Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

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Chapter 60

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:25 am

Chapter 60
01
"Mother, what time is it?"

I take a look at the display on the dashboard of the car.

"Nearly half past nine. Looks like we've arrived here right on schedule. They said they were going to call it a day around this time, didn't they?"

"Yes. When I called her earlier today, Hanako said that they're trying to limit their late-night studying because of Naomi. They started this morning around half past seven, and they've been cramming for most of the day. Naomi's supposed to stick to nine hours of sleep each day, so she'll probably need to go to bed soon."

"Well in that case let's not keep them waiting."

We exit the car and head through the parking lot to the front gate. I give my daughter a sidelong glance.

"You still remember how to navigate this place?"

"It's been a while since I've walked this campus, but I should be okay. I have spent three years of my life here after all."

Lilly smiles as she continues.

"That feels like such a long time ago already."

"Nearly a year. Time flies, huh?"

"It sure does. I feel a little nostalgic walking around here again."

"Ever felt like going back?"

My daughter flashes me a playful smile.

"Sometimes. Just not yet. And not as a student."

"Hahaha, point taken."

"University took some getting used to, but the way things are now I wouldn't want to turn back the clock. Besides, moving on is a part of life."

"Let's hope that Hanako feels the same."

My daughter remains silent for a moment and then nods.

"Hanako's situation is different from my own. Yamaku has been much more than a mere boarding school to her. I've been trying to put myself in her shoes, but I don't think I'll ever be in a position to know exactly how she feels."

"Well, the school's probably not going to allow her to stay for another year, so let's hope she's gonna pull through where she stumbled before."

"She has already made it through the National Center Test again. If she's... emotionally ready for it, I'm certain she'll do fine on her upcoming entrance exam as well. It's possible I'm engaging in wishful thinking, but I have the impression that she's a little more ready for it this time around."

"I got that impression as well when she dropped by at New Year's Day. Hey Lilly, I've been thinking... Maybe everything that's happened was meant to play out this way. Hanako's had a lot of baggage to sort out, and I can't help but feel that she needed the extra time. What do you think?"

"To be honest I've been considering this as well, Mother. Although it still doesn't change the way I feel about what happened last year."

"You know... My own mother used to tell me that God works in mysterious ways. It often involves bad things happening and people getting hurt, but in the end you find out that there's been a long-term benefits game played. Heh, kind of reminds me of your dad in that respect."

Lilly giggles.

"Isn't that blasphemy, Mother?"

"Hey, it's a compliment!"

I scratch my head as we reach the entrance to the main building.

"Lilly, this doesn't look like the girls’ dorms. Heh, are you sure you still know your way around here?"

"Hanako still has her set of keys to the library, and she and her friends have been studying there after closing hours. She promised to keep the doors unlocked for us."

"Let's not keep her waiting then."

I follow Lilly into the main building, watching with a bit of fascination as she uses the nearby handrails and walls to navigate her way to our destination without breaking stride. I really shouldn't be impressed anymore by what's essentially a second nature to her, but sometimes I can't help myself. When we reach the door that leads to the library, Lilly delivers three measured knocks on it. We wait a moment, but there's no response.

"Unless they're sitting right in front of the door, I don't think they could have heard those, Lilly. Let's just go inside. Hanako said that the door would be unlocked, right?"

"Yes."

We quietly open the door and go inside. I notice that only one corner of the library is lit, and in that corner, sitting at one of the tables, are three girls. Even from this distance I can make out Hanako's long, flowing hair, Naomi's bleached hairdo and Jun's brown hair underneath a red cap. The table they're sitting at is almost completely covered with books, notes and writing implements. Only one corner is occupied by other things, namely a collection of bowls, thermos bottles, a few bags of snacks and the leftovers of a takeout meal. Near the table is a small electronic heater against the chilly temperature in the room. I whisper to my daughter.

"They're sitting at the table at two o' clock. You know, they look so busy, I feel a bit guilty for imposing on them."

We approach the table until Naomi notices us, gets up and gives us an enthusiastic wave.

"Mrs. Sponsor! Welcome!"

Hanako, who was sitting with her back to the door, gets up and walks up to us.

"Hi Lilly. Hi Karla. It's good... to see you again."

Lilly walks up to her best friend and gives her a loving hug.

"Hanako, congratulations once more on succesfully passing the National Center Test again. You've done really well."

Naomi gives us a mock-offended pout.

"No congratulations for us? All three of us are still in the running, you know? Last year I already dropped out at this point."

I grin.

"All three of you did great. When the three of you spent the weekend at our place I could already see how well you all work together. All of you succesfully passing the Center Test merely confirms this once again. You've brought great honor to The Broken Quills, and your sponsor is very pleased with all of you. Now all that remains is to finish what you've started. Onwards and remember: The quill may be broken..."

"...but it will never be silenced!"

Lilly giggles as Hanako, Naomi and Jun finish my sentence in perfect unison. This is probably the first time she's heard the club's official motto.

"Keep fighting the good fight, you three."

"YES MA'AM!"

In contrast to Naomi's excited cheer, Jun merely giggles.

"We'll do our best, Mrs. Satou. By the way, would you like some tea? We still have some left here."

"Ummm... Jun? I'd... rather make some fresh tea for them."

"Here?"

"In the dorms."

"So we'll be calling it a day? Well, it'll be good to relax for a bit before Naomi has to take her beauty sleep. We'll need to be up early again tomorrow."

"I second that."

The girls load their supplies into their backpacks, and after Hanako has put the heater into the storage room and locked up the library we leave for the girls’ dorm. Upon reaching the hallway outside the dormitory's kitchen, Hanako turns to us.

"Uh... p-please make yourselves comfortable. I'll go and make us some tea."

"Hanako? Would you allow me to assist you? It'll be good to relive some of the good old times while I'm here."

"Okay, Lilly."

As Hanako and Lilly enter the kitchen to prepare our drinks, I turn to Hanako's studying companions.

"So how are things holding up for you two?"

Naomi shrugs.

"Okay, I guess. I've had a few seizures over the last weeks, but they weren't as dramatic as the ones I had last year. They were more like blackouts than shortouts. I lucked out and didn't have any on the days of the Center Test itself. That nine-hours-of-sleep-a-day-schedule is a pain, but at least my seizures are much more infrequent now than they were the year before. I'll just have to try and study as efficiently as I can."

"That sounds like a plan. You know, this is just my personal opinion, but seeing how extremely focused Japanese exams are on rote memorization, I don't think pulling all-nighters is going to make much of a difference. When you're sleep-deprived the memory is often one of the first things to go."

"I still think nine hours is overdoing it, but for now I'm stuck with it. Hanako and Jun aren't allowing me to cheat, and if I don't follow my schedule then I think the head nurse is gonna have me kicked out of here before I can even make it to examination day."

"So the school has no objections to you studying here?"

"They probably wouldn't allow me to participate in any supplementary lessons, but they don't seem to have a problem with me studying on the school grounds. Good thing too. Gotta keep Jun and Hanako motivated."

Judging from Jun's obvious eyeroll at Naomi's last remark, her position of team motivator is a self-appointed one.

"So where do you sleep during your stay here?"

"Usually in Hanako's or Jun's room. I brought my own futon along with me. I usually switch every night."

"Usually?"

"Heh, don't tell this to anyone else, but I've pulled a Hanako a few times too."

I laugh. What a weird saying.

"You'll have to explain that term to me."

Jun grins.

"Pulling a Hanako is the practice of curling up on one of the library's beanbags and taking a nap there. Naomi and I have named the practice after its inventor - much to her embarrassment."

"Haha, I'll avoid bringing it up then. By the way, wouldn't it be safer to let Naomi sleep in Hanako's room all the time? Your... conditions... are not exactly compatible, are they?"

"It's not that bad. If Naomi has an episode while staying with me, I simply call a nurse and let her handle things. It's not like we're sharing a bed or something."

"Yeah, I also don't want to impose on Hanako too much. She likes her privacy, you know? I don't want to wear out my welcome just yet. I think I'm already stretching her hospitality enough as it is."

I give an understanding nod. Hanako's dorm room is the closest thing she has to a home. I get why she's usually reluctant to let people enter there.

"Yes, this seems like a good compromise. By the way, you're studying for different exams right now, aren't you?

Jun nods her head.

"I'm aiming for a study in information technology. Its entrance exam involves a lot of mathematics, so it's radically different from the one Naomi and Hanako are studying for. I think I'm the only girl in school heading in that direction right now, so rather than seek out some guy I don't know very well but who's also into IT-stuff and spend nearly twelve hours a day in a room with him, I decided to join these two. They often can't help me when I don't get a mathematical problem, but the atmosphere's pretty good and that's very important too."

Naomi grins.

"Yup. If we screw this up it won't be due to a lack of drive. All we have to fear is a stroke of bad luck."

Given that the event that forced her to drop out last year could easily repeat itself this year, I admire Naomi's spirit.

"Perhaps I can help with that. Lilly and I bought some good luck charms today. I'd like each of you to have one. It's not much, but maybe it'll help a bit. Please take them."

I open my bag and take two charms out of it that I hand to Jun and Naomi. Both of them look quite surprised.

"Awww, that's so sweet. Thanks."

"You really shouldn't have."

"It's okay. Like you said, there's still a bit of luck involved. Hopefully it'll be good this year and all three of you pass your entrance exams."

"With the Center Test behind us, we're already half-way there. We'll just take it one day at a time, right?"

"Right."

Our conversation ends as we see Hanako and Lilly walking back into the room. Lilly has a tea pot in her hand, and Hanako's holding several bowls and some snacks. I throw another look at Naomi and Jun.

"Want to join us for tea?"

Naomi shakes her head.

"I can't go drinking caffeine this close to bedtime. Sorry. I'm gonna go and get myself a soft drink and then take a hot shower. Best thing to do before hitting the sack."

"I still have my mail and a few forums to check before bed, so I think I'll pass as well. Besides, I assume you came here to spend time with Hanako. It's probably more appropriate that you spend some time alone with her."

"Well, good luck in the upcoming weeks, you two."

Jun and Naomi give me a polite bow, exchange a few words with Hanako and then walk off. I turn to Hanako and Lilly.

"Do you two want to find a spot in the common room?"

"It's... a little crowded there right now. Can we go to m-my room instead?"

"I'm fine with that, Hanako."

"Me too. Let's go there. Do you want me to help either of you carry something?"

"It's okay."
02
We make our way to Hanako's dorm room where Hanako and Lilly sit down on the bed, and I take a seat in Hanako's chair. We take some time to relax, and I take this opportunity to give Hanako her good luck charm too.

"T-Thanks."

"To be very honest, I don't think that someone who has passed the National Center Test twice is in great need of it, but hopefully it'll still help."

Hanako fidgets a bit, still not really comfortable with praise.

"I'll k-keep it close."

As Hanako puts the charm on her nightstand, Lilly takes a sip of her tea and then poses the question that's probably been on her mind for some time.

"Hanako, it must be tough to spend so much time cramming once again. Are you... looking forward to the end of examination season?"

Most students around here would probably immediately say yes. But Hanako's situation's probably a little different from most. She's got a good head on her shoulders, that much is certain. Nobody ever believed her failure to pass her entrance exam last year was due to a lack of academic skills. The actual issue that became a spanner in the works had nothing to do with studying. That's both a relief and a worry. It means she has a good chance to make it in this year, but only if her heart is in it this time. If not, no amount of studying will help.

Hanako doesn't immediately answer. She closes her eyes and takes her time to think about Lilly's question.

When I accompanied her on that open house day nearly three months ago, I was worried that we were going to get a repeat of last year and that she'd be too worked up to focus on studying. But a few days later we received word that she passed her mock exams this time with an overall score of seventy six, and when she stayed at our home on New Year's Day, she seemed nervous, but not downright anxious or depressed. Maybe she managed to bounce back this time after all.

"I'm... not really sure. I'm trying not to think too hard about the f-future and just concentrate on studying. I think that's... best for now. I've been trying to take inspiration from Naomi."

Lilly looks puzzled at that.

"From Naomi?"

Hanako nods.

"Naomi was forced to drop out last year b-because of a seizure. She's had some seizures since she came here to study with us. N-Not all that many, but... j-just enough to remind us that the risk is still there. She says she's dealing with the uncertainty by c-concentrating on the present and just trying to get through this one day at a time without worrying about what m-might happen the day afterwards. I'm... trying to do the same. I'm... n-not sure how well I'd do at university, but... I want to pass m-my exam, and I'm t-trying not to look or worry about things beyond that. I'll have t-time to t-think about it afterwards."

"Hehe, you're a tough young lady, you know that? I think you'll do fine."

She fidgets a little again and softly shakes her head, but there's a small trace of a smile on her face.

I give Hanako a conspiring look.

"You know, you do make me wonder about something. Does focusing completely on the present and living from day to day mean you're not preparing anything for Valentine's Day? That's in two weeks, isn't it?"

Hanako blushes at my remark, then smiles and shakes her head.

"N-Not really. Hisao said... that the best Valentine's gift for him from me would be if I passed my exams and b-became part of his everyday life again."

Lilly nods.

"There's a lot of truth in that statement. Gifts are nice, but no gift could compare to simply having you there with us again."

"We... d-decided to not to do gifts this time and d-do something together after... everything's over. To celebrate both Valentine's Day and White Day. And... m-maybe my... exam r-results too."

"Like a vacation?"

"Maybe. We haven't really talked about it much yet."

I snicker.

"Lilly's already having a field day with all the courtesy chocolate for her male classmates. The fact that there are more males than females in her class means it's almost like a day job."

Lilly grins.

"At least that means that in a month, on White Day, I'll get plenty of presents back."

"Yeah, your first White Day at a new school ought to be one heck of an experience. Expecting any confessions or love chocolate?"

Lilly smiles and shakes her head.

"Not at the moment. Fortunately, courtesy chocolate is quite tasty too."

"You seem pretty sure about that. You're positive you're not going to get at least one box of special chocolate..."

I pause a moment for dramatic effect and then continue while throwing a sneaky wink in Hanako's direction.

"...in return?"

Lilly's cringe isn't as obvious as I was hoping for, but it's still noticeable enough to draw Hanako's attention and she lets out a gasp, followed by a broad smile.

"L-Lilly?"

"Mother... I think you may be jumping to conclusions."

"Maybe. But I notice that you're not telling me that I may be jumping to the wrong conclusions."

"I'm not sure how I'm expected to react to that."

I shrug.

"If you really want to keep tight-lipped about it, then I won't keep badgering you. But if there's anything you do wish to share, this might not be a bad time. What's probably not a good idea is to keep dancing around the issue. You're sharing a room with two journalists who have a nose for that kind of thing and being evasive is like a putting up a big, fat 'investigate me'-sign that cannot be ignored."

"You certainly are curious."

"If I wasn't, I wouldn't have studied journalism, dear. But I don't think I'm the only one. Hanako looks kind of interested too."

Hanako fidgets a bit, not really happy to be drawn into the conversation, but obviously not ready to deny her interest either.

"If L-Lilly doesn't want to talk about it..."

"It feels a bit like I'm being ganged up on here."

Lilly sighs softly.

"I don't think there's a lot to tell, but if you want to speculate I will tell you whether you're warm or cold."

I turn to Hanako.

"When I came to pick Lilly up today, her cupboard was filled with little boxes containing courtesy chocolate. It's still kind of early, but I guess she wanted to get it out of the way. The amount of boxes happened to be the same as the amount of males in her class."

"I'm surprised you can recall the exact amount of boys in my class, Mother."

"Well, I did accompany you to school for a while, remember? Anyway, all that courtesy chocolate was standard store-bought stuff. But there was also a half-full box of cocoa powder in your cupboard and that's not on your usual shopping list. So I got curious, and while I was in your room I noticed a box partially filled with chocolates under your bed. I guess you're making those chocolates yourself, but you're not finished with them yet. I thought it was impressive, by the way."

Hanako smiles.

"I think so too. I'm sure it'll be appreciated by the… recepient."

"I take it that she didn't tell you that she was planning this, Hanako?"

"No. This is a surprise to me too."

I grin at my daughter.

"Warm or cold, Lilly?"

Lilly gives us a weary, almost resigned smile.

"You are rather warm, Mother. But like I said before, your conclusions might be a little premature."

Hanako turns towards her friend.

"You're... not sure yet whether to actually give them or not?"

"It's not meant to be a veiled confession. More like a sign of... above average appreciation. I'm still debating with myself on whether it's the right time or not. If it isn't, I'll make do with just the courtesy chocolate I have. Although... to be very honest... just courtesy chocolate wouldn't feel completely right either."

I rub my chin.

"So you also have courtesy chocolate for him, and if you decide it's 'the right time' then you'll give him your home-made gift somewhere in private, isn't that right?"

"Something like that."

"If the courtesy chocolate I saw on the table was all you have stocked for next week and you also have a batch for the person we're talking about then that person must indeed be a classmate of yours or the numbers wouldn't add up. I don't see you excluding one guy in class with this kind of thing. That narrows things down a bit. Heh, seeing that he's in your class, I've definitely already laid eyes on him before. Now I just need to determine what guy you'd be most likely to go for."

"..."

Lilly looks a bit uneasy at my deduction and doesn't answer. This is probably going way too fast for her. Hanako, on the other hand, suddenly gets a tiny sparkle in her eyes.

"Lilly? Is it that boy?"

Sounds like Hanako is in on some information I don't know about.

"Assistant-reporter Hanako, if you have some exclusive information that could help us solve this mystery then now would be a good time to share it. Lilly did say that we were free to speculate, didn't she?"

Hanako giggles a bit at the way I addressed her, but still looks to Lilly as if waiting for permission.

"Um... L-Lilly?"

"To be honest I already regret saying what I just said, but go ahead, Hanako."

After a moment of hesitation, Hanako turns to me.

"During the... open h-house day, you told me that one of Lilly's classmates was chosen to... represent their class, but he threw his support behind Lilly instead. I believe that Lilly... invited him f-for dinner the week after. Now I'm wondering if they're... the same person."

"You invited him for dinner at your place?"

Lilly nods.

"I did. My participation in our faculty's events wouldn't have been possible without his support. I wanted to show him that I appreciated his efforts, especially since he's not the most extroverted person in class, and we hadn't really interacted much with each other prior to the ordeal with the committee. So I extended him an invitation into my home and cooked him dinner. I felt it was a good idea to get to know him a little better because I was curious about something."

Hanako almost immediately gives an understanding nod.

"You... wanted to know why?"

"Heh, you wanted to know if his actions were motivated by pity or by something else."

Lilly gives us a sheepish smile.

"I hope you two don't think any less of me for this kind of thinking."

"Seeing how your school year started with more than a wee bit of awkwardness, I can't really blame you."

"Fortunately my fears turned out to be unfounded. We've been on fairly good terms ever since."

"And now you're gonna give him some hand-made chocolate."

"As I said, I'm still thinking about it."

"You said earlier that you didn't know whether it was the right time or not. You think it's too early? I recall that Hisao enrolled at Yamaku in June and by the time you guys came to Scotland he was already in a relationship with Hanako. Things went pretty quickly between the two of you, didn't they?"

Hanako blushes a bit, but then smiles and nods.

"We s-started d-dating only six weeks after w-we first met each other. I... really s-surprised myself with that."

Lilly grins.

"You surprised me too. But it's not about that. It's just... there's an eventful time coming up, Hanako. Within just a little less than two months, you'll probably be moving in. I want to help you get settled and take some time getting used to life with a roommate. It'll be a change for me too, though certainly not a bad one."

"Uh... Y-you really don't have to t-take me into account."

"Well, she does have a point, Hanako. Assuming you make it into the same university as Lilly, there's no guarantee of a smooth start. Things took some getting used to even for Lilly. If I were in your position, I'd appreciate the ability to have some peace and quiet in a private place with nobody but Lilly and maybe Hisao around. You don't know in advance whether things are gonna get stressful or not."

"B-But..."

"On the other hand, Lilly, it almost sounds like you're trying to keep some sort of schedule here. Which is pretty pointless because you can't plan stuff like this. Ever. Let's assume you go through with that Valentine gift. He might not reciprocate immediately or even not at all. He might bide his time to send you a gift of his own on White Day or he might decide that a month is too long a wait. He might decide to take things slowly and schedule a date or he might give you a confession on the spot. That's just a fraction of the scenarios that could take place. Which one is most likely in your opinion?"

Lilly looks sincerely flustered

"That's... difficult to say."

"Heh, get what I mean?"

"I think I do. But... even so, I'd like to think on it a little bit."

"Hmmm."

My gut tells me that this isn't all there is to it. Lilly seems more reluctant about this than I was expecting. Is it just because she wants to make sure she's available for Hanako at the start of the next school year. But even if Lilly were to get involved with someone I don't think it would really influence the amount of time and support she'd try to give Hanako. The guy would understand, wouldn't he? He'd better. After all, I don't think Lilly would be serious about someone who...

Right... that explains things.

"Lillian?"

"Ah... Mother, why are you addressing me with...?"

"Can I ask you something?"

"You can."

"What if you got involved with someone, and then it turned out that he and your upcoming roommate didn't mix very well with one another?"

"Ah..."

Hanako'd probably make an effort to keep her skittishness under control, but it took her quite some time to really warm up to Hiro and me. Probably over a year. I can imagine that not everyone would have the patience to deal with Hanako's awkwardness for months on end or longer. I see Lilly tensing up for just a moment. Looks like I hit the bullseye. Hanako looks very uncomfortable too.

"L-Lilly, you'd never... w-would you?"

"I really think we're getting ahead of ourselves."

"Yeah, we probably are, but I can imagine why it's tempting to just hold off the boat for the time being and not get too attached to someone before you know for certain he gets along well with your friends. It can save you a lot of heartache."

"I think the same is true for family, Mother."

Yeah...

I really wonder how things would have played out if Hiro and I had done things differently in the past.

"...I guess so."

I don't think I was entirely succesful at keeping the melancholic tone out of my voice as Lilly's ears perk up and a concerned frown appears on her face.
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 6:06 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

Guest Poster
Posts: 1266
Joined: Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:42 am

Chapter 60 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:25 am

"Is something the matter, Mother?"
03
"Nothing important. It's just... What you said just now made me wonder. What if you got involved with someone you really cared about, Lilly? And what if that person really cared about you? But your family wasn't happy with the person you were with? What would you do? Would you elope and try to forget your family, starting somewhere else with a clean slate? Or would you cut ties with the person you were with so you could continue living the life you had before you met that special someone?"

Lilly giggles awkwardly.

"That's a bit of a heavy-handed question, Mother. I toy with the idea of sending someone a Valentine's gift and you start talking about eloping almost immediately. Don't you think that's a bit of an overreaction?"

"Huh? Oh, there's no direct relationship. I'm just speaking hypothetically. I was interested in your point of view."

Lilly nods and takes some time to think.

"I think I've been in a similar situation not too long ago. When you and Father summoned me to Scotland, I was faced with the choice of abandoning the life and friends I had here or abandoning the chance to reconnect with my family and stay with Akira. It's not a choice I would wish on anyone."

How ironic that I ended up putting two of the people I care most about through a similar situation. History may not always repeat itself, but sometimes it does.

"I'm sorry, Lilly."

"It's okay, Mother. In the end, I do not believe that the choice was ever that black and white to begin with. There's often a third option between two extremes, and in the end, I'm really glad I took it. In the situation you described earlier, I could see myself doing the same. I would try to bring the two sides together, no matter how hard it seemed. Giving up on that would be giving up on who I am. I do not wish being forced to choose between loved ones ever again."

"No matter how hard it would be?"

My daughter gives me a playful smile.

"No matter how hard it would be. You have been warned."

Both Lilly and Hanako giggle at this. I'd probably do the same if the whole thing didn't feel so bittersweet to me.

"Heh, can't say I'm surprised at this. I'd be shocked if you had said anything different. And yet..."

"Mother... is anything wrong? You sound... almost sad."

"Just thinking about stuff."

"I don't understand why you asked me this question to begin with. Why dwell on such extreme situations?"

"Context, I suppose..."

"Context?"

"There's a promise I made to someone a little while ago. A promise to tell you a few things. What we just talked about fits into that."

"A few things?"

"Yes. This seems to be a good opportunity. Though I won't force you to listen."

Lilly's expression turns worried.

"If there's something you wish to share with me, I will listen. Is this about... you and Father?"

"Hehehe, don't worry, the two of us are doing fine. This isn't about anything that's happening now, but about something that has happened in the past."

Lilly nods.

"Very well then."

Hanako gives me an unsure look.

"Should I... l-leave you two alone?"

I shake my head.

"No, I think it'd be best if you stayed here. This is something you should probably hear as well."

Lilly looks puzzled.

"What's this about?"

"It's about what you said earlier. About bringing two sides together, no matter how hard it seems. About not being forced to choose between loved ones. It's an admirable mindset and not an unfamiliar one. Someone I know has always possessed the same mindset."

"Who?"

"Your father."

"Father? But..."

She thinks for a moment and then nods.

"Grandfather and Grandmother didn't approve of you when they first met you?"

"For a long time they didn't even know of my existence. Until we decided to get married, we kept our relationship a secret. When I first met your grandfather, your dad introduced me as a reporter planning to include the family company in an article. Your dad wanted to try the slow-and-steady method of introducing me, arranging initially 'coincidental' meetings and allowing them to slowly get to know me before taking the step of revealing our relationship. In the end, that approach was cut short before it could reap tangible results."

"They found out about you?"

"No. They merely became concerned with your father's ongoing status as an unmarried man and started taking steps to change that. They started planning meetings with bridal candidates for him. Your father was at a loss on how to deal with them. By the time he realized that stalling wasn't going to help, the fourth candidate had already been turned down."

"I never knew that. How did you and Father deal with this?"

"We knew that our options were limited, and time was running out. Your father didn't want to choose between me and his family, so we decided then and there that we wanted to get married. Hiro was faced with the intimidating task of confronting his parents and telling them about me, our relationship and our plans. He warned me that I'd likely be rejected, but promised me to give it his all. I promised in return that if his parents were to give in, I'd do my best to be a good and proper wife for him, even though it meant giving up a job I loved. And so your father went off to confront his parents - probably for the first time in his life."

"And apparently he succeeded or I wouldn't be here."

"I wasn't there when he spoke to them. But I talked to him on the phone afterwards. He sounded shaken and ill, but he said that his parents were 'considering their options'. I initially thought that was simply a polite way to refuse, but I later learned that your father's words were pretty much spot on when I got an unexpected visitor. Your grandfather dropped by to talk to me."

"How did it go?"

"When I was first introduced to him, your grandfather was very friendly and polite and quick to praise me to high heaven. When he visited me in my apartment though, there was something different about him. He was still smiling, but that smile didn't reach his eyes. It was kind of unsettling."

"At least he took the time to talk to you."

"He couldn't just ignore me. You see, over the course of our relationship I spent quite a bit of effort on scoping out business opportunities for your father's company whenever I was in the UK. I had a large network of contacts from my days as a business reporter that I was able to make use of. In fact, the company that was later bought by Satou Medical Technology and eventually evolved into what is now head office was a place I checked out and then recommended to your father who in turn passed it on to other folks in the company. His sense of obligation forced your grandfather to deal with me in one way or another."

Hiro was at first reluctant to bring it up, but I suppose he eventually decided to mention it anyway.

"I did my best to be hospitable and polite to him. Since he started his visit with an abundancy of small talk, I thought at first that he simply came to get a better impression of me. But then he started to talk about how he heard that the company was in my debt, and he came here partially for the reason of settling that. He offered me a small part of his own shares as compensation for my efforts. I wouldn't be able to attend board meetings of course, but those shares would have still made me a nice sum of money if the company kept doing well."

I have no doubt that he was motivated by a real desire to settle a debt he felt he owed, but I also felt like accepting that offer would be akin to selling out.

"I argued that I wasn't interested in money and I simply did what I did because his son was part of the company, and I wanted it to do well because I cared about him. That led us to the main reason of his visit: his son. I was baffled when his own take on the situation came up. He described the situation as a crisis in the family that, if left untended, could turn into a crisis in the company. He felt like his son had turned into someone he barely even recognized, and he felt it was up to him to get his son back to his senses. I personally thought he was overdramatizing the situation, though of course I didn't tell him that."

Hanako frowns.

"A company crisis?"

"Uhuh. Hiro never told me how exactly his fateful talk with his parents played out, but I strongly suspect that things eventually escalated to the point where he at least suggested the possibility of eloping. That's probably what got his father so spooked. Well, that and the fact that Hiro never went against his parents before. He was pretty much the perfect son and successor: smart, a hard worker and well-regarded at the office. Suddenly dropping everything and walking out of his father's life would probably have caused quite a scandal."

"Would Father really have done that?"

"No, he wouldn't have. Ever since his second birthday he's been groomed to follow in his own father's footsteps someday. He spent nearly 25 years pushing himself to his limits to be the best he could. Throwing that away after all that time would have been like discarding a large part of his identity and would have made him feel like the first two decades of his life had no meaning. Also, every other person he knew was tied to his family or the company in some way. If we had eloped and it wouldn't have worked out, he would have had nobody left in his life. It's not something I would have ever asked him to do. But his own father didn't realize that. The fact that he didn't immediately recognize his son's bluff for what it was... was probably pretty telling of how well they really knew each other."

I take a sip from my tea before continuing.

"The fact that his son suddenly defied his authority wasn't nearly as big a problem as what he was planning to do. I was told that me marrying your father would almost certainly create problems and loss of face for the family."

Lilly looks uncomfortable.

"Because you're... not originally from Japan?"

"That's no doubt what it came down to. This has always been been a very homogenous country and not many foreigners take up permanent residence here. Intercultural marriages are still frowned upon in some circles, and one generation ago they were much more of a rarity than they are now. In a way I could understand why your grandfather didn't like the idea. I just... didn't feel like it was an insurmountable obstacle. And the alternative would have been to just break up and walk away, because the proposal your grandfather offered was... not realistic in my book."

"A proposal?"

"Yeah, I was told that a marriage would be troublesome, but he was willing to acknowledge our relationship under a few conditions. Those conditions included... well... not visiting him at the office or at home, not calling him at home, no interaction with the people close to him, always using protection and when the time came - not saying bad things about his wife to him."

I roll my eyes at the mere memory of it and can't hold back a few chuckles at the absurdity.

"Ha ha heh, sorry. It's just... You have no idea how strange it feels to hear a man in his fifties, with whom you've only interacted a handful of times, lecture you about using birth control. He he, well... I was able to keep a straight face at the time, thankfully."

Lilly and Hanako aren't exactly chuckling along with me. In fact, Lilly looks downright distraught.

"Mother... Do you really mean you were offered to be Father's...?"

"Mistress? Yeah. The reasoning was that your father and I could continue our relationship and keep seeing each other despite the whole marriage business, and as I long as I told nobody, nobody would ask. The fact that your grandfather was completely serious just showed how extremely different - probably even incompatible - our mindsets were. To him, a romantic relationship and a marriage were things that he could easily picture as separate. In his mind, his proposal was a reasonable compromise to solve the situation and satisfy both parties and acceptable as long as it didn't become public."

I smirk.

"Except it wouldn't have been satisfactory for me. I'd feel terrible knowing that any time your father'd be spending with me would be time away from his wife and perhaps later even his children. Not to mention it didn't really solve anything. It just made the problem of your father having to choose between me and his family a permanent one. Our relationship wouldn't be able to work in the long run under those circumstances. So I declined the request, in the most polite way I could think of."

"How did he react? You and Father married, so how did you change Grandfather's mind?"

"I didn't. We spent the rest of his visit talking completely past each other. I just kept politely asking him for a chance to prove that I could be a good wife to your father, and he just kept going on about how we'd probably be able to see each other more and that things would be better for everyone if I went along with his offer. Eventually he got sick of going in circles, excused himself and left. But before he walked out the door, he told me that he didn't believe I could truly be a good wife to his son. That the best thing I could do was pretend. Heh, I've often wondered during the years that came after whether he wasn't partially right about that."

"I don't..."

"Anyway, a few days later I received a phone call from your father. He said he wanted us to meet after he got off work. He took me out to dinner, and he told me that your grandfather had changed his mind and that we were allowed to 'give it a try'. We took a walk in the nearby park afterwards, and it was there that your father officially proposed to me. I naturally accepted."

Hanako gives me a tiny smile.

"Parks are r-really good places for those sorts of things."

"Hehe, I think so too. I was really happy that night. I quit my job as promised and we got married soon afterwards. The wedding wasn't anything spectacular, just the two of us and a handful of family members in a remote location. We went to Scotland to celebrate our honeymoon. It seemed fitting to spend it in the location where we met each other. Those were some of the most wonderful days of my life. A few days before we were set to return, we took a long walk along the shores of Moray Firth and talked about the future. Hiro got a phone call earlier that day informing him that a promotion was waiting for him at the office. He was already due for promotion anyway, but he said they had decided to give him some extra responsibilities on top of the usual tasks. Things would get very busy for him after his return, and because he used all of his credibility with his parents in order to push our marriage through, he felt that he'd have to work hard to get back in their good graces. He warned me that my life was probably going to get pretty hard from now on and to persevere for both our sakes."

"Hard?"

"Yes. We'd be moving in with your grandparents after our honeymoon, and your father explained to me that the position of the oldest son's wife was... pretty much the lowest spot in the hierarchy. There was this tradition of the mother-in-law putting the person who'd one day replace her as lady of the house through a hazing period of some kind. Your grandmother herself went through the same thing apparently when she married into the family. Perseverance in the face of hardships was considered an admirable trait, and your father believed that I'd be able to win your grandparents' respect and acceptance eventually if I could just manage to weather the storm long enough. Believe it or not, at that time I still thought it wouldn't be that bad and that this was just another challenge to take on and conquer. Heh, it turned out your father wasn't exaggerating."

Lilly lets out a sad sigh.

"Was this... first period... very hard, Mother?"
04
"When I moved in with the Satou family, I was prepared for a the life of a homemaker. I did my best to talk and act the way a good wife of an upper-class businessman was expected to talk and act. What I wasn't prepared for was the life of a slave. Which was probably a better description of my situation than 'daughter-in-law'. I was essentially expected to defer to my new mother-in-law in every way and she was set on micromanaging my entire day to a ridiculous degree. She did very little else all day long except ordering me around or criticizing my way of doing things. I had confidence in my homemaking skills before, courtesy of having lived on my own for quite some time, but they proved of little use to me because my way wasn't 'the right way' of doing things, so even if I did something correctly I'd still get criticized for it. Hpmh... I even required her permission to be able to leave the house, which I didn't get very often."

"H-How did Father react?"

"Whenever things got bad enough, your father would usually try to mediate between us and things would calm down for some time, only to inevitably start up again a week or two later. I kept telling myself that things would get better. That I was being tested. And your father would echo those sentiments. But this wasn't a process of months. For years, I couldn't do a single thing right, no matter how hard I tried. It didn't let up until Akira started saying her first words. And there were... things... that were disquieting from the beginning."

"Things?"

"Like whenever the whole family was sitting at the dinner table on Sunday and your grandfather wanted to know something about me. He often wouldn't ask me directly. He'd ask your father, even though I was sitting right next to him. Or whenever your grandmother had visitors. Usually I wasn't allowed to 'impose' on those meetings, but very often whenever those visitors and I were introduced to each other, I was introduced as a 'friend of the family'. That always felt very… wrong. Even though I was officially part of the family, I still very much felt like a stranger - sometimes even an intruder. I think that was the point."

Hanako gives me a pained look.

"That's... really horrible."

"In the end, what kept me going was Hiro's support. After his promotion, he got swamped with work, but every few days, especially after the bad ones, he'd leave a piece of paper beneath his pillow that either contained a nice quote from a book he read or was folded into an origami animal or flower. I'd in turn leave little notes of support in the lunches I made for him. He also tried to spend whatever free time he had with me, even though he was often exhausted from the long hours at work. Those little things gave me the strength to endure, even after I stopped believing that things would improve between my in-laws and me."

"Stopped believing?"

"For a long time I felt that if I could just keep giving it my all, the family would accept me. Until one of the family members broke that illusion for me. Your aunt Mayoi. She was still living at home as well when I moved in, but we never really interacted all that much. During the day, she worked as a secretary at a nearby company, and she often spent time with friends outside the home. She was nice enough, but always seemed to be wary of taking sides or getting too involved in the family drama. After my marriage to your father, I suspect a lot of pressure was put on her not to 'give the neighborhood anything else about our family to talk about' and I don't think she was happy with that. On the day before her wedding - at which point she'd quit her job, leave home and move in with the Hakamichis - she invited me on a nightly walk through the park. When we were there, she asked me if I was still planning to stick things out. I said I was, and she told me to look after her brother to the best of my ability. I asked her if she had any advice for me on how to improve my relationship with my in-laws. Even though your father and I moved into our own place a few streets away from the parental home, your grandmother would still drop by daily, and with Mayoi leaving she was getting more and more focussed on me again. She gave me a pitying look and said she didn't know what to tell me. I asked her if she was sure and she said she was. She then told me a story about something that happened at her work."

I sigh.

"Mayoi worked at a company very much like the family company's Japanese branch. A company with a very traditional business culture. Young men came into the workplace each April, straight out of university, and stayed there until they reached retirement age. For over 40 years, the company would be their world and their family. The relationship between the company and the employees was founded on mutual trust. The company would take care of them and wouldn't abandon them. If business would get tough, everyone would take a pay cut including the bosses, but there wouldn't be any layoffs. Mayoi couldn't even remember the last time someone was fired. In return for that life-time employment, the company expected loyalty and complete devotion. It worked for most people. But sometimes, there'd be an employee who just... didn't fit in. Who couldn't integrate into the team. Even though management wanted to get rid of him, they didn't like the idea of firing him because it would make the company look bad and the other employees might start worrying. So... other ways were often employed."

"Other ways?"

"Those kinds of employees would be asked to do more and more superfluous tasks. They'd have to write a report about the same thing twice or thrice a day only to have those reports trashed immediately afterwards. They'd be put on dead-end projects that were too underfunded to ever get completed. Their invitations to company get-togethers would start getting 'misplaced'. Usually, such a person would eventually get the hint and resign on his own. Every once in a while, someone would just keep going no matter how unhappy it made him. Mayoi once met such a person at work. She asked me what advice I would have for such a person. She said she felt that her brother was in denial about the situation. Because if he acknowledged that I was in the same position as that employee, he'd also have to acknowledge that... there was no third option. And suddenly all the belittlements and putdowns I endured over the years started falling into place."

"Why? If they really didn't want you to be part of the family, then why didn't they simply oppose the marriage?"

"Because your grandfather was convinced that his son would elope with me if he didn't give his blessing, and he wasn't yet ready to write off the son whom he had considered his faithful successor for so long and in whom he invested so much. That offer he made me prior to the marriage should have clued me in on how he saw me and how he saw your father's feelings towards me. I was considered a temporary whim - a passing craze that his son would eventually grow out of. All that needed to be done was weather the storm until your father's common sense returned and things would be okay again, so he saw no need for permanent measures. If I had become your father's mistress then that would have worked out perfectly, but I rejected that offer, so your grandfather instead decided to treat me like a bothersome employee. He probably thought that enduring hardships like that was something only the Japanese could do. He correctly guessed that I didn't have the heart of a homemaker and that I'd struggle to get accustomed to a strict and traditional domestic life, so he approved the wedding under the assumption that I wouldn't last more than a month or two and that if I'd leave on my own accord, your father would be too disillusioned and ashamed to follow me. With luck, I'd be gone before people even discovered that your father got married."

I sigh and shake my head.

"And so we spent years unknowingly pushing against each other. I was continuously telling myself that I was mere weeks away from their reluctant approval, and they were continuously telling themselves that I was mere weeks away from being fed up and walking away. Every New Year's Day, when everyone was acting nice for a change, I told myself that this was a new beginning, only for things to return to the way they were the week afterwards. To be honest, Mayoi's revelation was one of the low points of my marriage and that was probably the one moment where I wondered if I shouldn't just run away and leave everything behind."

"But you didn't."

"I regret having married into the Satou family, but I never regretted marrying your father. He put his relationship with his parents on the line for me, and I didn't want that to be meaningless or punish him for his parents' attitude. But what stopped me more than anything else was Akira. I realized that if I walked away now, I might never see my daughter again. Japan has no joint custody and I wouldn't have won a custody battle against the Satous. Heck, I wouldn't have ruled in my own favor if I had been part of the family court. And even if I would win, Akira would have lost her father in the process. So I stuck around, promising myself not to let my in-laws get to me and not let them win."

"Oh Mother..."

"Things remained pretty difficult over the years, but eventually even my in-laws started realizing that I wasn't going anywhere, and your father - thanks to his tireless mediating - was able to negotiate somewhat of an uneasy truce over the years. Or maybe not a truce as much as an agreement to make your and Akira's childhood as carefree as we could make it and to not let you both grow up in a family environment permeated by hostility and resentment. It wasn't great, and it was still a pretty lonely and isolated existence, but resigned tolerance disguised as acceptance was still a step up from how things were at the beginning. Things kinda limped on, the four of us always making sure that conflicts were out of your earshot, until the day your grandfather decided to announce his definite retirement and your father got his ultimate promotion and relocation to the Inverness branch, which had been changed into the company's head office not too long before."

"I remember the evening Grandfather announced it. You acted happy for Father."

"Smiling and acting happy while you're secretly feeling miserable is a skill just like any other, Lilly. You get better at it with practice, and by that time I had enough practice to be a pro. But that evening, it was harder than it had ever been before to maintain my composure. Your father was the one person who both knew and accepted the real me. He was the one person I could lean on for emotional support. And now he was moving to the other end of the world. I felt truly lost. It's funny because I used to be a very independent person."

"But then, soon after, he summoned you to join him."

"Yeah. Things were getting more and more difficult for me here. Your grandmother's health had been on the decline ever since your grandfather's surgery, and it deteriorated further after he retired. There were tensions between them, and your grandmother started taking out her frustration on the person who was designated to look after them, which was me. I started wondering how long it was gonna take before I'd start getting ulcers and high blood pressure too. Then your father visited Japan again. He told me that he needed me in Scotland and said that he arranged for me to be able to join him there. He told the board of directors, consisting of your grandfather and his two brothers, that he needed a close advisor he could trust who had intimate knowledge of western culture who could counsel him on how to run the company with a minimum of cultural conflicts. He said he wanted me to be that advisor for some time. Your grandfather was heavily opposed to the idea at first, stating that the wife of an oldest son was supposed to take care of her in-laws. That's how the custom went, and that's how things had always been. But his two brothers liked the idea and overruled your grandfather's vote. For once the tradition of the company taking precedence over the family worked in my favor. Eventually your grandfather gave in under the condition that if I was no longer needed there, I'd return here to look after him and his wife again, as per tradition. Your father accepted that compromise. We hired a nurse and housekeeping staff for your grandparents and I finally came to live in my homeland again - but without you, as much as I had wanted otherwise."

Lilly nods sadly.

"Father always said that I had to stay behind because of my education. But Akira felt that there was another reason."

"I know what Akira used to think. She thought that your father felt that a blind daughter could harm his image there. But Akira was wrong about that. Culture in the UK isn't quite as... uncomfortable... about the subject of disabilities as it is here. Your father could have paraded you around all day long and nobody would have thought of him as confrontational. I knew that, and so did he. That was never the reason. Your education... truly was the reason he decided you had to stay in Japan. There were just... a few details he omitted."

"Details?"

"About three years after Akira was born, we moved from the Satou parental home to a place of our own. It was still within walking distance from my in-laws, but I was still happy to at least have some breathing room. Your father mentioned that then would be a good time to make my 'park debut'. It's what they call the process of taking your child to the park for the first time and join one of the cliques of mothers hanging out there. Your father reminded me that our neighborhood was a very tight-knit community where everybody knew everybody, and the mother groups in the park were even more tightly-knit. He urged me to be on my best behavior, respect the hierarchy and defer to the mothers in charge. I spent most of the evening practicing my introduction, but when the day of my park debut came, things went... really badly. I pulled off my introduction exactly the way I practiced it in front of your father, but I was almost immediately told that there was no place for me in the group. A few days later, I had tried with all the cliques in the area, but I was turned down wherever I went. At first I didn't really care. I first told myself that if those cliques wanted to have nothing to do with me then that was their loss. But then those same mothers started keeping their children away from Akira and wouldn't let them play with her. It turned out that joining a group wasn't as optional as I had thought. Akira was three years old at the time. For the first time I realized that even though I was no longer confined to the Satou home, the world outside its walls wasn't much different. I was still an outcast."

I later learned that several of those mom groups contained family members of the candidates that Hiro turned down. I doubt I ever had a chance to begin with.

"Your father and I met with your grandparents to discuss the situation. Your grandmother asked me why I was so surprised. I imposed myself on a tight-knit community and the community reacted accordingly. Your father reminded her that this was about Akira, not me and that she used to be a 'boss mom' of one of those groups herself. He said that she'd probably be able to smooth this over since the members would respect her seniority and name. I didn't think she'd go for it at first, but she agreed to help without any further urging. She said that she'd take Akira to the park in my place while I did chores at their house in her place. It wasn't an ideal solution and she'd often remind me of my failings as a mother after those park trips, but at least Akira was able to play with fellow children again. Still, your grandmother reminded us that she'd only be able to smooth things over with the mothers. If the children wouldn't accept Akira as one of them, there wouldn't be much she could do. She also reminded me that we were only fighting the symptoms of the problem and that due to our selfishness our children would probably never be fully accepted among their peers. You have no idea how much it hurt to hear that."

"..."

"L-Lilly..."

Lilly doesn't say anything, but the pain is evident in her expression. Hanako, ever thoughtful, wraps her arms around her best friend and holds her gently.

"Back at home, your father and I discussed the talk we had with your grandmother. I asked him if she was exaggerating or not. He admitted that it was true that Japanese with mixed blood tended to receive mixed treatment. Some were accepted without much trouble while others remained forever foreigners in their own land. He argued that it was our responsibility to limit the odds of the latter happening to our children."

"H-How?"

"We couldn't do much about the fact that you and Akira didn't look the same as full-blooded Japanese, but we could do our part to make sure you'd end up acting the same. We figured that if you didn't act any different from others, people'd be more likely to look past your foreign appearance and acknowledge you as one of them. Your father didn't think there was a problem in us teaching you to speak English on the side, but your upbringing had to be Japanese in spirit. We could make sure you could speak Japanese without an accent. We could make sure you'd behave with all the mannerisms and etiquette a well-raised Japanese was expected to show. So that's what we did. We picked schools for you that were well-regarded and I... I continued the act I started mastering while living with your grandparents, so I could set the best possible example for you and your sister - even if the person who was raising you wasn't... the real me and even if it would eventually make me feel like an outsider if everything went right. It was the best I could do."

"Mother...I..."

"When your father told me I could join him in Scotland, but that he wanted you to stay here, I was horrified. What kind of parents would leave their child behind while moving to the other end of the world? But your father reminded me that our move was temporary. A simple shift in the European or Asian market could mean he would be relocated. One of the executives in the Japanese branch unexpectedly dropping out would mean he'd be relocated. And even if nothing like that happened, the board would eventually appoint a successor and request him to join them back in Japan. No matter what happened, we'd eventually return here. And if we took you with us to Scotland, that meant you'd probably have to go back with us when the time came. But you were twelve at the time and still developing. Your father worried that if you spent all your teenage and most of your adolescent years in a western country, you'd also adopt the manners and the mindset. And when the time came to return to Japan, he was afraid that you wouldn't be able to sufficiently adapt anymore and that you'd truly be an outsider for the rest of your life. Heh, that's your dad - always thinking about the long game. One time I would have fought his decision tooth and nail, but given my own experiences, I... I... couldn't, so... we..."

I swallow a lump in my throat. The next part's even going to be harder.

"When I arrived in Scotland, your father told me why he had me come over. This wasn't just about someone giving him cultural advice. He wanted to make amends to me for the hardships I endured in the past... because he couldn't bear to give up his family and his legacy. He told me that while I was in Inverness, I should live my life to the fullest without worrying about him or let him or anything else hold me back. And when I felt rejuvinated and ready to face the challenges back home, I should return to Japan. So that's how my new life in the city of my birth started. We had cleaning staff to take care of the chores, so I had no obligations at our new home. I started working at the PR department at head office and quickly worked my way up to a managing function there through my efforts and dedication. The overwork I voluntarily put in didn't even tire me out, it invigorated me. I started getting involved in the local neighborhood committee. People paid attention to what I had to say and didn't dismiss my comments with a generic 'you say very interesting things' like at those blasted PTA meetings in the past. I started setting up a new network of journalistic contacts. I joined a cycling group. I started playing bridge with the vice-director's wife and her friends. I started writing and submitting articles in magazines and local newspapers. I started getting involved with charity groups. I started making friends. I... *sniff* I..."

I can't bear to finish my sentence, but then Hanako finishes it for me in a barely audible whisper.

"Y-You s-started... living."

I sniffle as I hear those words.

"I'm s-so s-sorry, Lilly. For everything."

"Mother, were you... happy there?"

"I'm not sure. It felt good, most of the time, as long as I kept busy. But the brief moments I didn't have anything to do, I was reminded of the fact that I bought this new life by selling out my family. You, Akira, even your father. I promised your father that whenever he needed my support or company, he just needed to say so and I'd drop everything for him. But he never took me up on that offer even once. Not because he didn't feel like a fish out of the water or lonely at times, but because he felt obliged to give me as much space and time for myself as possible. It wasn't until his hospitalization that I realized how much I must have neglected him over the years, even if it was with his own consent. We... slowly started drifting apart over the years even though I'd see more of him in a day than I used to in a week. Because..."

My stare shifts to the floor. Even though Lilly can't see me, I still can't look her in the eyes.

"I probably wasn't meant to stay as long as I did. There were several times when I was on the verge of telling your father that I was going back, but I always ended up chickening out at the last moment. There was always a company goal or a project or a commitment that I felt I still had to finish. There were always things I still wanted to do. So I never came through. Your father was aware of this too. I could see it in his eyes whenever we were alone, and I started growing more and more uncomfortable in his presence as a result as time went on. Ironic, considering the fact that he used to be a source of comfort for me. But even so, he never had the heart to tell me that I had to go back, so things limped on."

It's almost as if our roles had reversed when we took up residence in Inverness.

"Then your aunt Stella fell ill. When I visited her, she made a very unusual request of me. She said she wanted to see you and Akira again. I thought she was terminal, so I felt I had no choice. Heh, I later learned that while she really was in bad shape, terminal was an exaggeration. She simply did what she did because she felt that I was struggling with the family matters, and this was her way of trying to help me. She always was a bit of a busybody. It did make it impossible to ignore the emotional chasm that had grown between myself and my children, and while you were in Inverness I realized that something had to be done or else I'd return to Japan one day and find both my in-laws and my children hating me."

"I would never..."

"So I approached your father and asked him to reunite our family, even if it was for a little while, so we could mend the rifts between us and be a true family again. I eventually managed to convince him. He too felt the distance that formed over the years and the two of us agreed that Akira might actually be happier if she moved to Scotland."

"But what about Father's reason for having me stay in Japan?"

"Your father refused my request at first, even when I pointed out that you nearly finished your education already. He ultimately conceded when I upped the stakes. I swore to him that... if you moved to Scotland... and you couldn't adapt there or weren't happy... not only would you be allowed to return to Japan, but... I'd come with you. Either way, you'd have your mother back. That's what made your father change his mind. Heh, I think that in the end we were probably both betting on different outcomes, only for the referee to make a call that neither of us had expected. I was saddened by your decision to stay in Japan, but at the same time what you said about wanting to go out of your way to reconcile with us, even after everything that happened, made me really happy. I decided for myself that if we were only going to have brief periods of time to get reaquaintanced with each other, I didn't want you to reconnect with the person I had been pretending to be, but the person I truly was. And maybe - when you and your sister were ready - entrust you with my own perspective of everything, even if it might make you think less of me than you used to."

In the end, it was probably for the best. My promise to Hiro got the job done, but could have resulted in a whole new mess in the long run.

"..."

For a very long time, Lilly's silent as she lets everything I just told her sink in. Eventually, she gives me an unsure look that appears almost guilty.

"Mother? After you and Akira returned from America, I asked you and Father to return to Japan and both Akira and Father sided with me. I never knew... I mean, how did you really feel about that?"

"How I felt about it was likely how Hanako must have felt when she was told to go to that second open house day. I felt really anxious, frightened even. I felt that way even during my trip to the US, before you asked us to consider moving. But, like Hanako, I think that what happened was really for the better."

"If I had know, I wouldn't have asked you to return."

"That's why it's good that you didn't know back then. I was uneasy about going back, but the day after I dropped you off at Yamaku, I had a meeting with your uncle Koji at the Japanese branch. He told me that your father confided a few things in him regarding our family situation and that, as a gesture of goodwill towards his new brother, he wanted to help. He mentioned that his wife wouldn't be accompanying him since she didn't speak English, but that she was okay with looking after your grandparents in my place. Koji and your father decided to keep part of the housekeeping staff on board to take most of the everyday chores out of her hands and split the costs between them. Koji also asked me to stay involved with the Inverness branch and act as his advisor and confidant in terms of dealing with the staff, like I had done with my husband. I told him I would be honored to help him run things smoothly in whatever way I could."

"And that's when you decided to come back?"

"I had a long conversation with your father over the phone. He told me that he also wanted to return to Japan and that he wanted me to make a new start there together with him. He said he also understood my reluctance, but he stressed that history didn't always repeat and that not all places were as traditional and conservative as the neighborhood where we spent most of our marriage. He said that we could go wherever I wanted and that if I agreed to move, he'd let me decide where our new home would be. After that phonecall, I took a long, hard look at myself and asked myself if I was really ready to give things another try. That was probably when I realized how cynical I had become. In the end, I decided to try to have faith and give things one more try and spent the rest of my stay visiting and looking into various neighborhoods until I found one that gave me a good feeling."

I get up and give Lilly a comforting pat on the shoulder.

"In the end, Lilly, what you did was for the best. I think my life has truly taken a turn for the better now. The neighborhood we ended up settling in has been a lot more welcoming than our old one, and I'm on fairly good terms with both of our neighbors and several other people who live nearby. I can't say we're extremely close, but I don't think that's really necessary. In public, I try to conform to expectations others have of me while in private, I can be myself. I can visit my friends and colleagues in Scotland whenever I want, and when I'm at home I try to be there for your father. When your father and I were still dating, we respected each other's cultural background and often managed to laugh about the idiosyncracies we perceived in each other's cultures. When we got married, that balance was lost but I feel like we've finally regained it. For the first time in a very long time I feel like I don't have to choose between my family's happiness and my own. Things aren't perfect yet, but I have good hopes for the future."

Lilly sullenly nods, but doesn't reply. She looks tired and even a bit confused. I sigh.

"It was a quite a bombshell I just dropped, isn't it?"

"It... is."

"You should take your time to let it sink in a bit."

"I think I will do that. Mother, would it be okay with you if I... went to get a bit of fresh air?"

"Not at all, dear."
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Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 60 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:26 am

Lilly gets up and softly walks out of the room. As she closes the door behind her, Hanako gives me a worried look. I try to give her my most reassuring smile.
05
"Try not to worry too much about her, Hanako. Lilly's a strong girl. She'll sort this out and be perfectly fine afterwards."

"I k-know."

She gives me an unsure look.

"K-Karla, is it really okay for m-me to h-have heard all of this?"

"I think it is. Lilly may have quite a few friends, but I don't think she has many confidants. You and Akira are probably the two people she's most likely to approach when something's bugging her. It'll be good if she can talk about this with both of you."

Hanako smiles and nods.

"Okay then."

"There's a second reason too. It relates to something else I wanted to talk to you about."

"Something else?"

I nod and give her a sincere look.

"Just this once. It's about... something we did slightly over a year ago."

"...Oh!"

Hanako cringes a bit as she realizes what I'm talking about and start fidgetting nervously.

"Looking back on the whole thing, we could have handled it a lot better. The timing was pretty bad and we could have done a better job at getting our intentions across too. I'm really sorry about that. We probably caused you a lot of unnecessary stress."

"It's... o-okay, really."

"I often wondered if we wouldn't have been better off simply offering you a home."

"A... home?"

"Uhuh. A place to feel safe. A place to feel welcome. A place to belong. Everybody needs a place like that. We at least wouldn't have ended up casually insinuating that we could so easily replace the people that you lost."

"..."

"That home's there for you if you ever need it. Don't be a stranger, okay?"

"T-thanks."

I move my chair a bit closer to the bed and look at Hanako.

"You know, to be honest, I'm still kind of hoping you'll give our offer some consideration."

I let out a sad sigh.

"After I got married and it became clear that my in-laws didn't really want me around, I spent a lot of time wondering if they hadn't merely consented to the marriage because they felt they owed me something for the favors I did the company. The was a pretty awful feeling. I'd never offer to take somebody in if I felt that the best I could do was tolerate them. We're thankful for what you did for us of course… but that was never the only reason. Hanako, if I can ask: why did you help my husband back then?"

"Uh... I... I c-couldn't just do nothing."

I nod.

"Sometimes, you don't need a reason for something. Sometimes, you just do something because it's the right thing to do. I think that what you did and what we did are both examples of that. Let's just forget about the obligation stuff already. It stopped being important when we got to know you better, and frankly, my husband's entire life has already been dictated by nothing but obligations upon obligations. I'm sick and tired of those. Let this be about something other than social debts for a change. Let this be about doing what I think would make everyone happiest. You already have a really special bond with both Lilly and Akira. Given how different those two are, I think that's pretty unique and you'd fit in well with them. Last New Year's Day made that pretty clear to me. This is just a hunch, but I think everything that Lilly did to bring our family closer together... she didn't do it just for herself or for us. I wouldn't be surprised if she did what she did with you in mind too. Most importantly, I... also feel a sense of kinship with you myself."

She gives me a puzzled look.

"A... sense of k-kinship?"

"When we first met all that time ago and I shook your hand, you gave me a very telling look as I looked you over. It was what my husband would call a 'please don't judge me'-look. He says that in the past I sported one myself at times when dealing with my in-laws. Even before I got to know you better and learned that we shared a passion for writing, you already gave me a special feeling - a bit like a kindred spirit."

"A kindred spirit..."

Over the course of last year, I've come to the realization that there have been several motives for our family's offer to Hanako. Not all of them were particularly selfless. My husband felt he owed her something and he was eager to repay that debt. Lilly was desperately trying to fix a mess she held herself responsible for. And I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to show myself and the world that I wasn't the horrible mother I came to believe myself to be over the course of Akira's and Lilly's childhood. I can't blame Hanako for suspecting ulterior motives on our behalf and latching onto them. But I also came to realize that in a way, Hanako was just like us. Hiro, Akira, Lilly and myself...we've all experienced the feeling of being the odd one out among the rest, of not truly belonging, both as individuals and as a family unit. We've all experienced periods in our lives where we felt isolated and lonely and I think Hanako, more than anyone else, can relate to that. More than anything else, I've come to believe that that aspect was what made me relate to her as strongly as I do.

"I won't insult you by claiming that our situations are exactly the same. I've never been hospitalized and I wasn't an innocent victim either. Back then I was stupidly overconfident. Up to that point, I managed to succeed at whatever I tried my hand at as long as I put in enough hard work. I got good grades in school, my bosses were happy with my work, and I picked up Japanese pretty quickly. I thought it didn't matter that Hiro's parents weren't crazy about me as long as I'd get a foot in the door and an honest chance to prove myself and make them like me. I felt like I could take on the world until the world took the gloves off and showed me how hard it could push back. That was a pretty harsh lesson. Still... I know first-hand what isolation and exclusion feel like. I know what you were going through when you confronted your own anxieties at that second open house day, and I felt really happy and proud afterwards when you managed to pull through. I think... I can empathize with you. At least, better than most people. I like what I've seen of you and learned about you so far. If possible, I'd like to get to know you even better and I know that the same is true for my husband."

"But I'm..."

"Shhhh..."

I shake my head, softly put my index finger on her lips to cut off her protest and give her a sweet smile. Then I use my hand to gently brush the lock of hair in front of her right eye aside. She shivers a bit, but doesn't resist. I look into her eyes and we share a brief look of mutual understanding. Then I lean in, give her a tender kiss on the forehead and pull her into an embrace.

"You are you, Hanako, and everyone has damage. You are not strange and... you are not alone."

"I..."

I pull her closer and whisper in her ear.

"You're not alone."

I feel Hanako returning my hug, and we stay like that for a while, neither of us feeling the need to say anything. Hanako's embrace is gentle with just a trace of firmness in it and I instinctively feel that what we're sharing right now is a gesture of mutual comfort. A warm and loving mutual comfort. Eventually we let go, and I sit down next to her on the bed. Hanako's still not saying a single word, but there's a trace of a smile on her face. Not really sure how to continue our previous conversation, I decide to finish with some small talk.

"Hanako?"

"Yes?"

"You know what day it is next Saturday, don't you?"

"Yes, Lilly's birthday."

"This is a busy time for you, but do you think you can make it?"

She nods.

"Hisao's coming too. He bought a p-present on both our behalves. I'm... not staying over t-this time, but I want to be there for a few hours."

"One of us could give you a ride if you like."

"Akira... already mailed me and offered t-to pick me up. I can study in the car."

"That's assuming that that girl can keep silent for hours on end. I hope she's up to the challenge."

Hanako giggles, and I chuckle along as well. After the dramatic subject of this evening, some light-heartedness feels surprisingly good. I ruffle her hair a bit and then prepare to get up.

"Well, I'd better go and get Lilly. It's still quite a ride back and... maybe she wants to talk some more."

"Yes."

I get up and expect Hanako to do the same, but before she does she reaches back and puts something soft in my hand.

"T-This is for Lilly."

"Huh? A plush puppy?"

"She'll... understand."

"Okay then."

She gets up, we take the tea set to the kitchen, and then we head for the exit. As we exit the building, Hanako turns to me, fidgetting nervously.

"Umm... K-Karla?"

"Yes, Hanako?"

"Uh..."

An awkward silence. It looks like she's trying to say something, but isn't sure how to say it. Eventually, she sighs and gives me a meek smile.

"Thanks f-for visiting me today."

"It's always a pleasure. Good luck with your studying."

"Thanks."

We find Lilly sitting on a bench just outside the dorm building. We both say goodbye to Hanako and walk back to the car. As we get in, I give my daughter a little sideglance. She's been unusually quiet. She smiles sweetly when I give her Hanako's gift, mouths a soft 'thank you, Hanako' and takes some time to run her hands across its furry back, but she still doesn't say anything else.

"Lilly... if there's anything else you want to know..."

"Mother... Can I... ask you something?"

"Sure."

"What... do you think of me?"

"Huh?"

"While I was growing up, you were always the person I tried to be like... the person whose example I tried to follow. To make you proud of me. I've known for some time that the person in whose footsteps I tried to follow... wasn't really you. But I never realized that you actually hated being that person. It makes me wonder how you see me."

"Hey now! Surely you're not worried that I secretly look down on you, are you? Because I actually think that you're a much better person than I am. Assuming, of course, that the person I know you as is also the person you truly are and not just some sort of act you've been putting on for my benefit."

Lilly shakes her head.

"It isn't."

"And are you happy being you?"

"I... I am."

"Heh, then I see no problems. I think that in the end both you and Akira ended up becoming the people you've always been deep inside. The more I get to know you, the more you start reminding me of your dad. Heh, the persona I put up for your and Akira's sake was largely based on the tips and pointers he gave me, so in the end I feel that you still ended up following in one of your parents' footsteps to a large degree."

My daughter nods and smiles. My words seem to have put her at ease. What I said just now reminds me of something else, though, and I sigh.

"Your dad often said that Akira reminded him of me. That only makes me feel like we failed her even more. We gave her an upbringing geared towards making her act like a proper Japanese even though it often made her miserable. And now she's moved to a country with a completely different culture, I can't help but feel we could have spared her all of it. If only I had known. I'm not sure if we'll ever be able to make it up to her."

"Some time ago, she told me that you apologized to her while you were visiting. Did you... tell her what you told us just now?"

"I did. She was the one who made me promise to tell you all this. We were on a pub crawl that night and things started getting tense between us as usual. I eventually decided I didn't have much to lose by simply coming clean about everything, despite the possibility that she'd hate me even more afterwards. The worst outcome would have been getting permanently outed from her life, and I didn't feel the current situation was all that much better. I also told her that we were proud of her - for having lived such an independent life, for passing her law exam - and most of all for having looked after you in your grandparents' place. It felt embarrassing, but also good. Heh, the fact that I already had a few drinks by that time probably made it easier."

"How did Akira react to all of this?"

"I think her exact words were: 'We really are one royally screwed-up family, aren't we?'"

Lilly smiles wistfully.

"I think we're getting better though. I noticed that there was something different about Akira last New Year's Day. She seemed... more at ease than before. Like part of her was finally at peace. Hanako noticed it too. It'll take time, but Akira will move on eventually."

"Time will tell. These kinds of wounds take a long time to heal. I speak from experience."

"Mother, what do you think of Grandmother and Grandfather? Do you... hate them?"

"I used to. There's no use denying that. Nowadays... I'm not really sure. If you want to visit them at any time and your father's not available, I'll be happy to drop you off there. But I have no desire for any interaction with them myself and the feeling's probably mutual. They finally have a new daughter-in-law now, one who apparently gets along with them a lot better. No point in opening old wounds."

"They always seemed strict, but I never felt that they treated me unfairly."

I have to give them credit for at least keeping their ire focussed on me, even though they were always quick to blame me for everything, like Akira's tomboyish personality and even Lilly's blindness - at least for the first couple of months. Still, Hiro's mom could have refused to take our children to the park or attend those PTA meetings in my place. They obviously didn't want to punish our children for things they blamed me for. Despite my own feelings, I still believe that both of them cared about Akira and Lilly.

When Hiro's father stripped his son of his status as heir, I was very upset at first as it felt that he was callously tossing his loyal successor aside, but Hiro suggested that maybe his father felt that enough was enough, and he was setting his son free from his responsibilities at long last. I don't think a new start would have been possible without it, so in the end it worked out well.

"Their issue has always been with me and not with you. Anyway, I don't really hate them these days. At most, I pity them."

"Pity?"

I never really got the impression that they had great chemistry together. They've always lived their own lives. I don't really think they would have gotten married if things hadn't been arranged for them. I wonder if Hiro's dad ever figured out that he was, in fact, the cause of his wife's sudden declining health. 'Retired husband syndrome' is what they apparently call it over here, and it's been hitting the salaryman generation pretty hard. I can't help but feel somewhat sorry for two people who never learned to spend extended amounts of time in each other's presence, but who are now being forced by the circumstances to do exactly that.

"Yes, pity."

"I'm not sure if that's an improvement."

"Trust me, it is. I have no desire to go out of my way to make their lives miserable, but I won't be jumping through hoops anymore to win their approval either. I've spent enough of my life trying that already. If I have to devote energy to strenghtening my bonds with people, there are more worthwhile pursuits than your grandparents. Like Akira..."

I start the car's ignition and grin at my daughter.

"You know, this whole evening's been pretty intense. I could really use a beer about now."

"I think I know what you mean. I'm feeling the same thing."

"You're not asking me for beer, are you?"

"I've always been more of a wine person myself."

I roll my eyes.

"You'll turn 20 in about a week, and Akira's probably gonna bring enough wine along to permanently scar your liver with, and you still want to drink now?"

Lilly grins.

"Surely only one glass isn't a problem? It's under the supervision of an adult, after all."

I consider protesting, but then realize that we've both had a rough evening and could use some unwinding.

"One drink for both of us then. Let's see what's still open around here."
06
Last edited by Guest Poster on Thu Aug 20, 2015 2:29 pm, edited 7 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Final Chapter

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:26 am

Final Chapter
01
My alarm blares into my ears, only to be swiftly silenced when a lucky swat from my hand hits the off-button. My body switches into auto-mode, carrying my subconcious self out of bed.

I didn't sleep all that well this night, and my body and mind are feeling the results right now even though I set my alarm to go off two hours later than I initially intended to get up.

I still manage to get myself to the bathroom and take a quick shower. Even after drying myself off and getting dressed, I still feel rather sleepy, but the shower refreshed me enough for my brain to quickly bring a nagging thought to my attention.

This has been the last time I've taken a shower here.

My mood instantly turns a bit gloomy again, just like last night when I realized that this was the last time I'd spend the night in my trusty little dorm room.

Today is graduation day. I've only taken one entrance exam this year and the results for that exam will come in today, but Miss Yumi has already told me that it's unlikely for Yamaku to let me stay here for another year. No matter what my exam results will be, today will be my last day here.

I've been trying to keep busy ever since the day of my exam, focussing on my librarian duties and helping out at the newspaper club, trying to live in the moment.

Maybe it hasn't just been about trying to keep my thoughts off my pending departure from this school. Maybe I've also simply been trying to create as many memories of Yamaku in the few days I had left. Still, the fact that it all ends today - that a very important part of my life ends today and that it will be replaced by... something else starting tomorrow - weighs pretty heavily on me.

I haven't managed to pack all my stuff yet. Doing that for longer than a minute feels like dipping a wounded limb into a vat of salt water. Hisao and his parents will be here today. So will Lilly and her family. Maybe they'll be willing to help me pack, so I'll spend less time agonizing over this.

Deciding to put off packing my things or even staying in my room for an extended amount of time for the time being, I leave my nightgown on my bed and head for the kitchen area. Judging from the noise coming from the common room, it's too crowded to comfortably have breakfast there, and I don't feel like eating in my room either, so I'll just eat in the kitchen today.

There are barely any people in the kitchen when I come in, but fortunately Jun is among the handful of people present, and she greets me with a friendly wave. I return her greeting, prepare my breakfast as quickly as I can and then join her at the table where she's sitting.

"Good morning."

"Good morning. Feeling nervous already?"

"I'm... not really sure."

"It'll be fine. You'll see. We all studied hard. If I can make it, you can too."

I just smile and nod at Jun. She's been in pretty good spirits herself ever since her own results came in three days ago, and I don't want to ruin her mood with wistful thoughts.

"I suppose... We'll see soon enough."

"If the suspense is getting to you, maybe we can simply have a look here and now."

"Now? I d-don't think they've already posted the results on the board."

"That's not a problem as long as you still have a copy of your answer sheet. Or rather the number that was printed near the corner. You can use it to look up the results online. I just need to get my laptop from my room."

"Ummm..."

I'm not really sure if I'm ready to already hear the results even though it may take some of the pressure off my shoulders. Before I can decline Jun's offer, we're suddenly startled by a loud beep coming from Jun's bag.

"Oh, text message. You don't mind if I have a look, do you?"

"No."

Jun takes out her phone and looks at the display.

"It's from Naomi. I hope she didn't get delayed."

"What does it say?"

Jun opens the message and then a baffled expression appears on her face.

"What on earth is wrong with you?"

"Uh, did she text something strange again?"

"Yes, no, I mean it literally says: 'What on earth is wrong with you?' Seriously."

"Is it a reaction to something you sent her earlier?"

"I can't think of anything. I'll just ask her to explain herself."

Jun immediately starts hitting keys on her cell phone, spelling out each word she types.

"What... are... you... talking... about?"

With a slightly exaggerated motion, Jun pushes the send button and puts the phone down while rolling her eyes at me. A mere second later though, two electronic beeps can be heard from somewhere outside the room. Jun's eyes widen in surprise, and then she lets out a groan.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"N-Naomi? Are you there?"
02
Grinning widely, our mutual friend with the bleached hairdo barges into the room, still holding the cell phone that gave away her presence.

"Hey girls!"

"Hi Naomi."

"Were you listening in on us just now?"

"Hahaha, surprised you, didn't I? Congratulations yet again, college freshman Yamazaki."

Naomi walks up behind Jun and grabs her into a not-too-gentle hug. Jun's a bit startled, but then smiles proudly.

"Uh, thanks."

"So you've already gotten your results?"

While Naomi's still squeezing the breath out of Jun, another familiar voice is heard from beyond the doorway.

"Oh!"

"Good morning everyone."

To my delight, the person walking into the kitchen is noone other than Hisao. Naomi snickers.

"I ran into the boyfriend at the gate, so we came here together. If you wanna kiss him now, please don't mind us."

Jun frowns at her friend.

"If they have even an ounce more shame than you, they probably will mind."

Hisao seems to agree since he walks up to me, puts his hand on my left shoulder and playfully tickles the side of my neck with his finger, but holds off on the kiss. It's probably for the best. I'd feel pretty uneasy kissing my boyfriend with my friends watching me like that.

"Hey Hanako. When I came here I was wondering if I'd find you here or if you'd still be busy packing things in your room."

"Hi Hisao. Uh... I still need to do m-most of my packing. I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Hanako. My parents and I can help out with that, and I'm sure the Satous will also be willing to lend a hand when they arrive."

Naomi scratches her head.

"Where are your parents anyway? When I got here I just saw you near the gate."

"They're currently in town having breakfast. We had to depart kind of early this morning. I wanted to check up on Hanako first, so they dropped me off at the school gates. They'll be here later."

"Heh, you guys had to skip breakfast too, huh?"

Upon hearing that two of my friends travelled here early in the morning on an empty stomach, I get up.

"Um... Aren't you hungry? I could... m-make some breakfast for you two."

"Hey thanks!"

"If it's not an inconvenience."

"It isn't."

I still had some leftovers anyway and since this is my last breakfast here, I might as well use all of them up so I won't have to throw them away or take them with me.

My last breakfast here...

My mood once again taking a little hit, I quickly head for the kitchen sink unit so the others can't see the corners of my mouth dropping a bit. I get the few supplies I had left from the fridge and get to work on preparing breakfast for Hisao and Naomi while still trying to follow the conversation.

"So... What was with the text message?"

"The internet? Seriously? You were going to look up her results on the internet?"

"Well, it was an option. What's wrong with it?"

"What's wrong with it? No sense of romanticism for one. Why do you think I'm here other than watching you, Hanako and our fellow newspaper club members stand up there and receive their diploma?"

"That's already a pretty good reason in its own right."

"Yeah, but I'm also here to experience that moment. The moment of walking up to the notice board, making my way past the other students and, assuming my name's on there, yelling at the top of my lungs and going for the biggest group hug ever. Going to some internet site and filling in some random number while sitting in a dorm room just doesn't compare to that."

I hear Jun giggle.

"It almost sounds like you saw this in a manga or tv-series and are now looking to reenact it."

"And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Right, Hisao?"

"When did I become part of this discussion?"

"You went through this thing last year, didn't you?"

"Yeah, I did. And you're kind of right. It is a rather special experience."

"Hahaha, see?"

"But to each his own. I've heard that you passed your own entrance exam already, Jun?"

"I have. After the upcoming break, I'll be off to study computer science."

"Sounds interesting. Do you want to be a software developer?"

"I'm hoping to become a programmer and work at a game company someday. But if that's not possible then there are probably a lot of other companies where I might be able to apply."

Having finished preparing Hisao's and Naomi's food, I return to the table while doing my best not to think too hard about the fact that this is the last time I'll eat here.

"Thanks for the food, Hanako. It would have been a pain having to go all the way to the cafeteria to eat something."

"Yeah, thanks for the food, Hanako. You can't be exhilirated on an empty stomach. Let's dig in!"

I sit down next to Hisao, and we eat our meal while Naomi and Jun try to combine the act of chattering with the act of eating to the best of their ability.

"Soooooo... What are you guys gonna do after today? Anyone has any special plans for our inter-school break? Jun?"

"It'll probably come down to finishing the games in my backlog and catching up with my aerobics exercises."

"Aerobics? Huh."

"On nurse's orders. To get in better shape and make me less of a walking china doll. Apparently I've been lagging behind a bit. Normal aerobics is kind of dull, but I'm allowed to play Wii Fit as a substitute. Occasionally, Mom joins in, and the two of us hold a match who can get the least pathetic score."

"Okaaaaay, so it's playing video games and playing more video games."

"There's a difference. But how about you?"

"Natsume's coming over for a little while. If it turns out that I screwed up my exam, I'll probably need some distraction. And if I passed it, we'll go and PAINT THE TOWN RED!"

"Are you talking about getting hammered? I thought both of you were on meds you shouldn't mix with alcohol."

"We'll just pretend to be drunk. That's fun too."

"If you say so. Anyway, give her our regards, okay?"

"Of course. Soooo..."

Naomi gives Hisao and me a teasing look.

"What are you two lovebirds gonna do, other than taking a vacation together and doing lovey-dovey stuff?"

"You don't think taking a vacation together is enough?"

"Wait! Huh? You're actually serious?"

"For serious? You're going on vacation?"

Both Naomi and Jun have a flabbergasted expression on their face after Hisao's revelation. Maybe I should have brought this up myself earlier.

"We are. The day after tomorrow. My luggage is actually already in my parents' car. We're allowed to stay over at the Satou home tonight and tomorrow, and we can leave Hanako's belongings there. We've both been saving up a little bit. In two days, we'll be leaving on a little trip together."

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little jealous. Where will you be going? Scotland again?"

"No, Okinawa. We're planning to take it easy there. Maybe go and see some natural parks, take a boat trip or two and see the sights."

"Also, Hisao has promised to take me to D-Disneyland in Tokyo if I p-pass my exams."

"As an aditional motivation. The last time she went there was on her own, and she told me she would have enjoyed it more if she would have had company. So this time we're going there together."

Naomi pouts.

"That sounds sooo awesome. I'm kinda envious, but I'll forgive you if you buy us a nice souvenir and take some pretty pictures."

"I will."

"It's a shame that today is our very last day here or you could have borrowed the club's camera again."

"Y-Yes."

Naomi's words once again awaken the wistful feeling I've been trying to silence all morning and this time I didn't manage to hide the melancholic tone in my voice from my friends who give me a worried look.
03
"Are you alright, Hanako?"

"Yeah, you look a little bummed."

"You've been a little gloomy over the last few days."

"It's... okay."

"Are you sure?"

"The thought of... leaving here today... just feels a bit strange."

Hisao nods understandingly.

"Seeing that this place has literally been your home for the last four years, I think I understand how you feel."

Naomi and Jun nod as well. I don't think either of them can completely understand how I'm feeling right now, but I can tell that they're making an effort, and I appreciate that.

"Hanako, this must have been a problem last year too, right? How did you deal with it then?"

"Last y-year was... different. It's... hard to explain."

Last year, I already knew in advance that I messed up my entrance exams, and I was so preoccupied with the disappointment I felt I was about to bring down on Hisao and Lilly that I couldn't even think of anything else right up to the point where I fled Yamaku in a panic.

"But you'll have another place to stay after today, right?"

"If I pass t-today, I'll move in with Lilly after my vacation. I'm... n-not really sure yet what to do if I d-don't make it in."

I won't be able to stay at Yamaku, so I'd either have to pick another university that doesn't have its own entrance exams or I'd have to spend another year preparing for a third attempt. Karla offered to have me help her out with her biography activities. Or as she playfully put it, become her sidekick. But even she pointed out that getting myself into a reputable university is the best thing I can do for myself.

"We'll deal with that when we get there. We'll figure something out, Hanako. Together. Right?"

"Y-Yes."

We finish our breakfast without any further conversation. When I start gathering the bowls and plates, Naomi gets up and takes them from me.

"No need for that. Your boyfriend and I will take care of the dishes."

"But..."

"No buts. You've made us breakfast, so we'll clean things up for you. Won't we?"

"Uh, sure. I'll help."

"Okay. Thank you, Naomi and Hisao."

Hisao and Naomi head over to the kitchen sink unit and start arguing who's going to do the washing and who the drying. Meanwhile, Jun takes off her hair tie and starts fumbling around with her hair.

"Hanako, how's my hair?"

"I think it's looking fine. Why?"

"I had a shower just before going to bed last night and sometimes the next morning I have pieces of hair...you know..."

She makes a quick gesture with her head in the direction of my boyfriend. I quickly put my hand in front of my mouth to stifle a giggle. Then I shake my head.

"Not this time."

"Good. I could keep my favorite cap on during the ceremony, but I don't think the school would approve. Or my parents. They'll probably be upset if I don't look my Sunday best today."

"Are you... nervous?"

"Only a little bit. It's just a ceremony though. How about you? This is about the time they usually post the exam results on the board outside the main building."

"I'm... not really sure."

Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg

Our conversation is cut short when my phone suddenly springs to life. I already know who it is before I fish my phone out of my pocket and look at the display.

"H-Hello Lilly."

"Hello Hanako. How are you doing? I'm not interrupting you, am I?"

"No, not at all. Hisao and N-Naomi are already here. We just had breakfast. Where are you right now?"

"Akira says it's only a few kilometres to Yamaku. I just received a call from Father that he and Mother are already there. They're waiting for us at the parking lot."

"You... didn't drive together?"

"We thought it would be more convenient if Father and Mother could drive straight to Yamaku without having to make a large detour to pick me up, so Akira spent the night at my place and the two of us had some breakfast and hit the road early this morning. Besides, since we'll be leaving here with you, Hisao and both your and his luggage, we might need two cars."

"That's true."

"Hanako, I assume you haven't checked the results yet?"

"No... Not yet. We can wait until you and Akira are here."

"I appreciate that, Hanako. I'm sure your results will be just fine. We can celebrate this evening at Mother and Father's place. Akira will be staying over too. It'll be great fun."

I'm almost expecting to hear Akira's voice at this point, commenting something like: 'Staying at that place is never great fun.' or something similar, but I'm pleasantly surprised that there's no reaction at all.

I really like Akira, but her reactions around her parents have always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Lately though, Akira seems to have warmed up to her parents just a little bit, and last New Year's Day was the first time Akira was spending time around her parents without giving off the impression that she was dying to be somewhere - anywhere - else. Lilly told me two weeks ago that her mother offered Akira to go hiking in the Scottish Highlands together with her this summer and that Akira reluctantly accepted. They're certainly not there yet, but it's still progress, and I hope they can keep this going.

"I'm... looking forward to it. I just hope I w-won't let you down today."

"You won't, Hanako. I'm sure of it."

"Sis, we're approaching the parking lot. Let's go see where the folks are, okay?"

"Hanako, I'll have to hang up now, but we'll meet you in front of the school building, okay?"

"Okay."

After I hang up the phone, I notice that Naomi is putting away the last of the dishes, and Hisao is looking at me with a curious look.

"When do you think Lilly is going to be here?"

"She and her family have just arrived. She said... we'd meet up in front of the main building."

"My parents should be back by now as well. I'll go and find them, and we'll see you at the notice board, okay?"

"A-Alright."

Hisao walks out of the room while already in the process of dialing his parents' number and Jun shares a look with the two of us.

"Maybe we should go too. If the rest gets there before we do, they might just sneak a peek."

"Y-Yes."

"Uh... Yeah."

We get on our feet and head for the dormitory's exit. Just as we pass the dormkeeper's office, Jun gets a phonecall. It's probably her parents who are on their way here, though I'm not really paying enough attention to tell for sure. Now that the moment of truth is getting closer and closer, I'm starting to get really anxious.

Hisao and his parents will be there. As will the Satous. What if it turns out that I failed again? How will I face them?

And what will I do then?

My former strategy of blocking out the future by focussing completely on the present isn't helping me right now because in a few minutes, my exams results will no longer be a thing of the future. They'll be the present. And I'll have to deal with them, whatever they are.
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 6:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Final Chapter - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:26 am

When we reach the area in front of the main building, I can see that there's already quite a crowd there. Most of them are students in uniform, though I can see some others among them as well. Probably family. I doubt all of those people are looking up their own results. There are probably several of them who are merely taking a look at the results of their friends. I can see several people celebrating and patting each other on the back. But I can also see two people walking off with a dejected look on their face. I suppose not everybody has good fortune today. The mere look of them makes me nervous. And from the looks of it, I'm not the only one. Naomi is also giving them an uneasy stare.

Come to think of it, Naomi hasn't said a single thing since we left the dorm. That's... highly unusual for her. She smiles awkwardly when she catches me looking at her.

"I guess this is the big moment, huh? If I've mucked this up, my mom and dad are gonna be pretty upset with me."

"..."

Jun seems amused at Naomi’s sudden nervousness.

"Naomi, this isn't like you. Earlier today you were still going on about yelling at the top of your lungs. Have a little faith in yourself."

"That's easy for you to say. You already have your exam results."

"Ah, Hanako, there you are."

We turn around and find ourselves not just face to face with Hisao and his parents, but also with Lilly, Akira, Karla and Hiroyuki. They must have run into each other at the gate. Karla smiles broadly at Naomi and me.

"Hello girls. Are you ready for your big moment?"

"We... umm... We..."

"We're... still kind of preparing ourselves mentally."

Akira snickers.

"Well, go ahead and finish your mental preparations. Don't mind us."

Naomi and I share an uncertain look. I think we both realize that we can't just keep standing here with everyone looking at us like that. We shoot an uncertain glance at the message board and then at each other.

"I guess we can't put if off any longer, can we?"

"I... guess not."

"Okay, this is the plan. We walk into that crowd and keep our heads down. We just keep looking at our feet."

"Uh... Okay."

That's pretty much how I always deal with crowds.

"We'll just keep walking until we're right in front of the board. Then we both count to three and look at the same time."

"...O-okay."

Naomi takes an almost exaggeratedly deep breath, and then we both head towards the notification board. When we reach the crowd in front of it, we both keep our head down and start making our way through the crowd of people. My heart's beating so loudly that it almost completely drowns out the murmur of the people around us.

"Hanako?"

"Y-Yes?"

"Is it possible to spontanously drop dead from sheer nervousness?"

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"Completely."

"That's a relief."
04
We fortunately make our way through the crowd before we descend into even more inane rambling. With the announcement board right in front of us, we both take another deep breath.

"Okay."

"Okay."

"I guess this is it."

"Y-Yes."

"The moment of truth."

"Yes."

"We've worked a whole year towards this."

"A whole year."

"One..."

"One..."

"Two..."

"T-Two..."

"T-Three..."

"T-Three..."

"Now!"

"Now!"

"..."

"..."

"..."

"..."

"Hey!"

"Oh!"

"I..."

"I..."

"Whoa!"

"Wow!"

We look at one another, then back at the board, then back at one another. Naomi is the one to break the silence.

"Come on."

"Uh?"

"Come on! We've gotta go do something."

I suddenly feel my right hand being grabbed followed by a sharp pull on my arm.

"H-Hey! Careful!"

Before I realize what's happening, Naomi has dragged me back through the crowd until we're some distance away from the masses. Still tightly holding onto my hand, Naomi turns to me.

"Okay. On the count of three. One..."

"Uh... What?"

Naomi's mouth curls up into a grin that starts out small, but then slowly starts stretching until it nearly connects her ears.

"TWO."

"Naomi, what are you...?"

Naomi's eyes start sparkling.

"THREE!"

"What am I supposed to...?"
05
"YAAAAAAAHOOOOOOOOOOOOO! WE DID IT! WE DID IT!"

Naomi lets out an ear-piercing yell and throws both her arms up into the air, forcing me to raise my right arm as well.

"HAHAHAHAHA! WATCH OUT, KASSHOKU UNIVERSITY! HERE WE COME!"

The others, who have been standing some distance away from the crowds in front of the board now come rushing to our side. Jun, whom I have never seen running before, is miraculously the first one to reach us, looking at both of us with an elated expression.

"Did you...? Both of you?"

"FINAL SCORE FOR THE BROKEN QUILLS: THREE OUT OF THREE!"

"Hahaha, wow!"

"PERFECT!"

"Hahaha, flawless victory!"

"YEAH! OH YEAH!"

"Hanako!"

Hisao is the second to reach us, and Jun graciously steps aside to make room for him. My boyfriend tightly hugs me and then gives me a big smooch on my left cheek.

"Congratulations!"

Next is Lilly, led by Akira. A proud smile adorns her face when she hugs me, and while I'm still overwhelmed by the fact that I actually succeeded in my exams this time, Lilly's looking happier than I've seen her in a very long time. Maybe even happier than she was at her own graduation.

"Hanako."

"Lilly, I... I made it in... this time."

"Yes, you did, Hanako. I'm so happy for you. Happy and proud. Congratulations."

"Yup, congratulations. You totally deserved this."

"T-Thank you, Lilly and Akira."

I think the reality of the situation is still in the process of sinking in, and in a bit of a daze, I accept the congratulations of the Nakais and the Satous. I nod at their words of praise even though they're barely coming through. I see Naomi excitedly talking into her phone while wildly gesticulating. I see Hisao cheerfully talking to Mutou and to a boy in a wheelchair, giving him a high-five. I see Jun walking up to her parents who probably just arrived. And all the while, one thought keeps running through my mind.

I made it in.

I passed my exam.

But will I be able to function in university?

"Hanako?"

"Ah, s-sorry. What did you say?"

Karla snickers.
06
"It looks like she's still a little bit in shock."

Her husband nods.

"I cannot blame her. I still remember the day I found out I made it into my university of choice. It was quite a special moment. Anyway, Hanako, I was saying that I hope you are also proud of yourself right now. You deserve to be."

"I'm... n-not really sure."

"Miss Hanako?"

I turn around and see my therapist standing there. Miss Yumi makes a deep bow as she approaches me.

"Miss Yumi."

"I think Mister Satou is correct. You deserve to be proud of yourself today. Try to allow yourself at least this much."

"I'll try."

"That's good. I think it's appropriate to congratulate you now, dear. You've done very well. So what will you do now?"

"What do you mean?"

"You've found a university that is willing to accept you. Are you also willing to accept that university?"

"I ah..."

"You'll come along, right? It wouldn't be the same without you."

I suddenly feel Naomi's hand on my shoulder.

"Well..."

"I get that you're a little squeamish about it, but I think it'll work out. You'll already have one friend there, and we can both watch each other's back. Teamwork!"

"I... I..."

Despite my uncertainries about the future, Naomi's words still make me very happy, and before I have time for any further doubt, I find myself responding.
07
"I... I'm going, too."

"Alright! That's the spirit."

Miss Yumi smiles.

"It is indeed. I think you've made the right decision, dear."

"Miss Takawa, it is good to see you too. It appears that your decision to place Hanako in Yamaku's ronin program has paid off. Congratulations on your good judgement."

"Hmmm. In truth, sir, I did very little. I may have shown Miss Ikezawa the road that was the most likely one to lead to success, but she has been the one who has taken the time and effort to traverse it all the way to the end."

"I agree. She can now participate in the upcoming ceremony with her head held high."

"Uh... Actually I... ah... will not b-be t-taking part in it."

Hiroyuki raises an eyebrow as if I just told him that the sky was green.

"You will not be taking part? But why not? It is a very unique experience and you might come to regret it later."

"Ummm... I..."

"The reason Miss Ikezawa will not be taking part is because the ceremony that will be taking place in an about hour is intended for third year students who graduate from Yamaku Academy this year. Miss Ikezawa may have passed her university entrance exams, but she already graduated this school a year ago."

"Yes, but she did not take part in that ceremony. I apologize for being so insistent, Miss Takawa, but certainly it would be little trouble for the school to arrange for one extra seat in front? Just picking up Hanako's diploma at the school administration office seems... extremely anticlimactic."

I can't really blame Lilly's father for his persistence. He and his wife, as well as Hisao's parents drove a long way just to be here today. Me not being part of the graduation ceremony must be a disappointment to them, and I feel a little guilty for my part in this. Truth is, I wouldn't be looking forward to standing in front there despite the happy occasion.

"I understand where you're coming from, but I have already discussed this matter with Miss Ikezawa a few days ago, and I came to the conclusion that she wouldn't enjoy standing in front of a gymnasium filled with people. I considered asking her to go through with it anyway, as a final therapy-related challenge of sorts, but I ultimately decided against it. There will be plenty of challenges for her in the weeks and months to come. I think today should be a day for celebration, not challenge. A day she should be allowed to enjoy as much as possible - on her own terms."

"Very well then."

I smile gratefully at Miss Yumi. I don't think I would have done that good a job of explaining myself.

"Thank you."

"So, Hanako... What would you like to do now? Pick up your diploma?"

"I..."

"There are... a few places I'd like to s-see one more time. I'd like t-to be in the audience when Jun gets her diploma. And uh...I still need to pack my things."

Lilly turns to her sister with that 'I have a good idea'-smile on her face.

"Akira? Do you think we could...?"

"Heh, I was thinking the same thing, Lils. Hey Hanako, the two of us will take care of packing your stuff for you while you attend the ceremony if that's okay with you."

"I couldn't possibly..."

"I guess it's settled then. Just leave it to us."

I guess there's no stopping those two. I might as well give them the opportunity to help me wrap things up a little sooner.

"T-Thanks."

Lilly shakes her head in that 'think nothing of it'-fashion of hers and turns back to me.

"Hanako, what places would you still like to see?"

"Just the tea room and the library."

"Can I come along? I wouldn't mind paying them a visit myself."

"Okay."

Karla turns to Hisao's parents and makes a polite bow.

"Would you perhaps extend us the honor of having lunch with us in the school cafeteria in the meantime? It's been a full year since we saw each other. It will be good to talk for a bit again."

"The pleasure is ours."

"Yes, thank you."

As the Nakais and the Satous walk off towards the cafeteria, Akira gestures in the direction of the school building's entrance.

"Well, let's have our little tour then. Lead the way, Hanako."

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Fri Sep 19, 2014 12:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Final Chapter - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:27 am

08
According to my watch, I still have 20 minutes to get to the gymnasium which should be ample time, and yet it feels extremely short at the same time. After visiting the notice board in front of the school building and confirming that I passed my exams, Hisao, Lilly, Akira and I took a little trip through the building and spent some time in the tea room, where Lilly made some tea for all of us for old time’s sake.

We spent some time reminiscing about last year, noting that this was the room where Hisao first made Lilly's acquaintance, where Hisao and I played our first game of chess and where we spent so many lunch breaks eating and getting to know each other.

Then we visited the library, and I felt a strong sense of sadness when it sank in that this would be the last time I'd be in a place that held so many fond memories for me. I've truly started considering it 'my library', as strange as that seems, and a lot of important moments in my life are connected to that place. It's the place where Hisao and I first interacted, where we first spent time alone and where, after being apart for a long time, we met back up and reconnected with one another. I was thankful that Akira didn't see me blushing when I recalled that particular memory. It was also the place where I spent most of my time studying, first alone and later with Jun and Naomi. In a way it contributed to the fact that I passed.

Miss Morita, who usually runs the library when the usual librarian isn't available, thanked me for all my effort and allowed me to pick a handful of books to take with me as keepsakes. I think the fact that I'll be taking a little bit of the place with me makes the loss a little easier on me.

And now we're standing in front of the door to my room. I was supposed to just retrieve my handbag and then give the key to Lilly and Akira so they can get started on packing my belongings. But now that I'm here, I feel a serious lump in my throat that I just can't manage to swallow.

"Hanako?"

The others must have sensed my mood, and I turn away from Hisao and Akira because I don't want to worry them by letting them see my gloomy expression.

"I'm... okay. C-Could I... Could I just s-spend a few m-minutes in here, p-please?"

"Of course, Hanako. Just let us know when you're ready."

"T-Thank you."

I open the door to my dorm room, enter and close it behind me. Then I sit down on my bed and have a long, long look around, trying to etch every part of it into my memory. Last year I was too riled up to think straight, and I ran away from here without thinking about what this place has come to mean to me. Now that my mind is more at ease and I've had time to get used to the fact that I'll be leaving here today, leaving this room behind feels really painful.

It's been a close call between my room and the library, but in the end this room will be the place I'll end up missing most. For four years, this room has been my haven and my home. It's been the one place where I've always felt safe.

Having to move on can hurt.

I take out a handkerchief and dry my teary eyes. When I leave here, I want to walk out with a smile. I open the drawers of my desk, take a few private possessions out of them and put them in my bag and then walk around my room one more time, tenderly touching the bed, the chair, the desk and the closet. Finally, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and walk out the door, closing it behind me without looking back.

"I'm... r-ready to go. Here's the k-key. C-Can you... l-leave it with the d-dormkeeper when you're... done?"

"We will, Hanako. Are you alright?"

"I... I am. Thank you for doing this. There’s…um…something under the bed that’s g-going to be a present for someone. C-Could you be extra careful with it?"

I'm truly grateful. Packing my things myself and watching my home slowly transform back into an anonymous dorm room would have been much more painful. I'll remember this place the way it's always been. Things are okay this way.

"We will be, Hanako. You'd better hurry up and get to the gymnasium."

"Okay."

"You two will be okay on your own, right? Some of the science club members are graduating today as well, and I kind of promised that I'd be at the ceremony, too."

"Then you should go, Hisao. Akira and I will be fine. The last ceremony took quite a while, so we have plenty of time."

"Alright. Good luck."

We leave the dormitory and hurry to the gymnasium. It's already pretty crowded when we get there, but a look through the hall quickly reveals Naomi's bleached hairdo, as well as another head of blonde hair right next to her. Naomi and Karla wave at us as we approach.

"Hey guys. We kept these spots vacant for you. Have a seat."

"Thanks. I didn't expect to see you here, Karla."

"Well, as a sponsor for The Broken Quills, I felt I had to attend this ceremony since one of its members will be handed her diploma there. My husband didn't seem to be needing my help in keeping the conversation with your parents going."

"I kind of hope they're not just talking about heart conditions."

"Haha, no need to worry about that."

I sit down next to Naomi who gives me a little elbow in the side.

"Natsume says hi and congratulations, by the way."

"You've already phoned her?"

"Uhuh. My parents too. They were all really happy. There's a big party waiting for me when I get home. I can't wait."

"I hope you'll enjoy it."

"I know I will. Uh, by the way... You have your phone turned off, right?"

"Ah... Yes."

"Okay. Just checking."

The ceremony takes a little longer than I expected, and some parts are a little long-winded, but when Jun comes forward and accepts her diploma, I might have clapped louder than anyone else in the hall. I'm really happy that my friends have managed to come up on top as well.

When the ceremony finally ends, we quickly get up to leave in order to avoid the crowds. When we leave the gymnasium though, there's a familiar face waiting for me.

"Hello, Miss Hanako."

"M-Miss Yumi!"

I'm a little surprised by Miss Yumi's sudden appearance. Has she been waiting for me here?

"So... Have all loose ends been tied up here?"

All but one, I think. I still have a small gift prepared for Miss Yumi as a display of gratitude, but it's still with Lilly and Akira.

"Almost."

"That's good to hear. I was wondering if you'd give me the pleasure of one final session - and perhaps one last game."

"N-Now?"

"Yes, please."

This is rather awkward timing, but Miss Yumi seems insistent on me coming with her now. Maybe this is a busy day for her. I'm probably not the only client who's graduating here today. I look back at Hisao, Karla and Naomi who give me a 'go ahead' gesture.

"Okay then."

Before we leave, Miss Yumi whispers something to Hisao who nods his head. Then we make our way to Miss Yumi's office in the nurses' building.

"Miss Yumi, what did you tell Hisao when we left?"

"I told him and Miss Inoue to make sure that Miss Yamazaki doesn't get away before you can say your goodbyes."

"Oh. Uh... Thanks."

When we reach the entrance to the office, Miss Yumi makes an inviting gesture.

“Come in, please!”

"Thank you."
09
We enter and exchange polite bows. The familiar little ritual, one last time.

“May I have the honor of getting you some tea, Miss Hanako?”

“I humbly accept, Miss Yumi.”

We sit at the table, a small bowl of tea is gently placed in my hands, and after a small bow, we both take a careful drink.

“Well then, shall we start?”

The familiar game. I've gotten a lot better at it over time. It'd be nice if I could beat Miss Yumi this time, though for the best I can probably hope for is keeping our score somewhat even.

“Yes, please.”

Miss Yumi gives a small nod, and I place the first black stone onto the game board. Miss Yumi takes one of her white stones and puts it in place with a dull tap.

"Now then, Miss Hanako. You have just attended the graduation ceremony as part of the audience. I take it you feel no regrets about not having been on stage?"

Tap

“No. I think things are fine this way.”

People may argue that I deserved some time in the spotlight, but in my eyes I've also missed an opportunity to make a fool of myself.

Tap

"How did you feel during the ceremony?"

Tap

"A little uneasy due to being in a room with so many people. But the fact that Hisao, Naomi and Karla were sitting right next to me felt reassuring."

Tap

"Anything else?"

Tap

"I felt proud... of Jun. And happy for her. But I also felt s-sad for a moment."

Tap

"Sad?"

Tap

"S-So many parents in the room. Feeling proud of their children. I... I missed m-mine today..."

Tap

"There's nothing strange about that, Miss Hanako. It's perfectly natural."

Tap

"..."

Tap

"Were you very surprised at the results this morning?"

Tap

"A bit. I... finished all questions on the answer sheet this time, but still... passing s-seemed too good to be true... I think."

Tap

"Good things can and do happen to everyone, Miss Hanako. You're no exception. Don't forget that. In fact, be sure to remind yourself of that every once in a while."

Tap

"I'll try."

Tap

"Just between you and me, your results were no surprise to me. I had the proctor make a copy of your answer sheet and asked Mister Hoshino to have a look at it. He said it was extremely likely that you'd pass this time."

Tap

"Oh."

Tap

"I wouldn't say it was entirely curiosity on my part. I also wanted to be able to take my time looking into someone who can take over from me concerning these kinds of sessions. I'm happy to say that I found a replacement who I think is up to the task."

Tap

"A... replacement?"

Tap

"Now would probably be a good time to say hello to each other, don't you think?"

Tap

"She? She's... here?"

"She isn't, but that's not a problem."

Miss Yumi takes a telephone from the nearby cabinet, dials a number and turns on the speaker. My heart skips a beat as I hear someone pick up on the other end of the line.

"Good afternoon, Kasshoku University counselor's office, this is Ibuki speaking."

Wow, she sounds young. I'd be surprised if she's older than 30. I didn't expect that.

"Good afternoon, Miss Ibuki. This is Takawa from Yamaku Academy. I promised to call you to let you know about today's results."

"Ah, yes, that's right. How did things go?"

"It couldn't have gone better. Not only has she passed her exams, but she also let me know that she's going take the opportunity and attend Kasshoku. In fact, she's here with me right now."

"Oh... I... didn't know. Good afternoon."

"Uh... G-good afternoon."

Miss Yumi chuckles at the slightly awkward atmosphere. She may be the only one who's completely at ease right now.

"Miss Ibuki, meet Miss Ikezawa. Miss Ikezawa, meet Miss Ibuki."

"Nice to meet you."

"N-Nice to meet you too."

"Ever since Mister Hoshino told me that he expected you to pass your exams, I've been searching for someone to keep an eye out during your time at Kasshoku. Miss Ibuki here is the person I deemed most suitable to the task."

The young woman on the other end of the line coughs modestly.

"I'm afraid I'm not a psychologist like Miss Takawa. I'm a school counselor, and the journalism faculty is one of the faculties I've been assigned to. I've studied at this university myself a few years ago, so I know quite a few people here. After graduating, I decided I liked it here so I chose to stay. The upcoming April it'll be my third year on the job. I... ah... know I'm not as experienced as Miss Takawa, but I'll still try my best."

Third year on the job? I quickly count the years back on my fingers and realize I was still off with my initial guess. She must be around Akira's age. This feels weird.

"Now then, shall we get down to business?"

Miss Yumi takes a sip from her tea, casually places another stone on the Go board and then continues.

"I don't think experience is really an issue here, Miss Ibuki. A personal click is much more important than seniority, and I think you two will get along fine. I am currently writing a treatment plan for Miss Ikezawa that I will send to you once it's completed. As long as you follow the instructions in there and pay attention to the recommendations made in there, I do not foresee many problems. Miss Ikezawa's case file will remain here at Yamaku, though you're always welcome to call me for advice if you feel you need it. I'm always happy to give my opinion."

Miss Yumi takes a note from her desk and starts scribbling on it. When she gives it to me, I notice an e-mail address, phone number and building number on it.

"Here's Miss Ibuki's contact information. I would like you to make an appointment with her for a face-to-face introduction. You can postpone it until after your vacation, but be sure to schedule it in before you start attending classes there. Now..."

Her expression turns a bit stern for a moment.

"Those first few weeks will be vital. We want to try and get them off without a hitch. During the first two weeks, I would like you to schedule one appointment a day with Miss Ibuki. If everything goes well, then you can bring things down to four short visits a week the next two weeks. Then, the next month, three visits a week. The month afterwards, you can take it down to two. By the time summer break arrives, you should be somewhat settled in and we can limit ourselves to one visit a week. In my opinion, you might still benefit from official therapy from time to time, but I'm still looking for a therapist with satisfying credentials in that area. I will let Miss Ibuki know as soon as I have found someone. Alright?"

Whoa, that's a lot.

"Y-Yes."

"Miss Ibuki?"

"I understand. Miss Ikezawa, these visits don't need to last for an hour. Just drop by after classes and we can spend a minute or ten to go over your day. That should be enough if your day was uneventful."

"Okay."

Miss Yumi checks her watch and then clears her throat.

"Unfortunately we seem to be running a bit short on time. Does either of you have any questions?"

"I don't have any. I'm looking forward to meeting you."

"Uh... I w-was wondering. I have a f-friend here who... uh..."

I hesitate. I'm not sure if I'm really in a position to be making demands already, but Miss Yumi mouths a quiet 'ah'.

"Oh yes, thanks for reminding me. Miss Ibuki, there should be another student starting at the journalism faculty this April. Her name is Naomi Inoue, and she graduated from this school one year ago. She happens to be a friend and former classmate of Miss Ikezawa. I think both will greatly benefit from being in the same workgroup this upcoming school year."

"Oh... ah... sure, of course. That can be arranged. Not a problem. I'll make a note and phone the faculty next week."

I'm a little baffled by the eagerness in her voice. She must be aching to prove herself.

"That would be greatly appreciated. By the way, Miss Ibuki, do you play Go?"

"Go? I've only played it a few times years ago. Why?"

"This young lady here has developed a real knack for the game and it would be a shame if she allowed her abilities to deteriorate. She's quite fond of board games, and playing one during the sessions may help take the edge off."

"I don't really have a lot of attachment with Go, but I used to play Shogi against my former boyfriend. Is that okay too?"

"Shogi?"

"Ummm... Okay. Shogi is fun too."

I can briefly see Miss Yumi's mouth twitch as if she wants to say that Shogi isn't quite on the same level as her favorite game, but then she shakes her head.

"Oh well... Shogi it is then. I'm sure the two of you will get along fine. Who knows... You may develop a bond of trust and start using 'Miss Hanako' before you realize it."

I'm not sure what to make of that remark, but Miss Yumi chuckles as if she just said something extremely funny.

"I don't understand..."

I hear Miss Ibuki cough softly on the other end of the line.

"Well... ah... I suppose I can tell you... My first name is Hanako as well."

"Eh?"

Miss Yumi grins playfully at me.

"Amazing coincidence, is it not? Or maybe it was meant to be. Fate works in mysterious ways."

"W-Wow."

"Miss Ibuki, we'll be in touch."

"Thank you, Miss Takawa. And Miss Ikezawa... I hope to see you soon."

"G-Goodbye, M-Miss Ibuki."

When my namesake hangs up the phone, Miss Yumi checks her watch again.

"We might not have time to finish our little game, so let's call it a draw. Would you be willing to do me a favor?"

"Sure."

"Could you help me move this table to the corner and make some fresh tea?"

"Okay."

"Good."

I'm not sure why she wants to do these things now, but I see no problem in helping her out a bit. The table is a bit cumbersome, and after we push it into the corner, I can see Miss Yumi rub her back a bit. We get started on making a new batch of tea, and while we're waiting for the water to boil, Miss Yumi gives me a wistful look.

"Miss Hanako?"

"Yes, Miss Yumi?"

"Those first few weeks at university will form the foundation for the rest of your college years. If you can work your way through those without any major incidents, I think you'll do fine there. We've done all we can here to give you a little headstart. The rest is up to you. Have faith in yourself, okay?"

"I'll... try."

While we're finishing up the tea, our attention is suddenly drawn by a short, but loud knock on the door. Miss Yumi calls out a quick 'please come in', and my eyes grow wide as I recognize the person walking into the office.

"Good afternoon, Takawa. I hope you didn't have to wait too long?"

"On the contrary madam, you are right on time."
Last edited by Guest Poster on Thu Dec 05, 2019 5:38 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Final Chapter - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:27 am

"M-M-Miss Principal?

The school principal gives me a friendly nod and then turns to Miss Yumi.

"That's a relief. I had the impression some of the people outside have been waiting there for some time."

"How many people were there?"

"I counted nine in total. Shall I ask them to come in?"

"Yes, please."

What's going on?

The principal walks up to the door, opens it and says something to whoever's waiting outside. Then she steps aside and people start pouring into the room. I gasp as I recognize Hisao, Lilly, their parents, Akira and even Jun and Naomi. I give Miss Yumi a dumbfounded look.

"W-What is this?"

Miss Yumi playfully smiles at me and then makes a quick gesture with her head in the direction of the principal. When I follow her gaze, I notice that the principal has something resembling a paper scroll in her hand. I let out a gasp before I can stop myself.

"I-Is that...?"

"It is. Ahem! May I have everybody's attention. Could you please line up over there please? Yes, that'll do. Thank you. Miss Hanako, please come and stand over here."

My mind still trying to comprehend this unexpected twist of events, I allow Miss Yumi to guide me to the center of the room. Everybody's attention's suddenly aimed at me, and I fidget a bit.

"M-Miss Yumi, what's going on?"

Miss Yumi chuckles mischievously.

"Why, this is your graduation ceremony, of course? What does it look like?"

"M-My...?"

Miss Yumi walks up to the place where the table used to be with the principal taking position next to her.

"Mister Satou had a good point this morning when he noted that just retrieving your diploma from the administration office would be anticlimactic. You've spent four years of your life studying here and deserve your moment in the spotlight just like any other student. Since I didn't want to risk ruining your day by forcing you to stand in front of an entire crowd at the gymnasium, I thought that maybe we could hold a small private ceremony here afterwards. The principal was so kind as to humor me, retrieve your diploma and attend here too. *chuckle* I can only hope that she also has a speech for the occasion."

The principal frowns upon hearing Miss Yumi's words.

"That may be a problem. I take it the people here have already heard the speech I gave earlier today."

"Maybe you could improvise."

"Maybe. Or perhaps you could do the honors instead of me."

Miss Yumi seems genuinely taken back by her superior's suggestion.

"Me?"

"You know this girl much better than I do. You have probably also known her for longer than many of the people here. It seems fitting. Maybe you can improvise."

"Well, I..."

Miss Yumi closes her eyes and seems deep in thought for a second. Then she nods.
10
"I suppose I could."

The murmur of the others in the room dies down as Miss Yumi takes the diploma off the principal's hands, turns to me, takes a deep breath and stands a little taller.

"Miss Hanako Ikezawa. Please step forward."

I nervously do so, well aware of all the eyes on me. Miss Yumi merely smiles at me.

"Well... Here you are. About to receive your diploma and about to embark on a new journey into the world beyond the school gates. The prospect of this journey may be exciting, but no doubt it is also a little frightening. Yamaku has been more than a school to you, after all. It has also been your home, your shelter and, most importantly, a place to grow."

"A place to grow... That is what Yamaku as an institution strives to be above all else. Good grades are important, but equally, if not more, important is our pupils growing the determination to create a future for themselves using the means available to them, taking advantage of their qualities while working around their limitations. You have shown yourself to be one of those pupils, Miss Hanako."

"As your therapist and confidante, I have very good memories of our sessions. I've enjoyed our games together and the process of getting to know you. But more than anything else, I have enjoyed the process of watching you blossom into the person who stands before us today."

I think she's flattering me. Progress doesn't mean much if everything's easily undone by a single bad day. I can see a playful expression appear on Miss Yumi's face as she studies me.

"I can tell from the look in your eyes that you question my words, even now. Of course there have been relapses in the past, and there will probably be a few more at some point in the future. Yet every time you were forced to take a step back, you've taken two steps forward afterwards. I believe you will continue to do that, and I believe it will get easier for you in time. The reason is simple and in plain sight. Look around, Miss Hanako. Look around and think about what you see."

Miss Yumi doesn't immediately continue, making me realize she really meant what she just said. I turn around and sweep the room with my eyes, briefly stopping on each of the people present.

Hisao's parents... I remember being really nervous when Hisao first introduced me to them. If they didn't think I was good enough for their son, our relationship wouldn't have had much of a chance in the long run. And yet, despite having already been introduced to stronger girls like Lilly, Shizune and Misha by that time, they approved of me dating their son and have always been welcoming to me. I feel a bit guilty for not having interacted with them a lot this year due to the distance. Now that I'll be living in the same city as them, I'm planning to drop by regularly. If anything, Karla's stories about her own family situation reminded me how fortunate I am to have supportive 'in-laws'.

Jun... I've really come to appreciate her friendship this year. During a school year when I was separated from most of my other friends, Jun was always there, convincing me to keep my newspaper club activities going, dragging me to her room to play games with her and keeping me company whenever I was feeling lonely. She won't be attending a school in the same city as I am and I already know I'm really going to miss her. She's going to keep our private forum open though, and I promised myself to keep in touch with her and meet up with her again once things have settled down for us. Maybe the three of us could hold another slumber party at the Satou home just like before. I think I'd enjoy that.

Naomi... She's been my classmate for three years and in a way I've known her longer than any of my other friends. Despite that, I've spent most of those three years trying my hardest to avoid interaction with her, which I'm kind of ashamed of now. Despite the fact that I've spent so much time blocking her out, she never held it against me and was quick to befriend me once I started opening up to her. Her rambunctiousness can still be a hassle to deal with at times, but at the same time her enthusiasm and motivation are always very infectious, and there's no doubt in my mind that she's a wonderful person at heart. The fact that I'll already have one friend at the start of the upcoming school year is a big reassurance to me, and I'm looking forward to sharing classes with her once more in the upcoming spring.

Hiroyuki... When I first met him, I thought he was kind of intimidating. There always seemed to be this veil of formality and politeness around him that was pleasant enough until you realized that you couldn't see the person behind it anymore, and that put me off a little bit at first. But then I remembered that I used to see Lilly in the same light, and I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Interaction between us can still be a little stilted at times, but I no longer see his pleasantries towards me as merely a front. I think that deep down he's actually a very caring person, even though he has trouble showing it, and I'm happy that I was able to help him when his life was in danger, so we could get to know each other a little better.

Karla... Before meeting her, I imagined Lilly's mother to be a distant and uncaring person. After all, why else would she have left Japan all those years ago? I was taken off guard by how nice and warm-hearted she turned out to be. I discovered that there was more to her than met the eye, and she has some scars of her own underneath, but my opinion of her hasn't changed. In addition to a source of support, she's also become a bit of a mentor figure to me, and I've realized that I want to do well at Kasshoku, partially because I want her and her husband to be proud of me.

Akira... When Lilly first introduced me to her older sister, I didn't think Akira would ever be more than the sister of a friend to me; someone who put up with me because I befriended Lilly, but who'd stop talking to me the moment Lilly and I would go our separate ways. Things turned out very differently, and I found that I may actually have more things in common with Akira than I could have imagined at first. Even though Akira lives in Scotland now, we still talk on a regular basis, and the last two times she visited Japan, she even took the time to drop by at Yamaku, purely for the purpose of spending some time with me alone. If someone were to ask me which one of the two means more to me, I don't think I could answer. Akira has become just as much of a sister figure to me as Lilly has been.

Lilly... When I first walked into the room of the blind girl living next door, in search of some comfort and company that wouldn't be put off by my appearance, I had no idea that this person would end up becoming the first real friend I've made in my life. Our friendship has had its share of hurdles, but in the end we've managed to stick together and remain in contact. I'm really looking forward to moving in with Lilly. Even if university proves tough, I'll at least have the simple pleasures of her sleepy smile each morning and the little small talks we make over tea in the evening. I hope I can do my part to make her daily life more convenient as well. Who knows, maybe I can even give her romantic advice sometimes. Well, that's probably stretching things.

Hisao... When I ran away from him during our first real meeting, he could have easily decided that getting to know me better was too much of a hassle, especially since there were so many other new people he could have forged friendships with. And yet, he stuck with me and ended up being the first person I truly opened up to. In just a little more than three months, we'll be celebrating our relationship's second anniversary. I feel a little bad that such a large part of it was long distance, but at least that part's over now. I think that our relationship has changed a bit. My life no longer revolves around him like it used to when we first started dating. Unlike what I believed at that time, I was able to open up to others as well. It's made me nervous from time to time, but each moment we spend together still feels really special to me. Maybe our relationship simply has matured a bit, to the point where we can both have our own lives now without it endangering what we have. I'm really excited about our upcoming trip. It'll be our first true vacation together with noone else around, and I'm going to try my best to make it the best experience of his life. He often said that while he wasn't happy either that we were so far apart, he was willing to stick it out because he wanted the 'good times' to return. Now that I'll be able to once again be a part of his daily life, I'm going to try and be the best girlfriend I can be for him. It's the least thing I can do to reciprocate the dedication he has shown me. We might be able to keep our relationship going throughout university. I would really like that.

"I wasn't around to see it back then, Miss Hanako, but one of my predecessors told me about the day you first came here. His first impression: a frightened-looking girl, hiding behind the matron, dragging a suitcase along that was clearly too heavy for her. It feels good to look upon that same girl now. That girl who reached out and became a loving girlfriend, a cherished clubmate, a caring friend. A girl who has found new people in her life to help her carry both her suitcases and her burdens, while at the same time lending others her support in return. A girl who, when forced to rely on those around her during her more trying times, no longer sends them a guilty look, but a grateful smile instead. That in itself is growth, Miss Hanako, and a big reassurance as well."

Miss Yumi smiles warmly as she approaches me.

"Let this diploma be an acknowledgement. An acknowledgement of how much you've achieved already and how far you've come. An acknowledgement of the person standing before me: a strong young woman with clear plans for the future, surrounded by friends and loved ones who came here specifically to share and celebrate this joyous moment with her. An acknowledgement that you have graduated from this academy with flying colors. Please accept your diploma, Miss Hanako Ikezawa. You have truly, truly earned it."

She holds the diploma out to me, and I take it, holding it close to my chest. A moment later, the room bursts into thunderous applause, far louder than I ever thought eleven people capable of clapping. I turn around, face the others and see all the happy and proud smiles on their faces. I squeeze my eyes shut in a futile attempt to stop my tears from starting to flow. For once, being at the center of attention doesn't feel awkward or scary. In fact, it feels really good. I manage to swallow the lump in my throat for long enough to force some words out.

"Everyone... *sniff* T-T-Thank you. T-Thank you s-so much."

For a brief moment another thought enters my head.

I wonder if Mother and Father can see me right now. I wonder how they'd feel. Would they be... proud of me? Would they be happy, too?

The applause lasts a lot longer than I expected. Maybe everybody realized what a special moment this is for me and everyone wanted it to last as long as possible. When it finally dies down, Miss Yumi clears her throat in order to get everybody's attention.

"I'm afraid that's all I could think of. Perhaps that's all there really is to say. I'm afraid we didn't really put together a program for this occasion, but before this little ceremony Miss Hanako and I prepared some tea for everybody. If there are no objections, I'd like to propose we have a little drink in her honor before we leave here. One for the road, as it were."

The principal turns to Miss Yumi.

"I hope I don't cause offense, but I still have a lot of things to do today."

"Not at all, madam. I'm grateful you were able to spare some time for us."

"Alright then. Ikezawa... Congratulations yet again and good luck at university."

"T-Thank you, m-madam."

The principal nods at me and walks out of the room. After she's gone, Miss Yumi and I pour tea for everyone. After everyone's been served and Miss Yumi starts putting away the tea set, I take the opportunity to approach her.

"Miss Yumi?"

"Yes?"

"T-Thank you... for the beautiful speech. It was... r-really touching."

She chuckles.

"It was the best I could do from the top of my head. If I would have had time to prepare, I could have made it a little longer."

"It was really good. Y-You're really good at this."

Miss Yumi merely smiles and humbly shakes her head.

"I merely said what I thought you needed to hear. You brought up your parents today and there's nothing strange about that, but I wanted to remind you that there are others who want to see you succeed in life just as much."

"I've been... thinking a lot about them lately. J-Just now, too, when you g-gave me my diploma. I wondered... how they'd f-feel."

"I think they'd be both proud and reassured."

"Reassured?"

"Life can be a battle sometimes. For you it has been for many years. And for a very long time it seemed like it was you against the rest of the world. Those are very worrying odds to any parent. But I'd like to think that since you're no longer alone and more comfortable relying on others, they're a little more at peace now."

I never thought of it that way.

You're no longer alone. Karla said similar words to me not too long ago.

She said a lot of other things too. Some of them have been on my mind ever since.

"I... r-really wish I c-could talk to them one more time."

"I think they live on inside your heart, Miss Hanako. So that's probably the best place to look for answers."

"..."

"Hmmm, from the looks of it, people are about ready to leave."

"..."

"I'll accompany you as far as the gate. That's where we can say our goodbyes."

"..."

"Miss Hanako?"

"Miss Yumi?"

"Yes?"

"I... "

"You seem awfully nervous all of a sudden."

"I... I... I would l-like to s-say something."

"Alright."

"Ummm..."

I look around the room and then back at Miss Yumi.

"To everyone?"

I nod silently.

"Alright."

Miss Yumi loudly claps her hands to get everyone's attention.

"Go ahead, Miss Hanako."

My eyes jump from person to person. There are only a few curious looks. Nobody seems annoyed that I'm not immediately saying something.

I take a deep breath.

And then another one.

And yet another one.

It doesn't seem to be helping.

"I..."

The words I prepared for myself just seconds ago are now whirling around in my head. Whatever it was I wanted to say earlier, I won't be saying it anytime soon.

"..."

I stop trying to force the words out of my mouth and simply walk over to the table where my handbag is lying. As I reach out to take it, a profound feeling of sadness suddenly comes over me.

Is this really the right thing to do?

Is this really the right time to do it?

Is this what they would want?

Or am I about to hurt them?

A trace of doubt manages to sneak in there when I take hold of my bag. If I take it out now, there'll be no going back. My life will be changed permanently.

But then again, my life will be different after today no matter what.

With shaking hands, I open my bag and reach into it. My fingers find the fateful piece of paper and take hold of it. When I take it out, my eyes quickly scan the room again. Some of the looks are puzzled. I don't think Naomi, Jun or Hisao's parents know the significance of what I'm holding in my hands right now. Hisao, on the other hand, has an expectant look on his face. I can see Akira softly whispering to Lilly. Karla and Hiroyuki exchange a quick look, and, after a silent nod from his wife, the latter steps forward.

I take an unsteady step forward as well. Hiroyuki Satou looks at me with a completely neutral expression, neither eagerness nor impatience on his face. He just stands there, in a slightly formal posture, waiting for me to make the next move.

I start feeling a tight sensation in my chest. I've already passed the point of no return, but there's still something painful about continuing.

I take another step forward and, still trembling, hold out the form in front of me. Hiroyuki reaches out with both hands, as if preparing to accept an important business card.

A pang of guilt emanates from my chest. I close my eyes and take a deep breath in an attempt to keep my composure.

An image of my father and mother appears in my mind. I try to remember what they looked like, what they sounded like, the way they talked, the way they slept. And most importantly, the way they smiled.

I wonder if they can still see me somehow. I wonder if they know what I'm about to do.

I'm sorry, Mother.

I'm sorry, Father.

I'll never forget you.

I promise.
11
And then I let go.

When I open my eyes, I see that Hiroyuki has taken the form and is taking a quick look at the dotted line near the bottom. The line that holds my signature. When he sees me looking at him, he makes a graceful bow which I instinctively follow, and I hear him whisper softly to me.

"Don't worry. Things will be fine. I promise."

Then he turns around and faces the rest of the people in the room.

"It appears that today is cause for two celebrations. Not only has Hanako taken another step towards adulthood in her decision to start attending Kasshoku University the upcoming month, but with the passing of this document, she has also accepted the adoption offer my wife and I extended to her earlier. When she leaves here today, she will not merely be leaving here with a diploma in her hands, but also with a family by her side. Lilly... Akira... I will leave the next part up to you. You can be the first to do the honors of welcoming your new sister in our midst."

Hiroyuki politely steps aside as Lilly and Akira walk up to me, and despite the nagging feeling of guilt in the bottom of my stomach, I feel a surge of joy as both wrap their arms around me in a loving embrace. The whole experience is so overwhelming I don't know what to feel. I feel sad and happy at the same time. Lilly has a tear running down her cheek as she smiles a glowing smile at me. Akira has a playful smirk on her face, but I can see that her eyes are a little moist as well.

"Thank you, Hanako. Thank you so much... for t-this... for this great gift."

"Well... heh... You're stuck with us now. But... I... wouldn't want things any other way."

I'm not really sure what to say to that. I'm not really sure if words could even properly convey what I'm feeling right now. So I simply return their hug and hope this moment will last for as long as possible.

--------------------------------------

After Lilly's and Akira's 'welcoming hug', I was congratulated by the others as well. I got a tight hug from Karla, a sweet kiss from Hisao, an enthusiastic high-five from Naomi and Jun and a heartfelt handshake from the Nakais. Now we're walking down the tree-lined walkway connecting the buildings to the gate. Akira, Karla and Hiroyuki wouldn't allow me to carry any of my own suitcases, so I'm merely carrying my diploma and the plastic bag containing a little present for Miss Yumi. As promised, she's accompanying me until we get to the campus entrance.
12
"Miss Yumi?"

I cast a sideglance at her when I hear her let out a soft chuckle.

"It's nothing serious, really. I was just thinking about how unexpected this turn of events was. It may not sound very humble, but I thought that little private ceremony would end up being the surprise of the day. Hmmm, hmmm... Only for you to go and pull an even bigger surprise out of your sleeve. Life can certainly be unpredictable. I never really knew you were planning this."

"I... wasn't. It was done on a spur of the moment."

Miss Yumi gives me a puzzled look.

"But you had that form in your handbag, signed and all."

"I... signed it a few weeks ago already. I thought it wouldn't make a difference anyway whether I signed it or not as long as I didn't hand it in. I p-put it in my handbag this morning because I didn't want Lilly and Akira to find it while they were busy packing m-my suitcases."

"So you've been considering it for a while."

"Y-Yes. I would have moved in with them either way. But I didn't want to be a 'friend of the family' or an 'honorary guest' forever. I...want to have the same obligations that Lilly and Akira have. They don't have to say please anymore when asking me something. I wanted to s-show them that...I'm here for them as well."

I sigh.

"I... s-still feel a little bit guilty though."

"Because of your parents? Your birth parents, I mean."

"Yes."

"I wouldn't worry too much about that, dear. What you did today would no doubt have made them truly happy. Proud too."

"I'm not even s-sure what to call my adoptive p-parents."

"Talk to them about that. I'm sure they'll understand how you feel."

"Is that... an assignment?"

Miss Yumi shakes her head and casts a glance at Yamaku's entry gate which is now looming over us.

"More like well-meant advice. As of today, I'm no longer in a position to give you any assignments anymore."

I cast a look at the gate myself.

"So... t-this is goodbye?"

"I'm afraid so. We've postponed this moment for a year, but we both knew it would come eventually. Departures are very much part of life."

"I'll m-miss you, Miss Yumi. And Yamaku too."

"Try not to fret about it for too long, dear. You've met many wonderful people here at this school, but all those people will still be part of your life after today. They're waiting for you beyond those gates as we speak. In the end, this place is just a collection of buildings. You'll be taking the best part of Yamaku with you."

"Except you."

"Well... There are reunions for graduates every year. Within nine years or so, you'll probably receive an invitation as well. I'll just be sure to... keep breathing, and when we meet again we can finish that game we were playing today. With luck I won't be too senile to tell the black and the white stones apart by then."

I giggle.

"That... probably won't be the case."

She chuckles playfully.

"It's a deal then. I'll be expecting a tough challenge from you, so try not to let that... Shogi thing... dull your talents too much, okay?"

"Hahaha, don't worry. But... Miss Yumi... we... d-don't really have to wait nine years."

"Hmmm?"

"Maybe we c-could... remain in contact... and play... from t-time to time?"

Miss Yumi sighs, and I can see a sad look in her eyes as she shakes her head.

"I'm sorry, dear. But I'm afraid my answer is still the same. I'm still a therapist, and you're still my client. That's been the nature of our relationship for over two years. I think if we would talk... socially... afterwards, we'd still fall back to those familiar roles without thinking. You deserve better friends than that."

"O-Okay then. I... w-won't force you. But, at least accept this from me."

I take my present out of the bag I was carrying it in and give it to Miss Yumi who takes it from me, handling it as carefully as she can.

"Oh my, what a beautiful flower arrangement. You truly seem to have a knack for creating these kinds of things. Thank you very much, dear. Such a sweet thank-you note attached to it as well. Hmmm?"

Having noticed something peculiar about the note, she takes another look at it and then gives me a puzzled stare.

"There's what appears to be an internet address written near the bottom. Is that meant to be part of the message?"

"It... leads to a site where you can register an account and then play Go online against others. I thought you m-might like it. I've... t-tried it myself a few times. It's pretty fun. You can chat with other players as well, b-but it's not necessary. The chat-function can be turned off, so you can f-focus completely on playing. Maybe... you could try it sometime."

Miss Yumi looks completely baffled for several seconds. Then she gives me a long unsure look. Finally, a broad smile appears on her face and she chuckles.

"My my... Playing Go over the internet. What will they think of next? I suppose I could give it a try sometimes. Who knows?"

"Y-Yes. Who knows?"

There's a short silence between us afterwards. I consider coming up with some small talk, but Miss Yumi throws another glance at the entrance gate and gives me an encouraging smile.

"I don't think there's much more need for idle chatter. There's a new life waiting for you on the other side of that gate, and I think you're ready for it this time. Go ahead. Say it."

I take a deep breath.

"G-Goodbye, Miss Yumi. Thank you for everything."

"Goodbye, Miss Hanako. And remember: have faith."

We exchange one more bow, and then Miss Yumi starts walking down the walkway back towards the school building, giving me one final friendly wave. I watch her go until she's gone from sight. Then I turn around and face the gate separating the school grounds from the parking lot.
13
The gate looks far too pompous for what it is. In fact, gates in general seem to do that, but this one especially so. Red bricks, black wrought iron and gray plaster, assembled into a whole that towers over me. I never paid much attention to it until now. It takes me a moment to realize why I'm suddenly hesitant to do something I've already done hundreds of times before.

This feels like the last chance I have to turn back, even if there's no longer a life for me here to return to. Once I walk through, there'll absolutely be no way I can go back anymore.

It feels a bit scary, but part of me is also eager.

In the distance, I can see Hisao, Lilly and Akira patiently waiting for me. I probably shouldn't keep them too long since we still have a long drive ahead of us. Once more, Miss Yumi's last words echo in my mind.

Have faith.

Miss Yumi mentioned there'll be relapses in the future and warned that all I'll get at university is a small headstart, but that there'll still be plenty of bumps in the road ahead. I know myself well enough to know that that's true and given some of the challenges Lilly faced at Kasshoku, I feel like I'm going to need all the resolve I can muster. I pray that it will be enough. Perhaps what I'm feeling right now is still the bliss of ignorance, like before that first open house day. Things felt too good to be true back then too, only to quickly fall apart when something bad happened. But nevertheless, I feel like the deck is no longer stacked against me as much as it was when I came here. Regardless of what inevitable challenges the future holds, I want to hold off on worrying about them for the time being and just spend today and the upcoming week being happy with my life. I want to have faith that everything will be alright. For just a little while, the challenges can wait.

Deciding not to get stuck on looking at the gate for too long, I take one more deep breath and then walk through it with a brisk pace that feels surprisingly good.

Moving forward feels good.

When I reach the others, Akira affectionally ruffles my hair.

"All ready to go?"

"I... think so. How about you?"

"Yup. Totally."

Lilly makes a little gesture towards the parking lot with her cane.

"Father and Mother have already left, along with most of your luggage. All that's left is to put your last suitcase into the trunk of Akira's car, as well as Hisao's luggage."

Hisao nods and taps the suitcase at his feet.

"I've already said goodbye to Mom and Dad. We're ready anytime you are."

"I'm... I'm ready too. Let's..."

I take a deep breath before finishing my sentence.

"Let's go h-home."

My boyfriend and my sisters all give me a warm smile and then we set out for the parking lot. We stash our luggage into the car's trunk, get in, and Akira starts the engine.

As the car leaves the parking lot and turns onto the road to the nearest highway, I can't help but turn around and look at the school building behind me one more time.

I can feel my eyes becoming a little moist. Behind me, slowly shrinking in the distance, lies the place that's been my home for four years.

The place where I found a new life...

Friends...

A boyfriend...

A family...

A future...

Before Yamaku Academy vanishes from sight entirely, I use my hand to brush my fringe aside and send the school one last grateful smile, as if saying farewell to a beloved old friend. Then I let out a whisper that's too soft for even Lilly to hear.

"Goodbye, Yamaku."

"Goodbye..."

"...and thank you."
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Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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The End

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:28 am

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Credits

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Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:28 am

_
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Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:29 am

(Attachments go here, are linked to elsewhere)
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Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:29 am

This thread's comments section starts here. Some people like to read a story from the start all the way to the end before commenting. Others may like commenting sooner. Be careful with spoilers. It may be best to comment about story-related stuff in the following fashion:

Chapter 40 spoilers:
Chapter 40 stuff goes here.

Chapter 46 spoilers:
Chapter 46 stuff goes here.

This way, someone who's currently at chapter 44 can comment on the first part and avoid getting spoiled on the second.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:47 am

So it seems it took you just over an hour to post it all - congrats on that!

Now I wonder how long it will take until the first person has actually finished reading all of it. ;-)
Guest Poster wrote:This story contains some sexual content here and there.
:roll:
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

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Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:56 am

Yeah, this was about as quick as I could copy-paste 135 separate word documents into a thread. I'm pretty relieved the forum only requires you to wait like 20 seconds before posting again.
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Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

Post by brythain » Fri Sep 19, 2014 6:48 am

Guest Poster wrote:Yeah, this was about as quick as I could copy-paste 135 separate word documents into a thread. I'm pretty relieved the forum only requires you to wait like 20 seconds before posting again.
Thank you very much. It was a pleasure the first two times round, and I look forward to reading it in this 'Director's Cut' deluxe version. :)
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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