at Yamaku came to an end. Some came back eventually; most did not. It was the end of high school, after all; people leave the city, the country, even the world.

I’ll be direct here. Hanako and I had drifted apart. She’d taught me to appreciate English literature by teasing me with a book called The Life of Pi, which I’d thought had something to do with mathematics. She’d been my mysterious-and-romantic friend for two years, while Naomi had been the frank-and-talkative one. We were three, then perhaps one too many, and then she was gone.

So much for that. It was interesting to watch Nakai as he came to terms with his love for Satou; it was amusing to watch the boys in our class cheer him on while being envious of his fortune. Naomi said to me one day, “I think he’s won her by thinking of her as a person, not a goddess. Quick, let’s do a piece on contemporary idol-making!”

That’s Naomi, profound and silly at the same time. She was my kinder, more sincere half. I merely concentrated on scowling at the second-years who were slowly taking over our roles as Chief Editor and Features Editor. I wasn’t sure whom I was, except that I was grouchy, stuck on MTX for the rest of my life to control my disability, and far too addicted to coffee.

So here’s my second act, a last lingering look at Yamaku, before the long road home.

*****

Yamaku High (as we commonly called it) or the Sendai-Aoba Mountain District Academy of the Yamaku Foundation (to give it its never-used official name), had been our second home for nearly three years as the autumn of 2007 passed by. Winter would come, and one last term, and then the future beckoned.

We’re sitting in the school gardens and Naomi is in a bitching mood. “Damn it!” she says, enunciating very clearly and loudly. “Why do we end term so late? Most schools end on 21st July this year!”

“The Academy’s a private institution,” I say loftily, squirming a little on the warm bench as some minor niggling pain hits me in the lower back. I like the sun. It makes everything feel better. “We have a very different schedule, smaller class sizes, and weird teachers.”

She giggles and tosses her blonde locks around, as if trying to look like an autumn tree. “What shall we do this break? Hokkaido again? With Hanako?”

Half of me runs hot, the other half cold. “No, I don’t think she’d come.”

My friend grins and then pouts a little, but she’s not Emi Ibarazaki, and the pout turns into a mournful longing that makes me want to kiss it away. “She might… the Princess is away, and it’s not known if she’ll be back.”

I know that too, but something clicks deep in my mind. “Well, then logically she’ll be hanging out with Nakai, and you can ask her all about Nakai’s favourite things. It’s unconscionable that we don’t even know his favourite colour.”

“Done that!” Naomi whispers sweetly. “It’s green. And he wears those sweater-vest things because his mother packed a lot of them for him. He used to keep catching colds when he was young.”

“You’ve been chatting Hanako up while the Princess and the Master of Romance get it on? Evil!”

“Nawww! Well, not really…” she drawls. She sits up straight, from where she was lounging around on the ground, and frowns at me. “Nat, we three used to be such good friends. Why do you get so uptight about Hana these days?”

I think of two things—my private project on the Foundation, my personal feelings about Hanako Ikezawa—and I purse my lips and frown back. I don’t want to hurt Naomi Inoue. I never wanted to be hurt myself. If this were a visual novel, I’d have to make one of those exclusionary choices by now. But my time at Yamaku has eight months left to run, and this is not a game.

*****

Imagine Natsume Ooe, coming to the end of her teenage years. For those of you who have known me as an older woman, this may not come easily. But I assure you that I was temperamentally quite similar. Much water has flowed since then, so let me bring you back to my beginnings.

I’m spending the summer vacation at home in Osaka with my parents. Dad looks at me over his daily newspaper, eyes hooded behind thick glasses. He wears white shirts all the time, and this makes his skin look even darker than it is.

“Nat, would you like to come to the office with me?”

It’s tempting. I’ve been doing it for years, enjoying the musty old-book smell of the corridors at Handai—what people think of as Osaka University. The history department where Dad has hung out since his 1980s student days is especially textual in its odours. Dad and I share a bond forged in tea, paper and faded ink.

Mother, in her even whiter blouse (so white it almost looks ultraviolet, an old family joke), intercepts. She looks up through her purple contact lenses and sends out a wave of anti-entropic pulses, those magical things that order our lives sometimes against our wills.

“Natsume has already decided she’ll be working on a little project with me this week. You should probably bring Mat with you, husband, since that young man has a history project to complete, on the Tokugawa Shogunate.”

Dad looks curious, then resigned. I feel a little twinge. He’s always been the more comforting of my parents. Mother, she’s a tsunami who swamps us all. Dad refolds himself, like a crane settling. Safely behind his newspaper again, he crooks his left little finger to indicate that he’s accepted Mother’s plan and will comply.

My brother Matsuo is probably still asleep. Fourteen and hyperactive, he’s not my companion of choice, although he can be fun to have around. Naomi likes him. Well, Naomi is a bit like him too. And just like her, he’ll get changed, run down and finish breakfast within seventeen seconds or something like that.

But Naomi’s not here this year. No, there was no Hokkaido trip; yes, Naomi and I have decided that we’re not the best of friends for now. Which is why, having separated both Hanako and Naomi from the rest of my life, I am going to watch my mother do her thing.

Osaka has long been one of the intelligence nerve centres of Japan. This probably began when it became the world’s first rice-trading exchange, about four centuries ago. Wherever a nation’s kitchen is, there also are the cooks, as the saying goes. Mother carries on that tradition, as chief information broker for a large local organization of indeterminate size and weight.

The Asahi Shimbun is one of Japan’s most venerable newspapers. A proud voice amongst those from places-that-are-not-Tokyo, it’s also one of Mother’s clients. Some day, I’d like to work there. But today, I’m being introduced to the morgue.

Keyword for me today: ‘Ikezawa’. It all came about when I had a chance conversation with Miki M, of all people. MM is not enigmatic, but she is an enigma of sorts. She’s blunt and tough, and what she says is what she thinks, but there’s a deep fragility and sometimes outright pain. I like her because she has those hidden dimensions.

*****

“Hey, Nat,” she says as I sit down in the crowded cafeteria. “Where’s Naomi?”

She makes a show of scanning the horizon, her right hand fluttering above her beautiful eyebrows. As tall as she is, this is quite a sight even in Yamaku, where strange body-types are common.

I grimace, both from body-fatigue and from heart-sadness. “Well, you know how it is sometimes with friends.”

“Aww. You’ve broken up again? Come to Mama Miki, who makes all things better!”

There are times I wish I could take her up on that. But she really ought to be a model, with her long limbs and come-hither aura, whereas shaggy-haired old Nat is chunky and creaky.

“Not really. And what do you mean by ‘again’? It’s a matter of work priorities. I’m interested in the history of the school, and Naomi is more interested in being a gossip columnist.”

She raises an eyebrow at me (what an eyebrow, that is) and says, “Really? You guys are running a pretty clean sheet. No messy stains and virgin blood on it, for one thing. And also simple and fun, like that little bit on ‘who runs 3-2 when the princess is away’ and the festival pics.”

That’s high praise from Miki, who keeps telling people she’s ‘simple and fun’ and thinks of most other things as ‘crap’. I mutter my way through some heartfelt appreciation.

“So what do you REALLY want, Nat? You'd be surprised at how much big bad Miki Miura knows…”

She knows a lot. How the heck does she know so much about the Families and the Foundation? And Hanako’s parents? The next time I see Mother, I’ll have a whole lot of questions for her.

*****

Hanako’s parents were investigative journalists. Some things were not meant to be investigated. That is my conclusion.

My mother is silent on the way home from my day at the Shimbun’s headquarters. I keep looking sideways at her.

“Mother? Why did you send me to Yamaku?”

“You should know why by now, Natsume.”

“The Yamaku Foundation is Family business?”

“And how might that concern us?”

“Because we are on a Family register?”

“No. Because we are not. There are three main types there: Family, Family associates, and Family collateral damage. Quite a number are there for no particular reason, except that the school is also in reality a school. And almost everyone is there because it would be safer for them to be there than somewhere else. ‘Relatives are better than strangers,’ the old saying goes.”

Those are probably the most words Mother has ever spoken to me in a single breath. Looking at her stern expression and the set of her mouth, I see myself, but with nicer hair and a heavier burden of secrets.

She catches me looking at her. Am I looking at her the way she sometimes looks at me?

“Maybe you should be kinder to your friend Hanako. She is a victim of the love for truth, more so than most. Remember: protect the widows and orphans. That’s something a lot of people forget.”

Suddenly her lips twitch into an unexpected, wry smile. “Not your father, though. He has never forgotten.”

What has Dad got to do with this?

*****

When I get back to school, some frustrating weeks later, I’ve been out of the Yamaku news circuit for quite a bit. It’s hard to accept that without Naomi, my news sense is so much less keen. It’s as if my left eye were to suddenly become as bad as my right. And she’s still not talking to me, which hurts more than forgetting to take my MTX for a week.

“Hello, Nat! How are the creaks and cracks? Clearly, you are as pretty as ever.”

Kaneshiro-san, ‘Nurse’ to all of us, is hilarious in his own deliberately crass way. I’ve figured that he does it to take our minds off our problems a bit, and remember that we’re all human. But apart from telling him about my lack of MTX and enduring the consequent sarcasm and edgy talk, there’s something else I need to ask.

“How’s Enomoto doing? She didn’t go back to Osaka this break.”

Nurse gives me something close to his now-what-are-you-up-to stare, thinks of saying something, and says something else. He smiles, but there’s something strained about it.

“Ah. Saki. Had to run some tests and keep her back for observation. Doing as well as might be expected. I always wish that all of you would do better than expected, though. Good day, and send Inoue in, please.”

“Inoue? Naomi? She’s not here.”

“What?! Have you mislaid her?”

He must be reading the expression on my face, because his manic grin suddenly softens. I am suddenly feeling rather miserable. Time’s running out for everyone, in one way or another.

“Oh dear. Well, if you see her, please ask her to come by so I can see how she’s doing. Thanks, Nat.”

“I’ll do that. Thank you, Nurse.”

“Don’t mention it.”

I make it out through the door, stumbling only a bit, and get through the familiar antiseptic cloud that scents the atmosphere around it. Everything is familiar, and soon nothing will be. My spectacles are beginning to fog up.

The walk back to my room is treacherous. Although term hasn’t started yet, boarders are already bringing their luggage in, and there are people I’m not prepared to meet. A steady glower keeps most people away.

My eyes deceive me, surely. Nakai is proceeding in my direction, both hands wrapped around Hanako’s right arm. Misha appears to be walking behind them, cheerfully humming under her breath. She looks up. Oh no.

“Natchan!”

Too late for evasion, so, “Hello, Misha. Hello, Hanako, Nakai.” Glower, keep moving.

“N-Nat, are you okay?”

No, I’m not. I’ve been off my meds for a week, I hurt everywhere, I’m miserable, and I have this horrible feeling I’ll miss this place and have nothing but memories that are more bitter than sweet. But apart from that, I am absolutely happy.

“I’m fine. Nice to see you.”

I can’t sustain that glower anymore, not with Hanako looking at me like that. But what’s with Nakai’s mournful mien? I hear him say something like, “Hello, Ooe,” in a barely polite tone of voice.

“Don’t mind him, Natchan!~ he’s just had a lot on his mind, so we’re taking him for lunch at the Shanghai! Wanna come along?”

I would love some company really. With a sinking feeling, I realize I even feel a kind of pre-nostalgic sentiment for the sound of Misha’s chirpy-haha parody of a voice. I will miss all this.

As if listening to someone singing an operatic duet solo in a foreign language, I hear Natsume Ooe say, “Yes, why not. I’ll just dump my meds in my room first.”

“We’ll wait for you, Natchan! Don’t be gloomy either!~”

It must take a lot out of Misha to be squeezing out so much merriment every moment of the day. Maybe she compensates for it with a dead-Misha-downtime every now and then. I’ve seen her in a fugue before, not responding to anything until Shizune elbows her.

I haul my aching joints up another floor and head for my sanctuary and its unopened luggage. Which will probably remain unopened, and my sanctuary is not to be a sanctuary, because Naomi’s door is open. She’s obviously waiting for me to show up.

“Nat! How was your break? Is Mat growing up properly yet?”

It all sounds forced to me. Thinking about it, she probably only has Misaki to talk to right now—and Misaki being the way she is, she likely hasn’t checked in yet.

“Hi. Break was fine, and Matsuo is being a healthy adolescent. He sends greetings. Sorry, I’ve a few people waiting downstairs.”

Nat, you didn’t have to be such an asshole to her, my better self hisses. Duly chastised, I just want to shut up and walk away. Everything’s not good and now I’m being scolded by me. But that’s a better me.

Running one hand through my unruly locks, I grimace at Naomi to show I didn’t mean it that way, while knowing full well that I did. “Actually, there’s a bunch of us going down to the Shanghai. Would you like to come as well?”

Naomi gives me an awkward half-smile. “Hana asked, but I said I was going to wait for you up here. I don’t mind coming along if you’re going too.”

It’s like the sudden bright stab of a migraine that you don’t see coming. I’m actually making people unhappy so that they can be like me, I think. Stupid, stupid, clumsy Nat. I’m not sorry, but I am.

“Be nice to have you along, girlfriend. Missed you. Just let me stash my drugs. And maybe you can tell me why Nakai is so morose.”

It’s the closest I can get to an apology right now.

*****

There’s a lot going on at the Shanghai, which is where I practice the art of observation in an informal context. Most of the time, I sit in a corner by myself or with Naomi and take notes about what people say or do. That approach proves difficult today, so I resign myself to mental note-taking while trying to process the whole story of Nakai’s breakup with the Princess.

It doesn’t help that everyone is not being forthright. From what I can gather by inference and intuition, Nakai apparently spent a few days locked up in his room until Her Majesty and Misha (you can’t call her HMI when HM isn’t around, really) visited him. He was in a bad state then, but there were a few people still at Yamaku and they helped somewhat. He even went home briefly to be with his folks. But he’s still nursing a sore heart and everyone is tiptoeing around him. I suppose I should too, especially since I don’t have enough factual material to think of anything useful.

Naomi, on the other hand, keeps looking thoughtfully at Hanako. I sit back, sipping my iced coffee, and watch the rest. It looks like it might yet be open season on Nakai, now that he’s vulnerable. Since Hanako was closest to Lilly, that means she knows the most. Misha in turn knows what Shizune’s been up to, but there’s this thing about Emi Ibarazaki that won’t go away. Hmmm.

The one who’s most concerned about Hisao Nakai is the one sitting on his right. I suppose Hanako might be worried that having lost Satou on one hand, she’s about to lose Nakai on the other. It’s like some perverse algebra.

That cuts a little too close to home. Do I think I will leave Yamaku without any friends? Then probably a failed relationship or two at university, if I ever get there, and then I’ll be a lonely old rheumatic bitch on her rocking-chair, tossing firebombs from a laptop computer.

“Maybe you should be kinder to your friends,” I hear in my head. Thanks, Mother. And Dad would probably say, “Your life is up to you.”

I don’t want to act as if I’m calculating everything. That’s already how I think most people see me. Will Naomi also think that of me if I tell her what I want to tell her, tonight?

If she does, it will be nobody’s fault but my own.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Wed Jun 11, 2014 4:01 am, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: After the Dream—Natsume's Arc (Part 2 up 20140610)

Post by Serviam » Tue Jun 10, 2014 6:01 pm

Methotrexate? Makes sense as a chemotherapeutic agent--Dios mio, no wonder...

Speaking of methotrexate and caffeine...not a nice combo for RA.
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

In order of completion:
Lilly > Hanako > Rin > Emi
Currently on: Shizune

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Re: After the Dream—Natsume's Arc (Part 2 up 20140610)

Post by bhtooefr » Tue Jun 10, 2014 6:17 pm

There are other medicines for treating RA, FWIW...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etanercept is one I'm (indirectly) familiar with. (Re: the side effects section: Wait, you mean that a drug that acts to combat an autoimmune disorder weakens the immune system? UNPOSSIBLE!)
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Re: After the Dream—Natsume's Arc (Part 2 up 20140610)

Post by Oscar Wildecat » Tue Jun 10, 2014 6:17 pm

The Life of Pi, which I’d thought had something to do with mathematics.
Don't worry, Natsume. When I first heard of the book, I thought it had something to do with dessert... :wink:
I like all the girls in KS, but empathize with Hanako the most.
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Re: After the Dream—Natsume's Arc (Part 2 up 20140610)

Post by brythain » Tue Jun 10, 2014 7:16 pm

Serviam wrote:Methotrexate? Makes sense as a chemotherapeutic agent--Dios mio, no wonder...

Speaking of methotrexate and caffeine...not a nice combo for RA.
Eh, don't give away my plot points… :D
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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AtD—Natsume's Arc (Part 3 up 20140611)

Post by brythain » Wed Jun 11, 2014 3:59 am

This is the third part of Natsume's arc in my post-Lilly-neutral-end mosaic, 'After the Dream'.

The interview proposed at the end is also mentioned elsewhere, in Miki's arc.



Natsume 3: Calculus (T -9)

Shizune Hakamichi and I were never really friends, although we were classmates for a while. But there was one event in our lives for which I remain particularly grateful to her, and several other occasions for such gratitude. She too had similar occasions to thank me, although I suspect that both of us felt we were just doing our jobs on each occasion. This kind of mutual gratitude is somewhat unusual for two people whose paths seldom crossed.

I put thoughts of Ms Hakamichi out of my head and look across our cheap pinewood breakfast table at my partner. As usual, her dirty blondeness is tousled, unkempt as a bird’s nest. An array of amber capsules and other pills sits untidily next to her morning coffee. Naomi’s condition is well under control, has been for six years or more.

Sometimes, though, her silences send a chill down my spine—she has ‘absence seizures’ in which she’s not conscious and acts like a statue or a robot. And now, she’s looking into space, off the southward-facing balcony of our little apartment.

“Hey.”

She starts and places her left hand on my wrist. “Sorry, Nat. Was… somewhere else, I guess.”

“So was I, girlfriend. So was I.”

Absent-mindedly, I sip at my tomato-carrot juice.

*****

In fact, I am looking back to the end of winter, the year that we graduate from Yamaku. She and I are back together again, but it’s fragile, and so are we. Our graduating class has seen more drama than most others, and there’s a sense of desperate exhaustion in the air. Mutou-sensei is wearing a permanently hangdog expression now, as he attempts to salvage various students from their personal trainwrecks.

Nakai and I end up working together with a small group of students, because Mutou and the rest of his senior common room gang have decided we can help them improve their scores in Mathematics. Our little group meets on Thursday evenings, and includes my infamous friend MM, together with a few from other classes. I get to know MM better and am pleased to see that Nakai is able to provoke her into actually doing some mathematics. She’s got a natural flair for statistics that somehow eluded all our teachers.

I am not particularly pleased to find that Naomi gets to work with Hanako at improving the Literature and History scores with some other group on Tuesday evenings. Misha is so bad that Mutou himself intervenes, and he and Shizune work late into the nights trying to make sure Misha can get passes in the Science subjects.

“Mikado! Look at the units. Pressure is the force distributed over a given area. Force over area. What are the units of force? Good. Area? Good. So pressure is thus measured in? No, no, not joules!”

I can sense Mutou’s frustration as Hisao and I walk past, sneak a peek, and realize that Misha’s seeing the words and letters, but sometimes ignores numerical subscripts and superscripts. When Shizune sits in, she tends to get impatient and point such things out to Misha, which is how Misha gets her classwork and homework done.

“Supper, Miss Ooe?” I give him a tired half-smile and accept.

He has this boyish grin which is surely charming to most young ladies. I think of him as a reliable person, a good revision partner, not much more. By the time the examinations arrive, we’re friends enough for me to know that he’s on the mend from the Princess’s shock exit.

But we’re all under pressure. This is Japan, and Japan has a fear-revulsion relationship with the disabled, coupled with an elevated respect for academic achievement. For someone like Shizune to be a success, she would have to top our class or do something very close to that. I have no doubt she’ll do it.

The Yamaku Foundation, I’ve discovered, has a unique deal with the National Seven, Japan’s top universities. Yamaku sets a tough test, but one that’s fair and accessible to people with all kinds of disabilities. Its results are accepted in lieu of the National Center Examinations and other tests, for direct entry to these universities. Because this is true, other Japanese universities will often admit our students also based on their Yamaku test results. Most of the students in my graduating class will wind up in Tohoku University, right here in Sendai. A very few (I think the record is five) will end up in Todai, the great University of Tokyo.

I’m aiming for Osaka myself. It’s been my dream since I was a child. Naomi prefers Kyoto, because it is a more cultural place, and it’s also where her parents live. The two cities are fairly close, so that’s not really a problem—which is not to say there are no problems at all.

So here we are, Naomi and I. We’re having an old argument, a silly one made new and painful by the fact that we’ve so few weeks left.

“We’ll get to see each other on weekends! It’s only half an hour or so by train, and if the going gets hard, we can do evenings as well!”

“But living together would be much more convenient.”

“Nat, your parents are academics, and so are mine. The money isn’t great.”

I’ve deliberately concealed Mother’s full-time vocation. After all, Mother calls herself a lecturer in Information Networking. As far as I can tell, she does that once a week, at the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, so it’s true.

“You could always move in with us. I’m sure my parents wouldn’t mind. My brother would faint with delight.”

“My parents would mind. And I’m sure yours would too! It doesn’t make sense.”

Part of me knows I’m being unreasonable. But I’ve lived with Naomi next door for years. It feels wrong to not be able to see her whenever I want. And so stupid Natsume Ooe does exactly the one thing she will almost regret for all her life.

“Don’t you want to do this? Fine.”

I turn on my heel, there at the school gates, and go back into school. I have no more appetite for a long bickering walk down to town and the inevitable sitting around at some café waiting to be served indifferent fare. I just hate my life. You who read this will probably judge that I was a terrible adolescent; yes, I confess I was, and I dislike that Natsume as much as you do. Especially at this point.

Open-mouthed, Her Soon-To-Hand-Over Majesty and her interpreter look on. Misha lets out an utterly expected, “Natchan!~” but is silenced by HSTHOM. I don’t care.

Seconds later, I hear the screeching of brakes. Great, another careless driver and more stupidity, and I hope my successors at least produce a report for the school newspaper.

“Natchan!!”

What now?

I don’t remember much immediately after, except that for some reason, these words stick in my mind: “Shicchan says it would be terribly remiss if she had let a student die while still nominally President of the Student Council.”

Yes. Naomi had gone into seizure, had just walked out in front of a bus. And Shizune, not known for athletic prowess, had noticed it. And here we are, with Nurse shining his flashlight into Naomi’s eyes while HM rubs her bicep above a badly-grazed elbow and glares at me reproachfully.

Misha is unusually subdued. There’s shock in her eyes, probably also in mine. But behind that shock is a very accusing look, and I don’t like it.

“Looks like Inoue is fine; very fortunately it was only a few seconds of absence and someone was looking out for her. Fast thinking, Madam President. This should be a headline in the next student newspaper, eh? But first, let’s look at that elbow, it’s like a war zone.”

As Kaneshiro-san continues doing his job, his voice fades into the background. In my heart, I know it now. I cannot live without Naomi. In my mind, I want to contest that. It certainly is not factually true. I say nothing, because nothing I say can matter at this moment.

*****

My last memories of school life in Yamaku are considerably more pleasant. Most of our choices have been made; for some of us, those choices have been eased considerably by examination results. Against the odds, 3-3 has produced three top students; one is expected, one is a small surprise, and one quite a shock to most—Shizune, Hisao, Hanako.

The last name on the list of those who’ve made the Todai cut is particularly poignant to us—Saki made it, but she’s gone home to Osaka for further medical treatment. A year later, she’ll be dead, and all of us will weep for her and the life she should have had, but the world won’t notice.

The Newspaper Club table on Graduation Day has nothing stronger than ginger ale. But as I look around at my friends—Naomi, Hanako, Misaki—and my successors, I feel a lightheaded joy. We have achieved something. It’s not an enduring legacy by any honest measure, but it’s a strong tradition of being informative without being gossipy, and entertaining without being trashy. My juniors have made sure Shizune is adequately headlined, and its appropriate for someone who has risen to the top in so many aspects of school life. I suppose she had to do it, considering who her father is, but still.

And Shizune herself has changed. She’s not the sullen brat she was in our first year. I’d have to say she’s now better than I’ve been, all things considered. She is gracious enough to present an address that mentions Saki’s achievements despite her absence from school, Hisao’s success despite his late arrival after long hospitalization, and… segues into what seems to be Hanako’s valedictorian message. All she mentions about herself is that she’s been proud to serve the school and that she appreciates the support and mentorship she’s gained from the school staff.

I look sideways at Hanako. She looks excited but embarrassed. Those are certainly her words now appearing on the screen as Misha interprets Shizune’s gestures and Hisao simultaneously translates and types them out. Nobody else has those literary flourishes, except perhaps Naomi when she feels like it.

“Congratulations, Hanako,” I whisper to her. Naomi looks a little surprised, and Hanako looks just shocked. We’ve not had words for quite a while. I give her one of my best smiles, and I try to make it an honest one.

“Th-thank you, Nat. I appreciate that very m-much.” The smile she returns, at least, is sweet and genuine.

I miss a few seconds, and there’s a pause in the proceedings. Hisao makes the leap from stage to floor and heads in our direction. Naomi whispers to me, “Shit, Nat, he’s really going to do it! He wasn't joking!”

“What?”

“Say prayers for Hana. She’ll need them.”

I turn to Misaki, who shrugs. “No idea, boss.”

“Whatever it is, get that camera up. Something’s happening and Naomi here didn’t tell us!”

And that’s why the very last newspaper issue of our graduating year has a beautiful half-page shot of Hisao Nakai brushing his lips against Hanako Ikezawa’s right cheek, with the headline ‘THANK YOU HANAKO’ below it. Embedded in the following text is a smaller picture that shows him helping her up on stage, where she receives her scroll of honour from the Principal.

*****

“Nat?”

This time it’s my turn to apologize as we take turns being reflective, like oddly distorted mirrors of each other, high above much of Osaka.

“I’m sorry. I was thinking about the great times we’ve had, and how badly I’ve treated you in the past.”

Naomi chuckles forgivingly. “Well, I must say that in the five years you’ve been off caffeine, things have changed a lot. No pain, no gain; too much pain, nothing gained. But I was thinking, Nat, about memetic potential.”

I frown, the lines of my forehead naturally falling into place. She’s always been my ideas person, and she’s even managed to monetize that talent for odd thoughts into her own consultancy.

“Yamaku,” she begins, “is a one-off. It’s unique. It’s built on the ruins of an iconic castle built by an iconic hero, who was also lacking an eye. Our country is now more open to people like us, and popular culture and media have given us more positive exposure.”

She sips more coffee. In the old days, I’d have killed for some of that. Now, when I need a kick, it’s apple cider.

“I have an idea. Our class had two economists, both very different. One can’t hear and refuses to talk, the other is short a limb and has a potty mouth. You could do a news interview. Ask them what Japan should do to take advantage of the future. Ask the question about whether we’re demographically doomed.”

I stare at her. What an idea! But if it fails, my career goes to hell forever.

“That’s brilliant, Nat.”

“I know you aren’t with me just for my looks,” she grins.

“Shizune and Miki don’t have much in common. People who don’t know them will think it’s brains versus brawn, small-pale-and-intense meets tall-dark-and-cool. It’ll go viral. They’ll kill each other.”

“Ah-uh. You’ll be the moderator. And we’ll rig it to be a Yamaku-based positive meme. One thing I know about those two, Nat, is that they’re both happy to be alumnae of our school. It’s not about them; it’s about us, all of us.”

Suddenly, I see the point.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Mon Aug 18, 2014 10:34 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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forgetmenot
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Re: After the Dream—Natsume's Arc (Part 3 up 20140611)

Post by forgetmenot » Wed Jun 11, 2014 4:13 am

Hmmm. I'm interested to see where this goes. Natsume's story has a distinctly different tone from the rest. While the others are almost melancholic, or perhaps wistful in tone, this one seems firmly in the moment. Rooted in the now, if you will. It's a change of pace, to say the least. Might just be that reporter's instinct.

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brythain
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Re: After the Dream—Natsume's Arc (Part 3 up 20140611)

Post by brythain » Wed Jun 11, 2014 4:18 am

forgetmenot wrote:Hmmm. I'm interested to see where this goes. Natsume's story has a distinctly different tone from the rest. While the others are almost melancholic, or perhaps wistful in tone, this one seems firmly in the moment. Rooted in the now, if you will. It's a change of pace, to say the least. Might just be that reporter's instinct.
*grin* thank you!

Part of it is that Natsume has her own editorial instinct and is not shy about it. Even Hanako and the rest eventually defer to my editorial judgement. Nat is firmer about certain things, and if we can't agree, she makes me just chop the whole chunk out. Also, tries hard not to be sentimental-romantic. Tries. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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